So tomorrow, the U.S. Department of the Treasury is coming out with a new thing that you can buy. Instead of just printing all the money themselves, they’ve decided that they’ll sell smaller “mini-mints” to private individuals. This sounds like a great deal, right? I mean, it’s literally your own money printer.

Here’s the fine print: the up-front cost is a million bucks. And the machine can only print denominations of US currency that are currently in circulation, which means the largest single bill you can print is a Franklin – $100. Oh, and the machine can only print one bill per day.

It’s a great deal! …isn’t it?

Well, assuming you had a million dollars liquid to buy one, you’ll have made your money back in just under twenty-seven and a half years. After that, though, you’re totally just making free money! That is, if you completely ignore the opportunity cost of tying a million bucks up in this silly machine for almost three decades.

Okay, but let’s say you don’t have a million bucks, but you still want this machine. No problem, says the treasury! You can finance it! And heck, this is the US Treasury, not some private lender, so they’ll keep the interest rates low and they won’t do any sort of background check – anyone who wants a money printer can borrow the money to buy one.

But “low” interest doesn’t mean “no” interest, so there’s still a little overhead to pay now. And the machine can still only print a max of $100 per day. So borrowing to get one of these machines is an even worse deal than buying one outright, it would seem.

And of course, that even assumes that everyone uses the machine to its maximum capacity! But it turns out, that might be difficult. The machines still need ink and paper, and there isn’t always enough for every machine, so sometimes the machines are idle. Sometimes people choose to print $50 bills or even $1 bills with them, just because they like those better. Sometimes people just don’t print bills! Even though the machine is relatively simple to use, it isn’t automatic – each day you want to print a bill you still have to type in what you want and hit “print,” and some people just don’t do it. Some people pay for a machine and never even bother to go pick it up and plug it in, believe it or not. Some machines are defective or outright broken when they’re bought – but there is no customer service and no refunds, so those people are just out of luck.

So here’s what happens. A whole lot of people want these machines, because the fine print is lost on them and all they hear is “money printer.” Most people that buy them borrow for them. And so most people who have them are not only in a ton of debt, but they’re in debt that they probably aren’t going to be able to pay off.

It’s fine to be compassionate to those people! You should always be compassionate. But if someone were to suggest that the collective debt of these money-printer-owners is a “crisis,” then the very first thing that should be discussed is how irresponsible and predatory it was for the US Treasury to sell these machines in the first place.

Because here’s the thing: if there is enough debt over a single asset to be called a “crisis,” then by definition that asset is a terrible investment and it should stop being bought. If apples sell for ten cents apiece but apple trees cost two hundred thousand dollars, then apple trees would be a terrible investment. You could still buy an apple tree because you liked it, but then we’re talking about consumption goods and not investments, and you can’t make the same arguments about debt.

Let me just beat this (by now, hopefully obvious) analogy to death a tiny bit more:

When you propose that the US Treasury stop selling money printers, there will absolutely be someone who claims “What a monster you are! People need money! If we stop selling money printers, how will they get money?!” (Very likely this person works for the US Treasury’s money-printer division and is doing very well.) The argument will catch on among certain people. They’re pulling a bait-and-switch, swapping out one vehicle for accomplishing something for the thing itself.

People generally need money, sure. That’s not the same as saying that they need to buy money-printers for a million (borrowed) bucks. Some things stick around for a long time, but that doesn’t mean they’re good.

What Will You Want?

Predicting our future wants is pretty much our entire ambition.

Everything you work for is delayed. Instant gratification is a myth; we live in a world of instant distraction from things we really want. But that’s the rub – the instant noise that surrounds us has, I believe, weakened our ability to predict our own future wants. That’s what hurts us.

If you know for certain that in five years, you will absolutely want (or still want) a certain thing, it’s much easier to work diligently towards it today. But if you lack the certainty of any particular thing you’ll care about next month, let alone half a decade from now, it will be hard to focus on it.

Kids provide excellent clarity here. I am certain to my core than in five years I will still want my children to be happy and healthy. That gives me a lot of purpose day-to-day. It doesn’t have to be kids, though! As pro-child as I am, don’t take this to be any sort of encouragement to have children specifically.

Rather, it’s an encouragement to talk to yourself in the past so you can talk to yourself in the future. Are you working your tail off today for something you don’t think you’ll care about in the future? Are you slaving away for a job that doesn’t really move you towards your more meaningful goals?

Were you doing that five years ago, and it’s hurt your happiness today?

Stay away from care-a-minute instant noise that tells you to change what you want every other breath. Make sure that the things you actually allow space in your heart are enduring. Let other things delight you in their moment, certainly – but don’t give them the ability to displace the important things. Humans can only truly care about a small handful of things. If you allow ephemeral things to take those slots then you’ll significantly damage the foundation of your ability to translate caring into consistent action. You cannot build a life on top of caring about the latest celebrity gossip, political scandal, meaningless assignment at a dead-end job, or acquisition of some trinket.

Instead, care about something lasting. Give your future self many gifts – adventure and security, knowledge and happiness, wealth and purpose. You cannot get those things today. But today, you can begin to care about them so that you have them tomorrow.

Greener Grass

The woods are calling me. I can hear it. Camping season is just about here.

Some day in the not-too-distant future, I’ll go and never come back. I don’t want to truly be a “mountain man” or anything; I have no desire to leave civilization entirely. I just want to be a little farther away from it than I am now.

Small barriers are the key to healthy habits. I have a pretty healthy diet; I don’t completely avoid junk or unhealthy foods, but I only keep healthy things in the house. If I want something outside of that, I have to go out and get it. I’m obviously capable of doing that, but the additional barrier keeps me from doing it too often. It keeps it a “treat” instead of just a default.

Your social media apps are like that. I don’t keep those apps on my phone – if I want to check a social media account, I have to either go to my computer, or I have to use my phone’s internet browser and log into the site. That’s a pain, so I don’t do it too often. It’s not never, but it’s not automatic.

That’s how I want civilization. I want it accessible, but inconvenient. I don’t want to live hundreds of miles from the nearest city or deeply suburban area – but I want to live maybe 40 miles from it. Close enough to visit when I want to, far enough away that it ceases to be the default lifestyle. Something I have to consciously choose to do on a case-by-case basis instead of the environment that takes over my life.

Right now, the grass is still greener on this side. There are still too many advantages, especially with three young children, of living my suburban lifestyle. Proximity to family members and modern conveniences and ease of maintaining my home all win out over the majesty of the forest… for now. So for now, the roles are reversed: the forest is what I keep close so that I can visit it, and the city is my home. But not forever.


There are lots of reasons why you should take the initiative and do things before anyone asks you to do them. One of those reasons is, of course, that taking the initiative looks good – but that’s far from the only reason.

If you decide to pitch a project rather than waiting for an assignment, you have a lot more control over what you do. When you get assigned something, you have almost none.

When someone asks for something, they spend the entire time between when they asked and when you deliver thinking about the ideal version they could get, and you’re actual version has to compete with that. When you pitch something, you are the ideal version.

When you pitch something, the only outcomes are “they love it; you move forward” or “they don’t love it, but you’re no worse off and even maybe still a little better for showing moxie.” If you have an assignment, completing it well is mostly just treading water, and messing it up can set you way back in terms of social capital and reputation.

Don’t wait for life to give you homework assignments. Decide what you want to do.

Time Is All Wounds

Idle time is a hole in my soul. I am envious of people who can take advantage of “free time” in a healthy way, but that’s never been me.

Free time, for me, tends to immediately get filled by unhealthy things. If I find myself unexpectedly having a scheduled thing delayed by an hour and I have to wait, for instance, all the things that naturally occur to me to do in that hour are unhealthy. I’ll doom-scroll social media, I’ll eat an unhealthy snack, I’ll bug someone who’s busy, buy a thing I don’t need, etc. These are things I don’t ever do when I’m planning – but they’re what happens when my plans get disrupted.

So why can’t I just fill unexpected time with something productive? I overthink it, primarily. For instance: very rarely do plans get delayed in such a way that lets me know exactly the length of the delay. Sometimes people text and say “I’ll be an hour late,” but more often that text says “I’m running late, be there as soon as I can.” That means I don’t know if I have time to squeeze in an extra workout or get some writing done. I hate starting things and not finishing them.

The reality is that I need the rigidity of a packed schedule in order to not be slothful. I’m pretty good on the other six deadly sins, but that one haunts me. I’m terrified of being slothful, lazy, idle. I think it might be the most dangerous of the seven, because it’s so sticky. It actually takes a lot of effort to maintain wrath all the time! But sloth? That takes no effort at all.

So I fight against it by always giving myself planned things that need to be done. I don’t trust my instincts; given free reign to “do whatever I feel like,” the choices my id makes always chase short-term satisfaction instead of long-term health. I feel as though the best way for me to never do unhealthy things is to never have time to do them; to always be doing so many healthy things that there’s no room for anything else.

Then, when time to do something else is thrust upon me unexpectedly by the random chaos of daily life, I don’t have a healthy thing to fill it with. The obvious solution would seem to be to keep a list of “Healthy Things to Do in Case of Emergency,” but the question is – if those things are good and healthy to do, why would I only do them in case of emergency? Shouldn’t I be doing those things all the time, and not just in case of an unexpected wait?

As is often the case, writing this out has given me a thought. There is one particularly healthy outlet that is easy, can be done at any duration, and while it’s something that I do normally it still has plenty of marginal utility for extra time spent on it – reading. Reading also has the benefit of relaxing me, whereas waiting is generally pretty anxiety-driving for me. If idle time is a wound, my beloved kindle may just be the first-aid kit I’m looking for.

So I’ll make a habit of keeping my kindle more accessible (right now it resides in a specific “reading nook” in my home, but having it a little more on-hand may be the key) and take it with me when I leave the house more often. Make it easier to make something healthy the default. If you’re the kind of person whose instincts are tuned towards healthy choices, bless you. If you aren’t, all is not lost – the fight for your own physical, mental and spiritual health is one you can win, no matter where you started.

Convince Yourself

When you’re deliberating over a big decision, how often are you really doing that – versus justifying the snap decision you already made?

We all do it, so don’t feel overly flawed or bad. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fight against that impulse.

Step One: Know when to trust your gut. By process of elimination, don’t trust it any other time. Make a mental list of all of your highly specific areas of expertise. Don’t make the mistake of assuming any knowledge or expertise transfer into any other realms. If you’re a brilliant cardiologist, then you can trust your gut about someone’s irregular heartbeat. That doesn’t mean you can trust your gut about someone’s skin condition, let alone about macroeconomics, personal relationships, or real estate. There’s no such thing as general brilliance.

(Don’t believe me? Go look up some things Albert Einstein said on matters besides physics.)

Step Two: If you’re in one of the 99.99% of realms where your gut instinct is biased to the point of garbage, listen to it anyway. Don’t act on it, but listen. Write down what you think your decision should be.

Step Three: Feed all the “little demons” of bias. Wait three days. Sleep. Get exercise. Eat well. Relax and make sure you’re not mad about something unrelated. Get a hug or six. Go outside. Take your vitamins. After three days of doing that, come back and look at your decision that you wrote down (but didn’t act on yet). And hey, if this seems like way too much trouble – then the decision can’t be that important, can it?

Step Four: In a good and healthy mental state, use all of your formidable mental powers to convince yourself of the opposite course of action from what you wrote down. Assume you were as wrong as possible initially. You got it exactly, 180-degrees backwards. Spend hours researching the opposite case. Become an expert on the other view. Again, if this is too much trouble – then accept that the decision wasn’t that consequential.

Step Five: Act. By this point, you may not be right but you’re not getting any righter. Do what you have to, and be ready to learn from whatever happens.

If you won’t give the major decisions in your life this treatment, then you’ve yielded control of your life to your impulses and biases. Good luck.

Said & Done

You should care, to some extent, about things that happened. You should care a lot less about things people said. And you should care almost not at all about things people said about things people said.

What are you mad about right now? Is it that someone said something about something that someone else said about the opinion of a third person? And is that opinion not even on a thing that happened, but on something said by yet another person?

Too many “saids.” Keep yourself away from that. Just do, and be done.

Capability Mapping

When you’re tired, low, stressed or upset, you’re still capable of a great many things. Unfortunately, something you’re rarely capable of in those instances is figuring out what you’re capable of. So instead, those days tend to just knock people out – you think you aren’t capable of anything because you can’t think of anything specific you’re capable of, so you just mulligan the whole day.

The next time you have a decent-to-good day, try this exercise: make a map of your own capabilities on the low days. Write out some clear, short instructions for yourself. Say, “These are the small but impactful things that I know I can do even on my worst days. If I have a bad day, I can do just these things and then that day will be a success, and I can step back from the rest without added guilt.”

Some days all you can do is water the plants, eat a healthy meal, and check your email. But it’s still better to do those things than not to do them. At the very least, you won’t be as mad at yourself the next day, and feeling guilty and angry at yourself is rarely productive.

You don’t have to be unrealistic and expect that you’ll be equally capable on every single day of your life. But a little bit is so so so much better than nothing, so give yourself a way to do a little bit, even on the worst days.


Take a small, plain input and turn it into something beautiful in a single sitting with your own skill and effort.

That’s a solid recipe for satisfaction. It doesn’t matter if it’s literally a paper crane. It could be a delicious meal, a knitted hat, a birdhouse. Something that doesn’t have to be permanent – in fact, it’s often fantastic if it isn’t. Just meant to serve its purpose for a while.

Its real purpose, of course, was to center you in a way that lets you carry more joy into the world. I recommend it.


This is advice that I was once given, and have in turn given it to other people: “Set yourself a cutoff point for your workday that you absolutely won’t work past. That way, you’ll work more intensely before that cutoff because you know it’s there, and after the cutoff you’ll be able to have your personal time.” Today I happened to share that advice in a meeting with many of my colleagues.

I’ve always thought of that as very good advice, and when I give it to other people I’m doing so from a place of encouragement, trying to help them have healthier harmony between work and non-work. But one of my colleagues, who heads a different department, really gave me pause with her response. She said: “But that’s not how I work well and achieve low stress. I like to work during the day, then do some yoga, then log back in and work a little more, then have happy hour on Friday, then check some emails over the weekend, etc. That’s the workflow that keeps me enjoying my work and not stressed out about it. Everyone’s best structure for balancing their lives looks different.” (Paraphrased a little, perhaps, but that was the gist.)

How right she was! I still think my initial advice was very good – for me. And maybe for some people like me! But it’s absurd to think that there’s a right way to harmonize the different pressures in your life. They’re not all equal across people, and certainly our inner responses aren’t equal, either.

That’s not to say that all approaches are equally good, of course! For any given individual, there are definitely unhealthy structures and habits to avoid. But across many individuals there will be many different things that work and don’t, and that’s a good thing for me to remember.

Maybe for you to remember, too.