Interviewed by Chris Desatoff

chrisRecently Chris Desatoff, a fellow Internet marketer, asked me a barrage of questions in an email. I figured it was worthy of answering in a post and calling it an official interview. So here it is, based on his exact questions to me:

What has Patrick Meninga learned about happiness and gratitude through this wacky adventure these past few years — and especially these past few weeks? Is he learning to find happiness at the day job he once loathed?

So here is the back story for those who are interested: I quit my day job during August of 2011. I started back to work (at the same company no less!) on November of 2014.

So the question is, what did I learn from all of this, and did I find a path to happiness in my return to 40 hours/week office work?

A couple of points here.

One is this: Before I quit my day job, I was so sure that the freedom from work would be the great ticket to happiness that I longed for. I thought that having all of my days free would be the one thing that I needed to make me happy.

You can guess (probably) what I learned from this experiment: Quitting your day job is not an instant ticket to happiness. People hear that, and deep down they secretly believe that such wisdom does not apply to them.

Let me repeat this critical point: We all secretly believe that if we were granted the million dollars and could walk away from our day job that we would instantly be happy forever and ever. Every person who works for a living believes this to some degree. We all suffer from the same delusion.

But leisure time does not make us happy. You may work 40 hours per week (or somewhat more or less than that) so right now you have no perspective. All you know is that you work hard and get too little money for it. And you have no free time. Or very little time to yourself. You want more. You are starving for early retirement, for the million dollar jackpot. This is the only perspective that you know about.

Bill Gates knows about another perspective. He knows what it feels like to not have to worry about money, about paying the bills. And guess what? He still works. And I have to quote him again, because it is so brilliant and insightful. He said: “I have to tell you, having billions of dollars is nice and all, but in the end…..it is still the same cheeseburger.”

And he is right of course. But when you are struggling with everyday life AND employment, you are starved for what you think is “freedom.” You think that a million dollars and a life of leisure would make you happy. And you secretly think that Bill Gates must have been rich for too long, and he has forgotten what it is like to have to slave away for 40 plus hours each week.

Well, you are wrong in that. We all suffer from the same delusion. That we would be free, that we would be happy, if only we had all the money in the world and all the free time in the world.

It’s just not true.

I know this, because I tested it out. I gained perspective that I used to lack. I worked freelance for 6 hours each week. I am not exaggerating here, I actually used an egg timer. I put in exactly six hours each week and I was creating a full time paycheck. That is not exactly retired, but it should have made me happier, right?

Nope. Didn’t work. That is not the ticket to happiness.

I wish I could tell you the great secret to what DOES make you happy, but I am still on a journey myself. I only know what I learned from working 3 years of only a six hour work week–that increased leisure time doesn’t increase your overall happiness.

Will he return to entrepreneurship again down the road? What wisdom has he picked up along the way to help him find contentment and joy in his life?

Now this is the crazy part. This question proves to me that I still suffer from the delusion that I described above!

I am currently working 40 hours per week again. I also still do freelance work for roughly 3 hours per week as well. And sometimes I feel drained from that, just like any worker might feel at times. And in those moments I think to myself: “Maybe I should try to start another business, or come up with some new income streams,” or whatever.

In other words, I still notice that I have those moments where I long for “freedom.” And it is always when work is the hardest, or is draining me of energy.

But I think I have a tiny bit more wisdom now in that I can realize today that free money or automated income streams are not the secret to happiness. There is more to life than leisure. There is more to happiness than leisure time and plenty of money.

If I do return to entrepreneurship it will be for a reason other than to satisfy the delusion. If I want to break free from day job tyranny, the quickest path at this point (for me in particular) is not to risk starting a business. In fact, it would be very easy for me to escape from day jobs through Jacob’s plan at Early Retirement Extreme. So I would just need to tighten up on frugality and maybe put in another 2 or 3 years of really hard work. That would be plenty to set me “free” permanently.

But I know today that this is not the kind of life that I want for myself. As horrible as it may sound, I am going to admit this potentially ugly truth out loud, I am going to own it: I want more consumption. I want to spend, I want to travel, I want to enjoy life with my fiance, and I don’t want to worry about watching every penny. That is a form of freedom as well. And if I have to put in 40 hours each week at the treatment center (where I am back working now) then so be it.
You can be free from a day job if you like, but at what price? You can’t indulge, have fun, travel, and so on….unless you watch every single penny. So in reality, you can still do all of that stuff on the cheap, but it takes a lot more energy, cutting corners, making sacrifices, and so on.
I am not saying that you need to be spendy or frivolous to be happy. But every person has to find that line for themselves. When I wrote “Day Jobs Suck” I thought that this line, for me, was living on $7,000/year and eating pasta in a can every day, and consequently doing every little work. I was wrong. I would rather work 40 hours and spend money like the average American. I know that sounds terrible to some but that is my own truth, the honest truth, it is what I learned about myself. I don’t want a life of frugality and 6 hour work weeks. I prefer a life of consumerism and 40 hour work weeks. That said, I am by no means a spendthrift now. My monthly living expenses are still pretty modest at this point.

Is anything still missing? Will something always be missing? Or is that all a myth?

I’m still on a journey. I know today that I am not a guru. I tried to play one in the past but those days are over. I hope I did not mislead anyone too badly. I think everyone has to achieve their goals in order to realize that “happiness was right under their nose all along.” If you never make it to that goal, if you never achieve that 4 hour work week or that life of leisure, then you will go on suffering from the delusion that the goal will make you happy. And it won’t. Reaching any single goal will never create permanent happiness. And yet that is the delusion that we suffer from.

The truth is that we need to learn to enjoy the process. To live in the moment, to find delight in everyday life. If I ever had any wisdom, that’s it. Beyond that it was all just a bunch of smoke and mirrors. I’m sorry. And yet I am relieved too, to be able to enjoy the process again, to delight in the every day. To find purpose and meaning in the mundane. To celebrate existence.

Has the seed of happiness been there all along?

Yes, it has. And it is for you too. But we still might have to reach certain goals in order to look back and realize that we had the seed all along.

We have to wake up to the fact that we don’t need to achieve anything or do anything specific in order to enjoy happiness and peace right now in this very moment. A bit hippy dippy, I know….but that doesn’t make it untrue.

Thanks again Chris for the questions. You rock dude.

Back to Work

Special update: My coworker, Nikel, needs your help. Check it out if you will….

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Goodbye, sweet freedom. I didn’t want you anyway.

I only thought I did. It was all a myth, you see.

The allure of a 4 hour work week….It sounds so seductive when you are working 40 hours+ each week.

So I fought like a madman to make it happen. And I achieved it….for a few years.

And let me tell you…..it ain’t worth it.

Sure, you get more free time. But you don’t really need that. And it doesn’t make you magically happier. Not like you thought it would, anyway.

And that is the tricky part.

I had to quit my day job, I had to get a taste of that freedom before I could really understand how happiness works.

The mind naturally wants what it cannot have. The grass looks greener on the other side, especially for a full time employee. You wouldn’t waste a of life of leisure, right? Not if someone dropped a million dollars in your lap? You would be happy to kick your feet up and relax, right?

Not true. You go chase that freedom, find out what it is all about.

It’s not so great. I’m telling you.

I savored that freedom for a while. And, it makes a great story: “I work 45 minutes per day.” Or: “I have a 7 hour work week.”

But guess what? Nobody cares. Plus, you won’t be any happier for it.

Who cares about freedom, when happiness is right under your nose all along….

Go buy that new iPhone and stop complaining about the rat race.

Put a smile on your face.

Be grateful for existence itself. That is real freedom.

Creation and the Paradox of Total Freedom

Let me give you a piece of chocolate.

Let it melt in your mouth for a moment. The name of this chocolate is creation.

According to Albert Camus, there are really only 3 basic choices in this world.

In a seemingly uncaring and hostile universe where we are searching for some sort of meaning…..

The 3 choices are:

1) Suicide. (yikes, really?)
2) Philosophical suicide (subvert your beliefs to religious dogma).
3) Create your own meaning.

I have given it an honest effort and I am simply not wired for the first two options. I have tried, tried again.

And I always end up coming back to option number 3. That is the only thing that works for me.

I cannot accept someone else’s dogma. I just can’t do it. The people who “write the rules” (so to speak) don’t have special knowledge. My mind simply refuses to believe it.

And so I just can’t subvert my beliefs to religious dogma. I have tried.

Freedom comes with a price.

In “The Paradox of Choice” we learn that most people are actually happier with LESS choice.

And yet we all believe that we will be happier if we have more options, more freedom, more power.

Those who subvert their beliefs for dogma have accepted a set of constraints in their life. That is what dogma is….at the core it is a set of constraints. It is a set of limits.

And strangely enough, this generally leads to more happiness.

And yet I cannot “get there.” I can’t seem to accept the constraints.

It is not necessarily a lack of faith. I don’t know what it is exactly. But I can’t accept dogma being preached to me. I can’t just accept it, believe it, and be happy with it. I can’t let that become my purpose.

So it is my responsibility to create my own meaning, my own purpose.

It is so much easier to define what we are not.

I quit smoking, quit drinking, etc. Defined by things I am not.

So then later: “I am a runner.” That is a start on creating meaning.

But it can’t stop there, can it? We need more than that.

And then: I am a writer. I create on the blank page, without fear, heck….without even stopping to think. I write like a madman most times.

And later on: I am an entrepreneur. I have created one successful business. Now I sell my time to the highest bidder, which I deem to be more profitable than creating another business.

I have reduced the waste in my life to nearly nothing. That means I am frugal and spend money very consciously and carefully.

It also means that I have a lot more power in terms of cash flow, investment income, even retirement options. I am not exactly a slave to the workplace at this point.

And this leads to choices. I have choices today. Lots of choice. Power, even.

But perhaps what I really need are constraints.

I need a better problem to solve.

A puzzle that will entertain and delight.

I need to reinvent myself. Again. And become that better version of myself by creating something new.

Complacency is a lack of creation. What are you creating in your life?

If you are not making anything then you are complacent.

In this sense you are no different than your higher power.

Look around at all of this stuff that God made. And I am going to sit here and complain about Facebook? Really?

Personal growth is not an act of elimination. You have to create something; make something. Build something. Build yourself. Reinvent yourself.

Today I am creating my own meaning, my own purpose. Because I have rejected all other forms of dogma. I can’t help it.

Not because I am awesome. I simply can’t accept the programming. My mind rejects dogma. Tell me how to think, and my mind rebels.

I have plenty of choices and plenty of power at my disposal.

Is freedom the path to happiness?

Chuck Palahniuk said:

“All God does is watch us and kill us when we get boring. We must never, ever be boring.”

The opposite of boring is…..creating. Creation. We become exciting when we are creating. When we are thrashing about, trying to make something happen.

I cannot afford to be idle. I have to make. If I don’t do this the universe will step in and impose constraints on me. Then I have to create.

So I may as well do it now. Unprovoked. Find a point of passion and run with it.

If you are going to create your own meaning and your own purpose, then don’t just browse Facebook all day and watch TV. That is a recipe for misery.

Build. Make. Create.

Creation.

That’s what God wants for you, after all.

He wants you to create. He wants you to play in his sandbox.

Now go eat some chocolate, and be happy….

The Art of Learning Podcast with Josh Waitzkin and Tim Ferriss

theArtOfLearning
Maybe you are familiar with the movie “Searching for Bobby Fischer.”

That movie is based on a young world class chess player who went on to become world class in martial arts as well (Tai Chi).

That person is Josh Waitzkin and he is an expert at learning at a very high level.

The guy interviewing him is Tim Ferriss, who is a self help guru, but Tim is more about how to get from “zero to competent” with the least amount of effort possible. (80/20 principle).

But Josh is more about how to reach that top .01 percent, how to go from being an expert to being world class, or even the best in the world.

Josh also took his learning skills in chess and martial arts and took them to the finance world in helping people who manage billions of dollars.

You can find the podcast here on Tim’s website.

Among other things, they discuss:

* Input creep and how that destroys your creative process. Wake up, check email, check voicemail, check phone, etc. Bad routine, this is a reactive lifestyle. They suggest instead: Wake up, skip all of the inputs, then unleash the creative mind on that task that your subconscious mind has been pouring over all night while you slept.

* How to nurture the creative process. “Unlearning.”

* Addiction to a past position in your experience, how to evaluate the present in a clean way to make best decision (avoid the sunk cost fallacy).

* How to meditate in order to create from an original place, rather than just reacting to the world.

* Ending your work day with high quality in order to carry that theme forward, start out strong tomorrow, subconsciously program that quality approach, etc.

* Meditation plus interval training, learning how to turn on and off your creative juices at will. They hint at the idea that simply watching the breath is perhaps the most powerful form of meditation and anyone can do this right now.

* Using meditation to channel fear, use the fear as power.

* Using meditation to observe your addictive relationships in your brain, the way your brain gets addicted to certain topics, things, etc.

* How “armchair philosophers” get it wrong when it is most important, and the actual people who achieve excellence often have a counter-intuitive process (discipline, hard work, love).

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So I have not necessarily achieved “excellence” in my life, but I have accomplished a few things (built a business, ran a few marathons, etc.) and I would say that when I was engaged in a process with these things, I find that I am in agreement with the concepts that they are discussing here in this podcast. For example, when building up a huge website I seriously reduced my “input creep” and would not even check my email or turn on my cell phone sometimes until my writing was finished for the day. Thus I trained myself to become a fast and prolific writer, and today I am able to “turn it on and off” just by sitting down at the computer. I never sit down and freeze up any more, because I went through this process where it was almost like I taught myself how to force creativity. I taught myself how to write on command, how to flip the juices on, and a big part of doing that was eliminating inputs.

I mastered this process by doing it first thing in the morning. I would outline an article that I wanted to create at bedtime, right before going to bed. Then I would wake up, grab my coffee, and within ten minutes of waking up I was pounding out an article. Looking back now I realize that I was using some of their ideas that they discuss–some quick planning at the end of the work day, let it percolate overnight, then wake up and get right to the most creative task of the day while eliminating inputs (no email or cell phone until writing is done).

Anyway if you are looking for a way to get to that next level, or if you want to master the creative process yourself, I recommend that you go check out this podcast.

Radio Shack and Mortal Kombat Taught me How to Choose Yourself

I used to work at Radio Shack.

Each morning, another male coworker and I would show up early in the morning to open the store.

The first thing we would do each day is to put that song (from the video above) on the big speaker system in the store and blast it as loud as possible.

Then we would grab these Frisbees in the back room (why were there Frisbees in a Radio Shack store?) and then we would run around the store and try to whip the Frisbees at each other while the song was jamming. We were ducking behind various displays and trying to dodge the flying Frisbees while also looking for an opening to attack the other person by throwing our weapon of Kombat.

Inevitably, something would break in the store as the Frisbees were flying around like crazy. At that point we would stop the epic battle and clean up the wreckage. We would feel bad about whatever had broken, hide it in the back room, and get back to our real job at that point (By the way, what in the heck does a Radio Shack employee even do all day? I mean, really?).

I think we even got the store manager to battle with us one time.

Pretty immature, right?

However…..

I think we all do this.

You do this too. You have your own version of “Frisbee Kombat.”

Years later, I was working in an office job, and instead of running around and chucking Frisbees at each other to cheesy techno music, we were gathered around the break room eating a box of donuts. Or we were gathered around a computer and looking at funny pictures of cats.

Or whatever. Avoiding work.

It’s all the same thing.

You’re at work, you are stuck in a day job. You need an outlet.

You need some way to feel alive.

Most day jobs don’t give you that feeling of being alive. Instead they are slowly killing your spirit.

And so we invent Frisbee Kombat. Something to distract us. To get us through the day.

Frisbee Kombat was keeping me stuck.

And since then I have had various jobs in my life, and I have always found different ways to try and cope and deal with the monotony of working (some more than mature than others, but nothing was as epic as those frisbee battles).

Fast forward to today, roughly two decades post-Kombat.

Today I am lucky enough to be “choosing myself,” in the style of James Altucher.

How am I doing this? I created a job for myself, basically. Which involved quite a bit of luck, I admit.

But I can also remember being stuck in a day job that I hated, and I can remember the exact moment when I made this decision for myself. It was an EPIC decision that was worthy of true Kombat.

And the decision was this:

“I am going to keep building businesses until I find one that creates enough income for me to kill my day job. PERIOD. I will never stop until I succeed at this. I don’t care what it takes. I don’t care if it kills me.” (Insert shot of me with fist raised, screaming “Mortal Kombat!”)

I really had those exact thoughts one day in my past and I remember my level of conviction. It was fierce determination.

At the time, I had a video game system. I have always liked to play video games. I grew up playing video games.

And do you know what I did when I had that fierce moment of conviction?

I went and sold my video games on eBay. All of them.

Because I had no need for them any more, until I was free from my day job.

My path was clear to me. FOCUS.

I had to create my own business, something that could sustain me so that I would not have to go to work and comply with a boss and an HR department and state guidelines and so on and so forth.

I wanted OUT.

If you suddenly realize that you are living in chains, you don’t want to do anything else until your chains are removed and you are finally free.

Therefore I made freedom my priority.

This was focus. It was how I chose myself.

And I realized that Kombat Frisbee and all of the other things like it (eating donuts at work, watching funny cat videos with coworkers, etc.) were part of the complacency. They were keeping me stuck. They made it OK for me to keep showing up to a job that I hated.

And that day job was slowly killing my spirit.

How did I get unstuck?

How did I choose myself?

Extreme focus. Seriously hard work. Yesterday I actually wrote over 12,000 words online, and that was just a faint echo of the real work that I did when I was gearing up to quit my day job. During that time I cranked out over 25,000 words online in a single day. That is some serious focus. Serious intensity.

That is someone who really, really wants to quit their day job.

Call me a fan boy, but I don’t care…..no one says it better than James Altucher. You might read his book if you are looking to escape from your own Kombat zone. It will cost you all of .99 cents on Kindle.

So go ahead, click on the video, turn up your speakers as loud as you can, and grab a Frisbee.

Time to break free from this madness.

Time to escape the day job.

Time to choose yourself.

MORTAL KOMBAT!!!!!

mortalKombat

The Never Ending Fountain of Gratitude

What if we don’t really want freedom at all?

It’s a scary question. I have been driven for the last few years based on the idea that I would be happiest if I had “total freedom” in my life.

Freedom to do whatever I want, when I want. Without being tied to the daily grind of a day job, and all that jazz.

To be honest I am not so sure any more.

I love listening to Alan Watts. He says that we all scramble and work so hard for security in our lives but then once we achieve that security we are not really as happy with it as we thought we would be. Instead, he says we “want to be surprised.” Not surprised in a nasty way but surprised in a delightful way. That is what we are really seeking, he says.

Maybe he has a point. So what if you can cover your living expenses with practically risk free investments? This won’t necessarily make anyone happy, even though we think that it will.

Let’s say that you are broke and living paycheck to paycheck. Or maybe even worse, you no longer have “paychecks.” In that case you may be saying “I only need one thing in the world to be happy and that is the security of steady paychecks. If I could just get my rent paid each month and food on the table without any headaches then I would be eternally grateful.”

Is this true though?

Consider James Altucher who had roughly 15 million dollars at one point. He was investing in the stock market during the dot com bust and at one point he was losing roughly 1 million dollars each and every week. And he felt powerless to stop it, powerless to pull out and cut his losses, because he just wanted to gamble his way back to even. And after the money was all gone and he went all the way down to zero (which he in fact did) he said to himself “there is only one thing in the world that can make me happy and that is 15 million dollars.”

Just one thing. That is all he needed to be happy again. The 15 million that he had just lost.

Look at the two examples. They are the same. The truly poor person and the guy who just lost 15 million. Don’t be so outraged. I have been broke in my life and I have also acquired 100X monthly expenses in the bank. So I believe that I know the truth of this issue. And the truth is that the broke person who is wishing for basic financial security is no different than James wishing for 15 million to magically drop into his lap. Both of them are suffering from the same disease.

We think we know what we need to be happy but we are fooling ourselves. If someone handed 15 million to James at that moment he would have been temporarily happy, but he would have learned nothing. And he would have lost it and returned to misery, as he himself stated. He would not have learned how to build gratitude from scratch, which is what he then went on to do.

So the question is, how can we live our lives in such a way that we continuously surprise ourselves in a delightful way?

How do we find the endless fountain of gratitude?

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