Monday, September 29, 2008

Progress So Far (Q3 2008)

I can’t believe I made it to the end of September. I really can’t. There have been times when the stress of work and the anxiety of waiting for this process to take it’s logical, deliberate course has been almost too much to bear. But here I am, my dear reader. I am staring at a calendar that tells me that I have survived another quarter and have moved closer to the beginning of something precious: absolute, simple freedom. :)

Now that I am here I figured it was time to check in with the Enemy and see how far along I have come:

Getting Rid of Consumer Debt/Student Loans
Start: Ongoing
End: September 1, 2009

My debt reduction plan continues unabated. By tomorrow, I will be able to say that I retired approximately 62% of the consumer debt I accumulated since I bough my townhouse. I am still on target to finish paying it all off by next September though I could always pay it off in full using part of my savings. The more I put in savings the more this becomes an attractive possibility. I think I will feel comfortable signing a big fat check sometime in the next several months. But, again, this consumer debt is parked in a 0% credit card, so it’s not as if I am incurring a monthly interest charge. I don’t have a strong incentive to pay this off at the moment, apart from the psychological boost it would provide.

The student loan debt is still humongous. I’m continuing to make minimum payments, which is annoying because I am paying a great deal towards interest. Again, I think this will not be much of an issue once I start a new public interest job. As I mentioned, my law school has a program that pays off student loan debt if you work in the public interest field. This will probably be the subject of a future post.


Sale of Stuff
Start: July 2008
End: December 2009

One word: nowhere. After de-cluttering my townhouse earlier this year I was left with five or six items that I put up on craigslist. Maybe the prices I advertised were too high or maybe it’s just the economic times we live in but I got exactly 0 responses for all the items I posted. I will try again in a couple of months and see if I can unload some stuff. If I can’t I will just have to wait until I hold a proper yard sale before I leave the townhouse next year.


Selling the Townhouse
: October 1, 2008
End: September 1, 2009

My dear reader, you have NO idea how gratifying it is to finally start focusing on how to get rid of my townhouse. It is the single biggest obstacle to my freedom, both literally and figuratively.
Starting this Thursday I will be contacting real estate professionals, attorneys and tax advisers to try and outline all possible options. Once I get all the facts I will be in a better position to plan my exit strategy. I can’t wait to get started! :)


Leaving My Job
: December 17, 2009
End: December 31, 2009

I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way I came to terms with the possibility that I could, in fact, leave my job earlier than next December. This is actually the most significant development since I started this process and I am grateful for it. :)

From the beginning, I could justify leaving my law firm because by the time I did I would have enough cash to feel comfortable and secure for years to come. While the plan calls for having enough money in the bank to make $10k a year in interest, the reality is that I could probably live off whatever salary I get from the dream jobs I am currently researching without tapping into my savings. Bottom line, even if I were to leave my job in 6 months or even 3 months, I would still have enough in savings to make leaving my job early worthwhile.

What this all means is that the date of my departure from the law firm is no longer based on how much I have in savings. In fact, freedom for me now depends on how soon I can figure out the practicalities of getting rid of every unnecessary physical thing in my life. As soon as I can dispose of the townhouse and get rid of my furniture I will be in a position to quit my job. What a difference a change in perspective can make.


Friday, September 26, 2008

Flute Simplicity

I was biking around Georgetown the other day when I stumbled on Melchizea. He arrived in the area from Colorado a couple of weeks ago to attend a wedding in Maryland and had decided to stick around for a bit. He told me that he had been sleeping in a tent that he set up by the National Cathedral, but after about a week he had come back to find all his stuff gone. He was certain that one of the grounds people had picked it up but he did not feel comfortable confronting anyone about it.

What was amazing about Melchizea was that he seemed absolutely serene about his predicament. When I found him, he was playing a flute made out bamboo he had discovered on a bike trail in Maryland. His philosophy was that the universe has a plan for him and that his mission was to ‘listen’ closely to figure out what that plan entails.

Some of the most revealing things about Melchizea:

*He has started to make these nifty looking flutes out of that bamboo that apparently grows locally. Who knew!
*He told me that during his first week in DC he happened to meet an elementary school principal who invited him to come and speak to classes about his life, his travels and the meaning of happiness. He showed me a stack of letters kids wrote thanking him for his presentations. They were rolled into one of his flutes.

*He was actually at the Rainbow Gathering in Wyoming this past year. He had awesome stories to share.

I spent a good 20 minutes talking about how I was this self-hating yuppie who wanted to get rid of all his stuff so that he could lead a more meaningful life. He listened patiently, with a great deal of kindness. At some point, I had to move on so I said my goodbyes and without thinking about it gave him a $20 dollar donation. “See, the universe always provides,” he said as he handed me one of his flutes. “This flute will surely help you on your journey, and I can go and get a sandwich.”

Monday, September 22, 2008

New Tenant

In an effort to boost my savings I’ve decided to get another tenant for the townhouse. As of October 1st a very nice Polish student will be staying in what used to be the guest bedroom.

I’m pretty psyched about this. Having another check coming in on a monthly basis is definitely a big plus and will make the Plan that much more feasible. Also, the fact is that I’m usually not home and I hardly see my other tenant anyway. This really shouldn’t change things much. In the end, my savings account will thank me.

Friday, September 19, 2008

On Love

One of the most difficult things that I have had to face since I started this journey has been the realization that, at least for the foreseeable future, I cannot be in love. I just can’t. I'm in a place in my life where being in love would be selfish, impractical, and, dare I say, decidedly confusing.

You see, my dear reader, I, like you, long for the security of comfortable silences. I yearn to feel the familiar warmth of someone's body next to my pillow. Most of all, I crave a certain indescribable connection of body, mind and spirit with someone who instinctively understands me. Ultimately, I want to be able to tell myself: "Jack, this woman was made for you. And you were made for her. Now live your life together simply, justly, and happily."

As much as I may want love I have no choice but to push it aside. There are just too many things in the way.


The hard truth is that I've been so independent for so long that I just don't think I even remember how to be a good partner. There have been way too many late nights at bars, too many parties, too many women to count. Temptation, of all stripes, has been my friend for so long that, at times, it feels as if it is the only thing I know.

Only recently have I started to work my way out of this maze. And there is the rub. I just don’t know how long it will take me to get out. About the only thing I know is that I will occasionally stumble along the way. And that is not a good foundation for love.


The reality is that I just don’t know where I will end up next year. I have a couple of ideas floating around in my head, biding their time until the practicalities of the Plan are resolved. But I just don’t see how I can get close to anyone when I don’t even know where this journey will be taking me.


Embracing simplicity can fundamentally rearrange the contours of the dating world. At least for me. I can just picture my profile:

“Hi, my name is Jack. I’m an ivy-league educated lawyer working at a big time law firm here in DC. I earn a great salary and live in a fantastic townhouse. I enjoy traveling, wine, and gourmet food. In fact, I’ve been to most of the best restaurants in DC and NYC. And let’s not forget that I’ve traveled extensively in Europe, North Africa, North and South America. Believe me, if you take me home to meet your parents they are going to LOVE me. They are going to take one look at me and they will see a multimillion dollar house in the suburbs, 2.3 grandkids, a couple of Mercedes, several trust funds, etc…

But just so you know, over the next year or so I plan on (1) getting rid of my possessions; (2) getting rid of my townhouse; (3) quitting my very lucrative job; and (4) embracing a simple life. I hope to hear from you soon.”

My journey thus far has been an exhilarating, at times painful, mostly joyful experience. In the end, I just hope that this process can add meaning to my life and that it brings me the clarity and the certainty to love someone simply and completely. We shall see.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Day in the Life (part 6)

Jack leaves the office in a hurry. He wants to get home in time to catch a netflix movie on his laptop.

Not so long ago, he might have left his bike at the office for a chance to indulge in the wonders of alcohol consumption with some of his lawyer friends. Sometimes it was at a bar in Adams Morgan. At other times, Chinatown did the trick. If it was warm, the Georgetown waterfront was the place to be. Regardless, there was nothing like drowning away the evening with a glass of beer in your hand, good conversation and hot chicks all over the place. And there was nothing like indulging Monday through Saturday, if at all possible.

But that was before Jack’s big epiphany. After a couple of years indulging in all things excess, Jack began to feel that something was very wrong. At first he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. He was making tons of money, had a bunch of ‘friends’ he could count on, and he was as promiscuous as his free time allowed. “What else could I possibly want?” Jack asked himself.

His first reaction was to indulge even more. He went to more bars, slept with more women, partied until all hours. One day he found himself on a bathroom floor reeking of tequila. Looking up at the ceiling he realized what had been bothering him for so long: he was horribly unhappy.

It was such a simple but powerful epiphany. It was as if he had been using his bare hands to dig sand out of a hole, only to find a shovel at the very bottom. In time, he would come to discover the beauty of simplicity and the happiness that comes with a simplified, deliberate life.

But that’s a story for another day.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Park Simplicity

As the days start to get shorter and dusk begins to sting my face with a slight northern chill I start to get very protective of what is left of summer. I feel as if my time to enjoy this life is limited and I must do everything possible to experience the beauty and simplicity around me.

Just the other day I spent an entire afternoon by myself at a gorgeous park in the middle of DC reconnecting with my inner 9-year old. I walked barefoot. I picked grass. I laid back and stared at the clouds above me. I smiled.

It was one of those days when you realize that however much you might yearn for a nice house, an expensive car and exotic vacations, what we are really searching for is the certainty and simplicity that only a 9-year-old would understand.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Day in the Life (part 5)

Jack picks up the phone and jumps right into the belly of the beast:

“Jack, listen, client Big Brother is, once again, intent on taking over the world. Could you please do X, Y and Z to see if we can help them out? Definitely appreciate it! Oh, and by the way, could you do it yesterday?"

This pattern is repeated over and over again throughout the day. Jack listens for instructions and does his job as best he can, all the while hoping that it is enough to keep the phone calls away. Inevitably, stacks of paper start to pile up on his desk and begin overflowing onto window ledges and floor space. At times, Jack feels like he is floating on a vast, endless ocean of paper, screaming at a torrential storm of pens, legal pads and overwhelming responsibility. He knows the sad, inevitable truth: the law firm is a ferocious, starving beast that can never be satisfied.

By the time the clock hits 8pm the splitting headache that started during that 2pm conference call has settled into a more manageable throb. He changes clothes, dons his bike helmet and waddles through a sea of paper, ready to fight the cabs again.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Canoing Simplicity

A friend and I had a chance to go canoing in the middle of the Potomac river recently. Sometime after 2 pm, we made our way over to a small little island right across from Georgetown. When we got out of the canoe everything made so much sense to me. The sun was brilliant, the water was calm, and my soul was at ease. Most of all, the Plan seemed within reach. Life was beautiful.