I’m not a fan of the Law of Attraction, the idea that people bring into their lives the things they think about. In fact, I think it’s bullshit. In The Secret, Rhonda Byrne explains how this “law” is purported to work:

Thoughts are magnetic, and thoughts have a frequency. As you think, those thoughts are sent out into the Universe, and they magnetically attract all like things that are on the same frequency. Everything sent out returns to its source. And that source is You.

[...]

It takes no time for the Universe to manifest what you want. It is as easy to manifest one dollar as it is to manifest one million dollars.

This kind of stuff makes me SO TENSE. To quote Han Solo, “No mystical energy field controls my destiny.” Authors like Byrne do a disservice to folks who ought to be changing their lives by becoming more active participants in their futures instead of passively “manifesting” what they want.

That said, I do believe our thoughts create our reality. As positive psychology has demonstrated, the things we choose to think about and how we choose to think about them can have a profound impact on the quality of our daily experience. If you focus on the negative, life is more likely to suck for you than if you were to spend more time paying attention to what’s right with your world.

Plus, I cannot deny that the more open I am about my intentions — about what I want do and how I want to do it — the more help I get from unexpected sources. But the key here is that I have to intentionally put myself out there for anything to happen. I have to take action. Hoping and wishing and thinking aren’t enough.

For instance, Kim and I are in the middle of planning some future adventures. We want to spend some of our vacation time traveling the U.S. in an RV or trailer, seeing the sights and filming the people we meet along the way. There are a couple of complications, though.

  • First, neither one of us has experience with RVs or trailers. We need to figure out what the heck we’re doing before we hit the road. Will we rent? Buy? New or used? How much space will we need? If we tow a trailer, what kind of truck should we buy?
  • Second, how do we document our journey? I can write, obviously, and I’ve had some modest success with my amateur photography (one photo published, some prizes at the county fair). But my video skills are rudimentary. How do we produce quality shorts that people want to watch while keeping the gear and hassle to a minimum?

The old J.D. would have dealt with these dilemmas by thinking and reading and hoping. But the new me has learned something useful: If I talk about my plans with the people I meet, help often appears. I think of this as playing the lottery of life. Each time I meet with somebody, it’s like I’m receiving a lottery ticket. Most of these tickets don’t pay off, but sometimes I gain new knowledge, new experience, new friends.

Over the past few months, I’ve been talking about our proposed trip with the people I meet. Last month at Fincon, for example, A.J. and Walter interviewed me for the SmartAsset blog. As they were setting up their gear, I realized they might be able to give me some tips.

“Tell me about your camera setup,” I said. “What gear do you use and why?” Walter and A.J. described their equipment and the rationale behind each piece. Later, Walter sent me an email with a more detailed explanation. Based on his recommendations — and the recommendations of a few other folks I talked to — I’ve expanded my kit of camera equipment. I’m ready to dabble with video. (The sound and lighting stuff still worry me, but I feel prepared for the actual filming part of the project.)

Here’s another example: A couple of weeks ago, Scott and Chelsea were in town. Because I’ve wanted to get to know them better, I took them out to lunch. Over Thai food, I told them how I wanted to learn more about video production.

“I know somebody you should talk to,” Scott told me. “You need to meet Chase Reeves.” A few days later, Scott made an email introduction. Chase and I met earlier this week we spent an hour getting to know each other. He shared some of what he’s learned about creating podcasts and video for the web.

Or last week, my ex-wife and I spent a couple of hours together in the car. As we drove, Kris and I talked about how our lives are going and what we plan to do in the future. I mentioned that Kim and I might buy an RV but have no place to park it.

“You could park it at my place,” Kris offered. “But you’d have to let me use it when you’re not on the road.”

“That sounds fair,” I said. Another problem solved.

One last example: In just a few minutes, I’ll head to north Portland to meet with Cherie and Chris from Technomadia. This couple has been on the road since April 2006 (the same month I started Get Rich Slowly!), moving from a sixteen-foot trailer to a full-sized Greyhound bus. I emailed them yesterday to see if we could chat online. They upped the ante. “We’re in Portland,” they wrote. “Come see our bus.” Once I look at how they live, I plan to take them to lunch and ask them what they’ve learned during their years on the road.

Here’s my point: Although I despise The Secret and the Law of Attraction, there really is something similar at work in the universe. But that something only works when you go beyond wishing.

When we’re open about what we want, when we begin to take action, things almost seem to magically come together. Wishing and hoping aren’t enough, though. They key to making this magic is to take action. Action is the catalyst that attracts people and knowledge — and all of that other good stuff — into our lives.

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: ‘Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!’William Hutchinson Murray (1913-1996), The Scottish Himalaya Expedition

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On the surface, things have been quiet around here lately. Underneath, however, there’s been a flurry of activity.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to rename this blog from “More Than Money”. But what to name it? You folks offered lots of suggestions — along with encouragement to write more often (and about whatever the hell I want).

In the end, I realized the best name was the first name. I’m going to call this site Foldedspace, which was the name I picked for the blog back when I started it in 2001. (My previous web journals from 1997, 1998, and 1999 either had no name or were called “Great Expectations”.)

Foldedspace is back!

Meanwhile, I’ve updated my blogging software to the current version of WordPress (4.0) and have upgraded all of my WordPress plugins. I also installed the latest version of the “theme” this blog is built on.

But that’s not all!

I took the time to import most of my old articles from previous versions of Foldedspace, and I’ve built an archives page that allows easy access to this content. (Note that there’s a bunch of stuff from before 2005 that remains trapped in a dead database. I’ll get it over here eventually.)

Plus I updated the about page and created a page dedicated to my best articles from this site and others (including Get Rich Slowly).

But wait! There’s more!

I spent several hours re-vamping the sidebar here at Foldedspace. For the six of you who actually visit this site on a regular basis, you’ll now find my Twitter and Instagram feeds, my most recent bookmarks at Delicious, and an up-to-date blogroll linking to the latest posts from some of my friends and colleagues.

If you look at the image box in the upper-right corner, you’ll see that I’ve doubled the number of photos that are cycled randomly. (I get a lot of questions about these photos, by the way. Just to be clear: They’re all images by me or of me. They tend to be photos of my travels or of my daily life. Each image is meaningful to me in some way.)

There’s been another, more important change behind the scenes. Just as several other old-school bloggers have re-dedicated themselves to “middle-form” content over the past month (Matt, Andy, Gina), I’ve made that leap as well.

No more fretting over what’s okay to post here. It’s my site; I’ll share what I want to share. I hope you like it, but if you don’t, that’s okay. If I post too many cat videos and you need to unsubscribe, I’ll understand.

There’s still quite a bit of housekeeping to be done. I want to get those “lost” articles imported, for instance. Also, during the process of importing past posts, I created several duplicate categories. As a result, categories are useless right now (so I’ve removed them from the site). I want to fix that. And more. I want to do lots more.

Right now, though, it’s time to head to the gym.

Welcome back to Foldedspace…

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This post is meant as a public service announcement for pumpkin carvers everywhere — but especially those who might consider keeping a carved pumpkin indoors for a day or two.

Don’t do it.

Eighteen months ago, I moved into a condo. Last year, Kim and I were too busy to carve pumpkins, so we didn’t bother. This year, however, she’s been feel especially festive, so we decided to decorate with style.

Two weeks ago, we took a trip to Kruger’s on Sauvie Island to pick pumpkins with Sahra and the Limbaughs. The day was lovely, and included a rare double rainbow.

Double rainbow at the pumpkin patch
Double rainbow at the pumpkin patch (only one rainbow shown)

We all picked pumpkins. Kim and I took home three. Here’s Reagan with hers:

Reagan with her pumpkin
Reagan with her pumpkin

At home, Kim and I put on the big band music and poured some champagne. We spent several hours carving our pumpkins.

Kim carves her first pumpkin
Kim carves her first pumpkin

They looked great!

Two jack o' lanterns
Two of our three jack o’ lanterns

We turned off the lights, lit the jack o’ lanterns and all of our candles, and then watched an old movie. Everything felt like fall.

So far, nothing unusual, right? Well, here’s the thing: Neither of us has ever lived in a condo before. We’ve only ever kept our jack o’ lanterns outside. In our current place, though, that doesn’t make much sense. Sure, we have three balconies, but if we put our pumpkins on them, nobody will see them.

Instead, we put one pumpkin in the hallway, one on the liquor cabinet, and one in the living room. So festive!

On Tuesday night — 72 hours after carving our pumpkins — we sat down for dinner as normal. “Hey,” Kim said, pointing at the pumpkin across the room. “Doesn’t that look like it’s slumping over a little?”

“It does look a little crooked,” I said. “I wonder why.”

“I think it’s okay,” she said.

A few minutes later, however, we both noticed that the pumpkin was not okay. “Holy cats,” I said. “I think it’s melting!” And indeed, that’s what it looked like. Kim got up to check things out.

“Get the garbage can!” she said. “And a towel!” I ran to the kitchen to grab the emergency tools. Thinking ahead, I also grabbed my phone. When I reached Kim’s side, this is what I saw:

A melted pumpkin
“Help me! I’m melting…”

Our pumpkin really had melted. When Kim pulled off the top, a mass of fruit flies flew spewed forth. A thick green mold coated the entire inside of the pumpkin. When I tried to pick it up, I was in for another surprise. The pumpkin no longer had any sort of structural integrity. It just sort of oozed in my arms so that there was no way to lift it into the trash can. We were forced to scoop it over in a wet and mushy heap.

“I wonder if the other pumpkins are okay,” I said.

We went to check the pumpkin on the liquor cabinet. “This one seems okay,” Kim said. But then I poked it and my finger sunk all the way through the skin. When Kim lifted the top, there was the same green mold and the same mass of fruit flies. That pumpkin too ended up in the trash. And so did the one in the hall (which wasn’t as bad as the other two, but soon would have been).

The moral of this story? Don’t keep carved pumpkins indoors. Let our foolishness serve as a warning to you all!

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Faith in ParisLast night, I met with my friend Faith. Faith is eighteen, and she’s just getting started in life. Her parents are two of my best friends, but they’re still parents. You know what I mean. Faith wanted to meet with me one-on-one to talk about family stuff and to talk about boys.

I’m not the best person to give advice about dating, but I did the best I could.

Taking Risks

Earlier this year, Faith made a bold move. She’d been hanging out with a boy she really liked, but she was tired of waiting for him to ask her out. “You should ask him out,” Kim told her. And so she did. The boy said “no”, though, and now Faith regrets making the move.

“That was a mistake,” she said.

“I’m not so sure,” I said. “Sometimes we have to take risks in order to get what we want.” I was thinking about how people on their deathbeds tend to regret the things they didn’t do rather than the things they did. “It’s not a mistake to go after what you want. But that doesn’t mean you’ll always get it.”

Faith seemed unconvinced.

“Look,” I said. I pulled out my pen and notebook and drew a diagram.

“Here’s how I see it. You can sit on the sideline and not take risks, and you’ll never get what you really want. You won’t have to suffer failure, and that’s great, but you’ll just have to take what life gives you. Or you can take an active role in your life, make some bold moves, and run the risk of getting rejected. Or failing.”

I drew five circles and then crossed out four of them. “In my case, I probably fail about eighty percent of the time. Only about one out of every five things I try works out. But you know what? Twenty percent of the time, I get what I want. Some people see my life and think, ‘Wow, J.D. is lucky.’ There’s no question that in many ways I am. But I’ve learned that I get luckier the more things I try.”

This concept has become a core piece of my philosophy. It’s a precept preached by plenty of people in the world of positive psychology and personal development. But I think it may have been the first time Faith had heard of it — or maybe the first time it clicked. I’m not sure she’ll take my advice, but I hope she will. The bolder and braver she becomes, the more she’ll get what she wants out of life. (My bottom-line dating advice for Faith? Instead of asking the boy out, she should have kissed him!)

Making Mistakes

Faith and I also talked about making mistakes. Sometimes we do the wrong thing and we end up hurting ourselves. Or, worse, we hurt others. Sometimes we do these dumb things despite knowing better or not wanting to do them.

Faith beats herself up over her mistakes. Many of us do. But I’ve learned that the key to coping with mistakes is to own them, fix them (when possible), and move on.

Here’s an example.

Last week, I tried to pull together a whisky night with my friends Sean and Tyler. Originally, we planned to get together Thursday night but then Sean realized he’d double-booked. “How about we get together Sunday night instead?” he asked. We all agreed. But there were complications.

  • First, Sunday was Kim’s birthday.
  • Second, our original plans included our sweethearts. When things changed, Kim explicitly told me “no girls”. She wanted to spend time with Tate and Jesse if they came over but Kim already had plans for Sunday evening. During rescheduling, I forgot to relay this key condition.

On Sunday afternoon, while I was out buying cheese and sausage for the whisky tasting, I realized that Sean and Tyler still planned to bring Tate and Jesse. Instead of clearing up the confusion immediately, I sent an awkward text message that just made things worse. Tyler and Sean were confused and Kim was angry. (She never gets angry with me!)

The old J.D. would have hemmed and hawed and dug the hole deeper, but the new me took action. I owned my mistake and apologized to everyone involved. We cancelled the whisky night, and will schedule it for a time when the six of us can have a relaxed evening together.

Mistakes suck. It would be great to live a life without mistakes. But you know what? We’re all human. As a result, we do dumb things from time to time. Or we do things that seem smart when we do them but later turn out to cause woe. When this happens, the best course of action is to solve the problem as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Solving Problems

The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott PeckAnd this is the thing: Often we are so afraid of fixing what’s wrong — whether or not it’s an actual mistake — that we choose to live with a broken situation. That’s crazy!

I’ve begun to re-read M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled. This book had a profound impact on me two years ago, and I’ve been feeling like it’s time to revisit it. I’m glad I am.

Peck’s thesis is that “life is difficult”. He argues that understanding (and accepting) that life is difficult is the key to being happy and fulfilled. To Peck, life gains meaning through recognizing and solving problems. “Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom,” he writes. “Indeed, they create our courage and our wisdom.”

He goes further. He says that our “tendency to avoid problems and the emotional suffering inherent in them is the primary basis of all human mental illness”:

Fearing the pain involved, almost all of us, to a greater or lesser degree, attempt to avoid problems. We procrastinate, hoping that they will go away. We ignore them, forget them, pretend they do not exist. We even take drugs to assist us in ignoring them, so that that by deadening ourselves to the pain we can forget the problems that cause the pain. We attempt to skirt around problems rather than meet them head on. We attempt to get out of them rather than suffer through them.

It’s like tearing off a bandage or diving into a cold lake. If you avoid the action, it takes on greater power in your mind until you’re suffering more from the imagined event than you would from the event itself. Peck’s philosophy — in my words — is to say “fuck it”, tear off the bandage or jump in the lake, and just get the damn thing over with. You suffer for mere moments and can move on with life.

For a long time, I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t tear off the bandage or dive into the lake. I wallowed in unhealthy relationships and allowed myself to remain mired in work I hated. Even today — despite knowing I should make quick, clean breaks — I sometimes stay stuck in situations that suck. But I’m getting better.

Last night, Faith told me that she’s going through a period of her life where she has to make some tough decisions. Will she go to college? If so, where? What will she study? Will she live at home or move out on her own? What should she do about certain friendships that she knows are bringing her down? And what about those darned boys?

It’s an exciting time for her, but it’s also scary. Small choices today will have huge repercussions for years to come. There’s pressure to make the “right” decisions. I hope our conversation helped her to see there’s a profit to be gained from taking calculated risks instead of playing it safe by waiting. And if some of the risks she takes turn out to be failures or mistakes, that’s okay.

Though it now seems trite, I think Nietzsche had it right: “What does not kill me makes me stronger.” Or, to use a more eloquent Spanish proverb, “No hay mal que por bien no venga.” (That is, “There is no bad from which good does not come.”) Failures, mistakes, and problems aren’t the end of the world. In fact, sometimes they’re beginnings in disguise.

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30 September 2014

What Should I Call This Blog?

Over four years ago, I sold Get Rich Slowly, the little personal-finance blog that I somehow built into a behemoth. After the sale, I thought I’d leave the site quickly — but I stuck around for three years. Eventually, I moved on. I tried to return to Folded Space, the personal blog that I started […]

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27 September 2014

Which Scotch is Best? A Macallan Taste Test

Last week at Fincon, I spent some time becoming acquainted with Shannyn Allan, who writes about finance and fashion at Frugal Beautiful. Though we’ve known each other for three years, we’d never spent time getting to know each other until this conference. Shannyn says that she can be an enigma to some men. She’s a […]

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25 September 2014

Blog Consolidation, Step One: Far Away Places

I just returned from Fincon, the annual conference for financial bloggers and other folks who write about money. After a week in New Orleans with my colleagues, I’m inspired to become a better blogger. For me, that’s going to be easy. It just means I have to post more regularly around here! As part of […]

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23 September 2014

How I Pack for Travel

I like to travel. Since 2007, I’ve visited twenty countries and eighteen states (where “visit” is defined as “spent the night”). I’m not on some mad quest to uncover every corner of the planet — although that does sound fun — but I like taking time to travel to new places. Travel isn’t without its […]

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8 September 2014

Ecuador 2014: Thoughts on Happiness and Well-Being

Kim and I have just returned from two weeks in Ecuador. For a second year, I participated as a presenter for one of Cheryl Reed’s “Above the Clouds” retreats. Once again, the experience was awesome. We spent the week of the retreat at the El Encanto Resort outside Los Bancos. (“Resort” is a strong word, […]

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11 August 2014

Out of the Doldrums

On Saturday, Cody came over to hang out. In a lot of ways, it felt like we were kids again for an afternoon. (Forty-year-old kids but still kids.) We spent several hours traipsing through nearby neighborhoods. We wandered through parks. We walked through Eastmoreland and imagined what it must be like to live in one […]

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