We are officially a quarter of the way through 2021. And while a lot of things are a lot better than they were in 2020, I can’t shake this buzzy feeling like I still have a lot of work to do to get where I want to be in life. The weird thing about all this is—I’ve never been as organized and productive as I’ve been these past six months.
The end of 2020
We spent the last three months of 2020 dealing with the passing of V’s father. And moving her mom back to SoCal. And refinancing our house. And getting Fezzik ready for an epic, cross-country road trip for Xmas.
Seriously. And it was as hard as it can be. Death is ruthlessly efficient at cutting through our bullshit. My wife’s dad had just died, her mom was packing up and moving away, she’s swimming in abandonment vibes—and here I was all, ”Hey honey. I was thinking we should refinance the house. Right now.”
And then, while everyone else was getting their houses ready for Christmas, I was getting Fezzik ready for the biggest road trip I’ve been on in 20 years. It was an absurd amount of work, all things considered. Then again, I was driving my wife, daughter, and mother-in-law halfway across the country in my 200,000-mile, 22-year old Mitsubishi Montero—for Christmas.
And what a road trip it was! I drove over 4,000 miles, from Phoenix to Iowa City (via Denver) and back. It was good to just stare out at the horizon and think for hours and hours at a time. I did some serious thinking. I got a massive dose of Road Trip Medicine and got home January 3rd with a head full of good vibes and crazy ideas to share.
I gUeSs We’Ll JuSt WaIt FoR sUmMeR vAcAtIoN, right? Wrong.
The start of 2021
Two months later, the exterior of the house was repainted and the back patio floor was epoxied. I was less than 12 hours away from testing out my new transfer case reduction gears on a trail run with friends when MY dad passed away.
Seriously. It’s Friday night and I’m all excited about going wheeling in the morning when I get a text from my brother saying, “Just got home and Dad’s gone.” For a minute, I thought he was telling me Dad rolled off in his wheelchair. He was telling me Dad passed away in his wheelchair earlier in the day.
He and I both spent the last 15 months bitching about why the other didn’t call.
Fuck you, Mike and the Mechanics.
Better believe I’ll be working through that shit for a while. While my brother’s waiting for the police medical examiner to show up and rule out foul play so the funeral home can come collect Dad’s body any minute, we decide I should tell Mom. Now, I hadn’t seen Mom in several months, either. So I show up at her front door at 9PM with a bouquet of flowers.
Did I mention it was their wedding anniversary?
Mom opens the door thinking I’m surprising her for her anniversary. I’m on the verge of having a panic attack. Or a heart attack. I’m not sure which, but I can’t steal that moment from Mom, so I have to make small talk and catch up before metaphorically punching her in the gut.
My brother texts to say the scene is cleared, he’s on his way, and how’s Mom doing. So I had to break the news. You ever tell your mom that your dad died? On their anniversary? I said, “Dad died today.” Whose dad? “My dad.”
Let’s just say it’s been a fairly gut-wrenching experience ever since. We’ve handled it better than we thought we could, but I feel like that might be how everyone deals with death. It’s just one of those things where you do what you gotta do without hesitation, whether you want to do it or not. You work through things slowly, over time. I’ve got a lot more to say about death, but I’m still working through it.
Goin’ back to Cali
Two weeks later, we drove to SoCal for a week with V’s mom and Great Grandpa Don. We wanted to see how Mom was doing all setup in her new place. After all, once she left Phoenix, she was pretty much on her own as far as unpacking and setting up was concerned. FYI: Mom’s doing alright in SoCal.
Spending more than a long weekend in SoCal, we had time to reconnect with some local friends. We had actual pie in the park on 3.14 with Kris and Christine, then dinner with Todd and Joanne two days later.
The last time we’d all said goodbye—just over a year prior—we were planning multiple trips back to go camping and sailing and cruising and more. Now we were cautiously remaking the same [post-vaccination] plans from our socially [variably] distanced seating arrangements.
On the five-plus hour long drive home from LA, I found myself once again staring out across the desert thinking about life, the universe, and everything. We’ve all been through so much shit at this point. I’m done going with the flow. I want to be more intentional. I’ve been busy. Now I want to be effective.
I am incredibly fortunate to be able to pay my bills right now. I am beyond lucky to work for a company I freaking love. I know many (most?) people aren’t so blessed. Even so, as I race headlong into 40-something, I feel a sense of urgency.
There are too many things I can’t do right now because there isn’t enough money left after the banks and Navient get theirs. Annual reviews and quarterly performance bonuses are appreciated, but I’m gonna need my income to increase far more rapidly—ideally more directly tied to my personal effort.
The road to better
We all want better cars, businesses, and lives—you, me, everyone we know. We want to spend more time doing the stuff we enjoy with the people we love. We want to feel good about how we pay the bills. Hell. Some of us just want to feel good. We want our lives to be better—but better doesn’t just happen.
We gotta work for it. We need to put our heads together and make it happen. It’s time to cut out the noise and go deep with people who know how to do the stuff we want to do. We need to stop going with the flow and start going with the flow state.
It’s like Todd tells me, “These are the active decisions that we alone can make about our lives. The follow-through is also an active decision that we, alone, have the ability to make.” And he’s right. So right.
Going with the flow means going downhill. It’s the path of least resistance. Speaking as someone who never really struggled with school or work, I woke up one day in my forties, realizing if you only do the easy stuff, the list of things you can do shrinks over time until you can’t do anything.
I have to make the active, conscious decisions that change the timeline and get me moving in the directions I want to go. And I want TGP to help anyone else in this space do likewise. Many hands make light work. Rising tides lift all boats. So I’ve been going ‘round and ‘round trying to lay the right foundations to do the good work and have the biggest impact possible.
One size does NOT fit all.
I realized there is no one-size-fits-all path to the good life, to better. Not for anyone. Ever. So how do we get the good life where we live on our own terms? Where do I start helping my community if everybody is starting from somewhere different?
We start where we are.
Here’s what I’m learning, though—I might have an addiction to DIY.
Once upon a time, I was DIY out of necessity. I could not afford the $1,100 to have the dealership replace my leaking head gasket—but I managed to find $1,100 for a forged bottom end rebuilt in a backyard instead. I couldn’t afford to spend a grand on an invisible repair, but I could afford to spend that kind of money on a brand new race engine. DIY allowed me to get something more—something better—for the same money.
Almost 20 years later, I’m still stressing my DIY todo list. Why? Because I feel like if I can do these jobs myself, then I absolutely should do them myself; instead of spending money to have things done for me, I feel like my money goes further when I do it myself. The problem with that is, now that I have a family and a house and a career and a side hustle and two cars, better isn’t necessarily cheaper.
Real world examples
I could install two new exterior light boxes myself or I could pay an electrician $400 to do it. I could epoxy the patio floor myself or pay a professional painter $750 to do it. I could devote a weekend to pounding all the loose pavers back into my front porch after that irrigation leak or pay a professional $800 to fix it for me.
If those numbers seem strangely specific, it’s because they’re real numbers. My real numbers. I’ve had janky, mocked-up wiring on my back patio for nearly three years. The bare cement floor has been waiting on some kind of treatment for four years. And May would have been one year since I ripped up those pavers outside my front door.
The only reason any of these projects have been completed is because I hired professionals to do the work. Life has gotten in the way, time and again, and I’ve not been able to complete them myself. I wanted them done—and done a long time ago—but I always hesitated when it came to paying others to do the work.
Rock sliders & timing belts
Another example. The other night I put a set of rock sliders in my cart to protect the door sills on my truck when off-roading. They came in a little over a grand. I walked away because I couldn’t justify putting a grand into another mod. But there’s also a chance I’ve got a coolant leak behind the water pump, I’m about 5,000 miles shy of a scheduled timing belt job, and I just don’t wanna do that in the heat. So I’m paying my mechanic $1,300 to do the timing belt, water pump, and valve cover gaskets for me next week.
See what I mean? There’s something interesting here when we start thinking about how and why we think about things the way we do. I don’t think I’ll ever fully figure it all out, but I know I need to start talking to people who know more about things than I do if I want those things to improve in my own life.
Last month, I told Todd I thought we should put up a “Help Wanted” page where we talk about all the different experts we’d like to see in our community. You know, gearheads like us who are also professional real estate agents and accountants and electricians and whatnot. I mean, most of us aren’t mechanics. We could be sharing other how-to advice with each other, right?
Todd was quick to point out we’re not in the deciding-who-is-and-is-not-an-expert business, and that we should just stick to reporting on what we’re doing and how it turns out. You know, like, we’re a bunch of gearheads looking to modify our lives alongside our machines. We think it looks like build threads. Would you like to know more?
And I guess that’s what I’ve been after all this time. I’ve done—and continue doing—build threads. I’ve got one for my Montero and one for the Juke. It’s pretty simple. I share what I’m working on and my friends in the community share their advice—but what about when it’s not just about cars?
I started researching the topics where I needed answers beyond my own experiences—like how to find real, actual experts in any field and how to use a decision matrix to plan out my day. I’ve also found the subject of metacognition—thinking about thinking—very interesting of late. I’ve spoken with Realtors in two states about home improvement ROI and would have already met with a financial planner to discuss my debt reduction and retirement plans if my dad had just woken up from that Friday morning nap. (Miss you, Dad.)
Where my addicted-to-DIY brain tells me hiring others to help me means I’ll have less money to spend on fun stuff like mods and travel, the part of my brain that wants a better life tells me we’re not looking to become dependent upon others—I’m looking to learn from them. So when shit happens, I don’t lose all the hard-earned progress I made because I was just flying by the seat of my pants.
Reality doesn’t care about what we want. As much as I’m talking about using professionals to get things done, I’m also talking about the systems and processes and tools we bring together to do things right.
Fast, Right, Cheap?
A lot of us got our start out of necessity. We figured out how to do what we could not afford to have others do for us. That’s incredibly powerful. Transformative, even. Without a doubt, a do-it-yourself attitude will change your life—but we gotta keep it real.
Given the classic, fast, right, cheap — pick any two decision matrix, doing it yourself might always come in at the lowest price. The question I’m asking myself more and more is—is that right?
Cheap and right suggests it won’t be fast. That’s something I’ve been comfortable with for a long time. Maybe too comfortable. Fast and right may not be cheap, but if we’re willing and able to plan and then spend a little more, we can get things done right, faster. That’s the lesson I’m learning.
The Fantastic Voyage
See also: One DIYer’s journey into the world of professionals. I’ve spent years talking about how we can use the skills we develop modifying our machines to modify our lives. I’ll be damned if I didn’t just figure out I hadn’t really been doing any of that. At least, not the way I meant to be doing it, anyway.
When someone close to you dies, it’s like stepping on a landmine. All your bullshit explodes. The closer you are to the person, the closer you are to Ground Zero. In those situations, you step up and do what has to be done. You might hate doing most of it—but you do it without hesitation because you have to do it.
You take that clarity, put it behind the wheel, and give it a few hours of open horizon through the windshield and something incredible happens. You see the world through new eyes. You feel more connected to the people in your life. You feel the importance of making the most of the life you’ve got.
And you feel a sense of urgency to get busy living.
I’ve started calling this next part of my journey Project Bombshell. I’ve also given it a Due Date—1 June 2022. I’ll continue to check-in with you, to update you on how it’s going, and what I’m learning—about the process and about myself. The good and the bad.
There are some things nobody can do for me. Nobody can do them for you, either. If any of what I’ve said here today speaks to you, we could both probably do with a little more support, encouragement, and accountability. You help keep me moving forward—I’ll do the same for you.
Here’s to the journey.