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The Sweet Spot

“Success can get you to the top of a beautiful cliff,

but then propel you right over the edge of it.”

As a Mustachian, there’s a good chance that you are a bit of an overachiever. 

Maybe you fought hard to get exceptional grades in school, or perhaps you have always dominated in your career or your Ultramarathon habit or your hobbies – or maybe all of the above. 

In the big picture, this usually leads to having a “successful” life, because of this basic math:

Traditional Success
 =
How much work you do
x
How much society happens to value your work

The Nitty Gritty of Traditional Success

Now, lest the Internet Privilege Police head straight to Twitter to start writing out citations, Traditional Success is not a measure of your worthiness as a human being. We’re just talking about the old-fashioned, Smiling 1950s Man definition of success.

 And since we’re all scientists here, we could break the “Work” side of it down a bit further:

And thus, you could say that on average, doing more stuff produces more traditional success. 

But then what?

This is the point where a lot of  smart, driven, born-lucky people drive themselves up the Winding Road of Challenge and then right off the edge of the Cliff of Success. 

If you’re still on the way up, or stuck at the bottom, it is difficult to even imagine the idea of “too much success”. But it’s a real thing, and it happens much more quickly than the modern overachiever would like to admit. Observe the following cautionary tale:

Diana is the director of engineering in a Silicon Valley tech startup. The work is intense, but they are almost over the hump – the company went public last month, and she owns shares that are worth over $10 million at today’s share price. They will vest over the next five years, so she just needs to grind this out and then she will be set for life.

Sounds great, right?

Except this is Diana’s third smashing success. She was already set for life after the second company was acquired, and even before that, her first decade as a rising star at a large company had already left her with over $2 million of investments and a paid-off house in hella expensive Cupertino, California. She had more than enough to retire, twenty years ago!

To many people who are less fortunate, the present situation would still sound like great fortune, and in some ways, it is. Becoming a Director of Engineering is (usually) far better than a punch in the face.

But Diana is now 52 years old, with a collection of increasingly severe back and neck problems and a few medical prescriptions piling up. She has two grown children in their twenties, but wishes she had been able to spend more time with them as they grew up. She has all the money in the world, but still almost no free time, and this next five years is starting to look like an eternity.

What happened here?

Diana is in good company, because many of our hardest-working people fall into this same trap. They have the talent and the great work habits figured out, but they are still missing one last concept – the idea of the sweet spot.

Fig. 1: What is the ideal length of a high-end career?

Diana could have stopped after the first company, or the second, but her career success took on a momentum of its own, so she kept doubling down without stopping to consider why she was doing it – and what she was giving up in exchange.

Once you learn to see the phenomenon of the sweet spot, you will start noticing it everywhere. And it is an amazingly useful thing to start watching and fine-tuning to get the most out of your own life.

Fig.2: What is the ideal amount of Anything?

The Sweet Spot of Physical Training

When a non-runner starts running, they will see immediate benefits. In the process of going from being unable to jog across a parking lot, to being able to easily jog a brisk mile, your entire body will transform for the better. Muscles and bones get stronger, heart and lungs expand and reach out to give your body a healthy embrace, brain functioning and mood and hormones smooth out and normalize. 

Training your way up to become a two mile runner still brings great benefits – just slightly smaller. The fifth through twentieth mile turn you into a hyper efficient machine, but some people start seeing joint injuries as they rise through the ranks.

And by the time you reach the fringe world of 100-mile runners, serious injuries and surgeries are completely normal – as well as unexpected organ failures in otherwise young, healthy people. The sweet spot for daily running for maximum health is somewhere the middle.

All around us, seemingly unrelated things follow this same pattern, from career work to physical exertion to parenting strategy.

Fame and Fortune – be careful what you wish for

Fame definitely has a sweet spot. Building up a good reputation in your community can open the door to better friendships, jobs, relationships, and more fun in general.

But as that reputation expands outwards to become fame, you get the “reward” of constant coverage in gossip magazines and waking up to find photographers and news reporters on your front lawn. At the extreme end, you need to mobilize a team of armored vehicles and line your route with snipers every time you leave your well-guarded compound.

Even money, our humble and ever-willing servant is subject to this phenomenon. It certainly helps us meet our basic needs, but there is a certain point at which Mo Money can become Mo Problems. 

The first bit of monetary surplus can be fun as you can afford a nice house and good food. Then the next chunk seems fun but also causes distractions as you rack up second and third houses and ever-more elaborate possessions and vacations that take a lot of energy to keep track of.

And from there it goes downhill as tabloids start keeping track of your wealth and scrutinizing your choices, hundreds of people mail in pleas for your generosity, and you end up with a full-time job just making sure that the surplus goes to good use. This life arrangement can still be enjoyable for some people, but I would definitely not wish it upon myself.

On and on this pattern goes. A curve with a sweet spot in the middle. The optimal amount of calories to consume in a day. The volume at which you will enjoy your music most. The right brightness of light to illuminate a room. The number of friends with whom you can have a meaningful relationship.

 Why does it occur in so many places? I believe it is because this is how our brains are wired in the first place

Humans are a ridiculously adaptable creature, but we do still come with limits.

And when you respect those limits and fine-tune your life within the sweet spot for all of the main pillars for happy living, you end up with the best possible chance at living a happy, prosperous life.


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The Curse Of the Overachievers – Revisited

So now you see the problem – overachievers like us tend to get really good at a few things like a career or an athletic pursuit often specializing so much that we neglect other things like overall health or personal relationships.

And our society notices and rewards us for the success, which just reinforces the behavior, so we take things to even higher extremes, often without stopping to think about the reason behind it.

Okay, So What Now?

Once you see the pattern of the sweet spot,  it is impossible to un-see it. So it becomes pretty easy to float up and look at your entire life from above, like an outside observer.

And from up there, you can see the areas where you have enough, and places where you may have already gone overboard, and the corresponding things that you have left neglected as the price of that success. 

Over the past year I’ve been looking at my own life from this perspective, coming up with quite a few of my own diagnoses:

Money: enough. Additional windfalls don’t seem to bring me any lasting joy, but I also don’t have so much money that it makes me nervous. It’s enough to feel safe and empowered, and that’s all I need. Meanwhile, giving away money has brought me lasting happiness, without creating a feeling of shortage or regret.

Career Success (blog): It Varies. When I was really working on this MMM job in the mid-2010s, it started to take over too much of my life. Emails, opportunities, travel and public attention all reached levels where I actually started to have less fun. So I tried dialing it back, as any long-term readers will have noticed. And sure enough, life improved. But then I went too far and started feeling a loss from letting this valued hobby slip away. I’ve been trying to get back into the groove, which revealed another problem – detailed at the end of this list.

Friendships: Not Enough. I have found myself not being able to keep up with close friends, and had difficulty making or keeping plans, partly out of  feeling overwhelmed with life details in general. Still, the opportunities abound here in my local community, and the people are wonderful. So I have the opportunity to keep working at this.

Health and Fitness: Enough. Since I was about fourteen years old, eating well and getting a lot of varied exercise has always been a kind of non-negotiable pillar for me. Nothing extreme, but just very consistent. I think this has been paying off as I feel healthy every day and have never had any physical or health problems in these 30+ years since.

Parenting and Kids: Enough (an A+!) Since 2005 I made “being a Dad” my primary goal in life, quitting my career to do so. It’s the only thing I can truly say I have done the best I could at, and I’m really proud of that. But part of this success came from only having one kid – both of us parents knew we couldn’t handle any more, given the overall conditions of life back then. So for us, the sweet spot was One Child – and absolutely no regrets in that department.

Personal Projects and Daily Habits: Not Enough. I get great satisfaction from working on challenging things and making progress. But far too often, I just can’t get it together and I squander entire days on accidental distractions. Planning to go out for a day of work can lead to searching for lost sunglasses which can lead to finding a lost to-do list which can lead to opening the computer to look something up and several hours disappearing. On and on these tangents can go, often leading to me not getting my primary, happiness-creating goals for the day accomplished. 

I discovered that I have a pretty severe and textbook case of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder, which gets magnified if there are any sources of stress in my life. So I’m working on that (keeping stress down and also targeting habits, diet, exercise and even trying some medication), which will hopefully improve all other areas of life as well.

What am I missing? I’m still working on thinking it all through, so this list will surely grow.

Your Turn

Your life surely has a completely different array of surpluses, shortages and sweet spots than mine. Your assignment is therefore to write them all out tonight, and see where you stand in each area, and decide what to change. Many of the changes are quite easy to make, and yet the results are nothing short of life-changing.

In the comments: what are your own areas of surplus and shortage? And what’s your plan to help restore balance to your life?

  • Ben Gilbertson August 5, 2020, 1:15 pm

    Hi
    Off subject for this tread and on diet and health I would recommend reading ‘The Fast 800’ by Doctor Michael Mosley-it has certainly changed my life. (I have no financial interest in this – just trying to pass my good luck on!)

    Reply
  • Earl August 5, 2020, 1:22 pm

    Sweet spot, huh? On the beach in an easy chair sipping a drink while listening to the waves crash into the shore. You watch the ever changing pattern of the sunshine on the water and the warm wind courses over your body. That is the sweet spot and you want it to last all day.

    Diane is not at the beach. The folks at the beach are laid back people. The overachievers are elsewhere.

    Being at peace with the moment is the sweet spot. It’s the old Desiderata thing in action.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache August 5, 2020, 1:29 pm

      I agree that the sweet spot is different for different people – and that’s a great thing to acknowledge and welcome.

      I remember being on a Hawaiian vacation with a group of friends, many years ago. I was good for about ten minutes of reading in a beach chair, 20 minutes of swimming in the ocean, and then I was ready to head out on a hike up the side of the volcano.

      So the hikers among us headed out for a few hourse, we came back and found that our beach contingent was still happily there under the umbrella – and each of us had had “the best day ever!”

      Reply
      • Mirabelle1 August 13, 2020, 5:45 pm

        Hah you’re just like my friend’s dad. He has to do something active every day. They were sitting round on couches after Christmas lunch and he got incredibly antsy, saying “we need to do some relaxing!! We haven’t done any relaxing today!!!”. They’d been sitting round talking for at least an hour. He meant that they hadn’t yet done anything active- climbing up the nearest hill, biking, swimming (Christmas is summer in New Zealand).

        Reply
  • Dharma Bum August 5, 2020, 1:23 pm

    Bro!
    Where ya been? I was starting to worry!
    Glad you’re ok.
    Man, this COVID crap sure has given new meaning to that American credo: “Give me liberty or give me death!”.
    As a Canadian ex-pat living in the U.S., it’s gotta make you wonder. It’s astonishing how even the handling of a pandemic can become so politicized. Hope you’re taking care of yourself.
    As far as the sweet spot goes, man, I’m right in it thanks to you. Once I discovered your blog and you did a case study on me, I saw the light and got out of the horrid rat race just in time.
    I was able to travel the world, go on ski trips and road trips, and relax in some of my favourite U.S. locations: Colorado, Florida, California, Oregon, and Arizona.
    Unfortunately, that’s all shut down to me now. I’m stuck in Canada until the virus death rate in those places subsides and the border opens back up.
    That’s ok. I managed to arrive home from a month in Patagonia, Chile the day before the shit hit the fan and they shut down the economy here.
    I was pretty much travelled out by then anyway.
    In the meantime I count my blessings while relishing life in the sweet spot. Enough money, enough house, enough travel, good health, lots of projects to work on, time to cook great homemade meals, reading lots of books, listening to lots of podcasts, exercising, streaming movies, shows, and documentaries, drinking beer and wine, hiking, visiting family in Ottawa, and meeting up with old friends every now and again.
    Oh, and I bought a small waterfront property up on the Bruce Peninsula, so I’ve learned how to use a machete and a chainsaw to do some bush clearing therapy every now and again, before I actually build a cabin on it.
    Anyway, the “sweet spot” is definitely being savoured and appreciated. After all, retirement is meant to be enjoyed, and I ain’t getting any younger. The one thing more valuable than money, is time.

    Reply
  • meatro August 5, 2020, 1:25 pm

    Goldilocks: not just for bed times anymore.
    *visualizes “soup temperature” diagram*
    *visualizes grownass Goldilocks with “moderation in all things” stylized as bear claws, worked into her full length sleeve, sipping just right soup*
    … or was that second one too much ? ^^

    The classification of simply enough, not enough, and too much (too enough!) is solid when considering things. It works because you have Prato bumping you up initially and diminishing margins of returns slowing you down in the end. Endless applications.

    The thing to remember (and lo, MMM has written unto us) is how we do not naturally gravitate to the “sweet spot” for life things. For the ideal “soup temperature”, our body takes care of this: tastes gross or burns buds. But for most things more important than soup, there is no sensation to keep us on course. It takes conscious, continued effort.

    I feel like the real challenge is to know yourself: your life, yourself, your people, the good and the bad. Taking time to take stock at regular intervals is what I will take from this article. Probably best to couple it with an existing, regularly occurring event like spring cleaning, portfolio rebalancing or my birthday (or my parent’s birthdays, they would be proud and are conveniently 6 mo. apart). Or journal regularly. Meditation. Anything to raise awareness. After that you can get to work on the balance itself, which is another lovely challenge. I wish everyone well on their journey.

    What I am now wondering is which things are worth considering in this “life assessment”. Any of the proven “happiness” factors has got to make the short list, like health and relationships in any definition (mental, physical, friends, fam, YOURSELF…). Probably get enough todo’s right there to last a lifetime. But then, as a part of the yourself focus, I guess you have to move on to “self actualization” type goals. I could see “career success” in there since it is a big chunk of life and you should have your own definition of “career” AND “success”… but “money” feels like it doesn’t belong, since it is an enabler more than a thing itself. But I guess the point is to take anything that’s important to you and take time or anything that you might naturally over- or under-do.

    and here’s me homework, teach:
    Family: enough.
    Friends: not enough.
    Partner: not enough.
    Self: not enough but optimistically in progress
    Phy. Health: almost too enough.
    Mental Health: mostly enough.
    Day job: enough.
    Personal challenges: enough.
    … mmk, I’m out, got some growin’ to do.

    Reply
  • Suchot August 5, 2020, 1:48 pm

    I like the idea of trending toward the sweet spot. Or regularly checking in with myself to see if I’m wildly unbalanced in any area. Because we overachiever types can also get caught up in striving for the sweet spot or that perfect balance. Life is always in flux and people who say they have achieved balance are either deceiving others or themselves. We can feel content overall in our lives and I suppose that feels like a sort of balance, but true balance doesn’t exist. Thanks for your openness.

    Reply
  • catdoc1 August 5, 2020, 1:56 pm

    Adult ADD here, seemed to be getting worse with age. Started using a walking desk at work, helps A LOT with focus. Wish I’d been using this for my entire career.

    Reply
  • Frank August 5, 2020, 2:11 pm

    If memory serves you mentioned meditation in one of your past posts. Is this still something you do to help manage every day distractions? If so is there one you particularly like?

    Reply
  • Frank August 5, 2020, 2:11 pm

    If memory serves you mentioned meditation in one of your past posts. Is this still something you do to help manage every day distractions? If so is there one you particularly like

    Reply
  • Mark August 5, 2020, 2:54 pm

    I have the book “Indistractable” on my desk, next to my keyboard right now. The author’s name is Nir Eyal. I recommend it to anyone who wants to get to the root (not proximal) causes of their distractions, and find ways to gain traction each day.

    Of course, reading this blog is a distraction from finishing the book…..

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache August 5, 2020, 3:44 pm

      Yeah, I remember trying to read that book once! Got distracted after the first few chapters and I’m not sure where I put it :-)

      Reply
    • Mirabelle1 August 12, 2020, 4:35 am

      You know he wrote “Hooked” first? That gave the tech companies a how to guide on how to get our attention and distract us and keep us distracted (hooked)? Maybe this book was his penance

      Reply
  • mike August 5, 2020, 3:06 pm

    Spot on timing for me MMM! Been lurking around here for a year or two – I actually first learned of your blog while reading “Playing with Fire” – and no joke I hit your chapter while I was actually in Longmont last summer visiting friends. I remember looking for your headquarters storefront while we drive through town on our way to Left Hand – but was too nervous to stop in. Then this posting hits so close to home I had to reply.

    The balance you describe in finding the “sweet spot” puts into words something I’ve been struggling with. I’m early 40’s in a successful Engineering/Management career in California with a young child at home. I’m pretty sure we are financially in a position to step away from the career – but there is this angst around walking away at the “pinnacle” of a lucrative career… what if I need more in the future… or “why don’t more people walk away? shouldn’t I stay until I’m the uber-VP of all things? “. Yet you point out that exiting at a pinnacle may indeed be ideal… and I love the idea of applying this not macrocosmically to your entire life – but on the micro scale as well to hobbies, health, family, etc.

    This give me not only hope but seemingly a better sense of post-FIRE purpose. How many more bell-curves in my life are being ignored? Or how many do I want to explore and begin climbing because I WANT to; because I will ENJOY it? Sigh. Thinking like that is a nice feeling.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this and share the perspective. It’s helpful and as mentioned comes at an oddly opportune time for me during a deeply introspective time in my life. I’ll be sure to swing by MMM headquarters if I’m ever in Longmont again. Cheers.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache August 5, 2020, 3:42 pm

      Wow, thanks Mike – mega congratulations and best of luck!

      * Just because you mentioned it, I have to include the disclaimer that the HQ is more of a members-only coworking space for Longmont-area locals. As much as we appreciate the support and good vibes, we can’t open it up visitors just stopping by to stay hi – because otherwise nobody would get any work done!

      Reply
      • mike August 5, 2020, 4:23 pm

        Doh! Of course. Thanks again and keep on truckin MMM. Cheers!

        Reply
  • BC Kowalski August 5, 2020, 3:09 pm

    It’s funny how everything in life seems to boil down to balance – and what is the sweet spot, but the right level of balance? I’ve always known when my life has been out of balance, and usually but not always I can find a way to turn things around. Balance is the antidote for extremes, and is one of the keys to a happy life. But it’s funny that we keep needing these reminders…

    Reply
  • Chris August 5, 2020, 3:20 pm

    Man, it has been a long time (too long) since MMM has posted, but this was worth the wait. This post is really going to make me think about the different areas of my life. Thanks MMM!

    Reply
  • J.J. August 5, 2020, 4:04 pm

    I ran into the same issue of Credible not servicing Washington state. Do you know of an alternative?

    Reply
  • Marcia August 5, 2020, 4:34 pm

    This one definitely spoke to me. Now that we are in our 50s, we are focusing more on the sweet spot, all while feeling the “tug” of responsibilities from everyone else. The pull of work is strong. For me, the shift to more flexible schedules came against my will – working for a company that was struggling and froze raises for years, moving me into a different position (not to mention the gender pay gap). Well, then I guess I’ll take flexibility in exchange for pay. It’s harder for the spouse – his company has had more success, and he feels the pull to do more and more. But our kids are still young (teen and elementary), and he’d rather spend more time with them. For sure, COVID has highlighted this issue.

    Fitness wise, I am definitely there. I am type-A and I had a fabulous 2018 racing season (sidelined by injury. Not overuse injury, but tripped and fell injury). I have a tendency to surround myself with badasses. Ultra-marathoners, sub-2 or sub 1:45 half marathoners, people who qualify for Boston…most of whom do not have children. A disappointing 2019 of trying to get back to “where I was” in 2018 was an exercise in frustration. I’m over it now. COVID slipped me back into running to relieve stress, (definitely overuse injuries there). Now I’m just happy to DO IT – running a couple of days a week (speed work, because I like it, and easy run/walk because: same). Long hikes on the weekend with the husband, or short hikes with the whole family. Regular weightlifting (at home now, until it’s safe to go back to the YMCA), and fun little walks with the kids on lunch breaks.

    One important thing I had to learn about exercise is that MY enough isn’t someone else’s.

    I’m definitely on “not enough” for friends and relationships (due to COVID, I don’t get to see my friends), and I’d say I’m at enough on personal projects. I do art, crafts, reading, gardening. I don’t do a LOT of any of them (so my art is “meh”, I finish a craft project once a year, our garden needs work).

    Kids: probably close to enough, but not quite there. We’ve made some adjustments due to COVID – more kids, less work.

    Reply
  • Roni August 5, 2020, 5:05 pm

    This new post was such a nice surprise, thank you MMM! :)
    I’m relatively new here and currently reading through the blog from the very beginning. I’m still on 2013 so it’s not like I’m soon going to run out of Mustachian material to binge on but it’s really good to see that you’re still writing.

    Regards to the Sweet Spot, this is where I am today:

    Enough: career success, exercise
    Too much: workload, work-related stress, worry
    Not enough: quality time with loved ones, savings, creative pursuits

    Plan to restore the balance:
    Reduce my working hours to 30 per week
    Continue to optimise my saving & spending habits
    Learn to stop obsessing over things outside my circle of influence

    Reply
  • Kevin Baum August 5, 2020, 6:43 pm

    I am glad to see the bit about physical training. I personally would not mind more of it on this blog, because it really is tied into the idea of Mustachianism as a hopeful ethos to live in the present and look at the future with. One of my jobs is as an EMT, and I see a lot of 50-60 year olds who are close to death (strokes, cardiac arrest, etc.) who are in terrible shape and can not even walk (think Wall-E). Then, on the contrary, there’s an occasional 87-year old women who fainted in the heat while playing tennis who seems like she’s a healthy 63 year-old.

    It’s interesting that in our society, being critical of someone’s physical care habits is much more of a faux paus than being critical of someone’s money habits. Maybe because it is more obvious and therefore less escapable and more sensitive (someone is fat right in front of your eyes; someone in consumer debt is most likely keeping it a secret).

    Reply
  • Mark August 5, 2020, 6:56 pm

    Thanks for putting yourself out there, Mr. MM. I will, too. I find the sweet spot questions excellent to analyze my wellbeing, but also extra-challenging to answer during this disruptive pandemic. For example, Exercise Routine: I simply have much more motivation in exercise classes than solo workout and I’m eating too much. The many reinforcements of a group of people expecting me to show up instantly evaporated when the gym shut down. It’s my fault that I haven’t pivoted to more internal motivation but I am definitely not in the sweet spot. On the other hand, Family: We are dispersed around the country and, some of us, including our elderly parents, live in the most worrisome and irresponsible states. The pandemic spurred my brother to initiate family FaceTime chats, which have become regular because they are enjoyable and provide significant comfort that our family is healthy, so far, gratefully. Sweet Spot! Another compounding factor is, I retired on July 8 at age 54 and ALL of my routines are happily disrupted. Regardless, it’s an achievement of a goal I established in my twenties and the feeling I have is certainly – Sweet Spot!

    Reply
  • Ani August 5, 2020, 8:11 pm

    My shortages: Exercise, training my dogs, studying for my profession, spending time with the little brother, reading for fun.
    Plan: I believe if I stick to a routine, then perhaps I can accomplish the things that make me happy. Perhaps I can make a list or put things on a calendar.
    My surplus: Too much food…ha!
    Just right: The attention I give my cat. Knowledge of personal finance – I was heavily into personal finance when I found this blog in Spring 2018. About half a year in I finally slowed down, and it’s just right.

    Reply
  • Stephan August 5, 2020, 9:29 pm

    I like to draw a curve where the horizontal axis is “how much of it you do (or have)” and the vertical is “how good it is for you”, allowing that to go negative. Things like food, money and exercise start out negative (no food=starving), go up for a while, then go down again (too much food=not healthy either).

    But some things are a little different. No amount of staring into the sun is good for you–the curve just goes down. Other examples might include a variety of illegal drugs, smoking, that kind of thing.

    I call this “the two curves” and like how it captures some of the same things as the “sweet spot” idea here–and also, I suspect, the nuance of “actually bad” as opposed to just “not good”. You can finagle the “sweet spot” graphic with appropriate axis labels, though.

    Offered in case you find it helpful.

    Reply
  • Nathan August 5, 2020, 9:39 pm

    MMM,
    This post summarizes your blog itself in some ways. I began reading in about 2015 at the peak of my career in terms of income and responsibility. You immediately helped me refocus on the sweet spot of work and life. I realized that reducing my spending had a bigger impact on retirement timing that my savings rate, and that all the tools I needed were already at my fingertips. I didn’t need that extra bonus or promotion. Soon after with an expanding family I chilled out on crushing it at work and feel closer to the sweet spot than ever.
    This could easily be the first post of the blog right before we all grew out our bristling money mustaches.
    Keep them coming, you sharing your philosophy is very centering and much appreciated.

    Reply
  • George Choy August 5, 2020, 11:04 pm

    Hi MMM

    I can certainly understand Diana. Some people have a constant itch to keep working.

    My wife and I were able to retire young when she was 39 years old. That bucket load of free time was great for the first 6 months, but then we asked ourselves “was that it now? Is our life over?” Spending time on endless gratification didn’t feel fulfilling.

    Both of us thrive on challenges. If we don’t have a “project” happening in our lives, then we get bored pretty quick.

    Health & Fitness
    – This is one of my highest values. So many people neglect it. But we all have limited time in our life, so I believe strongly in doing what I can to keep myself healthy.
    – It has always been there in my life – ever since I tried to copy my late father doing push ups on the upstairs hallway when I was only 4 years old. I’ve been exercising all my life. That was one of his gifts to me. RIP Dad.
    – But I did move to the “too much” point when I was 15 and did weights 6 days per week. I was sore every day. When I measured my bicep after a couple of months, I realised they were shrinking! There wasn’t enough recovery time. Since learning that lesson, I found my sweet spot was 3-4 days of resistance training per week. That also gave me more time for other things.

    Friendships
    – We keep in contact with a small group of friends over Zoom. I’d love to get back to meeting in person again. I know I don’t do enough in this area.

    Money
    – It’s good, but we do strive for more. But at a slow pace now, as we prefer the free time.

    Parenting
    – With the schools closed in the UK due to the lockdown – I can definitely say I’m at the “Too much” point with children at home all the time and not being able to get out much to do the things we enjoyed prior to lockdown. I’ve also discovered I’m not a great homeschool teacher – they certainly earn their money.

    Growth
    – As Tony Robbins says “If you’re not growing, you’re dying”. This is mainly what we fill our time with.
    – We spend a lot of time learning about property investing, health, fitness, mindset, parenting, loving relationships – above all we take action when we learn. We wan’t to become better human beings.
    – This brings us a lot of fulfilment – we love spending time on it.

    Contribution
    – This is another area that brings us fulfilment.
    – We published 2 books and have a weekly podcast. These have helped us to contribute to others and feel good. I guess similar to how you felt when you started your MMM blog.
    – We are also investigating other ways to contribute, as we don’t feel we have hit our sweet spot yet.

    I’m so glad you’ve started writing again. I’ve missed it.
    George

    Reply
  • Nice Joy August 5, 2020, 11:31 pm

    Hi MMM, I am a long term follower of you. I think you have a more positive impact than the president. This is one of the greatest articles for those who followed you for a while. I am also thinking that maybe I have some ADD too. I had 4 days off, I wanted to get a lot of things done, but I was just jumping from one to another. I made a list of this to get done but did not stick to it. I feel satisfied at the end of the day if I can get some solid work done. Part of the problem is my cell phone, I think.
    I don’t want to blame you for your divorce… I am very impressed that you are working together with your x wife. The number of things what make you who you are after years is endless and a lot of them we don’t have much control over it
    So everyone deserves some forgiveness no matter what it is. So I am not blaming either of you. When you look at this way you can forgive anyone for anything. Divorced parents can be a lot of times way better than married ones.

    I still think a few things may be affecting your health may be, use of pot {i am concerned about its long term impact} too much beer, and low carb foods with a lot of meat and fat. I am from third world country and remember seeing all ripped workers who mainly survive on carbs mostly plant-based. Please take a look at those areas.

    Please keep writing and always remember the millions of people who need your help. I just want to express my sincere thanks to your help in my life. Thanks, MMM.

    Reply
  • Paul August 6, 2020, 12:46 am

    Oh wow I can’t believe hoe much your last point resonated with me! I like to consider myself an “overachiever”, but always puzzled at why something simple like “Adult Attention Deficit Disorder” can often hold me back, or become like an obsession over nothing. It must be the engineering nature? My next door neighbour is an engineer too and suffers the same thing – having objectives to achieve but becoming so distracted over minutia!

    For example, I’ll look at the garden and think this or that needs done/built, and can make plans for doing it…then I get carried away with some other mundane task. The problem is that the same mentality that leads to past success can also hold you back in other ways – that obsessive single minded pursuit is great at honing in, turning off other distractions, and getting something complete, but it also has a double edge – whatever you focus on becomes the obsession often to the detriment of something more important! It’s not always task driven stuff either, my mind is so creative and always thinking that even something simple becomes complicated and dragged out lol.

    Really enjoyed this article, please keep them coming, no pressure though :)

    Reply
  • Dr.Amrita Basu August 6, 2020, 2:12 am

    I am actually in a sweet spot now and planning my life to find what else I can do career wise to stay in the sweet spot and still grow.In the book Ikigai this is a similar thing that’s address.Finding flow and balance to live better. Enjoyed reading this .After reading your blogs and book we had planned on the FIRE way as physicians.Good thing we did because we have more control over our life in many ways.That helps with finding the sweet spot

    Reply
  • Gregg August 6, 2020, 2:13 am

    I’m going to save this email and read it periodically.

    I have recently started making changes which include….change. I’m stuck in my ways so I have started deliberately doing things I would prefer not to do. Joining family for a Zoom art class on weekends. I certainly don’t enjoy drawing but think my brain needs to be re-wired.

    I’ve been sucked into running such that it’s what defined me. It shouldn’t be who I am and ultimately sucked the life out of me. I’ve backed that off but still keep fit and healthy.

    There are many more things I need to change but have made a start.

    And no problem you throwing an add in. If it interests me I’ll click the link…otherwise I won’t. No stress.

    Reply
  • Todd P. August 6, 2020, 3:35 am

    Just wanted to say that I’m about to go through a divorce, this posting and your earlier post on your own divorce really help me maintain perspective. Thank you!

    Reply
  • Alan Donegan August 6, 2020, 4:33 am

    Pete this is a brilliant article. Thank you for sharing and I think you are so right. It is a massive problem that I see all the time in the FI world where the overachievers (the two of us included) can’t let go at times and push on into pain. Thank you for the article. I will be sharing everywhere! Alan

    Reply
  • Pierre P August 6, 2020, 8:15 am

    Hi MMM,

    very interesting thoughts, I agree with your explanation that humans are highly adaptable, and more than that, I think we always want to “improve” (we could spend a lot of time on what are and are not improvements, but you get the general idea), probably one of the reasons why we evolved / developed so much and therefore it can be a bit hard to go against our nature.
    I also think that we sometimes invest in say sports or our careers or something else because there is another part of our lives that is maybe not going too well, and we end up comitting a lot of energy and resources to that new activity, hence going above the sweet spot, but then coming back is not easy because a) we have now taken the habit and b) if we haven’t worked on the other thing that was causing an issue, maybe we just don’t want to go back to that situation and instead we double-down on that new activity
    On that specific note, reading your post was making me think about the book by Joseph Tainter, the collapse of complex societies where in one part of the essay he asks the question why societies can’t stop investing / growing ever more complex which is a sort of sweet spot problem on a bigger scale

    Finally for the more personal question, I will have to work on that sweet spot thing in terms of volunteering work. I retired earlier this year, so still adapting to the new life with more time on my hands and I want to do a bit of volunteering / community work in my neighbourhood, I just need to figure out what the right amount is (definitely not full-time though!)

    Reply
  • Michael Wurzel August 6, 2020, 8:35 am

    Glad to see a new post! Living in Breckenridge, Colorado, where outdoor recreation is the real currency, I’m always trying to find the sweet spot between doing my job well versus climbing mountains and skiing powder. Whenever I’m doing too much of one or the other, they start to become less meaningful and more rote. It’s so easy to fall into the mental (and marketing) trap that I would be happier living in a van, always recreating, but I’ve come to the conclusion at 35 that that’s just not the case. Welcome back.

    Reply
  • Sumit Joshi August 6, 2020, 9:08 am

    3 years back, same thing happened with me.
    I achieved portfolio size of 25x yearly expenses. But then I thought why not wait for 2 more years and double it before retirement. And that greed turned me into a speculator. I lost half my portfolio value in a year, then next year tried hard to recover, sinking further into the hole. Then thought about taking a break. For one year I was storing money in fixed deposits, then came March 2020, work from home gave me time to think + market was down.
    So this time I put most of my money in index funds. Determined to take it easy.
    Let’s see if I manage to stay at sweet spot..
    Thanks for your post. Every time it gives new perspective..
    Have a Healthy, Wealthy, Happy life..

    Reply
  • Juan Rossi August 6, 2020, 10:21 am

    Hey, MMM, I just wanted to suggest you to try some 5 minute a day meditation (mindfulness). You probably have tried it already, but I’m telling you just in case, since you said you have a Deficit Disorder. I like meditation a lot and feel like it helps me, without consuming too much of my time. I just try to spend 5 minutes of my day without thinking about all the things I have to do in the near future and all the things that I regret having done in the past. Hope this helps. Thank you for all your tips, a lot of them have helped me.

    Reply
  • DaveNItUp August 6, 2020, 11:45 am

    It took me having multiple children to understand how important our genetic “nature” is and that, while we can coerce and will against it, we really need to be aware of how dangerous it is when we apply value propositions to people (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/brook-ziporyn/the-purpose-driven-life-no-thanks_b_8671086.html). There are real life pros and cons that must be respected but it should be easier than it is right now to love yourself and to feel loved and valued.

    The “sweet spot” fits me like a glove…always has…even before I really understood it. Like Thoreau says, “Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it and gnaw it still.” Like you said, many of us drawn to this blog yearn for “the real” and are able to “will” ourselves to execute and like you said in a previous post, “Happiness is the only logical pursuit”. I refer to myself as a “proficient slacker”. Life is more pros and cons than right and wrongs. I try to pay attention to what makes me happy and do that…ignoring obligation, guilt, etc.

    I would expect most, if not all, Mustachians are wired for personal responsibility and, while there are many pros, unfortunately the cons of that wiring often results in us being essentially on our own…especially emotionally.

    Having kids was the best thing that ever happened to me. My kids are in college now and, while I’ve been great at raising them to be self sufficient and not infringing on them, I was not prepared for how early on I found myself outside their world and not willing to make the effort or risk barging in.

    I think it’s our nature to be in this position…pros and cons. It doesn’t mean we can’t work on changing it, but maybe we should cut ourselves some slack and accept we can’t do everything perfectly.

    Reply
  • Jenna August 6, 2020, 4:08 pm

    Regarding afult ADD, could it possibly be that you have the absence of structure because you don’t have to work and you aren’t obligated to follow a routine? I’m a teacher and when I’m on summer vacation, my scattered use of time sounds like yours. However, during the school year, I’m much more efficient with my time and task completion just because it’s not an option to do it any other way.

    Reply
  • Leigh August 6, 2020, 4:55 pm

    I can really relate to this – in particular not focusing enough on keeping up with fun friendships and the AADD problem. It is going to be a herculean task to change some of these bad habits but I am working on it daily! Thanks for the new post.

    Reply
  • Daniel August 7, 2020, 6:16 am

    Thank you for another great article! While reading it, I couldn’t help having a flashback to reading Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. TLDR; virtues lie in the middle between deficiency and excess [1].

    Aristotle considered many things virtues that we generally do not today — such as friendship — so it jives nicely with finding the ‘sweet spot(s)’ in one’s life. Especially given that the aim of balancing the ‘virtues’ of one’s life was to not over indulge in one virtue at the expense of others. The purpose of human beings was the pursuit of a balanced flourishing life that Aristotle termed ‘eudaimonia’.

    Keep up the good work MMM!

    [1] this is a nice summary: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-ethics/#DoctMean

    Reply
  • Kazuo Suzuki August 7, 2020, 10:43 am

    Dear MMM, Welcome back. I enjoy your writing as always.

    I am a physician and I enjoy what I do. My parents were physicians and they worked into their 70’s until they couldn’t physically work anymore. I wonder if it’s okay in the MMM philosophy to keep working this way. A MD friend of mine in the hospital decided to retire on his 90th birthday and passed away a week later. His family released a statement saying that “please don’t feel sad for him, as he enjoyed seeing patients every day.”

    Reply
  • Matt August 8, 2020, 12:14 pm

    MMM – great read, thanks for article, though I was a bit surprised to see you label the “sweet spot” of a tech career at “several million saved”. Isn’t this significantly more than you’ve suggested previously is needed for a stress-free early retirement? Can you speak a bit more to this?

    Reply
  • Will August 8, 2020, 12:50 pm

    Quez,

    Might you be guilty of the same? It’s the side effect of being convinced of something being true, no?

    Reply
  • Steve in Colorado August 8, 2020, 1:04 pm

    I have a slightly different approach. I have certain life goals I want to achieve and once I achieve them I don’t look back:

    1. college degree – complete
    2. own a modest house – complete
    3. marriage – complete
    4. two children – complete
    5. travel the world – complete
    6. financial independence – complete
    7. live to 85 in good health – still working on this

    I don’t worry too much about outside distractions.
    I think it is important for people to determine their own goals in life and ignore the mass media.

    Reply
  • Guy French August 8, 2020, 7:10 pm

    Hi
    For your ADD, I suggest you read “work smarter, live better” by Cyril Peupion. I’m not very keen on self-development books. And this book is a bit like your blog: it is all about self-development but it really looks like something else and it takes sideways to have you change your way of life.
    In his book, Cyril (who happens to be french but has settled in Australia a long time ago) explains how to be efficient at work. How is it relevant to your issue? It actually gives you keys to focus on the essential and stop being distracted by the endless flow of solicitations. I thought about this book when you referred to the “old to-do list “. Actually, the enemy and of the reasons of your ADD is actually the to-do list… anyway, you can test his 3 week technique of new habits, it changed my way of life.
    To be honest, I’m a bit surprised that you’re suffering of such a disease, as I have always felt that the reaching of your way of life necessitated a great ability to stay focused on the important things and I often thought of cyril’s book while reading your blog.

    Reply
  • Wendy August 8, 2020, 8:47 pm

    So nice to see you back, Mr. MM.
    This post reminds me of the “wheel of life” balance wheels of which there are several versions to be found all with the same concept. If not all the spokes of a wheel are equally balanced, it won’t roll.
    As for getting back into a groove, your posts are always of such high caliber. Better to have fewer quality posts than several with less significant impact! Thanks for all you do.
    Your advice covers many of the spokes, not just the financial ones.

    Reply
  • JeffD August 8, 2020, 11:52 pm

    Anything you focus on in life can be described by an interest/ability table, with High and Low values for each. You start with high interest, low ability. Next is high interest, high ability. Next is high ability, low interest. Finally, you end in low interest low ability. The trick is to short circuit the “spiral of doom” path you see if you draw this out. People who exit to another “career” as soon as their interest wanes are the ones that live their entire life in the sweet spot. Never keep a career because it pays well. Jumping out early is not, “being a quitter”. It’s actually the maximal approach to leading a satisfying life as you pursue your next interest.

    Reply
  • Married to a Swabian August 9, 2020, 6:26 am

    Good post, MMM! I am finding that there is also a “wellness sweet spot”, which involves a combination of work, family time, exercise and mindfulness meditation. Really helping me stay balanced during all that’s transpired this year.

    On a side note, I’ve just started reading Veblen’s “Theory of the Liesure Class”:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorstein_Veblen#Conspicuous_consumption
    Interesting dude and concepts. He was the first (120 years ago) to cast a critical eye on the idea of keeping up with the Joneses. To the extent we are able to eliminate this bullshit from our thinking, we can reach FIRE Much sooner and become much happier!

    Reply
  • Taliah August 9, 2020, 6:37 am

    My husband and I own a business that collects data that allows geotechnical engineering firms throughout the country to make various decisions (and we live north of you, in Loveland!). We’ve reached our sweet spot (busy enough, parenting a kid, paid off home, and no debt otherwise), but I can feel the “overachiever” thoughts creeping up my back. Thoughts like, “We could expand our business by doing X and or Y… it’d be a lot more stress but we’d make a fortune” or, “Let’s have another child… I think it’ll make us happier but who knows.”

    It takes a ton of motivation (and grit, when that motivation runs dry at times) to pay off a house. After that’s done, all that kinetic energy of being dialed in with finances and goals has to go somewhere. It’s hard to allow that energy to go into things like daily meditation, enjoying ourselves, and other things that don’t feel like “suffering” at all.

    The grind becomes an addiction, and who would’ve known that until the most impossible-seeming goals were reached?

    Reply
  • Dan Lawrence August 9, 2020, 7:30 am

    Good post MMM. Sweetspot indeed.Or, Goldilocks zone as it were. This is a worthwhile quarterly or semi-annual calibration exercise. BTW: I just finished reading Nir Eyal’s Indistractible. I suffer from some of the adult ADHD you mention above. The book was a good read and has some good pointer. I particularly like time boxing your days/weeks aligned to your values. Seems friends and personal projects need some dedicated time in your diary.

    Reply
  • Sarah E August 9, 2020, 8:48 am

    Wow, your timing with this post is incredible. I currently am 39, work 3 days (own my own practice), and support my family of 4 in a very HCOL area in the Northeast. I am enjoying my 3 day workweek, and also do a fair amount of industry and medical writing, speaking and consulting (which I absolutely love). I had two local practice owners call me a month ago (on the SAME morning – ok universe, I hear you!) asking if I am interested in buying their practices. I now have to figure out my life. We live very simply in an expensive area, no debt (other than mortgage, which we just refinanced). I am enjoying my “mom” time and being home with my family. Do I trade my good schedule and good paycheck for the possibility of owning multiple businesses, with all the success and heartache that could come? Or enjoy life as it is and keep on the same path. You’ve given me a lot to think about!

    Reply
  • Ken August 10, 2020, 3:24 am

    Becoming a parent really changed things for me.

    The definition of “enough” children has changed. I sacrificed quite a bit of my own life for the sake of raising more than one child. By giving them siblings, I feel like I’m giving them life-long friendship, support, and family. We originally made this decision because both my wife and I have siblings and when relationship & health issues came up with our parents, having siblings to share the experience and burden with really made a difference. We want to reduce the burden on my children as we age. And during this extended shelter-in-place period, we already see the benefits of them having each other.

    The definition of having “enough” money has changed as well. We, too, live in a “hella” expensive town on the San Francisco Peninsula. But we are not here because of my engineering career. We are here because my wife and I both grew up in the Bay Area (Me in San Francisco, my wife in the East Bay), so mid-peninsula is the best location for work and both sides of the family. Unfortunately, this is also probably the most expensive area in an already-expensive metropolitan area. We nearly have enough money for ourselves, but seeing how expensive it is here, we want to be able to give our children (7, 4, & 2) a good head start in life and would like to have enough to support their education or any ambitions in life while giving them a serious chance at staying in the Bay Area with us and our extended family.

    Reply
  • Houston August 11, 2020, 3:52 am

    I have since the pandemic that surfing and Kettlebell practice have been hitting the sweet spot area. Apart from the up front cost they are free and I’m out doors feeling quite alot of joy.

    Social life is nil. I tend to be a bit of a hermit and don’t really enjoy or relate to the activities work colleges have (drinking and mistaking consumerism for a hobby)
    But I will work on that one. Organized sports perhaps.

    I have noticed that my enjoyment hasn’t waned since the whole lock down, which is pretty cool because I have lost about 75% of my income but am still living an normal life. I see it as a good test run for FIRE.

    Reply
  • Annika August 11, 2020, 9:10 am

    Dear MMM,

    thanks for this great (and all the previous ones which I have read over the past weeks). My husband and I were raised to work hard to earn money (and then spend it all) and it took 30 years to realize that that might not be necessary. While FI at an early stage will not be possible for us, we have just started to get our finances in order. At least we will be debt-free in a couple of years and mortage free in 15 (we are both in our early 30s now). But some thing apparently went right and I give yoyu some credit for that… So please enjoy the story and now that you are (partially) responsible with your writing.

    My husband and I have both worked full-time careers in the public service in Germany and I have had quite a career to the point where I can hardly get any other promotion, yet at the cost of a 40-50hour week while we are trying to raise 4 kids (that’s definitely our sweet spot and nothing we would ever compromise on). In the past weeks I have made some life-changing decisions so change my career path (giving up the responsibility over more than 100 employees) and doing what I have always enjoyed – working academically and teaching which is possible for me because I have several degrees (it will still be in the public administration sector, so I won’t compromise on my pension). I had an appointment with our top boss today trying to convince me that this was a stupid idea and that – another promotion, that type that not even 1% reach within our public service) was at hand. And I could confidently turn it down, knowing that I had spent the last 12 years working towards this and only recently realized that it didn’t add any more happiness to my life, but just took from it.

    I will turn 34 this month, I will have plenty of time for my kids (10, 8, 3 and 0 at this point), we just started to get a grip on our finances and I enjoy simplifying our life more and more every day, trying to regain some of the simple pleasures for what they are (like eating as a family, being available for my kids). Reading your blog (and some others with a focus on minimalism and simplifying) has provided tremendous reassurance to me and for that I wanted to say thank you.

    When I came home from this work conversation with my boss today, reading your article just boosted my self-esteem in this decision and that I seem to finally have found my “sweet spot” career-wise. I don’t feel like an underachiever anymore because I turned down the next step, but I am very grateful for the life I have achieved so far. Thanks MMM! I will definitely keep reading and wish you all the best for identifying the other sweet spots in your amazing life.

    Reply
    • Andreas August 14, 2020, 1:10 am

      How do you manage that? 4 kids and a career at the same time? I have 1 kid, a career that despite my efforts feels like it is stranded. Not a bad one but still not getting ahead. I work about 35 hours a week. One kid and a partner. And every day I feel like time is almost not enough to spend time with my family. Adding more kids to that and all I see is more and more work from early morning to late night (more kids more disches, laundry, cleaning them, feeding etc etc). Yet you and others seem to do fine.

      I just dont get how you get the time to do other thing that work and chores? I am not questioning your way of life, I just want to know how it is possible? I would like more kids but at the moment I cannot find the time.
      Work 8-16, then home 20min bike ride, fix food, laundry, garden etc etc. Kids to bed between at 7-8 and then I am just finished. Adding 2-3 more kids to that, no freckin way!

      How does anyone with a full time job find time with their small kids (other than 30minutes) in the evenings?
      Adults and teens are different, they dont go to bed early. But until then it is a long time.

      Reply
  • Enzo August 11, 2020, 10:23 am

    My “struggle” (beyond attention deficit when working on boring projects) is my drive/goal has been fueled by my wanting to have a better life for my family growing up than I had, although that doesn’t mean I don’t spent tons of time with them. I personally don’t need much and was in “the silicon valley” 10 years . I bailed early (although without any money/savings), since everyone seemed to be driven by where they worked or what they worked on or the money, but not who they “are” and honestly there was zero community there. I stayed in tech though, trying to find a place to live where you knew your neighbors name, while watching all these “Directors of Engineering” keep grinding it out and wondering, how much to you *really* need. One positive story is a friend who cashed out, left for India and never really came back. He had enough to buy his Mom a house, and now teaches/travels around the world.

    I never hit that lottery, I can’t do anything else but software, so bounce around trying to find that group/company who wants to do meaningful things and be able to pay the bills. After 30 years of this. The struggle is real ;-)

    One thing that’s missing in some of these posts which seem to focus on, “hey you have your million dollars, now focus on what matters’”, is what about the person who has done this for years, never got that big acquisition, payoffs. The focus on what matters during those times seems almost even more important to keep sane. I think for every silicon valley “success” there is just as many who have done the craft for 20-30 years and never owned a home, get beaten down by the illusions of needing more (in California you always do it seems).

    What do you tell them?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache August 13, 2020, 7:37 am

      Enzo,

      I think you need to go back to the first MMM blog post and just start reading, and using those ideas to cut your lifestyle costs.

      Because if you make a software engineer’s salary and are not saving at least 50% of your income (and preferably 75%+), you are living in an Exploding Volcano of Wasteful Spending!

      Most people in this country earn less than a quarter of what SW engineers pull in. You don’t need stock option windfalls or your own startup company – just the BASE SALARY – heck even a 22-year-old new graduate’s salary, is enough for massive saving.

      It only takes about 7 years at your salary to go from zero to retired (even if raising a family), if you put all of the life streamlining techniques into place.

      Good luck!

      Reply

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