Thursday, September 17, 2015

When a Sprinter Hits the Wall

When a Sprinter Hits the Wall
I promised myself when I started blogging that I wouldn't be one of those writers who started out every piece the same way, apologizing for not writing in so long, and promising never to do it again. But here we are, with over a month between posts. I can at least be good enough not to give you some flimsy apology. I know what happens during times of procrastination, and you do, too. Let's just move on.

Procrastination comes easily to me. I've always thought of myself as a sprinter of sorts: great out of the gate with an extra gear, to boot. I can shine in competition...but only for a bit.

Back in high school track, my coach made me a regular on the 400 meters: a terrible race dreamt up by sick individuals back in the eighteen hundreds, and now is loved only by sadists and masochists. The distance is just long enough that most people cannot all-out sprint the entire thing. And yet, that is (kind of) what you have to do if you want a legitimate chance of winning. Every time I rounded the final turn, I had the same sobering realization: I didn't have enough left. I'd give whatever last gasps I had, struggling and heaving for the last hundred meters to the finish line, typically finishing somewhere around third and just being happy to be done with it. 

This metaphor applies to a lot of my personality, as self-fulfilling prophesies tend to do. If only life were a series of short sprints, instead of the decades long marathon that it is. 

In my career, I've found a way to use the sprinting approach to my advantage. Projects tend to be relatively short in my field, so they manage to conclude before I get bored or lazy. If I can parlay my early successes into a promotion or a new position every three years or so, I look like an up-and-comer instead of a guy who just gets serially disinterested.

But the rest of my life doesn't provide such easy solutions to the quitter's dilemma. After five years in our home, it turns out that I really hate yard work, along with work of all other sorts. And yet every morning, I look out at the property and the dumb grass has grown higher, like a jerk, and there are more leaves and needles that need to be raked, and the trees branches that need to be pruned continue to grow. Stupid nature.

To someone who can regularly put in the work, maintaining a property is not a burden. Indeed, it might provide purpose or pride or something. I suppose there are people out there who like gardening and tending to the living things in their little plot of the world, and in seeing small daily improvement. I, on the other hand, like television, board games, and naps.

And there are other annoying things in life that require steady, regular effort, too. The recurring issues that crop up in marriage: the division of house work, and balancing our precious hours between the dozens of responsibilities we have, and me just being jerk from time to time...all of that requires honest, ongoing effort if things are truly going to improve. Those issues won't ever be fixed by the sprinters' quick fix approach.

I initially thought blogging would dovetail perfectly with my short-run approach, seeing how most posts are only around 800 words and, at least in my case, keep things on the surface-level. But then after a few years, I started running out of easy ideas and clever angles, and I found out that I might actually have to work hard to keep coming up with something worth reading. 

Well, I've done that thing I said I wasn't going to do, and have come up with a long excuse for why I haven't written. But at least it's something on the page, so there's that.

The big worry is that I'm also feeling the fatigue of running towards financial independence. Since our financial awakening back in 2009, we've been ramping up the frugality, maximizing our income, and narrowing our focus to the specific goal of being financially free by the time I'm forty. We're rounding the corner with the finish line in sight...and I'm spent. I'm weary of the price comparisons and budget optimizations and the constant burden of money, money, money weighing on my mind.

Will we get the million we "need" for financial independence in five more years? According to my calculations, we can...but we'll have to really push.

Do we have enough left in the tank?

Does it even matter how long it takes us to get to the finish line?

Maybe fourth isn't so bad.



*Photo is from Steven Pisano at Flickr Creative Commons.

45 comments:

  1. Very well written. I'm sure a lot of us feel exactly the same way. I sure do, and I've only been in this game since 2013. Fatigue... yes, that's it. The material sacrifices is not a problem at all, but thinking about money... it really wears you down. Surplus or deficit, the mental strain seems the same.

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    1. I like that take: using our mental capacity on money is kind of a drain, no matter if we're doing well with it or not.

      Have any tips for how you deal with the fatigue?

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    2. One alternative I have been pondering is simplifying my investment process, and automate it. I like dividens so mutual funds are out. ETFs can't be bought automatically where I'm from (all ETFs worth their salt are sold over NYSE). But I'm still looking for some way, to not even bother with the surplus money and investment side. Note to self: still a pretty good place to be!

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    3. I should probably admit the biggest issue - I'm a junkie. I'm constantly scouring the internet for PF, early retirement stuff, investments, checking my accounts. It's clearly obsessive so I really need to deal with this like anyone deals with an addiction.

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    4. You're not alone in that. I have addictive tendencies, too. One day at a time, as they say.

      Index mutual funds do throw off some dividends, but probably not at the level you'd want as a dividend-focused investor.

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  2. Simple solution is just to not worry and live in the moment. Life is short

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    1. Truth, but easier said than done. It's kind of like how meditation is as simple as clearing your mind.

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  3. I recently became dismayed at my inability to decrease my monthly spending. I did well for a while, sold my money draining condo and downsized and watched the Mint spending columns dwindle but some big expenses hit and i went on a bit of a spending spree. I think it is easy to obsess about money, but it is really important to play and let your spirit run free at times-in a healthy way.

    P.s. i.hate yardwork too.

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    1. I'm glad I'm not the only one who hates tending to the yard.

      It took owning a house with a yard to realize that maybe I'm a renter at heart. Or, maybe a condo owner.

      I read a piece recently about how young people really ought to worry less about money and saving, and just live their youthful lives. Personal finance enthusiasts went crazy in the comments, but I think she does have a point (even if she takes it to the extreme of advising people to save NO money).

      But her general point is particularly helpful to a PF nerd like me: worry about living life, not money.

      http://elitedaily.com/life/savings-20s-something-wrong/1214445/

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    2. We built our house eleven years ago and did elaborate landscaping. Back then I was really into it. But that was before I started a job with a 45 minute commute each way. Now it's a chore. We will stay put until we retire in 5-6 years, but the goal now is to just maintain it in decent order. I am not adding things to the yard, nor spending more than I need on upkeep. If we were living in a community with more housing options I would sell now, but there just aren't options and I would miss certain things about the house itself that make my life easier. But when I have more options -- condo it is. We want to travel and I feel like right now I'm just working to "feed" my house.

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    3. I hear you, Trudie. Once you start getting busy and have only a little free time, using our weekends for yardwork starts to feel like a real chore.

      My wife will for sure veto renting or condo owning, so my best bet now is to try for a very small yard. :)

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  4. Well, in terms of the blogging thing... meh, life happens! IMHO blogging and yard work are both fairly low priorities. I do them when I feel like it and the rest of the time... well, whatever. This is one huge advantage to living in the barrio - nobody cares or really notices when your lawn dies! :-)

    I can totally relate to the money fatigue thing. I remember being in that place where I felt like I was burning the candle at both ends, trying to earn more and spend less so that I could quit one day and sit back enjoying feasting on bon bons.

    But, for me at least, the whole money thing actually got much, MUCH easier after I finally quit my job. I think my situation is/was different from yours because working in the non-profit sector, you barely make enough money to survive anyhow, so amassing a massive savings like you're describing was pretty much out of the question. So my tactic was to develop passive income streams instead - well in addition to enough cash to last for 10-15 years in case everything went south. But what that all meant was that I was working literally over 100 hours per week (probably 60 at the music school and 40 on developing my web businesses.)

    Once I finally got the guts to quit, I was able to focus on building my passive income streams and my income more than doubled. Plus, I had so much more time and freedom, that spending less got to be a WHOLE lot easier too.

    So I dunno... I think the answer probably lies in how miserable your job makes you. By the end my misery-meter was on tilt, so I was highly motivated to get the heck outta there! If you're comfortable, there's no harm in giving yourself a break.

    All that being said, when I needed motivation, I would pull out the spreadsheets, calculate my net worth, run compound interest numbers & projections and figure out how many more years/months until freedom!

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    1. You always leave the best comments, Eco Cat Lady. I've missed ya.

      You and I will have to talk about passive income sometime. My novice attempt, rental properties, sometimes are the exact opposite of passive. Though we like owning something we can touch, you know.

      My job switches between super easy and stressful, but right now I feel good about finishing the next 5 or 6 years. The money's just too good to give up now, unless I start making big bucks on the side.

      I think just knowing, from you, that things get easier on the financial side once work stops, is helpful. I am someone who needs to see a light at the end of the tunnel at all times. Just knowing that 'it gets better' is kind of enough, so thanks!

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  5. Oh my gosh, DB40 - I am feeling SO that way lately. Just out of energy. Trudging toward debt free, my steps slowing each day. Can I join you in being a slacker? :-)

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  6. First off, like you, I get bored at jobs real easy. I seem to quit a job every 2-3 years. I just need constant change. As a professional, I realize this looks terrible on my resume, but I have to live my life. This is actually not that unusual though. You might want to pick up some books by Barbara Sher. She calls these types of people 'scanners'. Scanners are usually quite intelligent, which is why the typical corporate job and cubicle life doesn't cut it for us. Some famous scanners are Socrates, Benjamin Franklin and Leonardo DaVinci. Back then though, they were called inventors or thinkers. Today we might be called irresponsible. What a shame. I heard someone else describe us as those that still have the 'hunter/gatherer/nomadic' tendencies of our past as opposed to assimilating to the modern 'farmers' world. We want to move around, instead of tend to our gardens for 8 hours a day. Like you, I hate yard work. Condos are the way the way to go. We can live in our condo and then when we want to take our round the world trip or just feel like a change of scenery, we rent it out. I'd much rather pay an HOA fee and not have to worry about replacing a roof or mowing the lawn.

    As far as blogging.... who made up the rules that a blogger has to post so often? It seems that the blogging world has become as cumbersome as the corporate world... inane rules that don't work for everyone. I personally get bored with most bloggers who are 'on a schedule'. You can tell that they are writing, just to stay on schedule and it gets repetitive and boring. I wish more bloggers would write only when they have something really interesting to say... like this post! So, in my opinion, don't worry!

    And then, on the financial part. Yes, I get tired of the financial world. Not my own situation, because when I simplified my life, I seemed to have become financially independent almost overnight. But, in my opinion, $1 million is not needed for financial independence. I think your fatigue comes from reading too many PF blogs, especially in a world where everyone shares their net worth and budget. It is like the Facebook of blogging! That fatigue happened to me and so I am unsubscribing to many. If you want a new radical perspective on money, try reading 'The Moneyless Man' or 'The Man Who Quit Money'. While I would never give up the money I have, reading these books made me realize that we certainly don't need as much money as the experts or our peers tell us.

    Lastly, for me, working and 'saving' my money by putting it into the stock market is waaaaay boring. That is why I like real estate investing. I feel that I get to 'shop' for properties. Then I manage my properties and get to know my tenants. I take pride in putting people over profit, so it becomes a fun, active endeavor that gives me a nice little income stream. I highly suggest that to you because it will allow you to actively invest instead of passively invest.

    Anyway, great post. One of the best I've read in awhile!

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    1. Thanks for such a thoughtful comment, Simple is the New Green.

      I'd never heard of scanners before, but will have to give that author a read.

      I know what you mean about writing on a schedule. Some people can produce great content on the regular...some end up putting out mediocre stuff just to put up something. Then, there's me, who creates crap once a month. :)

      I'm sure that $1M is probably overkill, but I do like the big round number.

      We actually are rental property investors, too. There's something unique and intriguing about this particular investment, even if buying and selling them is a real pain compared to paper investments.

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    2. I'm totally a sprinter/scanner, too. I get bored pretty easily, though I wouldn't say I'm hyper intelligent. Just crave change. And probably a little bit of laziness mixed in there.

      Would waiting a year or two more really be so bad? If it takes a little stress off, retiring at 41 or 42 is still pretty darn early.

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  7. Fatigue is common - I'm still going strong with our financial independence goals, but struggling with my weight loss goals - I'm just so tired of measuring everything I eat and avoiding my trigger foods (because I really, really like them!). Sometimes, all the motivation I need is to be reminded of my goal and why I started in the first place. With weight loss, I can't wear my wedding ring or engagement ring any more - and I really want to. I could just get it resized, but that would ruin the inscription and so I continue to work on losing weight. Find what you really want out of your goal, and make sure to remind yourself of it every once in a while - a picture of you and your wife on a beach - a picture of uncle scrooge swimming in his gold pit... whatever you need to motivate you!

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    1. Great advice there, Three is Plenty. And it's good to hear from you, too. How's the burgh?

      I suppose, like a lot of early FI bloggers, I have only a vague sense of the life I'd want to lead after leaving traditional work (or would I even leave traditional work)? I am intrigued by options and freedom, but that's not a great excuse to avoid thinking about specifics.

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    2. I have a theory about vices that seems to hold true for me. I used to eat a lot of sweets and candy, and I replaced that with snus (nicotine you put under your lip). Real easy too let go off the comfort food. Lost a lot of weight (adding exercise sure helped, no doubt). I feel much healthier. What I'm trying to say is, if you need a vice, try and maximize it to your happiness :-) I'd rather be fit and slim with slightly exaggerated risk of throat and thyroid cancer than the reverse. That's just me, for you some other tradeoff might make more sense.

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  8. I'm much more of a marathon person (both in running and in life in general), but that doesn't mean it doesn't still take effort to prevent fatigue over the long haul. Pacing (including holding back in the early days when you just want to sprint!) requires a LOT of mental energy. We used to do weekly check-ins on budgets, net worth, etc. Then we made them monthly. Now I just compile the reports and Mr PoP looks them over and asks me any questions he might have. We don't stress month-to-month if the spending looks off as long as we're still on track for the long-haul.

    I feel like we're (financially) around mile 17 or 18 of a 26 mile race. If we try and sprint (or even speed up too much) right now, we're running a good risk of smacking against "the wall". Instead, try chowing down on some tasty calories (translate to some other treat you might like but wouldn't allow yourself in a sprint), and focus on keeping your legs moving. Try and forget how far you've come and how far you have left to go. Focus on feeling good and being happy in your current state. Socialize with those around you and if you can, don't talk about the race or other races you have done. Even if they're only temporary companions not running at the same pace as you are for the long haul, the conversation is still going to be a welcome distraction and you'll defeat the purpose of the distraction if all your conversations come back to the current race.

    At least that's my take. =P

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    1. You are a much better writer than I am, Mrs. Pop. Your comment extended the metaphor to such a better place than I could, so thank you.

      I definitely need to stop thinking so much about the finish line, or where I am in the race. Time to just focus on feeling good, and keeping my legs moving, like you said.

      Seriously, thank you.

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  9. Why haven't you switched to a rock yard yet? They are much more time and money efficient than trying to keep grass alive year-round in the desert.

    3 of 4 houses I had in Phoenix area had rock yards. Less water waste and only upkeep is spraying for weed control twice a year.

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    1. We have rock in the front but, as we have dogs, don't want that for the back yard. It definitely helps in the front, but as we have so many trees we can't always spray the really strong ground clear stuff...

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  10. I totally understand the fatigue. In fact, I stopped reading all personal finance blogs a few years ago. One of the major reasons was that writing/reading about money made me think about money way too much, all the time! I just got back into the world of pf blogging this year.

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    1. Right on -- the reading does kind of contribute to the mental fatigue, too.

      Maybe that's the solution: write more, read less.

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  11. I think the march towards financial independence is by far the easiest to get fatigued at, mainly because it takes so many years to get there. I sometimes get distracted by things and/or bored, so I get where you are coming from. It happens to me in my job and I'm always curious how some people can do the same thing day in and day out for years and years (or even decades!).

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    1. I hear you, DC. I'm usually good for 3-4 years of solid effort, then need a change of some sort. A promotion's goal #1, but I'll often just take a lateral move if it means a small bump and, more importantly, a change of scenery.

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  12. Wow... genuinely posted something quite similar just a day after you (promise I didn't read this first either)!

    http://thefirestarter.co.uk/dealing-with-demotivation/

    I took it from a different angle and tried to use the opportunity to work out what to do to keep the motivation levels up.

    I'm nowhere demotivated on the path to FIRE but we've only been going for 3 years. And my situation is entirely different to yours as well.
    Maybe come back in a few more and the answer may be different though! I can't see myself ever turn back towards the spendthrift end of spectrum but there are clearly many different shades of grey that we can go up and down on the frugality scale depending on how we are feeling that day/month/year.

    I'm pretty sure if we amass any kind of wealth near to your level we'll be taking the foot off the gas, if I'm perfectly honest.

    Keep fighting the fight and hope to see you writing more again soon. Even if it is just to tell us about why you've not been writing, I for one still find your thoughts interesting, so thanks!

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, FIREStarter, and no worries at all about writing about similar things. I doubt there's anything that hasn't been written about a thousand times before.

      I think I heard once that writing about not writing is boring, but it's still better than not writing at all, or something like that.

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  13. I prefer to think of finances as a tennis match as opposed to a running race. In tennis, you can lose a lot of points and still win the match, but there is no such thing as building a lead that you can't lose- you have to win the last two points of the match.

    In tennis, if you are fatigued, you can take a small break from the action (just a few seconds between points) to check your mental state and push through until you can get slightly longer break when you switch sides. You can change your strategy if you find its not working out.

    Maybe your sprint to FI is made more difficult by the fact that you only have one strategy, go fast. It seems like some of your happiest posts have come during vacations (or after) when you've had a bit of time to slow down and re-evaluate your priorities.

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    1. Great insights, Hannah. I'm someone who really only is happy in times of leisure, which probably accounts for the happy posts on vacation, and maybe even the whole FI journey in general. I just don't enjoy real "work" the way that others do. I enjoy play.

      The tennis metaphor is a neat one. I used to play, and agree that the pace of the game is a good one for me...at least better than that of jogging. I need breaks.

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  14. Love the track analogy! Its a wall we all hit at some point doing anything that require effort. I'm of the belief that consistency is better than perfection. There are going to be a lot of times where we screw up. So it's not "how do we not screw up" but rather "how do we respond to these screw ups".

    In my experience, I've found that if we search for pefect, we just might be perfect for a day, week, month or year. But when we're not perfect, we fall and we fall hard!

    Maybe sometimes its better to take the elevator than to sprint up the steps. We might have to stop at a few extra floors but at least we know it's going up :)

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    1. Love the elevator metaphor. It's a good reminder straight up effort is not always the most efficient approach. Systems, systems, systems.

      Agree that consistency is a fantastic goal...but that ain't me, babe. No, no, no it ain't me, babe...

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  15. Yup, anything worth doing requires effort. We can accept that. But for how long is that effort to last? I mean, can't we get a break? I liked your sign off, "Maybe fourth isn't so bad". And maybe it isn't. At least you turned up and were in the race!

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    1. Thanks, Jim! Yes, just showing up at the race is something.

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  16. If you need some publishing motivation, we can team up! I started in 2009 too, and try to publish 3X a week, 1,000 - 2,000 word long posts. We can push each other to keep on going!

    Sam

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    1. Wow, that's an awesome offer, Sam. Seriously, thank you. I'll email you today.

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    2. And that's exactly why I love about the Yakezie challenge. Thank you Sam. I've met so many inspiring and motivating people through starting the Yakezie challenge. Truly a blessing. Keep up the good work!

      Peter

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  17. Thanks for sharing that you are feeling fatigue as you try to reach your dream of FI by forty. If you started in 2009 and you have 5 more years to go, it sounds like you started on this journey earlier than most. You should be proud of your forethought, and, at the least, take some comfort in that.

    We only started thinking about FI aggressively last year, and we're still in the giddy and excited stage. Luckily, our time-horizon for FI when we started was a lot shorter than yours, so perhaps a sprinter's approach will sustain us? On the other hand, we'll still be a lot older than you when we all reach FI...

    Thanks again for your honesty, and good luck to you!

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    1. Done By FortySeptember 29, 2015 at 8:22 AM
      Thanks for those kind words, Julie & Will.

      Back in 2009, we just started listening to Dave Ramsey. So we focused on paying off our debt (all mine: credit cards and student loans). We bought our first house and, true to the Ramsey method, focused on paying it off.

      Somewhere around then we found Mr. Money Mustache and kind of switched teams, so to speak, focusing on frugality.

      We've kind of jumped off that bandwagon, too. There's obviously a pattern here: we use the fervor of the newly initiated to make quick wins, but then get disenchanted and need to find something else. A sprinters approach, for sure.

      I'm glad you'll have a shorter ramp to FI: that's key, because often the aggressive approach involves some things that are not necessarily great long term for everyone. There are folks like MMM who can live it day in day out forever, but we've found our equilibrium involves eating out, driving a car (gasp), lots of vacations, etc.

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    2. We know what you mean about these vices. We got started on the FI/RE road with MMM and still voraciously read his posts--all the while hoping that he doesn't know that we own two nice cars, eat out at fine restaurants, and fly to vacation in western Europe (from the US, where we are based)!

      Interesting what you say about the difficulty of being able to sustain the fervor over a long period of time. We've been kicking ourselves thinking that if we had started on this path in 2009, we might already be retired by now. But perhaps we might have lost our energy by now. Hmmmm.

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  18. Unless your blogging for a living and it's basically your job, there is no rule to say when you should post. It all depends on what you want out of your blog. But we are always here when you come back. If it's just a hobby, then just do what you need to do. I hate when I put pressure on myself when that pressure does not need to exist.

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    1. Thanks, Tonya! It's definitely not a job for me (lifetime earnings: $0.00), but I do put pressure on myself to try to at least somewhat keep up with other bloggers. No real need, like you said.

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  19. I believe the toughest part of entrepreneurship is getting started and surviving the Desert of Desertion. The Desert of Desertion is that period of time where creation happens, but simultaneously suffers from a non-existent feedback loop, namely in the form of sales or customer response. It's that long, lonely timeframe from idea, to concept, to first sale.

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