Nick Ang

Having Less is Great

Stranded in the rain earlier today, I had time to kill. (That phrase should be illegal.)

At first I listened to an episode of the Tim Ferriss Show (a podcast) where he interviews a palliative caregiver and professor in UCSF, BJ Miller, on his job and what he’s learned studying close to 1,000 deaths. He’s learned a lot, but his lessons are all over the place in the interview and I’ll need more time to extract them before applying them to my life.

A particularly poignant memory of it so far (I’m halfway through it) is his recount of the accident that cost him two legs and half an arm. He was surprisingly casual when he recounted the traumatising story of climbing up a train and having an electric arc zap his metal wristwatch that blew him far away from the train. He’s a strong person, that much I learned.

But more than that, what’s impressive about this man is how he turned his life around. It wasn’t bad before, but he didn’t let things go south from the day he lost 3 limbs. His spirit is incredible!

But I digress, as I did halfway through the podcast. I switched over to my current obsession - Casey Neistat.

He’s a filmmaker and entrepreneur and, now, mostly known as an extremely popular Youtuber. He does vlogs.

I watched a few of his vlogs. Every time I do, I get a strong dose of inspiration. There’s something about this person that appeals to me… I’d just learned that he’s had a rough time before he became successful. (Yes, I know, who didn’t?)

That’s actually what I’m trying to get at today with this post.

In this particular film--something he did in collaboration with The Nantucket Project--he tells the story of Casey Neistat (himself). It’s that popular “my life” type of video. Him being a filmmaker, I had high expectations, and it didn’t disappoint.

A small digression here into filmmaking - it’s clear after watching a number of Casey’s videos that quality of the picture doesn’t matter much at all for Youtube videos. Unless you’re makign a nature documentary or a Hollywood movie, film (ie. camera) quality is responsible for zero outcome. It’s all about the story. I’d recommend anyone to sample a few of Casey’s videos—including the one who he explicitly says what I’ve just said—to get a sense of what I’m getting at.

Ok, back to his life video.

I’m particularly interested in the stage in his life that I’m currently at. Casey Neistat left home at age 15. Went to New York when he was 20 to make films. He had very little by way of money, and at that point when he was 20, he already had a 4 year old son.

First thing I thought about was how he managed to stay creative under so much pressure. I’m in a much better situation now than he was then, and I find it difficult to let my creativity manifest in my writing (blogging) projects.

Could it be that having less actually played to his advantage?

It’s been proven time and again that limitation is the mother of creativity. When faced with great odds is exactly when we flourish in trying to overcome and succeed.

I have to admit, being part of a family that is above middle class, many things are taken care of on my behalf. At age 26, I’m living with my wife of less than a year in our own apartment. That’s ridiculous by most standards in Singapore. I’m acutely aware of my privilege and I’m working hard (since getting my bachelor’s degree last June) to make it on my own.

I’m not saying I wished I was in a tougher situation - that would be foolish and insensitive, and I don’t think that way. What I’m saying is that having less is a powerful driver to work hard and deliver projects/products/services, and I’m curious to find out if there’s a way to artificially induce less-ness without bringing inconvenience (even harm) to the people around me.

Donating things I own to friends isn’t a viable option. My wife would think I’ve lost it. Besides, our accumulation of material goods is already proceeding at a very low rate (from my judgement, that is) compared to many others (though I can’t say the same for debt to the bank). I don’t think it’s the things that we own that makes me feel like I have a lot. It’s probably more about the house, in the nice neighbourhood that I didn’t work to attain.

If I woke up everyday with the mentality that I have to make ends meet today, by whatever means, I think I’d be at least five times as productive and creative as I am right now. It’s a ‘life hack’ that’s staring me in the face and I have no way of accessing it.

Not yet, at least. I have a few ideas in mind but I’m not sure whether they’ll work:

  • Throw myself into a huge project that is way beyond my skill level, with my reputation as an individual writer/maker on the line.
  • Sell the house and move into a much smaller home. <— I’m most inclined to this based on impulse. Probably because it’s going to instantly propel me into living with less.
  • Stop believing that this is a viable shortcut and just get down to work, willing into existence the projects I have in mind. (Willpower isn’t my strength, so maybe I should be working on that?)

If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them.

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