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To be free to do what you want, you need slack — extra resources to fall upon when something goes wrong. This post is about a) why slack is so important and b) how to get it.
Slack, as defined by Zvi, is the generalized concept of "leeway in life". I highly recommend reading the linked post for inspiration.
Slack is — the freedom to fuck up, to miss short-term wins, to live your life suboptimally. A weekend with no plans. A project without a deadline. A financial safety net — savings, parents, etc. Insurance. Own house where you can live indefinitely without paying rent. Tenure. The famous contract clause that prevents 20th Century Fox from messing with The Simpsons (resulting in this).
Slack is — having trust in your future. Knowing that if you get bruised, the bruise will heal. Knowing that if you quit your job, you will find another. Knowing that a fight, bad day, or a mental breakdown won't permanently damage your friendships. Knowing that if you break up with your partner, you won't be forever alone.
Slack lets you do-what-you-want in lots of different ways:
Slack means margin for error.
You can relax.
Slack allows pursuing opportunities.
You can explore. You can trade.
Slack prevents desperation.
You can avoid bad trades and wait for better spots. You can be efficient.
Slack permits planning for the long term.
You can invest.
Slack enables doing things for your own amusement.
You can play games. You can have fun.
Slack enables doing the right thing. Stand by your friends. Reward the worthy. Punish the wicked.
You can have a code.
Slack presents things as they are without concern for how things look or what others think.
You can be honest.
Slack is essential for freedom.
To have more slack, you must stop losing slack.
The easiest way to lose slack is to spend it like a drunken sailor.
If you do everything that you can do and that would be a good thing to do, you will very quickly lose slack. Stop doing it.
If those with extra resources are asked to share the whole surplus, all are poor or hide their wealth. Wealth is a burden and makes you a target. Those visibly flush rush to spend their bounty.
Where those with free time are given extra work, all are busy or look busy. Those with copious free time seek out relatively painless time sinks they can point to.
When looking happy means you deal with everything unpleasant, no one looks happy for long.
You want to have extra money, unused mental energy, free time (especially uninterrupted free time), etc. You should not try to spend them just because they "sit unused". You want to save them. This will let you relax, explore, have fun, and, most interestingly, deal with the consequences of your risky decisions. You will start making more risky decisions automatically.
Here are some pieces of actionable advice.
Don't help everyone who needs your help. Examples from my own life:
Treat every extra responsibility as a significant burden. It will help to pretend to be counting your burdens — kinda like the spoon theory. You can only handle N at a time. Any small responsibility counts towards the limit.
Time constraints are particularly dangerous. Anything that requires you to be somewhere at a certain time, or a certain day, has potential to mess up with other opportunities. Even if you don't have any plans for next Saturday, having to pick something up for a friend in the middle of the day means that you won't be able to have any plans for next Saturday.
Guilt hazards are doubly dangerous. There are promises you can't break, or even take back in advance, without feeling guilty. Even if it wasn't your fault. What's worse, there are people with whom every promise becomes like this. Maybe they are sensitive, maybe they expect a lot from you, or maybe they are just especially bad at making backup plans and so you are genuinely their only hope once you've made the promise. Run away from such promises and such people.
In general, never say "I will" to make yourself do something you'd rather not do — only use it to convey that you are sure you will do something. Every "I will" you utter counts towards the burden limit.
To get extra slack, look at any activity you do and figure out how to de-risk it beyond what is normal.
To take one example: if you produce any kind of content, or even post on Facebook, you are constantly in danger. You might post something people don't like. You might tarnish your reputation. You might make some enemies. You might alienate your friends or relatives. The solution is — have many identities. Make an anonymous Twitter account. Have separate Facebook accounts for work and for outside-of-work. Don't share your blog with your colleagues, even though it feels good. Don't try to have a single site/newsletter/etc where you publish all your content. Don't use your real name unless you have to.
You can apply this to anything and everything. The smallest things. Keep your phone always charged, instead of "charged just enough". Etc.
There is one bit of advice that fixes many things at once.
If you spend your savings way too easily — invest in something that is a bit annoying to sell, like cryptocurrencies or stocks. "I can quit my job and nothing bad will happen" is an enormous piece of slack. Think of those savings as explicitly buying that piece of slack.
Never touching your savings account is the price of your freedom-here-and-now. Don't think of it as "in case something happens later" — think of it as "the ability to take risks in life".
If your bank supports sub-accounts, go and create one called "Slack" right now. Don't transfer money to it immediately — wait till the next salary and transfer only a small amount. Repeat after every paycheck.
Be careful. You want to keep its status of a sacred account. Whenever you are tempted to withdraw money from it, look for ways to avoid it — loan money from friends or relatives, sell possessions, etc.
In some respects, I have taken this post's advice to the extreme. I have no long-term constraints. This is actually preventing me from having a good life — I have a ton of freedom that I am not using for anything. I need to scale back.
At the same time, I used to have much less short-term slack, and it was biting me. I used to say "I will" way too often. I used to take up every easy task that I could do and that would be good to do. I'd try to fill my days with productive activities, even when they weren't much better than doing nothing. I would sacrifice every individual day worth of freedom because I knew I still had years of freedom ahead of me.
Slack is essential for doing-what-you-want, but so is — knowing what you want. If you don't know what you want, you will just keep accumulating slack, keeping your options open, and not doing anything with them.
In next posts we will look at wanting things.