by Darrin Schenck

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by Darrin Schenck

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I am big on the art of refinement as an approach to life itself.  In the famous words of legendary martial artist Bruce Lee:

It is not daily increase, but daily decrease.  Hack away the unessential.

Bruce Lee was an amazing individual, a true pioneer in the world.  He faced a lot of tough times and still rose above everything life threw at him to rise to world-wide stardom.  I love this quote, and many others of his, and am going to relate this to my own life as an example of how to deploy this thought process into a life plan.  This is the key to mastering any skill or task, but I will save that for another blog.

For me, my has been about striving to be better at everything I do.  in my athlete days, I was willing to work harder than almost anyone, and eventually the work paid off.  I did this all the way to the top twenty on the Pro Racquetball Tour.  This was a very formative part of my life, and I still use this type of work ethic with everything I do.  But back to the Bruce Lee statement, I didn’t try to get really good at every single facet of the game.  I didn’t try to take a piece of each top Pro’s game and learn how to do that same thing for myself.  I limited my scope of practice to a few key skills, allowing myself to be laser-focused on the skills that would be useful against any opponent.  I was not going to be one of the hardest hitters, I was about 135 pounds during my time on Tour.  I would have done nothing but damage my shoulder and back by trying to add this as a weapon.  Instead, I worked on things like my fitness level, so I would never tire during a match.  I practiced my forehand, which was my weaker side in terms of consistency, until it became an asset instead of a liability.  I had serves I could do blindfolded, and knew I could count on in any match.

I hacked away the unessential parts of the game in general, sticking to the basics.  This allowed more practice time in each session on the things that mattered.  Not the fancy stuff that looked flashy but was high risk.  I disciplined myself to not manufacture an offensive opportunity that wasn’t really there in the first place, instead waiting for a better time to strike.  Good defense and high levels of fitness allowed me to do this, and I thought of myself as a boa constrictor on the court.  I would slowly squeeze the life out of people of time during the match.  I keep applying more and more pressure until they would buckle in the end.  I removed the unessential things and as much as possible mastered the things that mattered.

This is a great metaphor for life itself, and without question I have done this same thing in my life in general.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not perfect about this.  I suffered for a while doing things that lots of other people do too.  I tried to keep up with those around me by driving a nicer car than I could really afford, and living in a zip code that was out of my price range as well.  I dated women that I wanted to impress, and I spent money I didn’t have.  I lived beyond my means, running up credit card debt.  Eventually I caught on, and although it took a while, I climbed out of that whole I had dug for myself.

Now, I have a different approach.  One much more similar to the Bruce Lee ethos of minimalism.  I don’t care what car I drive.  By design to a large degree, my wife has the same thought process.  We both drive used cars, and do our best to limit frivolous spending on things that we want but don’t really need.  Our  house is 1200 square feet, in a modest neighborhood, despite being able to afford living elsewhere.  We are continuing to have garage sales and purges of things we don’t need.  There is just two of us, we don’t need a bigger house.  And we will never have a storage unit to keep “extra” stuff in.  Why on Earth would I pay a month fee to keep stuff I rarely if ever use?

Refinement is about doubling down on the things that really matter

and letting the rest fall by the wayside.  

If you can refine your skills for studying and taking tests, you will have better results.  When you enhance your sales ability, you will close more deals and make more money.  When you improve your contribution to the company you work for, you should be promoted which means more income.  If this is what you want for yourself, hard work and refinement is the way to go.  If you want to live an austere life, one of true minimalism as in selling everything you have an buying a small RV to live the vanlife, then you have to refine things.  You need to get things boiled down to the true essentials only.  You don’t have room and you won’t have the finances to live any other way.  This will be a real test of your ability to refine everything out of your life that is not truly necessary.  It will be like that weekend backpacking trip you did, and lived a meagerly as possible since everything you needed you had to pack in and out.  The weight you were carrying forced you to refine and eliminate.  I think that is a great way to approach life, regardless of how much money you actually make.  Life isn’t a race to die with the most toys.  It is a marathon to collect meaningful experiences as often as possible along the way.

In other words, you don’t need a Tesla, another expensive watch or another pair of shoes.  You need to set yourself up for the future, one that may fluctuate from the plan you have or even where you are now.  Things might be cruising along just fine at the moment, but there are no guarantees that this will last forever.  People get fired, companies get bought out, the economy changes.  Live a refined life and give yourself leeway if things do take a downturn for a while.  The less you have to pay for on a monthly basis the better off you are.  The things you own end up owning you.  If you have a $1000 monthly car payment and a $2500 monthly rent/mortgage, guess what, you HAVE TO make about $90K a year to actually afford this lifestyle.  If you drove a car a few years old, you could avoid a car payment at all, or at least have one about a third of the price as a new Tesla.

Don’t let what you think other people think dictate your behavior.  Yes, read that again…  This is the downfall of many people, and what the credit card companies count on.  Its why the average American household is over $103,000 (includes mortgage, student loans and credit card debt), according to this website.  We are buying things to impress people we don’t know or people we don’t like.  Crazy, but true.  Refine your life, do better, and get ahead now.  You wanna know what is really impressive to most people?  A Debt free life.  Owning your house, no car payments, and the financial freedom to do as you please.  Forget the new car you lease every two years, and don’t even get me started on buying a house with two extra rooms that you’ll either never use, or you’ll just buy stuff to put in those rooms that you also didn’t need.

Refine, refine, refine… You’ll thank me later.  I wish you luck in your endeavors.

 

 

 

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