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Introducing Coverage Critic: Time to Kill the $80 Mobile Phone Bill Forever



A Quick Foreword: Although the world is still in Pandemic mode, we are shifting gears back to personal finance mode here at MMM. Partly because we could all use a distraction right now, and even more important because forced time off like this is the ideal time to re-invest in optimizing parts of your life such as your fitness, food and finances.

Canadian Readers - we have also collected some recommendations for you at a new Canadian Mobile Phone recommendations page.

Every now and then, I learn to my horror that some people are still paying preposterous amounts for mobile phone service, so I write another article about it.

If we are lucky, a solid number of people make the switch and enjoy increased prosperity, but everyone who didn’t happen to read that article goes on paying and paying, and I see it in the case studies that people email me when looking for advice. Lines like this in their budget:

  • mobile phone service (2 people): $160

is all I can say, when I see such unnecessary expenditure. These days, a great nationwide phone service plan costs between and $10-40 per month, depending on how many frills you need.

Why is this a big deal? Just because of this simple fact:

  • Cutting $100 per month from your budget becomes a $17,000 boost to your wealth every ten years.

And today’s $10-40 phone plans are just great. Anything more than that is just a plain old ripoff, end of story. Just as any phone more expensive than $200* (yes, that includes all new iPhones), is probably a waste of money too.

So today, we are going to take the next step: assigning a permanent inner-circle Mustachian expert to monitor the ever-improving cell phone market, and dispense the latest advice as appropriate. And I happen to know just the guy:

Christian Smith, along with colleagues at GiveWell in San Francisco, circa 2016

My first contact with Chris was in 2016 when he was working with GiveWell, a super-efficient charitable organization that often tops the list for people looking to maximize the impact of their giving.

But much to my surprise, he showed up in my own HQ coworking space in 2018, and I noticed he was a bit of a mobile phone research addict. He had started an intriguing website called Coverage Critic, and started methodically reviewing every phone plan (and even many handsets) he could get his hands on, and I liked the thorough and open way in which he did it.

This was ideal for me, because frankly I don’t have time to keep pace with ongoing changes in the marketplace. I may be an expert on construction and energy consumption, but I defer to my friend Ben when I have questions about fixing cars, Brandon when I need advice on credit cards, HQ member Dr. D for insider perspectives on the life of a doctor and the medical industry, and now Chris can take on the mobile phone world.

So we decided to team up: Chris will maintain his own list of the best cheap mobile phone plans on a new Coverage Critic page here on MMM. He gets the benefit of more people enjoying his work, and I get the benefit of more useful information on my site. And if it goes well, it will generate savings for you and eventual referral income for us (more on that at the bottom of this article).

So to complete this introduction, I will hand the keyboard over to the man himself.

Meet The Coverage Critic

Chris, engaged in some recent Coverage Criticicism at MMM-HQ

I started my professional life working on cost-effectiveness models for the charity evaluator GiveWell. (The organization is awesome; see MMM’s earlier post.) When I was ready for a career change, I figured I’d like to combine my analytical nature with my knack for cutting through bullshit. That quickly led me to the cell phone industry.

So about a year ago, I created a site called Coverage Critic in the hopes of meeting a need that was being overlooked: detailed mobile phone service reviews, without the common problem of bias due to undisclosed financial arrangements between the phone company and the reviewer.

What’s the Problem with the Cell Phone Industry?

Somehow, every mobile phone network in the U.S. claims to offer the best service. And each network can back up its claims by referencing third-party evaluations. 

How is that possible? Bad financial incentives.

Each network wants to claim it is great. Network operators are willing to pay to license reviewers’ “awards”. Consequently, money-hungry reviewers give awards to undeserving, mediocre networks.

On top of this, many phone companies have whipped up combinations of confusing plans, convoluted prices, and misleading claims. Just a few examples:

  • Coverage maps continue to be wildly inaccurate.
  • Many carriers offer “unlimited” plans that have limits.
  • All of the major U.S. network operators are overhyping next-generation, 5G technologies. AT&T has even started tricking its subscribers by renaming some of its 4G service “5GE.”

However, with enough research and shoveling, I believe it becomes clear which phone companies and plans offer the best bang for the buck.  So going forward, MMM and I will be collaborating to share recommended phone plans right here on his website, and adding an automated plan finder tool soon afterwards. I think you’ll find that there are a lot of great, budget-friendly options on the market.

A Few Quick Examples:

Mint Mobile: unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 8GB of data for as low as $20 per month (runs over T-Mobile’s network).

T-Mobile Connect: unlimited minutes and texts with 2GB of data for $15 per month.

Xfinity Mobile: 5 lines with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 10GB of shared data over Verizon’s network for about $12 per line each month (heads up: only Xfinity Internet customers are eligible, and the bring-your-own-device program is somewhat restrictive).

Cricket Wireless: 4 lines in a combined family plan with unlimited calling, unlimited texting, and unlimited data for as low as $100 per month (runs on AT&T’s network).

Ting: Limited use family plans for under $15 per line each month.

[MMM note - even as a frequent traveler, serious techie and a “professional blogger”, I rarely use more than 1GB each month on my own Google Fi plan ($20 base cost plus data, then $15 for each additional family member). So some of these are indeed generous plans]

Okay, What About Phones?

With the above carriers, you may be able to bring your existing phone. But if you need a new one, there are some damn good, low-cost options these days. The Moto G7 Play is only $130 and offers outstanding performance despite the low price point. I use it as my personal phone and love it.

If you really want something fancy, consider the Google Pixel 3a or the recently released, second-generation iPhone SE. Both of these are amazing phones and about half as expensive as an iPhone 11.


Mobile Phone Service 101

If you’re looking to save on cell phone service, it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of the industry. For the sake of brevity, I’m going to skip over a lot of nuances in the rest of this post. If you’re a nerd like me and want more technical details, check out my longer, drier article that goes into more depth.

The Wireless Market

There are only four nationwide networks in the U.S. (soon to be three thanks to a merger between T-Mobile and Sprint). They vary in the extent of their coverage:

  • Verizon (most coverage)
  • AT&T (2nd best coverage)
  • T-Mobile (3rd best coverage)
  • Sprint (worst coverage)

Not everyone needs the most coverage. All four nationwide networks typically offer solid coverage in densely populated areas. Coverage should be a bigger concern for people who regularly find themselves deep in the mountains or cornfields.

While there are only four nationwide networks, there are dozens of carriers offering cell phone service to consumers - offering vastly different pricing and customer service experiences.

Expensive services running over a given network will tend to offer better customer service, more roaming coverage, and better priority during periods of congestion than low-cost carriers using the same network. That said, many people won’t even notice a difference between low-cost and high-cost carriers using the same network.

For most people, the easiest way to figure out whether a low-cost carrier will provide a good experience is to just try one. You can typically sign up for these services without a long-term commitment. If you have a good initial experience with a budget-friendly carrier, you can stick with it and save substantially month after month.

With a good carrier, a budget-friendly phone, and a bit of effort to limit data use, most people can have a great cellular experience while saving a bunch of money.

MMM’s Conclusion

From now on, you can check in on the Coverage Critic’s recommendations at, and he will also be issuing occasional clever or wry commentary on Twitter at @Coverage_Critic.

Thanks for joining the team, Chris!

*okay, special exception if you use it for work in video or photography. I paid $299 a year ago for my stupendously fancy Google Pixel 3a phone.. but only because I run this blog and the extra spending is justified by the better camera.

The Full Disclosure: whenever possible, we have signed this blog up for referral programs with any recommended companies that offer them, so we may receive a commission if you sign up for a plan using our research. We aim to avoid letting income (or lack thereof) affect our recommendations, but we still want to be upfront about everything so you can judge for yourself. Specific details about these referral programs is shared on the CC transparency page. MMM explains more about how he handles affiliate arrangements here.

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How to Build Financial Resilience in An Economic Downturn



Do you remember all those soothing economic numbers that were floating around as recently as February? You know – the record low unemployment rate of 3.5%, and the record high stock market, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average closing at almost 30,000?

It seems like ages ago, doesn’t it?

The coronavirus happened and changed it all – in just three months. The stock market fell by a third before recovering somewhat in April 2020, while unemployment exploded. It reached 14.7% by the end of April, with Goldman Sachs predicting it may go as high as 25% – a level not seen since the Great Depression.

(Source: Trading Economics from data supplied by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Since economic downturns are actually really normal events, the best strategy is to build financial resilience. There’s nothing we can do to stop a crisis from happening, but we can and should get our own financial houses in order to minimize the impact.

The following 7 strategies will help you do just that.

1. Take Any Financial Shocks Off the Table

One of the factors that characterizes economic downturns is financial shocks. One of the best ways to build financial resilience is to prepare for them.

Start by reviewing your insurance policies. If need be, increase the amount of car insurance you have. It should be enough to protect your assets if you’re involved in an accident that’s determined to be your fault. If you do have adequate coverage, get some auto insurance quotes to see if you can lower your premiums.

This is also an excellent time to purchase a private life insurance policy. If you’ve been relying on life insurance from your employer, that may go away if you lose your job. Check out options for low cost life insurance and get a policy today.

And in case of an emergency, you may need a line of credit that can be accessed on short notice. Check with your bank or credit union to see if you can get an unsecured line of credit. Alternatively, you can apply for a personal loan, or even a low interest credit card.

You won’t want to access any lines of credit now, since staying out of debt may be critical to your financial wellbeing. But you’ll want to have open lines of credit available when an emergency hits. Lenders have already started tightening up restrictions for making lines available a few months from now.

2. Cut Costs Wherever You Can

Since income often becomes uncertain during economic downturns, cutting costs is one of the best ways to be prepared in advance.

I’ve come up with 85 ways you can save money in your own household budget. By selecting and implementing just a few you may be able to cut hundreds of dollars out of your budget.

And speaking of budgets, you should have one if you don’t already. Millions of people function without budgets, at least until an economic downturn hits. But sometimes all you need is the right budgeting software to get you moving in the right direction.

Budgeting will show you exactly where your money is going and help you identify which expenses you can cut or eliminate. That will not only reduce your expenses, but it’ll also make extra money available to pay down debt or build up savings.

3. Pay Down Debt Ahead of Time

One of the biggest expenses in many household budgets are debt payments. Whether it’s car loans, student loans, or credit cards, debt payments can take a big chunk out of your budget. If that’s true, begin to pay down debt now and work toward paying off as much as you can.

You may need to implement some aggressive debt payoff strategies. If so, that’s best done sooner than later. If you lose your job, any payment you can eliminate or reduce will improve your resilience.

If you have student loans, look into refinancing them while you’re still employed. Shop around for lenders that specialize in student loan refinances. Since these loans are often large, refinancing them has the potential to get you large savings from a lower payment.

If you have credit card debt, take advantage of 0% introductory APR offers with balance transfer credit cards. Getting a break on interest for 12 to 18 months can help you pay down your credit card balances a lot faster, since the payments you would allocate toward interest can be made toward principal.

4. Pad Your Emergency Fund

One of the very best ways to build financial resilience into your life is by loading up your emergency fund. Even if you already have one in place, now is an excellent time to begin increasing the balance.

During economic expansions, having between one- and three-month’s living expenses in your emergency fund may be sufficient. But in an economic downturn, you may need to expand that to six months or longer.

Sure, you may get unemployment benefits if you lose your job. But that probably won’t come close to replacing your current income. Just as important, emergencies have a way of popping up during times of economic turbulence. The more money you have sitting in your emergency fund, the better you’ll be able to weather it all.

If you’ve got your emergency fund sitting in a local bank or credit union, you’re probably earning interest of something only just above zero. You can and should fix that problem.

There are high-yield online savings accounts paying interest rates as high as 2%. That may not sound like a lot of money, but it’s more than 20 times the 0.06% being paid at average banks and credit unions. You owe it to yourself to earn as much interest on your emergency savings as you can get.

5. Establish an Advanced Savings Strategy

While an emergency fund will protect you against short-term expenses and income disruptions, now is also an outstanding time to begin building savings for longer-term needs.

One such need could be a run of unemployment that exceeds the amount of money you have in your emergency fund. By having a second-tier level of savings, you’ll have funds available if your emergency fund is exhausted.

You may also want to begin building savings for goals like paying off your car loan or having extra money available to cover the out-of-pocket costs not covered by your health insurance plan. Still another possibility is that you may need to start a business if you lose your job and find yourself unable to get a new one.

For medium term savings goals, you’ll want to put your money where it’ll be just out of immediate reach (so you won’t grab it for short-term needs), but where you’ll also earn even higher returns.

You can do that by investing in peer-to-peer lending platforms, like LendingClub. There you’ll have an opportunity to earn double-digit returns on your investment, with relatively low risk. Investigate other ways you can earn high interest on short-term investments so you’ll have funds available for whatever the future may hold.

6. Invest in Yourself

Most people don’t think of investing in themselves as an investment. But when you consider that your income is probably your single biggest asset, it’s one of the very best investments you can make.

The most obvious way to invest in yourself is to improve or acquire any skills or certifications that may help you in your job or your career. You may be one skill or one credential short of your next promotion. And even if you aren’t promoted, that skill or credential could be the one that lands you your next job.

You may also want to consider acquiring any skills you need to create a second income (more on that in the next section), or even in preparation for the launch your own business.

You can often take courses at local community colleges to acquire very specific skills. And some certifications require only the completion of a correspondence or online program to earn. The results can add thousands of dollars per year to your income – and just as important – make you more valuable to your employer. That will matter because during an economic downturn the people who are laid off first are the ones with the least value to the employer. By improving your skill set and qualifications, you’ll make yourself much less expendable.

There are also plenty of ways to invest in yourself that can help you make additional money outside your job. Think about what it is you would like to do, or what you have an interest in, and begin studying ways to earn money from it. Sometimes just acquiring a single skill will enable you to convert a hobby into an income source.

Speaking of which…

7. Build a Passive Income Stream or Side Hustle

One of the very best ways to build financial resilience for an economic downturn – or even during good times – is by creating additional sources of income.

One of the very best sources of additional income can be had by building passive income streams. There are actually dozens of ways to create passive income, it’s just a matter of choosing the one that’ll work best for you. For example, I’ve managed to create seven different income sources, some of which are passive. The great thing about passive income streams is that they give you the ability to earn money while you’re busy doing other things.

Still another option, and one you should definitely consider, is creating a side hustle. Not only will this generate an additional source of revenue that will add resilience to your finances, but it could represent the beginning of what will eventually become a full-time business if you lose your primary job.

One of the best ways to build a side hustle is by making money online. I’m doing that with this blog, but there are plenty of other ways you can make it happen. You owe it to yourself to investigate the opportunities. One of the big advantages of making money online is that you won’t have any geographic restrictions. If you have to relocate, maybe to take another job, your online business will come with you.

Don’t be intimidated by the idea of creating a side hustle. According to a recent article on Fortune, nearly half of Americans under 35 currently have a side hustle. You could be one of them – all it takes is an idea and a commitment.

The Bottom Line

No one knows exactly how the coronavirus recession will play out. But that’s the case with every economic downturn we’ve ever had. Recessions can’t be avoided, and neither can the financial dislocation they bring. But by building financial resilience into your life, you can minimize and even eliminate the worst a recession can throw at you.

Reevaluate every area of your finances – your insurance coverage, expenses, savings, and income – and look for ways to improve each.

Even if you think it’s too late for you to prepare for this recession, now is an excellent time to get ready for the next one. After all, it’s already on your mind, so you have all the motivation you’ll need.

And don’t underestimate your ability to protect yourself during this recession. The worst course of action is inaction. You may not be able to get your finances exactly where they need to be right now, but you may surprise yourself at how much you can improve your situation in just a few months. That will matter too, because it’s likely we’ll still be in this recession even then.

It’s never too late – or too early – to build financial resilience in an economic downturn. Today isn’t too soon to get started.

The post How to Build Financial Resilience in An Economic Downturn appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

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Gemini Review: Secure Cryptocurrency Exchange With Advanced Tools



Finding a cryptocurrency exchange that is secure and has never been hacked can be a tall order.

And if you also prefer for the company to be based in the United State, you might already be thinking about Coinbase. But you might be surprised to learn that Coinbase isn’t the only game in town that meets all of those requirements.

Gemini is a U.S.-based company with FDIC protection for USD and has never been hacked (that we’re aware of as of publication). It’s a straightforward platform that is easy to use and puts security at the highest level. In this article, we’ll do a detailed review of Gemini.

Gemini logo

Quick Summary

  • Cryptocurrency exchange based in the United States
  • Industry-leading security standards
  • 20+ supported digital currencies

Gemini Details

Product Name



Cryptocurrency exchange, digital wallet, and USD Coin marketplace

Supported Currencies



Convenience Fee: 0.50% above market rate

Transaction fee: $0.99 to 1.49%


$10 worth of free Bitcoin (after buying or selling $100)

Who Is Gemini?

Gemini is a cryptocurrency exchange. It was started by the Winklevoss twins (Cameron Winklevoss and Tyler Winklevoss). You might recognize those names. They created ConnectU, which was the predecessor to Facebook.

Gemini was started in 2014 and is based in New York, New York, which means it is one of a few cryptocurrency exchanges that is regulated in the U.S. Specifically, it is regulated by the New York State Department of Financial Services (NYSDFS).

What Do They Offer?

Gemini has over 20 cryptocurrencies, including its own currency called Gemini dollars (GUSD). You can trade and store cryptocurrencies with Gemini.

Through a partnership with Samsung, Gemini powers the Samsung Blockchain. Customers in the U.S. and Canada can connect their Samsung Blockchain Wallet to the Gemini app to trade currencies.

Funding Your Account

You’ll have to fund your account from a bank account. It can’t be funded using a debit or credit card. The maximum daily funding limit is $500 USD and $15,000 USD monthly. The daily withdrawal limit is $100,000 USD.

If you have cryptocurrencies in another off-site wallet and want to fund your Gemini account using those currencies (crypto-to-crypto), you can do that as long as the currencies are BTC, ETH, BCH, LTC, or ZEC. 

Mobile Trading

Like many crypto exchanges, Gemini has a mobile app that you can trade from. You’ll find that it’s easy to use and comparable to the desktop platform. If you want to execute complex trades, it’s probably best to do those on the desktop platform. Complex trades can get a bit tedious on the mobile app.

Gemini Dollar

The Gemini dollar™ is a stablecoin that can be used in all kinds of transactions from spending to lending to investing. Its backed by US dollars held at State Street Bank and Trust Company and offers 1:1 transferability back to US dollars at any time. And Gemini has partnered with BlockFi to offer savings accounts for your Gemini dollars with interest rates of up to 8.6% APY.

Related: These Are The Top Crypto Savings Accounts of 2020


Would you rather spend your cryptocurrency directly from your wallet? With Gemini, you can. Through a partnership with Flexa, you can purchase products at participating retailers using cryptocurrencies. Retailers include Nordstrom, GameStop, Whole Foods, and Home Depot. You’re able to spend Gemini dollars (GUSD), Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, and Ether.

Nifty Marketplace

The Nifty Marketplace is Gemini’s recently launched platform where you can buy and sell digital art and collectibles. Digital artistic assets can also be stored in the marketplace, which increases trust and security for both the buyer and the seller.

Are There Any Fees?

Yes, Gemini does charge commission rates for trading on its platform. There is a convenience fee of 0.50% above the market rate. To figure out the convenience fee amount, multiply 0.50% (1.005) by the amount of currency you want to buy. 

There is also a flat transaction fee for orders placed via their web or mobile applicaitons. The fee ranges from $0.99 to 1.49% of your order value, as shown in the chart below.

Order Amount


≤ $10.00


> $10.00 but ≤ $25.00


> $25.00 but ≤ $50.00


> $50.00 but ≤ $200.00


> $200.00

1.49% of order value

ActiveTrader fees are more involved. You can view the ActiveTrader fee schedule here.

For people who want to custody (i.e., cold storage) crypto with Gemini, there is a 0.40% charge for customers with assets greater than $1million. There is a $125 administration withdrawal fee as well.

How Do I Open An Account?

The account sign-up process for Gemini is simple and straightforward. You will need to verify your identity using a form of ID. You’ll also need to connect your phone for two-factor authentification.

Finally, you’ll need to fund your account. Gemini uses Plaid to connect with your bank acount or card issuer. Once your application has been accepted and your account has been funded, you can start making trades! Get started with Gemini and earn $10 in free Bitcoin!

Is My Money Safe?

As long as it’s been in operation, Gemini has not been hacked. Like Coinbase, USD stored in your Gemini account is FDIC insured.

Gemini started with a “security-first” mentality. They utilize security and compliance by being compliant in SOC 1 Type 1, SOC 2 Type 1 and Type 2. All of that compliance means you’ll need to be prepared to give up some of your personal information such as email address, bank account details, phone number, and some form of ID when opening an account. 

Is It Worth It?

Gemini is one of the most secure cryptocurrency exchanges out there. Security is its main selling point. It is a U.S. based company and the platform is easy to use.

If your crypto trading is mostly in popular currencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, Bitcoin Cash, or Zcash, you’ll probably enjoy using Gemini. For all of those reasons, Gemini is certainly worth checking out as a cryptocurrency platform.

However, before you rush into cryptocurrency investing, keep in mind that digital currencies are often volatile investments and should only receive a small portion of your total investing capital. To start building a diversified stock market portfolio, see our favorite stock brokers of 2020.

Gemini Features


Cryptocurrency exchange, digital wallet, and USD Coin marketplace

Supported Currencies

  • Bitcoin: BTCUSD
  • Ether: ETHUSD
  • Bitcoin Cash: BCHUSD
  • Litecoin: LTCUSD
  • Chainlink: LINKUSD
  • Zcash: ZECUSD
  • Maker: MKRUSD
  • Basic Attention Token: BATUSD
  • Kyber Network: KNCUSD
  • 0x: ZRXUSD
  • OmiseGo: OMGUSD
  • Orchid:OXTUSD
  • Enjin Coin: ENJUSD
  • Flexacoin: FXCUSD
  • Decentraland: MANAUSD
  • Golem: GNTUSD
  • Numeraire: NMRUSD
  • Storj: STORJUSD
  • Loom: LOOMUSD
  • Bread: BRDUSD
  • Caspian: CSPUSD
  • Filecoin: FILUSD
  • Dogecoin: DOGEUSD


  • Convenience Fee: 0.50% above market rate
  • Transaction Fee:
    • ≤ $10.00: $0.99
    • > $10.00 but ≤ $25.00: $1.49
    • > $25.00 but ≤ $50.00: $1.99
    • > $50.00 but ≤ $200.00: $2.99
    • > $200.00: 1.49% of order value

Supported Areas

US: All states except Hawaii

International: Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and the UK

Minimum Deposit


Trading Minimums

  • BITCOIN (BTC): 0.00001 BTC
  • ETHER (ETH): 0.001 ETH
  • ZCASH (ZEC): 0.001 ZEC
  • LITECOIN (LTC): 0.01 LTC
  • ERC-20 TOKENS (OXT, BAT, LINK, or DAI): 1 token
  • Transfer Methods And Fees

    • ACH: Free
    • Wire Transfer: Free
    • Bitcoin, Ether, Litecoin, Bitcoin Cash, Zcash, Chainlink, Orchid, Dai, BAT, ACH, Gemini dollar (Redemption): Free

    Deposit Fees

    • ACH Transfer: Free
    • Wire Transfer: $10 ($25 outgoing)

    Customer Service Phone Number


    Mobile App Availability

    iOS and Android


    $10 worth of free Bitcoin (with referral link and after buying or selling $100 or more)

    The post Gemini Review: Secure Cryptocurrency Exchange With Advanced Tools appeared first on The College Investor.

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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
    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?

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