Three Piles

Scott Berkun with a crucial bit of wisdom:

Here’s an oversimplified theory to play with for today: there are only three piles in life.

  1. Things that are important
  2. Things that are unimportant
  3. Things that are unimportant but distract you from what is important

Most suffering in life comes from #3.

It’s a short article, so you should read the whole thing. Especially the first big paragraph.

In fact, because it’s so succinct, and because I so heartily agree with every word, I’m not even going to offer any further commentary. This article speaks for itself and for everything QLE stands for.

If you’ve already read it, read it again.

Then go have a marvelous weekend.

Thanks for reading! Want more? Grab the free QLE Manifesto. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.


Note: This is a review of Enough, the new book by Patrick Rhone. It’s available today from First Today Press.

I’ve been fascinated with minimalism for several years now, and it’s a concept that I strive to implement in many areas of my life. Minimalism is one of the precepts of Quarter-Life Enlightenment, and even when I don’t explicitly say so, its values influence much of my writing here.

One of the goals of minimalism is to “omit needless things”, which causes many people to withdraw in apprehension.

“Why would I want to live with less things?”

“Why would I want to own only two pairs of shoes?!”

“Why would I want a small house?”

Our society has instilled within us a belief that “bigger is better”, that more is a sign of success, and that a person’s worth is determined by the grandeur of his possessions.

Of course, this is not necessarily true, and minimalism — when properly understood — isn’t a source of fear or ridicule. It’s a source of freedom.

The goal of minimalism is not to eliminate everything; it’s to eliminate needless things.

The notion that a minimalist should be able to fit all of his possessions into a backpack is overwrought. It’s not about living with nothing; it’s about making sure every thing counts. It’s not even about living with less; it’s about living with enough.

Patrick Rhone seeks to guide us to this sacred middle ground in his newest book, Enough. It’s absolutely wonderful.

On the surface, Enough is a series of short essays written in straightforward, thoughtful prose. But, each entry contains a wealth of wisdom that will challenge and inspire you. Patrick crafts a beautiful thread using the theme of Enough and weaves it through this memorable writing collection. With topics ranging from the practical to the metaphysical, Patrick’s friendly, mindful tone makes for charming company.

Rest assured, Enough is not the work of an evangelical minimalist. Patrick makes no demands of his readers. He simply offers an alternative perspective, revealing a way — to live, to think, to act — that you might not have known existed.

I read Enough in one sitting, including frequent breaks to highlight and take notes on my Kindle. These essays are decorated with pearls of wisdom, and I felt like I was bookmarking something on every page. Enough is short enough to read in an afternoon, but the ideas presented here will have you thinking for many hours afterward. I may decide to read just one essay a day on my second time through. While the length of Enough can be learned from a page number, the book’s depth is best realized with a comfortable chair, an open mind, and a few hours of solitude. It will comfort, inspire, and enlighten you.

Enough is a book I truly recommend. It speaks to me, my values, and those I seek to express here on QLE. I found myself nodding more and more with each essay, wishing I’d written it myself. My favorite is “Letters Left Unsent”, which you can read along with so much more starting right now.

Buy the book in paperback, ePub, and/or Kindle versions.

Read more from Patrick in his first book, Keeping It Straight, and on his excellent weblog, Minimal Mac.

The QLE Informational Brochure & FAQ

Note: This is a long post. However, I think it's worth your time because it will help you decide whether you should stay or leave and never come back. You can't lose.

The other day, I had dinner with my mom, and we got to talking about my website. (This one.) She loves me, as moms do, so she was interested in what I had been up to, how the site was going, and what it all sort of... meant. So, I talked my way through my vision for the site, what I'm trying to do, who it's for, and several other questions that felt good to answer out loud.

During this conversation, it occurred to me that I haven't really provided you, dear reader, with an in-depth explanation of what's actually going on here. I wrote a post called What Is Inner Peace?, which sheds a little light on things, but I treat the site as an organic endeavor. It might not mean the same thing in three years as it does now. The focus will most likely grow and change as I do.

The Story So Far

I'm pretty proud of what the site has become in its first seven months. It feels like a real thing now. The first six months saw me testing the waters. Would I like blogging every day? Is this worth my time? Can I actually do this? I'm thrilled to answer "yes" to all of the above. It's been a challenge, but I want and am trying to kick things into high gear around here. I'm writing more stuff, pushing the site more than I used to, and starting to introduce myself to other writers, all of whom I admire and respect a great deal. It's slow, but steady, and also really exciting.

2012 is barely a month old, but QLE is already occupying much of my time and attention. I'm writing more than I ever have before — probably even more than I did in college — and it's all stuff I want to write and share with people. The site is taking up more space in my brain. Thinking about QLE is starting to become a habit. I'm thinking of what I want to write next, and even when I'm doing other things, I can feel it in the back of my head somewhere. It feels really good. The site is still young, but I'm beginning to get the sense that I can do this. It's been seven months; why stop now? As long as you don't give up, you can do anything, right? So they say.

I think I'm also starting to look outward a bit more. I'm starting to think about my readers: what you might want to read, and what might help you get through your day. I'm getting a better idea of what I want QLE to mean and do for people — at least, in its current incarnation. When someone visits the site for the first time, they're going to see an article on who knows what, so I want to take a few minute to really dig into what I want this site to be. And what better question to start with than:

What is "Quarter-Life Enlightenment"?

Quarter-Life Enlightenment is the answer to the quarter-life crisis.

What's a "quarter-life crisis"?

A quarter-life crisis is just like a midlife crisis, except it happens in your twenties instead of on your fiftieth birthday. Upon turning fifty, some people — and I mean this is the most compassionate possible way — freak out a little bit. When you turn fifty, your life is probably at least half over! When you realize this, you start second guessing your entire life.

What have I accomplished so far? What do I have to show for myself? There are still so many things I want to do. I'm running out of time. Who am I?! AHHHHH!

To put it bluntly, the ultimate source of the mid-life crisis is (the fear of) death. We realize we've already used up half of our allotted time on Earth, and that's terrifying. No doubt about it.

Now, if you're paying close attention, you may be asking, "But twenty-somethings don't really think about death like that, so how is a quarter-life crisis 'just like a mid-life crisis?'" A fine question befitting an attractive reader like yourself.

The quarter-life crisis is not caused by a fear of death so much as it is driven by a fear of adulthood and The Real World (not the reality television show).

In my experience, the quarter-life crisis tends to come crashing down right after graduating from college. College, of course, is often — and accurately — described as "the best years of your life". Whomever said that about high school should get checked out.

When the blissful bubble of college bursts (two English degrees at work right there), we find ourselves on the doorstep of cold, hard reality facing real world pressures. And there are a lot of them.

"What do you want to do?"

"When are you going to get a job?"

"When are you going to get your own place?"

"When are you going to start paying off the thousands and thousands of dollars you spent on a degree (or two) that so far has only rendered you unemployed and in egregious debt?"

"When are you going to meet the love of your life?"

"When are you going to hurry up and be the adult the world expects you to be?"

I don't know.

The only thing worse than being bombarded with huge life questions is being unable to answer them. And what's more, now you start asking yourself questions:

What have I accomplished so far? A degree like everyone else. What do I have to show for myself? Thousands of dollars in debt. There are so many things I want to do, but I don't know how to do them or where to start. What am I going to do for the rest of my life? Who the hell am I?! AHHHH!

It's rough. Your friends aren't down the hall anymore. Your responsibilities don't fit in a backpack. The job market is as terrifying as everyone said it would be. It's a drastic departure from the best years of your life.

Now, I'm not trying to paint an inescapably bleak picture here. Plenty of people (I'm told) get great jobs right after college and go on to lead perfectly normal existences. But even these twenty-somethings are not without fears and doubts about their future. And, there's an even bigger issue.

You're better than that.

What if you're not content with normal?

What if you don't want to work in a cubicle, or wear a tie, or do the same damn thing in the same damn building for eight hours every single day?

What if you want to find fulfillment elsewhere?

What if you want to be exceptional and lead a life befitting your awesomeness?

Well, then I applaud you, sir or madam. You've probably made things even more challenging for yourself, but I applaud you all the same.

So, what do we do?

We stick together!

No, but seriously. I'm not in a position to help you become an entrepreneur, or travel the globe, or invent something better than Facebook (it's called Twitter, AMIRIGHT) because frankly, I need just as much help as you do. That's why I've repeatedly said that my writing here is advice to myself just as much as it is advise to you. I do not claim to be an expert in your happiness. I am merely here to share what works for me in the hopes that maybe it will work for you too, and vice-versa. We think, we learn, and we work through it.

Now, about that tagline...

"Finding inner peace through simplicity, technology, and other means."

Right. Inner peace is the solution to any crisis. Mine happens to be of the quarter-life variety. To quote my own personal definition of inner peace:

It’s the goal. The ideal state of being. It’s what everyone wants. Inner peace means being perfectly content, mentally, physically, emotionally. You have no fears. No worries. You have no wants, needs, or desires. No stress. No anxiety. No troubles. No fear. You just are. It can perhaps be considered an enlightened state.

I write about how I achieve inner peace so that you can too.

The ways I reach a state of inner peace are numerous and varied:

  • Simplicity, because "Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated." Confucious said that.
  • Technology, because it's a wonderful and amazing thing, and it's better to embrace it than try to avoid it.
  • Perspective, because the only thing we can truly control is our minds and how they deal with what life throws at us.
  • Writing, because I love it, and it's how I learn about myself. It's introspective, therapeutic, and really freaking hard.
  • Other means, because there's always more than one right way.

I could write another thousand words about each of those things, but it's late, and you probably have things to do.

So, what IS Quarter-Life Enlightenment?

It's a way of beating the quarter-life crisis through inner peace and self-discovery. It's about introspection, figuring out who you are, and learning how to deal with life through trial and error. It's about being mindful. It's about making sure you know the answers to those questions on your fiftieth birthday. It's about tweaking your brain so that life isn't so damn stressful and hard all the time. It's about having a healthy outlook on life during good times and crappy times. It's about this quote:

You must love yourself before you love another. By accepting yourself and fully being what you are, your simple presence can make others happy.

Quarter-Life Enlightenment is about being who you really are.

If you want to beat the quarter-life crisis; if you want to beat any crisis; if you want to have inner peace; if you want to be calmer, more productive, and happier; if you want to learn how to not be miserable all the time; if you just want some company; I invite you to read Quarter-Life Enlightenment. I would love to have you.

Some final questions:

So, is this site only for quarter-aged people?

Most certainly not. That's the perspective I'm writing from, of course, but anyone who deals with stress and worry is more than welcome to read QLE. That is, any and all members of the human race.

Are you going to change the name of the site when you're not in your twenties anymore?

I do not know.

This whole "enlightenment" thing creeps me out. Is that some weird hippy thing?

No, it's whatever you want it to be. Here's a quick dictionary definition of "enlightened": "having or showing a rational, modern, and well-informed outlook". Sounds good to me.

I have feedback or a question.

Awesome! Ping me on Twitter, or send an email to

This has only made me more confused. Can you explain more about ___?

I am so sorry. Yes, absolutely. Get in touch with me, and we'll sort things out.

How'd you come up with this?

That's a story best told in person, but the short version is: I gave a presentation at Southern Connecticut State University about simplicity, and people really seemed to like it. I have two English degrees, and I love to write, so I thought I'd start writing about things I care about and that also seem to help other people.

I'm floored by your writing/website/message/boyish good looks. Are you available to come speak at my school/organization/place of work?

Yes; it would be a genuine honor. I'll be working out more details about this sort of thing later in the year, so in the meantime, get in touch.

Where can I learn more about Andrew Marvin? What's he all about?

I'd start with the About page. If that doesn't completely stultify you, feel free to send me an email.

You're obsessed with The Long Winters. Can you please stop talking about them?

I can't promise anything. Sorry to lose you as a reader. Also, shame on you.

Apple sucks!

That's not a question, but alright.

Has anyone ever actually read all of these?

I can't imagine, no.

What do I get for reading the entire thing?

My sincerest thanks.

Required Reading: "Better" by Merlin Mann

Required Reading is a series of articles, videos, podcasts, etc. that I consider to be unmissable. These are the things that have inspired me the most, and they’re the things I keep coming back to for repeated readings, viewings, and listens.

Speaking of self-improvement, today’s Required Reading is Merlin Mann’s 2008 essay, “Better”:

To be honest, I don’t have a specific agenda for what I want to do all that differently, apart from what I’m already trying to do every day:

  • identify and destroy small-return bullshit;
  • shut off anything that’s noisier than it is useful;
  • make brutally fast decisions about what I don’t need to be doing;
  • avoid anything that feels like fake sincerity (esp. where it may touch money);
  • demand personal focus on making good things;
  • put a handful of real people near the center of everything.

All I know right now is that I want to do all of it better. Everything better. Better, better.

There’s something hugely inspiring about watching one of your heroes strive to improve. Someone who has already had success and is already great, but still isn’t content with resting on his laurels.

For example, Neil Peart, despite decades of fame as the drummer for Rush, decided to study with Freddie Gruber and learn an entirely new style of drumming. He could have decided he had nothing left to learn, but he didn’t. Because he wanted to get better.

Merlin’s essay is an exercise in course-correction. Even when we set out to be awesome, over time we become vulnerable to complacency. I reread “Better” every couple of months, and it always helps remind me to aspire to be great.


Bob Marley:

Only once in your life, I truly believe, you find someone who can completely turn your world around. You tell them things that you’ve never shared with another soul and they absorb everything you say and actually want to hear more.

You share hopes for the future, dreams that will never come true, goals that were never achieved and the many disappointments life has thrown at you. When something wonderful happens, you can’t wait to tell them about it, knowing they will share in your excitement. They are not embarrassed to cry with you when you are hurting or laugh with you when you make a fool of yourself. Never do they hurt your feelings or make you feel like you are not good enough, but rather they build you up and show you the things about yourself that make you special and even beautiful. There is never any pressure, jealousy or competition but only a quiet calmness when they are around. You can be yourself and not worry about what they will think of you because they love you for who you are.

The things that seem insignificant to most people such as a note, song or walk become invaluable treasures kept safe in your heart to cherish forever. Memories of your childhood come back and are so clear and vivid it’s like being young again. Colours seem brighter and more brilliant. Laughter seems part of daily life where before it was infrequent or didn’t exist at all. A phone call or two during the day helps to get you through a long day’s work and always brings a smile to your face. In their presence, there’s no need for continuous conversation, but you find you’re quite content in just having them nearby. Things that never interested you before become fascinating because you know they are important to this person who is so special to you. You think of this person on every occasion and in everything you do.

Simple things bring them to mind like a pale blue sky, gentle wind or even a storm cloud on the horizon.

You open your heart knowing that there’s a chance it may be broken one day and in opening your heart, you experience a love and joy that you never dreamed possible. You find that being vulnerable is the only way to allow your heart to feel true pleasure that’s so real it scares you. You find strength in knowing you have a true friend and possibly a soul mate who will remain loyal to the end. Life seems completely different, exciting and worthwhile. Your only hope and security is in knowing that they are a part of your life.


Required Reading: Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.

Required Reading is a series of articles, videos, podcasts, etc. that I consider to be unmissable. These are the things that have inspired me the most, and they’re the things I keep coming back to for repeated readings, viewings, and listens.

Steve Jobs’ 2005 Commencement Address at Stanford University:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

The full text is here, and the video is here.

We’ll miss you, Steve.

Required Reading: Merlin & Gruber at SxSW

Required Reading is a series of articles, videos, podcasts, etc. that I consider to be unmissable. These are the things that have inspired me the most, and they’re the things I keep coming back to for repeated readings, viewings, and listens.

In 2009, John Gruber and Merlin Mann, two of my foremost internet heroes, gave a talk at South by Southwest. It’s mostly about blogging, but their advice is applicable to virtually any creative endeavor, whether you’re a photographer, chef, inventor, or anything in between.

There are so many great quotes to choose from: John’s story about meeting Phil Schiller. Merlin’s Ira Glass impression. Why you should give stuff away for free. How to not mess up the reasons people like you.

But, if I had to pick one, I’d go with Merlin’s advice of obsession times voice:

Topic times Voice. Or, if you’re a little bit more of a maverick, Obsession times Voice. So what does that mean? I think almost all of the best nonfiction that has ever been made comes from the result of somebody who can’t stop thinking about a certain topic — a very specific aspect, in some cases, of a certain topic. And second, they got really good at figuring out what they had to say about it.

I haven’t found anything that inspires me to get better more than this talk. I probably listen to it once a month.

My recommendation:

  1. Read John Gruber’s introduction on Daring Fireball.
  2. Listen to the talk.
  3. Watch Yuvi Zalkow’s video tribute, which has some great animations and quotes from the talk.
  4. Read Marco Arment’s article, “Celebrity”, in which he talks about being in the audience and meeting Merlin, Gruber, and his other internet heroes for the first time.

Two of my favorite writers telling the rest of us how to do it right. It’s unmissable.