I’m spending the summer in my hometown, and there are THINGS I AM LEARNING. You know, like how to drive a four-wheeler. And how to throw an axe. And how to do shots of Crown Apple. (Basically things I learned growing up, but had long since forgotten—especially when it comes to to shots. Here I am, wanting to sip whisky in a glass with a touch of water, and here they are, telling me to go f*ck myself. I LOVE IT.)
But, you know what I’m really learning?
How to get back to the basics—and love your life again.
I have been preaching the shiiiiiiiit out of this all year, which is why I called this column “Selfish Forever”: it’s about doing what YOU want and need—regardless of the pressure to be fancy, moneyed YouTube stars who live in mansions—and learn how to find happiness in simplicity again.
Cabin in the woods? Check.
Quiet time reading? Check.
Long mornings writing? Check.
Fresh string beans from the garden? Check.
These are all signs of what I call Selfish Wealth: when you finally realize what’s important and start building these types of assets.
For too long, we’ve only focused on money as the primary metric for success, but what if you could make a generous $250,000+ income….and also have plenty of time left over for pleasure?
THAT IS THE GOAL OF EVERYTHING HERE AT SELFISH.
Because, yeah, you can start an online business. Yeah, you can start selling your services. Yeah, you can start building an app. Yeah, you can start any number of things to make yourself financially successful.
We have been doing that for over a decade now.
When I got into this space in 2009, the idea of making money on the internet was a novel one. But now, you know what’s novel???
The idea that you can get off the internet sometimes, too.
To remember what life is all about—not just life behind a screen, but life out in the grass, in your bare feet, picking some fucking wildflowers like a motherfucking gangster.
Alas, that’s why I decided to spend the summer in the place where I grew up: a place full of meadows and fields, cows and barns, hemlocks and pines, trout and minnows. I wanted to REALLY lean into this idea; see how it felt; look at life from the other side.
And, I’ll tell you what: it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made for myself in a long time. (In fact, I’m even purchasing a gorgeous historic 1873 property here, set on 5 acres of land with a guest house and a barn—more on that SOON!!!! 🏡)
So, I thought I’d share some of the lessons I’m learning on this journey, as I work to re-wild myself—and prioritize the things I want to prioritize in life (like how to use a drill 😂).
BEHOLD: fifteen things I’ve learned since spending the summer in my tiny-ass hometown:
- Rolling down grassy hills in the middle of the day is an excellent use of time.
Exhibit A: me, racing my best friend’s kid to the bottom, and showing absolutely NO MERCY. ⬆️
- Showing up and doing an honest day’s work every day is better than bullshitting your way through a 4-hour work week.
Enough trying to hack your way to happiness. Why not simply pick something that makes you happy, and just work hard at it? Go ahead: PICK SOMETHING FUN. Pick something you enjoy. That’s what life is about: not being a prestigious asshole, but being a happy one. THE MONEY COMES WHEN YOU CUM. Oh god, what did I just do there??? See, I’m spending too much time here already. But, maybe there’s something to that: fulfillment comes from doing things that fulfill you. Yup, that’s the PG version, and I’m sticking to it. But, seriously: can we stop making decisions based on what our ego wants, and start making them based on what our hearts do??? You can sell accounting services online, or you can sell your grandmother’s favorite baking recipes: both will bring you money, but only one will bring you joy. BE SELFISH WITH YOUR JOY.
- You can build a business with a mouth. You can build a fortune with a hundred mouths.
The way business is done here is simple: you ask the bartender if they know anybody who cuts down trees, and the bartender gives you their brother-in-law’s phone number. I call this “The Trust Economy”—and believe it or not, it works the same way online…but on a much bigger scale. The trick, however, is this: becoming the tree guy. Can people automatically connect your name to a need? Most people suffer with marketing because they aren’t clear enough about what THEIR THING is—and that means that other people aren’t clear, either. But, when you become “the tree guy,” anytime anyone mentions trees, you get your marketing done for free. This is different than being in “landscaping”—which, while sounding all professional, actually makes you a dime-a-dozen. 🤷♀️
- Knowing people feels good—and, it’s not just in your head.
There’s comfort in connection. You can spend a lifetime online being connected, and never once feel connected. (The majority of people online.) Or, you can walk into a hardware store in the middle of town, stop and chat with three of your neighbors, and suddenly feel like you belong. These are two very different contexts, and yet, only one of them is making teens commit suicide. 🧐 WOW, THAT GOT DARK FAST, but…um…considering that the research shows that loneliness & social isolation causes premature death—and literally rivals the risks of smoking & obesity—we should probably rethink the ways we’re spending our time. Remember when people actually called one another? WILD.
- Doing good deeds is different than doing good work.
Most of us hate people—hahahahaha???—because most of us in this space are constantly being sucked dry: the people who want to pick your brain, the people who want to benefit from your audience, the people who want to piggyback off of your name. That’s kind of how internet culture evolved—the people who do the best work get thrust into the spotlight. As a result, a lot of us got “people fatigue”: another email, another DM, another request on our time. But, that’s because it’s all happening in a professional context—and sometimes, mental work is an invisible labor that isn’t always appreciated for what it costs the giver. (Hint: it’s mentally taxing AF.) But on the other hand, when you show up to help your neighbor move a bureau??? It’s entirely refreshing! You feel connected to people again! It’s human! It’s neighborly! You don’t actually mind! In fact, you’ll even bring iced tea. And that’s because there is a difference between work…and life. I DON’T KNOW IF WE FIGURED THAT OUT YET. But, yeah, we don’t actually want to work all the time. So when all of the requests on our time are constantly work-related??? We push back. Because we’d rather go help the neighbor push a bureau instead. Because doing good deeds is different than doing good work, and sometimes? We gotta remember that we’re humans, not machines.
- Garage beers taste better—FACT.
How has this escaped me for so long???????? I’ve been in the culture of wine bars / cocktail bars / London rooftop bars for so long, I forgot how nice it is to just have a cold beer in a garage, without spending $3,000 an evening. People around here hang out at each other’s houses way more than people in the city ever do, and at first I dreaded this (who wants to go to someone’s HOUSE?????) but now I am a professional. “Let’s take the 4-wheelers over!” I chant. And to be honest? The connections you make when you’re sitting around a campfire talking about childhood memories are stronger than the ones you do when you’re trying to impress some boob in a suit—and I don’t care how much caviar is involved.
- The best businesses solve real problems.
People will give you money if you can help them solve an immediate need. This is different than helping them to self-actualize over the long-term—which is what most online businesses tend to be about. (”Empower yourself! Change your mindset! Clear your energy!”) There’s a space for both in this world, but sometimes, not everything you do needs to turn you into Brené Brown with lipstick. Sometimes, the easiest and clearest path forward is by simply asking: what’s a immediate need that people have, and how can I solve it for them? “I’ll get you one new client a week” is very different from “I’ll help you align your soul.”
- Being worldly doesn’t make you classy. Being classy does.
Something I’ve noticed: some of the quietest, least cosmopolitan people I know are more classy than some of the most visible, “successful” people I know. It’s entirely possible to know which fork to use and still be a classless jackoff. Perhaps that’s because class doesn’t come from money: it comes from consideration. It’s about making others feel comfortable in social settings, regardless of what they’re wearing, who they know, and what they do for work. That’s classy—and, ironically, it’s something that many small-town folks get right over their cosmopolitan counterparts.
- Enthusiasm is a superpower.
You find your enthusiasm in small towns because you’re allowed to be guileless. You don’t have to put on any airs; don’t have to walk into the place like you’re the most important person in the room. Instead, you can marvel at the world without worrying that the world will think you stupid for it. And, what a freedom that is, to be able to be yourself. It’s one of the most refreshing things about small-town life, I’ve discovered: the ability to just be you.
- Acknowledging others is one of the most human things we know how to do.
THIS IS RANDOM but it’s a small joy that you won’t understand unless you’ve been in a small town and experienced it, and that’s THE CAR WAVE. I drive by this one house every day on a dirt road, and me and this woman wave at each other every single day, and every single day I feel a little closer to…god? EW, DID I JUST SAY THAT? I DID. PLEASE FORGIVE ME. I’M GETTING OLD. But really: everyone waves, and everyone acknowledges one another, because that’s what’s called a community. And it’s something I haven’t really experienced in a very long time.
- Being a member of a community keeps you in integrity.
Speaking of community! Something that’s striking here: you are more mindful about what you say and what you do, because you’ve got a reputation to keep—and you will bump into the same people over and over again…in person (gasp!). And that means one thing: you must act with integrity, because your delicate social fabric depends on it. While some people may call this “fake,” I call this “society.” And maybe the internet would do well if we had a little more of it.
- Exposure shapes norms.
What you see around you is what becomes your truth. Humans are a collective; we look to others to gain insight into the world, and to help us fill in the gaps in our own experience. When the people around you are all filling in the gap with the same information—”vote this way!”, for example—it becomes easy to believe that this is the right way. Unfortunately, “popular” doesn’t always mean “right”…but, maybe that’s the point. What is “right” is a construct, and it all comes down to what we see around us—that’s what feels right. Exposure, therefore, is one of the most important tools we have—and I think it’s one of the most underrated ways we have to change the world.
- This world really is a different one.
I’m friends with a guy who has never had an avocado. Nor a mango. Nor a bite of goat cheese. Never had a crabcake. Never ate burrata. Never paired a steak with wine. This tells me something important: small-town living really is different from big-city life. These are two very different worlds. And, that means that if you want to start having conversations about the things that matter? You’ve got to learn how to speak the right language. After all: you can’t sell someone an avocado if they don’t want one.
- There is strength in being witnessed.
You can do it all in a vacuum from behind a screen: build a business, build a following, write your email list. And sure, those are people there, seeing you, reading you, hearing your ideas. But what they’re getting is “presentation mode”—the writing you’ve edited, the parts you’ve polished, the photos you’ve tweaked. While that type of curation is necessary—it’s a part of the creative process—it also can leave you feeling one-dimensional. As humans, we need other people to witness us: the good and the bad, the perfect and the ugly. We need other people to witness our whole selves; we need people to come with us on our journey, and really know who we are. Otherwise, you can end up feeling like a caricature of yourself: a hollow, superficial stuntman whose life is nothing but a mere advertisement. And, I can think of no sadder outcome for a person who really fucking tried. (Which is all of us, by the way.)
- Simple pleasures are just as transformative as extravagant experiences—so long as you remember how to enjoy them.
I keep going back to this more than anything right now: the power of a dandelion, a blade of grass, a crisp breeze. We have forgotten how necessary these things are, and how important they are to our quality of life. We have forgotten about the very things that are right outside our own window. When you see something long enough, it becomes invisible—but, one of the best things you can do for yourself? Is to remember how to see. And sometimes, being in a small town does exactly that: gives you a more intimate lens with which to see the world around you. And to remind yourself that—no matter how overwhelming your world has gotten? There’s a gentle one waiting for you right here.