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Whatever becomes normal becomes invisible

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I spent Friday cleaning out my desk and leaving instructions for my successors.

Having worked as a field surveyor for eight years I had never spent so much of my workday in the office. On a normal day we prepare our field work in the office for the first hour, then head off to a job site. Surveyors are dirt-and-sky people, and tend to get stircrazy if it takes them too long to get out of the office in the morning. They’re allergic to cubicles and photocopiers, and will start to suffocate if they don’t get fresh air. On the rare occasions I’d be in the office in the afternoon, aside from that slow suffocation, it felt unnatural and slightly inappropriate, something like when your friend leaves you alone in his house for twenty minutes while he whips out to the store.

On this final Friday those feelings never arrived, even though I was in the office all the way to 4:30 pm. It felt like I could have been anywhere and it wouldn’t have mattered, like it probably feels in the first few hours after you successfully fake your death.

That feeling, I guess, was the sensation of being released from authority, a weight that had been resting on my mind for long enough for me to forget that it was possible to remove it. For the first time in a long time I didn’t have to answer to anyone. I knew my company-issue Blackberry wasn’t going to ring, I knew nobody was going to ask anything of me. It was like walking up to a glass barrier that had always been there and realizing it was only air.

The rest of the day was full of similarly weird sensations. When I parked my car outside my building, I mentally prepared myself to perform the getting-home ritual I’ve done hundreds of times: heave my laptop bag out of the backseat, collect my equipment from the trunk and farmer’s walk to the door, pin my GPS case against the wall while I fish out my keys, then open two stubborn glass doors, careful not to bang the case against the panes, then unlock my suite and shoulder the door closed before setting everything down in the permanent temporary pile of equipment beside the door.

I had all but done the whole thing in my mind when I realized I no longer have a GPS or a gigantic laptop, and I could just get out of the car and go into the building like a normal person. When I got inside I reached to my side for my Blackberry, to check email one last time (a ritual that sometimes prevented unwelcome surprises in the morning) and found that there was nothing there. 

Later that evening, my living room struck me as unnaturally tidy, because there was no dirty equipment there, no field books on the table, and nothing set near the door so that I wouldn’t forget it on the way back out. My car no longer has a Rubbermaid full of engineering drawings in the backseat.

Our lifestyles come with costs, many of which are invisible, or at least become invisible to us once we’re used to paying them. At all times these enormous invisible forces are acting on your life, shaping what it feels like to be you. They only become visible — and only momentarily — when they change.

Yesterday was a day of shifting bedrock, which allowed me to see clearly the rocks and hard places that had been steadily pushing on my life since I got back from overseas.

Most of the shifting is yet to come, and while most of it so far has manifested as different kinds of relief, it’s very early in the transition. There will be, undoubtedly, aspects of my life that become more difficult in ways I haven’t imagined. I have already noticed that this Monday is a holiday (Canadian Thanksgiving) but I’ll be at my desk at sunrise while my former colleagues are getting paid to have the day off. I have to pay for dental work again. I am already flossing more often.

I won’t even begin to learn what my new normal is like until Monday, as this weekend is like any other — catching up on the writing and errands that didn’t fit into my weekday evenings. I’m eager for writing to be what I do at 8am instead of 8pm.

As I wade into the new landscape, I’m trying to remember to notice what invisible pressures are releasing (and mounting) as the terrain of my day-to-day life shifts, before they all congeal into “my normal day” and I lose track of what individual things are weighing on my mind.

Because we’re so immersed in our lifestyles, it’s hard to see what individual parts of them are pushing and pulling on our minds. Imagine trying to describe what a building looks like when you’ve only ever been inside it. Moving parts of our lifestyles around gives us the necessary angles to know what it is we’ve actually built with our decisions about career, relationships and living situation. If they never change we never know what they’re doing to us.

***

I want to thank you all from the deepest place in my heart. Every single day readers are supporting and encouraging me, telling me that my work is important to their lives too. This blog started as a hobby, one day almost five years ago when I was bored out of my skull at a former job, and now it’s changed everything about my life. I didn’t even know what my aspirations were, and now I’m in a position to live them out, all because you people share my work. I owe you everything. So much to come this year.

-David

***

Photo by David Cain

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219 Shares
Franklin Chen October 14, 2013 at 12:26 am

I’ve been a silent reader, but feel I should tell you that I love your blog, and it has actually made a difference in how I think about things and, most important, it has actually changed my behavior in my life, so I hope your new journey goes well for you!

David Cain October 14, 2013 at 9:20 am

What I sometimes forget is that most of the regular readers of this blog don’t comment. On the internet people can come and go without a trace and it’s easy to underestimate how many of them there are. Thanks for reading.

Michael Alan Gambill October 15, 2013 at 7:20 pm

Franklin here, expresses much of what I feel too. You write many things that I have vaguely pondered but that have lingered in the back of my mind unspoken. You also give voice to things I have never considered and it is sheer delight to have them brought to my attention. Avoid the pressure to write just because you have the time and audience. Write only because you have something to say. Thanks, all the best to you on this grand adventure.

Shannon October 14, 2013 at 2:23 am

Like the above commenter, I’ve also been a silent reader. I found this blog almost 3 years ago, and it’s had an enormous impact on my life ever since. I always wanted to thank you and tell you that your writing is wonderful, but I figured it must sound like white noise to you by now from hearing it so often. Of course, that’s silly. I doubt that thank-yous and compliments have actually stopped being meaningful to you. So, even if it’s just another small drop in the bucket, thank you! And congrats on your new found freedom.

Miss Growing Green October 14, 2013 at 9:24 am

Like many of the previous commenters, I’ve been a silent reader for a long time. I think the fact that we’re all coming out of the woodwork to congratulate you and your new-found freedom is awesome.
I had similar experiences to yours when I finally quit my job. I woke up in the morning for the first two weeks with that ever-present dread – ugh, what do I have to do at work today? – then quickly remembered that I didn’t have to go in to the lab today, or ever again.
I went back once to visit friends and old colleagues, and tried to get in with my key card- automatically reached for it, and then remembered I didn’t have it anymore.
It is amazing how powerful and automatic habits can be.

David Cain October 14, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Yes, and it’s remarkable how physical they are. I keep reaching for my Blackberry.

Ragnar October 14, 2013 at 3:30 pm

My dad quit smoking in quite a nonchalant manner. One day he was like, “I quit.” and didn’t even bother discarding the pack he had in his jacket pocket.

Until later that day, he goes out to read the paper and drink coffee, like he always has, and before he notices he’s sitting there with a sig in his mouth holding a lighter about to light it.

Sometimes muscle memory can be pretty intricate..

David Cain October 14, 2013 at 12:36 pm

They do mean a lot to me. It’s hard to stay cranky for long when people are telling you you’re awesome.

Rob October 14, 2013 at 2:40 am

I only discovered your blog 2 weeks ago and find your writing truly inspiring and easy to digest. Congrats on your writing becoming a full time work for you.

David Cain October 14, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Welcome, Rob!

Jardley October 14, 2013 at 3:12 am

I have a feeling this post will be as impactful on my life as the “5 steps to stop worrying what people think of you” post was.

I wish you the best of luck on this part of your life now. As always, keep us updated.

David Cain October 14, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Thanks for the well wishes, Jardley. You have become a regular face in the comments.

Jardley October 19, 2013 at 3:28 pm

:))))

Ragnar October 14, 2013 at 3:20 am

Always so insightful.. and I have to congratulate you(I think?) on your escape from under The Man. Hopefully I can achieve a small amount of the personal growth you experienced throughout your journey so far.

Best of luck onward.

David Cain October 14, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Thank you sir. The best to you too.

Beth October 14, 2013 at 3:28 am

Good Luck! Take each day as it comes … life is a journey and you are on a new trip! Looking forward to hearing all the new ponderings that come along this wayside. I love connecting with you through your writings – always a new perspective to see something in a different light!

David Cain October 14, 2013 at 12:43 pm

I am overflowing with ponderings right now

DiscoveredJoys October 14, 2013 at 4:06 am

One feeling that caught me out when I took early retirement was one of grief. The ‘grief’ didn’t cause me any problems, it just caught me by surprise and took a while to identify.

It didn’t become clear for several months but I finally realised that my old way of life was ‘dead’ – I wasn’t on a long holiday, there was no going back, no likelihood (fantasy) of the old bosses begging me to come back. A more subtle death was that of the bunch of possible futures (where I continued to work for others) which were no longer foreseeable.

So if you find yourself turning over memories of your old life it’s part of the grieving process.

David Cain October 14, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Strange, I went out dancing.

Maia October 14, 2013 at 4:30 am

Hi David,
many congratulations on breaking free of the rat race.
I wish you success in your journey. I’m also slowly working on getting enough money to reach early retirement too.
Thanks to your blog I found out about the MMM blog and it has also really changed the way I view and deal with money. So thank you for that.
Maia

David Cain October 14, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Yeah I owe MMM big time.

Karen October 14, 2013 at 4:34 am

David your blog has also had a positive influence in my life. Particularly in relation to challenging my relationship with “stuff” I accumulate and the link with Mr Money Moustache in relation to living a more complete less materialistic life.
I too have handed in my resignation to a job working for the “man” after a career that has spanned over 20 years. Three weeks today I will be experiencing something similar to you when I can start working on what I am passionate about early in the morning when I am full of energy rather than at 6pm when the corporate environment is after sucking the best of my energy out of me. I am looking on it as embarking on a great adventure, I have no idea what my new normal is going to be but I am really excited and open to whatever it brings.
It feels like you are partner on that journey and I look forward to hearing your experience and perhaps sharing a little what my experience is as well.
I am going to notice how strange it is to get used to saying “I am a Psychotherapist” rather than “I am an accountant” when asked what my profession is. And I want to be able to be aware of the point where that becomes normal, but not let it become invisible.

David Cain October 14, 2013 at 12:52 pm

Congratulations Karen! It’s nice to have a partner out there doing this too.

It is strange no longer saying you “are” your old job. Or maybe it’s even stranger that we ever say we are what we do for a living.

Gareth October 14, 2013 at 5:01 am

Another ex-silent reader here. Thank you.

Gavriel October 14, 2013 at 5:33 am

Congratulations on your new found freedom! Our lives can change so much with a change of perspective, and so many things we thought were necessary to our survival were just shackles in the way of our true self expression. Enjoy it :)

Yitzhak October 14, 2013 at 6:10 am

Congratulations David, it’s a pleasure and a privilege to follow your story.

Angela Peters October 14, 2013 at 6:10 am

OMG David this is so exciting. I did wonder if you would ever leave your “day” job. Yay. Congratulations. I did something similar late last year and it has rocked my world shifting into a new gear in my life.
I’m constantly forwarding your blog to friends hoping they’ll delight in your wisdom as much as I do. Thanks for sharing.

David Cain October 15, 2013 at 9:32 am

Thank YOU for sharing Angela.

gabriela October 14, 2013 at 6:42 am

I guess I am commenting to myself most of the time whenever I read one of your post… I enjoy your crazy normal subjects… and most of all… I feel myself discreetly smiling in front of the screen every time. Good luck on building your new routine! ;-)

Steph in Berkeley October 14, 2013 at 6:47 am

Wow!

Kat Mosley October 14, 2013 at 6:51 am

Another ‘silent’ stepping up. I am so happy you are able to do what you love doing but, to be honest, I’m more happy that you will be able to do more of what I love you doing. I check the feed every morning to see if you have anything new out because it honestly lifts me every single time. Congratulations and keep ’em coming!

David Cain October 15, 2013 at 9:33 am

> to be honest, I’m more happy that you will be able to do more of what I love you doing

Hah… it makes me happy to hear that, thank you.

tigerlyly October 14, 2013 at 7:00 am

wow, another one of your entries that make me want to come out of the silent ranks… And right after the one about being overwhelmed which hit me like a ton of bricks. In my professional life I am such an organizing, need to be in control freak… so I know exactly how you feel.
Two months ago I quit my job, and the first day I felt like ditching school. Excited but with that kernel of fear deep down that I will be caught. I know, is so weird to have it when you are an adult, but is there. Especially if you jump without a safe net, no other job waiting for you or “future jobs” as one of your readers so nicely put it.
Well, if you find yourself thinking was a mistake, do not worry… it will pass. And know that we are reading no matter what you write about or when :)
Hope you don’t though, you deserve to do what you like and when you like it ;)

Lorraine Otte October 14, 2013 at 9:34 am

Best wishes to you in your new adventure! I find myself in much the same position as I was a special education teacher in the public school system and a series of fortunate (although they seemed unfortunate at the time – such as having a back injury, spinal fusion surgery, and losing my job at the time) have led me to being on the brink of finishing my master’s degree and having started my own business as an independent practitioner. Not only do I love what I do, but I make more money part-time than I did working 12 hour days and weekends teaching. It’s funny how the twists and turns in my life have brought me to where I was supposed to be all along, despite my kicking and clawing to stay where I was. Some scary/exciting stuff! Looking forward to following your journey . . .

Trisha Scott October 14, 2013 at 10:11 am

I am SO HAPPY FOR YOU!!!

Francesca October 14, 2013 at 10:23 am

Good luck, David, and keep writing. I joined about 3 years ago and your essays have been important in my life. I left my chosen career, a physicist, in 2002, never regretted it even though I had some tough times. Even my dreams got better, to reflect a new self image. Live with courage, all the best from me.

Diane October 14, 2013 at 10:26 am

Semi-silent reader. Always appreciating your work. You have made a difference in my life too. Thank you.

Jay Schryer October 14, 2013 at 12:26 pm

Ditto what Trish said. :)

Seriously, congratulations. This is awesome.

David Cain October 15, 2013 at 9:37 am

Thanks Jay, and thanks for supporting me all this time. You are one of few remaining members of the original crew ;)

Chris Istace October 14, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Congratulations and best wishes on your future David. I look forward to living this experience beside you in your wonderfully insightful blogs. Your website and many likes yours have inspired me to completely change my life and just bought a home on Vancouver Island, I will be relocated by Christmas. Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy your new found mornings with a great cup of tea.

On a side note, I found some great teas on my island trip this past week. Great local artisan company just outside Duncan, BC.
http://www.teafarm.ca/

David Cain October 15, 2013 at 9:38 am

Wow, awesome. The island is a magical place. Best of luck to you and Happy Thanksgiving.

Jamie October 14, 2013 at 1:12 pm

I’m another regular reader who wants to wish you the best. Good luck David…and thank you for this blog~!

Tony October 14, 2013 at 1:37 pm

David, I only found your blog about 2 weeks ago but wish I had found it a long time ago. Thanks for your thoughts and ideas, they have made me really think about how I am living my life. I don’t think you need any luck with your new life but “GOOD LUCK” anyway !

Andy October 14, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Congrats on your big change David…I discovered your site earlier this year and your writing has been a consistent source of inspiration for me. It makes me happy to know that it is possible to do what you are doing and I am eager to hear about all the good it brings, as well as the lessons.

Andy

Ben October 14, 2013 at 4:02 pm

A quote I once heard said something like: Jump off the edge of the cliff, then grow your wings on the way down. Thanks for sharing your insight and your experience “jumping off the cliff.” It is an inspiration.

Lynn October 14, 2013 at 4:26 pm

I stumbled upon your blog a few months after a close friend confided in me about suffering from clinical depression for a decade and being suicidal. I’ve been regularly reading your blog ever since, in hope of finding more ways to make life easier for someone who stays alive only for the family. My friend is usually terribly skeptical, but has given the nod to several articles of yours, and I think that speaks volumes about how good you really are. On a personal note, I’d like to thank you for all the advice you’ve given to this silent reader, and I must confess that I regularly use your concepts when counseling others and when calming myself down (the counselor herself can’t take it all either). (No I’m not a professional counsellor, but friends seem to come to me.) Any advice on how to help the depressed is much appreciated. Thank you for everything, David.

Adriano October 14, 2013 at 4:32 pm

Since my first visit here, about 6 or 7 months ago, I follow the blog regularly and have gone through almost all the past posts. All my previous readings and discussions with people who look to life with similar approaches of yours seem to click really consistently to me when it comes to understanding life and ourselves. Your insights are really great, and I feel an amazing delight reading stuff here.
I am not an assiduous commenter here, but I am sharing a lot of what you write among my circle of people. Besides that, sharing your personal stories, and the way you connect them with the framework of ideas you’ve constructed, makes me feel ultimately inspired. I am looking forward to see how your new life is going to reflect in your texts here. And all the best of luck for you! I shall thank you before.

Kimberly Chavez October 14, 2013 at 5:10 pm

I’ve been a faithful reader for the last year. There have been times I’ve stalked your blog hoping for the next installment, knowing that if there were I would have received a notice but hoping anyway.

It is my good fortune that you are able to move into this role as a life calling rather than a hobby.

Looking forward to your future insights!

David Cain October 15, 2013 at 9:42 am

I post almost exclusively on Monday morning (or Sunday night). Quite often this year I’ve skipped a week here and there because I pushed it all to the weekend. I’m pleased that I can write in the mornings now, and have time throughout the week to revise and rewrite. So I guarantee more posts and fewer typos :)

Nitya October 14, 2013 at 6:23 pm

Congrats David. Ive always enjoyed your posts about working outdoors in one of the coldest parts of the globe. So completely alien to my experience. It’s all fodder for the writer’s mind, I’m sure. Look forward to seeing what comes next.

David Cain October 15, 2013 at 9:43 am

There’s lots to come, but probably fewer posts about working outdoors in the cold.

Andrew Boissonnault October 14, 2013 at 7:00 pm

I just went through a similar experience leaving my job a few weeks ago, thanks to inspiration provided by bloggers like you and MMM. A lot of folks would ask me what it felt like, but I really didn’t feel that different. There was no aha moment, just “ok, this is my life now”, and a very slowly building happiness.

Thanks for blogging, especially for posting the interview with the man the week I put my job on notice, looking forward to reading more from you in the future.

David Cain October 15, 2013 at 9:44 am

Congratulations Andrew. That’s kind of what it feels like to me. I wake up and I have a different job. But the difference is I want to go to work. The feeling really caught me off guard yesterday, in a good way.

sally October 14, 2013 at 7:03 pm

Wow, that made me smile. A clean start, metaphorically and physically. I love your work and I hope you enjoy your new lifestyle.

Tara October 14, 2013 at 7:21 pm

Happy Thanksgiving! This is truly a day to give thanks, for your freedom, and for all the great writing to come! Congratulations David.

LadyTam October 14, 2013 at 7:59 pm

Dude. Sorry to hear about the job loss! I went through that a year ago (almost exactly), but it ended up being the best thing that could have happened to me.

David Cain October 15, 2013 at 9:46 am

I didn’t lose it, I walked away.

Rene October 14, 2013 at 8:38 pm

This post makes me happy. I’m surrounded by too much invisible normal right now. Sometimes it feels like there is no way out, and after a long day of hitting my face against the glass and thinking about it – which takes the double of effort, I read your post. Best of luck, best of wishes. Thank you!

Nora M October 14, 2013 at 9:04 pm

Congratulations.
I look forward to seeing More from you.

Johnny October 14, 2013 at 9:58 pm

So what are you doing now that you’ve quit your job in terms of income?

Soodi October 14, 2013 at 10:24 pm

I have just discoverd your blog and my first exposure was the 9 mind-bending epiphenies! Eventhough I may have experienced them myself, I fell in love with the way you expressed them and I was pretty much hooked. had to read more of your stuff and the more I read, the more I wanted to read.
so thank you.
I have your epiphanies printed out since they are mine only said much more eloquently.

Mike October 15, 2013 at 2:20 am

David,

Oh man this is inspiring. I am a government department office droid and I am SICK of being dependent on my employer. With my daylight hours spent sitting under harsh neon lights within my cubicle, I dream of a better existence – one where I can feel the warmth of the sun on my face each day and where I have the choice about how my time is spent. Office life can be so dismal and monotonous to the point of being sadistically cruel. The idea of being financially independent and escaping the routine of office life truly is my life goal.

But David, even when you live modestly, have given up the pleasures of booze and coffee just to save a few pennies and think twice of even putting the heater on in winter out of fear of the next power bill, financial independence seems an unrealistic dream. MMM can profess the benefit of a savings plan and investing until the cows come home, but when a very modest home that provides the basics for a family costs at least $400, 000, all my money will be sunk in servicing the mortgage on that fucker – probably for a long time.

Mate I believe you are blessed with amazing powers of creativity and personal awareness, but few of us will ever be a successful blogger like you and MMM. Your new found freedom from work represents an ideal for me, but you benefit from a life and a set of skills that are unique and which many of us who struggle away in our office cubicles only wish we had.

Mike.

David Cain October 15, 2013 at 9:54 am

To clarify, I have not reached financial independence, not at all. I just cut my expenses in half so that I had enough savings and a cheap enough lifestyle to become self-employed. The point was to be happy, not rich, although now how rich I become depends on me and not an employer’s payscale.

Ozstache October 15, 2013 at 3:15 am

I can relate to your strange feelings on your last day of work. I finished up work 10 days ago to start an early (possibly semi) retirement and I found I had a similar euphoric state on the last few days.

The one thing that really surprised me was giving up my office to my subordinate on my second last day and moving out into cubiclesville for the first time in about 10 years. I thought it would kill me from a loss of status POV, but not even that could wipe the smile off my face those last few days.

Congrats on making the break from the office yourself. Even though you will still be working, at least you are now doing it on your terms, which is a huge leap forwards on the happiness scale.

shrinivas October 15, 2013 at 4:38 am

Another silent reader from India.
Best of luck for whatever you plan to do in future !
Regards

Diane October 15, 2013 at 7:18 am

Congrats! And thank goodness for your courage to go forth. We need you!

monika October 15, 2013 at 9:29 am

Like many others I have followed your blog silently and was always touched by your insightful view on seemingly mundane aspects of life –
Very happy for you! Somehow I feel you are “taking the plunge” not only for yourself but also for those of us who cannot or dare not to do the same.
Just the fact that you are doing this makes life less dark and reminds me of the possibilities!
Thank you.

David Cain October 15, 2013 at 9:59 am

>Somehow I feel you are “taking the plunge” not only for yourself but also for those of us who cannot or dare not to do the same.

I am hoping there will be people who take the plunge because of what they read here. I’m going to be learning a lot about these new ropes in the next year and I’ll be sharing everything I learn. Ultimately I’d love my work to be about helping people find work they love.

Krista October 15, 2013 at 12:41 pm

Hi David,
Congratulations! Even if you don’t know someone personally, there is still something so great about hearing good news :)
I am noticing lately (as I choose a more minimalist/intentional life) that there are/were a lot of things in my life which are invisible, just a part of the routine. And as I consider the many options that exist in place of these things/routines, I am beginning to feel more adventurous and open to change. I feel excited about it, and this post has got me even more excited (as most of your posts do). Thank you so much for sharing your story, it is inspiring!
Krista

John October 15, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Rock on David! These changes must be different and awesome for you at the same time. My dad retired two years ago and now when I go home I can tell there’s been a weight lifted off of him. He’s much more relaxed and easy going. Enjoy the new found freedom, I look forward to seeing what you have in store for us.

Linda October 15, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Keep on dancing David…I loved that! I always look forward to reading your posts. In my view you’re right up there with Wayne Dyer, Deepak and Oprah and can absolutely see you being interviewed as a guest on T.V. in the near future. Your posts have inspired me and opened my mind to new & exciting changes. CONGRATULATIONS & BEST WISHES!
Namaste.

Austin October 15, 2013 at 10:39 pm

Austin here, I came through your blog through Thought Catalogue. On a very underwhelming day of work. Your article on how to manage time better and log everything pretty much started my own personal silent revolution. I put it to practice and documented a full month of progress. I stopped doing it every day but I still journal the biggest things to work on during the month/successes. More importantly learning that there are others who strive to make sense of time and organization helped me start applying other methods to organize myself. For example I finally use lists, calendars, etc.

Since that article I’ve been reading your blog every week, and checking out other productivity/life inspiration blogs like zen habits. More power to you David wish you the best of luck as you pursue your passion head on.

Austin October 15, 2013 at 10:40 pm

Austin here, I came through your blog through Thought Catalogue. On a very underwhelming day of work. Your article on how to manage time better and log everything pretty much started my own personal silent revolution. I put it to practice and documented a full month of progress. I stopped doing it every day but I still journal the biggest things to work on during the month/successes. More importantly learning that there are others who strive to make sense of time and organization helped me start applying other methods to organize myself. For example I finally use lists, calendars, etc.

Since that article I’ve been reading your blog every week, and checking out other productivity/life inspiration blogs like zen habits.

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