People often tell me I’m calm and laid-back. That I always seem like I’m cruising along, like nothing really fazes me. That’s nonsense, of course.
I lose my shit all the time. I worry about whether a girl will like me, I freak out about which path to take at work, and I panic when deadlines close in around me. The only difference is I do it in private. Because I can. Because they’re my problems to fix and I will take care of them.
There are two kinds of calm: the emotionally cultivated kind and the calm that comes from having real aces up your sleeve. Tangible assets you can fall back on in tough times. Both are important and both exist in more superficial and deeper forms.
But it’s the second kind that supports much of the first, and that’s the calm people are really getting at when they ask me how I can be so relaxed. A true sense of equanimity that lies underneath, allowing me to not fly off the handle in the face of most everyday problems.
Today, I’d like to show you where that equanimity comes from. What tangible actions you can take to develop real serenity, which then makes it easier to keep your composure on the surface.
Here we go.
1. Keep a Few Months of Living Expenses in Cash
More than half of all Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. No wonder 68% of them struggle with sleep at least once a week. Of course, correlation doesn’t indicate causation, but still, I can’t tell you how good it feels to go to bed each night knowing that even if the world has collapsed by the time you wake up, you’ll be okay.
Right now, I could survive for 2–3 years just on cash savings, depending on how cheap I have to get. Yes, this is harder to do if you have a family. Yes, it takes time to build up. But putting away 5%, 10%, 20% of your income buys you what’s hard to get anywhere else: time for when you need it the most.
I keep this money in a completely separate bank account that I don’t often access. It’s a bit like quitting smoking: each additional month of expenses you’ve saved up provides a little more relief. I found there’s a big break at the six-month mark and another once you’ve saved enough to survive for a year.
2. Diversify Your Sources of Income
About 44 million Americans have a side hustle. But less than 14 million make more than $500/month from it. That means only 10% of the whole workforce even has a remotely qualified source of secondary income.
Not everyone has to be an entrepreneur, but when your breakfast, lunch, and dinner depend on one person’s willingness or ability to pay you, that’s your fault. It’s not just that they one day might not like your face anymore, but that other, completely external circumstances may necessitate firing you.
When that happens, it’s incredibly soothing to know you have a second leg to stand on — even if it’s shaking. This doesn’t mean you have to hustle on three fronts at the same time, but, once you have a single, stable income stream, start another. It took me about two years to get two sources up and running and I’ve only just added a third, but it’s absolutely worth it.
3. Learn New Skills People Would Pay You For
Having cash and multiple sources of money you can rely on is great, but, at the end of the day, the single greatest asset you’ll ever have is yourself. Whatever time and money you invest into it will compound forever.
Skilled people aren’t as afraid of being stripped naked because they know they can use what’s in their mind to regenerate, recreate everything from scratch. If you’re good and you want to work, you’ll always find work. You’ll always find work. But you need to keep expanding your skill set to remain good.
One way is to learn skills that are tangentially related to those you already have and are in demand. As a writer, I can master different styles of articles to fit different industries, I can learn copywriting, translating, editing, creating ads, there’s a million sub-skills of writing worth paying for.
Or, you can pick up something completely unrelated, like woodwork when you’re a manager, accounting when you’re a creative, and so on. This is a great hedge against industry crises, but it also allows you to satisfy the demands of those who need a helping hand with tasks that lie at the intersection.
4. Grow a Network Around Yourself
I don’t like networking. But I love having a network. So I just built one around myself. Because what’s even easier than leveraging your skills into a new gig is to let your crew now that now, finally, you’re available. And you’ll have at least a few conversations and places where you can start from again.
You can do that too. It’s really easy, actually. Most people just overcomplicate it. You pick one platform you like and, depending on what you like, you either overwhelm it with good content — which you’ll learn — or you’ll overwhelm it with your presence and positive energy — which you’ll learn.
Some people like chatting on LinkedIn with 50 people for an hour a day. I like writing. But as long as you do either in public, people will find you. And you’ll find them when you need to.
5. Tackle Life’s Big Questions One at a Time
When I thought about life and meaning and happiness two years ago, I realized I only want good work, good people, and good experiences. But each of those is a big nut to crack on its own. You can’t do it all at once!
Since then, I’ve been trying to live my life in seasons and it’s made all the difference. Now, as I’m wrapping up my college career, I feel I’m in a really good place with work and I’ll likely shift to one of the others over the next few months and years.
We pressure ourselves enough. We kick ourselves enough. Focusing on one thing and knowing you’re focusing on one thing provides a huge sense of relief. It’s okay to let other areas slide because, after all, you’re figuring out one, big issue. When you’ve got that covered, you can tackle another. But, in the meantime, you won’t frantically try to fix your whole life at once.
6. Remind Yourself of What You Have Regularly
Whether you use a manifesto, mind maps, journaling, or physical reminders, creating real tokens of what you have — accomplishments, people, unfair advantages — helps you maintain a sense of perspective. Not every day and not in every situation, but most of the time.
It’s a lot easier to stomach a rejected proposal when you remember your family is healthy. It’s a lot easier to walk home in the rain when you remember you’re in a safe country. And it’s a lot easier to swallow being told you’re ugly when you remember that, at least, you’re still tall.
I have written down three things I’m grateful for every day for the past seven years. I keep going back to the little things, like hot water, coffee, or cheap food. Sometimes, a bigger insight comes through. That it’s nice to work from a laptop. That I’m lucky I “get” languages. But I always find something.
The one thing it never does is fail to provide a sense of calm.
You may wonder why these are mostly about money, but the answer is simple: when you know you’ll survive, you’ll know you survive. Securing our physical existence and safety might be the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid, but setting them in stone means cementing the foundation on which all else — belonging, love, status, self-actualization — is built.
There is a sense of true, deep equanimity that comes with them. A feeling you just can’t manufacture, no matter how good you become at controlling your emotions, thoughts, and temper. Arming yourself with hard skills and assets can’t replace this important job, but sure goes a long way in supporting it.
Of course, all of these are long-term efforts. You can’t achieve all this in a day. But you can start forming the rational habits that will help you get there.
Until, one day soon, people will think nothing can faze you. Until you become the calm person everyone wonders about.