Buying a Cheap Car Makes You Happier

Thanks to our baby-boomer parents who paved the entire country and decimated public transportation, today most adults in America need access to a car one way or the other. My wife and I went eleven years as a one-car family. But now with two kids at home and another due this June (yikes) we finally realized we needed to get another one. We'd prefer to rent a car when we needed one (like Zip Cars) but they aren't close by to our house. I also experimented with riding the bus to the train to get to work but after missing the bus a few times and then being stuck I knew getting a car was the way to go.

The big question was: what type of car? Currently our family automobile is a newer Subaru Outback and we're very happy with how it can carry all of us around with its all-wheel drive. But for my "new used" car all I needed was something that would take me 8 minutes over to the train station which I then happily take into downtown while doing some reading.

It became clear that what I should look for is: a Beater. Yes, I scoped out Craigslist to find the cheapest car I could that would still be basically reliable and decently safe. After just one day of searching I found a fantastic automobile that brings me great pleasure every time I get inside and drive it to the Max station.  I love that: it cost me only $800, has 230,000 miles on it, has working airbags, looks decent, and does not require any washing. When other drivers ding my doors, I just smile and laugh. The windshield is cracked, the radio is terrible, and it makes squeaky noises when I drive it.

Overall though, compared to the "best" car I drove when I was a lawyer for a company in Silicon Valley - an Audi A4 - I get at least 50 times more satisfaction from this beater. Funny how that works. Here it is. (Not so bad is it!)

Seattle, Washington

I had an excellent experience this afternoon taking a "Bolt Bus" up from Portland to Seattle for an immigration lawyers conference. This bus had wifi, outlets for every passenger, leather seats and a bunch of nice people onboard. Plus, it was only about $20 each way. The experience was excellent and I was able to get work done and wasn't as tired if I had driven myself up. In fact, it was much more enjoyable than flying (no security lines) and faster than the train. Our conference is being held at the Seattle University School of Law. I was able to walk around the campus on my way to dinner and it's a beautiful place. I think the architecture of this university is phenomenal - lots of glass and brick and there was a funky modern chapel (it's a Jesuit school) next to a big pool of peaceful water.

The school is set in an urban area - called Capitol Hill and I was able to choose from several inviting restaurants: "Von Traps" German sausage place, an Irish pub and a French-influenced cafe/bar called "Cafe Presse." This cafe has rave reviews online for both food and its authentic French vibe, such as "this is probably the closest thing to a Parisian street cafe in Seattle." I got myself an excellent Croque Madame and a beer.

Rather than read, watch tv or do work here in my hotel room, I decided to memorialize my experience here. Traveling solo certainly inspires a desire to observe and record.

Downtown Portland is a Great Place to Work

Since I've had an office in Portland for the past year or so I've found that I always look forward to coming in to work. I take the Max train for a 15 minute ride each morning and love how I don't have to worry about fighting traffic or finding parking. Then the atmosphere in Portland is always stimulating and energizing. As my immigration practice grows, I'm meeting more and more people from all over the world and Portland attracts many fantastic people with fascinating international backgrounds.

As for dress code? Lawyers usually dress up more than the average Pacific northwest hipster but I'm still only sporting a tie on special occasions.

Want to Enjoy Life More? Deepen Your Understanding of Things.

Last week I finished Hemingway's excellent novel, "The Sun Also Rises." He's become one of my favorite authors because I understand the basics of what makes his writing powerful, unique, and beautiful. I was able to develop this understanding simply by reading another one of his books, "A Moveable Feast." There, he laid out his approach to writing. When he was first developing his style, he was inspired by the impressionist paintings at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. He liked how these painters - Cezanne in particular - didn't focus on trying to capture every detail but instead formed an impression of a place or a moment. His goal was to do the same thing with writing. So he decided to focus on writing "one true sentence" at a time and was able to turn his simple descriptions into powerful experiences for the reader.

Before I understood what Hemingway was doing I didn't appreciate his work as much. The lesson for me is that a deeper understanding of something promotes a much greater level of satisfaction. I've seen similar messages in the Tiger Mom's emphasis on hard work leading to true freedom and mastery. Similarly, Cal Newport lays out an excellent case on why skill-building, rather than pursuing an ephemeral passion, is the best way to make progress and truly enjoy your career.

Three Key Lessons from the World Domination Summit

This past weekend I attended my first World Domination Summit.  Chris Guillebeau and his team delivered big time and I met some fantastic people.  Here are the three central lessons I took away with me. 1. Do what you care about and do it well.  Simply being at the summit and seeing how it was run was one big workshop on excellence.  The entire weekend was strategically planned and executed brilliantly.  You could tell a lot of thought went into every single element: the design of the notebooks, the contents of the gift bags, the selection of speakers, the choice of venue and the amount of free time we had.  Experiencing such a well run and well led event -- staffed by motivated volunteers and operated as a non profit venture -- was challenging and inspiring.

2. The world has a huge supply of remarkable people.  I was consistently impressed by the caliber of the people I would randomly meet at the Summit.  I enjoyed sitting by new people during each session.  As an extrovert, I'd always be the first to strike up a conversation and find out where the other was from and what he or she was up to.  Without fail, each person was doing something very interesting and was abnormally helpful and enthusiastic.  I wish I had more time at the Summit to continue to connect with such great people.  But this group of folks is extremely accessible online and that's where I'll continue to seek them out.

3. Pour yourself into a worthy cause and really help others.  My favorite talk was given by  Scott Harrison, the CEO of Charity:Water.  He shared a compelling story about how he pursued a life of selfish indulgence for a decade but then felt God calling him to something more.  He joined Mercy Ships as a volunteer photographer and saw that poor people throughout Africa were suffering enormously from diseases resulting from dirty water.  He then embarked on an impassioned effort to build a nonprofit organization that would be remarkably different from other charities.  It would give 100% of all its funds directly to needy people and connected projects -- no spending on overhead.  He also operates his organization with complete transparency and shows exactly where each dollar donors give is being spent in Africa.  I want to be involved with organizations like his.  He is helping people in this world who need it the most and showing all nonprofits how to serve others more effectively.

I've already signed up for the next Summit in 2013. See you there.


Resources for How to Have the Best Year of Your Life by Volunteering and Traveling Overseas

Yesterday I led a workshop at the World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon. The Summit is an annual gathering of travelers, entrepreneurs and creative people. Chris Guillebeau is the man behind this weekend and he is a prolific blogger, traveler and author. My workshop was entitled "How to Have the Best Year of Your Life by Volunteering and Traveling Overseas."  It went through key reasons why you should take the time to make a year of service happen. We also touched on what types of opportunities are available (an enormous amount) and how to pull it off.

Here are the key resources I relied upon for the talk.  I recommend anyone interested in investigating a year overseas read these books and check out these websites.


  • Vagabonding by Rolf Potts
  • Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
  • Art of Non Conformity by Chris Guillebeau


Organizations recommended by Half the Sky:




Volunteer Organizations & Aggregators:

Free or Low Cost Volunteering:

Charity Rating Services


List of Resources from Vagabonding by Rolf Potts

Volunteer agencies and web resources

Peace Corps Sending Americans off on worldwide volunteer projects since 1961. "The toughest job you'll ever love." Institute for International Cooperation and Development Trains and sends volunteers abroad for development and aid work in Africa and Latin America. Volunteers for Peace This Vermont-based organization offers inexpensive short-term voluntary service programs in over 80 countries. An online resource that educates, empowers, and engages travelers in researching and implementing volunteer opportunities on the road. Cross-Cultural Solutions Organization "committed to ensuring the safety, flexibility, professionalism, transparency, and excellence of volunteer abroad programs." One-week to twelve-week programs available in over 20 program sites in 12 countries. Canada World Youth Develops international educational programs for youth aged 15 to 25. Works with countries in Africa, Latin America, Asia, the Caribbean, and Eastern Europe. Transitions Abroad volunteering resources Extensive rundowns of links, resources and articles about mixing travel and volunteering. International Volunteer Programs Association An up-to-date search site for international volunteer opportunities.




After a good workout this morning, I'm convinced the positive chemical/physical reaction that occurs -- a feeling of energy and optimism (endorphins probably) -- is also similar to the effect of a number of other things, including: finishing a project, having a stimulating conversation, traveling, reading an excellent book, cleaning up. Probably, a person's personality affects their specific list.