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The Minimalists

Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus write about living a meaningful life with less stuff for 3 million readers. As featured on: ABC, CBS, NBC, BBC, TODAY Show, NPR, Forbes, The Atlantic, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and National Post. They live in Missoula, Montana.

I Was Not a Minimalist, Until I Was

Joshua Fields Millburn of The Minimalists (photo by Adam Dressler)

I am not an expert; I just play one on the Internet.

Or rather, I wasn’t an expert on anything. . . . until I was.

You see, at 18 I didn’t know how to be a leader. But then I took an entry-level sales job, spent a decade working my way up the corporate ladder, and eventually led a group of 100 people in 16 locations. Over time, I slowly became an expert at inspiring and leading people.

At 22 I didn’t know how to run a successful business. But then, with no formal education, I learned. In the course of time, I opened 14 profitable retail stores for a large corporation, managed a $52 million operating budget, and eventually oversaw the operations for 150 retail stores (which I realize now, as a minimalist, is rather ironic in retrospect). Over time, I slowly became an expert on business.

At 25 I didn’t know how to get in shape or lose the excess weight that plagued me. But then I changed my diet, began a simple exercise routine, and lost 70 pounds. And now people regularly rely on me for diet and exercise advice. Over time, I slowly became an expert on health.

At 27 I didn’t know how to live a meaningful life. But then I confronted my discontent, spent two years paying off immense personal debt, and started looking for happiness in life’s more important areas: health, relationships, growth, and contribution—not material possessions. Over time, I slowly became an expert on intentional living.

At 28 I didn’t know how to be a minimalist. My three-bedroom home was filled with superfluous possessions to prove it. But then I started questioning my stuff, removing one by one the unnecessary things from my life, eventually jettisoning 90% of my material possessions, replacing them with worthwhile experiences. Over time, I slowly became an expert on minimalism.

At 29 I didn’t know what a blog was. (Seriously!) But then I needed an outlet to share my writing and my experiences with other people. So I asked my best friend, Ryan, if he’d be willing to build a website and share his experiences—and my experiences—with the world. He said yes, so we created The Minimalists, started publishing essays (which we later realized were called “blog posts”), and grew our readership to tens-of-thousands of people in 151 countries. Over time, we slowly became experts on blogging.

Approaching age 30, I didn’t think it was possible to leave my corporate job to pursue my dream of writing literary fiction. But then I discovered it was. I had already simplified my life, paid off my debt, changed my spending habits, and radically reduced my cost of living. So I sold my house, paid off my car, eliminated nearly all my bills, and moved into a tiny $500-per-month minimalist apartment. And then I quit. Now people frequently ask me how they too can stop living the lie and start living their dream. Over time, I slowly became an expert on leaving the corporate world in the pursuit of dreams.

At 30 I wasn’t a published author. I had a stack of rejection letters from agents and publishers to prove it. But now, at 31, I have published four #1 bestselling books on my own and co-founded my own publishing community—Asymmetrical Press—where we help writers and other creative types circumvent the old guard. Over time, I slowly became an expert in the publishing world.

Last year I didn’t think I could be a teacher, since I don’t have a college degree. But then I learned I could use my training experience from the corporate world, combined with my love and passion and obsession with writing, to add value to people’s lives. Thus, I started an online writing class this spring. When the class quickly filled up, I was shocked; so I offered a summer session. And when that class reached its capacity, I offered a fall session. Most important, my students—ranging from teenagers to Ph.D.’s—have found tremendous value, have grown as writers, and have given me the opportunity to contribute to their successes. Over time, I slowly became an expert on writing and teaching.

I didn’t tell you any of this to brag or boast or inform you of how great I am. I am not great—far from it. There won’t be a life-size bronze statue of Joshua Fields Millburn occupying the streets of Dayton, Ohio, anytime soon. I am flawed and tattered and perfectly imperfect—just like you.

I wasn’t able to do any of the above because I was smarter or better or funnier or more toothsome than the next guy. Instead, there were two commonalities among all these paths to expertise: time and action.

None of it happened overnight; it took time. And it wasn’t easy; it took consistent action—incremental actions that morphed into habits over time. Now, when I look in life’s rearview mirror, everything is different. Over time, I slowly became an expert. And so can you.

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