There’s Always Money In the Banana Stand: 10 Short Sentences I Use To (Basically) Run My Entire Life

A couple weeks ago I was giving a talk about writing and entrepreneurship when a guy raised his hand and asked me, “But what if you’re too scared to start writing?”

Nate talk

I told him that he shouldn’t worry because the truth is that we’re all going to die anyway.

And once we’re dead, being worried about writing or anything else is kinda out of the question (since we’re dead).

So my advice to is to just keep everything in perspective because writing a blog post is really no big deal when you think about the fact that you could literally die at any time.

That pretty much ended the Q&A portion of my talk.

Of course, what I was trying to communicate was a sort-of value of mine: The worst case scenario is that I die…so I should just do this thing since it probably won’t kill me.

Unlike the self-help, rah-rah, life-coaching people on the internet, I don’t have a specific LIST of one-word values I try to follow. Stuff like “community”, “authenticity”, and “balance”. (Honestly, even writing those out feels stilted and unnatural.)
But while I don’t have a list of words, I do have phrases I’ve stolen from friends and strangers, plus a quote from Arrested Development. These things pop into my head (and out of my mouth) at random times throughout the day, and that’s pretty much how I live my life.
So what follows is a collection of the phrases that occur to me most and have had the biggest positive impact on my life.

Hopefully one or two will resonate with you.


Source: Peter Adeney aka Mr. Money Mustache

Meaning: Once our essentials are taken care of, spending money to remove annoying things from our lives leads to more day-to-day satisfaction than adding new and novel things. So, getting a better mattress in order to sleep better will give us more lasting satisfaction than upgrading our iPhone.

In Practice: When we lived in Portland, we only needed one vehicle since public transportation and car-sharing services were cheap and easy. But after moving back home to Montana — a place where most things are far apart from each other and may or may not include bears — we realized how annoying it was to coordinate our individual schedules. So we got a second car (used) and our lives instantly improved.


Source: Phil Caravaggio

Meaning: Our goal at work is to a) get paid and b) make a positive impact in the world. To accomplish these goals, we’ll be better served by focusing on the stuff we’re really good at to the exclusion of most everything else. That way we can spend more hours doing the things that only we can do, the things that add the most amount of value to the most amount of people. But in our personal lives, when the goal is to become a better person and improve our relationships, we’ll be better served by focusing on the “hard stuff” — the psychological weaknesses that tend to cause so much internal and external conflict.

In Practice: On my best days, most of my “work time” is centered around writing, strategy / planning, and talking with people. These are highly valuable, highly lucrative activities that have a bigger impact on my happiness and my bank statements than, say, checking my email 42 times per day. But in my personal life, I can only become a better person by embracing the “shitty” parts of me, and actively working to change them. That usually means empathetic listening with my full attention, while resisting the urge to interrupt or “solve the problem”.


Source: Richelle DeVoe

Meaning: No matter what we’re doing, who we’re with, where we’re going, or what we’re hoping to accomplish, every single thing in life will suck at some point. So we might as well embrace the suck. That way we’re prepared for it when it comes, and will refuse to tell ourselves stories like, “I just need to do XYZ and then everything will be totally different!” XYZ might very well be different…but it will still suck.

In Practice: I experience this on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. Recently it’s been around buying a house. First, I think, “Interest rates are still so low, and we’re just throwing money away by renting.” (Not true.) Then I think, “But if we buy a house, then we won’t be able to move and travel as freely. Plus, the money we put into the mortgage and maintenance could have gone into the stock market and made more money! WAAHHHH!” But here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter. Whether we rent or buy, it’s still gonna suck.


Source: Pareto’s Principle, most recently popularized by author Tim Ferriss

Meaning: Most things in life are not distributed evenly. Often, a relatively small number of inputs produce the most (or best) output. In other words, if we have a list of 10 goals we want to accomplish, two of those goals will likely turn out to be worth more than the other eight goals put together. We just need to figure out which two are worth our time and attention.

In Practice: In order to improve my self-defense skills, I recently started training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. (My dad is a Krav Maga instructor, as well.) You’d think the first thing we’d learn to do is how to punch a motherfucker in the face, or maybe do a triangle choke or something. But you’d be wrong. By applying the “80/20 rule” to self-defense, we can see that the very best way to avoid violence is to BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS AND WALK AWAY. That’s the magic “20%” that will likely produce the best benefits. (Of course, if a fight is unavoidable, then you should be fully prepared to defend yourself by using force. Like a triangle choke.)


Source: Every financial guru ever.

Meaning: Before we pay our bills or spend any money whatsoever, we should set aside a specific chunk for our future-selves. That way we won’t be stuck eating beanie weenies and cereal three meals a day when we’re 64.

In Practice: Richelle and I save a minimum of 20% of our combined gross income every month. We put this money into IRAs that are invested in low-cost index funds. It’s all about as sexy as Warren Buffet, which is to say: not very sexy. But it works.


Source: Jason Lengstorf

Meaning: When we’re trying to change a behavior, it’s important to remember that 1) change is hard, 2) willpower may be a finite resource, and 3) most of us are relatively lazy. By making the right thing the easy thing, we’re giving ourselves the opportunity to succeed without needing to use a heroic amount of effort or willpower.

In Practice: To avoid getting sucked into the vortex that is my smartphone, I use “Nuclear Mode.” To make sure I go to the gym consistently, I have a coach who writes my programs. To make sure I invest a minimum of 20% of my income and don’t spend it all on bourbon and $18 hamburgers, I set up automatic bank transfers. And to make sure I don’t eat my bodyweight in pudding every evening, I buy smaller jars. Then I eat two anyway.


Source: Loch Kelly

Meaning: Most of us feel as if we have a little problem-solver person living inside of our heads whose job is to constantly (and frantically) look for problems to solve. Every single thing in our lives is a potential problem that needs solving. “It’s too quiet in here. Now it’s too loud. I’m too hot. Now I’m too cold. This is boring, I should do something different.” It’s exhausting. But it’s possible to “lose” this problem-solver identity for short periods of time, and the resulting experience feels incredibly natural and peaceful. The goal, as Loch explains it, isn’t to deny the normal difficult situations in your life, but to escape the prison of the problem-solver identity — even if only for a moment.

In Practice: I ask myself “What’s here now if there’s no problem to solve?” throughout the day whenever I remember. Here’s a video to get you started.


Source: Me.

Meaning: I mentioned this at the beginning of the article. The reality is this: I’m going to die, and I don’t know when. (Also, you are going to die and you don’t know when.) That is the worst-case scenario, and it immediately puts everything else into perspective.

In Practice: Whenever I’m feeling nervous — especially when I’m trying something new for the first time — I tell myself that the worst-case scenario is that I die and then it doesn’t matter what happens. Dead people don’t care about the outcomes of things. For instance, the chances of me dying while giving a talk on stage are relatively low. So I might as well get over myself, be willing to feel the butterflies, and just give the damn talk. And maybe scare a few people in the process.


Source: Arrested Development

Meaning: You’ll have to watch the TV show or read this quick excerpt to get the full story behind the “the banana stand.”

In Practice: For Richelle and I, “There’s always money in the banana stand” has become a mantra we say aloud whenever we’re struggling to decide what project or job to work on next. To us, it means that no matter what happens, there’s always a way to make enough money to pay our bills and live a good, simple life. (At least, that’s the hypothesis.)


Source: John Berardi

Meaning: When we’re dealing with other human beings, it can be easy to be wary and confrontational. But while psychopaths may be unloving, most people are just trying to get by. They probably aren’t trying to screw up our entire day for no reason.

In Practice: It doesn’t always work, but I try to approach every encounter with another person with the assumption that a) they’re kind, b) they’re generous, c) they’re smart, and d) they want to work together to solve a problem or create something valuable.

And if they don’t? Triangle choke.