Sources of Organization

Learning, progress or achieving a goal requires organized effort. That means it's not random, aimless, chaos.

For example, the scientific method organizes thinking and action so that scientists learn about nature. It's known for being particularly organized and for being much more effective than less organized approaches generally are.

There are many sources of organization. Following the scientific method is one way that your effort/actions may become organized.

If no sources of organization are used, learning will fail. No organization = chaos = no learning. You must have something to reduce chaos – to bring order to chaos – or you'll fail. (Getting lucky can work when you have some organization but too little. It doesn’t work with no organization.)

Often, people aren't aware of where organization comes from. They don't know they're using organization, but what they do is far from pure chaos. They think of it as unplanned, freeform learning, but some forces causes it to be significantly organized.

What sources of organization exist? Where can organization come from?

We’ve been discussing this at my Basecamp group. Below I answer the question and explain why it matters.

Where Organization Comes From

All organization comes from knowledge. No knowledge = no organization = your actions will not be effective.

All knowledge comes from evolution.

There are two known types of evolution:

  1. Evolution of ideas.
  2. Evolution of genes.

These broad sources of organization can be broken down into sub-categories, e.g. all evolution of ideas fits into two categories:

  1. My own ideas.
  2. Other people’s ideas.

And that can be further broken down, e.g. splitting up my ideas:

  1. My conscious or explicit ideas.
  2. My unconscious or intuitive ideas.

We can take the intuitive ideas and sub-categorize further, e.g. by an idea’s age. E.g. the idea is from childhood, is from young adulthood, or it’s recent.

The red part of the diagram is more thorough and the blue part less. All organization is due to knowledge. All knowledge is created by evolution. That part is 100% complete (according to the best available understanding). There are no other options being left out of the diagram. Evolution could work with other replicators besides ideas or genes, but ideas and genes are the only known replicators that have created significant knowledge. By contrast, the categorizations in blue are more fuzzy. E.g. other people can’t literally put ideas in my head – they can say words but then I use my own brain to think about and understand it. So in some sense, I personally create every idea in my head. But it’s still meaningful to say that I thought of one idea myself and learned another idea from Joe.

Try adding more to the chart yourself. You can take any node (box) and break it down into categories. And they don’t have to be perfect to be useful. E.g. genetic evolution could be imperfectly broken down into plants, animals, fungi and bacteria.

When you do a project, if you want results that are better than convention – if you want to improve on your society/culture – then you need organization/knowledge coming from a source other than convention. That basically means you can’t rely on your intuitions or someone else’s intuitions. You can’t just do what seems good, because how stuff seems to you was developed in childhood and largely fits with convention.

What Organizes Your Project? Are You the Sucker?

You should think about where the knowledge is coming from when you do a project like trying to learn something, especially if you want great results of some sort instead of just typical results.

If you can’t figure out where the knowledge or organization for a project is coming from, expect conventional results at best. You’re the sucker (or puppet or pawn) for some force you aren’t aware of – most often the static memes of convention, but sometimes something else, e.g. a conman, cult, or political movement. Plus, except some disorganization/chaos too. If the organization isn’t clear to you, your project is only going to be partially organized.

This is like the poker advice: If you can’t figure out who the sucker at the table is, it’s you. With life, if you don’t know what’s going on and what’s controlling outcomes (in other words, what is organizing events), it’s not you – someone or something else is in control (plus there’s some disorganization/chaos). You’re the sucker. You’re the NPC, not the protagonist or hero of the story.

One source of knowledge is doing project planning steps. You can organize your project yourself using conscious thought. You can brainstorm. You can consider resources, goals, steps, risks, prerequisites. You can write things down.

If you don’t do conscious, explicit project planning, you need to have an idea of what you’re using instead that will work, or else have really low expectations.

Learning from Others

An alternative source of knowledge, rather than organizing things yourself, is a curriculum that someone else makes and you buy. Or, similarly, a tutorial you find online. In that case, someone else put conscious thought into organizing the project. So you’re using their thought instead of your own. But at least you have an idea of where the organization is coming from and what the goals of the organizer are (e.g. they may care about their reputation as an educator and about getting repeat customers, so you may reasonably judge that using you as a sucker isn’t their goal).

There are some risks using someone else’s tutorial (but it’s still a worthwhile strategy that you should use sometimes):

  • They may have done a bad job.
  • They may have done a good job for some parts, but a bad job for other parts.
  • They could have a hidden agenda (goals they don’t tell you about that don’t fit with your goals).
  • You might not understand them very well. Stuff could get lost in translation from their thoughts to their words (and diagrams, gestures, etc.) to your thoughts.
  • It might work for some people and not others, and you’re one of the others. It might not fit your situation well enough. E.g. it might expect you to already know some things that you don’t. E.g. it might expect you to already know some specific math or to understand jargon from a subculture (like Gen Z, anime, or academic biologists).

Learning with Multiple Sources

One strategy that helps with these problems is learning from multiple other people simultaneously. You can get 5 books by 5 different authors and look at how they organize and explain things, and mix and match pieces of knowledge from different books that you think are good and are compatible with you. Often you’ll find some parts of a book are low quality or are incompatible with you, but some other parts are useful. And if you take the useful parts from many books, plus figure out some additional stuff with your own thought to fill in the gaps, that’s often way easier than figuring everything out yourself even though none of the books are great.

When you use a strategy of finding 5 books from 5 others, reviewing them all, comparing them, etc, you are doing a bunch of organization of your learning project. You’re taking lots of control, using your own judgment in key areas, and you get more credit or blame for the outcome. Whereas if you just follow one author’s plan, and try to do and believe whatever he says, then you don’t have a leadership role in the learning project and have less responsibility for the outcome. (But it’s your life, so you have to live with the outcome. Handing off responsibility and trusting in the leadership of others is something to be very careful with, especially as an adult.)

Organization and Knowledge

Organization and knowledge are close to synonyms. ‘Organize’ means “to form into a whole consisting of interdependent parts”. Knowledge is a whole made of parts (ideas, which generally have some dependence on each other). Organizing makes parts work together for a purpose or goal, as ideas work together to solve a problem (or, same things, accomplish a goal or achieve a purpose).

The root word of ‘organize’ is ‘organ’ and one of its historical meanings was 'that which performs some function’ (in other words, a purposeful, goal-directed thing – which is what knowledge is).

The history and typical way of thinking about ‘knowledge’ or ‘to know’ is different than this, but the correct understanding is similar to organization. Like “adaptation to a purpose” is a non-standard but good take on knowledge, and “organization for a purpose” is very similar. (Note: with both “adaptation” and “organization” the words “for a purpose” are actually redundant – a purpose is implied/assumed/included with the main word. The redundancy helps with clarity and emphasis.) How do you organize something for a purpose? You change it to make it fit that purpose. That’s what adapting means: change to fit a (new or different) purpose. ‘Adapt’ also sounds like the cause is evolution, but the cause of human organization is evolution too: people organize using their ideas, and they get those ideas from their intelligence which works literally by evolution.

Slides

I made slides with more about sources of organization. PDF or SlideShare.

Take Action

Join my Basecamp group (free) where we’re discussing sources of organization.


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Achieving Mastery When Learning, Plus Followups

I shared writing about mastery with my free email newsletter and asked about people’s concerns and objections. Here’s what I said followed by my responses to three concerns.

Mastery

(Link to the curi.us message where I first wrote this.)

[name], do you think you achieved mastery of some significant, new things in your makeup project? If so, you could list those. If not, I think you should have higher standards and stop overreaching.

Can you self-evaluate the correctness of any of your new makeup knowledge with similar confidence to your self-evaluations of counting to three or judging whether the word "with" is spelled correctly? Those are examples of what mastery looks like.

The same goes for all your other philosophical work. Keep it simpler. Practice things. Aim for mastery. Aim for a low error rate where correct criticisms are uncommon, surprising and treasured.

Consider what you do have mastery of and build on it. Plan out projects intentionally with goals and trees, keeping issues like mastery and overreaching in mind.

Where are the 5+ successful past projects at 90% of the size, complexity and difficulty of the makeup project? And at 80%, and 70%, and 60%, etc., all the way back incrementally to simple projects like crawling to a location as a baby.

You don't have good examples of what success looks [to] compare your project to. There's a huge gap from the makeup project to your most similar projects that are clear, confident, decisive, unambiguous successes.

And these are not new things that I'm saying.

Start way smaller, get quick, clear wins, and iterate. Start with multiple successful (micro) projects per day. Finish 100+ in a month with a not-decisive-clear-success rate under 10%. Establish a baseline of what you can do that way and get the iteration started.

Followups

Anne B shared these concerns on the FI Learning Basecamp.

I have a hard time breaking a goal down into a planned-out tree made of smaller things that are easy wins. Example:I have a goal of understanding computers and learning how to use them better. Breaking that down into a plan of all the small things I want to learn and in what order seems too hard. Instead I take opportunities to learn small things when they come up.

Do smaller, easier mini-goals first until you get more experience with the method. For example, “Install Atom text editor” is a mini-goal. I bet you could break that into multiple steps. E.g.:

  1. Find Atom website.
  2. Download Atom.
  3. Run installer.

You need practice doing that kind of breakdown successfully before expecting it to work in more complicated scenarios. Once you get good enough at it, in the future, you’ll be able to skip writing down the steps for small things like installing Atom. And when you’re more used to breaking things into sub-parts, you’ll do better at breaking down bigger, harder goals.

It’s important not to face too many challenges at once. Each one distracts you from the others. Mastery of something means it’s no longer distracting or challenging. Practicing breaking simple projects into steps will help you achieve mastery of some breaking-into-parts skills, which will mean you’ll have fewer things to worry about when attempting a medium-difficulty project.

You could do several other small projects, e.g. one to use Atom documents. Steps:

  • Make a document in Atom
  • Save it
  • Close the document and close Atom
  • Reopen the document with Atom

Another project could deal with bold text. Steps:

  • Make some text bold using the menu.
  • Use a hotkey to make text bold.
  • Make text bold by typing in markdown formatting characters.
  • Remove bold text using each method.

If those are too hard, you could break each of those steps down into easier parts. You can adjust the level of detail. If they were too easy you could use fewer steps, e.g. just “Learn Atom basics”, but that’s unsuitable for figuring out how to deal with projects.

After doing the atom install project, the atom document project, the atom bold text project, and several others, you would have done the steps of a larger project like “learn Atom basics”. Small projects are the components that make up medium and large projects. If you’re trying to do a large project and don’t know what the smaller sub-projects are, it’s hard to be organized or succeed.

Are you saying we should aim for mastery in everything we do? If not, how do we decide which things to go for mastery in? If yes, that seems like too much—wouldn’t we sometimes want to just try something out to see how it goes and whether we like it?

Mastery is important for things you’re gong to reuse a bunch and build on. English, walking, basic arithmetic, typing, searching the internet for info, learning methods and project management are good examples. Those get used over and over as sub-components of other tasks and projects.

Mastery is necessary to do anything complicated. Complicated things have many parts. If each part is distracting you from the others and demanding significant attention, then you’ll be overwhelmed and fail. If you have mastery of some parts, that means you can deal with those parts without them being a distraction. Mastery means something requires little conscious attention, which frees up your attention for other stuff. Without mastery, you can only do small things.

Put another way, mastery is necessary for making progress because progress involves accumulating more and more knowledge. You also revise ideas, replace ideas with more elegant versions, and drop some errors, but overall, on average, the amount of knowledge goes up when you make progress.

Increasing amounts of knowledge would get overwhelming if all the older ideas were taking up your attention or causing many errors. The reason you’re able to increase your total knowledge is because you finished learning some things: they’re done and no longer take much thought (unless you reopen and reconsider the issue, which is always an option but shouldn’t happen too often). Mastery is finishing learning something instead of it being an unfinished project.

How done is done? When are you finished? When you can use the knowledge without it requiring much conscious attention and with few errors.

How much attention or errors are OK? It depends on the thing. The more it gets reused or built on, the closer to perfect it needs to be. If it’s only used occasionally, it can be more flawed but still good enough.

Side note: You can also intentionally stop learning something so it requires your conscious attention to do it, but while paying full attention you can do it successfully. That means you can’t build on it. It’s an end to progress (unless you start learning about it again). But that is reasonable in certain circumstances. E.g. suppose you have a job operating heavy machinery. If you pay full attention every time you do it, and do it successfully, that’s good enough. You don’t need to make further progress to get the job done. And actually it’s dangerous to operate heavy machinery without paying conscious attention to what you’re doing at all times. It’d be bad to go into autopilot mode for that or focus your attention elsewhere. (BTW, a lot of car accidents are due to people achieving a lot of mastery of driving and then not paying enough attention to their driving. Due to mastery they can still generally drive well without paying attention, so it works out fine most of the time, but not every time. Also, btw, a reason texting-and-driving is so dangerous, or using audio books while driving, is due to lack of mastery of texting or audio books. Those things distract people significantly, or in other words they don’t have mastery over those activities.)

To have a thousand ideas and for that to be useful, many of them need to be mastered. You can only fit at most around seven non-mastered ideas in your head at once for active use. (Seven is just a loose estimate that other people like Leonard Peikoff have used; the specific number doesn’t matter.) If you want to fit more in your head, you have to master ideas. In other words, you can only effectively pay conscious attention to at most around seven things at once, so, to deal with more than seven things, some must not require conscious attention, which is what mastery is about.

This is also why it’s important to integrate (combine) ideas. E.g. you take four ideas and turn them into one single conceptual unit, which can then be thought about as one thing that uses up only one slot in your attention. But integration only works well when you master the components. If they aren’t mastered, you can’t focus on the one higher level concept because the underlying ideas that you’re building on will keep causing trouble. You’ll make mistakes while using them and/or they’ll distract your conscious attention, because you never finished learning them to the point (called “mastery” among other things) where that won’t happen.

Integration is one of the main ways we reuse and build on ideas. All the small ideas that got integrated into higher level ideas are getting reused in some sense every time a higher level idea that’s built on them is used. Repeated integration creates a pyramid of ideas, and using a single high level idea can reuse hundreds of lower level ideas. But if any low level idea in the pyramid has an error or won’t work without conscious attention, it can screw up your high level activity.

Integration is discussed and advocated by Ayn Rand’s Objectivism.

You don’t need to master everything that’s available and you should not take on large projects without first exploring/scouting and having a pretty good idea of whether it’ll work, whether you want the results, etc. But you do need to master most of what you learn if you want to make ongoing progress.

Having criticisms be uncommon isn’t a very good gauge. Criticisms could be uncommon because there’s not much to criticize or they could be uncommon for other reasons (maybe there’s so much wrong that people don’t know where to start in their criticisms, maybe people are busy with other stuff, maybe people are afraid you won’t take criticism well, maybe people don’t like to criticize because it’s not nice, maybe your stuff is boring so no one reads it).

Criticism being uncommon is a necessary but not sufficient condition for indicating mastery.

Also, you’re focusing on external criticism, but self-criticism is a more important thing to pay attention to first and it doesn’t have most of the difficulties you mention. It’s very hard to use much external criticism effectively before being pretty good with self-criticism (that’s one of the main reasons people dislike receiving criticism so much – they aren’t able to use it effectively because they aren’t good at self-criticism yet).

That’s similar to an issue that came up on FI list a while back: it’s very hard to find common preferences with your child effectively if you struggle to find common preferences with yourself. Individual, personal stuff mostly needs to come first before dealing with other people much.


If this interests you, and you'd like to better understand ideas like this, join my free Basecamp group.


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FI Learning Basecamp

Basecamp is an easy-to-use project management tool. Features include online collaboration, a message board, a chatroom, and todo lists. It puts a bunch of stuff in one place.

I made a Basecamp for Fallible Ideas learning because people should treat learning more like an organized project, not entertainment.

Join for free: https://3.basecamp.com/4983193/join/KEHzLZV59MYT

Warning: I'll likely close public invites in the future.


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How Social Status Works

The article Women Explained by Hitori (a female) explains how social status works in just 2560 words.

It's in the Revelation eBook by Mystery and Lovedrop, and also reposted on the web in a few places. You can read it on Reddit for free. (The formatting is worse than in the book, but is readable.) It was originally posted to the old PUA forum community, probably roughly around the year 2000.

The beginning tells us:

Chicks act at all times to gain and maintain social status. This is more important to them than getting laid.

Then it explains social status in four sections:

  1. Qualities of High Status People
  2. Qualities of Low Status People
  3. You Gain Status When
  4. You Lose Status When

Read, analyze, discuss below.


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New Community Website Project

This post is for discussing goals and strategy, and high-level planning, for a project (under consideration) to make a new FI community website, with better educational help, organization, forum features, marketing, and monetization.

Alan Forrester would be doing some coding and hopefully other roles. Some other people have expressed some interest too.

Although I'm an experienced Rails developer, I want to focus primarily on where where I have the most expertise and comparative advantage: philosophy (e.g. research and educational content creation), as well as high level strategy.

Related Discussion Topics


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Focusing Your Attention Discussion

People must focus instead of letting their attention get dragged around to whatever other people put in front of them (and then dragged again soon after, so nothing gets enough attention to be finished). But people also must listen to criticism and ideas instead of just ignoring the external world and its knowledge. There’s a tension here.

Discuss how to deal with it below:


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What I Sell

Philosophy Education

My speciality is rationality, problem solving, and how to think or learn. I focus on ideas useful in real life. I have original philosophical ideas (Critical Fallibilism) inspired most by Critical Rationalism, Objectivism, and Theory of Constraints.

I'm experienced at many applications, e.g. how philosophy can bring insight to artifical intelligence, parenting, relationships, psychology, or politics.

I sell digital products (PDFs, videos...) and personalized services (tutoring, advice, consulting...).

Business Consulting

Eli Goldratt died and his successors aren't creative enough. They're doing what he already explained how to do (which is worthwhile). I can apply Theory of Constraints ideas in ways that others wouldn't think of.

Unique Insight

I can do (for example) design, economics and science. But I'm not a designer, economist or scientist. I'm a philosopher. If you just want some regular design, hire a designer.

But what if you want the best that money can buy? What if regular designers aren't satisfying you? You still hire a designer, but you also hire me. I will provide design insights which are different than what you'd get from any designer. You could hire 100 designers and I'll still tell you some things that none of them do, because none of them are philosophers.

I've read and thought about design. I'm not a novice but it's not my profession. Apart from philosophy, I'm a generalist. Some people do design full time. I bring a broader, philosophical perspective. I can do this for most topics where good thinking makes a big difference. When standard results aren't enough, talk to me.


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Collaborative Writing Discussion Thread

Max and Anne B have been discussing how to do collaborative writing.

This topic is a place for them (and anyone else interested) to discuss and plan how to write something collaboratively.

They have several goals:

  • to learn about discussion, collaborative writing and learning
  • to do some collaborative writing and produce some posts/articles
  • in the case a post isn't produced: to discuss to conclusion why that didn't happen.

Max requested this topic as part of his SubscribeStar subscription.


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What To Sell or Give Away?

What are good policies about what to sell?

I sell personalization, privacy, and (partial) control over my attention and time. Those are easy to decide should be sold. I give those away only in limited amounts, particularly to friends and when there’s mutual benefit (e.g. someone wants to discuss a topic that I want to discuss and is able to say things that interest me).

For articles, videos, podcasts, diagrams, etc., what should I sell?

High effort, quality or accessibility stuff can be sold to wide audiences. Stuff with lower polish, accessibility or that’s for a specialized niche can be sold to narrower audiences of hardcore fans.

I don’t want to sell all my accessible stuff and give away the stuff that has less value to most people because then new people are being asked to pay right away.

I don’t want to give away all my accessible stuff and only charge hardcore fans. That limits getting paid and also makes it harder for a fan to transition to be more hardcore after getting interested in some more niche material.

So I think I should both sell and give away some of each type of material. But then how do I decide which stuff to sell or not? What criteria should I use?

Related, I’d generally rather make 5 lower effort things than 1 polished thing. Why? I generally learn more that way. Most polishing and making stuff more accessible doesn’t help much with me figuring out better ideas myself. I think my ideas are good and important enough that making a lot of stuff makes sense; I can quickly make lots of stuff that has value (e.g. lots of my blog posts aren’t edited but are still worth existing). I think there’s a lack of good stuff in the world and I want to make more.

Most people see it differently. They see way too much stuff to engage with and they want to prioritize stuff that packs a little more value into a little less time. If that takes 10x longer to make, that’s fine, they have more than enough stuff to engage with anyway. I think my stuff has unique value and I want to make lots of it, both because I generally like making stuff more than polishing it and because I want way more of my kind of stuff to exist so that the best and most interested people can learn from it.

Anyway, I think these traits are not the way to decide what to sell or give away. But what is?

Another related factor is giving away stuff for free often makes it look lower value to people and they often treat it badly. This can be worse for them (the mistreatment harms their own learning) as well as worse for me in various ways, though I don’t necessarily need to care about this. From The Fountainhead:

When you see a man casting pearls without getting even a pork chop in return—it is not against the swine that you feel indignation. It is against the man who valued his pearls so little that he was willing to fling them into the muck and to let them become the occasion for a whole concert of grunting, transcribed by the court stenographer.

I’ve been flinging pearls into the muck for decades. I’ve reduced that some in the last few years. I could just keep doing it. My life is fine and I can just keep making stuff and learning stuff. Getting people to pay for some stuff and getting a larger audience would have some advantages.

I’ve considered things like having most criticism on a private, paid forum since the general public hates criticism, but being open to public debate and questions is important to me. And I like having lots of stuff publicly accessible. Paywalling ideas, especially above mass market book pricing (like $10), is problematic in some ways.

A different way to look at it is what will people pay for? Saving time. Stuff they can’t get elsewhere. Stuff with practical benefits.

Anyway I make lots of stuff that could maybe be sold, and I think I should sell some of it and make some free. I have some ideas about how not to decide what’s free or paid. I don’t know a good way to decide. Anyone got ideas?


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Skills I'd Pay For

There are lots of skills I'd pay for but it's generally hard for me to work with people who are unfamiliar with FI philosophy. For example, I'd like video editing to cut down streams to summaries. The main idea is to delete 80% of each stream so that just highlights are left. (Here's an example of a video made by cutting out 88% of a stream. They're pretty common with popular gamer streamers like smallant and zfg who I believe hire video editors to make them.) But I don't think it'd work to get a video editor who knows how to use editing tools but doesn't know anything about FI. He wouldn't know which parts are the highlights! Plus he wouldn't watch my videos normally. It works best to hire an editor who already watches your videos anyway, so then basically you don't have to pay him extra to watch your videos in the first place. It's more efficient and cheaper to use someone who was going to watch the video on his own than someone who wasn't. And it's better if the person doing it actually likes the videos, is interested, is in a position to make judgment calls and additional edits besides cuts (because he has ideas about what would make something better), etc.

Other things I could use: art, design, marketing, other types of video editing, animation, and Keynote polishing (there are lots more tutorials on that channel, but that one video will give you a good idea of what I'm talking about).

I've been having Justin do some work on making ebooks from email archives and adding tables of contents to videos. Those are other good examples of the kinds of skills I'm interested in delegating.

Editing text would be valuable too but basically that takes a ton of skill and I can't trust anyone to edit my writing. The other ones I listed are all easier to do well enough it'd have value to me. I'm less skilled and picky about them.

I'd also be interested in someone to do my newsletters for me. That takes some writing skill and FI knowledge, but a lot less than writing or editing my essays.

I'm sure there are other similar things that I'd also like to delegate. Maybe you could suggest some.

Are any of my fans good at some of these things and interested in doing work for me? Get in touch. I particularly value people who work fairly independently, and come up with some ideas of their own, instead of just following detailed directions. Micromanaging is too much work for me.

Some of these skills, like basic video editing (how to cut parts out), are quick and easy to learn. Others are harder but have lots of resources to help you learn, e.g. there are books and videos about design and marketing (The Futur is an example of a pretty good educational YouTube channel for design and marekting). If you're interested but not already good at any of these skills, you could learn some. Most of the skills require being decent at using computers. Using other software tools can often help you get stuff done faster and easier, e.g. using otter.ai to transcribe videos with timestamps can help you find the good parts to include in a condensed version (then you can edit the video backwards, cutting stuff out from the end first and working towards the start, so when you delete stuff it doesn't change the timing of any earlier parts).

Work would be freelance project work, not full time employment. And not a ton of hours. You could do it in addition to other stuff in your life, rather than choosing one or the other.


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