3 Surprising Lessons From Ditching My Car in Los Angeles

How a 12 month financial experiment changed my life.

Micah.Cohen
Jul 15, 2017 · 7 min read

Last November, my car was dying — sensors firing, engine over heating and brakes worn down. My mechanic called me: “blah blah…pay lots of money…blah blah…it still may need more work”…basically your car is fucked.

So, as I pondered what to do next, a question dawned on me: could I live in Los Angeles (one of the world’s most spread out cities) without a car?

The Experiment:

I started this experiment as a cheap, impatient, single guy living on the westside of Los Angeles — with work being about 5 miles from my home. I went into this with the a focus on the financial trade-offs…thinking that I could prove that I don’t need a car in Los Angeles.

I proved that it’s cheaper without a car. What I didn’t realize was how commuting in this way would push me to be grow — to be more honest in my dating-life, find daily joy and learn to let go of my need to control things. Ultimately, I learned that commuting is about more than just money — it’s about finding joy in the journey and prioritizing the people I care about.

In this post, I’ll share all the data, stories and lessons from this experience.

Before diving into the lessons I took away from the experience, I wanted to share the financial data on the year:

I made all the data available here:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1SFH6h9e5LKlMXmdk-Tvzp4unxYka5LCdMxhlK3bCKk4/edit?usp=sharing

Throughout the year, costs started to increase when I dated a woman who lived too far away, when my % of rides to UberX/Lyft went up (compared to Uber Pool + Lyft Line) and when I traveled internationally.

In general, I explored as many options as I could to move around. My overall conclusion — it’s cheaper for me to live in L.A. without a car (view data here). But ultimately, I care less about the cash than I did about the lessons I learned.

There were three key lessons I learned in my personal life: 1) Dating 2) Joy 3) Letting go

1. Dating

I’ll speak honestly when I say: I feel insecure in the dating world. In the past, this insecurity has led to me staying in bad relationships for too long — for fear of being alone or getting rejected. Coinciding with this experiment was an exploration of what I call ‘the Micah life’ — instead of pushing a rock up a mountain, I want to ride waves. And, instead of chasing & pushing to go on dates or whatever, I simply said “I will love myself and live as aggressively ‘Micah’ as a I can…and as I do this, the wrong people will be repelled and the right people will be drawn in.

What does this have to do with cars? Hint = forcing function for priorites

Even as I tried to live the ‘Micah life’, I wasn’t successful and fell into old patterns. But…something started to happen. By adding a bit of friction to opening the Uber app, spending money and dealing with crazy drivers in a cross-city ride, I started to pause. This little bit of hesitation pushed me to ask questions and acted as a forcing function. I would ask myself, do I really think this is the right person for me? Am I living the ‘Micah life’? When I removed the ease and added friction to my relationships, it made me more thoughtful.

Ultimately, I deleted all dating apps. “I’m done” I told myself. It was pretty awesome— I spent a lot more time with friends, pursuing hobbies, planning trips and spending time with my family. I trusted that the right people would be pulled in. Surprisingly or not surprisingly??, I ended up meeting a great woman four months later — while I was out with friends enjoying the ‘Micah life’…funny how life works. I learned to have a bit more faith in the future instead of trying to control it.

2. Joy

Commuting usually sucks — defined by traffic, honking and stress. Los Angeles is one of the worst cities in the world if you want a pleasant commute — most days are plagued by hours of traffic and drivers that will cut you off to save themselves 3 seconds off their commuting time. Bubbling under the surface for drivers is anger and frustration.

The first half of the year was a slight improvement on happiness in my daily commute — being that I could sit in the back of the car and ignore the issues of driving. But, let’s be honest, dealing with Uber drivers that yell, complain, smoke and make the wrong turns isn’t all that much better. So I started to explore a few more options and I came across Boosted Boards (electric skateboard). After a few weeks of contemplating the high price point of $1,500, I just said “fuck it” and I bought the board. I figured that, over 2 years, I could get enough rides to make up for the Ubers I was taking. Plus there was a 30 day money back guarantee…so whatever.

I took a couple rides to work and worked out the kinks of the “path” — mostly learning to avoid major streets and find a pleasant way. After a week or two, I found an epic path along the beach with a smooth road & few cars. It was magical. (here’s a quick video I made to show a bit of it)

Having grown up in San Diego, I nostalgically look back upon the carefree skateboarding days — not trying to go anywhere…just riding for fun. As adults, I think we’ve moved too far away from play — the act of simple activity for enjoyment with no practical purpose.

The impact of riding to work was a smile every morning, the feeling of wind in my face & adrenaline pumping. At it’s simplest, the feeling of being present — of joy. In fact, I’ve started adding space to my life where I can just goof around and ride around my neighborhood. I found that joy is not just a gift to myself — it’s also a gift to my coworkers, my girlfriend, my family and the random store clerk. Joy has a ripple effect.

3) Letting go

I try to get answers—it’s been a bit of an obsession for my adult life (so far). I think it stems from my underlying fear of death — which has led me to try to control my future & ensure I don’t waste my time on earth. Looking back on this 12-month experiment, it’s funny to realize how true my need to get answers is. My desire for control is just my way to feel better about not having answers to the deepest of human questions (why are we here? what happens after we die? etc).

As I started this experiment, one of the most frustrating things for me was letting go. I can’t tell you how many times I sat in the back of an Uber (late for a meeting) and the driver took a wrong turn or a co-passenger of Uber pool didn’t show up…it was annoying! I had to sit with that anger knowing there was nothing I could to change it . To deal with this, I started to layer in meditation into my rides. I would pop in my headphones, open Headspace, and do 10–15 minutes of breathing & guided meditation. As I dealt with the lack of control, I started to reflect on the words of the Buddha:

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” — Buddha

It was an amazing learning experience to, during frustrating experiences, let go and turn inward to the breathe. Having a calm mind only happens through practice. Now I’m grateful to all those Uber drivers for making that wrong turn or for almost getting us in a car crash — grateful for the practice of letting go.

Conclusion

My experiment is over. While I proved that I could save some money, I found that the life lessons were more valuable. I don’t know what’s next — I’m not sure where life will take me in the next phase of life. All I know is that these lessons have made me a happier, healthier person.


P.S.one tiny piece of advice:
When I started this project, a surprisingly large percentage of people deterred me— arguing that I was dumb not to have a car and that the risks/issues were too big. My takeaway lesson is that the world is less risky than you think — we all dramatically overestimate risk. Instead of worry about the “what if’s”, just start things…you’ll be surprised where they take you.

Mission.org

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple. Mission.org

Micah.Cohen

Written by

a curious human— currently working as Head of Growth @Twenty20, formerly growth @LivingSocial, Write @TechCocktail

Mission.org

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple. Mission.org

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