There’s an episode of Seinfeld that I love where Jerry visits his parents in Florida.
Jack Klompus—Jerry’s dad’s friend—stops by and shows Jerry a pen.
But it’s not just any pen, this is the astronaut pen. It can write upside down.
Jerry’s impressed, he’s always wanted a pen like this.
So Jack Klompus gives him the pen.
“What did you take his pen for?” Jerry’s mom asks as soon as Jack leaves.
“What? He gave it to me!” Jerry says in disbelief.
As most Seinfeld episodes go, a whole lotta something is made out of nothing; the pen—or rather, whether or not Jerry should give it back—becomes the entire focal point of the episode (which is aptly named, The Pen).
It’s all overblown and very funny.
What’s also overblown and very funny is the story behind the real astronaut pen.
Back in the early space-race days, NASA realized that pens don’t work in space.
Pens need gravity. (Don’t believe me, try writing with the pen upside down.)
With a little ingenuity and American-grit, NASA spent an astronomical sum of money to design, test, and create a gravity-independent pen that used compressed nitrogen to keep that sweet, sweet ink flowing.
The Russians, too, noticed the same problem but took a different approach instead: they sent their astronauts up with pencils.
Simple tools for the right job
The Band-Aid is an inexpensive, convenient, and remarkably versatile solution to an astonishing array of problems. In their history, Band-Aids have probably allowed millions of people to keep working or playing tennis or cooking or walking when they would otherwise have had to stop.
The Band-Aid solution is actually the best kind of solution because it involves solving a problem with the minimum amount of effort and time and cost.— Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point
I love this quote by Malcolm Gladwell.
He’s of course talking about solutions, those moments when something is not working and needs a fix.
We often scoff at Band Aid solutions for their lack of sophistication but Gladwell throws the metaphor back in our face.
Sometimes there is elegance in simplicity. Sometimes all we need is a Band Aid
The same is true with the tools we use every day.
Why use a nitrogen-compressed space pen when a pencil also get’s the job done?
Humans first began using tools 2.6 million years ago, simple things like hammer stones and sharp shards.
Since then, our needs and ambitions have changed and so too have our tools.
We’ve made progress, but it’s come at a cost.
I spent this past weekend removing old bushes in my backyard.
When I went to the hardware store I had a decision to make: what tools should I use to get the job done?
I went with the tried and tested shovel and pick ax but I could have easily gone with the chainsaw or the farm jack.
We’re inundated with choices nowadays, so much so, that we’ve come to believe that the more expensive, more convoluted tools are the best ones for us.
Which brings me to the point of this Learning Letter…
What are life’s basic tools?
Don’t worry, I didn’t set out to write a Learning Letter about the multifaceted farm jack.
No, I want for us to dust off the tools that are often overlooked, overlooked to the point where traditional schooling assumes we’ll learn them on our own.
I’m talking about tools like budgeting, note-taking, and meal planning.
These seemingly simple tools, when properly learned and implemented into our daily workflow, have the ability to transform our lives.
To give you a taste of what’s to come, my wife and I finished paying off over $30,000 worth of debt in 15 months. How? By properly budgeting.
I never learned budgeting in school.
Over the next few weeks, we will dig into these overlooked tools.
My goal is to help you find an entry-point to bring these tools into your life and see results right away.
There’s power in simplicity.
“Give me a fulcrum,” Archimedes once said, “and I shall move the world.”
Move the world we shall.
Until next week,
P.S. – After further research, that whole NASA astronaut pen is kind of true but also an urban legend. Eventually, space pens were adopted as the standard writing instrument for all international agencies—something about the dangers of graphite dust and wood shavings in an extremely combustible environment.