The value of taking inventory: a 20-month checkpoint

First, sorry to have been away so long! I see that it’s been two months since my last post – my longest writing gap so far. To be honest, I just haven’t had topics about which I wanted to write, such that I was willing to take time away from other things on my plate. That changed today while on a walk with my wife, Lorri.

If you’ve worked in retail, manufacturing, or in a whole host of other trades, you understand the value of taking inventory. One of the key lessons I’ve learned since leaving the workplace more than 1.5 years ago is that this applies to our personal lives as well. What do I mean? I’ve found there is tremendous value in taking time to reflect, allocating the mental space needed to think about what you’ve been up to, your accomplishments, lessons learned, etc. I didn’t do a very good job of that -and often enough during my career, but this blog has been a big part of me changing that.

Some time after I wrote an article reflecting on my first year in early “retirement”, I decided I wasn’t going to write another milestone post until my two year mark. Sitting here penning this piece, I realize that I’ve changed my mind. Today marks 628 days since my last day at my last job in biotech, just over 20 months or 1.75 years ago. Most days, that phase of my life seems really far away, but on occasion it feels rather near. The former makes good sense to me as I feel like, despite the challenges that came with COVID-19, I’ve done a lot since embarking on this next chapter in my life. And so I thought it would be a fun exercise to take inventory of those things here.

So what have I been up to? I don’t know if I can top the pace of my first six weeks post-FIRE, but I feel like I’ve done a lot. While not an exhaustive list, in no particular order, I have…

  • Started Two Sides of FI, a YouTube channel and podcast, with my good friend of 35 years, Eric. As I write this, we’ve released 29 full-length episodes as well as many highlight videos and Shorts, which have been viewed nearly 700 thousand times, and we have nearly 13,000 subscribers to the channel. Wow! I’m so proud of this project and remain humbled that people value the content we produce. This has been the most fulfilling aspect of my FIRE journey so far, without exception.
  • Learned* video and audio production and editing. The asterisk denotes that this learning is very much ongoing. But I feel like I now know just enough to be dangerous re: Final Cut Pro, Garage Band, and the processes needed to put out video and audio content.
  • Completed three iOS app development courses and wrote a few apps. I spent a good chunk of the first 4+ months after moving to this effort, and really enjoyed it. I completely threw myself into this and had planned to do so even before leaving my job. I’ve not done much with this lately but who knows? I may pick it up again.
  • Qualified as a FAA-certified Part 107 commercial drone pilot. Last year I bought a drone and wasn’t entirely sure of where that would take me. But since the videos were going to be used on YouTube and I had some interest in other commercial uses, getting the license was the right path. Will it ever go beyond simple hobby use? Who knows?
  • Volunteered at my local COVID-19 vaccine clinic. One of my post-FIRE aims was always to do more service. Due to COVID and other more selfish reasons, I haven’t done really well on this aim – yet. But I did enjoy taking a weekly shift at the town clinic during the big vaccination push in those early months after shots were available.
  • Worked part-time at a local winery tasting room. I never saw this coming but my love of wine, enjoyment of education, and need for socialization made a once-weekly tasting room job a great fit. I’m still doing this nearly a year later with a really great group of people, and I truly enjoy it – as well as the industry discounts! 🍷
  • Given two talks and career counseling to students. I had the honor to be invited to speak to two groups of undergraduate + graduate students about careers in biotechnology and my own path. Since then I’ve had a number of career counseling calls with students. I get a ton out of these and wonder if it may turn into something I want to do more with.
  • Took the longest vacation of my life – 5 weeks! Like many, we didn’t get to see family and friends for over a year due to COVID-19. It was wonderful to get such a long time to travel with my wife and daughter, seeing so many people we missed. This kind of trip, along with some shorter road trips, simply couldn’t have happened were I still working full-time.
  • Found a great online community in the FIRE Discord server. I’ve been a fan of online chat since the earliest days of the internet. But I didn’t realize the value I’d find in socializing with a group of like-minded FIRE folks such as this great group has provided me. Talking about FIRE can be tricky so forums like this are a wonderful thing to have.
  • Taken several online classes. Outside of the iOS coursework, I’ve taken classes in topics including financial markets, personal finance, and most recently world history (admittedly we’ve been a little delinquent on this last one lately). I love learning and look forward to taking some classes at our local community college or university in the future!
  • Started a homebrewing club with Lorri. Making connections with people and socializing is important. The combination of moving to a new town, not having a “day job”, and COVID made both things tough. It’s been great to combine our love of beer and brewing with the opportunity to meet people. We’re a few months in now and it’s going really great.
  • Done a ton of cooking and learned new cuisines. I managed to make all seven of the Oaxacan moles (my recipe database is here), which was an extension of a long-standing bucket list item to make mole negro. Eventually I moved on to Indian cuisine, which was a really fun change-up. I’m still cooking nearly all the family’s meals at this point and it’s something I truly enjoy.
  • Taken hundreds of walks and hikes. I’ve taken a walk nearly every day since I stopped working, and most weeks I also take a longer hike with Lorri. This has been great for so many reasons: when solo, I listen to books or podcasts, or simply take time to reflect. When my wife and I walk/hike together, it’s great phone-free time to just catch up, talk about future plans, and enjoy quiet time together. I can’t imagine not having this in my life now!
  • Read many more books than I had in years. While I’ve always been a reader, admittedly the pace of completing books slowed a lot for me as my career advanced. I’ve now completely turned that around and between audiobooks, ebooks, and the paper kind, I get through tons more these days. It’s also wonderful having a library just a short walk from home!

I’m sure I neglected to add many things to this list. And it’s probably way too long so I do wonder who will even read it. But even so, it’s been really rewarding to sit, think, and write this piece. A few thoughts come to mind: While I now have way more “free time” than ever in my adult life, I’ve never been bored (I get asked this a lot). Rather, like many early “retirees”, I don’t know if I’ve ever been busier. The difference is that now with rare exception, the day is full of the things I/we want to do, and not things at someone else’s direction. But this list does at least help me appreciate why I always feel like I’ve got plenty that I want to do!

Looking at the list, it’s a mix of things I’d planned to do since before I stopped working, along with quite a few I just stumbled into – the YouTube channel is a great example of that. There was absolutely no plan to do that and yet it’s become my biggest time expenditure post-FIRE, as well as the most rewarding part of each week. And this is the benefit of this chapter of my life. I now have the freedom to wander around, trying things, and seeing what sticks. And like with iOS coding, I can simply set things down after trying them – temporarily or perhaps permanently. Who cares?

As I’ve written many times here before, I know just how fortunate I am to be where I find myself. I remain thankful for all of you who read these pieces, sharing your own experiences with me as you follow my journey. I wish you all the best in whatever you aim to achieve.
Mahalo. 🙏

New town, no job…no friends?

There is so much to look forward to when you move: setting up a new home, a chance to purge the junk you’ve accumulated, exploring your new town – just to name a few. All of those things and more are very much the same when you’re no longer working. In fact, you’ve got more hours available each day to enjoy them! And you can make those numerous Lowe’s / Home Depot trips at times far less busy than you could if you still worked. But there’s something important that you don’t often see discussed on FIRE blogs or videos: the challenges of making connections and building friendships in a new town without a workplace as a central meeting point.

A brief review of recent history

I left my job nearly fifteen months ago and my family moved a few weeks later. Our new home is about three hours away from where we used to live. That means our friend group of more than eight years is within range for weekend visits, but of course those require planning. In addition, all of my close friends are still working full time – or even quite a bit more. That means weekdays are totally out and weekends are their main time to “get everything else done”. So our availability is totally different, which makes perfect sense. Admittedly I have a hard time remembering this sometimes when awaiting replies to my many text messages (sorry!).

A few weeks ago there was an otherwise inconsequential event in my life that started me thinking more about this topic. As we discussed on a recent episode of Two Sides of FI, I had made weekend plans with friends near our former home. For perfectly sensible reasons, my friends needed to postpone. I was really disappointed, and even more so than I’d let on to anyone involved. The change of plans made me feel like I didn’t matter as much to my friends as they did to me – which was of course a very silly and wholly irrational reaction. But the emotions I felt were very real, I assure you.

Why was this little thing so impactful? I had really looked forward to those plans, it seems. But why? Sure, it would have been fun to see friends. But we didn’t have anything monumental planned for that weekend, after all. And we’d likely all get together in just a few weeks (we did, and it was great). The answer is pretty simple: I haven’t made many friends since we moved, and I’m almost solely relying on my out-of-area friendships for that connection. There are a variety of reasons I haven’t yet made many friends in my new town, COVID being just one of them. But there’s a simpler reason well within my control, and one I just hadn’t yet realized.

Making friends for the world to see

Your place of work is not the only opportunity to make friends, of course. Many people build friendships through civic groups, clubs, or places of worship. But at least for me, my closest relationships have always come from the workplace, so it’s what I know best. There is no easier place for me to find like-minded people, and the collision factor of working in an office provides many opportunities to learn about people. From there originate the kernels of what later yields close friendships. It’s a very different beast to start from zero in a new area where you are no longer working – at least for me, anyhow.

My ever-astute wife, Lorri, pointed out something rather eye-opening to me while filming 2SFI: I hadn’t really been doing very much to make connections and build new friendships since moving. Honestly I hadn’t really thought that my inaction was such a big part of it but of course she was 100% right. People clearly weren’t lining up on our doorstep to introduce themselves and hang out with me – I have no illusions that I’m so interesting or fun to be around such that they’d want to do that. So naturally I had to be much more motivated about the whole thing. Obvious, right? Truly, it hadn’t been to me until that moment.

Current status + steps taken so far

I’m not lacking for social interaction in our new town. In fact, one of the very reasons I took the job one day a week at the winery tasting room is for that engagement with others. That goal has been achieved, and I’m really enjoying it. But it’s not likely I’ll make effective friendships from a largely tourist customer base. However, just working in wine has given me a springboard to meet others in the industry who clearly share common interests with me, and that’s been great. Lorri works part time at a brewery. As you’ve gathered, I like beer, and frequent those establishments as well. So any of these things could well yield friendships. Recently, I’ve started to more actively seek out opportunities to meet industry folks. I think I’m off to a good start and have met some great people but clearly need to keep it up.

As I wrote above, clubs are also a great place to connect with people through common interests. Both Lorri and I are 20+ year homebrewers and love engaging in activities around beer. There is no local club dedicated to homebrewing in our town, so we are starting one! After polling for interest in a few online forums, our first meeting is a week away. I’m excited for the possibilities here. In addition to hopefully making a few good friends, this is also an opportunity for me to teach, something I really enjoy. So even if I’m wrong about it being a great way to make friends, I know I’ll find benefit from starting up this organization.

Where do I go from here?

I think persistence is the name of the game for me at present. As described, I’ve taken a few smaller steps to put myself out there more and actively seek opportunities to connect with people. And I’ve met some nice people who I enjoy hanging out with. But I also know that I’m just getting started. I need to follow up on the leads I have and also seek more. There are a few people with whom I feel there could be a connection. I need figure out if that’s true or if they might just be nice acquaintances. It takes time to build good friendships, after all – and that’s OK. I certainly believe it is effort well spent.

I will certainly continue to get together with my very good friends who live out of the area – several are irreplaceable in terms of their importance to me. And I don’t want that to change! But realistically, I also need to keep seeking opportunities to make friends locally. This town is where we’ve chosen to live and at least for the foreseeable future, will remain. It just makes good sense to find a couple of good friends nearby. Wish me luck!

image source: Photo by Duy Pham on Unsplash

Let’s turn your passion into a business and generate some passive income!

Today I’ve elected to write about a favorite topic area of mine. Have you ever wished you were the one in complete control of your work schedule; selecting the hours and days you wish to get the job done, and from where you do it – perhaps on a tropical island or at your ski lodge? Sounds too good to be true, right? But many are doing it, and so can you.

Do you have any interest in generating extra income outside of your primary employment? Perhaps you have dreamed of how you might launch a small business from a hobby you truly enjoy, and grow it until you can quit your other job to run your own personal business empire? Are you already retired and are excited by the idea of creating a small business you can run part time? If any of that sounds good please read on!

Generating passive income and growing “side hustles” into small or even huge businesses are common paths to achieve financial independence. Search YouTube and you’ll see exactly how true that statement is. If you have even the slightest of entrepreneurial streaks in you, this could be the accelerator you have been seeking! I don’t claim mastery of this area but I’ve studied it extensively. I am also fortunate to have learned a lot from several sources, including my Two Sides of FI creative partner, Eric. I have no step-by-step plan for world domination to give to you. Rather, my goal is to share a few resources and thoughts with you in the hopes they might inform and inspire you to do a bit of research, start brainstorming, and eventually launch your own next big thing!

Who wouldn’t want a four-hour workweek?

Sure, some among us truly love their jobs and wouldn’t trade them for the world. That’s really great! But I suspect even those lucky ones wouldn’t mind having greater control of their schedules, over the priorities that frame their days, and be able to take time off whenever they want. These are indeed some of the benefits of what I’m going to describe here. If you’ve never heard of Tim Ferris, let me enlighten you. He’s an entrepreneur, best-selling author, blogger, podcaster (the first to have a show exceed 200 million downloads), and to many, a sherpa who guided them to the lifestyle they always wanted. Enter, “The Four Hour Workweek”.

This is a remarkable book (Kindle and Audible versions also available) despite its seemingly fantastic title. On the surface, it fanciful indeed, but the concepts contained to help one realize that vision are rather straightforward and easily understood, yet very effective. I am among several people I know who cite this book as wildly influential – if not transformational towards how they think about work.

In short, this book and it’s D-E-A-L method guides the reader towards a variety of practices to modify your existing work to place it much more directly under your control, or even better, to create your own thing. Importantly in both cases, the methods aim to reduce the active time you spend performing “work” – trading your time for money, gaining leverage and efficiency via a variety of different means. The most effective of these aim to help you generate passive income – among the most powerful levers available to transform your ideas about the relationship between work and money. There is something in this book for everyone, irrespective of your age, field of work, or intended retirement age.

Passive income: make it once, benefit “forever”

The concept of passive income is simple on the surface: earn money without doing active work – or at least, not continuously doing active work as in a standard job. One easily relatable example of passive income comes from owning rental property. You buy a house, someone else rents it, and you get that monthly rent as income. Anyone who has been a landlord knows that it’s not entirely passive, even if you pay an agency to handle the day to day work. But you get the idea. You buy the house once, and it generates income as long as you have it. Once the mortgage is paid off, that rent is all profit minus the cost of upkeep for which you are responsible as the owner. However, in the internet age, there are myriad options to generate passive income without owning a bit of real estate!

Today, digital assets are a very common and powerful way to generate passive income. We touched on this in several episodes of my YouTube channel, including this one. Click that link to check it out, and hear the many ways in which Eric generates passive income. He’s a sole practitioner architect. But as he states on the show, his aim since realized, was to get to the point where >80% of his income came from passive sources. He has written several books, created internet-based courses, sells plans and software add-ons, has affiliate programs, and also runs a very popular YouTube channel. But isn’t there work required to write a book or develop a course? You bet! But you do that work once, and then make the material available for purchase. People purchase it and you earn income. You put in the work to film and edit a YouTube video, and earn ad revenue when people view it. You create the asset and it generates recurring revenue. If you choose wisely, your content might even age well and need minimal upkeep over time. Sounds great to me!

I’m not an architect and neither are most of you. But each of us certainly has expertise in one or more areas, gained over our lives and the course of our careers. Surely, there are ways to monetize that knowledge and experience – many of those means are largely passive in nature. How might you approach this given your own interests? Yes, I can hear some of your thoughts already: Not everyone wants to write a book, develop a course, or launch a YouTube channel. Of course those are only a few of the ideas you can undertake. The Four-Hour Work Week describes other paths well worth considering. But perhaps you’re still not sure where to start, or want something a bit more actively managed? There are some great resources out there for more information and inspiration!

“Tune in. Take Action. Make Money.”

Those few simple and well-chosen words are the defining tagline for “The Side Hustle Show”, a key resource site and incredibly popular podcast hosted by Nick Loper. I’ve learned tons from him and the many fascinating guests he has on the show. I highly recommend it – and I get no benefit from you checking it out.

Side hustles at their simplest can take the form of part-time gig work (things like driving for a rideshare app or Instacart shopper) that you never intend to grow to something bigger. You’re just supplementing your main income source(s) with some other work. But there are countless ideas out there for much more passive means to generate income as well.

My wife has generated a fun, small passive income stream from one of the ideas she learned from the show (Episode 339: Low content publishing). She designs and sells a variety of journals, yearly planners, password logbooks, etc. via Amazon KDP print-on-demand. With this approach, there is no inventory, order management, or customer service – Amazon does all that! Most importantly, there is effectively zero cash outlay required for this business. She uses free web-based software to do layout and design (something she enjoys even without any paycheck!), and uploads the PDFs to Amazon, who lists them on the site. People find her books via search, they order them, and she earns royalties on each copy sold. This is just one idea where with just a little effort and creativity, you can have a nice side business – or perhaps something much larger!

But side hustles don’t have to be passive if that’s not of interest. On the podcast I shared above, you’ll find countless examples of people who took a hobby or a passion (baking cookies is one that comes to mind) and grew it to a six-figure income personal business! Side hustles are great because they are a safe means to test the waters. Sure, there is effort involved in exploring an idea and testing it out. “Hustle” is in the title after all! But doing something as a side hustle means that you’ve got the security of your primary income while you investigate your new idea(s). I’m certain each of us has something they love doing and have wondered whether it could be a business. The answer is probably yes! And if you don’t have that “magic idea” just yet – check out the podcast and website I listed above and learn from the examples of others.

As stated, my intention was not that this post handed you a blueprint for your next business. Of course I have no idea what your interests are and what would fit you best! But this article will have been a success for me if it merely inspired you to check out one or more of the sources I mentioned, gets you thinking about ideas for your side hustle and/or future business. It’s so easy for any of us to get wrapped up in our daily grind at work, home, or otherwise. You’re all busy people! But I’d challenge you to give this some thought. Who knows what exciting development might come from it? I wish you all great success!

image credit: Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash