Content creation: my surprise glidepath into early retirement

My good friend and Two Sides of FI show partner, Eric and I recently had the honor of being interviewed by a well known FIRE community member – Jordan “Doc G” Grumet. The image at the bottom of this post links to that episode of the Earn and Invest podcast. It was a great conversation and I hope you check it out. Having the chance to speak with Jordan was a really positive experience for me in a variety of ways. First, it was a privilege to work with a great interviewer and respected member of this community, and have a really enjoyable conversation with him and Eric. Second, it felt like a kind of acknowledgement that our little project had reached another stage in its evolution. This chat represents the first time that we were the guest on someone else’s platform as Two Sides of FI, and I’m excited for the exposure that this could bring to our little show. Lastly, the experience caused me to reflect on a number of key topics. And one of those seemed an important theme to write about.

Transitions can be challenging

One concept that has come up numerous times on the YouTube channel is the idea of glidepaths into retirement. Often in the FIRE community these relate to finances, like certain asset allocation strategies. But what’s perhaps even more important, are those that have nothing to do with money. Retirement, whether early or traditional, is a huge change for anyone. Irrespective of how long your career was and how happy you were in those jobs, ceasing to do the thing you spent the majority of your waking hours doing for nearly the entirety of your adult life up until that point is a big transition. Even if retirement is something you looked forward to and planned for years, it’s a substantial and often rather abrupt course change. It’s even harder for someone who unexpectedly had to retire.

As I’ve talked about here before, the timing of my own transition could perhaps have been better. I stopped working at my former job in June 2020, just a couple of months into the COVID-19 lockdown. That meant that I was spending a lot more time at home, indoors, very much focused on my new life, often alone with my thoughts. I kept busy, throwing myself into many pursuits – learning, exercise, cooking – just to name a few. Six months ago I made an effort to take inventory of all these things. And the list has continued to grow since! But while fulfilling and fun, these undertakings were not what has most helped me process this life change, and the countless emotions that came with it. Rather, it’s been the unintentional glidepath I stumbled into via content creation.

Surprise! You’re a content creator

As I talked about with Jordan, have written about here, and discussed with Eric on the channel, these creative outlets have truly supported my transition into this next chapter of my life. I don’t want you to think that was some kind of super intelligent plan I had from the start. In my very first blog post I acknowledged that I wasn’t even sure why I was writing! The YouTube channel seemed like a fun idea from the very first time we discussed it, and I certainly looked forward to building new skills as part of that journey. But I didn’t realize just how important these endeavors would be to me in more fundamental ways.

It’s interesting to me how these two projects have served related, but differing purposes. This blog turned out to be so much about processing the emotions I was feeling but didn’t yet understand after leaving my career. I can certainly pick up on that when I revisit my earliest posts. Admittedly, the blog has never found a huge audience and I didn’t exactly go out of my way to promote it nor undertake any SEO to lead others to it. So it has largely been a personal, reflective tool – though I truly appreciate all of you who are here with me, reading. But countless times, simply following the wandering path of writing has helped me understand + work through things I’m feeling. Importantly, some posts have caused me to initiate conversations with my family about how I’ve been feeling, and make needed changes. That’s pretty valuable stuff, to say the least.

Two Sides of FI picked up where writing left off, and has expanded in purpose even further. Unquestionably, I’ve always found value in the chats themselves. It’s been so helpful to have open exchange with a trusted friend who I know will speak the candid truth and help me work through questions. I know Eric finds value in our conversations too and it feels great when I feel like I’m able to help in any way. And as we talked about on E+I, it’s been wonderful to have our now 36-year friendship enter a new stage in its evolution. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. But what I couldn’t have foreseen is how truly validating this experience would be. I wrote all about that idea nearly a year ago. Building and working with our channel’s community has been really rewarding. The exchanges I have help me in many ways, and it feels good to know others appreciate + learn from what we create too. It has definitely helped me grow and understand my own journey that much more.

Adding hyphens to your identity

I spent the entirety of my 23-year career and in my training years prior, identifying as a scientist. While the second half of my career was spent primarily out of the lab, or no longer overseeing teams of lab scientists, it always felt like “who I was”. To that, I could have added other words and hypens, like scientist-product manager-service leader-and so on… And of course I’m also a husband, a parent, a son, among other things. However these days, I’ve become much more comfortable with my identity being much more fluid, and frankly, far less important to define so rigidly. I’m no longer merely a scientist, or any of the other labels I used throughout my career. Now I’m a content creator: a writer, podcaster, a YouTuber, an occasional wine educator, and someone who thinks + talks about retirement, personal finance, and the universe of associated topics often.

The last two years have taught me a lot of things. Some of them I come to on my own, while others were born out of conversations had on 2SFI or in the E+I podcast linked here. What I do know is that content creation has most certainly aided my transition into this next phase of my life. I have become increasingly comfortable with the idea of “being retired” from my former career (no matter what “the R word” actually means!) It has not only helped me gain comfort and confidence with where I am in my life, but also brought me myriad other benefits. I have no idea where this journey will take me, or how long the writing + recording will continue. For now, I am still really enjoying it! Above all, I’m so thankful for anyone here with me on this journey. I appreciate your support, the feedback you provide, and wish you all the best. Be not afeared! 🙏

Click the image to check out the podcast episode!

How time flies! Reflections on a two-year milestone

Two years ago today I drove to work and walked into my office for the last time. Shortly thereafter, I briefly met with someone in HR, turned in my company ID and laptop, and exited the building, no longer an employee. I’d performed this routine a number of times before at other companies, but this was the first time I’d done so with no new job lined up. I was unemployed – forever, perhaps, leaving my 23-year biotech career behind. This was indeed intentional, as I’d achieved my financial independence (FI) target a year prior, and was now “retiring” early (RE) – starting the next phase of my life. I had no idea what was going to come next but I was really excited about it!

One more year?

As I recently wrote all about, I’ve done a lot in the two years since that day. Taking inventory of what I’ve tried, learned, accomplished, and enjoyed, was a really valuable exercise. I’ve certainly felt busy very often, and looking at that list after writing it reinforced to me why that was the case! This time I’ve had, while often strange, has been incredibly valuable to me. As we recently discussed on an as-yet unaired episode of Two Side of FI, I wouldn’t trade anything for all that I’ve gained by deciding to take this path.

In that conversation, my show partner and great friend Eric asked me a question posed by one of our viewers:

“Knowing what you know now, would you have worked an extra 1-2 years that would allow you to build up additional buffer, such that some of the tougher decisions you’re making now (and stress that goes along with it) would be less of an issue or not at all.”

The spirit of the question was financial in nature, but I spoke to it more broadly. I’ve not yet watched the video recording, so I don’t know precisely how I answered. But I certainly recall the spirit of it as it’s easy: absolutely not. Sure, by continuing to work and banking another year of savings, mathematically one can only feel more secure. In doing so, you’d have more funds in your portfolio, additional cash reserves, etc. Perhaps you could use some of that money to buy something fun for yourself – maybe an RV, like so many retirees enjoy. That’s certainly a possibility too. However, that would have meant trading away my experiences over the last two years. And I’m unwilling to do that.

731 days of learning

Sure, I know what some may be thinking: trips could have been put off to a future date, coursework could have been undertaken at another time, and so on. But many if not most things would surely be different as a result. We can’t merely “cut and paste” the chapters of our lives as if we were writing a document in Microsoft Word. How can I look at the experiences I’ve enjoyed, time with family and friends, the memories I’ve made, and say “sure, if I could rewind the clock I’d do it all differently”, and elect to work another year or two? It’s unfathomable to me.

I’m so incredibly thankful for the experiences I’ve had and the memories I’ve made over these past two years. I’ve learned much along the way, most of it about myself. This time to reflect, and I believe, grow – greatly concentrated due to COVID-19 lockdowns and a lot of time spent at home, has been priceless. All retirees surely must go through this period of introspection and searching given the magnitude and suddenness of this life change. I don’t mean to say that I’m special in this way. Rather, I’m merely noting how much I have valued this time that I’ve had to think hard about my nearly 49 years on this planet, my successes, failures, and everything in between. Not to say that I have it all worked out – far from it! I’m merely getting started, I think, but every journey begins somewhere.

I’ve done and learned a lot in these past two years. In some ways it was very much as expected, but there have been so many more ways in which I was surprised (more on that here). I’m truly enjoying this opportunity to explore new interests, to learn, and grow. If I knew a genie, I wouldn’t choose to change my path to this day. I am truly grateful for the experiences I have had, and for this time with my family. I feel very fortunate and am thankful for all that I have. Here’s to whatever the next two years brings!

I wish you all the best in all things. Thanks for being with me on this journey. 🙏

Unlocking life achievements

I’ve never been a “bucket list” person. I see the appeal of capturing life goals in lists, but I’ve not been someone who has done that to date. On the other hand, I think I’ve always been good about identifying things that I’d like to achieve – particularly in the workplace. Examples of those included gaining certain titles (first Director, later Vice President), leading teams of a certain size, and working internationally. Probably the most relevant life goal in terms of this blog, was my aim to achieve early retirement by age 50 – a date I’d originally set at 55, and then later reduced to 52 and then by 50 years of age.

On my daily morning walk, I found myself thinking about my last blog post, concerning my recent trend of taking long walks/hikes of up to 20 miles. Not being someone who views themselves in the slightest as athletic, these kinds of achievements were not something I foresaw myself targeting in years past. But here I am, feeling really driven to hit these targets and being highly motivated to do so, but without a clear view as to why. These seemed a topic worth exploring, and this article is an initial attempt to start on that process.

In recent events

As of my last article, I’d achieved my first 20-mile walk or “urban hike” if you will. In that case, I walked from my home to a grocery store the next town over, and returned back again in a single day. A week after that, lessons learned in hand, I set out to do it again. This time I had fancy new walking shoes (I’ve always hated spending money on footwear but believe me, I get it now), better socks, and a new route. That day, I ticked off yet another 20-mile walk, this time to a taqueria in a nearby town where I met my wife, Lorri for lunch, then walked home. My second 20-miler was easier, you won’t be surprised to learn. But reflecting on my goal I found I wasn’t done yet either.

I mentioned my interest in backpacking in the earlier post, and this being one of the motivators for me to take on these walking challenges. Discussing this further with Lorri, we decided my next outing should be some kind of multi-day solo adventure. After spending some time with Google Maps – where I plan all my routes (thank you, Street View!), I settled on something to meet this aim. I planned a two-day hike, targeting 17.5 miles on day one and 14.1 miles on day two, for 31.6 miles total. My my start and end points were each a >30 min drive from home, so this route would require a drop-off and pickup (my wife is very gracious), as well as an overnight stay at a motel – one conveniently located near a favorite brewery 🙂

Mission accomplished: but why?

To make a long story short, I achieved my latest goal! -and with two fewer blisters than the three I ended with last time! I think I know how to prevent the one I did get (I’ve done a lot of reading on the topic). So a challenge to address next time, it seems. But otherwise, this was honestly way easier than I’d thought it would be, despite it being the longest two-day hike of my life, and the first of those I’d done since I was at least half my current 48 years. I was also carrying more weight than usual given the overnight stay – about 13 lbs total between water, gear, and clothes. Sure, I was tired, my calves ached, and my feet hurt after the first day. But I was pleasantly surprised how well day two went once I got limbered up and accustomed to walking. The morning Advil assuredly didn’t hurt either, if I’m being honest.

Left image: Stats for day 1. Right image: Same for day 2
(Yes, I’m too lazy to fix the different white balance points!)

But the question I was reflecting on this morning was why this was important to me. To be frank – and I hope it’s not a letdown, I’m not certain I have the answer yet. Yes, part of it does involve an interest in backpacking. I needed to prove to myself that fundamentally, I’m capable of these durations + conditions to even consider longer trips. But that aside, what else is at issue here? Some of it may just be enjoying the idea of setting a challenge and achieving it. That’s a pretty nice rush, right? Doing so via athletic pursuits is rather foreign territory to me, to be truthful with you. I’ve always been pretty quick to give far less than my all to such pursuits so doing otherwise is definitely charting new ground for me.

Merely the latest in a list of items of interest?

I’ve written a lot here about the idea of time freedom. I’ve truly enjoyed this aspect of my current phase of life as much as I’d hoped I would. For me, it’s the best part of this FIRE path so far. But I didn’t go into this period with a long checklist of things I wanted to achieve. True, I did have some things in mind that I wanted to explore, while still others were added as I went. Thinking back over the past nearly two years, that list includes (but is not limited to – see this article for a laundry list!) things like:

That last one is pretty new so I haven’t written about it prior. I’m currently nearing completion of my WSET Level 2 certification in wine, and may proceed to the tougher Level 3 course. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a really fun part-time “job” working one day a week as a Wine Educator in a local area tasting room. I don’t need this certification to do that job competently, though it will make me better at it. Mainly, I just enjoy the content and growing my skills in wine tasting, evaluation, and general education. Perhaps this educational path will lead to something else, but I have no established plan to do so.

And maybe that last point is just it: I enjoy being able to set goals and achieve them at this point in my life, irrespective of whether I “need” to do them or whether I’m certain it will lead to something else of value. Perhaps this is just the “random walking” through interest areas that my YouTube partner in crime and I have discussed on the show before? I suspect this is the most likely explanation, but am not really sure either. I like it as a starting point in any case. If you have any other thoughts, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Lots of questions with few answers

What I don’t have for you, my patient readers, is a tidy way to wrap up this post. I’m not entirely sure why I continue to pursue these goals related to walking long distances. But I’m not losing sleep over that mystery. It’s been fun, educational, and I really enjoy the challenges (and achievement!) associated with it. So what’s next? I’m planning on doing a single-day marathon-length walk soon. It’s pretty exciting gearing up to do these walks, I must say. And maybe that’s also part of it – the pre-work and anticipation about whether I can achieve the next milestone is pretty great!

Lacking better ideas on how to close, I thought I’d share a few of the photos I took with my phone on my most recent journey. These are a great reminder to me that I live in a beautiful part of the world and these walks are a wonderful way to experience the area. I hope you enjoy them. Thanks as always for sharing your time with me! Mahalo 🙏