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!

You are much stronger than you know

A few weeks ago I posted a new short form video to Two Sides of FI, the YouTube channel I produce with my show partner, Eric. These videos are often highlight clips taken from our full-length videos which we share between episodes. This one was a little different. In that video I talked about the idea of spontaneity, something I thought a lot about during a 13-mile walk* I took the day prior. I’m not going to rehash the content of that video, as I think that’s covered well there. I hope you agree. Rather, I’d like to write about the walk itself.

What I didn’t state in the video is that walk was the second-longest I’d done in my life. In fact, the longest was a 14-mile hike in Utah that my wife, Lorri and I did nearly twenty years ago in 2003, when I was in the best shape of my adult life. We basically lived inside the boundaries of Acadia National Park at that time, didn’t yet have a child, and hiked often. So even though 14 miles is a long hike no matter what, it wasn’t too much of a struggle as I recall. This picture seems to support that, as we don’t seem what I would characterize as miserable.

Me and my wife smiling next to the sign at the end of the trail after completing our hike
2003 (Utah): Happy at the end of our fourteen-mile hike

Time for a new challenge

Fast forward to now: I’m closing in on 50 years old faster than I’d prefer, am certainly heavier vs. 2003 though thankfully otherwise in excellent health, and while I still walk and hike at least five days a week, most of my excursions are around three miles long with occasional hikes of 4-6 miles. I’m still good to go on trails marked as Moderate intensity, but a longer Strenuous graded hike on a hot day will definitely kick my ass. But I can get it done. But it’s certainly been a very long time since I hiked more than 7-8 miles in one go.

So honestly, for me it was kind of a big deal that last month with almost no advance thought, I decided to walk out my door and not stop for more than 13 miles until I arrived two towns down the road at my targeted lunchtime stop. The reason I gave Lorri for undertaking this endeavor was my interest in doing some backpacking, and needing to see what my endurance was like these days. But if I’m being honest, the main reason I undertook that challenge was simply to see if I could do it. It turned out that I could!

I was really happy with that achievement, which was the equivalent of walking a half-marathon. But I knew I was capable of more. I hadn’t fallen apart after more than 13 miles of walking and honestly didn’t feel too bad the next day either. So yesterday I decided I had more tests I wanted to take on. My family was going to be busy with other things, so the timing was great. After considering a few route options, I set out to walk to a grocery store in the next town. Taking a longer route on back roads through vineyards and ranches, it would be about ten miles to get there. Depending on how I felt at that point, I’d either take a more direct route home for 17.5 miles total, or what I really wanted to do: reverse my earlier route for a total of 20 miles.

Raising the bar + going for it

Completing either option would have been a huge achievement for me, and the longest hike/walk I’d ever done at either 25% or 43% longer compared with the Utah hike I described above. The first ten miles went fine and then I grabbed a quick lunch. After sitting for 20 minutes to rest and eat, I set out again. After a little deliberation, I decided I just had to go for 20 miles. What was the risk? Even if I couldn’t make it back I could always call for a ride. I felt pretty confident that I could make it though. If I’m being honest, I kinda knew it, and would regret choosing the shorter walk home had I done it.

That confidence aside, I was pleasantly surprised how well it went. Yes, my split times got a lot worse in the back half of the walk. My usual ~19-20 min walking pace slowed quite a bit to yield the average shown above. It was a hot day, and my hips, feet, and legs were definitely tired. Listening to music helped, particularly some more aggressive industrial + metal for when I started dragging. So I soldiered on, drinking water from my trusty CamelBak all the while, and got through it. I took a pit stop before the last two miles and grabbed a cold drink at a store, as the now-tepid water I was carrying wasn’t gonna get me to my goal. Once I got back to my neighborhood I did an extra lap around the block to ensure I hit my target: 20 miles. I had done it!

My daughter was really surprised (and sounded a bit concerned) when I told her how long I’d walked. Teens aren’t great at measuring the passage of time so I’m not sure she realized I had been gone for eight hours and walking for nearly all of that. My response to her amazement was pretty simple: “You are stronger than you realize.” I’ve always believed that’s true, though I’ve not often considered athletic achievements when saying that to myself. I was, after all, one of the kids always picked last for teams in gym class. Always. So choosing something so sporty to test myself with was kind of a big deal.

I think it’s important to remind ourselves of just how much we are capable, and that’s the core lesson I took from this experience. Perhaps we don’t always need such tests to do that, but they can be a pretty helpful tool to prove it to our ever-doubting brains. I do know that until recently, I wouldn’t have conceived of taking this on, nor made the time to do it if the idea had crossed my mind. “Giving up” a whole day for a walk like this is certainly a good example of the power that time freedom really offers, and why I consider this the greatest benefit of my early “retirement”.

What tests have you intentionally or by circumstance undertaken, proving to yourself just how strong you are? I suspect anyone reading this has great examples of the same. You are all stronger than you may know. I wish you all the best.


*when all my time moving is spent on paved or unpaved roads or on the shoulders of the same, I term these excursions as “walks” – no matter how rural they might be. This is in contrast to hikes, which for me indicates that I’m traveling on trails, navigating irregular terrain, etc. In the end they can both have lots of elevation change and range from Easy to Strenuous grade, and are definitely both exercise, but I choose to differentiate the way I use the terms. 🤷‍♂️

Validation isn’t the goal but it sure feels good

When my friend, Eric, and I set out to develop our Two Sides of FI channel on YouTube, I wasn’t sure what to expect – in so many ways. Eric is a very experienced YouTuber, and his business channel has nearly 900K subscribers. On the other hand, I had no experience in content creation. So I have certainly leaned heavily on him on this journey in quite a few ways given his expertise, and I’m thankful for all his help along the way. One thing Eric has been consistent about is the value in keeping true to our “why” – that is, the reasons we were undertaking this project and what we hoped to gain from it. I’m more convinced than ever that this is the best guidance for anyone undertaking similar work.

Starting out on our YouTube journey

How did this project get started? If memory serves me right, we’d already been having conversations about FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) for a year or so. Eric had discovered the FIRE path through conversations with me, after which he dove in head-first. During one of those chats, he raised the idea of us doing a YouTube channel together, to capture and share the kinds of conversations we were already having. That would be great for us of course, but we earnestly hoped others would find value in it too. We didn’t see any channels like ours out there, so this seemed to be a good opportunity.

We certainly didn’t set out on this project as a business venture in which we hoped to earn lots of money. Sure, we know that once we crossed YouTube’s magical threshold (currently: 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watch hours), our channel would be eligible for monetization via advertisements. But this was definitely a “nice to have”, and if it got to the point where a bit of ad revenue would pay for our podcast / website hosting and other associated fees, that would be great.

Rather, our goal was first and foremost, education. That is, sharing what we had learned: our mistakes, our successes, and our many (many) questions we still had about all things personal finance, retirement, etc. We do not claim to know everything, but with our pre-FIRE + post-FIRE perspectives, we thought we would offer valuable information and opinions. In the best case, this content would help other FIRE aspirants be better informed, hopefully avoiding some of our missteps, and be better equipped to ask great questions and take good decisions for themselves. Personally, I also hoped this would include building a community around our channel, one with whom we could engage and from whom we and others could learn.

Finding and engaging with an audience

I knew full well that putting yourself out there on a forum like YouTube means that you are open to feedback of all kinds: some earnest and thoughtful, while others would be negative or even downright nasty (don’t feed the trolls!). I’d been through this before both personally, and in the workplace where I’d played an active role in company social media. But I still hoped that this one-to-many video (and podcast) format would lead to productive 1:1 engagement.

Why? I guess it’s for a few reasons. First, that kind of interaction is fascinating to me. People are interesting and all of us are unique despite our many similarities. I truly love learning about the lives of others. Next, it can be very gratifying. Getting the feedback that someone else values the work you’re doing, and finds merit in it such that they take some of their precious time to connect with you, is really powerful. And lastly, it’s validating. Positive engagement is a measure that your time is being well spent, and that you are having the impact you desired.

Slow and steady wins the race

Given the time it takes to build an audience and for the almighty and mysterious YouTube algorithm to figure out to whom it should best serve your videos, I knew this wouldn’t be fast. And Eric has always been really honest about that with me, in efforts to temper my expectations. While he has made it super clear that our channel had actually grown fairly quickly relatively speaking, it felt rather slow until just a few weeks ago. We generally received few comments or likes, and our subscription rate seemed to be just “ok” to me.

Please don’t be mistaken – personally, I felt really great about what Eric and I were doing. I’ve always looked forward to our weekly filming calls, as I get so much out of our conversations. I also love how much I’ve learned about podcast production, video editing, and all the backend work required to run a YouTube channel. I’ve grown a ton since Eric has pushed me to improve my skills! And many times I have earnestly said that I’d still be making these videos with him even if we didn’t have any audience at all. I’ve truly enjoyed it and found the work personally very rewarding. This is the most important thing I’ve done since leaving the workplace, and I value this project tremendously.

Surprise!

And then over the last few weeks, things started to change. As one who watches the metrics more than I should – despite Eric’s clear and consistent guidance not to, I saw something different one day. Just like he and others had told me would happen, one of our recent videos started getting a lot more views than usual – a trend that then extended to all our episodes, and from there the ball really got rolling. All the metrics started climbing: views, likes, subscribers – and for me very importantly, viewer comments. As I write this we now have nearly 6,000 subscribers and 200K views. Small potatoes in the grand scheme, but pretty exciting for our little channel!

Suddenly, we were getting hundreds of comments. It’s been such a pleasure reading (nearly) all of them and responding. It’s so gratifying seeing what content resonates with viewers along with the questions our episodes raise. In addition, we get to learn from the experience of those who view our content and then share their own stories. This was exactly what I was hoping for – and it seemingly came from out of nowhere. Sure, we’ve had to ban a few trolls as well, but that comes with the territory. But this experience has been overwhelmingly positive.

Importantly, I know there’s no guarantee this trend will continue. In fact, I fully expect this crazy pace of growth to slow down. But in all honesty, it doesn’t matter one bit. We’ve got a great thing going, have started to build a strong community, and that feels really good. Eric and I have a ton of future show ideas (and are getting many more from our audience!) in addition to those we’ve already put out or have recorded but not yet aired. And I feel better than ever about the return I’m getting on the time we spend together working on this show.

Looking ahead and reflecting

What comes next for the channel? I have no idea. Eric and I talk often about other things we can bring to bear, modifications of what we’re doing now, and so on. Above all, it’s going to be fun, no doubt. And this work has already inspired an idea for at least one solo project for me. If nothing else, our experience to date reminds me that change is certain and it comes when you least expect it. Today I watched an outtakes clip from a recent episode where we talked about making this show. It’s super interesting for me to see what I was thinking about then. Much hasn’t changed over a few months, but some definitely has.

One of my favorite things about this project is we don’t need to do it. It’s not an assigned work project with deadlines nor will it be part of any future performance review. Put simply, Eric and I make Two Sides of FI because we love it. And it’s a decent amount of work – particularly for him, as he’s still running his business and bears the burden of nearly all of the video editing, which is the real heavy lifting of the channel.

We are proud of what we are doing with this project and that is the ultimate validation. As Eric and I recently discussed, it feels really great to produce this show. We are so thankful that others value it too, and are humbled by their kind words. Thank you all for your support and engagement to help make what we are doing even better. We appreciate you all tremendously.

Here’s to whatever comes next!