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 🙏

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. 🙏

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!