That Sinking Feeling Of Falling Further Behind

Sinking in sandDuring my days off from consulting work I tend to schedule other work to help me stay in touch with reality. I love teaching people who want to learn, but not so much those who are forced to learn. My tennis student is that ideal client who enthusiastically listens when I instruct her to step into her ground strokes or stiffen her wrist for a more impactful volley.

Before each lesson she politely hands me a check her mother writes for $80 dollars. I thank her without opening up the folded check and quickly place it into one of my tennis bag’s many pockets to not make things awkward. We warm up from the service line and gradually work up a sweat until the sun goes down at 6pm.

I often wonder whether she feels $80 for 1.5 hours is a lot of money as a high schooler. To me $80 feels like a healthy sum, even though I’ve been working since 1994. Perhaps it’s exactly because she appreciates her parent’s support that she’s so enthusiastic about her lessons. I remember telling myself there was no way I would do poorly in college since my parents insisted on paying.

At the end of each lesson I always feel a sense of satisfaction to have put in the effort to make a little more money and help someone get better. Often times I don’t even want to cash the check because it’s a physical reminder of accomplishment. Little wins are savored until bigger bills come due.

Moose’s gas light lit up on the way home so I decided to fill him up with some premium fuel. By the time the gas tank was full the meter flashed $79.55. It is as if the gods were mocking me. Oh, how nice it is to walk away from an evening of hard work with a net profit of 45 cents. I laughed the spite off and stopped by the grocery store for a freshly squeezed container of orange juice for $6. There goes all my earnings and then some. 

2013 Personal Year In Review On Financial Samurai

Baby mango tree

Planted a Himmayudin mango tree

Happy New Year! Time always moves faster the older we get. One day I’ll lose my mind and hopefully these journal entries will jog my memory. Although less than 20% of my life is discussed in my writing, I hope it’ll be enough to jolt the other 80% alive if I forget. If not, the thousands of pictures I take every year will.

2013 started full of promise and ended way better than expected. I was looking for a conservative 9% increase in the S&P 500 to 1,551 after a 13% year in 2012 and we closed up 30%! I became more bullish after my target was achieved in the first four months of the year and positioned more aggressively, but not enough unfortunately. It’s fun to keep predictions set all year so we can look back and see how we were feeling back then.

One of my biggest challenges all year was maintaining focus. It’s way too easy to sleep in every day, binge watch shows on Netflix, stuff my face with donuts, travel for weeks on end, and have days blur together with so much free time now that I no longer have a day job. As a result, I set one year, three year, and five year business revenue goals to minimize the amount of meandering. So far, so good. But to be quite frank I’m losing my desire to make more money. I just don’t care anymore, which is part of the reason why I left Wall St. I just want to feel useful.

Feeling Down And Out In This Perfect World

Frowning French Bulldog On A LeashYou can’t deny how someone feels. They just do and you’ve got to accept it. Maybe the color blue looks different between two people. We’ll never know because we can only know ourselves.

I started this site as a way to deal with the agony of the financial meltdown in 2008-2009. I needed to find a way to let the pain escape in a healthy way. Drugs and booze were not an option although tempting they were.

This site has always been about introspection. To understand why we think the way we think. To understand our inconsistencies. To talk about issues that are on so many people’s minds but cannot be publicly discussed due to fear of persecution.

Since my very first post over four years ago I’ve been able to reconcile the stupidity of my multitude of financial mistakes. I’ve met many friends online who are also on uncertain paths to financial independence. We’ve shared victories and defeats, but I thought there would be more people like me who fear being alone, going broke, or being a failure to our family. Lately, I feel like I’m the only loser around.


The Best Way To Get Ahead Is To Tell Yourself Hard Truths

Beautiful lake with reflectionIs it better to tell someone what they want to hear or tell them what they should hear? I choose the latter, because sooner or later the fairy tale will end. Between the ages of 10-16 I started reading a lot about Eastern philosophies, particularly the concept of karma. I used karma as an excuse for everything!


“If I’m meant to get into a good university, I will, so don’t worry about my studies mom and dad!”

“If I’m going to die young, I will, so let me buy the 600cc Honda CBR motorbike OK?”

“I cannot change whether I’m going to be rich or poor, so let me have some fun while I’m still alive.”

“I can’t do anything about this bully. Let fate handle him.”

“We’re either destined to be together, or not. I’m not going out of my way to woo her.”

Karma is a pretty neat way of rationalizing not having to study, be safe, work hard, fight back or go after what you want. My dad finally knocked some sense into me when I asked about the motorbike for the umpteenth time. He said, “Son, don’t be stupid. A colleague of mine just drove his motorbike into a wall and died. You want that to happen to you before your life even starts?”

“Oh, OK. Maybe I’ll stick with riding my bicycle to school then,” I remember saying. I actually did end up buying a mini-50cc replica racer motorbike without them knowing in high school. Its top speed was only about 45 mph so I figured if I did hit a wall I’d survive. Too bad it ended up getting stolen because it was sweet!

My father also said something that really deflated my enthusiasm for tennis during high school. When I didn’t win some difficult match sophomore year he consoled me by saying, “Well, I guess you’re just not good enough.” That was a zinger because I stayed after school every day during tennis season to practice for 2.5 hours. By the time I got home all I wanted to do was sleep, but I had another 3-4 hours of homework to complete. Even my hero at the time, Andre Agassi loses, so why can’t I? For about a month I didn’t do jack shit because I was depressed.

It was hard to hear “just not good enough” at the time, but the reality is I wasn’t good enough to take my game to a Division I school. It was better I spent that extra hour practicing for my SATs instead of on my backhand. I did end up getting a small scholarship to play for a Division III school, but I passed to go to a better institution.

The one thing about sports is that scores don’t lie. You are either a winner or a loser. I’d like to think I’d come to my senses on my own about not being good enough after losing one too many difficult matches, but who knows. Maybe I would have stayed in a long state of denial that would have been detrimental to my life.

At the end of the day, I think we need to know hard truths so we can focus on areas that will bring us happiness. Here are three truths I plan on reminding myself every so often to make sure I’m on track.

Do You Suffer From Apathy? Here’s How To Care Again

Swiss Flag Waving In Mountain RangeEverybody warned me about the incredibly expensive prices in Switzerland and for that reason I found things to be just fine. I caught myself saying in my head, Is that it? a number of times I opened my wallet. For example, the cost of a one way train ticket to Lucerne from Zurich was only 20 CHF (~$22 USD). Is that it? The cost per night at the Hotel Pilatus in a quaint town called Hergiswil was only 120 CFH. Is that it? Even a plate of gooey raclette was only 9.5CFH, leaving me more than good enough to get three scoops of gelato for 5 CFH afterward!

I decided to visit Switzerland for three reasons: 1) I’ve never been and heard Switzerland to be one of the most beautiful and livable countries in the world, 2) To test the upper limits of what my income can comfortably afford and 3) To get firsthand experience about Swiss neutrality, which I find synonymous with apathy.

The first things that comes to people’s minds when they hear the word, “Switzerland” are chocolate, mountains, and cheese. There aren’t any sort of negative connotations about the country except for perhaps the high prices. Try the same exercise with North Korea, and you get a completely different set of nouns and adjectives. What we also don’t get from Switzerland is any feeling of emotion due to its neutrality.


Why Do We Discredit Other People’s Achievements?

Kid chasing pigeonsThere are two main ways of getting ahead. Do everything you can to improve your own situation or try and cut others down to come out with a stronger competitive advantage. The second way is obviously the loser way to get ahead. Anybody who employs this method will likely always be dissatisfied with what they have because they will be constantly envious of others. Everybody I’ve met who takes the second route are perpetual underperformers. I try to avoid them like the plague.

It’s probably impossible to get rid of envy. It’s also hard not to attribute our success to hard work and other people’s success to luck. As you know, the number one method to keep haters at bay is to attribute everything you’ve achieved due to luck!

It still perplexes me that in a land of cheap and easy transportation why not just take a Greyhound bus and go where life is better. The first settlers took three months to move cross country. We can do the move in a week. Perpetually complaining about the weather in the midwest isn’t going to solve the hollowing out of our great states.

We shouldn’t have to worry about other people’s finances, but sometimes I do wonder why someone would willingly drop a dumbbell on their toes and blame others for their pain.


Celebrate Small Wins To Keep Financial Motivation Alive

Life is like a bucket of cherries. Don't each one go to waste!Building wealth is a long game. It’s sometimes very easy to get discouraged as a result. Despite a lucky investment when I was 22, I felt very little pleasure having a large savings account in my early 20s. Money degenerates to just numbers on a screen that provides no utility unless spent.

I was actually considering quitting my newfound job in San Francisco after two years in 2003 to live a vagabond lifestyle in Hawaii. Surf in the morning, massages in the afternoon, and Mai Tais in the evening can’t be that bad. Thoughts of buying a Eurovan VW to go road-tripping across the continent as I took showers at rest stops also crossed my mind.

It’s dangerous to receive a financial windfall so early in life because there’s a risk of saying fuck all to everything. You suddenly think building a sizable financial nut is so easy, when it’s clearly difficult in a short period of time. With a sudden injection of wealth, you may never achieve your potential because you simply don’t bother trying as hard.

After much deliberation and a perpetually drunk upstairs neighbor, I decided to buy my own property to “get rid” of my money. I was sick of renting and I was also unmotivated to work for money, a big problem if you work in finance! As soon as I plunked down the six figure check I felt a sense of relief. Having no money never felt so good!

Finally, I’m working for something more, I remember thinking after paying my first mortgage payment. Living in a nicer property instead of a dingy one bedroom was a reward for four years of hard work and risk taking. Slacking off was not an option because if I did I might lose my home!

Perhaps the real reason why I love property so much is not so much for the returns, but for the refocus it provides. Mortgage debt saved me from being another know-it-all kid who throws his life away at the age of 26 due to a lack of patience and perspective. A mortgage was the anchor that kept me from blowing away.

Years later at the age of 32 my enthusiasm for work once again began to fade. 10 years raced by after college but I was afraid to go out on my own because work was all I knew. The Dark Side Of Early Retirement was penned to make sure I wasn’t falling into the same trap without any purpose. When the post was published, I was immediately bashed over the head by the early retirement community if you read the comments. Little did they know my goal was to purposefully bash my own crazy thoughts to make sure I wasn’t missing anything before deciding to take the leap of faith two years later!


Why Not Just Try Harder To Get Ahead? The Effort vs. Talent Debate

enjoying-sunshineAnybody who knows me realizes I’ve got very little talent in practically everything I do. Complex math was confusing so I stopped at Trigonometry sophomore year in high school. Who needs math, I told myself as a teenager who knew he could never become an engineer. My tennis serve is mediocre because I’m not particularly strong or tall. 205 lbs was the max I could ever bench and it’s been all downhill from there. Even after owning an acoustic guitar for over 10 years, I still can’t fingerpick quick enough to play Just Breathe, one the most beautiful songs by Eddie Vedder.

Even writing an article is often hard despite writing consistently online since 2009. My post on the recommended net worth by age and work experience took over 10 hours to write for example. Who the hell dedicates 10 hours of their life to write an article when I could be sipping a Moscow Mule on a beach in Bora Bora after an adventurous dive? An untalented writer who has to constantly double check his math and make sure there aren’t too many grammatical errors, that’s who.

Despite my deficiencies, I’ve managed to survive and lead a happy life. Serves are carefully placed while lullabies are simply sung. I argue that genetics plays a big part in happiness because when I was a poor college student studying abroad on $300 a month I was ecstatic. When I was getting Django Unchained on Wall Street, I was excited to be in the thick of the action. Now that I’ve retired, the happiness meter has stayed elevated as it should.

But what about effort? How much does effort play a part in getting ahead vs. talent? Every time the wheels start slipping, I ask myself, Why not try harder? Let’s discuss.


Make Time To Think Differently

Mexican fisherman and his catchThe stock markets surged to new highs in 2015 in large part because the Labor Department said the economy added 165,000 jobs in April, 15,000 more than consensus expectations. 15,000 is a rounding error in a nation of millions, but we’ll take it if we can see billions more wealth created!

Just think about this situation for a little bit. Is it not a little bit ironic that more jobs creates more stock market wealth, but once you have lots of stock market wealth you no longer have to work? I’m reminded about the parable of the Mexican fisherman who gets ridiculed by an executive with a fancy MBA for why the fisherman doesn’t want more than his catch. The whole point about investing our money is so that our money will one day work so hard for us that we don’t have to.


Finding The Motivation To Stay In Shape: A Conversation With Big Wave Surfer Laird Hamilton

Laird Hamilton posing for me, FS, Oahu, 2013It’s hard to stay in shape as we get older. We move around less, our family demands more of our time, and our jobs stress us out to the point where we eat too much comfort food.

I’m about 10 pounds heavier that I was during college. I always tell myself it’s due to more muscle, but I know it’s a lie because I hardly ever lift weights anymore. When you no longer need to be in incredible shape because you’ve found someone who likes you just the way you are, why bother? All I do is play tennis and do the occasional push-ups and sit-ups now.

Motivation is something I’m perpetually looking for because my motivation meter never seems to stay full. I sometimes feel the paradox of freedom where America allows for a relatively correlated path to attaining what we want. If I want to get six pack abs, I’ll cut out the sweets and do 500 sit-ups every day for three months in a row. If I want to make more money, I’ll work harder at executing new ideas. I really don’t think there’s very much that’s inhibiting our progress other than ourselves.