AE's Journal Round 4

Where are you and where are you going?
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AnalyticalEngine
Posts: 395
Joined: Sun Sep 02, 2018 11:57 am

AE's Journal Round 4

Post by AnalyticalEngine »

BACKGROUND
Early 30s, work as software developer in the greater Denver area. Single and with no kids. Been pursuing FIRE since 2012. Currently spend ~2.5 JAFI. Net worth currently ~15x but mostly tied up in illiquid assets (house and 401k).

I've posted and abandoned three (I think) other journals so far. I abandoned them partly because they were too negative and also because I didn't want to get sucked into yet another weird Internet hole. However, I've decided to restart because I value the insights of the participants of this forum. I plan for this journal to be significantly less negative than my other journals because I've learned a lot between now and then.

GOALS FOR THE FUTURE
In wake of the COVID-19 crisis, I've come to realize the critical difference skill makes in resiliency. And this isn't just knowing things, but actually living them too. It's one thing to "know" how to live on rice and beans, but it's a whole other level of hardship to be forced into discovering exactly how that works while stuck inside a sanitary cordon for months. The best time to prepare for the future is while your resources are still plentiful, and the best way to prepare is to actually live that lifestyle.

I also believe we in the West live lives of great material excess. By many metrics, including life expectancy, material comfort, and health, we live in the most abundant time in human history. And yet, we in the West waste this gift by pursuing consumerist distractions and self-absorbed social media navel gazing. As someone spending a relatively high 2.5 JAFI, I know I can do better. I need to stop falling into this trap myself before I can worry about anyone or anything else. And so I'm going to focus mainly on reducing expenses by building robust skills, including better social capital and other opportunities. The goal isn't to hoard lentils so much as to maximize life opportunity by minimizing waste/poor decisions.

Given I have enough money saved up and also given the fact software development is absolutely mind-numbingly unfulfilling, I've decided it's time to change course. My plan is to go back to grad school and pursue my PhD in the field of bioinformatics. I got an M.S. in this field but decided not to purse a PhD because my motivation at the time was basically "delay having to work by staying in school longer." That's not exactly a great plan. Then I decided not to work in bioinformatics as a field because I am lazy and there were a million software jobs that paid a lot of money to lazy people.

But now I've decided I need the intellectual and social stimulation. Given I am single and have no kids, and given that fact is unlikely to change, I need to fill my life with other smart and interesting people. I also need good, challenging problems to solve because I go absolutely insane from intellectual boredom. Grad school will enable me to work on hard problems, build a professional network of other smart, well connected people, and help me find a job that's more meaningful than building ads for people to click on.

However, most places don't accept PhD applicants until September 2020, so I can't really go back to school until fall of 2021. That's fine because it gives me time to save more money from my high software developer paycheck and work on building skills/reduce spending to make returning to the life of a grad student an easier transition.

AnalyticalEngine
Posts: 395
Joined: Sun Sep 02, 2018 11:57 am

Re: AE's Journal Round 4

Post by AnalyticalEngine »

FIRE AS AN INFORMATION HAZARD
Having discovered MMM back in the good ol' days of 2012, right when I graduated college, I've been pursuing FIRE my entire working career. However, now that I've turned 30, I can't help but think that, to some extent, this was a mistake. Not that I regret saving money, but the FIRE mentality lead me down a path of learned helplessness when it came to work. I was stuck in a very boring and unfulfilling turned toxic job for years simply because I lead myself to believe that all jobs suck and the only way to freedom is to hoard money.

I think I fell into this trap by reading too many things like Disciplined Minds and the Living a FI blog. And while there's certainly a great deal of truth in these things, working in corporate American DOES kind of suck, I was too young and lacked too much life experience to understand the nuance of the situation. I was under the mindset that hoarding money and FI-ing would solve all my problems.

It was only after years of being miserable, and then seeing how I was miserable in exactly the same way as my NEET-type friends, that I realized there are fates worse than work. I didn't want to just "retire" to playing video games all day and live the same lifestyle as my NEET friends in their late 20s/early 30s. And given my lifestyle at the time, this was exactly the track I was going to find myself on. Retiring to play video games all day might sound fun when you're 22, but once you're 30, you realize how empty that would be.

What I've realized now is that life is really about how you interact with the world. You can't retreat from being a part of the world because you ARE a part of the world, and being a part of the world is ALWAYS going to involve pain and problems. It's better to accept this and try to interact in the world the best you can instead of sticking your head in the sand and pretending you can run away from everything.

There's a sinister side to the "civilization/capitalism is out to get me!" narrative I see a lot in these type of spaces. It creates a victim mentality where you feel the world is out to get you. It causes you to become entitled, greedy, and shortsighted. Suddenly it's about how the world created all your problems and you're the truest, most ultimate victim who deserves everyone and everything to change just for you.

And again, this isn't to say there are genuine critiques of these things, but there's a reason Ran Prieur redacted parts of his How to Drop Out essay. The fact is, most of human history was filled with complete and utter suffering. Even today, the majority of people in the world still live lives of material deprivation, illness, violence, and early death. Horrible suffering is the default human experience. And the worst part is, that's not even anyone's fault really. Nature can be brutal. Birds will lay more hatchlings than can fit in the nest, with the expectation that the weakest one will be pushed out and die. Wild animals live with parasitic infections their entire lives. Millions of people starve to death every year, even today. So to think that capitalism ruined your life by forcing you to work in a boring office job shows, quite simply, a lack of maturity.

Have there been unfair things that have happened to me in my life? Sure. Do I face unique challenges that maybe more rich/privileged/whatever people in society don't have to deal with? Sure. But was I granted an absolute, incomparable boon by being born in a rich nation to a stable family? Definitely yes. And I think it's important to keep that last point in mind lest one get swept away by the Internet-induced insanity of our time.

daylen
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Re: AE's Journal Round 4

Post by daylen »

Why do you need grad school to work on challenging problems?

AnalyticalEngine
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Joined: Sun Sep 02, 2018 11:57 am

Re: AE's Journal Round 4

Post by AnalyticalEngine »

I don't specifically need grad school, but I do think it'd be an easy way for me to start getting into a more interesting field. Sure, it may be possible to round up some smart colleagues and start up some company or something similar, but if my goal is to work on hard problems, get paid, and meet highly intelligent colleagues, then grad school seems like a good choice. It may be, in principle, possible to meet these people at a hippie commune or the local swap meet, but if institutions are already setup that align with my goals, I see no reason to avoid them.

daylen
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Re: AE's Journal Round 4

Post by daylen »

Just presenting an alternative, amateur science/engineering is possible.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Do-it-yourself_biology

ertyu
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Re: AE's Journal Round 4

Post by ertyu »

AnalyticalEngine wrote:
Sun Mar 01, 2020 10:29 am


What I've realized now is that life is really about how you interact with the world. You can't retreat from being a part of the world because you ARE a part of the world, and being a part of the world is ALWAYS going to involve pain and problems. It's better to accept this and try to interact in the world the best you can instead of sticking your head in the sand and pretending you can run away from everything.
What does "interacting in the world" look like for you? What kind of FI would you see as fulfilling?

AnalyticalEngine
Posts: 395
Joined: Sun Sep 02, 2018 11:57 am

Re: AE's Journal Round 4

Post by AnalyticalEngine »

@daylen - I do actually agree. My plan is to pursue both in the meantime. Since grad school is ~2 years away, it's important to get engaged in the meantime. I've got a few bioinformatics and CS textbooks to read right now for example.

@ertyu - I'm not sure actually. That's why I've decided in the meantime I just need to stay engaged and try different things. There's no way to know without trying. And while I may make mistakes or find myself in uncomfortable situation, what's important more than anything is the process and the willingness to keep trying until I figure it out. That's what I mean by "living." It's the process of trying even if it's uncomfortable or painful.

5ts
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Re: AE's Journal Round 4

Post by 5ts »

If you know there is a field you enjoy, then saving to get out of work becomes irrelevant. You will still save and practice all of the ERE principles, but you won't have that albatross of escaping from all work looming over you.

This assumes you will really enjoy bioinformatics. Seriously evaluate this path now. I mean conjure up all of the negative stuff too. Dwell on it, linger in it. Bioinformatics seems like a niche field compared to programming, and you will probably have to compromise there. Location, pay, projects, etc. Seems like a coder could go anywhere and do anything in the field and still get a decent paycheck. Not a discouragement, just don't gloss over the negatives of the new field because it's an escape from your current drudgery. If your problem is intellectual diversity, then locking into one very specific field won't really fix that.

AnalyticalEngine
Posts: 395
Joined: Sun Sep 02, 2018 11:57 am

Re: AE's Journal Round 4

Post by AnalyticalEngine »

@5ts - You're definitely correct that bioinformatics is a more limited field than software development. But I'm not too overly worried because if it ends up being a bust, I can always go back to software. Bioinformatics is very closely related to both data science and AI. It's basically a computer science PhD, and so it's still within my same field. Plus my goal is to spend the ~1.5 years I have until I could enroll to work on studying ahead into the field and working on small personal projects. (As well as cutting my personal expenses) I figure this plan will give me a high level of flexibility if something about the field ends up being a bad fit for me.

5ts
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Re: AE's Journal Round 4

Post by 5ts »

I wouldn't think it would be a bust since you have an MS in the field. Just wondering if you will get bored of this after a few years or if this enough to keep you stimulated. It is an exciting field and likely to evolve quite a bit. My problem is I can't think of anything that will keep me excited so I'm just grunting through it to retire.

AnalyticalEngine
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Joined: Sun Sep 02, 2018 11:57 am

Re: AE's Journal Round 4

Post by AnalyticalEngine »

@5ts - I totally get the boredom thing with work. I struggle with exactly the same problem. It's just that I recently realized that if I tried to "retire" now, I'd be to a sad life of Internet browsing. And while I'm an introvert, I'm also single with no kids, so I worry if I quit, I'll become too detached socially. So recently, I've decided to just embrace that fact and act as if I could never quit work. That inspired me to save up quite a bit of money then go to grad school. The grad school stipend isn't a whole lot, but I could also quit now if I can just get my expenses down to 1 JAFI range. So my plan was to get my expenses to that point and treat grad school as a giant networking event basically.

5ts
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Re: AE's Journal Round 4

Post by 5ts »

I understand the reasoning and feel similarly, although my reason for not quitting completely is a little different. I say go for it then, if you aren't too concerned about quitting for good. It's a cool field and likely to keep you engaged. If not, do something else, no harm no foul. Single with no dependents affords you maximum flexibility for such things.

Peanut
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Re: AE's Journal Round 4

Post by Peanut »

AnalyticalEngine wrote:
Sun Mar 01, 2020 10:27 am
My plan is to go back to grad school and pursue my PhD in the field of bioinformatics. I got an M.S. in this field but decided not to purse a PhD because my motivation at the time was basically "delay having to work by staying in school longer." That's not exactly a great plan.
Ha, in the humanities everyone I knew including myself went to grad school for this very reason. DH was the same in the sciences. It's good enough.

If the CV thread is any indication, you seem very knowledgeable about biology in general. I think going back to school is a great idea. You are a little older than the typical grad student but still young enough to fit in. And frankly it should be easy to find a girl/boyfriend or both in that environment if you so choose being a bit more mature and financially secure. As long as you are ok being in class again I think you will enjoy it and really kick ass when you do your thesis. And of course you can always drop out if you don't like it and go back to the lucrative grind.

In the meantime I would recommend reading current journals in the field. Even if you do not absorb 100% of it you will get a good sense of trends and be able to talk about them in your application essay. Decades ago my dad did this successfully after just two years in college.

classical_Liberal
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Re: AE's Journal Round 4

Post by classical_Liberal »

@AE
Really digg'en the journal reboot. Your points in the first two posts about getting over victimization and growing up a bit are really well articulated. I think many people could be served by your insights.

I've had some similar experiences with FIRE. Although I came across the idea later in life, it was just after I started a new career, so I kind-of painted myself into a similar corner you did. The interesting thing about FIRE is that, in a way, it ruins the positives work can bring to your life. You're absolutely correct in that the way we interact with the world is ever-important in how we actually experience it. Both internally and externally. When I view a job as some form of forced, temporary slavery, I'm willing to put up with a lot of BS. Which intern makes me dislike the situation even more. FIRE seems to make it even worse, because we know there is a light at the end of the tunnel and we pin our happiness on reaching this goal of FI. It becomes a singular focus, and we are not willing to risk it for anything. So we oversave for safety, working even harder and longer at a distasteful job. Or sacrifice some of the things that have a lot of meaning in our life, so that we have more time and energy to sustain the situation. It can spiral.

None of this is to say that work burnout isn't real. I've been there and it sucks, tainting every other aspect of life. Which is why I think anyone who is financially stable should look to make changes if needed vs sticking it out for the mythical FI solution.

When work is viewed from the standpoint of being just one more hobby that I take part in, with various intensity through life, suddenly the way I interact with it changes. It's not slavery, it's a choice, one I'm very lucky to have. If the BS factor is too high, I can change how I do it. If I don't enjoy the core functions I can do something completely different. If I don't like the people I have to interact with, I can change that too. I think REing without some type of lifestyle already set-up, or at least a preplanned trial of a lifestyle, only frees up time and energy, it doesn't fix anything else. It's up to us to use those new resources effectively to build the life we want to live. Often times that means we need to shift our perspectives away from the ones that allowed us to successfully reach a level of financial security to begin with. It reads like you "grok" this, and a run at grad school is going to be a real positive for you. Best of luck!!

AnalyticalEngine
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Re: AE's Journal Round 4

Post by AnalyticalEngine »

@Peanut - Thanks for sharing your experience; I do agree that reading journals in the field is a great idea. Even if I will be a bit older than some of the other students, I'm glad I waited because working full time taught me work disciple and organizational skills. The corporate world can be rough, but you do learn how to sit down and actually get the work done compared to what you'd learn if you view grad school as glorified college. I am a bit concerned about getting up to date letters of recommendation for the application process, so studying journals now is sure to make a huge difference.

@c_L - It is pretty remarkable about how your perspective can alter your job experience. You're absolutely right that burnout is real and being stuck in a job that's unfulfilling can be a massive drag. But I've also found that if you're self motivated enough to pursue FI in the first place, you're also self motivated enough to get out of a bad job situation.

But looking at work as a choice instead of slavery is so important. That gives you the agency to fix something if it's broken. And it's also important to remember the distinctions between white collar work where you're highly paid and people who truly are stuck in dead end, low paying jobs. REing is not a magical solution to every problem you have, and it can sometimes be worse than nothing if you haven't figured out how to replace what work does give you. (Structure, sense of purpose, socialization, community, etc)

AnalyticalEngine
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Re: AE's Journal Round 4

Post by AnalyticalEngine »

TIME MANAGEMENT
Now everything I said about quitting work being true, I am still struggling to get everything done that I want to get done. It's an unfortunate reality that full time work eats up a massive chunk of my time and energy. Pursuing outside goals while working can therefore be a time management challenge.

Past-me made this problem worse for present-me by going into chore debt. There was a recent period of several months where I basically ignored everything in my life except going to work, playing video games, and hanging out with friends on the weekends. That was fun for awhile, but now I've realize this put me behind on my personal and professional goals.

I have a bunch of goals I want to work toward right now, including fitness, being more proactive with socialization, general resiliency, etc. Yet right now I'm having to triage what I pursue because I literally do not have the time or strategic planning abilities to focus on everything at once. Therefore what I'm trying to do is focus on one thing at a time.

I was recently able to kill my "going out to eat for every meal" habit. I'm doing a much better job cooking at home, thereby saving money. Unfortunately I found that, instead of saving this extra money, I just transferred the surplus into buying household and kitchen goods. :? (not to mention buying 3 months of food to hunker down for the coronavirus, but let's not talk about that) So I still need to cut my overall spending. It's unfortunately become a habit to spend like I do, and even if I'm still saving 60%-70% of my paycheck, I know I can do better. I want to do better because I view low spending as being a good steward of the Earth's limited resources.

Related to this, I'm currently in the process of organizing everything I own. I've lived in my current place for about four years now, and I'm a bit shocked by just how much stuff I've managed to accumulate during that time. Ideally I'd like to have everything I own organized down to Lean manufacturing standards. This will just make managing my stuff infinitely easier and free up time for other pursuits. But I have to put in the work and effort to get there in the first place. I've been focusing on this for several months, and while I am making progress, it's been slow going. I may need to focus on this more deliberately so that it doesn't take me literal years to get there.

I also need to start getting up to speed with the bioinformatics field again. I bought some textbooks online and really need to set aside the time to read and study them. This has posed a challenge due to limited time and general cognitive fatigue from work.

bostonimproper
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Re: AE's Journal Round 4

Post by bostonimproper »

God, the chore debt, I feel your pain.

I combine socialization with other chores, like fitness or food. I'll rock climb, dance, or go to parkour workshops with my friends. Or we'll all cook and eat together. We used to do project nights together, where we'd all work on some learning thing, but found we ended up just talking to each other and not really engage with what we were trying to learn. That said, probably going to be doing fewer in-person hangouts for the next few months.

AnalyticalEngine
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Re: AE's Journal Round 4

Post by AnalyticalEngine »

Combining socialization with chores is a good idea. I think it's especially nice to do that with physical activity. I've been meaning to join some meetup groups for recreational sport/running clubs, but like you, I think I'm gonna ease up on the in-person contact for awhile. I picked a bad time to start to want to get more socially engaged. :?

AnalyticalEngine
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Re: AE's Journal Round 4

Post by AnalyticalEngine »

THINKING WIN-WIN

After a particularly awful interaction with a coworker from another team, I had the revelation of why thinking win-win is so important.

If there's been a single thread unifying all unpleasant interactions I've ever had with people, it's the fact the person in question views their win as your loss. This is the reason why shitty colleagues exist and why the Internet has turned into a dumpster fire over the past decade. Think of all the horrible interactions you've had debating people on Facebook or reddit. Those conversations never go well because at least one of the participants is trying to win by the other's loss. It's not an exchange of information; it's a zero sum game. This is also why you feel like a horrible person even when you "win" the debate.

This is even worse when it happens in the workplace. We've all had that one colleague who views everything as a contest and uses every excuse to backstab his or her teammates. Their win is your loss.

It's to the collective detriment of all of us that this happens. Win-lose people (colloquially known as "assholes") scare away win-win people. How many intelligent individuals are withholding their insights and opinions, both online and at work, because sharing an idea is just creating an open for a win-lose individual to argue with them? There could be a very large number of people silenced by this, and we're all the poorer for it.

Not that I've been blameless here either. I've definitely been guilty of win-lose behavior in the past, and there's room for me to grow as a person in this regard. My exceedingly negative prior outlook on work was one of win-lose, and it held me back for a long time.

Thinking win-win is important for both yourself and others because it enriches everyone. It creates more value than it destroys, and it builds synergy across everyone's talents and perspectives. Thinking win-lose can actually hurt you in the long run because you've robbed yourself of collaboration and trust with others. It limits your own circle of possible actions and relationships.

Nevertheless, it's true that win-lose people do exist, and learning to recognize them and avoid them is critically important to keeping your relationships healthy. Of all the unhealthy relationships I've had with people, be they family, friends, coworkers or otherwise, the root problem was that the other person viewed their win as my loss. It turned everything into a zero sum game. That's exactly not how you want to live your life.

Win-lose people are easy enough to avoid as friends because you can just cut them out of your life, but it's a lot harder with coworkers. Does anyone have any advice here? I try to screen companies I'm going to work for during the interview for signs of win-lose mentality on the team, but these people still inevitably crop up from time to time.

Frita
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Re: AE's Journal Round 4

Post by Frita »

What I have observed is that if higher ups have undesirable behaviors, many underlings will as well. If you are being lied to in order to get you on board, take note. Typically, this behavior explodes and doesn’t fade. That type of leader will be a win-at-all-costs person. The option is to play the game or get out.

Another thing I notice is that staff in these situations, if you even get unsupervised access to them, will not be forthcoming. Lying, to oneself and others, is how this culture operates. Sadly, you may not know until you have accepted the position.

The one tell of this work shitshow is high turnover. When you ask, the numbers may be minimized and everyone had good reasons to go. Try to triangulate here as the stories don’t always match up (i.e., everyone’s lying a different lie). When you try to talk with these folks who are no longer there, no one will. That’s an even larger red flag as it signals fear. The win-lose workplace oozes fear.

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