Tyler9000's Journal

Where are you and where are you going?
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Ego
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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by Ego » Tue Dec 29, 2015 11:25 pm

Beautiful storytelling. Whew.

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GandK
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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by GandK » Wed Dec 30, 2015 4:00 am

Tyler9000 wrote:I may not fly much anymore, but the wild and perilous knife edge of life still found a way to remind me of its true nature this weekend and I know better than to get too cocky or comfortable. It’s yet another reminder not to waste the gifts I’m given. Honestly, I feel a little shaken yet strangely clear-headed at the same time.

I took a walk today. It was cold, crisp, and calm. My priorities are different than they were even a few days ago, much less twelve months ago. It's been a revealing year, and I look forward to where the next one takes me.
Wow.

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Tyler9000
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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by Tyler9000 » Wed Mar 23, 2016 9:14 pm

Testing the First Prototype

One of the things I've always enjoyed as an engineer is the moment when you first test a new design. After spending countless hours building the perfect product on paper, the idea of trying it out in a real world scenario is both exhilarating and terrifying. Maybe it will work great right out of the box. Maybe it will fail spectacularly and you'll go back to the drawing board. Most often it does sorta fine but needs a few iterations to get just right. But in each case, the first test is a time for measured anticipation of many different possible outcomes. That makes many people uncomfortable, but I live for those moments. For better or worse, it means you’re about to learn something.

Today I had the opportunity to test a big one - my first full tax year as an early retiree. Although I had run enough numbers to roughly know what to expect, it isn't until you fire up Turbotax with all of the needed data in hand until you finally see just how solid your predictions were and how well the planning worked out.

I earned just enough from my new part time gig that combined with my dividend and interest income I expected to hit our projected numbers for the year right on the nose with no Roth rollover tricks required. However, one small "problem" showed up that I hadn't accounted for - $3k in rollover capital losses that reduced our reported income even more. Luckily we were still above the minimum requirement for ACA subsidies, but I'll have to remember that in the future.

I did have one “oh crap” moment when the software said that we had not actually qualified for subsidies. After a bit of digging and perhaps a stiff drink, I discovered it was actually an issue with the form the government mailed out. Apparently they couldn’t be troubled to fill out a certain column with real info, instead entering all zeros and instructing people in the fine print to go online to find the correct data for themselves. I can only imagine how many people will not find that footnote! In any case, that solved the problem and thanks to the $3k miscalculation we actually got money back.

So the final result? Even with a sizable investment portfolio and a part time job that covered a big chunk of our annual expenses, we had zero taxable income. Now that’s a first test worthy of a celebration! I think years of conditioning to turning over a huge percentage of your income to the IRS blinds people to how the system is a lot different on the low income side, especially if your expenses are also very low.

Designing for the low income system appears to be a success so far. I'm sure adjustments will be necessary in the future, but planning in the real world is a lot more interesting and dynamic than those overly-precise spreadsheets anyway. Freely adjusting as you go is part of the fun.

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Tyler9000
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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by Tyler9000 » Fri Apr 15, 2016 11:06 pm

Stray Voltage

So after the recent Meb Faber PortfolioCharts recommendation, the traffic has been through the roof and has yet to really let up. I’m not yet sure where it will settle, but it may not matter as I’m starting to see that new growth comes in waves and the waves seem to get a little bigger every time. The pattern of watching traffic grow is actually pretty addictive in the exact same way that watching my investments grow used to be. I find it tremendously rewarding to see my work reach more people every day. But it does have its downsides.

I know I’ve read before that you know you’ve made it as a blogger once you finally start picking up haters. Well, I guess I’ve finally made it! “Hater” is of course hyperbole, but there’s a small handful of vocal people who seem to fundamentally disagree with the things I talk about and have a really tough time letting it go and moving on. I completely expect that in the investment scene, as how you invest your own life savings is quite personal. I’ve gone out of my way to not to be judgmental in any way and to maintain a respectful tone, but of course you can’t please everybody.

Now there’s absolutely nothing wrong with people disagreeing with me – I disagree with other people all the time. But it’s amazing how putting yourself out there can paint a target on your back, and sometimes people can take it too far and be quite relentless about trying to leave a mark. And when there's a misalignment of Wheaton levels as well, the misinformation that gets spread in the process is frustrating and disheartening. I’m not going to provide examples or call anyone out, as I don’t believe it’s malicious and I’m not even sure they’re doing anything wrong. They’re just being themselves, and we’re very different people. And hey – it’s the internet we’re talking about after all. It comes with the territory.

Ultimately it’s not really about them, but about how it makes me feel. When people attack your personal reward mechanism, it naturally stings pretty badly. And when the future of that reward mechanism depends in part on your personal reputation, it’s really hard to just let some things go. One bad experience can turn a great day into a sour one surprisingly quickly and I’ve found (in extreme cases) it can frustrate me to the point of depression and kill my motivation. I don’t expect other people to change. The only sustainable path is the one where they do not need to for me to be happy.

Sometimes the things we’re most passionate about can also generate stray voltage, and I’m still learning how to not let that occasional negativity zap the joy out of the good parts. I honestly just want to share my ideas with people who find them helpful. The ones that do will seek out more. The ones that don’t will move on. I think I’ve allowed myself to get too distracted by the conversations and the page views, and I’m learning that straying too far from the original goal isn’t necessarily a good thing. Success is trickier to manage than most people realize!

Forget the highs and lows – I need to re-center.

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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by jacob » Sat Apr 16, 2016 9:36 am

Congratulations on the haters! Next step is scraping followed by pirating ;-P

This stuff used to bother me a lot. I would spend 1-2 days thinking about why each person would attack me and why they said what they said. Eventually, I found a solution in Cippola. IIRC you're not a fan of this model, but it helped me a lot to understand whether something was an intelligent disagreement (like the ones that happen here on the forum all the time) or whether the attacker was a troll or just being stupid. Disagreements aren't always intelligent and neither are all the unintelligent disagreements necessarily evil.

Note, that sometimes those who don't agree won't move on. They sometimes turn into crusaders spreading disinformation everywhere. You would then have to spend time dealing with that. Part of the reason why I stopped blogging. If what you do is controversional enough (which ERE was 5 years ago), you eventually need your own PR department to deal with this.

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Tyler9000
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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by Tyler9000 » Sat Apr 16, 2016 10:54 am

jacob wrote: This stuff used to bother me a lot. I would spend 1-2 days thinking about why each person would attack me and why they said what they said. Eventually, I found a solution in Cippola. IIRC you're not a fan of this model, but it helped me a lot to understand whether something was an intelligent disagreement (like the ones that happen here on the forum all the time) or whether the attacker was a troll or just being stupid. Disagreements aren't always intelligent and neither are all the unintelligent disagreements necessarily evil.
Second look at Cippola! I find myself more agreeable this time. ;)

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Tyler9000
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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by Tyler9000 » Tue May 10, 2016 3:23 pm

The Green and White Room

I remember the first time my boss mentioned the possibility of inviting me on an overseas business trip. I was helping him put together a presentation for a very big potential client in Europe, and along the way I guess I was articulate enough on the subject matter that he mentioned he might need my help presenting. Before he even asked, I applied that day for my first passport and paid any expedite fees required. There was no way I was going to allow a lack of preparation to nix that potential opportunity.

My initiative paid off, and a few weeks later I found myself in the board room of a major multinational company with a market cap in the billions personally pitching the CEO on a new business relationship. That moment in many ways launched my career in a direction I never would have expected. It went very well, and the owner of my company returned home early because the rest of us had it under control. I thought he was crazy to skip the rest of the European tour but was thrilled to be there myself. From then on regular international travel as a respected company representative was a normal part of my job description.

When recounting my travels to others I naturally focus on the highlights. There was that insanely expensive dinner in an exclusive Stockholm restaurant where the wine bill alone was in the thousands. I’ll always at least partially remember the time I learned the hard way how to not be defeated by drinking games with vendors, and I’m still trying to forget the time I realized my non-English speaking taxi driver was also illiterate and couldn’t read the hotel card but was driving me around anyway. Travel is great for stories.

But the stories just dance around the exciting periphery of the day-to-day reality. In dozens of international trips spanning nearly a cumulative year away from home, the most common experience can be summed up with the following picture.

Image

Apparently every major factory in China has a room that looks exactly like this. This small room with green floors and white walls is where foreign engineers like me are cloistered all day while teams of factory workers take turns filing in and out to ask questions, show samples, and get approvals. Each day in China involved spending about 10 hours sitting in such a room, most often completely alone with your laptop while waiting for the next unscheduled meeting. Wash and repeat for weeks on end.

This didn’t bother me at first, as my tasks seemed very important and I found validation in my contributions. But over time the reward felt more and more hollow. I wasn’t always there because it was truly critical for me to be there. It certainly wasn’t because it made me happier in any way. I was there because it was comfortable for the company to have me there and I was comfortable with them paying me well to do so. It was a situation of convenience.

It was sitting in yet another room like this, tired and weary, many thousands of miles away from home and fantasizing about what I’d prefer to be doing, that I started to realize that the original gift of travel may have seemed like a reward at the time but was actually a handoff. I was reminded of the owner who returned home early years earlier and now I finally understood. I was there so somebody else didn't have to be. My life was offered in exchange for their own, and business continued unimpeded. It took a few years to completely extract myself from that cycle, but now that I have I can’t imagine going back.

So imagine my surprise when I realized recently that I’ve been spending way too much time at work fantasizing about what I’d rather be doing. The surroundings are different than the old green and white room, but the mindset is actually quite similar. I’m not really there because I need to be. I’m there because my employer likes having someone they trust to share work with and we’re both comfortable with the situation. Working part time is certainly way better than before and I really like the company, but the mindless routine is starting to reestablish and I’m not sure how I feel about it.

I also realize it's not automatically a bad thing. I think I’m simply becoming more cognizant of how much of my life is driven passively by routine rather than actively by initiative. Like business travel, the scattered exciting stories can be mere decorative embellishments on an otherwise stale vanilla existence. Maybe I’ll keep doing what I’m doing and find ways to proactively use it to my advantage. Or maybe I’ll reevaluate the part-time situation in a little while and branch out yet again into a new adventure. Whether I ultimately tear down the walls of my personal green and white room and remodel it to my own tastes or walk out the door and move on, it’s nice to see the room for what it is. Or more importantly, what it is not.

It is not my life.

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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by BlueNote » Tue May 10, 2016 4:12 pm

There's probably jail cells with more ameneties than that room. Even if they put artwork on the walls, wainscotting , marble floors and nice lights they are still rooms most people have to go to in order to perpetuate their existence.

I know people who have done the international thing and it's usually the same general story. At first it's great because you get to go out to fancy restaurants, take in some culture etc. Eventually it's such a drag dealing with the airports, jet lag, long hours, home sickness etc. A friend of mine who is in sales was working out of China a lot, maybe half the year, and eventually just told the company that he'd not be going back to China, except for a couple weeks a year , because all his customer are in North America. They just wanted him to go to China because they didn't like dealing with the customers coming for factory tours and conventions. He got to eat camel hump and scorpions and all that stuff but eventually it gets old and you realize that green floored rooms in China are the same as Green floored rooms anywhere in the world.

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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by jacob » Tue May 10, 2016 6:35 pm

@Bluenote/Tyler9000 - Given that the [county] jail was two buildings away from the physics department, we (grad students) used to joke that grad school was about the same as prison except that the convicts probably ate better. I did a lot of academic travel and the picture above reflects a lot of my experience except it was mostly hotel room + conference + 2-3 hour excursion to see architecture/paintings/geographical landmark or whatever... Indeed, I once spent 5 weeks in a small room where the A/C was broken meaning that the the room was about 60F and I spent the entire time coding/researching wearing a coat. Still "fun" though---as in, the local "food/history/culture" probably wouldn't have been more interesting to me than an SSH worthy channel, anyway. FWIW, once upon a time, we also got sent to some Hawaiian wedding resort (Big Island) in which one could take the hotel shuttle to eat "cultural cuisine" or "swim with the dolphins". It didn't take very long (a few years to be precise) before I didn't care much at all for any of this(*). This explains my somewhat "non-enthusiastic" travel blog posts. I'm still of the opinion that---at least when it comes to me---I need to spend enough time and effort to pay taxes in a given place before I truly experience it "my way". While I've been to a dozen+ countries, I feel like I only really experienced three of them.

(*) I'm still not sure whether I'm an outlier of humanity of not caring one iota for standard tourist stuff or whether most people are just faking their appreciation of tourist experiences or whether we're just different #wheatonlevels

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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by bryan » Tue May 10, 2016 11:13 pm

Just got back from a month long trip myself. During the last two years of van living, I've been very open to business travel as it meant expenses paid and zero bills back home (except the $30/mo gym bill). Extreme savings.

For now, I am trying to take advantage of the free travel by taking holiday to bookend the business trip. Generally I just hang out at local drinking holes, walk around, and try to catch anything interesting. Never made it out of the cities, except a day long bicycle ride from Nice to Italy on the coast and back through the mountains.

I'm hoping I get tired of the travel at the same time as I hit FI. Pity some folks in the company who have to travel much more than me though.
Tyler9000 wrote:I think I’m simply becoming more cognizant of how much of my life is driven passively by routine rather than actively by initiative.
Let us know if you find a solution. Been aware of this myself for a few years but haven't done anything about it. Just lucky that the inertia is comfortable enough.

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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by BRUTE » Wed May 11, 2016 3:53 am

just quit.

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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by Tyler9000 » Wed May 11, 2016 9:54 am

Some rooms are physical or are an artifact of job requirements. Others are mental. The former can be remedied pretty quickly by quitting. The latter are a little more complicated.

I've never been afraid to quit a job when I thought I'd be better off elsewhere, and when I walked away completely about 18 months ago it was the ultimate act of personal empowerment over career constraints. Going back and working a few days a week has been an experiment of sorts, and you can think of the situation as me openly removing the door from its hinges and being free to come and go as I please. But somehow I'm too often just sitting with my nose in the corner out of habit.

You don't always have to quit to leave the room. I think I just need to get out more. Learning to fully utilize your ERE powers requires a little practice.

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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by BRUTE » Wed May 11, 2016 12:00 pm

brute doesn't understand why Tyler9000 went back part time. is Tyler9000 just bored without a job? maybe the job is ok, but 3 days a week is still too much? Tyler9000 could try going down to 2 days a week. if that's not feasible, maybe more of a 1 week on/3 weeks off type situation.

or he could try to identify the parts of the job he still enjoys, and the ones that bore him. and maybe move responsibilities into the former direction.

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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by Tyler9000 » Wed May 11, 2016 1:40 pm

BRUTE wrote: or he could try to identify the parts of the job he still enjoys, and the ones that bore him. and maybe move responsibilities into the former direction.
Bingo.

Timing is a funny thing. Just a day later, today is a great example of an exciting work day. An old client dropped by and showed off production samples of a product I designed a few years ago -- it should hopefully start showing up in hospitals around the country soon. Also, I was pulled into a new project and I already have a cool idea of how to solve it. I'm working on a prototype now.

At my core I'm a designer/inventor. You can see that in my interests even outside of work like Portfolio Charts and my long-time art hobby. I have over a dozen patents to my name in a variety of different industries, and I enjoy making new things so much that I'd do it for free. That people are willing to pay me quite well to do it is a nice plus in the right situation.

So when the old company (a consultancy that invents new things all the time) called me late last year and asked for help designing a new product and allowed me to name my terms, I figured "why not?" It was a no-lose situation, as I find that kind of thing fun and if it wore on me I could always politely return to my full ERE ways and design my own stuff. I think my angst started when the design work waned and I stuck around anyway.

The contrast is a good lesson. It's an excellent company and they've been quite accommodating with me, so it's important to stay focused and not misplace my frustration. As I said earlier, sometimes quitting really isn't the best solution -- I'm just learning as I go what to ask for.

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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by BRUTE » Wed May 11, 2016 2:07 pm

what about becoming a consultant to the consultancy itself. when they have interesting work for Tyler9000 they call, but he won't stick around for the boring stuff? sounds like he doesn't need the money anyway, just in it for the fun.

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Tyler9000
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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by Tyler9000 » Wed May 11, 2016 2:15 pm

Yeah, that's an option. Finding the right balance of flexibility/dependability is the challenge, but it's worth exploring further. Being selective about projects and taking breaks in between could be a good compromise.

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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by Tyler9000 » Fri May 27, 2016 10:12 am

Just a quick follow-up...

Last week work was particularly slow, so I decided to talk to my boss about reaffirming the original plan to be flexible about hours in a way that makes sense for us both. Long story short, we're totally on the same page and I took the week off.

Today I'm reminded of how many obstacles in life seem like mountains but end up being completely self-imposed. You never get what you don't ask for. Be proactive!

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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by BRUTE » Fri May 27, 2016 2:47 pm

brute congratulates Tyler9000 :D sounds great.

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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by Tyler9000 » Tue Nov 08, 2016 3:20 pm

Tools, Traps, & Turning the Page

Back when I was just a few years out of school, I was highly proficient in a popular CAD software. It was a major pride point, and my particular skills were extremely desirable in the industry. I remember when a company hired me specifically for those skills and proceeded to work me 80 hours a week as I was too valuable doing that one task to "waste" on anything else, and too advanced for others to keep up with to help. While my expertise absolutely opened doors, it also closed them behind me as I walked through.

Believe it or not, the boss who hired me and pushed me so hard eventually shared that he used to be in my exact same situation and had to literally move out of the country for a few years to escape the CAD expert label and do something new. He hired me to avoid being sucked back in himself, sorta like a horror story where the only way to escape the monster eternally chasing you is to sacrifice someone else.

I eventually learned that the only way to break that cycle permanently was to unlearn that piece of software. Even briefly tinkering can be dangerous, as old routines are far easier to fall into than they are to escape. Today I'm happily mediocre at CAD, and my broad experience is far more valuable than any one piece of software that will eventually be obsolete anyway. I probably wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't forced my way into a different job role.

-----

Halloween has been a special holiday for me -- not for the parties and the candy, but for the curiosity of timing where it has corresponded to major work-related waypoints the last several years. Whether it’s my last Asia business trip, my last day at the office after pulling the early retirement trigger, or an early marker back as a part time worker, Halloween has been a common day to contemplate the professional costume that I choose to wear on a daily basis. So as I’m relaxing on a Tuesday afternoon eating a bit too much leftover candy, I’m drawn to think about my recent decision to shift gears in my latest career experiment.

This time last year, I took my previous employer up on an offer to work three days a week. I had always wondered if that would be an ideal setup even before I took that full year off, which is perhaps why I ended up staying in the arrangement a lot longer than I initially planned. What started as a 2-3 month project morphed into nearly a one-year experiment of sorts, and I only recently decided to take off the rest of the year to take stock of my interests and options. So looking back at the last two years, I’ve had the unique opportunity to try out two different methods for scaling back from my previous career-centric mindset. The first year I went cold turkey, and the second year I worked part time. With both experiences under my belt, what have I learned?

Professional expertise is kinda like that old piece of CAD software that opens doors while also trapping you. I enjoyed working, but the routine I fell back into definitely started to wear on me and I could see unhealthy old habits reemerging that I thought I had escaped during my time off. Also, not every perceived non-monetary benefit of a job translates to part time work. For example, I now realize how many of my work friendships throughout my career depended on a shared bunker mentality, and when you are free to come and go they are never quite the same. I've been lucky to work with terrific people, but there are some bonding experiences I’m no longer around to share.

But more importantly, I've learned that many of these apparent negatives aren't necessarily an inherent quality of work but of my own expectations. When I pour so much of myself into work that unhealthy habits reemerge, or when when I desire more personal friendships than I passively receive just by walking in the door, whose fault is that? Neither work nor lack thereof is the answer to every life question. That sounds so obvious, but it's amazing how quickly we forget it sometimes.

So two years into ERE, I believe I’m ready to turn a new page. I’ve learned that diversifying my interests is the more sustainable path forward than simply moderating old ones. Like the time I had to unlearn CAD to grow as an engineer, sometimes growing as a person requires tossing your career crutch and expanding your horizons. But I've also learned that work is not the movie monster that needs to be escaped, either. It's just a tool, and life is more than your relationship with a career.

Engineering work will still be one of those tools I’ll choose to wield when it's mutually beneficial to both me and the company, but I no longer idolize it as my best option for accomplishing all of my goals. A carpenter with only a hammer is not truly free to build, and it’s time to expand my tool chest.
Last edited by Tyler9000 on Wed Nov 09, 2016 11:32 am, edited 10 times in total.

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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by C40 » Tue Nov 08, 2016 5:03 pm

Wonderful post Tyler. Thanks for sharing. These are extremely valuable lessons

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