This time, optimize for the right currency

2016

What a ride.

Before diving in to the details, I gotta say…

I felt anxious writing this, partly because there are things that I’m super proud of from last year, and partly because of things that still need work. Of course, the sense of apprehension is a sign that the post must be written.

Looking back

Looking back, it was a great year. I grew in a lot of ways I hadn’t expected. Here’s a look at the growth in each area of my life — health, wealth, relationships.

Financial goals

For me, 2016 marked the beginning of a full-on, life-long commitment to entrepreneurship. After two years of constant travel, it was mostly heads down.

At the outset of 2016, I was still throwing things at the wall and waiting for something to stick. FBA, content marketing, SEO, copywriting, blogging, ecommerce.

A mix of shiny object syndrome coupled with a growing sense that I needed some stable and recurring income if I was to ever feel financially secure.

So how did I manage the tension? I’d like to say, “by working smarter, not harder.” Yet, the opposite was true. I pushed the envelope in every regard, taking on a new job, new clients, and doubling down on my existing projects.

The result: more stable cashflow  and a bigger number in my checking account. While that has indeed translated to a greater sense of security and confidence in my ability to make money online, it was perhaps accomplished a Faustian bargain with my time and energy.

Without sharing exact numbers, I ended up making low six figures after tallying the numbers from all my business. That’s gross revenue, not earnings (profit). To wager a guess, the cumulative margin across all these businesses is about the same: 25-30%.

In terms of return on time and energy, none stand out as particularly great… Corpina is the most passive asset, making about $3000-4000 per month, meaning the site is worth ~$100,000.

One of these, however, stands out as far and away the worst investment: Amazon. Altogether a shiny object business (for me), I launched 5 products in different niches, 2 of which still sell at a profit, and none of which I plan to continue selling once inventory runs out. That’s not to say that Amazon isn’t thriving as a platform to grow and scale your business (it is), nor that I’m giving up on ecommerce (far from it), but Amazon will be a one marketing channel among many in the quest to grow healthy, wholesome brands.

Again, was this worth it? It’s given me a greater sense of security, but what I gained financially came at the cost of my social life. Burnout was a constant concern… hardly something I want to be worried about in a life of location and time-freedom.

Looking back, however, I made a rookie mistake of optimizing for the wrong currency. As a location-independent entrepreneur, I have the opportunity to optimize for relationships, not money. Any business model / career is fine, so long as I can continue to optimize for illegible (re: valuable) currencies like people, time, and trust, which ultimately lead to long-lasting fulfillment.

Lesson learned.

2017 is going to be the year of platform-building, with a heavy emphasis on relationship building. Reminder to self: tracking KPIs is a proxy for what really matters. You can move forward with confidence knowing that your True North points toward the right kind of growth.

One benefit of making more money: I quickly invested in myself, hiring not one but three different business coaches to help me gain focus, clarity, and confidence next year. I highly recommend reaching out to any one of these guys: Christopher Browning, Taylor Pearson, and Ryan Nicodemus.

After just a few weeks with Chris and Taylor, I’m uncovering huge blindspots in my business. Having a coach there to keep me accountable an on track has accelerated my the trajectory of my business (and personal well-being), and I’m regretful that I didn’t invest in one sooner.

Relationship goals

Were I to make the above figures with a healthy margin (50% or more) and small time/energy investment, I would feel a much greater sense of satisfaction about the connections I made.

Friends

Since starting to travel in 2014, I’ve made no shortage of friends along the way. Nevertheless, I haven’t had the time or commitment to deepen these relationships. Shockingly, I’m not the only “digital nomad” who feels as though relationships abroad lack meaning.

On one hand, I optimize for relationships, while on the other I recognize that I only have the mental ram for so many core friends in my life — those people I can share anything with. You’ve probably heard of the Dunbar number — the idea that we evolved to keep a record of roughly 150 people in our memory.

That said… holy shit, I connected with some incredible people. Awesome, open-minded, hardcore hustlers who know how to live well. This reaffirms that the path I’m on is the right path to finding my people.

I’m not going to list out every person I met this year, because it would take hours. But those of you I met along the way in Vietnam, Thailand, Colombia, Mexico, the Philippines and back home… it was a pleasure. 🙂

I oscillate back and forth between expansion and contraction in relationships… research on that number shows that we can only hold 5-6 true friends at any given time, with an additional 10 very-close friends.

Knowing this, I made a point to slow down the always-on-the-go approach, in lieu of more phone and face time with my closest friends.

This was easier said than done, and even as I write this I feel the FOMO of all those people I could have been closer with. But as with work, focusing on a select few relationships paid dividends. I plan to continue this trend in 2017, and give myself permission to be even more selective with my time, while being increasingly generous with my time around my people.

Family

2016 was a year of sharpening my habits in every area of life, and relationships were no exception. I now regularly check in with family, close friends, and update a “Staying In Touch” document that tracks last interactions with my friends. Sometimes, these interactions are as trivial as liking something on social media, and sometimes they are more impactful emails or calls. Nevertheless, I’ve invested a lot of time and energy in my friends and I treasure those relationships. It’s important to me to keep momentum of interacting with family and friends around the world, each week.

Getting quality family time has always been tough on the road, particularly living in Asia with a 12-hour time difference. Last summer in Budapest, a friend revealed a system for making it work. He and his family would visit each other a total of 3 times per year: once he would go home, once they would visit him, and once they would go on a vacation to some other place.

2017 will see the first implementation of this schedule, with the vacation tentatively planned for Hawaii in May. It will be a fun chance to merge our lifestyles, with everyone having a chance to connect throughout the time, while having space to do their own thing. I’m super excited for that, and it almost pangs me to think that I haven’t had a real family vacation.

Girls

To hammer the point home, I focused on work. And as such I didn’t spend as much time as I would like meeting and engaging with women.

Nevertheless… I met a handful of incredible women in 2016 and cherish the relationships I have with them. I dated a gorgeous Mexican girl in a romantic mountain town (Valle de Bravo, “El Pueblo Magico”), and thanks to her I’m as close to fluent in Spanish as I’ll ever be.

Due to constant travel, I was unable to find that “long term loving partner” I seek (mentioned in my 100+ Life Goals — more on those in a minute.) Nevertheless, I have to give myself credit for continuing to grow in this area… talking to new women, bringing them into my life, and opening up in new ways.

As I continue to grow and work on myself in other areas, I can’t help but notice that the quality of girls I attract continues to go up… so I must be doing something right. 🙂

One big switch for 2017: developing this area of my life without relying on nightclubs. Sleep is too valuable a resource for my creative output and long-term goals to sacrifice it for the sake of clubbing. Yep, I’ve reached that point.

I met a handful of badass dudes in Medellin who have no problem forgoing club life, but still date incredible women.

Health

The truth: as I devoted ever-increasing energy into my business, my health suffered. I injured my shoulder by overtraining in Medellin, and as a result went through a 3-month shift in focus to yoga and recovery.

Not surprisingly, my weight dropped from about 77kg to nearly 68kg over the course of the year, and my strength along with it. Further, I gave up on common-sense lifting principles, and switched to a super-slow training regimen introduced to me by a friend in Medellin.

It turns out that super-slow training has long-been shown to be less effective than traditional progressive overload for developing strength.

Here again was an example of ditching core principles in favor of a fitness “fad”, and by doing so regressing substantially. Thankfully, I’ve moved back to a split 3 days of lifting, 3 days of yoga in December, and my strength is quickly recovering.

Overall, I’m quite satisfied with how I look. My diet is on point, I track my calories daily, and regularly exercise. The devil is in the details here: more planning meals, more accountability with my fitness group, and a general sense of urgency to stay-on-top of this area of my life.

Falling off, it’s time to get back on. I’m grateful to have a coach and community to help me do just that.

2017 is going to be a year of movement. My long-term vision in health and business is mobility. To have a business and do business in a way that enables movement for the majority of each day, every day. Not a separation of: “now I’m sitting behind a laptop and working on my business, but later I’m doing movement”… but rather, both together. I’ve incorporated more bodyweight exercises into my daily routine, and other simple exercises advocated in movement culture.

I’ll be kicking off the new year with some amazing movement: kitesurfing in Malapascua Island, near Cebu in the Philippines.

malapascua island

Here.

Travel

This year was a year of slow travel done right.

  • Vietnam
  • 4 months in Medellin, Colombia
  • 3-4 months in Mexico (Playa Del Carmen, Valle de Bravo, Mexico City)
  • 1 month in Thailand
  • 6 weeks in Vietnam
  • 2 weeks in the Philippines

Writing this out now… it’s amazing that this is the new normal. All this travel is a never-ending adventure to meet and partake in different cultures, have my mind opened, and make long lasting friendships along the way.

Spirituality / Other

I’m a bit hesitant to bucket this as its own category. Partly because it’s an ethos that, imo, develops by honing the other three areas.

Yet, without consciously trying to be a better person, I managed to complete a handful of my big life goals. Here’s what I checked off the bucket list in 2016:

  • Create $10,000+ in savings
  • Diversified income sources
  • Learn to read financial statements
  • Deadlift 400 pounds
  • Speak fluent Spanish (fluent enough)
  • Help an organization in a developing country
  • Help build a school in a developing country
  • Go 24 hours without speaking
  • Hire a personal assistant
  • Share a house abroad with friends
  • Live in Mexico
  • Live in Colombia
  • Fly first class on an international flight
  • Fill all the pages in my Passport
  • Drink mezcal in Mexico City
  • Throw a pool party in Medellin
  • Appear on a Podcast
  • Take Salsa lessons
  • Live by the ocean
  • Eat raw cocoa bean

Other spiritual stuff I’m proud of this year:

  • On pace to read 31 books this year. I’ve learned a ton, and my ability to learn quickly has also increased, thanks in large part to a purposeful study of how to read and take notes. I’m getting better at stopping books I don’t enjoy / don’t find useful, and applying what I learn from books and podcasts.
  • Meditation. I’ve gotten better at meditating each day, and sometimes do 2 or 3 sessions a day. Almost no days go by without meditation. Further, I’ve gotten better at “flashing” exercises throughout the day, and catching myself in unhelpful thought loops. I look forward to reading more about consciousness, self awareness and meaningful living in 2017. I also plan to do a sort of “Vision Quest” like the one mentioned here, and spend 4 weeks fully unplugged in June or July.

Conclusion

To wrap things up, in 2016 I pushed hard to reach a reasonable level of location-independent, financial success. In 2017, my sites are set sky high and I’m ready to hustle… but this time, without sacrificing the most valuable things I have: friends and family.

I’m doing a better job of managing my time and energy this year, so I naturally let the good vibes spill over into healthy, happy relationships.

2016 is almost in the bags, and I can’t wait to take on the new year.

Wishing everyone a Happy Holidays from Asia, and best wishes for 2017.

-Dan

  • I don’t know you Dan, but saw someone mention your name somewhere related to content marketing… To say that your personal blog here resonates, would be the understatement of the century. Good stuff, keep it up!