2020 has been a year where the mood has been quite dim and suppressed, for obvious reasons. For many people out there it will have been particularly difficult due to the economy being massively impacted, and therefore affecting their jobs or businesses. With such uncertainty about the future and their financial wellbeing it's easy to zoom in and focus only on the negatives.
Despite this, I have spent some time thinking over the various things that have impacted me this year and tried to find the positives that have resulted from them. The purpose of this is to give myself a motivation boost and to realise that even though it has been a difficult year, there were some opportunities that I managed to seize and push my own journey forward.
In sharing these positives I hope to inspire the reader to take some time over the final weeks of the year to think over the things that have happened to or for them, and to remind themselves of the good things that might not have been possible were it not for these difficult times.
Let's be honest, we've all heard someone say or mention that "2020 should just be cancelled" or "Let's just start the year over" and it's hard to disagree. Well, with the new year fast approaching that chance will soon be upon us and in reality, the responsibility lies within each and every one of us to ensure we are motivated and ready to maximise our own chances for future success.
So here's a couple of the things that didn't work out so well for me this year, and how things turned out for the better in the end:
I wrote a book that failed, but converted it into a blog that's growing
As an avid investor and someone who actively works on building their wealth it is inevitable that I will develop some knowledge and experiences that can be shared with the majority of people who are looking to move away from the cycle of a 9-5 and trading their time for money.
As I found myself sharing the basics of what I knew to more and more people I eventually decided that it might be a nice opportunity to try and write a book. After all, from my perspective I was sharing the same information over and over again to different people and ultimately I realised that I was simply explaining various processes or practices based on a set of core principles around personal finance. In a way, I had essentially arrived at something not unlike the "flowchart" without actually knowing there was a flowchart in the first place.
So over the course of around 6 months I sat down and wrote a full book on the topic, breaking each core principle into book sections and dividing it further into chapters to explain the concepts further or give working examples. Those 6 months started with 2 weeks of annual leave from my normal day job to get the framework and outline in place, followed by early mornings and late nights once my annual leave was over, and most of my weekend days would be spent writing.
After writing and rewriting drafts of the book and asking various friends and family to proof read the different chapters, I ultimately decided that the book wouldn't work; even with the positive feedback that I received. It was a sad realisation for me that in this format it wouldn't be appealing to most people, and that the book would in fact be rather dry overall. My personal project of writing this book was therefore cancelled before I got into the publishing process.
However, the work I put in wasn't all for naught because I still strongly believed that the content was still valuable to people out there. I figured that the information could get a bit dry if consumed all in one go, as you might do with a book, but would still be impactful and interesting if it was only experienced in shorter snippets and as compartmentalised subjects. And so I decided to convert the different chapters and examples that I had written into a series of short articles, and that led to the launch of this blog in August.
Since then I've managed to write over 20 articles (roughly an article each week) and have a long backlog of topics that are being lined up for 2021 and onwards. Arguably it's still a very small blog but slowly it is gaining a base of subscribers and regular readers who are hopefully benefitting from the information and thoughts I share.
So from the failure of the book came the creation of this blog, and I couldn't be happier - with each article I write my voice grows and even if it doesn't become a "viral sensation" (let's keep it real) I have a place where I feel engaged and creative - the time I put into my articles, albeit personal time, is time I feel is really well spent and if anything I will look to expand this more and more.
It's at this point that I want to share a couple of "Thank Yous" to those who have allowed me to leverage their community to grow and gain exposure:
1) The Financial Independence UK group on Facebook has allowed me to regularly share my articles to its followers, and has given me an opportunity to participate in some really interesting conversations that have helped me develop my knowledge even further.
2) Other groups such as THE FIRE MOVEMENT for similarly allowing me to share on their page without a word of complaint! Sometimes it does feel like I'm spamming but hopefully my writing is contributing to their community.
3) The /r/FIREUK subreddit, and especially the Weekly FIREUK Blog Posts thread that is managed by reckless-saving. The regular weekly posting of this list has really helped me get noticed within a community that already has a proven interest in the topic that I write about.
4) Joslin Rhodes, a lifestyle and financial planning business, who recently mentioned and linked me in their own blog. Despite being a new writer in the personal finance blog space I was still contacted to share a bit of my own knowledge, and I got an amazing boost of confidence in my own content thanks to that.
5) Obviously yourself and all the other readers - we're still a small community but there is a steady trickle of people who subscribe and come back on the regular to read my new posts. I'll definitely continue to work hard to get more interesting content out and hopefully there'll be plenty more new readers to join us in the future.
I experienced my first Stock Market Crash, but things recovered quickly
Whenever you read existing content about financial independence and investing into a well diversified index fund you also read about how you should stay put and stay invested during a crash.
"Invest for the long term, be diversified, and stay invested no matter what"
The majority of investing advice from the financial independence community could really be summed up into the above statement and quite frankly, my own advice too.
But theory is always easy to talk about, especially when the markets are constantly rising and you're seeing great results off the back of a really long bull market. Yet personally, I knew that until I actually went through a big market crash myself I would remain "untested"; it didn't matter how many simulations or historic figures I looked through.
It's like the famous quote by Mike Tyson - "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth".
Well, after March of this year I think most of us who invest into the stock markets and follow the index can now say we have been punched in the mouth. It was the fastest decline in global stock markets in financial history and the most devastating since 1929, and in my opinion we should be thankful that things played out the way it did.
There's two reasons:
1) The decline was so fast there wasn't much opportunity to think about getting out and taking cover; you were most likely already down quite a bit and making a choice between crystallising losses or sticking to the long term plan and waiting for the recovery.
2) The recovery was almost equally as fast; by April the global markets were officially back in bull territory and by August the S&P500 had made a new all time high.
For clarity, the thought to abandon the long term plan never came into my mind during this crash but before I had any real "market crash experience" I always figured the most likely moments for cold feet would be in two scenarios: If the decline was slow and gradual there might be a moment where I might think "do I lock in profits now and try to get back in after the drop?", and if the markets stayed low over a long period I might start to think about alternative options to put my money into, therefore no longer following the principle of being consistent and investing for the long term.
Neither of these happened and so it really left no choice but for me to simply say that I was "strapped in for the ride", and since I was strapped in then I might as well continue as I always had - by investing regularly and consistently as always. And in fact, despite the decline being relatively short lived I did grow to be more and more comfortable with the stock market being down and came to appreciate that I had an opportunity to buy more of the index at a cheaper price - so my second concern turned out to be a non-issue.
That served me well as the purchases I made during the "down months" are now obviously doing very well, and the rest of my portfolio has risen back up and beyond pre-crash levels. With the new insight into my own behaviours during the market crash I have even more confidence in my ability to weather future storms that are almost certain to happen in my hopefully long future of investing.
Obviously there's still many scenarios that haven't been experienced, such as a crash and bear market that is extended over many years, or any other disaster event you might think of. But no matter what, from this point on whenever I write about sticking to the plan and thinking long term I know I'll be speaking from a position of some authority, rather than simply regurgitating theory based on someone else's experience.
I had more work conflicts, but it increased my confidence and I also reinforced my appreciation for the job
Just two weeks ago I wrote about a F**k You Money moment I had in work when they wanted me to take time out of my holiday to show up for a meeting that, in my eyes, held very little advantage or benefit for me. Sure, you can always point to increased chances for business with the client and possibly increased opportunity for myself within the company as I develop a reputation for being a "team player", but there does come a time where too much team play may become detrimental to the individual, and I felt like this was one of those cases.
Obviously such feelings and moments don't typically come from nowhere and it was a result of things that build up over time where I personally haven't felt the dedication and input from myself was reciprocated correctly or appropriately (by the way, I'm not talking about money at this moment!).
Forget the need to put in long hours and a lot of hard work - no matter where you go, this is needed if you want to push yourself forward; putting in the work is just as much for yourself as it is for whoever you work for. Forget the constant fires and problems that need to be dealt with - a company that lacks these probably isn't doing anything interesting. None of these are truly problems in and of themselves.
In fact, they can be the source of great bonds and relationships if the team you are working with are willing to pull together to get things done. And this is where I think the company falls short - there is an over dependence on a small number of people that have developed the knowledge by working hard and putting in the effort, while there is a lack of accountability or repercussion for those who do not.
These sources of frustration have led me to have more conflicts in work with other members of the team, and at times even with my seniors. That's never a good thing as it causes tension, unhappiness and stress, and no matter what the result of the conflict you always feel bad that it happened, especially if you're actually committed to the company.
But, it is necessary.
It sets expectations that there is a line that can be crossed, and while I (and maybe you) would be willing to flex in favour of the team there needs to be some give in return for the take. It also does a lot of wonders for your individual confidence, knowing that you're not going to just roll over whenever you feel there's an unreasonable expectation from the company; sure you might need to fold in some cases and that's fine, but sometimes you also have to "raise" the stakes.
Here's something that nobody in my company knows besides the directors (I think...) - I resigned back in August and my last day at the company would have been back in November. From my perspective, considering I'm living in Hong Kong and working for a company based in London and the US, there are plenty of reasons for them to restructure and get someone else in a location that's more convenient for the company. This, was their chance.
Note: I have no delusions that I can't be replaced, or fired, even if it ends up being a bad decision for the company. Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, and José Mourinho have all been fired so who am I to think I'm invincible.
However, instead of accepting my resignation the managing director came to the table and opened discussions on what wasn't working for me, and what I wanted to change about my working arrangement. We discussed and came to an understanding which resulted in me staying, and that was a moment that helped me develop more appreciation for the job.
Having the confidence to push back against the things I felt unreasonable, and the willingness to take a stand by handing in my resignation despite having nothing lined up (I would've taken a brief career break) all came from the knowledge that I have a degree of financial independence. And while I might have had this for a while since I've been following my principles for years, it was these events during the year that really highlighted it for me and made me truly realise that things would be fine financially if I needed to walk away.
It's one thing to save up a bit of money to cover a jobless period, but just like talking about market crashes and weathering the storm it remains untested until the event actually happens. I may not have actually gone into the funds I set aside this time around, but I now at least know I'm willing to do it.
The confidence gained from a willingness to engage in the work conflicts in addition to the confidence gained from solidifying my realisation of my financial independence sets a new standard for me. Going forward into the future I'll always stand on a very solid foundation of this realisation and even if I may accept a little extra work, or put in a little extra compared to others despite it "not seeming fair", there'll never again be a moment where I'll wonder or worry what will happen if I need to walk away from an arrangement that is no longer "working for me".
To me, that's always been the true purpose of gaining financial independence.
Finding and realising your own wealth from the negatives
From the three events above I was able to gain wealth in various different forms, and not just in terms of money. Yes, I did make money from investing during the market crash and there's also a little bit of extra income that comes from this blog - but that isn't where my new wealth stops. Confidence, experience, happiness, more recognition, and new future opportunities are just a few of the different forms of wealth that I've been able to gain.
If the negative things hadn't happened during the year then I might not have been able to make the gains that I did, and it would be impossible to know if the alternative-universe turned out better or worse. So I am grateful for it all despite the difficulties and struggles that this year will be remembered for.
At the end of the day we are all responsible for our own mindset, no matter how much outside help you find and receive. If you're simply not "game" then all of the fortune in the world simply won't be enough to help you; it has to begin from within yourself.
So as you go into these final weeks of 2020, and possibly into new lockdown rules which is sure to add a bit of extra bad taste to an already poor situation, try to find the positives. Think about the problems you tackled and what it taught you about yourself, think about the bad events that have happened around you but by chance you seemed to be somewhat less affected, and think beyond the money to truly find the wealth you didn't realise you gained.
When you find it, it'll give you a much needed confidence boost going into the new year. And what better way to start a new year's resolution list than with a list of successes?
Life and wealth is what you make of it, so why not make the best of it.
Growing into the New Year
This is going to be the last post for the year as we head into Christmas and New Years. The break is going to give me some much needed rest and also a chance to catch up on my backlog of articles since I don't need to do my day job!
Unsurprisingly I want to grow this blog and hopefully become one of the more well-known names in the personal finance space. So I hope my writing and content is interesting and engaging for everyone who reads; please, do send me feedback and opinions so that I can learn and improve over time.
Needless to say, if you find my writing useful then chances are that the people around you may also find the same. The concepts I cover are for everyone, no matter where they might be in their own journey towards financial independence.
A simple mention or a share to a friend or family member would help me so much and I'd be so appreciative of the support. Let's grow, develop and learn together to help ourselves lead the meaningful and interesting life that we want.
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