The Perks of Being an Outlier

I’ve recently started using Twitter. Re-started, rather. I was an early adopter but eventually found it a strange combination of information overload and dull, and gave it up. What I’ve come to realise is I just hadn’t found my tribe. I’ve partially done that now, by following a bunch of really smart, inspiring people in the financial independence community, as well as the expat community. It’s become one of the top sources of new content for me. I love reading content by, and interacting with, people who are so immersed in the subjects I care about.

On the financial independence side, one of the things I value is the diversity of the stories there, how people are all taking their own unique paths in pursuit of their goals, and how many of us share a common goal of greater freedom over our lives and our time. One recent post that spoke to that was this guest post on Millennial Money Man’s excellent blog.

I was delighted to read it, as it echoes many of my own thoughts on the subject of financial independence. It was so gratifying. Here was someone else who valued freedom as highly as I do, and was taking steps to get there! I wasn’t the only one!

Before I started following blogs like that, I didn’t know there was this big, supportive community of weirdos like me. What I did know was that the unspoken rule in our culture is: you don’t talk about money.  And I picked up on the fact that, understandably, many people wouldn’t want to talk about early retirement when they could be uncertain whether they’ll ever be able to retire at all, full stop. And so I added financial independence to the list of things that I was interested in, that most people just wouldn’t relate to. I was used to having such a list, was used to being a bit of an outlier.

I suspect that most of us in the FIRE community learn to pick our audience carefully, around the sensitive topic of personal finance. Probably there are other aspects of our lives that we selectively share, not out of secrecy but more out of a desire not to bore (or worse, alienate) people with our sometimes nerdy pursuits. I suppose I’ve always been an outlier of sorts, even though I try to “pass” for normal in polite society… with varying degrees of success ;). But I think there are some perks to being an outlier, even if you sometimes feel as though you live a double life of sorts.

There are a few different, but overlapping and, I think, complementary, aspects to being an outlier that work in our favour.

Here are some things that make us weird, in a good way, and how I think that ultimately gets us closer to our goals, financial or otherwise.

 

Immigrant mindset – Put yourself in a place where you are the different one

One thing that will definitely make you aware of being different is being a foreigner. You’re weird by definition, and it’s so freeing. It’s a great, eye-opening experience that I have come to love. I recently watched a great TEDx talk by Tayo Rockson, who is a seriously inspiring thinker on the subject of global mindset (he also runs one of my favourite podcasts). His talk included the above line which really resonated with me. It’s what we as immigrants, expats, and digital nomads do regularly, and it’s so beneficial. We’re in places where we’re the different ones, in one way or another.

Having an immigrant mindset changes the way you look at the world and you ultimately become culturally bilingual, which is a huge asset. If you can understand not just the culture you grew up in, but another one as well, you’re at a massive advantage. That’s two (or more) sets of wisdom and “common sense” for you to draw from (and question, as we’ll see below). Part of what’s so powerful about this is you learn that conventional wisdom isn’t universal, and that there are diverse ways of knowing and being.

You also learn to code-switch, much in the same way those of us in the FIRE community learn how and when to talk about our goals for financial independence. There’s no better, faster, or harsher, lesson in the importance of picking your audience. Immigrants get this. Immigrants also hustle hard.

 

Self-experimentation – The Tim Ferriss Effect

It seems like there’s a significant overlap between the FIRE community and what I’ve come to think of as the “Tim Ferriss Effect.” I think Tim brought a lot of new ideas into the collective consciousness in a way that hadn’t been done before, or at least not as effectively. For those of us who had always been prone to being outliers, reading his work lit a spark and made us aware that self-experimentation, and thinking differently, wasn’t something to be ashamed of, but celebrated. And that it could be beneficial, even profitable. As I continue to learn from others in this space, I see his name pop up over and over as an early inspiration for a lot of people. I’d count myself in that group, in my own small way.

Looking back, it was kettlebells that proved to be my gateway drug. See, I’d believed the gospel of women’s magazines that long hours of steady-state cardio was the One True Path to the body I wanted, and yet strangely enough, all that time on the treadmill wasn’t getting me the results I sought. I genuinely hadn’t considered that there might be a better way, until I read Tim’s book, the 4 Hour Body.

Then, when I began to see results from trying something different, from doing a little independent research, from going against the conventional wisdom, it’s like it gave me permission to start questioning everything. I started reading up on lifestyle design, and while it took a few years for me to really action any of what I was reading so voraciously, that first step of shifting my mindset was crucial. The mindset shift that acknowledges it’s ok to do something different, even if it’s different from what the “experts” recommend.

If we can challenge the conventional wisdom of the literal treadmill, we can challenge the conventional wisdom of the figurative treadmill of high-spending/low-savings/40 year working life. We can challenge the idea that the place you were born is the place you should stay. We can demand something more, something better, something different.

 

Question everythingNot following the herd

Once you feel you have “permission” to question everything, and a good many badass people don’t require even that, you have the keys to the kingdom. From self-experimentation, the natural progression is self-education. We learn we don’t need to rely on authorities, we learn that conventional wisdom is often plain wrong. And we learn how to find the information we need. Or if it’s not out there, to create it ourselves.

The blogging community does this so incredibly well. There’s detailed information available now that simply didn’t exist a few years ago. One great example is the now-classic and oft-cited FIRE tax strategy known as the Roth Conversion Ladder. Thanks to outliers like the MadFIentist, it’s now out there for anyone to discover.

The way I see it, the future belongs to the outliers, to those who embrace being the different one, who get out in front of the herd. And I think we can all do this, not just in the realms of personal finance or global mobility, but in whatever areas we’re passionate about. And by doing so, we not only reach our goals faster, we bring others along on the journey.

Reflections on a year abroad

One year ago I was getting on a plane, with a one-way ticket from Vancouver to Dublin, and all of my physical possessions in a few bags. It wasn’t my first expat experience, although perhaps it should’ve felt like the most momentous. This was across an ocean! In a country I’d never been to before! For who-knows-how-long! And yet, I wasn’t the least bit apprehensive. What was the worst that could happen, I figured?

It’s an attitude that I try to remind myself of often. Expats, world travellers, immigrants, and all variety of hustlers, we’re all risk-takers, but we know a secret: most risks aren’t really that risky. Getting on a plane is easy, and you figure the rest out when you get there. Starting a business or a side hustle doesn’t have to be agonised over, it can be started with a simple, single step. In fact, that’s the only way. That’s how it works, and you don’t need to wait for permission, or for some pre-tested checklist. And if we can remember that, we can gather the nerve to do some pretty epic shit.

I’ve lived in Ireland for a year now. Dublin feels like home, or home-ish. I’ve mostly figured out what I needed to, gotten the lay of the land. I’ve had those perfect, expat-magic days when everything about this city seemed wonderful and significant. And I’ve had those rough days where I felt out of place and uncomfortable and sad.

Like the day I found out I wouldn’t be able to get a mortgage here because of the work visa I’m on, for example. In hindsight, it may have been a blessing in disguise, but at the time, facing what I thought would be endlessly rising rents, and viewing a flat that I could totally, really easily afford to buy, being told “no” felt like a devastating blow. Sometimes being a foreigner means having doors slammed in your face, decisively and for no good reason. The rules are sometimes just different for us, it’s not fair, and it sucks. But #immigranthustle means accepting that life isn’t fair, and developing resilience.

Because not being able to buy a house does suck, maybe, but when things don’t come easily is when we have the chance to be our most creative and tenacious and fearless. And when we’re a bit off-script is sometimes where we can find room to play in the margins, whether it’s carefully managing our tax residency, or maintaining funds in multiple currencies. Or simply not buying a property in the run-up to another housing boom. Just a few small things that spring to mind. 😉

And I think taking these risks, and weathering the setbacks, has a compounding effect. We just keep getting stronger and braver, ready to take on even bigger risks, unafraid. I need that reminder, as I’m currently preparing to take an even bigger risk, something potentially much further off-script than I’ve done thus far. And I’m surprisingly at peace about it. More than that, I’m excited. What’s the worst that could happen?

Something something The Dow!!!

I’m embarrassed to say that I only recently learned what the Dow Jones Industrial Average actually is.  A few weeks ago, on a podcast (Jim Collins on ChooseFI, eagerly anticipating the next conversation in that series, by the way!) it was finally explained in simple, plain language. And, like so many other Sphinx-like mysteries, once it was demystified, I couldn’t believe I’d once found it so utterly unknowable.

On a recent long-haul flight, availing myself of the expanse of hours and selection of films (cheers, Virgin Atlantic), and on the recommendation of my boyfriend, I started watching the movie Arrival. It wouldn’t have been something that would’ve jumped out at me, but his recommendations are generally sound, so I gave it a go. Early on in the film, in a completely throwaway line, a TV news announcer mentions something like: “the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 2000 points.” Nothing noteworthy, but I heard it in a new light after listening to that podcast. We all know what the screenwriter wanted to convey was: the stock market is taking a nosedive! And the generally accepted standard fill-in-the-blank words to use are “something something the Dow!!!”

I started thinking about the whole chain of people who, in all likelihood, hadn’t the slightest clue what “the Dow” is, much less why anyone should care. The screenwriter, the actor delivering the line, the majority of the audience. And I remembered hearing that term as a kid, and getting this weird sense that it was something, along with a lot of other financial stuff, that the grownups didn’t know about any more than I did. Like everyone was kind of fudging their way along. Kids can smell bullshit a mile away, and that was definitely some bullshit.

Something something, ouroboros

But somewhere along the way, we stop feeling comfortable asking questions, I guess. Which is a pretty lame excuse for how I went 32 years, including nearly 10 years in a finance-adjacent profession, without ever really knowing what the Dow was, exactly. I know from experience that even other smart people have similar shrouds of mystery over things like how various tax advantaged retirement schemes work, what even are dividends, and what to do with their W-4’s (US-specific, so don’t panic, non-US friends). And the reason that some of these topics seem so mysterious is that even the people who are supposed to understand them, don’t. Not really, anyways. Not such that they could explain it to aliens (sorry, I’ve just seen Arrival).

This is just one more small way that people are disenfranchised when it comes to their money. We’re made to feel as if we’re the only ones thick enough not to know what the newscaster is on about when he’s talking about “the Dow” like it was his best friend. If you asked him what it was, he mightn’t be able to tell you. But he probably feels too intimidated to ask, too.

It’s incredibly off-putting, and it’s why a lot of people just steer clear of the whole area. For me, I’ve only ever been content with my level of understanding of something if I feel comfortable explaining it to someone else. Years of providing US tax consultations to a population of highly analytical newcomers to the US will entrench that belief. You’d want to be really clear on your pre-tax vs. your after-tax vs. your Roth 401k’s, for example. Because the guys I was giving these consultations to would grill you on it, and have you explain it 5 different ways, with examples. They were taking full advantage of a little-known, and rarely exploited privilege afforded to anyone who’s new to a topic and not afraid to ask questions until they’re satisfied they get it. I learned to respect and emulate this approach as yet more #immigranthustle magic.

And that’s how we should all approach this stuff. Ask loads of questions, and don’t rely on advice from anyone who can’t explain something in clear, simple language. And never feel stupid for asking. Smart people ask.