My 2021 Annual Review

Before this blog existed, I used to condense all of my bloggy writing energy into annual reviews, which I would send to my friends as a way to update them on my life.

I’m going to do an annual review for 2021 because:

  • My life has undergone a decent amount of change this past year.
  • People seem to like the annual reviews!
  • It’s much harder to write about “evergreen” topics like self-doubt or friendship because they’re much more philosophical in nature. I feel like I still frequently refine my viewpoints on these things.

If you want to check out my old annual reviews (2016 – 2018 only), you can do so here. One of the great joys of blogging is going back and reading your old writing to see how your thinking changes over time. This page on “Starting an Online Business” from my 2017 review seems oddly prescient. I guess I already kind of knew who I might eventually become back then, but these pros and cons almost feel satirical because of how accurate they are.

For this review, we’re going to cover the following topics:

  1. Being a “Digital Nomad” (Lifestyle)
  2. Peak Frameworks (Work)
  3. Music Production (Non-Work Energy)
  4. Non-Core Life Facts

1. Being a “Digital Nomad” (Lifestyle)

My girlfriend and I dedicated the last few years of our lives to become “digital nomads” (I do wish there was a less cringe-y term).

Like many others, we wanted to capitalize on the “Post-Money Pre-Kids” phase of our lives and experiment with long-term travel while our health was reasonable and our responsibilities were shirk-able. In order to go fully remote, I quit my job and started an online business and my girlfriend joined a really awesome fully-remote tech company.

In 2021, we spent meaningful time in Toronto, New York and San Francisco, with multi-week trips in San Diego and Mexico (Puerto Escondido). Our medium-term goal had been to buy a house and set roots in Toronto, but visiting other awesome cities and the dystopian nature of the Toronto real estate market has delayed that a bit.

Pros and Cons of Being a Digital Nomad

Being a digital nomad is an incredible privilege and is a ton of fun, but there are some very obvious trade-offs. After doing it for a little bit, it very much feels like a temporary life stage or something you can only do for a few months out of the year.

My biggest frustration is that I can’t really accrue or hold onto furniture when on the road. I get that it’s Zen and very essentialist to not have stuff, but I kind of like having stuff. I want to build a YouTube / music production studio to make videos and beats in, but instead I’ve been using a Lenovo ThinkPad, a machine seemingly designed to promote corporate compliance. It’s also harder to build friendships when you travel so much, as people correctly get the feeling that they might not see you for another few months.

Lastly, you’re constantly doing admin to figure out what your next location is, which easily adds 2-4 hours per week of work. Finding a reasonable short-term place to stay in New York was very unpleasant.

I am definitely still enjoying the lifestyle though and hope to do it for a couple of more years. Traveling with my girlfriend has been an absolute dream come true after doing long distance and grappling with severe career crisis for so long. In some ways, I feel like I had been delaying gratification my entire life up until this point. I literally started grinding circa grade 11 when I was 17 and didn’t stop until I quit finance.

That’s maybe a bit too dramatic, but I’m honestly so much happier than I was before. I’m really trying to savor the moment because I know these periods of great joy aren’t a guarantee.

My favorite part of traveling is actually seeing my various best friends who have traveled to different parts of the world. It’s really hard to beat hanging out with your homies.

Some Thoughts on Cities

Revisiting New York was interesting to me because it was very fun, but it was also a firm reminder that I do not want to live in New York in the long term. New York is great, but you have to make an amount of money that would make Adam Smith roll in his grave to live comfortably.

Additionally, the feeling of FOMO and social pressure is kind of intense in New York – I frequently felt pressure to act and dress like a cool guy, which was exhausting. My natural coolness state is low enough where I need to put in a decent amount of effort to even kind of fit in in New York.

I am also easily seduced by the heavy party culture in New York, which as a totality is probably a detriment to my character development. New York is still awesome with its amazing electronic music scene, very good food, excellent shopping, and rampant social scene. I think I’ve just become a bit too soft for it.

I also spent a lot of time in California. If you didn’t know, I really hated San Francisco the first time I visited it. But in hindsight, I just had an overall crappy life and happened to be in San Francisco at the time. I interned in San Francisco in 2014 and didn’t have many friendships, didn’t have romantic prospects, didn’t have much free time, was stressed about my career, and commuted for over 2 hours a day. When you solve all those problems, it turns out San Francisco is actually pretty awesome and an extremely affable place to live. It definitely doesn’t seem as cool or easy to meet people as New York, but its temperate weather, slightly more down-to-earth demeanor, and good nature makes it much more attractive now that I’m in my late 20’s.

I was very pleasantly surprised by my trip to California. A part of me wishes I was born there so moving back home would mean living in California.

I only have very positive things to say about San Diego, but I only experienced it through vacation-tinted goggles.

The San Diego zoo was dope.

2. Work (Peak Frameworks)

I started Peak Frameworks in 2020, so this is my second year of running an online business.

I really enjoy what I do and it feels like such an obvious thing that I should be doing with my life. It’s actually such a hilarious contrast to a few years ago when I thought I would have to severely compromise on earning potential or reincarnate as a product manager to be happy with my job.

I really enjoy creating content, I feel good when I help / teach people, and digital marketing is foreign enough that learning it is still interesting. My goal is to continue launching courses while retaining a B2C model. I don’t really like selling to firms because it’s higher touch and isn’t quite as automatic. I know it’s what all the big finance course providers end up doing, so maybe I have to do that down the road to hit the next leg of growth.

  • Monthly Revenue: $15-$30k USD
  • Monthly Website Views: 20-30k
  • YouTube Subscribers: ~25k

I make very little money from YouTube ads.

In terms of specific content, I’ve been painstakingly working on an investment banking course and some of my best friends are helping me with an equity research and hedge fund course. If those get launched, then I’ll have six courses at which point I will likely pivot to become more of a marketing engine (like Wall Street Oasis) while expanding to different geographies (like Asia?) and new platforms (like SkillShare). I also find that for selling courses, marketing and identifying product market fit is so much more important than rolling out a high volume of products.

I am dreading doing this, but I promised myself that I have to start posting on Instagram and TikTok in 2022. This is something I will probably eventually outsource, because I would ideally reduce my time spent on social media.

I will say that the value of being my own boss is so immense that I would very easily accept a much lower salary ceiling for the rest of my life (had I stayed in finance). This might sound like confirmation bias, but I just really didn’t like having a job in hindsight.

It’s not that all bosses are terrible – it’s simply the structure of being at someone else’s whim and not being able to control your own work schedule. Creativity and desire to work comes in waves, not in consistent daily chunks of 9 hours.

The value of freedom and autonomy is so incredibly high that I really think everyone who hates their job should just go for it. If your job sucks so bad and you don’t see that changing, you kind of owe it to yourself to at least try and change things.

I know that most businesses fail (and that mine very well still might), but I also think most competent people doubt themselves too much and over-rate risk. I’ve said this before, but my peers with the best careers all took on some kind of unconventional risk.

Scalable” Income

I just want to make it clear that what I’m currently doing is not really “passive income”. I consider things like investing in ETFs or… being born rich as passive income. I consider Peak Frameworks as “scalable” income, in that it can scale independently of the amount of time I spend on it. It’ll only really be passive if I don’t mind it decelerating in growth or eventually hire people to replace me.

I sort of have two modes for Peak Frameworks:

  • Work Mode: 35-45 hours per week, when I’m working on a new course or just going ham on making content
  • Harvest Mode: 10-20 hours per week, when I’m just answering e-mails and lazily keeping the lights on

I do think there’s an opportunity for me to be much more hands off (maybe in mid 2023), once all the courses in the pipeline are launched and I’ve hired someone to do social media for me. Right now I’m still building things up and figuring a lot of stuff out, so I can’t really be super passive.

3. Non-Work Energy (Music Production)

I probably sound like a broken record, but I love music production so much. I try to spend 2-3 hours a day making music, which often makes it the dominant focus in my life.

Music production has given me a long-term life dream to aspire for. It helps me appreciate my favorite artists and it gives me something to look forward every day.

I think if I could go back in time just once, I would go back and tell my teenage self to convert all my hours spent on video games and piano into music production practice. And tell him to buy Bitcoin I guess if it doesn’t break any time travel rules.

I’ve been producing for 3 years at this point and I think my music is finally starting to sound like actual music. Making music is so, so, so difficult and the learning curve is so unforgiving. I have waded Shawshank style through a seemingly endless river of trash for several years, motivated by the uncertain promise that one day my music will be listenable to others.

I also find it funny, but I’ve probably spent more time on learning music production than Peak Frameworks, but my music still sounds obviously unprofessional and my courses (in my opinion) are already pretty solid. Same with making videos – I think my YouTube videos are reaching an acceptable quality, but I’ve put in much, much less time into it.

My goal is to publicly release music some time during 2022. This past year, I entered a few remix contests to get comfortable with the idea of sharing my music. I still think it’ll take another few years to gain any traction, but I’m reaching the point where I can enjoy my own music without cringing.

What’s interesting about music is how it’s been my first genuine feeling of “passion”. I’ve wanted other things in my life before, but it’s almost always been for some explicit external benefit.

4. Non-Core Life Facts

  • My most played artist in 2021 was SG Lewis (followed by Jerry Folk, Young Franco, Kaytranada, and Mike Williams)
    • What’s notable is that all of these guys are producers and the music I want to produce sounds like a clone / mixture of their styles. In music production, the use of “reference tracks” is very important, and almost all my reference tracks are SG Lewis / Young Franco / Kaytra.
  • My favorite books that I read this year are No Rules Rules (the Netflix book) and the Doing Good Better (effective altruism book).
  • I think this is the year I’m going to switch mostly to ETF investing when it comes to stocks (SPY and QQQ). Individual stock picking is borderline impossible if you don’t take it seriously. I still hold a bad amount of crypto and do some options trading (writing puts on AMZN and swing trading SPY), but I’m liquidating most of my stock picks into just holding SPY and QQQ.
  • I realized my favorite TV show this year is 30 Rock. The volume of jokes, the level of wit, the chemistry of the cast, and the relatable NYC jokes just come together so perfectly.
  • I tried surfing for the first time in San Diego and then took lessons in Puerto Escondido. It is super awesome and I hope I can find a way to do it more in the new year. I’m not particularly athletic, so being excited about a sport is kind of a big deal.
  • My favorite purchase this year was this Timbuk2 sling bag. I never realized how damn bulky my pockets were, but now I’m a free man contributing to the normalization of male purses.
  • I’m very disappointed with myself, but I haven’t kept up with my Chinese while traveling – I find it extremely hard to practice and do lessons when on the road.
  • I stopped playing chess. I guess it was just a fad! Honestly, it’s just not fun to lose at chess. It’s so exhausting to play at your best and so deflating when you lose.
  • I got to interact with some extremely cute cats, which made me think that cats are pretty dope. I’d love to have 1 dog and 1 cat in the distant future.