building skills to build lasting wealth
Financial Lifestyle Livelihood Mindset

Building Skills to Build Lasting Wealth with Francis Sojun

Investing in Yourself

Investing in yourself is often cited as one of the most profitable investments you can make. That’s because people recognize that it will not only generate future returns, but often offers an immediate pay-off as well. One of the most profitable ways to invest in yourself is to build skills. Even Jeff Rose, a former financial advisor, noted in this Forbes article that especially when we are younger emphasizing our skills and investing in ourselves can pay tremendous dividends, sometimes more than investing in Wall Street.

Today’s post examines how one young man, Francis Sojun (his chosen pseudonym), is focusing early in life on building skills as a foundation for building lasting wealth. He has decided to work on increasing his experiential capital. Vicki Robin, co-author of Your Money or Your Life, referred to these skills as A for Abilities in her guest post on the ABCs of Wealth. Here she noted that DIY skills “save you lots of money – and can make you money if you need it.”

Much in the spirit of Tinian Crawford at DIY 2 FI, who encourages us to maximize our skills and mindset to optimize our path to financial independence, this is Francis’ approach to generating wealth. That includes viewing wealth as money, time, freedom, and peace of mind.

Francis is a regular reader of this blog and from time to time sends me updates he’s shared over in the forums at Early Retirement Extreme, a blog that is near and dear to my heart. His latest update detailed his efforts to cultivate his skills to achieve greater financial resilience and security. This seemed like fortuitous timing since one of the suggestions most commonly made by those who responded to my blogiversary reader survey (which is still open should you want to share your feedback) back in June was to include interviews and profiles of other people also pursuing a more socially responsible path to financial independence.

Francis kindly agreed to work with me to flesh out his update a little more to make it into an interview. He is wise beyond his years and I hope you enjoy his voice, spirit (there is some swearing in this one), and story as much as I did…

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Francis. I am 20 years old and grew up in the Midwest. When I was 12, I fell in love with learning Spanish, and was semi-adopted into a Mexican family some years later. In the wake of the 2016 election, I got involved with an immigrant rights group and used my language skills to support undocumented immigrants.

semi-retirement
phot credit: Mohammed Hassan on Pixabay

After high school I spent some time working and traveling. I was fortunate to have some bizarre adventures hitchhiking, living with nudists, and sitting a silent meditation retreat. Meditation has become particularly important to me, and I continue practicing every day.

I had just started college when COVID-19 began, but the global pandemic has led me to reconsider my plans. I am still figuring out my next step.


How are you personally pursuing a socially conscious path to financial independence?

I focus mainly on reducing consumption. As I understand it, non-consumption is sort of the financial and environmental application of Gandhi’s ahimsa do no harm.

Karl Marx had a pretty big influence on me as a teenager, and I mostly agree with his critique of capitalism. I have been wary of investing because I don’t want to achieve financial independence by harming others. I am not yet sure what I think about ethical investing, so the main variable I can play with is cost of living.

How has Covid19 and the ensuing pandemic impacted your daily life in terms of living arrangements, income and employment, schooling, and social life?

The pandemic has totally changed my plans for the future! At the beginning of the year I was planning to work my ass off and grind through a nursing degree. Due to online college, I burned out halfway through the year and now my horizons are wide open.

I am fortunate to not have been affected too badly; I’m in no danger of losing my income, food, or housing. I am very grateful for what I have and want to help others who have less.

How has the pandemic impacted your pursuit of socially conscious financial independence?

building wealth without the stock market
Photo credit: Tom Conway on Unsplash

Pre-pandemic, I was planning to work extremely hard and get my nursing degree done as quickly as possible so I could save up money quickly and reach full FI. Now my path is totally up in the air! I’m taking opportunities as they come. Now, I’m planning to try to reach a state of semi-retirement much earlier so I have time for things I care about, rather than working for the man for 5-10 years and reaching full FI.

Now that nursing school isn’t eating up all my time and energy, I’ve been able to learn the basics of bike repair and become a pretty good cook. As my main focus is reducing consumption, learning new skills allows me to have a higher quality of life with the same amount of money. Competence allows one to stretch a single dollar much farther.

So what are some of the skills you have been working to develop? And why have you chosen those specific skills to help you pursue semi-retirement?

I have been mainly focusing on bike repair and cooking. This fall I’m taking a horticulture course, so I’ll be able to learn the basics of gardening as well.

I chose these because they were most relevant to my immediate situation. I bike everywhere I go, so learning how to do my own repairs has been immensely useful to me. My preferred diet is also different from the rest of my family, so becoming a better cook has immensely boosted my quality of life and access to good, healthy food.

I have been considering an alternative path for myself, namely to achieve some degree of semi-retirement early in life, perhaps at age 20 or 21, and use my extra time for developing other modules of my retirement system, learning Renaissance skills, meditation retreats, slow travel, etc. I can take the “scenic route” instead of the “sledgehammer route.” The benefits of this approach are numerous. For starters, it sounds more fun and I can see myself sticking with it for a longer period of time. Secondly, it will give me the time and energy to develop various nodes of my retirement system from a young age, rather than hyper- focusing on a “career module” which would consume most of my time and energy.

Semi-retirement seems to largely hinge on one’s ability to generate income on-demand rather than on safe withdrawal rate. It seems that ideally, work best suited for semi-retirement is flexible and not hyper-specialized. It also seems that in a semi-retirement context, one can take advantage of serendipitous opportunities for income generation that one would not have in full time specialized employment. Logically, if my semi-retirement plan will mostly depend on my ability to efficiently generate income, then my most immediate task is to find and take advantage of any income opportunities I have now, and particularly focus on non-dead end opportunities.

how to build wealth from nothing

I currently have a job at a grassroots non-profit whose main focus is aiding immigrants and refugees. It’s by far the best job I’ve ever had. I volunteered there for years before being paid to work part-time, so I have a lot of autonomy and get to work on all sorts of interesting projects, from helping translate an eviction case to planting a Monarch Waystation and painting a 7-foot-tall wooden butterfly.

I’ve been a foreign language nerd since I was a kid. My best languages are English, Spanish, and German. In the past couple months I have been able to make $20/hr doing private tutoring in Spanish, and I’ve traded German lessons for guitar lessons at another point too. Since I already have a high degree of skill in these areas, I believe that with some work I can leverage this for more efficient and flexible income.

The first way to leverage this is by expanding my classes. I make $20/hr for Spanish but I don’t get many hours. Usually 1-2 classes a week. If I refine my curriculum and get more demand, I can increase my hourly wage, get more students, and start offering private tutoring as well as tutoring for small groups. This way I could charge more per hour for private lessons, but still get business from people who aren’t willing to pay as much but are willing to sit in a small group.

how to build wealth and retire early
Photo Credit: Tessa Kavanagh on Pixabay

The second way to leverage my skills is through freelance translation. Most freelance translation is highly technical and specialized, which would require me to learn field-specific jargon in my foreign languages (as well as English!) but I think working myself into a profitable niche in this field would be a useful way to enable my future semi-retirement plans. If all goes well, it would allow me to translate documents as necessary, working one document at a time. Though I didn’t get very far into nursing school, I might be able to build on what I know in order to translate medical documents. This might not be the most fun job, but if it facilitates semi-retirement in my 20s and I already have a lot of the skills, it makes sense to go for it.

You’ve also really been working on your culinary skills. Can you tell us what prompted you to focus on this and how you’ve been going about improving your confidence in the kitchen?

how to create wealth without money
photo credit: Plant Spirit photography

I would currently categorize myself as a “pretty good cook,” but I would eventually like to become a “damn good cook.” My main strategy has been to round up weird ingredients from around the kitchen, and use supercook.com to try to make something edible out of them. I have observed that I tend to learn best when cooking with friends who are better than I am.

However, I think the most important takeaway from my culinary adventures thus far is to approach every dish with a sense of adventure and equanimity. In other words, be willing to take risks and fuck it up! Every dish teaches something, especially failed ones.

What life do you envision building for yourself with those skills once we emerge from this Pandemic?

In my opinion, the whole point of pursuing financial independence and learning new skills is to put ourselves in a position where we can be of optimal service to others. So any life oriented towards service is one that I want for myself.

How do you see these skills helping you achieve personal and financial resilience?

As I said before, each skill learned allows one to stretch each dollar much farther. In a Wade Davis TED Talk, he tells the story of an Inuit man who was trapped on the tundra with nothing but his two dogs.

The man defecated into his hand, and formed the feces into a blade. When it froze, he killed the first dog and fashioned a sled out of its ribcage. He attached his first dog to his second dog, and sledded back home.

The point of this story is that there are many different ways of getting our needs met. It is in the interest of corporations to have a population of hyper-specialized consumers who are very good at entering data into spreadsheets, but reliant on consumption for meeting all their other needs. By developing new skills, we empower ourselves and become less reliant on the market economy.

Thanks to Francis for sharing his story. It includes so many good insights about the power of skills to help us along the path to resilience and maybe even a purpose-filled life of semi-retirement. And for those of you for whom semi-retirement is a new concept I offer these resources for further reading:

*Mini-Retirements, Semi-Retirement, Early Retirement, What’s the Most Awesome Lifestyle? on Get Rich Slowly
*Work less, live more: The way to semi-retirement on Afford Anything
*Living a Semi-Retired Lifestyle after Financial Independence on The Fioneers
*The 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris

What About You?

What skills are you building to cultivate lasting wealth and a resilient future?

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