Life as a consultant: new beginnings

The unique aspect of consulting is that you’re always going from client to client, industry to industry, and role to role. It is the definition of an always changing job. There’s little time to ever build a routine or be personally vested.

Every once in a while, you do land in a client where you’re loved, and you make an impact. In those moments, it’s always tough to transition to the next project. You leave behind a piece of your soul, your sweat, your tears. You also take away a piece of your client’s culture with you and it becomes a part of you.

After several months at my last client, I’m finally moving on to my next adventure. More to come there. I’m now reflecting on the past several months, the routines I’ve made for lunch, parking, and daily life. Now, it’s different. Not in a bad way, not in a good way, just different.

Friendships built will fade just as with past clients but many will transcend the transnational nature of our business. Those are the ones that earn a spot on your phone’s favorite list and a regular messaging friend. They sometimes come back years later in new roles and new opportunities.

In the 12 years I’ve been doing this, I’ve come to peace with the amazing nature of my business and the downsides of the work. It makes me happy, frustrated, and sometimes overwhelmed with joy and despair.

I am a consultant.

New adventures

As I’m learning more about photography, I’ve noticed that Im paying attention more to the world around me. I’m less concern at the moment on the technical photography but rather more on seeing unique new things in the world.

I went with a Fuji camera because nearly all the controls are tactile. There’s something beautiful about touching and turning a physical dial instead of swiping and tapping glass.

This hobby is also getting expensive and I have to hold myself back from spending too much.

Writing everyday – inspired by Seth Godin

Seth Godin finds time to write a blog post every day. If he can do it, so can I. How does he do it? He writes like he talks.

I’ve removed all the barriers to blogging, worrying about categories, tags, images, SEO, etc. Just now using this platform to get my thoughts down often and to refine and clarify my focus.

My latest passion is resonating with the heart instead of the head. My personality type says that my preferences is on logic. Unfortunately, logic doesn’t always appeal to everyone.

My Fuji X-T2 is coming in the mail today. I’m looking forward to learning the mechanics of photography and then using that skill to learn to observe, compose, and see the world.


Rethinking retirement, cutting credit cards, and saving intensely

In my 20’s, I harped on the need to save for retirement but didn’t actually make good on my preaching. As an economist, I learned the theory of compound interest and how money grows exponentially over time. In theory, it makes a lot of sense, but in practice, it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Behind the math was life and emotions. I lived in a world of consumerism, where more and more material goods keep getting produced. As I got into my 30’s, technology had perfected marketing. There wasn’t a day where my news feed wouldn’t have something that I must have, or a deal too good to pass up, or social media posts of all the great adventures my friends were having.

Behind the scenes of my own stylized social media life was one of student loans, car payments, and mortgage payments. There was a subscription fee, automated purchases, and service for everything. Just a few months back, I had meal delivery service, restaurant delivery, Amazon subscribe and save, Apple Music, Hulu Plus, housekeeping, and even underwear subscriptions. Everything was automated and everything was on a subscription. No matter how many raises and bonuses I got, it barely kept up with the monthly expenses. didn’t work because all it did was made me feel guilty for how much of my spending came from coffee. It wasn’t a budgeting tool, it was a spending tracking tool.

The moment came for me when I came across Mike and Lauren, a young couple on You Tube. They had a video on How to Retire Early. The basic premise is they save virtually all their income in their 20’s and save their magic number: $420,000. Their goal is to hit that number by the time they’re 30 and that savings should net around $17,000 annually from the earnings. Much of this comes from Mr. Money Mustache, The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement. There’s a swelling group of young individuals that aren’t convinced that working 30+ years to retire at 65 on a beach is the way to go.

Financial independence means having the finances so that you don’t have to work to make ends meet. Instead, you can do whatever you want, whether it be doing a hobby that doesn’t pay or working a job that you love.

What really hit me was that I’m past 30. I missed the opportunity.

During this, I also have been commuting to work and listening to Dave Ramsey podcasts again. His approach is a no debt, live like no one else so that later you can live like no one else. He preaches the Seven Baby Steps:

Baby Step 1 – $1,000 to start an Emergency Fund

Baby Step 2 – Pay off all debt using the Debt Snowball

Baby Step 3 – 3 to 6 months of expenses in savings

Baby Step 4 – Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement

Baby Step 5 – College funding for children

Baby Step 6 – Pay off home early

Baby Step 7 – Build wealth and give!

For years, the economist in me used the theory. My student loan interest was low, why pay it off. My mortgage interest was tax deductible. Instead of being focused, I tried to do everything all at once and didn’t do anything.

Later this month, I’m going to cut my final check to pay off my student loans ($40k). I’ve been making payments since 2005. Making the minimum payments would have dragged this on until 2025. Again, in theory, just make the monthly payments and invest in higher earning things. In practice, a payment here and a payment there and then you have no idea where your money went.

In following Dave’s plan, I’m on a cash system for restaurants and groceries. Ouch, just a month in and I already burnt my eating out budget. It’s packing lunches for the rest of the month. What I do know is that you spend significantly less when there’s friction in the transaction. Why else do you think credit card companies are investing in making your transaction seamless.

Just last week, as I sat down to have dinner. I found that dried beans and rice are insanely cheap to buy (and healthy). I went from $15-$20 dinners to $2 per meal. I stacked up my credit cards and started to dial each one. I reached a customer service rep and said I wanted to close my account. Immediately, I’m transferred to an account manager and they always start with how are you?

I’m great I said. I’d like to cancel my account please.

May I ask why?

I’m on the Dave Ramsey plan and I’m cancelling all my credit cards today.

Silence. You are doing what? You realize that your card has all these great benefits, you can earn cash back to help with your investment plans.

That’s okay, I don’t need a credit card.

I still don’t understand, if you pay off your card, you’re earning the points and not paying interest. What about emergencies? Don’t you want to at least keep one card for emergencies?

I’m okay, I have a big pile of cash for emergencies.

These conversations go on card by card. Discover, thank you for being a loyal member since 2000. They were straight up belligerent and very aggressive. Surprisingly, American Express, also one of my oldest cards, was incredibly understanding and supportive. The account rep had a sister-in-law that was on the Dave Ramsey plan.

There we go, I’m free of credit cards. Not one.

It’s sometimes a pain to buy things without a credit card. I also find myself making less impulsive purchases because it requires thinking.

It’s been some time now but I finally feel money again. It’s not a number. It’s my hard earned work, stress, and successes.

What’s up next?

I’m going to build up my emergency fund over the Summer and then ramp up retirement savings. Everything else is going to go toward paying off my mortgage. Conservatively, I am on pace to paying off the mortgage in 10 years and pacing toward a retirement at 50. The prospect of working until 67 just seems terrifying and not worth the consumerism of today.

A call for help, stop our addiction to our phones

Our phones are killing us.

Let’s go back a bit. The world took a hit of one of the most addictive items in 2007 when Steve Jobs announced the iPhone. For those that were using phone before the iPhone came out, you’ll remember innovative features like how small can we make these phones, picture messaging, and even PDA features. As an early adopter of the iPhone, I remember people saying they’re not sure they need to get email on their phone and it’ll never replace my point and shoot camera. Fast forward to nearly the 10 year mark coming up and it’s a rarity to see anyone without a “smartphone.” It’s become the essential device that everyone has on them all the time. It’s the device we wake up to and the device we go to bed with.

I was out to dinner a few days ago and I watch a young couple eat together. The guy was on his phone the entire time, scrolling with his left hand and eating with his right hand. His presumably girlfriend was eating next to him, staring into space. Instead of striking up conversation as we used to, this couple were connected to the world at their fingertips but so far apart they might as well eat alone. This used to be an extreme case but it’s the norm today. We spend more time photographing our meals and sharing it with the world than we are sharing it with those in front of us.

Is this old fashion thinking? I don’t think so. It’s not a generational issue, it’s not an age issue. It’s happening across the board. The appeal of connection of our phones, apps, social networks is addicting. Infinite scrolls is infinite, the news and updates will never end.

I caught myself in this addiction. My world was projected on a four inch screen. I was caught up on 4K resolution screens rather than the 360 immersive resolution of the real world. It’s the fear of missing out that drives us away from the beautiful world back into the virtual world. Instead of living our own lives, we live in the lives of filtered and staged experiences of others.

I’m calling it out now. Please innovate us out of this mess. Get us away from the touch screen and back to the big world again. Make wearables that tap us when something is important for our attention and make interactions with machines where we can do so looking up rather than down. Technology should enhance our lives, not replace it.

Learning new trades during a staycation

My two were staycation is slowly winding down. I spent about six hours a day working on finishing out my partially finished basement. About four years ago, we had a refrigerator line burst and it ended up flooding the basement ceiling. I used the home insurance payout to replace my electrical system instead of repairing the drywall. Over the past few years, I’ve torn out most of the drywall  and replaced the electrical and plumbing system as well as install a furnace.

This project was to learn new trades as well as finally finish up the space into something liveable rather than just storage.

The trades involved in this project include:

  1. Concrete work – leveling out the basement floor. I used twenty bags of self leveling underlayment to fill in various dips in the basement slab.
  2. Concrete grinding – I had to cut up a foundation block where the old chimney used to be. This involved connecting my circular saw with a diamond blade and cutting a grid pattern into the foundation and chipping it away.
  3. Framing – no structural work was needed for this project. Instead, I framed in three partition walls into the space and a knee wall along the foundation perimeter.
  4. Electrical – I pulled wiring for six outlets along the new partition walls.
  5. Networking – two pulls of Cat 6 Ethernet went along to each room in the house. With the basement walls opened, it was time to pull the wiring before I closed it up.
  6. Insulation – four bags of Roxul insulation was used to insulate and also create noise blocking for the partition walls.
  7. Drywall – hung ten sheets of drywall.
  8. Plaster – applied four bags of plaster veneer base coat. I didn’t use a finish coat because I wanted the sandy old world look.
  9. Paint – primed and painted the walls
  10. Flooring – installed 22 boxes of resilient vinyl planks. This by far was the worst job requiring a lot of kneeling on the floor and standing up and down.
  11. Trim – trimmed out the baseboards along the floor.

I finished the project in about ten days. It could have gone faster had I worked longer days but I wanted to take it easy. Most importantly, this was a good break from my day job and used muscles (literally) I don’t normal use. It also tapped into a different part of the brain and stretched me in different ways. As a project manager, my job is to plan everything out. This project was 100% winged. I made everything up as I went (and made relatively few mistakes along the way).

Don’t think I want to do another project this size again but I did learn a few new trades along the way.

Going to the material yard to pick up plaster
Framing in partition walls
Hung the drywall and installed plywood sheathing.
No one plasters here in the West Coast. This pink stuff is plasterweld, a bonding agent that helps the plaster adhere to drywall.
My favorite part of the project was plastering. It’s a lost art and really fun.
Primed and painted the walls with whatever paint we had stored up. The flooring was easy to get start but really became a nighmare project. It was painful standing up and down constantly over two days.
Here’s the finished room (need to install the outlets).

Focus and Flow with Focus@Will music service

In a world where distractions are the norm, there are a few techniques I use to keep that to a minimum. Music and a nice pair of headphones is my current solution. I recently discovered Focus@Will, a music streaming service that’s designed specifically for this. For me, I’ve always leaned to Daft Punk and the Inception sound track as my go-to tracks for focused work. Focus@Will curates music with the optimal tempo, rhythm and tones to get into the state of flow.

There are channels that are spa and nature, but also classical music and high energy music. Each channel helps you tune in specifically for your work demands. There are also special channels for brainwave entrainment, tuned to lock your brain into a specific frequency. The effects are temporary and only last when the music is play. I compare this to a meditative state.

All this sounds like a bunch of BS and that’s what I thought initially. I gave the free trial a run, no credit card needed. I’m generally a skeptic so the trial was worth putting this service to the test. I’m currently working on a high stress project with multiple workstreams. Focus is critical especially since heads down time is limited. When I do get time to work at my desk, I want to make the best use of the time. I have found that putting the headphones on and playing the ambient channel (my favorite) keeps me in the zone. It’s a different focus than my typical Daft Punk playing. I’m much more zoned out and tuned into the work in front of me. The only downside is I’ll be completely disconnected from my environment and people have to wave me down to get my attention (isn’t that a good thing?).

I rarely endorse a service but in this case, this is money well spent. I highly recommend Focus@Will and recommend you give it a trial run (affiliate link). I’ll report back in a few months after more usage.

First look at the ColsenKeane 4313 Minimalistic Satchel


n my search for the ultimate lifetime bag, I came across a new addition to my collection: The ColsenKeane 4313 Minimalistic Satchel in Crazy Horse Leather.

In a world where everything is mass manufactured in some off-shore location by assembly line factory workers, ColsenKeane is truly a throwback in time of old-timer leather craftsmen. Meet Tony Bozeman, one of two leathersmith working at ColsenKeane led by designer and founder Scott Hofert. Tony literally put together my bag start to finish. When an order is placed, these guys pull out a roll of hand selected leather and put blade to hide. The effect is a bag that’s perfectly imperfect, made by someone that loves their craft. This bespoke approach and American made means the bag is spendy. Like any piece of art, I like to factor in the time and materials it takes to make a bag like this and you appreciate the value you get for the price.

Photo Credit: ColsenKeane.

I live in the world of digital and analog. My tools are digital, spreadsheets, databases, and computing devices. What ColsenKeane has done with their bags is take a very grungy and beefy piece of leather and craft it into a minimalist, slick, and modern design. Every part is built with a specific purpose and no more. It’s made of one think piece of thick 10oz leather that makes up the front, bottom, back, and flap. Two side pieces are stitched together with heavy duty waxed nylon thread forming the rectangular briefcase-like body. I noticed that it’s double stitched, meaning two thick strands of thread are woven in an overkill fashion. This is not a high fashioned bag, the fit and finish is rough by design. It feels like a cow was slaughter, tanned, and woven together in the back country for the modern day man. It balances out and warms our cold machined aluminum products.

Photo Credit: ColsenKeane

Two belts are woven throughout the satchel making it a part of the bag, not just through loops like most bags. The handle is just a simple strip of leather that’s hooked into the two belts, forming a cohesive structure, not just individual elements. 

The leather comes from high end US tanneries and I chose crazy horse. It has waxes that are buffed in. As a result, when you touch the leather, fold it, or scratch it, the colors change and comes to life. Every time I touch the bag, it seems to change. Crazy horse also looks antique out of the box and only gets better with age. I can’t wait to see how this bag changes over the coming months as it breaks in.

The bags come with a variety of options including:

  • Front and bag inside organizers made of natural tanned leather that patinas to a beautiful golden brown
  • Magazine pocket in the back that holds quick access documents
  • Luggage belts that hold the satchel onto your travel roller bags
  • Convertible backpack option that allows you to carry the bag like a backpack
  • Exterior pocket that gives an additional 1″ of storage

I went with a very simple design, no organizers on the inside and a magazine pocket on the outside. This completely free form space allows me to update my bag as my technology and needs change. For now, it’s a weekend diaper bag when I’m out and about with the baby. It’s also my thinking bag when I need to get away and focus on life.

This bag is the balance of two worlds, modern and old world. The design is modern, yet the materials are old world with copper rivets that will form a beautiful patina. It can carry our technology like laptops and tablets yet balances out all that tech with rugged organic, taking us back to a time where we were more in touch with nature. The minimalist design is offset by the manual process used to create the bag. Edges are raw and hand cut. Copper rivets are hammered by hand. The leather celebrates the imperfections of the hide. In a world where everything is mass produced, this is a product that truly is uniquely you.

Finally, I find that the satchel’s closure design requires extra effort to open and close. In a world where we’re looking for quick release mechanisms, I do find and appreciate a system that requires you to slow down. It’s just a reminder to stop running around all day and take a moment and enjoy the tactile feel of lashing in the belt to the buckle and strapping it down.

Two belts are lashed through the bag and tied down. The leather is starting to break in a bit as I use the bag. 
The handle is looped into the belts. When closed, all the weight is pulling from the bottom of the bag and evenly distributed.
The stitching is really rugged and doubled up.
The back side of the 10oz hide is unlined.