Frank Chen

Frank Chen

what does done actually look like

This piece of reflection is inspired from a Reboot podcast with Chris Remus of Chainflow.

The podcast explores the question "what does it mean to be done" in the context of work and our lives.

In the most ambitious sense, things are never "done". Something like that would be a nightmare for perfectionists, but luckily, I don't have that quality. But give me a compliment, a pat on the back, a "good job", any kind of win, and I almost never respond positively. My core belief is that things "could've been better". Not perfect, but better. That kind of behavior, as I'm learning myself, is quite toxic. I've been doing better by acknowledging the effort involved with any kind of success. A simple "thank you" has been a great start.

From a financial standpoint, I would agree with Chris' assessment that "done [is] usually related to some degree of financial freedom...[which means] making enough money so I [can] be done with [things I don't want to do] and really start to do what I [want] to do".

When you have financial freedom, it's pretty self-explanatory. You're no longer beholden to a boss, to a job, to some source of income that allows you to live. You're "done" in the sense that you have no more obligations. Your best alternative to any negotiated agreement in a job is "fuck you, I'm leaving because I can." That is power. Perhaps we can call this point "having fuck you money and then some".

Obviously, getting to financial freedom is not easy. I have always been of the opinion that any kind of "paycheck" or hourly rated work is a losing game. The juice is not worth the squeeze, but it is the most accessible form of work. The better way is to obtain assets that appreciate from the efforts of not only yourself but others. This means investing in equities, starting a business, creating a service, or crafting a product. It's creating value that is disconnected from time and hourly labor. But again, "to what end?" Some people measure this by some arbitrary dollar amount, others by the number of people they've helped. It really depends on an individual's psychology and what their "fuck you" point is.

Personally, while I'm not "financially independent" per se, I can say "fuck you", albeit for a shorter period of time. Nevertheless, it's still my mind that's caged. I am the one that perceives the lack, the desperation, and the feeling of "not enough". From this, I feel what Chris says when he states that he "felt very powerless [for most of his life]". The body is not free if the mind is still caged. I could very well have "fuck you" money but if my mind perceives it as "not enough", there's no amount of money in the world that would change my opinion. So, from a quantitative and spiritual standpoint, I would mark down "no, I'm not done" when it comes to financial independence.

Growing up, my worldview was as inorganic as they came. "Follow the rules. Do good in school. Don't skip class. Get good grades. Go to college. Get a stable, well-paying job. Don't rock the boat. Don't question dogma. Obey authority. Do what you're told." Little did I know, it was psychologically priming me to be a fucking vanilla human being (no offense to vanilla lovers). I fought that shit every step of the way, but it's like fighting a barrage of arrows with a sword. It's not a question of if but when you're going to be impaled.

Chris expressed his feelings about work in his late 30s, how he "[couldn't] get up and [just] keep doing this". I had the exact same thought but it came much sooner in my career track. It was the cry of the person inside of me that didn't want to be a tub of vanilla. Perhaps it was all those years fighting my parents growing up and observing my father working for 35 years of his life in Silicon Valley, one dull fucking commute at a time. Extrapolating the feels of that and overlaying it with my own life just seemed like a dim projection that I for sure did not want to live through.

I've never told my father this, but I felt that if I just did what he did - find a good paying job, have a mortgage, pay off a house, maybe have a family, I'd fully accept that as nothing but a complete and abject failure, a resigned acceptance to my own circumstances. I was already born lucky. To not do anything with that luck is the ultimate failure.

To be fair, our circumstances were different. My father was and is an immigrant who came to the United States to build a better life for his family and children. I am grateful that he succeeded because he laid the groundwork for my sister and me. He achieved that level of comfort, and by all means, he deserves every fucking minute of it. He is now retired, happily "done", and rightfully so. But my circumstances and perspectives are my own, so my definition of done is different.

I've been working in technology since the summer of 2015, which marks 7 years this summer, which actually doesn't sound like much. I've achieved a buffer to have some breathing room to assess my next steps, but it took a lot of aggressive saving, sacrifice, and minimalistic behavior, which arguably is not an abundant mindset to have long-term. All in all, I feel I don't have much to show for it. There were some good value drops here and there, but overall, I'm not proud, and so in the measurement of accomplishment, I am far from done.

As I witness how things are going for us as a society, I fully expect that I will work until the day that I die. I don't meaningfully think I'll ever be "retired" and doing nothing. There will be no "done" for me in this sense. This is informed by the fact that I am a tinkerer. You leave me alone and I'll find something to play around with. Chris similarly talks about "not being sure that there is a retirement" and I fully agree, at least in the traditional sense of the word.

Deep down, I am still conditioned by "life-deferment". Our society is set up for it - 401ks, Roth IRAs, pre-tax elective deferrals, long-term capital gains, "the kids who had self-control get farther in life", etc. I save a lot for "retirement" but actually don't know what that means. If I don't have kids, then there's no wealth to be passed on. Because I'd rather not wait until I'm 50 or 60 (or even 35) to actually do what I want, then I should start NOW and utilize periodic mini-vacations, or intermittent retirements that allow me to experience life when I'm still young. I learned this from Tim Ferriss. I'm still pretty fucking bad at doing it.

At the same time, I'm always fighting the pain of not being able to enjoy myself because I need to constantly be saving and winning against inflationary forces. So when is enough, enough?

Perhaps the question of done here starts looking like a math problem if we think about burning assets in the same way as we do accumulating them. This would be anti-deferment. It would be a really elegant, oddly satisfying solution for someone to basically croak and have exactly $0 to their name after all the associated last-day and post-mortem costs covered. It'd require some personalized creative spending to cut it nice and close, right up to the bucket-kicking, so that your figurative life-motorcycle comes in with its tires absolutely stripped bare of rubber, brakes on fire, and not a dollar to your name. In a beautiful way, we might be able to call this a satisfying "done". You spent what you accumulated and you had some fucking fun while you did it.