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Table of Contents
WordPress reminds me that this is post number 200 published on this blog! Wo-ooh, let’s party! What a better way to celebrate than writing about personal and blog updates of last quarter?
I know that Q4 2020 seems a geological era ago, I know that we’re closer to the end of Q1 2021 (which means another update will come in a month or so), and that a lot has changed in last two months, at least in my intentions. But let’s do it anyway, I’m sure you’ll find it interesting.
Let’s get started 🙂
I started my current job as principal research engineer for an academic institute in September 2020.
My academic institute is located abroad, and I was supposed to travel there and meet my coworkers on a regular base. First trip was scheduled on mid September 2020, on my third week there. Awesome, good flight, guten Flug!
“Hello, I’m second Covid-19 wave. You should not flight 😉 ”
Uh, ok… Fast forward to February 2021 and I have never been there so far. I’ve been working purely remotely ever since the day In started.
Now, I know that literally everyone is doing this since March 2020, I’m not complaining about that. But given that I have been unemployed for 5 months when the “forced remote working” thing happened, I was new to the party. I was new to the remote onboarding party as well, which is another level of challenge, different from switching to remote work in a previously “in person” team/company. I’ve never met my colleagues in person, except my boss. Never had a lunch break with anyone. This thing sucks a lot.
Even though I never liked commuting and showing up every single day at work, I don’t like this other extreme as well. It’s hard to get excited and engaged in work-related activities if you kind of never met your colleagues. Add to that that I should have probably took a longer break from work after a severe burnout after Hooli and the output is predictable: I’m not giving my best self to my new employer.
Fun fact: in December 2020 I’ve attended what’s probably considered the most important conference in the field of Machine Learning: NeurIPS (Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems). It’s usually held in Vancouver, and I was sincerely looking forward to attending it in person, networking, getting excited by what I was going to experience. Sadly, for obvious reasons this year the conference was held over the internet, and it sucked.
I get that remote working might become the norm for knowledge workers in the future, but I think it sucks. I mean, it’s awesome if you’re working on your own projects, but it sucks if you’re working for someone else, or with someone else. I know this is a very personal opinion, your mileage may vary.
If I had to design my ideal workplace experience, I’d love to have an office where I could go whenever I want, with no mandatory presence. Better if the office is distributed (in coworking spaces). I’d probably settle on something like 2-3 days per week at the office, and the remainder from home.
Maybe my experience is also influenced by the fact I’m a father of a ~3yo daughter who doesn’t like having her father locked in a room most of the day, father who’s feeling guilty at every small break when she says “have you finished working? Are you playing with me now?“… dozens heartbreaks every single day. Again, your mileage may vary.
Anyway, I don’t think I’m going to keep working here for long. Even though my boss is amazing, the institute is amazing, the compensation is very good, and the job is the perfect one if I wanted to grow my career in AI/ML… I think my heart is telling me to let it go.
I do still like coding though, and coding as a Software Engineer among researchers is a well recognized superpower. I feel like Superman on Earth. At Hooli, I was Superman on planet Krypton, where everybody was Superman as well. Some sort of “technical mastery” is not enough to keep me engaged with a job these days.
I’ve just re-read the words above.
They trigger a never ending internal fight of “what if”s.
It’s hard to be me these days.
The book Designing Your Life is helping a lot in recognizing that this is not an engineering problem, but a design one. And I’m suffering the well known Paradox of Choice, not willing to let go of options when it’s clear from research that choices are bad.
Fast forward to end of February 2021: I’m still working here, but the recent enthusiasm around my Blogging activity is giving me the energy required to make yet another “giant leap for a man, small step for mankind” (because, honestly, who else cares?)
Let’s be honest, I’m not in the best shape of my life. I used to do a lot of sports, but in 2020 I experienced a sharp decline in physical activities. I’m at my all-time high weight, and it’s not funny.
At the beginning of October I wanted to join a Gym and do weightlifting. I’ve a good track record of effective results in the past. I’m not the guy who signs up for a yearly subscription in January and by mid February gives up. And I do think strength training is the best way to burn fat.
“Luckily” Gyms were shut down before I made my final decision in October. At least I didn’t waste money. I’m looking forward to joining a Gym as soon as they reopen though. I was targeting Migros Activ Fitness, which costs 740 CHF/Year. Not the cheapest (there are cheaper 24h self-service gyms in Zurich), but a good bang for my buck. And the one in my neighborhood has a giant sauna area, which I love!
Speaking of which, I did enjoy my home Sauna a lot in Q4 2020. Especially in November.
November has been an excellent month health-wise. I re-started running seriously, and burnt a lot of stages in my “Half Marathon in September 2021” plan:
I’ve also endured almost a month of intermittent fasting in November.
Sadly, December came with his below-zero temperatures, rain, snow (a lot of), and darkness. I can run at low temperatures, down to few Celsius degrees, but at one point it became unsustainable for my body. I had to put running on hold in December (spoiler: until mid February 2021).
Crappy and cold weather, no sunlight between mid November and the end of the year (spoiler: until mid February), no travel, no sport, not meeting friends as much as I would, working from home.
This is not a recipe for happiness.
I used to travel maybe too much in the past, but during this winter I realized how useful trips are for the mood, even just to mentally cut the “bad season” in few chunks. This winter seems infinite. Last trip happened in August 2020, it seems a generation ago.
October has been the “walking in the woods” month, November the “running” month, but December has been cold, dark, and depressing.
Under control, but it sucks.
Productivity and Organization
After almost a full year of using Roam Research for free (have been a beta member) I decided to subscribe to the Believer plan, which is a 5 years subscription to this amazing tool I cannot do without today.
On top of note taking and journaling, I’ve moved all my project management and productivity system in Roam. I’ve organized my projects and areas in a modified version of the PARA method. I do weekly planning, and weekly reviews, and keep a list of active projects that interleave with my notes and my journaling. I’ve never been a fan of productivity tools, but I fell in love for Roam at first sight. I still am 🙂
Before you ask: YES, I’ve considered Obsidian but I think Roam is superior and better integrated. And YES I’ve considered Notion but it’s not meant for wiki-like structure, personal knowledge management, and journaling. Roam merges Note taking, PKM, CRM, Productivity, Project Management, Journaling, and whatnot!
In mid November I took a week off to focus on long term vocational planning, which means “what would I do if I were to quit my current job tomorrow?” A kind of 5 years Odyssey Plans that are one of the key component of Life Design (according to Designing Your Life book). I wrote 5-6 very long notes with business ideas, business plans, roadmaps for my blog and my encore career after I’ll quit Software Engineering / Research.
More info on the Blog section below.
Family and Friends
As I said in Part 1 Mrs. RIP had a miscarriage at the end of September that costed her a couple of months of physical impairment before going back to normal. It’s been a bad start of the quarter.
Things improved along the quarter. As a couple, I an Mrs. RIP spent a lot of time in the evenings talking, planning the future, and watching movies and TV series, and of course trying again to have a second child.
Parenting, on the other hand, is being harder than I anticipated. The “terrible two” are called terrible not by chance. BabyRIP is in a rebel phase (which is normal, I guess), and she’s testing our limits. I get easily upset, and sometimes I feel powerless and helpless.
We’re not traveling, not visiting amenities and indoor playgrounds, and spending almost all the time in the same place, all together. This has proven to be challenging, and I’m not good at this type of challenges. I’ve lost my mind sometimes. Luckily Mrs. RIP is a black belt in parenting, and the park surrounding our place has been accessible even during peak Covid spreading.
We miss our families and Italian friends as well. We’re waiting for mass vaccination before making plans. Our parents are all in the 67-76 age range, so they should be vaccinated in one of the next batches, hopefully before end of March or April. BabyRIP deserves to meet her grandparents more regularly (and we won’t mind some help). But of course, at the moment safety from the virus is our main concern. Two acquaintances of my parents, roughly same age as my father, died by Covid in the last 3 months. Last thing I want is my parents and my in laws having to deal with the virus.
While disconnected from our families, we’ve solidified our local friendships here in Zurich, mostly Italian families with young kids. It’s been weird to celebrate Christmas holidays and New Year’s Eve with friends, but given the current conditions we’re grateful for having been able to celebrate this way.
I backed my first project on Kickstarter! The 7th Citadel, from the same creators of The 7th Continent 🙂
Given that I loved The 7th Continent so much, I’m going to wait until spring 2022 to put my hands on this promising board game!
We’ve also started playing Pandemic Legacy Season 2* with a couple of friends. Sadly, the restrictions on gathering (max 5 people, including children) kind of killed our indoor activities with friends with children, so our campaign is on hold. Pandemic fun interrupted by the real Pandemic.
I’ve also bought a batch of books, in the hope to read a book a month. Sadly, it took almost 3 months (end of February 2021) to finish the first one, Designing Your Life. A full post about it will come probably in March, and the RIP Book Club could move to the next book (The Elephant in the Brain*?) 😉
Apart from compulsive leisure purchases (joking, it’s been a one-off), I’ve been playing a lot of Terraforming Mars* (IT*), both Solo and with Mr. VCF (my Very Close Friend, ex Hooli colleague, and wedding witness).
That’s it on the personal side. It seemed an infinitely long quarter, but at the same time not much memory-worthy happened. It’s the Holiday Paradox (or Short-Long / Long-Short paradox), like explained by Michael Stevens in this amazing video.
Retire in Progress
On the blog side a lot of things happened, at least in my mind, in preparation for 2021 Q1.
Let’s first Review 2020 Q4 and Year 2020.
Quarterly and Yearly Blog Review
2020 Q3 ended with a blogging sprint! In September 2020 I’ve been able to publish 9 posts and you seemed to have liked them 🙂
Traffic at the end of Q3 grew a lot, mostly thanks to Marcello Ascani’s first mention of my blog on his YouTube channel at the end of August 2020.
These were the blog stats (pageviews) at the end of Q3:
I knew that Q4 would have probably underperformed compared to Q3, where August and September 2x-ed previous months.
Q4 did underperform, but just slightly… And the upward trend didn’t stop 🙂
Yes, of course it would take few more months to catch with September all time high (spoiler: just 2), but the baseline is growing, and that’s the feedback I was looking for.
I’ve published less articles on Q4 compared to Q3.
- 2020 Q3 Update.
- Several WLJ articles.
- Trolling a Financial Advisor 3 posts series.
- RIP Coworking call to action (more on this below).
- RIP Book Club call to action (more on this below).
- Finpension post about why I moved our Pillar 3As.
- …and a few more.
Still a lot of very long posts.
What about year 2020 pageviews?
At the beginning of the year, I remember setting the goal of 250k Pageviews by the end of 2020. Well, the blog ended up being visited 380k times, which is +50% compared to expectations, and +100% (2x) compared to last year pageviews. I like the exponentiality of it, and I’d like to set the aggressive goal of reaching 1M Pageviews in 2021 – but I’d be celebrating anyway if we reach 750k views, i.e. another 2x compared to 2020.
Fast forward to end of February 2021 and I can say that… well… we’re on track 🙂
About the origin of my blog visits, here’s a list of all the countries with at least 1k pageviews. Ok, I made an exception for Luxembourg. At the top of the list Italy and Switzerland are fighting shoulder to shoulder 🙂
It blows my mind to know that this blog has been visited more than a thousand times in 2020 from almost 30 different countries. If we extend the list down to 1 pageviews we get the world map above, where few countries are left out (Greenland WTF! Don’t you like my blog??)
As I said many times (even in my transparency page) I do care about pageviews metrics, but I don’t do anything to improve them except trying to produce the best content I can. I don’t do anything SEO, I don’t advertise the blog, I don’t do social media as commonly recommended, and I don’t write catchy/clickbait titles. I don’t let the metrics influence the editorial work behind my blog.
Experiencing exponential growth this way is much much more rewarding. It means my authenticity and transparency are being valued 🙂
And hard work.
In 2020 I’ve published more “words” than in 2019 and 2018 (and half of 2017 as well) combined.
I’ve published 51 posts in 2020, one per week on average. Average length is above 4k words. This is an insane amount of output. It’s the size a couple of literary fiction books or an epic literary fiction novel.
I’m impressed by my own perseverance, and devotion to my blog.
And the trend is not slowing down in 2021. In January alone I’ve published another 40k words, more than the entire 2017 blog activity, and on track to 2x the number of published words in 2021. But I will slow down a bit, I can’t keep torturing you this way 😀
I know “words” is not a valid measure for quality, and I know I can (and should) improve my quality by 10x. I’m still here to learn how to be useful, inspirational, and entertaining. Please give me actionable feedback 🙂
But I can’t hide that my blog is my main endeavor today.
When I think about working, I think about my blog.
When I take a shower, I get blog ideas.
90% of my network today comes from my blog.
More than 100 people reached me out to ask for help on financial topics, while only a handful needed software engineering help.
My creativity is centered around my blog.
If you ask me “where do I see myself in 5 years?”, I see myself running a small business around my blog.
Yes, a small business.
So far I’ve been considering my blog 95% leisure, 5% business. I’ve invested countless hours out of passion. But I can’t keep working a real job and also work on this passion while having a family and other avocational passions to exploit and explore.
I’ve been close to call it done a couple of times in the past even though I love my blog. I’ve also shared with you my desire to work on larger creative projects centered around the blog. And I don’t hide that I feel a strong pressure to create a “financial literacy 101” course, to launch a podcast and a YouTube channel (which doesn’t exist yet, but it’s crossing the 1k subscribers threshold), to launch local activities and – why not – creator towns.
I’d do that with my free time for free if I were FI, but I’m not (in Switzerland) yet.
Anyway, let’s talk about money 🙂
How much did this blog earn in 2020 (and in the previous years)?
Yes, 2017 and 2018 low expenses are due to first BrownHost “generous” hosting offer that lasted for 3 years, and then their fees skyrocketed for existing customers – which is a horrible sales practice that punish customer fidelization. Luckily I’ve killed BrownHost in late 2020, and my site is hosted by Host4.ch, a small company run by a friend. The site performances 10x-ed in terms of latency reduction and loading time, the pricing is fair, and they offer no referral fee for me to recommend them to you, which means I’m genuinely happy with my new host and I’m recommending it without conflict of interests – and I wish them a long partnership with Retire In Progress!
Anyway, we’re talking about peanuts income here, absolutely nothing compared to the amount of hours I’ve invested in it.
In 2021 I’m launching few services, improving affiliate marketing monetization (mainly Amazon), and… I have more plans, and I’ll share them with you once finalized 🙂
Let’s see how it goes, I aim to increase revenues by an order of magnitude (from 1k to 10k) in 2021.
RIP Headquarter & Walking Group
I’ve written about this crazy idea of renting a studio and offering a Coworking space to other people, as a way to create a small community around a physical place. Not the best time in human history, I agree. In fact I received 4-5 positive responses but no one committed, so I let it go. Meanwhile, the three offices available in my neighborhood disappeared in December/January. The project is on hold (but not dead, if I can find another office nearby).
I kind of regret not having rented one of them anyway. I thought they were going to be available forever. My mistake.
Anyway, as I said many times, I would love to create local communities.
I am an in-person person.
I usually go walking in the woods in my neighborhood (Zurich West) few times a week, and I’m already meeting readers during my walks. Why not make it a communal thing?
if you’re interested in group walks, chatting about personal finance, FIRE, career rants, midlife crises while surrounded by nature… contact me and I’ll add you to my RIP Walks Telegram group 😉
Next step: a RIP Board Games Group, when gathering indoor becomes cool again!
I’ve finally finished the Designing Your Life book! It’s been an amazing book to read, but 3 months to read a book is an unacceptable amount of time. By chapter 5 I’ve forgotten what I read on chapter 1. I’ve extracted notes only on the first two chapters so far. I plan to extract full notes and write a post about this amazing book, probably in March.
I’d recommend the book to anyone who’s facing an existential crisis, or who’s facing a “design problem” and trying to address it like an “engineering problem”. But the book is much more than this, I loved it!
Having said that, the bookclubz page tells me that there are 75 members, but I don’t see much activity. Stop lurking, show up 🙂
I plan to keep the Book Club going, maybe changing platform. Will take the month of March 2021 to decide the future of the Book Club, and next book for Q2 (yeah, let’s fly down and pick a book a quarter). Current candidates:
- Atomic Habits
- The Elephant in the Brain
- Rationality from AI to Zombie (a bit too long!)
Any suggestion for the Book Club evolution? Anyone who wants to help with that?
RIP Anti-Shark Italian Page
in Q3 I also had to shut down my Ufficio Antisqualo (anti-shark office), a page in Italian language where I exposed several Italian Fake Gurus. It took me a week or two of internal fight, but in the end those sharks started to send letters from their lawyers, and I planned to go public so… I decided to kill one of my creatures for the greater good. It hurts, but fighting against windmills is not how I want to spend my time. And the best defense against snake oil salesman is education (which is part of Retire In Progress core mission), not proscription lists.
I also removed mentions to other “sharks” in posts like Breaking Italy Wallet, The Italian Man who Went to Malta, and Fake Guru and Contrepreneurs. I still fight sharks but not on this blog, not “unprotected”.
Anyway, R.I.P. Ufficio Antisqualo 🙁
I love blogging, I love writing, I love all the activities around my blog. But I’d like to step up, and create something long lasting, that would require a longer coordinated effort over a period of several months, like writing a book (I have so many ideas) and launching an online course.
I don’t know if there will be room for them in 2021. Surely not in the immediate future, but maybe in the second half of the year… let’s see.
I’ve also been dreaming about starting a YT channel, and the “gentle push” I received after February 14th interview with Marcello Ascani has been inebriating:
Another dream of mine is starting a Podcast.
I’m thinking about it a lot, it doesn’t have to be ultra sophisticated to just get started. The options are endless: I could simply read my posts and provide an audio version. Or use the podcast to publicly reply to blog comments. Or hold some sort of Q&A. Or I can shorten my posts and delegate deep dives to the Podcast. Or I can do short episodes about Personal Finance themes. Or I can find a buddy or two and have “dialogues”. Or I can find people to interview with/without podcast buddies… Or I can do something that’s never been done before. The sky is the limit!
Podcasting is also cheaper than both Writing and YouTubing in terms of “time consumed”.
I don’t know yet, my time is limited and options are endless.
Suggestions are welcome 🙂
Other Facts and RIP Questions
I’ve enjoyed watching the cooking class by Yotam Ottolenghi and the baking class by Apollonia Poilâne with my wife.
I’ve also enjoyed Daniel Negreanu poker class alone, and I’d love to be able to play poker in my spare time. I’ve discovered that in Switzerland is close to impossible to play online Poker.
A question for you: is anyone playing Poker online here? In case you do, how do you do? Fun money, nothing serious… well, maybe we have another use case for a RIP Headquarter 😀
Another question: I would love to edit, clean, and improve the quality of some old posts. Bloggers and some close friends told me it’s a waste of time, and my time is scarce. Anyone with a different opinion? I like to see my blog as a Digital Garden, where every flower (post) is in its best shape, possibly evergreen. Or at least the evergreen posts should be. Thoughts?
Last question: I’ve investigated what it takes to get a CFP certification (Certified Financial Planner), which would give me skills, and authority to better help people with their finances. Yes, I’ve also thought about CFA, but I see myself more of a financial planner than a financial analyst. Problem is that I couldn’t find valid info about both “how to get a CFP in Switzerland?” and “what’s required to practice the Financial planner profession in Switzerland?” is there any CFP or Financial Planner in Switzerland who wants to help me out with this?
Thank you 🙂
Have a great day!