Interview With Donny: Retiring Was an Accident

I’m excited to post something different this time around.   I decided to host an interview, after meeting an inspiring individual on one of my Meetups, who happens to lead a very interesting lifestyle.

donny hsu - retiring was an accident

Donny is from Taiwanese descent and was raised in Montreal, Canada. This is where he had a traditional upbringing, his own condo, a prosperous career as a programmer and a vibrant lifestyle. However, he always questioned life as an employee and was a bit of a maverick in the workplace.  So much so, he got fired 5 times.

He eventually saw the light and retired at the tender age of 39. This is when he sold his own condo and embarked on a dream lifestyle, now travelling to 5 different countries per year…for the last 4 years.  As Donny boasted in his recent 12min.me presentation, “I make money when I masturbate…” I like this guy already.

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1. It takes a certain amount of self-awareness and drive to live this lifestyle. What is the Donny backstory including how you retired so early?

This wasn’t a planned lifestyle. Early retirement wasn’t the goal…it was an accident. All I know is how I live today – it’s all I know.   I’m living the exact same way I’ve been living the last number of years. I regularly invested my savings and when my passive income reached that crosshairs moment (when my passive income was greater than my expenses), that’s when I quit my job. 

I then researched what FI’ers do after they retire and researched the top 5 activities.  That’s when I decided to travel because that’s what people in this game do.  I Live 100% off index funds and stocks that pay me dividends.

2. How and when did you know you didn’t fit into conventional society?

When I was 25 years old, I worked on a project with somebody who was 25 years ahead of me from a professional point of view  His future as an employee in a company didn’t excite me. 

I grew up in a middle-class family, where my parents drummed into me; get an education, go get a job, start a family, stick at for 50 years and collect that golden watch – and life will be beautiful. That still perpetuates with my mother today.  She’s always telling me to get a job.  She would say things like, “My friend’s son is an accountant, and he lives in this part of town.  He lives in such a lovely house with 3 bedrooms and drives a fancy car”. 

Even though I’m retired and don’t have a job, she still wants me to wear a suit.  She would paint a picture of what a perfect person would look like. It’s natural for people to compare and keep up with the Jones.  My Mother would try and shame me into fitting that same mould.  I read a really fun quote recently – ”In the eyes of average people, average is exceptional”. 

And that’s what causes folk to live/ stay in a conventional life because average to them is already exceptional.  As in, they’ve already made it in life…they have a house, a car, a good job.  Even on Facebook, every time one of my friends posts a picture of their brand new car, congratulations is plastered all over the post. 

But congratulations on what? Fitting into this conventional mould? How hard would it be to buy that car…because anyone with a pay cheque can get a car loan.  This is how the financial banking system works. The unemployment rate is 5 or 10%?  So, around 95% of society have a job, hence they can get a car loan and a mortgage. So, congratulations on what exactly? For being average?

I made the mistake thinking that everyone living that conventional life wanted to get out of that conventional life. But I was wrong.  In fact, they are blissfully unaware of FIRE, or maybe they’re happy where they’re at?

3. What are you currently working on and could you give us a brief roadmap of how you got there?

Before I retired 4 years ago, I started reading books on retirement.  I didn’t know anything about the FIRE scene back then.  I don’t know what exactly influenced me, it could have been some subliminal cues I picked up on.  But for me, it was just a mathematical equation – my passive income is greater than my expenses, so I don’t need to make any more money. 

We’ve seen how people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are giving away hordes of cash because they also realised that taking billions of dollars to the grave achieves nothing. Being the richest person in the cemetery is pointless. So, they’ve kept enough for a comfortable lifestyle and given the rest away. 

They also could have been an influence on my early retirement.  But I’ve had folk like my mother say, “even though you have passive income covering your expenses, why not just go back to work?.  Because everything extra you make at the job, could be extra you could add to your bank account”.

With regards to part-time work – for me as a programmer, I knew people who were working on video games as a side hobby, on the weekends or being part of open source projects.  Because they just loved programming and hobby projects in their own free time.  However, I’m not inclined that way.  I don’t code unless you pay me. 

For me, it was just a job. It’s a bit like being a Doctor going to a dinner party, and everyone asks, “I’ve got this pain”… and the Doctor would say, “Well, you can come to my office on Monday morning”. Well, I’ve got that Doctor’s attitude at the dinner party.  I attempted to expand on my hobbies when I retired, but later found out I didn’t really care for them.  

It turned out that a lot of my hobbies turned out to be stress relieving activities.  It turns out that drinking on a Friday night with your buddies is not so much a hobby. It just turns out that because I was working so hard on a job I didn’t like, it made me just want to get hammered. 

As a programmer, I used to go to massage therapy every month.  I could literally feel the pain between my shoulders.  And the massage was necessary.  Now I don’t need to do that. Not to save money, but because I don’t have a pain in my shoulders anymore. So, the first thing I did when I retired, was to expand on my hobbies and the things I love doing.

So, back to the question. One of those things is reading books.  I love to gain knowledge.  I love exercising, which has now become a habit.   There’s something the Dali Lama once said – “Humanity is strange, first people exchange their health for money than exchange their money for health”.  I love meeting people and learning about their hopes and dreams. So travelling 5 countries a year helps in that respect.

4. How do You Design Your Day?

When I was working, I’d say yes to every Facebook event I was invited to.  Yes to the house party, yes to the dinner invitation and yes to that movie.  Maybe I was trying to escape the stress from my job?  And I think we grow up thinking we have to agree to everything. If you say no, you’re just no fun. 

I think it was also drummed into me from my job.  My boss would say, “Can you stay late today and come in early tomorrow? If you want to be a ‘team player’ and not upset people, it was always…yes!  So, throughout life,  I’ve been conditioned to say yes to my teacher, my parents, my boss…and extended to my network of friends.

So, now that I finally have free time. I thought…this is mine. This is my time now. I can say no to everything.  I own this time, I’m not going to waste it on things I don’t care about.  I get to realise what’s more important now.  For instance, if my friends invite me for a movie and coffee afterwards, I’ll skip the movie and do coffee instead. I find the coffee/chat more valuable, hence this is a more productive use of my time. 

I may say no, but I’ll find an alternative that is more interesting to me. I read another quote, “If you don’t have control of your own time, then someone else does…”. So, I’m quite militant with my time and adhere to the methods I’ve read in books, that are used by Olympic athletes, coaches and CEOs.  What I find strange is, the only thing we (conventional folk) put in their calendars are things like dentist and doctor appointments.  But everything else is wide open for pretty much anyone else.

5. Tell us More About Where you Travel to and When You Decide to Leave?

With regards to the 5 different countries, I live in/ travel to, I have pretty much the same daily routine/ schedule for each one.  So, on average I travel to 5 places each year – Hungary (autumn option), Mexico/ Taiwan (winter options), Japan (spring option) and Canada (summer option).  With summer, I could use any of these options as it’s hot everywhere. I sometimes use these places as a central hub and travel to other places within each of these 5 countries. The only thing that changes for me is the background picture…kind of like a screensaver on your computer. And of course, the seasons change.  I move to a different place when the season changes. But these are the only variables to my daily routine.  I don’t have a stringent checklist.

6. What’s been the most difficult aspect of this whole lifestyle? As it’s not all sunshine and rainbows as we see on Instagram

As soon as I retired, I thought great…I would get to teach this to all my friends and co-workers.  Because, if I got out of the rat race, then everyone else would want to get out of the rat race too? If I get to hang out at a cafe at half two in the afternoon on Mondays, then I kind of want my friends to hang out with me.  So, I want to teach people how to invest their time and money to make passive income and retire early. 

However, the most difficult thing was trying to find someone to share this with.  As I found out, not everyone is interested. That was the mistake I made. The difficulty I had, was that thing where you have ‘expectation versus reality’.  Disappointment is the gap between the two.  

What I’m saying is – my expectation was, everyone wants to retire at 30. The reality is, no. Not everyone wants to retire at a young age.  In fact, I find that only a tiny minority want to retire at a young age.  That was a big disappointment gap.  And that response (or reality) still continues to surprise me after 4 years.

So instead of teaching it, I’ve decided to be a little bit more like Warren Buffet.  In other words, teach by example.  Hence, I’ll keep on doing what I’m doing.  I guess eventually, those who are being ‘voyeuristic’ (and looking at my facebook), will eventually realise that Donny is onto something big.  The penny will drop eventually. 

So, it’s only recently I decided that the model I should be going with is lead by example, rather than forcing it down peoples throats.  As a side note, when the conventional ask, “What do you do?”, I simply tell them I retired 4 years ago. No beating around the bush or lying. The reaction is often, “Well, you must have got lucky”.

For most people, early retirement is luck or maybe getting a break in Google/ Facebook during the early days. There will always be haters, and the best advice is to ignore them. Or even better, prove them wrong by taking action…not words. 

Loneliness or love can be another difficulty. I read a great book called Vagabonding where the author fell in love with the country and/or woman.  But he found he really likes China and ended up staying there much longer than he planned.    And even when he published the book, he said even to this day, he never made it to Africa. Even though it’s second on his list. 

This is because he was enjoying the present moment and going with the flow.  It’s less of, let’s bang off all these items on the bucket list…and more of let me enjoy the moment as it presents itself.  So, what I’m saying is, if I do meet someone I genuinely connect with. It won’t be like, hey sorry lady,  I’ve got to jet off to Japan in 2 weeks according to my schedule. 

Also, the women I meet don’t necessarily need to be into travel but has to have the right mindset.  i.e. someone who values their time and schedules it accordingly.  And it’s why I schedule my time accordingly during the day, so I don’t experience loneliness or get agitated with boredom.  The reality is, no one is about between 9-5, so there’s no point complaining about it.  This is my time to brush up on a new language, read books, clean the apartment, take an excursion.

7. Is there any advice you could give to the readers: If you could have had someone there when you transitioned to this lifestyle…what would you have needed to hear the most?

I look at successful people such as the Bill Gates or Steve Jobs in this world.  What would they do differently in their 20’s?  I think it was someone like Warren Buffet that said, “If I were to lose all my money today, and start over again, I would make it all back much quicker than the first time.”  The fact that I ‘accidently’ retired because of my passive income.   Well, it wasn’t an accident that I received my passive income.  It was an accident that I noticed that my passive incomes were equal to my expenses. 

I prefer to live the way that makes me happy, rather than stick rigorously to a ‘magic number’.  Remember, my passive income covers my Canadian expenses.  And because my passive income equals my Canadian expenses, that’s why I retired. Hence, my dividends go much further in the lower cost of living countries.  So, I’m committing geoarbitrage.

At the same time, if I fall in love in Japan, my expenses will go up.  However, that would give me the motivation to make more money. 

So back to the question…what would you tell your younger self?  I would tell myself to concentrate more on income producing activities versus stress relieving activities i.e. watching tv, going to dinner parties etc. It’s about knowing what your values are. Let’s take, for example, Olympic winning athlete Michale Phelps. He didn’t want to retire after the Beijing Olympics, he wanted to take part in more Olympic events.

However, his Mother was urging him to live a ‘normal’ life.  She was concerned he wasn’t hanging out with friends, dating girls etc.  But from his perspective, he wasn’t making any sacrifices.  He went ‘all in’ on what he loved.  He loves being at the swimming pool. He saw the greater picture. 

The difference was, their values differed. So for me, I would say to people focus on what you love.  Some people make the mistake in thinking, a successful life is setting goals, fulfilling them and setting new goals.  But I think what’s missing in that equation or that advice, is that your goals should align with your values.  It’s easy for anyone to say, get a job, buy a house, get married, have kids. But if they don’t align with your values, then what’s the point?

8. Where Can My Readers Find You Donny?

I don’t have a blog, Instagram or Twitter account, so the best way to reach me is my Linkedin profile.

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