My name is Jacob. My greatest claim to fame and overall impact on the world is probably this blog and the concept of ERE. Before that I used to be a nuclear astrophysicist, but in reality I’ve done many other different and (to me) interesting things and my aim is to continue this way of life for the rest of my life. Never getting bored.
ERE is much much more than just “retiring extremely early” by “sacrificing travel and expensive restaurants”. It is effectively a philosophy of life. Now, you can read a summary on the wiki; a much longer version in the book; or you can try to piece it together from the blog, but the short story is that ERE is a set of values and principles that gives me the freedom and opportunity to live a life I find exciting and interesting.
This quote accurately describes my philosophy of life:
“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.”
— François-René de Chateaubriand
In contrast to Chateaubriand, most people separate their work and entertainment and refer to it as their work-life balance. They go to work doing their one specialization so that they can afford to be entertained at an expensive restaurant, a ball game, or by traveling to some tourist location and engaging in entertainment activities as a consumer. Concentrating on just one thing, like a specific career, all one’s life and engaging in other activities at the spectator level would actually bore me somewhat. I don’t think humans obey the law of comparative advantage well. At least I don’t.
Here’s another one of my favorite quotes:
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
—Robert A. Heinlein
That’s very different from “A human being should go get a job to get money to buy a house and a car and go out to eat at restaurants and play tourist a couple of weeks each year.”
I engage in almost everything with the aim to get good at it. To me it’s more fun to score a goal by top-shelving the puck in the local hockey league than watching the Blackhawks while eating a hotdog in the stands. That’s just my preference. I’m not a good spectator.
Mastering things is highly “entertaining” to me. I like becoming and being good at things. Sometimes this leads to people willing to pay me. Sometimes it doesn’t. For the first 30 years of my life, I was lucky to have people pay me for doing what I thought was the most interesting thing in the world, researching arcane details about neutron starts. At 30 I became financially independent and therefore I no longer have to resort to luck. Because I’m now financially independent, I don’t have to care what other people are willing to pay for but that doesn’t stop me from trying to get better at what interests me, from doing the right thing or helping people, or even from making money if I can.
On the whole, I have fully internalized the ERE philosophy you read on these pages. I think this way naturally and automatically. I walk the talk. I don’t think of my choices as a sacrifice anymore than a toddler who has learned how to walk think of having sacrificed crawling around.
At this point (2014) I have enough saved to continue this lifestyle for the next 64 years and my passive income is twice as large as I need.
Here’s my short history so far.
0 – Born in Denmark.
2 – First solid memory. I got the Lego Police Station at the party when/where my little sister was baptized. I remember assembling it by following the instructions sitting under a table during the celebration. Interesting how enormous tables are when you’re three feet tall.
3 – Moved around a few times, never very far. My parents still live less than 5 miles from where they were born.
4 – In retrospect it became clear that instant gratification wasn’t my thing. If we got a few bucks for candy, I always spent mine on a comic book instead.
6- Sat in front of the TV for two hours waiting for the space shuttle take off for the first time. Wanted to become an astronaut. Wanted to learn to play the synthesizer so my parents signed me up for piano lessons.
7- Joined the swim team. In the subsequent years I went on training camps in Sweden, Norway, and Germany.
8 – Got bored with school. Yeah, from the end of 2nd grade and onwards. Quit piano lessons due to my teacher’s insistence that I play with something she referred to as emotions. I had no idea what that meant and gave up in frustration.
11 – Went to Sweden for the school trip. Spent most of my spare time on lego projects. Wanted to become a lego designer. Moved to a semi-rural farm.
12 – Got my first computer. And that was it for the Legos, bye bye. Got hired restocking shelves every other weekend at the store my father managed. I had this job until I turned 18. Proceeded to spend all my earnings on new hardware and computer magazines for the next 13 years.
13 – Changed school because I was bullied. Still not sure why some people feel compelled to act like assholes and why the herd so readily joins them. Started doing karate.
14 – Quit the elite level swim team. I was 5’3” and born in October and realized that I never had a winning chance. School trip to Poland. Wanted to join the air force and become a fighter pilot.
15 – Started a BBS called Epicenter of the Universe. Started reading books in English almost exclusively. Went to high school. Stopped doing karate due to time constraints. Learned to drive a tractor and plow the fields. Wanted to become an electrical engineer. That would have been a smart career choice if I had stuck with it!
16 – Grew almost a foot taller during one season. Decided to become intensely interested in physics after being impressed by someone online who seemed to know everything about math. Complex numbers and stuff. He studied beyond the boring school books.
17 – Derived the Lorentz equations (special relativity) exclusively using geometric methods. My first original work. Just think that the Greeks could have known about special relativity if they had started with the right assumptions. Euclid would be proud. Read the entire high school library’s section of college level physics books. Wanted to become a physicist. Launched hydrogen balloons using kitchen utensils. Started a fake religion. Spent a bit of time running around in the woods with airsoft guns. Did not get laid.
18 – School trip to the Czech Republic. Received my driving license, valid until age 70. Proceeded to never use it again. Was accepted into the university to study physics and math. Full ride. (It’s much harder to get in in Denmark than in the US—only 30% go to college—but everybody who goes get a full scholarship.)
19 – Made knives with an angle grinder. Played a lot of Magic the Gathering. By trading cards and memorizing hundreds of Skye prices I managed to get a lot of good cards and yet pay nothing. Swore off candy and cake completely for three years. First time on the internet!
20 – Moved out from home and into a dorm. Became a vegetarian. Joined the “Chess club” which turned out to be the “Trivial Pursuit and drinking club”. Learned to appreciate beer. Made my first homepage!
21 – Had a summer job stacking chain wheels. Almost lost the tip of my finger to a forklift. After summer was over they wanted to promote me and hire me. I declined.
22 – Got a GF. Gave up computer games after failing a class. Built a 20W class B amplifier from scratch. Joined the local Star Trek fan club. Started composing music with a Midi keyboard.
23 – Started walking between school and the dorm, 2 times 6 km every day. First time on a plane. Spent one month in the US as part of my masters thesis. Published my first paper in nuclear physics.
24 – Moved to Switzerland for grad school. Broke up with GF. Entered a long distance relationship. Spent six months trying to teach myself the theory of general relativity.
25 – Discovered anticonsumerism and the idea of saving money and investing it. Kept everything in a savings account at 2% because I didn’t know about stocks. Stopped buying anything for an entire year! Learned about peak oil and ran a top-ranked website for a while. Experimented with turning off the heat over winter. Not fun but doable and now I know how. Visited Belgium and Germany.
26 – Realized that buying nothing whatsoever sucked and made an allowance to spend money as long as it was spent to either educate myself on increase my self-reliance. Good strategy. Went to Michigan and Princeton to give talks. Visited France and Poland. Realized that 90% of all undergraduates are completely uninterested in their major. Started measuring my networth in cars.
27 – Coauthor on a book about peak oil. Visited Japan and “climbed” Mt Fuji. Spent a month at Michigan State University. Visited a few other states as well. Effectively reduced my possessions to 1.5 suitcases. Grew my hair long.
28 – Finished writing my thesis during a triple-overnighter. Defended it summa cum laude and received my PhD. Visited Edinburgh, Sweden, and Austria. Broke up long distance relationship. Moved to the US to work as a research associate. Met DW. Started working out and gained 20lbs of muscle. Cut my hair short.
29 – Started investing and reading about finance. Opened my first broker account. Bought a ps2, never got into gaming again. Visited Canada, San Diego, Wisconsin, and South Carolina. Added Frank the pug to the household. Dabbled in creative writing. Got published in an eZine.
30 – Reached financial independence. Married DW. Visited Hawaii, Washington DC, San Francisco, and Nashville, Tennessee. Started playing inline hockey.
Started measuring my networth in years worth of expenses.
31 – Dabbled in options but stopped due to tax filing hassles. Drove halfway across the US (a 7 day road trip) in order to move to California to work for the government. Realized how big this country really is! Started the ERE blog. Bought a fancy road bike. Rode it up Mt Diablo. Visited Caltech. Became a permanent resident.
32 – Began writing the ERE book and fleshing out the concepts. Visited New Mexico. Rode a couple of centuries (100M). Center forward on the winning team in the local inline hockey league four times in a row. Started freelancing as a copyeditor in Berkeley, CA. Started investing based on macroeconomic trends. Realized that while exact timing is hard, determining the next trend is possible by reading a lot and staying very informed. Got defensive one year before the market bottomed.
33 – Bought an RV and moved into it. Retired from physics after writing some 40+ papers. Cofounded a non-profit in sustainability with plans to save the world. Proceeded to beat the market by 50% coming out of the bottom over the next couple of years.
34 – Started practicing Shinkendo. Started yacht racing and served as the main sail trimmer on a J/105. Placed #1 and #2 in regattas in the San Francisco Bay. Joined the the crew on an ocean race a few times. Blew the main and broke a rudder in 14’ waves. Shrimped a spinnaker. Blew out the prop. Fun stuff, as long as you don’t die, right.
35 – Published ERE book. Earned a HAM radio license. Got to ride a motorcycle through the Nevada desert and shoot an AR15. Cut my first tatami mat with a real sword. Went wine tasting in the neighborhood vineyards. Learned how to repair mechanical watches. Realized that nobody owns mechanical watches anymore.
36 – Became almost self-sufficient in the vegetable department, gardening. Went on a one week road trip car-camping through Oregon. Mountain biking around the east bay and sailing the local reservoirs. Learned how to do most bicycle repairs. Fixed bikes for a women’s shelter. Started getting famous on the internet and appeared in a few mainstream publications.
37 – Didn’t like being famous on the internet and grew tired of arguing with assclowns. Believe me at this point I was ready to make a list of “standard objections” and just copy&paste standard rebuttals. Put the blog on autopilot and kept a low profile. Started turning down journalists. Decided NEVER to work in public relations. Drove back half way across the US again and moved to Chicago. Joined a “Wall Street” company as a rocket scientist. Built an end-table, a desktop, a bookshelf and several crates and boxes out of wood with hand tools. Learned how to make wine. Family went car free.
38 – Started playing table tennis. Consulted on a research project on tissue-regeneration and cancer spread rates. Joined a hunting weekend with trap and skeet shooting, first time with a shotgun. Picked up fishing again. Went to on a camping trip to New York and caught a couple of bass.
To be continued …
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