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One year later...

At the start of 2019 I embarked on a portfolio life after leaving a successful corporate career spanning almost 30 years. The portfolio, about 1/3 in a technology startup, 1/3 in non-profit sector focused on life coaching, speaking and writing with my wife and about a 1/3 in leisure, reading and travel, hasn't changed much in the 20 months since. We were thankful that we would actually have enough income so that we won't have to dip into our savings. A major life event for us was moving out of our house that we lived in the Seattle area for 4 years at the end of July 2019 to explore the digital itinerant life. It was very hard to leave a place we remodeled extensively to turn into our home, where Stephen spent his four high school years, surrounded by wonderful neighbors and where we hosted many gatherings and made so many sweet memories. So many friends advised us not to do it citing the question where would the kids go if they wanted to come "home". After learning about Minimalism on Netflix and reading a few books, The More of Less and Essentialism, we made a decision to live with less and to separate the idea of house from home. It was only then that we got up enough courage to part with the house. Getting rid of the mortgage and simplifying our lives have significant impact on our expenses so that we can get by with much less. The second benefit to untethering from the real estate is that we can move to any place and try new things without "baggage." To achieve that level of mobility we acquired Curiosity and gave #vanlife a serious go. Our house grew 4 wheels and can go anywhere we please. In fact, 70% of the time in the second half of 2019 we called Curiosity home. You can read that story, Gone with the Wind. So now that it has been over a year, you may ask what we have learned and if we are still into it? In the second half of 2019, after we moved out of the house we traveled 16 out of 23 weeks racking up 17,587 miles on Curiosity. I didn't track the number of nights we actually slept in the RV but I'd estimate 60% because we visited family and friends whenever possible on the road. We showered in Curiosity quite a few times and relied heavily on the cellular booster to stay connected and got work done. The 7-week Cross Canada trip in August was spectacular but the 8 week SW trip Western US visiting family in San Jose and Reno, Utah's Mighty 5 National Parks, Antelope Canyon Upper and Lower Canyons, San Diego and a Thanksgiving in LA was just EPIC! I am sorry I can't go into details here but my highlight reel would definitely include the starry night sky at Arches National Park, Sunrise at Mesa Arch, both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons, walking among the hoodoos at Bryce and hiking to the top of Angel's Landing at Zion. We managed the portfolio quite well during the road trip but getting online was definitely a challenge in the national parks. There was a call Ro had to be on where we had to drive around to look for a signal. Good planning became essential, especially knowing which days that we would simply be "off" and which days we may need to work double shifts to catch up. Task juggling and project management skills come in very handy for this lifestyle. This is also why it's important to be the master of your work schedule. (Ro's note: we had to implement best practices on team collaboration from the corporate world using shared OneNote, Google Calendar, and OneDrive so that we can edit documents and manage our projects simultaneously.) We could not have done this if I stayed at Microsoft or have a location based commitment. 2020 started with a long flight to China on New Year Day for a 10-day 7-city book tour. I got pulled into what was Ro's book on marriage so as a co-author I had to tag along on the grueling tour where we spoke over 13 times, conducted 5 media interviews, slept in 8 different hotels, took 2 long train rides and signed over 1000 copies of our books. We had one day packed with six meetings and another day that spanned three different cities. I'm not sure how I survived without a drop of Red Bull. After such an intense trip we found respite in a 3-day silent retreat in Los Altos. We had no idea that it would be our last road trip for a while because shortly thereafter COVID-19 broke in a nursing home not far from us, and that it would be declared a world pandemic. Even though COVID-19 changed how people work in a disruptive way, we were perfectly prepared for it because we set up our portfolio in such a way that all work can be done remotely well in advance of the onset of COVID. We were thankful that friends provided us with housing during this time so that we can follow the government orders to "stay at home". We found a new hobby of walking and working by Lake Washington in Curiosity, the mobile office, as the weather got better.

Another major change was that I took the helm of a tech startup after the CEO had to take an early maternity break. The job included launching a coffee shop in Pioneer Square, the oldest part of Seattle. Though it was more than I had bargained for and didn’t' meet the teleworking requirement, quarantine ground us anyway so everything just lined up beautifully.

We thought we'd celebrate our first anniversary in this portfolio life with another road trip down the West Coast but COVID struck and Ro and I tested positive in California and we had to cancel all the engagements in LA and quarantine for two weeks. Having much experience living in different houses and sleeping in different beds prepared us for this sudden change. We can adapt quickly to change and thrive in any place as long as we are a team. We recovered quickly without much drama. I really hope that scientist will announce that those who recovered will possess lifetime immunity! Having much time to reflect during the quarantine, we thought about the sustainability of our lifestyle, work, impact and where 2021 might lead us. Here are some lessons:

  1. We love the flexibility of this digital nomad-portfolio life, the chance to visit new places, and to get to know our mentees more deeply.

  2. Not having a home base and having to move around (while not on the road) is hard. We changed "mailing addresses" twice in the past year though both were just staying in temporary housing. We spent a lot of time looking for things and moving things between Curiosity and our temporary residence. So minimalism needs to be tempered in practicality.

  3. We need to resolve things quickly when we are on the road. There is just no space to have a long spat. There isn't a "dog house" that Ro can send me to. I have to really hold off my opinions whenever Ro drives.

  4. We have to adjust ways that we consume information since sometimes we spend a lot of time driving or walking. Listening to audio books and podcasts became the primary means for me to learn. I use Libby extensively to listen to library books and love the playback speed control that can slide between 0.6 to 3x. Spotify and Apple Podcasts lack such fine control.

  5. We dropped the weight training routine and find it hard to manage fitness on the road. We have to redesign a new program for our particular lifestyle.

  6. Ro: Reflecting on our past season and assignment in Seattle: We connected with the history of Seattle where there is a battle between greed vs generosity and anarchy vs. innovation. As the city that's closest in distance to Asia, Seattle plays a critical role as a bridge between the two continents and cultures. We began our stay here by being plugged into an Asian American church community that exemplified that restorative generosity. Then we were part of another immigrant Chinese startup church plant. Stephen spent all of his most formative years of high school here and we got a chance to invest deeply into the school community to affect positive change, form deep friendships, and bridge multiple cultures and communities within the larger school community.

  7. We are not staked in this lifestyle to be trendy and adventurous for its own sake. Rather, we committed our lives to follow God wherever He wants to take us and do the work He calls us to do, living whatever lifestyle is required. We know He has the details worked out and we just need faith to keep our eyes on the Cloud of His Presence.

What do we have to look forward to? We are relocating our base from Seattle to Southern California in October to minimize David's Seasonal Affective Disorder. We are also planning to spend an entire year abroad in 2021 to gain new experiences and push the boundaries on remote working.

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Sabrina Cham
Sabrina Cham
Sep 08, 2020

Love reading the insights 💕 Look forward to your time in La 🎉

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