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In my day job as a data scientist, I use data to analyze trends, build models to predict sales, and optimize processes to reduce company expenses.
This job requires two primary skills: statistics and programming.
On a scale of 1 to 10, my interest level in statistics and programming is about a 6. Fortunately, this is high enough that I don’t find my day job to be unbearable, which is good considering it accounts for about 80% of my monthly income.
I have other interests that rank higher on the scale, though. Namely, my interest in writing and data visualization is about a 9 and 9.5, respectively.
These two fields are fascinating to me. They resonate with me at a deep level, which is why they’re the primary focus of this blog. Combined, they account for around 10 – 20% of my income each month. Last month alone I earned $1,044 from this blog.
Lastly, I have some interests that are complete 10s like weightlifting, playing basketball, hiking, and playing piano. I earn zero dollars per month from these interests, which is fine because I don’t need any incentive to pursue them. Nobody has to pay me a dime to hit the gym and lift weights or to sit and play the piano. I do them purely for the joy they bring.
I have a simple strategy for utilizing my interests to earn income, develop mastery, and find enjoyment.
For income, I pursue my interests that offer the highest salary: statistics and programming. It’s okay that I don’t find deep meaning in these two fields or in my day job in general because that’s not what I’m using it for. I’m using my day job to build up my net worth.
For mastery, I pursue my interests that I actually have a deep desire to improve in. Namely, writing and data visualization. This is why I write every day and work on data viz in my free time. I actually do find deep meaning in these two fields. In the long term, I’m simply using my day job to buy the freedom I need to pursue my interests in writing and data viz full-time.
For enjoyment, I pursue my interests that are complete 10s that I never plan on monetizing: weightlifting, hiking, basketball, and piano.
I have found this strategy of using different interests for specific reasons to work really well for me.
One mistake I see many young people make is assuming they must earn the bulk of their income from their 10-level interests. Unfortunately, it’s usually difficult to earn a full-time income from these interests. Most young people would be better off using their 5-7 level interests to pursue higher incomes while building up their 9-10 level interests in their free time until they’re good enough to earn an income from them.
Through maximizing income, it’s possible to buy freedom and flexibility in the future to actually have the means to pursue 9-10 level interests with more free time.
I often think of the advice that human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali gives to recent college grads:
“Many students come to me full of wonderful intentions hoping to change the world; they plan to spend their time helping the poor and disadvantaged. I tell them to first graduate and make a lot of money, and only then figure out how best to help those in need. Too often students can’t meaningfully help the disadvantaged now, even if it makes them feel good for trying to.
I have seen so many former students in their late 30s and 40s struggling to make ends meet. They spent their time in college doing good rather than building their careers and futures. I warn students today to be careful how they use their precious time and to think carefully about when is the right time to help. Its a well-worn cliché, but you have to help yourself before you help others. This is too often lost on idealistic students.”
This doesn’t mean you can’t earn a full-time income from your 10-level interests, but more often than not it’s more realistic to pursue a high income with lower-level interests and build up your skills in higher-level interests in your free time. This way you can build up your finances as well as your skills in the field you love at the same time.
This is the exact strategy I am currently using. Since graduating college, this has helped me save $100k in 2 years (mostly as a result of my day job income) and also build up an income stream of $1,000/month from writing and data viz.
Moving forward, my plan is to stick it out at my day job only until I have the financial means and the necessary skills to earn a full-time living from my high-level interests.
Zach is the author behind Four Pillar Freedom, a blog that teaches you how to build wealth and gain freedom in life.
Zach's favorite free financial tool he's been using since 2015 to manage his net worth is Personal Capital. Each month he uses their free Investment Checkup tool and Retirement Planner to track his investments and ensure that he's on the fast track to financial freedom.
His favorite investment platform is M1 Finance, a site that allows him to build a custom portfolio of stocks for free, has no trading or maintenance fees, and even allows him to set up automated target-allocated investments.
His favorite way to save money each month on his recurring bills is by using Trim, a free financial app that negotiates lower cable, internet, and phone bills with any provider on your behalf.
His favorite micro-investing app is Acorns, a free financial app that takes just 5 minutes to set up and allows you to invest your spare change in a diversified portfolio.
His favorite place to find new personal finance articles to read is Collecting Wisdom, a site that collects the best personal finance articles floating around the web on a daily basis.
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