The Four D’s

I like to plan things in my life. I meticulously planned my career. I have a work-out routine and a work-out plan. I like to plan my daily activities for each week at least one week ahead. And I am extensively planning my finances. But no matter how good the plan is, there is always a chance that something unexpected happens, something that will throw your plans into a limbo. That’s just how it is. There is always something that can be difficult to be taken into account.

The four Ds refer to exactly these kind of circumstances, and while they are hard to plan, they are so frequent that the term “the four Ds” became financial jargon among insurers and financial advisors. These unexpected events more than often create uncertainty in our lives, and effect not only our physical and mental health, but also our finances in a dramatic way. These events are:

  • Disease
  • Divorce
  • Disaster
  • Death

Each of these terms is pretty much self-explanatory, but nevertheless let me share a few words on each point either way.

Disease will obviously seldom refer to a cold, a flu, or a fever. But it will refer to an unexpected development like the need for a surgery, a diagnosis with a severe illness like cancer or diabetes. It might also not be directly concerned with you, but with someone you care and are or feel responsible for.

Divorce is further down the line, but given that roughly some 50% of all marriages fail, it’s a pretty common event that can and will have dramatic consequences on one’s financial situation.

Disaster used to be less common, but with all the floods and fires across the globe, earth quakes, tsunamis and who knows what else is about to happen in the next months and years to come, it’s a very valid one. A disaster can literally demolish an entire life of financial investments, especially for those who focused on real estate and other physical forms of storage of value.

Death is the last one, and while even one’s own death is not for free, I’d rather consider this to be an event concerned to people who are close to us. Expenses for a funeral might come hand in hand with the need for additional financial support to someone you care about. In some instances with your direct family, you might also not inherit what you expect. It can happen that instead of adding assets to your net value calculation you get surprised with additional leverage (debt/loans) that need to be balanced and that will fall under your responsibility.

Billions of people throughout many generations have had experience with each of those Ds, and while it’s impossible to know when one of them will hit you, it certainly is possible to prepare for each one of them.

Take the time to think about this.
It will be time well spent.

Is it FIRE or just FI

This pandemic just keeps dragging on, and it’s very interesting to observe how people are handling it all across the globe. When things got started, Asia was on the forefront of effective handling of the pandemic. Vietnam, Thailand, Korea, Japan, Singapore. We managed here to keep infections and deaths on the low, as people were quick to adapt to protective measures and limitations on economic activity. Europe and the US were lagging behind, and there were frequent discussions on what the west can learn from the east in the future.

But now the tides have turned. While Europe and the US is on track to full recovery, here in Thailand I feel like we are back to where it all started. Lockdowns, economic restrictions. It’s like we got stuck somewhere along the way, and can’t find a way to move forward.

This is of course mainly due to the lack of efficient vaccines. Herd immunity is apparently not an option with this virus now circulating in the form of several diverse mutations, and our natural immune system not offering the long-term protection that would be required to keep infections at bay. To top it off, the SinoVac and SinoPharm vaccines aren’t working well, and the local production of AstraZenecca has stalled for whatever reason.

FIRE vs. FI

But let me stop here before I get political. My point is, that since this pandemic keeps dragging on and I am spending more time at home than usual, I realized a few things. One of those things is that I really don’t want to retire any soon. I like to work, and I miss having more action in my hotels, in my office, and spending more time with my guests. I like spending time with people, and the idea of retiring early and spending much more time on non-productive things feels a little less desirable after more than one year of Covid.

I know that there are thousands of people who don’t want to work at all. People who don’t want to report to anyone, to not depend on anyone, and to not being micro-managed by anyone. I am also fairly often at odds with myself over all these work-necessities, which make me sometimes feel not free, dependent, and all the negative notions that accompany these points.

But retiring early… honestly right now, it doesn’t seem for me like the right thing to do. I want to work. I might get out of the hotel business and do something else, become a consultant or stock analyst, turn to freelancing or whatever. But I am pretty sure that I will keep working for a long time to come.

So my goal changes from FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) to FI (Financial Independence).

It may not sound like much, but there is a significant point to it: Since I will keep working for a long time to come, I can be a little less frugal. I don’t need to maximize my savings all the time, because with a continuous stream of income from work, I have significantly more time to reach retirement. Striving “only” for financial independence first will give me the feeling of security and freedom that I want and need, while not thinking too much about retirement will take some stress and pressure out of the equation.

What’s the right thing for you?

Being financially independent offers a lot of options to do things that you actually want to do. If you don’t worry anymore about a low income, then you can start a new career, change your field of expertise or interest. Hell, you could even do an internship again in your 40s or 50s. Why not? It can open up some very exciting opportunities for you to learn more about the world, to pursue dreams which you set aside when you were younger due to financial concerns, or simply to just gain new perspectives. For me, this is absolutely “good enough”.

But of course, this means that hanging out on the beach all day and sipping Jim Beams with Coke will have to wait. That’s probably for the better anyway.

About conspiracy theories

One of the most interesting aspects of any crisis is to observe how people react to it. How does the media report on it? How do politicians act? What does your company do? What are the actions of your business partners, competitors, and colleagues?

For me personally, it is most interesting to observe how friends and connections on social media react. When it’s not about business, but about personal opinions, character, and values.

architectural photography of yellow and brown house

Photo by Tsvetoslav Hristov on Pexels.com

Conspiracy theories on the rise

It’s hard not to notice the surging amount of conspiracy theories. Whether it’s a try to demonizing Bill Gates, or a push against China, the internet and social media are full of it. And while I wouldn’t expect anything else from Facebook (I stopped using Facebook almost 1,5 years ago), I am very surprised to see the same narratives even on a professional network such as LinkedIn.

Well, in the end, we are all just people. But let me tell you that as professionals who trust each other in business matters, it can really profoundly disturb a relationship knowing that the person I am dealing with is eager to spread misinformation, fake news, racism, and/or propaganda. In fact, this is a reason for me to seize doing business with such a person.

Controlling your emotions

As professionals and as investors, a major rule of thumb is to control our emotions. No matter what we personally think about something, throughout our careers we train to learn to follow data, to collect information from other people who are actual professionals in those fields, and then to draw conclusions based on the information we have at hand.

We can, of course, express our opinions, worries, or reasons which lead us to believe something to be otherwise. But this needs to be presented as such. And it’s needless to say that propaganda or racism is a non-negotiable and resounding no-go in any case.

About China

So today, let me address a few points that I read about in recent days. This is to offer some additional perspective on the blame China receives:

  • Wet markets. People are now eager to blame everything on the wet markets in China. Fair enough, according to the current data the virus came from there. But how certain are we that a similar outbreak could not occur in a wet market in Vietnam, Thailand or Cambodia? And how about slaughterhouses in the USA, or mass animal farming and chicken breeding? How about the hygienic conditions across India? There are so many potential breeding grounds for a virus, it’s mindboggling.
    My point here is that instead of generally blaming wet markets in China, we should rather try to identify general root issues and how to address those across the globe. But we can only do it in coordination and exchange with other nations. Our “artificial” borders matter nothing for a virus or any other natural disaster for that matter.
  • China is lying to the world. It might be. Whether it’s deliberate lies or creative interpretations of facts and data, we know that we have to be very careful with any information that we receive. But instead of pointing fingers, the USA and Europe should use the tools at hand to push for more data, to evaluate it, and to coordinate a response. Amazingly enough, we do have a real tool and task force just for that: The World Health Organization, or WHO.
  • The WHO is being controlled by the Chinese. There might be some influence. More, or less. We don’t know at this point. So we shouldn’t declare it as a fact and we shouldn’t reduce the funding to this organization just now. However, every participating and paying country has every right to analyze and evaluate an organization they pay money to.
    But what would be the best way to evaluate the WHO? I would argue that it’s probably not by setting up investigative committees and withholding funding. Instead, it might be smarter to send our own trusted professionals to support the work. By actively engaging in discussions and exchange of information, by ensuring that resources and measures are being directed to where they are being needed, this approach would quickly debunk any conspiracy theories, it would eradicate the finger-pointing and blaming, and it would result in a globally coordinated effort. Unity. Something that is urgently needed to fight a pandemic.
  • China will use the crisis to buy foreign companies. This idea is highly unlikely. First of all, China needs to do its own stimulus efforts to support the economy. Secondly, China needs to prepare itself for the upcoming economic disaster. What do I mean by that?
    Chinas growth this year is estimated to be less than 2%. The last time it was that low was after the cultural revolution in 1977. And this is just the current estimation. The real impact of the crisis and what will follow after that is difficult to predict. But we are seeing first sentiments and actions from entities worldwide already taking shape. Companies from major economies around the globe start moving production facilities out of China or are planning to do so in the foreseeable future. China is being sued by several states in the US for damages. Diplomatic ties are strained. Hostile takeovers of companies in the US or in Europe during a pandemic would only risk an irreversible lost of trust and global backlash which I doubt the country can afford.

I am probably the last person to put China into a positive spotlight. After living and working there for a year I had really enough and I don’t see myself ever going back there. Vacations – maybe. But spreading conspiracy theories and racism based on some shady propaganda and without thinking the arguments through… we are better than that.

Planning the next year

Today is the last day of the first week of December and it’s about time to get serious about the plan for 2020. I have spent some sleepless nights on reviewing my personal budget for the next year, adjusting savings targets, expenses and thinking about upcoming opportunities.

Health

For 2020, I target a savings rate of “only” around 30% of my regular work income. This doesn’t include my other income sources from investments and dividends. The target is set lower than in previous years because I want to allocate some resources in the next year into another important asset which doesn’t generate income per se: Health.

Full body check-ups for the whole family, dental treatments, scans and whatever should come up that is better fixed earlier than later. Human bodies are not meant to last. We require maintenance like every other machine out there and every once in awhile a check-up and some preventive maintenance are required.

Passive Income

I will spend the next few evenings to make the first projection for my dividend income for the next year. I think it should reach a growth rate of 30-40% and thus reach about a third of my final target which would make me fully financially independent. Not rich, but independent.

It’s amazing to observe how the speed of growth is accelerating now just after 4 years of consistent savings and investments. The first two years were pretty slow, but in 2020 I will have a 3-digit passive income every single month of the year, and given the speed of growth, in 2-3 years it should get to 4 digits.

Travel

But all this would be pointless without some fun along the way. Therefore, while I was never able to afford it when I was younger, I am now planning a trip with my family to Disneyland Tokyo sometime in March. I promised my wife a trip to Japan almost 6 years ago and I just can’t delay it any longer. The vacation has been already approved by my employer and I am going to purchase the tickets today or tomorrow. We will plan 4-5 days for Tokio, 4 days for Kyoto and 4-5 days for the area around Fukuoka/Kyushu.

A little later on in June we will visit Europe. I didn’t start planning for that trip yet, because while this will be vacations, I have to discuss with my wife about the destinations in detail. We are seriously considering moving to Europe in 2021 or 2022 and plan to visit countries that may offer the best opportunities for us to do so. My wife worries about food and schools, I worry about taxes. So obviously we are not perfectly aligned yet.

Hard to believe that only 24 days from now it will be the year 2020…

Stakeholders are the better shareholders

There was some amazing news coming from Wall Street a few weeks ago. 181 CEOs, members of the so-called business roundtable and representatives of some of the largest companies in the USA, declared that maximizing shareholder value is no longer the single purpose of their companies. Instead, the emphasis would shift towards stakeholders.

I believe that many people out there don’t understand the difference between a shareholder, and a stakeholder. Or they didn’t take the manifest seriously. Otherwise, I have no reasonable explanation of why this fundamental shift in corporate management attitude doesn’t receive more coverage.

Shareholders vs. Stakeholders

The definition of a shareholder is very simple: Someone who owns shares of a company.

The definition of a stakeholder, however, can be very complicated: It’s everyone who is in direct or indirect relation with a company.

This includes the shareholders. But it also includes the employees, business partners, land-owners, basically all who are affected by the companies operations. It includes the entire eco-system in which the company is active, including the environment.

With a similar mindset to the one of thinking global and acting local, a company that takes care of its stakeholders will do its best to contribute to society in every aspect that makes sense and where the company can make an impact within the scope of its operations. Starting with its own employees, support to local governments, business partners and spreading into larger topics and areas as long as they are related to the companies business.

A holistic concept

This is a true game-changer. It acknowledges that a company, any company, carries responsibility towards society as a whole. It assumes the understanding that the companies’ employees are actually a true and real asset and require at least as much attention as its shareholders. It also acknowledges that company profits need to receive a long-term consideration that goes beyond quarterly reports.

Putting stakeholders to the front of a companies responsibilities is a holistic approach to business.

Too good to be true

I had (and still have) some serious doubts when I read the news. Especially when I noted that Jeff Bezos is a signatory of the declaration, my alarm bells went off.

The CEO of Amazon is hardly known to be a person who cares for his stakeholders. If he signs such a treaty, it automatically degrades the value of the paper it’s written on. Jeff Bezos and Amazon have gained amazing success over the years making Bezos the richest man on this planet. But his contribution to the world ends with the shopping experience.

Compared to people like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, his priorities and philanthropic efforts seem almost non-existent. The most diplomatic word that would come to my mind would be “uninspiring”.

Same would account also for a few other CEOs and companies which have shown little effort in the past to take care of their stakeholders. Is this declaration really going to change it? Or is it just a PR stunt?

Shareholders will profit – in the long run

Time will tell, but I do believe that among many SMEs out there, the idea is nothing new. In fact, most family-run business and small enterprises which are not listed on the stock exchange had this approach on their business cards for a long time. It’s been the large corporations who moved into a questionable and unsustainable business mind – and it’s time that they get back on track.

Being an investor and shareholder myself, you might wonder why I applaud this change. True, some companies might have to review their supply chains, work procedures, payrolls. This might affect profit margins and ultimately the dividends that I collect every month.

But I rather see my dividends growing steadily over a period of 50 years than to read news about how the companies that I am invested in are contributing to environmental destruction, abuse of workers and handling its business partners unfairly, only to secure a slightly higher profit percentage.

The employees are at the heart of a company. Business partners and the environments are the tools, places and customers that ensure it stays in business. The way I see it, putting stakeholders first is definitely a smarter approach to do business and shareholders will profit from it on a much wider spectrum.

Depending on work is not a smart long-term plan

I don’t remember whether my parents were asking me about my aspirations when I was young. I also don’t remember hearing them talking to neighbours, friends or family about what I am going to do when I grow up. They never really tried to push any particular profession on me. Maybe because they wanted me to discover the world on my own. Or maybe because as a kid I was not easy to talk to.

We went to school, learned all the basics that were considered important to find our passions, to figure out our talents, sharpen some skills, and to give us a hint of a direction towards some of the opportunities that were out there for us.

What nobody talked about were the things that would stand in our way. The things that would hinder us to develop, hinder us to grow, hinder us to follow our passions and hinder us to truly try to discover our full potential.

To some part, I understand. I wouldn’t believe anyone who would tell me that there was a very high probability to end up doing a job that I might not really care about, for people I might never get to know, to receive some money that will be just enough to cover my living expenses. Mundane tasks day in and out, without passion and without any true commitment, just to get through the day.

This is what we call the rat race and a reality for so many people in the world.

Everything has a price-tag

The grown-ups give us a lot of hope when we are young. They tell us that we can be anything we want. Do whatever we want. And achieve whatever is possible. In reality, it’s all not that simple.

Once we move out from home and leave the protective roof of our parents home and their care, reality quickly kicks in. We need money. Money to pay the rent, groceries, utilities, to go out, to travel. Everything in this world has a price tag on.

So whether you want it or not, you have to start to work. And the moment you get your first job, you enter the rat race. We all got to make a living and yes, living has a price to it. Shelter, food and health. These are the basics and to secure them one needs money.

The bad news is that as long as our financial system exists in its current form, these price-tags will never go away. They just grow larger. With inflation always present, you will experience that over your lifetime prices for everything around you double and triple.

It always starts with trading time for money

I started when I was 14 years old. My parents couldn’t pay me too much pocket money and sometimes cash would be short even for the simplest basics like new shoes or a jacket. So I just found a job to be able to afford what I wanted and needed. I started filling up shelves in a grocery store.

From there on, I would sacrifice every Saturday for it. 6-8 hours every Saturday morning, putting milk cartons into the shelves, sorting frozen pizzas, yoghurts, re-fill soda bottles and occasionally guiding some customers through the store. My salary was something around 6 EUR per hour if I remember correctly. I would earn 36-48 Euros for each Saturday, being paid-out in cash by the end of each week. A huge improvement to the 5-10 EUR that I would get from my parents per week.

This is how I learned to trade time for money. When I needed money, I went to work. When Saturdays earnings were not enough, I would free up an afternoon during the week and work one more day after school. Suddenly I could afford to buy new shoes, to get rid of my glasses and buy contact lenses. I had money to spend when hanging out with my friends. It seemed to be a great concept.

What I obviously didn’t think about at that time was that at some point in my life I would have to pay the rent on my own. Utilities, food, to have my own medical insurance. I didn’t think about how many hours I would need to spend in that grocery store to be able to afford all of it.

Depending on money is killing your opportunities to grow

When you grow up, before you even know it, you start trading most of your time for money. Regular work contracts in Europe have something around 35 working hours per week on them. In Asia, it’s around 48. And more than often, this one job is just enough to secure the previously mentioned basics: Shelter, food and health.

Those who want to be able to get a little more out of life start taking part-time jobs, freelance online and adding up hours of work. This is what they know, what they learned. To trade time for money. But as more and more of their time is being traded out for cash, their opportunities in other areas shrink with every traded minute. Learning new skills, discovering new passions, spending time with their loved ones. The time to do those things disappears with every traded hour. Minute by minute.

How long can you work

And the big question is, how long can you actually do this? What will happen when you get old? Will your social security be enough to live on? What if you get sick? Handicapped? When your mental ability goes down?

And how about all those things you always wanted to do in life? Going for a trip around the world, feel some wanderlust in the Swiss Alps, climbing in the Himalayas, snorkelling in Thailand, drinking Mojitos in Cuba or visiting the Empire State Building? Do you think that you will be able to pursue your dreams once you left the workforce?

We are not smart enough to consider all those things when we are young. I wasn’t smart enough then to think about the next logical step when I started to work in the grocery store. But as we get older and develop a deeper sense of logic, we certainly should be smart enough to put it into consideration, shouldn’t we?

Working is not bad – depending on work is

There is of course another way. A way to develop passive income and to stop being dependent on any job. This does not mean to stop working. Absolutely not. I can’t imagine a life without work. I want to do something. I want to work.

But I don’t want to worry about money.
I don’t want to have to work for money.
I don’t want to depend on work for money.

Those whose minds are trapped in the system won’t understand this idea. How could they? They never learned anything else. But, what if we could work for our passions, our beliefs, our aspirations and our dreams? Wouldn’t it just be something else entirely?

FIRE is all about that. About freeing up your time, your mind and your passions. Because once you reached financial independence, you can focus on things that will truly matter to you. Isn’t this a goal worth striving for?

About 996 and Jack Ma

I got to admit it. I am a workaholic. Not only did I work the last two years in a job with a 6-day-workweek with 10-12 hours daily, I also had a side-gig writing articles for a financial magazine, I was exercising four times a week for two hours straight, I was working on this blog and I invested a lot of time in stock and market research. So, being active for 90-100 hours a week was pretty much “the ushe” for me.

What is 996

996 refers to a description of a work routine that is being predominently practiced in some Chinese companies. I can confirm that it’s also pretty common in Thailand, Japan and South Korea. It stands for working from 9 AM to 9 PM and this for 6 days a week.

This equals to 72 hours of work every week and it is a reality for many workers in China. We are not talking here about regular labour jobs like construction or the notoriously overworked hospitality sector, but mostly about employees of IT companies. Programmers, software engineers etc.

Working more than 40 hours a week is illegal in China. However, as in many asian countries, laws are often something more of a guideline and tend to be “flexible”.

Jack Ma calls 996 a blessing

There are plenty of smart people in this world, but Jack Ma is not only smart, but also very outspoken. I like to listen to his “teachings” as he has a very sharp mind. In most cases he chooses his words with caution but they always have an impact. To give it a more clear picture, he is like the Bruce Lee of business. Sharp, on point and hard to counter.

Surprisingly, he did not choose his words very wisely when it came to comment on the 996 debate. His remarks that working 996 is a blessing were not well received on social media, so he followed up with a post on his blog to explain it further:

“Any company should not, and cannot, force employees to keep a 996 work schedule. Alibaba has always advocated, living your life with gusto and being happy at work. But young people, themselves, must understand that happiness is a struggle! Not defending 996, but do pay tribute to the fighters!”

Well, I was curious how he actually REALLY said it and I found a full transcript of his blog on this topic. It may be a little long, but I think it’s worth a read so here you go:

About 996, this is a hot topic in China now, and many companies have this issue. I personally think that being able to do 996 is a huge blessing. Many companies and many people want 996 but have no chance.

If you are not 996 when you are young, when can you 996? You have no 996 in your life, do you think you are very proud? In this world, every one of us wants to succeed, we all want a better life, and we all want to be respected. I ask everyone, if you don’t work harder and longer time than others, how can you achieve the success you want?

To say nothing of 996, as of today, I definitely have been working more than 12×12. There are a lot of people in the world working 996. There are many people working 12 hours and 13 hours a day. There are many people who work harder than us, and who are smarter than us. Not all people who do 996 have this opportunity to really do something valuable, meaningful and able to have a sense of accomplishment.

So today China BAT (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent) companies can be 996, I think it is the blessings of us all. If you think about people who don’t have a job, think about the people who may be closing the company tomorrow. Think about the people who don’t know where the company’s Revenue will be in the next quarter. Think about the people with programs that you have put a lot of efforts on but has no user at all… Compared with them, until today, I still feel that I am very lucky, I have not regretted 12×12, I have never changed my point in myself.

Many photos now reveal show that the standing position of Ma Yun (i.e. Jack Ma) was at a side in the past, and in Central position nowadays. I am already the President of the Student Union and the President of the Hangzhou Student Union at the University. You go to see those photos. When I was in that corner, people were brought out by me. I was their big brother. Why am I a big brother? Because I spend more time than them. In addition to the class exams, I spend more time working in the student union than anyone else. I learn how to serve others, learn how to build relationships between classmates, and let the students do a better job in school. Only if you pay a huge price, one day you will possibly be rewarded. If you don’t pay the price, you can’t have a return.

In another word, what kind of company is Alibaba? Alibaba “Let the world have no difficult business to do”. This is our mission. Our company is very hard. We have not deceived anyone. We have not told you that the company is very comfortable. Do you think that “making the world having no hard-to-do business” is to fool you? We are really doing this.

Today, we have so many resources, we have a huge mission, and hope that in the future, there will be no hard-to-do business in the world. Cannot you pay for it? You have to. So, we said that if you join Alibaba, you have to be prepared for 12 hours a day, otherwise why do you come to Alibaba? We don’t lack people who feel comfortable for 8 hours to work. Today if we have to recruit some people with 8 hours to work, sitting in a good office every day, the conditions are very good, the canteen is also good, and the sense of honor is also good, we can find many people like these on the street.

But what do we need? We ask you what do you want to do in this company? It is to change yourself, help others, and achieve a mission.

Alibaba also worked overtime in its early years, but what kind of overtime did we work? Overtime for learning, after our 8 hours of work, the most important night is the retrospect and study. What we did wrong today, what should be fixed, how should we learn from each other. Two hours and three hours outside of 8 hours are learning and upgrading, which was not working overtime.

I hope that the Alibaba people love the work you do. If you don’t love it, even if you are working 8 hours, you will detest the longtime work. If you love it, 12 hours is actually not too long.

If you are not happy for 8 hours of work, the thing you do has no meaning and you are not comfortable. You don’t know what to do for 8 hours, it doesn’t make sense, so even if you don’t 996, you don’t know what to do.

This is life. You have chosen a company that ranks first in China today. The first is to pay the price. There are at least 50 million companies in China. If you choose this company instead of others, this is certainly not the same. I went home at 1 o’clock yesterday. Why? My own choice of road, no complaints, no complaints, this is my choice. Everyone came to Alibaba, since you have chosen, instead of letting yourself suffer, it is better to be more comfortable with your 996. Your ten years work can compete with others’ 20 years. This is the case.

Joining Alibaba, what after all are we bringing to others, what is the return? This is what I have thought about most during this period.

I think that joining Alibaba is not for high wages, not because of stocks, not because we have a good working environment, not because of the annual bonus, not because of these things. These are very important. We all have parents and kids, have wives and children, and we must take care of them. If you can’t take good care of this family, give them a good life, a good education, and take care of your parents’ health, that is the wrong life. But what I mostly want to consider is that you have been in Alibaba for ten years, how do we turn you into a different person.

Change within a year, change within three years, you go back home, your parents find out that this child has changed, your wife find out how my husband has become ideal, has become full with ideas, has become focusing on work, your kid feels that his Mom and Dad are really different from others. This is the personal growth of the Alibaba people we hope. This growth is not how high the position is, but how you think about the problem, your attitude facing difficulties and your attitude towards life.

All those who joined Alibaba will not be the same after three years, and will be different after five years. The people after ten years in Alibaba will be trusted to go anywhere. We must definitely develop this skill, but within the ten years, if you want to realize it, you have to pay the price beyond ordinary people. Otherwise why are you being here? I have said this very thoroughly, it is a bit tough, but it makes sense. We don’t fool you guys, oh come, the conditions are very good, we don’t need to fool anyone now, we haven’t been fooling anyone either in the past, and we don’t need to fool anyone at all today.

I feel today that Alibaba has done great things. What we do can have real value to society, let the people buy better things and enjoy a better life.

Business is the greatest public welfare, creating jobs, creating taxes. Without commercial taxation, without economic development, where would be the high-speed rail, and where would be the highway? We have contributed to the progress of society. We have made everyone in Alibaba grow and we have created countless jobs.

Alibaba has a blessing, we people have solved our own food and clothing, have our own good income, our company does not have to worry too much about profit, we can also do something for others, this is a great blessing.

In fact, public welfare is to help yourself, and charity may be to help others. I myself am really proud of it. Many of us in Alibaba today, though a lot of people are just not visible, are all doing a lot of charity. I also strongly hope that all Alibaba people will participate in countless non-profit organizations throughout the Alibaba Group, or participate in Alibaba’s charitable foundation.

Many people just want to buy a car or buy a house for Mom and Dad. This is very important, but I think you should have this ideal, that is, after working in Alibaba for 10 years and 15 years, one day you can build your own charity fund. You can do it. Some things that you are willing to do can help your child to have more blessings and help you to have blessings. Isn’t it a good thing? Then it requires 996.

Source: https://medium.com/@evanliuchina/alibaba-jack-ma-having-a-996-job-is-a-huge-blessing-97b5037937a3

I added the source just in case. I didn’t translate it on my own. And as you noted, I have highlighted a few sentences which I consider important.

Is Ma right?

Well… I think he is. As my readers know, I do believe that the term “work-life-balance” is pretty useless and actually hindering people to develop and to find their full potential. This is not something that capitalists tend to sey. The quote of “finding a job you love to never work again” dates actually hundreds of years back and refers to exactly the same issue. Wishing for a work-life balance when looking for a job is already putting restraints on your dedication to your very own future.

This is even more true for those who wish to reach FIRE. Financial Independence. Retire Early.

If you really want to FIRE, you just got to put those extra hours and dedication in your work. Your ten years of work HAVE to equal 30 or 40 years of work of those who enjoy a work-life-balance. There is no way around it. How else would you think being able to pull it off?

Even I am promoting stock investing, it is by all means no magic bullet. You might get lucky with one or two companies, but to setup a sustainable portfolio you need to balance your risks. And even if you can cut down 10 or 20 years of work by investing in stocks, truth is that the sooner you want to retire, the harder you got to work for it.

Your career is your single, most important asset and it can be your strongest weapon to reach FIRE. Saving 20 Euros a month is better than nothing. 200 Euros a month is reasonable. 2000 Euros a month however will make a real difference. How can you pull it off if you don’t work harder and more than anyone else?

Having said that, I believe that Jack Ma should have put it exactly that way. He should emphasize (even if just to comply with the law) that 996 is a blessing for those who want to reach for the stars, but not a requirement to work at Alibaba. Not everyone is able to work 996, similarly, not everyone can reach FIRE. However, it’s a blessing if some companies can give you the opportunity to actually really do the hard work and to get where you want to go. I think if he would have said it that way, the outcry would be far less dramatic.

Career Advise for FIRE aspirants

I like to write sometimes about my work. First, because it is an exciting job, and second, because there are countless lessons I gathered on my path to the top.

As some readers will already know, I am a General Manager in a hotel, currently in Thailand. Most recently I was able to secure a new contract, which will (hopefully) turn me into an Area General Manager being in charge of up to 5 hotels. While I am not the smartest and certainly not the best hotelier out there, I reached this stage in my life after working less than 8 years in the hotel industry.

I moved up in positions quickly, from carrying luggage in a Novotel in South Korea to become an area executive for one of the largest and most powerful business company (and family) in Thailand. Therefore, I think I can share some of my knowledge about how to get there with my readers. Bear in mind, this is my personal experience and it might contradict with many, if not most things you will hear from your parents, advisers or coaches.

But before I go ahead, let me tell you first why it matters and why it is important if you are on your path to FIRE.

Your career is the single, most powerful tool to reach FIRE

You can get rich with stocks. You can get rich with a business. You can get rich with a lottery. But for most, building up a successful career is the single, most important step to reach FIRE quickly.

As I mentioned in a previous article, your career is a very important asset. This is simply because the more money you earn, the more you can save and invest. It really makes a difference whether you put aside 100 EUR a month, or whether you are able to put 2000 EUR every month into your stock account without worrying of paying your bills.

This single reason should be motivation enough to pursue a quick and rewarding position. But this is easier said than done, so here some food for thought on how to make it happen:

Forget the term “work-life balance”

The myth of a happy life with a healthy balance between the amount of time you spend at your work and with private things is a major career-killer. If you want to make it to the top, you have no choice but to really put EVERYTHING into your job. This goes far beyond your job description, as you need to really try to understand as much as you can about every aspect not only of your job but of everything that is related to it. Knowledge is the key to success. The more you know, the better-informed decisions you will be able to make and the faster you will be able to take on more responsibilities. Learning requires a lot of time and you should be willing to devote yourself to it.

Embrace what others fear – responsibility and loneliness

In all the years I have experienced this countless times. Smart, great team players who would not advance in their careers because of the fear to take on more responsibility. The excuses are always the same: I am not smart enough yet, I don’t know how to do this or that, I am not sure if this is the right thing for me…

There were much smarter and better people around me when I got my promotions along the way, but the big difference between us was always that I couldn’t wait to take on larger roles and to rush into taking charge of things bigger than me. Most of the time, I even didn’t know exactly what I would have to do once I get the promotion or the new job description. I just knew that I want to do it and I was super-confident that there is nothing that I couldn’t learn.

There is a downside to it. It will make you feel lonely sometimes. Because what most regular people enjoy about their job is the camaraderie and the feeling of belonging to a group. However, the more you move up, the smaller your group is becoming and once you are on the top, you are indeed quite alone.

Sure, you can still have great relations with your teams, but there is no way around it: Your agenda, your perspective, and your responsibilities will always set limits and restraints. And sometimes you might be forced to do things that your teams and even you won’t like, but which are necessary to help your company move forward. When you keep moving to the top, you are forced to keep the big picture in mind and to do what it takes to help your company grow. This will more than often not align with the interest of someone in your team.

There is a Chinese proverb: 高处不胜寒.
It says literally that “It’s cold at the top of a mountain”. It certainly is true for people in high positions. I would often sit alone during lunch or dinner while my teams would enjoy eating in groups at the canteen. Not that I couldn’t share the canteen food with them, but simply because I had so many things to think about and decisions to make, that I would often spend the time thinking about the right or wrong thing to do, even during the precious time that is supposed to be my lunch break.

It’s hard to balance. It’s hard to have a family who accepts you coming home late every single day, to never plan vacations and to move around the world whenever the next opportunity pops up. I am lucky enough to have a very understanding wife, but I know plenty of people who fail on that part. It’s a hard price to pay.

Don’t be scared to do mistakes – and find the right boss to coach you

When you take on more responsibilities quickly, mistakes are unavoidable. Actually, it really doesn’t matter whether your progress slowly or quickly. Mistakes will happen anyway. While you certainly should always try to keep the mistakes at a minimum level, the single most important thing is to learn from every mistake you do. You can try to do this on your own, but it’s much more efficient and will work more quickly if you have the right supervisor to teach you.

I had supervisors who would scream at me. Supervisors who wouldn’t say a word. And supervisors who were moody or simply idiots. I didn’t care about any of that, as long as I could learn anything from them. As long as the learning curve is going up, I would stick with this supervisor no matter what. But as soon as I would notice that a particular supervisor got nothing to teach me or wouldn’t make the effort to support me, I moved. One month of not learning something new can throw you back several months in your career progress, so just really make sure to keep on learning and to have the right people around you to help you grow.

Learn how to communicate and how to build trust

Whatever you know, whatever your skill is and whatever you can do, it won’t matter if you don’t get the chance to show it off, it won’t matter if you don’t get your team behind it and it won’t matter if you don’t learn how to present it to those who judge you on it.

Learning to speak, to listen, to present, to negotiate, to evaluate, to correct, to teach and to scold… it is probably the single most critical skill for any leader. Developing emotional intelligence, learning to read characters and being able to quickly adapt to any person that you encounter along the way is crucial to develop your career.

Because while you got to be used to be lonely sometimes, any business depends on other people. We build products and services with people, we work with other people and we sell our products and services to people. It’s all about people. A manager and/or leader who can’t communicate this properly will have a hard time being successful. And you need success to move up.

Forget this crap about manager/leader comparisons

There was a time when people would discuss the differences between managers and leaders. In most cases, managers were the bad guys and leaders were the good guys. I also used to do these comparisons to evaluate my bosses.

It’s all a bunch of crap.

Truth is, that you need to learn when you have to manage and when you have to lead. No matter your job, you will always have budget restraints, relations between employees and business partners to consider and of course responsibilities towards your business owners. You have to effectively manage the resources you receive to make the best out of it, and this includes the people who work for you.

So you go to take the lead when you get a chance for it, but you also need to manage when it’s required. There is no black and white here, it’s all a grey area and in most cases, it’s not about what you do but how you communicate it that will make the difference whether it’s perceived as a management or leadership decision.

Focus on your skills, not your dreams

I was once reading this quote:

“Who you are, who you want to be, and who you can be are 3 different things”. We all had a dream about who we want to be someday. We all have skills that we learned along the way. We all have weaknesses. And we all have the potential to learn new skills.

However, while I admire people who have no talent for a particular profession, but who nevertheless spend years to improve themselves to chase their dreams, from a FIRE-aspirant perspective it’s simply not the right thing to do.

It would be smarter instead to focus on skills and qualities about yourself which are among your key-strengths and to try to find a matching profession based on those skills. While your parents and teachers will preach you to find a job that you love, I say that you should find a job that you can become the best at. The love will come along together with the success that you will experience.

It’s a little bit like marriage. You don’t necessarily choose the most attractive partner you can find, but the one who you can’t imagine living without. That’s at least how I see it.

And I am not alone on this one. Marc Cuban i.e. is preaching the same, emphasizing that following your passions is simply a piece of bad advice, calling it one of the great lies of life.

Soooo… what now?

I have frankly tons of more things I would like to share but I will save it for another post. I know that some of these points might not match with many voices out there, but please don’t forget that this is specifically for people who would like to achieve FIRE as quickly as possible.

To reach FIRE quickly, you need to push up your career as far as you can so you can increase your income. This will enable you to increase your savings and investments, in ways that most people can’t imagine. Saving 40-50% of your income is just easy if your income is three or four (or more) times higher than the average Joe.

FIRE is not for everyone and there is no easy way to get there. Like with everything in life, to reach something as challenging as FIRE, you really need to work hard on it and sacrifice a few things you might hold dear. So the question is, how badly do you really want it?

Following smart people

There are a few things we learn from our parents while growing up. One thing my parents were preaching to me (which I really wouldn’t follow) was to stay close with smart people. Even better: People who would be smarter than me.

That’s a great advise. But one needs to be ready to truly understand it. As a young, arrogant smart-ass I certainly wouldn’t know many people who I would consider smarter than me. And if I knew some, I would make sure to be more fit or popular, or in any other way superior. I wanted to be better than anyone else and didn’t even consider learning from others.

However, this edge for competition gave me another source of energy: The humiliation of defeat. If I wouldn’t succeed in my endeavour, I would do what I can to become better on my own and try to make sure to not experience the same failure again.

Things changed when I grew older.

When I got older, something interesting happened. I kept my edge for competition, but I learned to use it in a more constructive manner. I started to hang out with stronger and smarter people.

If I wanted to become good in something, I would specifically search for people who were much better than me. I wouldn’t say that I became friends with them, but I would respect them and stay close. Observe. Trying to find their edge, their unique point that made them better than others, their weakness. Then I would spend hours to gather ideas and practicing, brushing up my own skills. In between, I would challenge them, over and over, until the day that I would become better in whatever that challenge would have been. Playing chess, martial arts, mathematics, languages, yes, even video games and computers.

With some of those people I have a bond even until today. My biggest and strongest competitors became my best friends, and interestingly no foes remained. While I made some enemies along the way, they all disappeared at some point into a non-existence of my world. My former competitors, masters and teachers remained.

We need to be thankful to those who help us to move forward

It was always those people who were better, smarter or stronger than me who were adding the most to my knowledge, passion for my job and my personal aspiration to grow. Therefore it is no surprise, that competitors became friends and that the bond behind this relation is stronger than any regular friendship.

I would like to say thank you to all those who helped me along the way. My friends from martial arts, who would beat me up occasionally to show me that I needed indeed a few more training hours. My supervisors at work, who would prove to me over and over that I wasn’t the smartest person in the room. My professors at university who appreciated my thirst for knowledge and, of course, my parents, for reminding me patiently that being arrogant is not a good thing…. and for sticking with me in good and bad times.

Why I want to retire early

As I mentioned previously, a crucial thing to consider when planning for financial independence is to think about the things we want to do once we reach our goal. Most people spend their lives by working relentlessly, to ensure they can have a roof over their heads, food in the fridge and their children dressed and in school. And this is perfectly fine.

For me however, this is not enough. I want to contribute to others and to this world in a more meaningful way and I just can’t do that if I have a limitation on my time and if I am restrained by financial responsibilities.

Money rules the world. It certainly does. But money alone is only 50 % of the equation. All the money is useless without the people, who channel this money into a certain direction.

Knowing this, I am an admirer of Bill Gates, who is doing probably more than any other human being on this planet to address planetary issues in order to improve life for everyone. I salut to Elon Musk, who might not be the best business person, but who managed to push an entire industry away from oil towards a more sustainable future. There are many more visionaries out there and people who do their best on even much smaller scale to tackle problems that concern us all.

I hope one day to travel more, and to meet those people. Small business owners who work on new solutions to old problems. Entrepreneurs with hope and ambition, and who might just need a little support to push their idea forward to the next level.

If we don’t help each other, don’t learn from each other and don’t collect our knowledge, what is the point of being alive? Why do we wake up in the morning and get out of bed? What is our goal?

Counting Weeks

I don’t know about you, but when I was significantly younger, a year felt like a very long time. Christmas was always so far away, the time to my next birthday always seemed to never pass and my parents always looked the same. They didn’t seem to get older.

Today, at the age of 38, I see things very differently. A year has only 52 weeks. And those 52 weeks seem to be passing by faster, year on year.

My day routine is pretty caught up with working in the hotel from 8:00 – 19:00 hrs, commuting, then spending time with my family from 19:30 – 21:30 hrs, exercising from 21:30 – 23:00 hrs and while I cool down after the workout, I usually write on my blog or for my side-gig, The Motley Fool. For most days I go to sleep after midnight at around 1:00 in the night.

Having such a tight schedule was something that I actually never wanted. When you go to school or even study, you really don’t realize how much personal free time you have just for yourself. You might hate to wake up early and to learn all about history, biology and politics for 6 hours a day, but when you get out from school the clock will tick at somewhere around 14:00 or 15:00 hrs. Even if you would go to sleep early at lets say 22:00 hrs, this still means that you got 7-8 hours a day just for yourself! Day-in, day-out. Oh, and of course you have the entire weekend on top of that. And those long summer holidays, which are much longer than any future vacation you will have in any contract.

In the past, time seemed to be abundant, because I was just so much less busy. So much less occupied. I didn’t realized at that time, that my parents were covering such a huge chunk of my responsibility, which would catch up to me as soon as I would try to make it on my own.

Paying rent, having healthcare, covering for any means of transportation and of course, all those small pleasures in life… all those need to be paid for. And as we grow into the system, we trade our time for money. Money, which we spend to ensure that we can worry a little less. Unfortunately, this is an on-going process and your sense of security by paying rent and paying of your health-insurance, it’s a subscription based model. If you miss a payment, this subscription will expire and your worries will be back on.

So I keep counting the weeks, I keep investing, saving. And I continue to count… until I reach the point that I can finally break out of this system. That I won’t need to trade of time for money, and that my worries about my family and myself will become a thing of the past.