*Spoiler* I didn’t actually become royalty.
But I definitely was a pauper. Here’s the story of my life’s dramatic turnaround over the last decade. Enjoy!
I spent many hours working at the university dining hall the first half of the year (I flipped many a pancake for weekend brunches). I was very unsure about my path forward in life and consequently, I struggled academically as I lacked direction and motivation.
During the winter, I taught myself to snowboard over 2 evenings in West Virginia then went snowboarding at Whistler (!) over spring break, visiting Seattle and Vancouver along the way.
I bought a pair of Vibram FiveFingers and proceeded to get really weird looks and questions every time I wore them. Wearing shoes shaped like human feet made sense intuitively to me.
I drove my ‘96 Jeep Cherokee across the country (Virginia to California) in 4 days (blaring MGMT from the stereo) and spent the summer living and working (at Hollister – I’m now embarrassed to admit) in Los Angeles. I had been fascinated with Southern California for years by this point (I blame Hollywood… and The OC 🙂 ) and wanted to experience it for myself. I lived in Redondo Beach that summer and loved LA and Southern California as expected.
Unfortunately, the radiator in my Jeep had overheated and cracked while driving through the Mojave Desert on the way out. After spending all summer pouring water into the radiator reservoir to drive around, I replaced the radiator myself (picked up parts around town on my bicycle and watched Jeep maintenance videos on YouTube). Then I drove the Jeep back across the country (no overheating this time and I went back a different route – visiting San Francisco, Las Vegas, Denver, and St. Louis along the way).
Upon returning from California, I moved to Farmville, VA and finished my undergraduate coursework in the fall.
2011: The Struggle Is Real
I moved to Richmond, VA (actually Maidens, VA) in January and lived with an old lady out in the country (I found the place on Craigslist). Rent was $300/month plus yard chores – it was the cheapest place I could find within driving distance of work. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but was considering law school at the time so I worked as a temp for a law firm reviewing claims from the BP oil spill ($12/hour for 32 hours/week on the night shift).
In May, I walked in the official graduation ceremony for my undergraduate degree.
The temp project ended unexpectedly in the spring, putting me into a bind. I applied to many places both online and locally (I was even rejected from working the front desk at the local Gold’s Gym!). I quickly ran out of money and couldn’t pay rent so I made arrangements with my landlord to use the security deposit to cover the last month’s rent. If I couldn’t find a job that month, I would have to move home (with my tail between my legs) to live with my dad. But fortunately, in June (the last month) I found a job at another law firm as a legal assistant ($11/hour but full-time employment) and later was promoted to paralegal there.
Through this job, I visited nearly all of the courthouses in the greater Richmond area and learned more about bankruptcy law than I ever wanted to. Unfortunately, student loans (the bane of my existence) couldn’t be discharged in bankruptcy – I looked into it.
That summer, I came across Mark Sisson’s blog and was instantly intrigued by the ancestral way of living that he espoused. It made so much sense intuitively, but had never occurred to me as it was very different from the conservative Christian worldview I had been taught growing up. I started the paleo diet in June and my health improved substantially. The constipation and digestive pain I experienced after eating subsided considerably and my acne got much better. I continued to learn more about health and read Michael Pollan’s book and The Paleo Diet by Dr. Loren Cordain this year.
Getting into Fitness
In August, I moved to Richmond proper in a group house (found on Craigslist) to be closer to work. I began lifting weights regularly (following the StrongLifts program) while listening to Robb Wolf’s podcast in the attic of the house. I started watching UFC this year. Watching Jon Jones compete inspired me to become a better athlete. (I started doing tuck jumps in the backyard of the house in Richmond because I had seen Jon doing them in the Octagon before his fights. And I dreamed about doing one arm cartwheels like him.)
After much research, I decided law school wouldn’t be a good decision for me. I felt the legal market was saturated and was being disrupted by technology. Taking out hundreds of thousands of dollars of more debt with no guarantee of a high-paying job seemed like an unwise decision. And essentially every lawyer I talked to hated their job and I didn’t want that life.
Additionally, I talked with many recruiters and almost joined the Navy in the nuclear power program (!), but after visiting the naval base in Jacksonville on a recruiting trip, I ultimately decided life on a submarine (or any boat) wasn’t a good fit for someone of my stature (I’m 6’7!). Although I did enjoy the PBS documentary Carrier while doing research about the Navy.
I continued seeking more knowledge about health and the benefits of an ancestral lifestyle and I read Mark Sisson’s book, Robb Wolf’s book, and Born to Run. Accordingly, I spent as much time as possible outside in the sun in the backyard on the weekends and I bought only minimalist shoes from then on, including Luna Sandals and Vivobarefoot dress shoes that year. I read Tim Ferriss’s book, which helped me think more entrepreneurially and helped me start to realize it was ok to do things differently. All the books I read during 2011 and 2012 I checked out for free at the local public libraries.
I continued following the StrongLifts program and I kept a detailed log of every lift I did on the program (tracked weight, sets, and reps). Sometimes I video recorded myself performing the lifts and analyzed my form. I certainly couldn’t afford a personal trainer, so reviewing the technique myself to improve was better than nothing. I got much stronger – my barbell deadlift, back squat, and bench press would have been around 300lb, 250lb, and 200lb respectively by this time (estimating one rep maxes (1RM) from work weights). These were in fact the goal numbers I set for myself in 2011 before I started lifting. Not impressive numbers for a weightlifter by any stretch but showed good improvement for someone who had never squatted or deadlifted before and who was about 155lb at 6’7 before starting the program the previous year. Also, I occasionally did sprints barefoot in the church yard behind the house.
I continued working at the law firm, but wasn’t satisfied with my life (when I did my taxes, I realized I made only about $15,000 the previous year!) and wanted to better myself. I began researching and applying to graduate MMS-type programs (UVA, Duke, and Wake Forest) and summer business programs at Dartmouth, Berkeley, Vanderbilt, and Stanford. I studied for and took the standardized admissions test. I even drove down and visited Duke for an open house for their MMS program. I changed jobs to work for a mortgage lender (making $15/hour) as I wanted to learn more about business and finance (and wanted to make more money).
I was fortunate to be accepted into all the programs to which I applied. After reviewing my options, I decided a master’s degree would be more valuable than completing a summer program, even at Stanford. The summer programs cost $10,000+, which was a sizable investment for an uncertain return. Unlike the summer programs, all the master’s programs published employment data for previous classes so I had a better idea what kind of return to expect on the investment.
I decided to attend the University of Virginia (UVA) for a master’s degree and moved to Charlottesville, VA in a filthy, roach-infested group house with undergrads (found on Craigslist). I lived in the dining room (!) and paid $400/month plus utilities.
Mr. Jefferson’s University
I began classes at UVA and dealt with imposter syndrome being amongst classmates from wealthy upbringings and fancy schools. While at UVA, I interviewed with lots of companies as my main reason for attending the program was to achieve a better career outcome. I didn’t hear back from most of the companies, but I kept trying and improved my interview skills in the process. During academic breaks, I worked at my previous employer, the mortgage lender in Richmond, to make some money.
2013: School, Travel, & a “Real” Job
Classes and job interviews continued at UVA. One company even flew me out to Sacramento to interview because I wanted to live in California.
That spring I spent a month in Southeast Asia (Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam) with classmates as part of the UVA course curriculum. I chose a course track in Asia because I had never been before and I ended up absolutely loving SE Asia.
First “Real” Job
Afterwards, I finished the master’s degree coursework at UVA. I started my first “real” job at a software company and I moved to Reston, VA (found a shared place on Craigslist) to be near the company’s headquarters. I dealt with imposter syndrome once again amongst Ivy League peers. But, I liked the work I was doing (mostly coding) much more than any work I had done previously.
This year, I began watching/listening to Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show and Joe Rogan’s podcast, which furthered my interest in fitness and martial arts. I lifted weights at Gold’s Gym after work semi-regularly.
2014: Braces, Kayaks, & Credit Cards
During this year I moved within Reston twice (found both shared places on Craigslist).
I got back into snowboarding and did lots of snowboarding locally on weekends during the winter.
Embarrassingly, in the spring I got adult braces! My teeth had been noticeably jacked since about 10th grade when most of my adult teeth had come in. I had really wanted to get them fixed, however, we certainly didn’t have the money for braces back then and I never had had the money for braces before. But now, I finally had a decent income and so I saved enough money for braces by maxing out my flexible spending account (FSA) each year ($2,5000 for 2013, 2014, and 2015). Paying out of the FSA meant I got the braces tax-free, saving about 30% (~$2,000) versus paying out-of-pocket.
I had to get the traditional wire braces, rather than Invisalign or another alternative, due to the severity of the correction needed. I did pay extra to get clear brackets so I didn’t look quite as much like a teenage metal mouth while trying to establish myself as a serious professional. Nevertheless, I avoided showing my teeth to try to make the braces less noticeable. I don’t think I was that successful – I think most people noticed I had braces, but didn’t call me out ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
In May, I walked in my official UVA graduation ceremony.
I went to New York a few times this year visiting friends and meeting up with family. The Chinatown bus between DC and NY is so cheap!
I began listening to Ben Greenfield’s podcast (I heard him as a guest on Robb Wolf’s podcast and was intrigued). I continued my health journey and jerry-rigged a treadmill desk setup (with a cheap treadmill from Amazon and an IKEA desk off Craigslist). I purchased the Solving Leaky Gut program and saw significant improvement in my health and energy by taking the recommended supplements. (I was classified as a Tough Case in the program.) This program was a big step for me as I had to acknowledge that some health problems cannot be solved by diet alone and may require a more direct intervention. Thus, began my supplementation journey.
I continued working for the same software company but liked it less after I was placed indefinitely on a project off-site in Washington, DC. I quickly grew tired of the daily commute from Reston.
I fixed my credit score, raising it from 600 to 760. I used Credit Karma to check and monitor my credit reports for free. I also began travel-hacking by applying for several new credit cards – contrary to popular belief, the new credit cards actually raised my credit score, because now I had a large total credit limit, but was using only a small percentage of it.
I read Ramit Sethi’s book, which provided inspiration and direction for getting my finances in order. I also read Rich Dad Poor Dad, which helped me understand the game being played around me in the business world and further shaped my entrepreneurial mindset.
2015: It $tarts To Get Fun
New Job & Going Carless
Inspired by Ramit, I changed jobs – a very positive change that netted a significant raise. I sold the old Jeep and went carless, relying on my bike and public transport. I usually took the metro to work and either the metro or the bus home – although I did ride my old 2005 mountain bike to work on “Bike to Work Day” in May. Uber and Lyft were also blowing up around this time so I started using these ride-share services occasionally later in the year.
I moved from Reston to Arlington, VA to be walking distance to the new job. I was living in the basement of one half of a duplex (found on Craigslist for $750/month), but it was almost like I had my own place as I had a private entrance and private bathroom. I was in a much more urban and interesting area and could now take advantage of what DC had to offer, because I was so close (right across the Potomac river).
Health & Fitness
I now could afford to work with a functional medicine doctor (Dr. Ruscio) to try to further improve my health. Honestly, I didn’t see great benefit from all the testing and supplementation we did beyond what I had already achieved from following the Solving Leaky Gut program.
I continued a healthy lifestyle, going to the gym after work several days a week (doing yoga and lifting weights). I tried Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) after hearing Joe Rogan talk about it so much for years. I did a few classes and enjoyed it, but then the BJJ school moved unexpectedly and I wasn’t able to continue.
I began tracking finances closely and set aggressive financial goals. I consolidated and refinanced my student loans (with Earnest) – saving a ton of money by dropping the interest rate by over 6% from my highest rate loan. I maxed my 401(k) this year for the first time.
In December, I traveled to Patagonia in Argentina with a friend (also visited Buenos Aires and briefly São Paulo, Brazil) over about 10 days.
Patagonia was stunningly beautiful – definitely the most impressive landscapes I’ve ever seen. The area is so untouched that while hiking, we were able to fill up our water bottles from the streams and drink the water!
I enjoyed Buenos Aires as well. The city has a rich cultural history to explore and I noticed an interesting dichotomy as parts of the city felt European while other neighborhoods were very much Latin American. Buenos Aires was cheaper than most Western cities and was a foodie paradise for a meat lover like me with every cut of fresh, grass-fed beef readily available.
2016: Stressful Work & Lots of Travel
Same job and living situation. I trained at a Strong First kettlebell gym for a few months while traveling for a work project – I really enjoyed that type of training and definitely got stronger. I found the training to be more well-rounded than the barbell lifting that I had been doing almost exclusively before.
No More Braces
I got my braces off in the spring! I had the braces on for almost exactly 2 years. The orthodontist had quoted me 18-24 months originally, so we came in within the range, albeit at the top end. It was weird at first starting to smile and no longer being embarrassed about my teeth. It took some getting used to because my entire adult life I had avoided showing my teeth when I smiled. I basically had to relearn how to smile 🙂
Braces were an expensive investment (several thousand dollars) and were quite annoying to wear for years, especially as an adult, but the outcome of straight teeth made it all worthwhile as I got a permanent confidence boost and accordingly an improvement in quality of life (as silly and trivial as that may sound).
I began a stressful project at work that was also a new role for me as a team leader. For a month or so, I trained regularly at a boxing gym that was close to where I was working until the client’s office moved and the gym was no longer convenient.
In June, I took a quick trip to Boston to visit my step-family for the weekend. I got a very cheap deal on Spirit Airlines out of BWI since I was traveling without luggage. We all stayed with my step-brother and his wife. It was good to see everyone and catch up.
I went to the Delaware beaches for my birthday weekend with my girlfriend. Delaware has the closest beaches to DC at about 2.5 hours away (if traffic isn’t bad). We went to Rehoboth and Lewes. We liked the area but didn’t love it.
I visited Austin for the first time for a long weekend in August. My girlfriend and I met her sister and her sister’s boyfriend there and we all shared a big Airbnb apartment. I loved Austin (even though it was really hot) and began thinking about moving there. Great food (lots of paleo options), low cost of living, and fantastic outdoor opportunities.
Bali, Hong Kong, Macau, & Amsterdam
Over almost three weeks in August and September, I traveled to Bali with Under30Experiences and I also visited Amsterdam (briefly) and Hong Kong and Macau.
I traveled to San Francisco in October to visit friends. I went to Muir Woods and Napa Valley in addition to doing touristy stuff in SF.
Also in October, I went to Boston again and visited my step-brother and his wife.
I spent Thanksgiving with my girlfriend and her uncles in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania.
In December, I took a trip to Key West with my girlfriend to attend a wedding. We saw the popular attractions, including Ernest Hemingway’s house, Truman’s Little White House, the butterfly garden, and the lighthouse. We had a fine time, but honestly Key West didn’t live up to the hype – it’s definitely not a must-visit place. It’s very touristy and since it’s a stop on cruises, the cruise ship crowd is often flooding the streets, congesting everything. And surprisingly, Key West doesn’t really have beaches.
This year, I continued investing, paying down my loans, and maxed my 401(k) again.
In January, I moved out of the basement and into my first nice apartment (NOT found on Craigslist). The apartment was still in the same area of Arlington, VA and within walking distance to my company’s office.
Business School Visits
I attended a couple MBA events at the beginning of the year and began thinking seriously about business school. Over the spring I visited many top schools to learn about their MBA programs.
I took individual weekend trips to visit Yale, Dartmouth, and Wharton (all are in the Northeast of the US). I took the train (my favorite way to travel over reasonably short distances) to Yale and the bus to Wharton since Philadelphia is so close to DC. Dartmouth required flying into Boston and then taking the Dartmouth bus several hours directly out to the campus.
In April, I spent a week in San Francisco for an industry conference through my job and visited Berkeley and Stanford on the trip in addition to doing some sightseeing with friends.
I took a trip to Boston in April and stayed with my step-brother and his wife. While there, I visited MBA classes at Harvard & MIT.
I liked all the schools I visited (some more than others) and dreamed about attending one of them in the future. Visiting all these schools was a big investment of time and money, but was worthwhile because it took away some of the mystique associated with elite education and made me more comfortable applying to top schools and more comfortable with MBA programs in general.
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
I traveled to Mexico (Puerto Vallarta and Tulum) over a couple weeks with my girlfriend in May. Her sister got married in Puerto Vallarta and then we spent extra time traveling. We stayed at a nice AirBnB in Puerto Vallarta and liked the area but didn’t love it. Puerto Vallarta is fine, but not a must-visit place.
Tulum, however, was amazing! We made Tulum our home base to travel around the Yucatan. We went to the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, Coba, and Tulum. We swam in many cenotes and went snorkeling in the ocean. The water in Tulum is the most strikingly beautiful blue color; I have never seen water like it anywhere in the world. Tulum is just far enough away (~2 hours) from Cancun that it isn’t too touristy yet, but I’m sure it will be soon. The town of Tulum was also fairly cheap; we got a bunch of tacos for dinner at a local restaurant for a grand total of $5 for two people. However, the beach area of Tulum was nearly Western prices. I rented a car in Cancun to give us freedom to travel to the cenotes and Mayan ruins on our own. I was concerned about driving around Mexico, but it was totally fine and never felt unsafe. I will definitely go back to Mexico again.
CrossFit & Spartan
This summer, I started CrossFit. A couple months of doing CrossFit 3-4 days/week got me back into shape and gave me the confidence to try something I had wanted to do since I first heard about it in 2014: a Spartan race. Insert Instagram post text
I was woefully unprepared for the obstacles: my spear didn’t stick, I couldn’t navigate a weird rock climbing wall (Olympus), and I struggled hard with an odd twisting rig (Twister). But even 60 burpees couldn’t damper my enthusiasm.
This experience was primal and made me feel alive unlike my daily life spent inside an office building. I hadn’t felt this way in years and I loved it. Immediately after the race I looked for the next Spartan race I could do. I was hooked.
I did 2 Spartan races (DC and South Carolina) at the end of the year and was hooked.
Monkey bar video & SC pic
In October, we went whitewater rafting on the Gauley River in West Virginia. The Gauley is world class whitewater (top 5 or 10 in the world) and accordingly is quite dangerous. This was my 3rd (and final!) time on the Gauley. I’ve been thrown out of the boat on every trip and being terrified that I might die for several consecutive hours while having almost no control over the outcome isn’t my idea of a good time. Whitewater rafting isn’t for me. My girlfriend loved it though 🙂
In November, I went with my girlfriend to Oklahoma and we stayed with her aunt and uncle and cousins. We went to an Oklahoma City Thunder NBA game and the Oklahoma-TCU college football game while we were there.
I started studying for the GMAT and took the exam in September (scored a 720) and began business school applications in the latter part of the year.
I continued investing, paying on my loans, and maxed my 401(k) for the year again.
In January, I completed and submitted all my business school applications.
Betterment – started investing?
Welcome to Miami
In February, I went with my girlfriend to Miami for the first time. I did a Spartan race and we toured Miami and visited friends and sampled Cuban food (Calle Ocho!) and did a kayaking trip through the Everglades. We both liked Miami, not only because of the beautiful weather in the winter.
View this post on Instagram
In the spring, I heard back from business schools. I got rejections and acceptances, including an acceptance to Oxford (!). I again visited Berkeley, where I was also accepted. I visited Oxford for the first time during an admitted students weekend and really liked it, but decided not to attend business school this year due to an opportunity at work that I had been convinced would pay off. (Spoiler: it didn’t pay off, but c’est la vie. That’s a story for another time)
After visiting Oxford, I went to London for a couple days. I had studied abroad in London for a semester in 2008, but hadn’t been back since. I enjoyed returning and doing the activities I couldn’t afford to do back then when I was a very broke college student (looking at you, Tower of London and London Eye) and enjoyed returning to places I had been exactly 10 years prior.
In April, my girlfriend and I went to Virginia Beach for a wedding. It was still chilly this time of year but was lovely to wake up to an ocean view in the morning.
Insert video jumping into ocean
In May, I visited Austin again with my girlfriend and her sister. I did a Spartan race in Austin and we did more sightseeing in the area.
In July, we visited Seattle for a friend’s wedding. Seattle was absolutely gorgeous this time of year!
In August, I visited Chicago for the first time. Met my girlfriend and her siblings there. We went to Cubs and White Sox games and did lots of the classic Chicago tourist attractions.
In September, we took a day trip to Philadelphia with friends.
In October, we went to Dallas to visit with my girlfriend’s family. We went to the Oklahoma-Texas college football game and visited the Texas state fair.
Obstacle Course Racing
I became obsessed with obstacle course racing this year. I did tons of training and completed 14 Spartan races and 1 Tougher Mudder for 15 total OCRs (obstacle course races) in 2018. Looking back, the obstacle course racing hobby was an outlet to escape from a work life that I did not like. But they were a ton of fun and provided motivation to train hard.
I actually had several more Spartan races on the calendar but broke a toe on my left foot in September and then broke a toe on my right foot in November (shortly after the left foot had healed). These injuries were super frustrating and cut my season short. The first injury was sustained at CrossFit jumping down from a rope climb (at least that’s kinda macho), but the second injury was sustained by crushing my toe on the edge of the coffee table 🙁 – how embarrassing!
GMAT Prep & MBA Applications
On the bright side, the injuries forced me to focus on GMAT and MBA prep instead of fitness for a while. I studied for the GMAT again and retook the exam in the fall, slightly improving my score (a 10-point improvement to 730). I spent the end of the year preparing business school applications once again (it was easier the second time around).
Fortunately, I transitioned off of the aforementioned stressful work project (Hallelujah!) later in the year and my work/life balance improved dramatically thereafter.
More GMAT & MBA Stuff
I submitted all MBA applications in January. I visited Cornell twice for different events and also visited Berkeley and Oxford again.
I studied and retook the GMAT a final time in March (the latest that a new score could possibly be considered for the round in which I applied) and slightly improved my score again (10 more points to 740) – the score was good enough to get into the Mensa Society (!).
I celebrated by going to Miami with my girlfriend in March. We stayed with friends and did more sightseeing and enjoyed the warm weather. We drove the famous US Route 1 road toward Key West. It was a beautiful drive, especially towards the end closer to Key West, but I have to say the most scenic drive I’ve ever done is the Pacific Coast Highway in California through Big Sur (I did it in 2010 driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco on the way home).
In the spring, I heard back from business schools and I got even better results this time around! After eliminating a couple schools, the decision came down to Cornell, Berkeley, and Oxford. It was a very difficult decision to make, but I chose Oxford! And I feel that I made the best decision for me. (More about why I made that decision in a forthcoming post.)
I continued doing obstacle course races in 2019, completing 6 Spartan races in the first half of the year: Jacksonville super and sprint in February, Greek Peak sprint in March, Nationals Park stadion in May, and Dallas stadion and DC sprint in June. Highlights were the winter sprint at Greek Peak (a ski resort in upstate New York ⛷️) and the race at AT&T Stadium (home of the Dallas Cowboys 🏈). Racing in the snow made Greek Peak a unique and memorable experience. Competing in AT&T Stadium, which I’d seen on TV for years, made me feel like a legitimate athlete (almost). Far fewer Spartan races this year than last as my focus had shifted to other things. That being said, I’ll continue to follow the sport and I look forward to doing more Spartans in the future, likely in 2021 after I finish school and do some traveling. I also plan to try Hyrox and Spartan’s new Dekafit competition.
In June, I bought my first road bike for $140 off Craigslist. With this junky old road bike, I discovered a passion for cycling and completed 3 triathlons (super sprint, sprint, and Olympic distances) over the summer.
Track & Field
Over the summer, I joined a local track club and competed in track and field meets for the first time in my life. I did this to prepare for going to Oxford where I hoped to join the athletics (track and field) team despite having no prior experience with track and field (my school growing up did not offer track and field – we didn’t have a school building, much less a track, but that’s a story for another time).
Also, I worked up the courage and took a couple intro improv classes (something I had heard recommended a lot and had wanted to try for years) over the summer. The last class culminated in a showcase in front of a live audience. Insert improv description from Instagram XXXX
In early September, I quit my job, packed up and moved out of my apartment, and moved across the pond to Oxford in the UK. This was a huge life change that definitely took some adjusting to.
Classes started in late September and the first term (called Michaelmas) of the MBA program completed in late December. I joined the athletics and basketball teams at Oxford and have enjoyed training for those sports so far.
Javelin practice & discus team photo?
Took a quick trip to London for a couple days before Christmas.
During the winter break, I traveled to Sri Lanka (where I’m writing this now) escaping the dreary England weather for some surfing and sunshine.
And that was my decade!