🐧 The Secret Formula to Fulfilling Your Dreams

34-Year-Old Ex-Amazonian Quits for Pastry School, Ex-Software Engineer Sails World With Family, Ex-McKinsey Self-Publishes a Book
June 23, 2024

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Today, in 10 minutes or less, you’ll learn:

  • 🧰 The Dreams Formula
  • 🎂 Case Study #1: 34-year old 6-figure tech worker goes to pastry school in France
  • ⛵️ Case Study #2: 47-year-old ex-software engineer sails the world with his wife and daughter
  • 📘 Case Study #3: Ex-McKinsey consultant self-publishes a book


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🔢 The Secret Formula to Fulfilling Your Dreams

"To a (wo)man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail." - Abraham Maslow

In 2019, I quit my cushy tech job in San Francisco and traveled the world for a year.

Was this a smart financial decision?

Depends on who you ask.

Based on the numbers, definitely not.

I spent ~$35k while earning a low 5-figure income as a part-time career coach.

Even accounting for higher cost of living and taxes in SF, I forwent over $100k in potential savings and investment.

Based on the life experience, absolutely priceless.

On this trip, I:

  • Met my wife
  • Volunteered on tea farms
  • Experienced tremendous personal growth
  • Did Mandarin & Spanish language immersion
  • Created fond memories I will cherish for the rest of my life
  • Pivoted my career, moving to Singapore to grow my tech career internationally

In personal finance, money is a tool.

Numbers are important, but don’t let them define your choices.

In this newsletter, I’m going to share three case studies of other people on the internet who leveraged money to fulfill unconventional life goals.

The Dreams Formula

Do you have life dreams you’ve been dying to pull the trigger on?

Perhaps, as a kid, you dreamed of starting a sports business, traveling across Asia, or going to culinary school in Paris.

Fast forward to now. You’re in your late 20’s or 30’s.

But these dreams have sat there untouched. Collecting dust.

Meanwhile, you’ve built up a solid nest egg.

Perhaps, it’s $50k, $500k, or more.

This is an admirable feat.

But if you’re reading this newsletter, then your vision of a successful life is not achieving a net worth (or FIRE) number itself.

It’s gaining unique life experiences.

Hence, I use this simple formula:

Dream + Tools + Action = Fulfilled Dream

How I break this down:

  • Dream = Starting a sports business, backpacking across Asia, going to culinary school in Paris
  • Tools = Money, time, network, and health/energy
  • Action = How you use the tools at your disposal to execute your life goal

Now, I’ll share a few case studies that puts this formula into practice:

Case Study #1: 34-year old 6-figure tech worker goes to pastry school in France

Valerie Valcourt worked a 6-figure job at Amazon, but she felt unfulfilled.

She had always dreamed of going to culinary school abroad.

In 2020, she finally pulled the trigger. She spontaneously applied to a French school, got accepted, and resigned.

But this attempt backfired. She did not have enough saved (~$10,000) and was not mentally prepared for such a big career change.

In 2022, she made a second attempt.

This time, she played her hands differently.

How did she do it?

She planned her finances in advances. She had doubled her savings to $20,000 and stayed with family to accelerate her savings.

She also researched schools that would help her learn French and with internship placement. Finally she landed on Gastronomicom in the south of France.

In January 2023, she officially moved to France.

She kicked off a 3-month program of intensive pastry courses and French lessons, then a 4-month internship.

In total, she paid:

  • ~10,000 euros ($10,850) for tuition
  • ~1,800 euros ($1,953) for housing
  • Some amount for other expenses

After graduating, she got hired to work full time as a pastry assistant at Maison Chabran in Pont-de-l’Isere, France—where she continues her new career path today.

What are the downsides?

  • Takes time to plan and build up confidence - This career change took Valeria 3 years, two attempts, and careful planning to execute successfully.
  • Consider the post-schooling options - If you pursue an alternative schooling abroad, run through the scenarios. What if you decide to become a full-time chef? What if you don’t and want to move back to the US? Plan for the contingencies.

Case Study #2: 47-year-old ex-software engineer sails the world with his wife and daughter

Brian Trautman worked 60 hour weeks as a software engineer at Microsoft.

But he harbored a secret.

He wanted to sail the world.

In May 2008, he decided to finally put his plan into action.

How did he do it?

After two years of saving as much as possible, he sold everything he owned, including a 3-bedroom townhouse in Redmond, Washington.

He set aside $48,000 for savings. (This ran out 3 times during the trip, so you’ll want more.)

He bought a 53-foot sailboat called SV Delos, which cost $398,000 with a $81,000 down payment. It has 3 cabins and 2 bathrooms. (He eventually paid it off in 2019).

Finally, he embarked on a 2-year sabbatical to sail the world.

In 2011, he met his now-wife, Karin in New Zealand. (They now have a 4-year-old daughter.)

They started documenting their adventures together in a Youtube channel, Sailing SV Delos, to supplement their income.

This later turned into a full-time endeavor, which funds their lifestyle today.

What’s the cost of the lifestyle?

  • $500 on groceries for a few weeks
  • $1,900/mo on boat insurance, maintenance, fuel and utilities
  • $250/mo for satellite Wi-Fi

What are the downsides?

  • Living in a small space - Brian and Karin’s family have modern appliances, but live in a much smaller space.
  • Lack of fresh fruit & vegetables - Storing this is hard. Weather is unpredictable, which means going back on land for more is difficult to plan.
  • Seeing family intermittently - Their family visits them when they’re docked. But this seems difficult to plan a schedule around.

Case Study #3: Ex-McKinsey consultant self-publishes a book

Paul Millerd worked as a McKinsey consultant and had a degree from MIT.

Yet, for a while, he felt “stuck” on his default path.

After losing someone dear to him and a health crisis, he finally decided to strike out on his pathless path in 2018. He quit his job and stepped into the unknown.

This path took him on travels around the world, building a remote education business, and eventually—self-publishing a book.

In 2022, Paul launched his self-published book, Pathless Path. (I recommend it.)

He sold over 25,000 copies to generate $130,000 in royalties in 500 days.

But working backwards, his path leading up to this required considerable planning and execution.

How did he do it?

In December 2020, Paul committed to writing his book.

This was the biggest creative project he was ever about to take on.

Time was one major investment.

He initially aimed to publish his book in 3 months—which he later admits, he didn’t know what he was getting himself into.

In reality, it took him ~13 months to go from idea to publishing.

About five months into writing, he spoke with publishers and realized he wanted to go the self-publishing route. He enjoyed figuring things out on his own.

In terms of costs, he spent:

  • $6,172 before launch (editing, coaching, audiobook, design)
  • $10,325 after launch (gifted books, ads, consulting)

What are the downsides?

  • Takes more time than you think - After reading reflections from multiple authors, one common thread seems to be this takes way more time than you anticipate. (Although I can’t help thinking about Parkinson’s Law.)
  • Muddling through on your own - Paul mentioned he wishes he got an editor earlier to make the writing process easier.
  • You end up throwing out your earlier work - Paul talks about hating his earlier drafts and having to keep rewriting. Positive side is that meant he was improving his writing!

In Summary

First, we showed you the formula:

Dream + Tools + Action = Fulfilled Dream

Then, we uncovered 3 examples of people pursuing their dreams who used money and time as tools to achieve their dreams—along with key actions they took along the way.

Here’s a quick summary in a nice table format:

I hope you took away inspiration from their journeys that you can apply to your own dreams.

If you liked this email, give it a 5-penguin rating at the bottom.

🌐 Beyond your borders

📈 Why Stocks Are the Greatest Asset Class by Nick Maggiuli (link)

🪜 The ladders of wealth creation: a step-by-step roadmap to building wealth by Nathan Barry (link)

🏋️‍♀️ How to start a one-person business (starting with 0$) by Ruri Ohama (link)

🎾 2024 Commencement Address by Roger Federer at Dartmouth (link)

🌎️ Foreigners pay 40% estate tax on US assets!? How to protect? (link)

📆 How I can help

That’s all for today!

Whenever you’re ready, here’s how I can help you:

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3. US expat tax service - Get personalized help on your tax returns from a US expat tax professional.

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Dexter Zhuang

Dexter is the founder of Money Abroad, an online education platform helping high-performers design their independent money path. He has 10+ years of experience building products and teams at public companies (Dropbox) and scaling startups (Xendit) across the US, Asia, and Latin America. His work has been featured in global outlets like Business Insider, CBS, US News & World Report, and Tech in Asia. He graduated from Dartmouth College.

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