What Should You Do After FI? Build Your Talent Stack.

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A university professor once told me “PHDs are basically just random ideas from different fields jammed together.”

Her point was that every idea under the sun has been done before. There are no unique ideas. BUT, there are ideas that feel new because they are a combination of ideas that seemingly have nothing to do with each other. They may all be old ideas but the combination is what makes it unique.

For context, at the time we were studying a way to design microchips that someone had come up with called Forced-based Placement. I won’t bore you with the details here but the inspiration came from how spiders spin webs and always manage to create the strongest possible net despite the spider not consciously designing it that way.

I always found it fascinating how that idea came to be, because it combined two very different fields (biology and computer science) and what came out of that combination was something truly unique that left me scratching me head. And what I’ve found over time is that this works for passion projects and FI as well.

One of our most frequently asked questions is “What should I do after FI?”

And usually our response is “find out what you’re passionate about and go do that.” It sounds simple enough, but in reality, getting a passion project off the ground isn’t easy.

This is because most of the time, we’re trained on trying to be the BEST at one skill which takes years or even decades, and the problem is that often times people don’t want to spend a decade mastering a whole new skill before they can start on a passion project in retirement.

And even if you managed to gain mastery in that one skill, it doesn’t mean you’re the ONLY one with that skill. You could be competing against thousands of other people, putting in the same amount of training as you. Just because you work hard at something doesn’t mean other people aren’t working just as hard, or even harder. You’re not gaining that skill in a vacuum.

What we should be focusing is being “good enough” at a unique combination of things.

Being good at a unique combination of things makes you stand out, because even if other people are training just as hard as you, they won’t have the exact same combination of skills.

This is what’s called a “Talent Stack,” a term coined by Scott Adams, the creator of the “Dilbert” comics.

Despite creating a world-famous comic, Dilbert, which has appeared in 65 countries and netted him 75 Million dollars, Scott Adam’s isn’t the best artist. He also isn’t the best writer or the best marketing expert. But he does have a unique set of skills he’s pretty good at.

He’s pretty funny, has passable (by his own admission) art skills, can write well enough, and is strategic enough to test his ideas out to see which ones yield results, and fixes problems to continue improving.

As a result, he found success as a cartoonist with a well-designed “Talent Stack” rather than one world-class skill.

I found this to be true for us as well. Wanderer and I are not the best writers, or the smartest investors. Plus, there are over a thousand finance blogs listed on Rockstar Finance and more are being added every day.

So how did we manage to stand out enough to get 4 million views on our blog in just over two years?

By combining writing that’s good enough, with better than average investment knowledge, the ability to break complex concepts into easily digestible chunks and not being media shy (many finance bloggers are introverts and have trouble doing this), we ended up with a pretty decent Talent Stack.

Don’t forget that the Talent Stack isn’t fixed, by the way. You can always add “good enough” skills to this stack over time. The higher the stack gets, the more unbeatable and unique you become over time.

So when you’re asking yourself the question, “what do I do after FI? “ or “how do I start a side hustle”, develop your Talent Stack to stand out from the crowd.

To figure out your unique Talent Stack, do the following:

1) Write down 10 useful skills you’re good enough at (meaning, “better than the average person”).

Don’t worry if you have less than 10 skills. Just write as many as you think you have. You can always build more throughout the years.

Note: If you have more than 10 skills, fantastic! Pick 10 that you think are the most unique and useful (meaning, can be used to help/benefit the most amount of people)

Note: if you’re a couple or in a partnership, feel free to combine the skillsets of multiple people.

For example, the combined skills we have are:

a) Writing
b) Public speaking
c) Video editing
d) Communicating complex concepts
e) Networking
f) Personal finance
g) Coding
h) Media Whore-ishness
i) Budgeting
j) Mathing Shit Up

This is your Talent Stack.

2) Rate each skill on a scale of 1-5 (1 being worst, 5 being best) based on competency:

For us, in the context of FIRE blogging, that would be:

a) Writing: 3.5
b) Public speaking: 3.5
c) Video editing: 3
d) Communicating complex concepts: 4
e) Networking: 3
f) Personal finance: 4
g) Coding: 4
h) Media Whore-ishness: 3.5
i) Budgeting: 4
j) Mathing Shit Up: 4

3) Rate each skill in terms of unique-ness (1 being worst, 5 being best) in your field:

a) Writing: 4
b) Public speaking: 4
c) Video editing: 5
d) Communicating complex concepts: 4
e) Networking: 2
f) Personal finance: 2
g) Coding: 2
h) Media Whore-ishness: 4
i) Budgeting: 1
j) Mathing Shit Up: 3

4) Now add together your competency and uniqueness score for each skill:

a) Writing: 3.5 + 4 = 7.5
b) Public speaking: 3.5 + 4 = 7.5
c) Video editing: 3 + 5 = 8
d) Communicating complex concepts: 4 + 4 = 8
e) Networking: 3 + 2 = 5
f) Personal finance: 4 + 2 = 6
g) Coding: 4 + 2 = 6
h) Media Whore-ishness: 3.5 + 4 = 7.5
i) Budgeting: 4 + 1 = 5
j) Mathing Shit Up: 4 + 3 = 7


5) Circle the top 5 with the highest scores:

a. Communicating complex concepts
b. Video editing
c. Writing
d. Public speaking
e. Media savvy

These are the best skills you have that are the most unique within your field.

In our case, even though we ranked ourselves pretty high on Mathing Shit Up, it didn’t make the cut because that wasn’t that unique in FIRE blogging. Since those skills are required to become FI, FIRE bloggers are naturally good at math.

On the other hand, we only ranked video editing as slightly above average, but because there are almost no videos from FIRE bloggers, that became a standout skill. Which explains why we were able to bring in so many readers with our video—it’s a skill that’s unique in this space. Ditto with media savviness and public speaking. Many bloggers don’t like being in the spotlight because they tend to be introverts. I get it. It sucks to get bombarded with hateful comments and e-mails. But in my case, I simply don’t care. Haters don’t bother me at all and I love public speaking. As a result, this is very helpful in order to stand out in the blogging space.

6) Use your shiny Talent Stack to jump-start that passion project!

When it comes to passion projects, don’t focus on mastering a single skill. Figure out what you’re “pretty good” at. Then figure out how special and unique those skills are in the post-FI field you want to go into. That’s your Talent Stack, and that will tell you the approach you should take.

What do you think? What’s your Talent Stack?

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27 thoughts on “What Should You Do After FI? Build Your Talent Stack.”

  1. I love the talent stack concept. Adam Scott had great success with it. I really enjoyed most of the book. Some of it is really strange, though. It’s good to cultivate these different talents when you’re young. I’ll encourage our son to do better than I did. My talent stack is a bit limited, but it’s working somehow.

    1. LOL you mean Scott Adams, Adam Scott is the actor who was Ben in Parks and Recreation and the dad in Krampus 🙂

      1. What I know now about blogging and affiliate marketing I wish I knew back in 1999 when I first slowly discovered affiliate marketing. Those were the days when you can log on to the internet free using the CD ROM from America online with the 56k dial-up modem, you can also log on with NetZero, Yahoo, excite and lycos and Netscape what you can no longer do today.

        Back in the day, I discovered affiliate marketing through an ad I saw online for Vstore.com that allowed people to start a free online store to promote their products in exchange for Commission. In those times, I knew nothing about affiliate marketing and being an online entrepreneur. Learn slowly but surely during the years in which no one helped me and I had to learn what I know today on my own. I knew nothing about blogging, affiliate marketing and content marketing back in the day. If I knew what I knew today back then, I probably would have been close to 20 million dollars richer because knowing how I am, I would have taken the affiliate marketing, blogging and side hustle content marketing concept to the public 9th step in being a side hustle millionaire. 🙂

  2. That’s an interesting way to look at things. I’m not a naturally talented person, so I have to acquire my skills via hard work.

    The problem is, with a job and a family it’s almost impossible to find the free time for that. Now that I’m FI things are better. I have a little bit of free time to work on new skills (I don’t call them talents because I lack any real talent for most things).

    It’s slow, but I do feel like a few of my skills are starting to get a bit better.

    1. Ditto. It take me FOREVER to learn anything, but once I learn it, it sticks.

      Glad that being FI is giving you time to work on new skills! It’s always so rewarding improve and feel a sense of accomplishment. I’m thankful for that in FI too.

  3. You’re very right about PhDs! Speaking of which, in academia, we often talk about our “toolkit” when it comes to methodologies. However, we don’t often talk about ranking our methodological toolkit based on our best abilities and talents. After reading your post, I’m excited to apply your talent stack methodology to my PhD toolkit, and even more excited to think more about how I can bring this toolkit–this talent stack–to my next job! (And hopefully my next job will bring me another step closer to FI!)

    P.S. I love how “Mathing Shit Up” didn’t make the cut in your talent stack, but you arrived at this conclusion by mathing shit up…so meta! I still think your ability to talk about ideas using simple arithmetic probably ranks higher than other FI bloggers. Your Talent Stack and Fuck-over-ability Index should be made into info-graphics.

    1. As a fellow academic, I thought about the toolkit as well when reading this. In addition to the methodological toolkit, I thought about the pedagogical toolkit. Being able to teach a variety of diverse populations is an extremely important an very marketable skill.

      1. Right on with themethodological toolkit analogy to the talent stack concept. And great point on the pedagogical toolkit too, MAS. Looking back, each new tool/technique one can bring to the classroom increases the chance you’ll help more students engage in the content. I look back on my first class, delivered all through stand-&-deliver lecture and cringe a little bit.

    2. “‘Mathing Shit Up; didn’t make the cut in your talent stack, but you arrived at this conclusion by mathing shit up…so meta”

      Ha ha. Love this. And so cool that you’re planning to apply the talent stack to your PhD toolkit! Hooray for academia 🙂

      And great idea about the infographic. My art skills are non-existent, so I will look into working with someone to make that happen in the future.

  4. This is a fantastic post for a number of reasons. Most importantly, it gives people a focus for what they do when they reach Financial Independence. The great thing about building the talent stack is that you are able to include creativity into your activities in a way that most of the jobs that get you to financial independence don’t allow. Good work!

    1. Thanks, MI. And you’re right, having the head space and permission to be creative is so refreshing after my high-paying but drudgery-filled job. Novel writing gave me a chance to be creative but very little money. FI gives you both!

  5. I never thought about this concept in this way before –> a talent stack. We are usually trained to zero in on just ONE thing only and hope to be better than everyone else. Writing these things down and rating them also gave me a wake up call as to where I should be focusing my energy for a side hustle or even possibly a main income stream. Thanks.

    1. Awesome, Scott! I’m glad it’s been helpful for narrowing your focus! Best of luck in your future side hustle!

  6. I loved this post! I was only halfway through it when I went in the other room to tell my spouse to read it too. I am a “jack-of-all-trades” type and pick up new skills quickly but never focus on anything enough to get really good at it. I am naturally good at most artistic mediums and dabble in computer graphics, photography, fiber arts, origami, songwriting, guitar and singing but also have a good head for business, strategic planning and mathematics. My spouse is the opposite, he specializes in one art medium and that is the only thing he wants to focus on and every time I try to get him to try something else he refuses to and just says there’s no point in him trying to work on other things when he should be spending his time mastering his one skill.

    1. Wow, that’s quite a talent stack you got there! Nice! As for your spouse, it’s perfectly fine to focus on his one skill too 🙂 Gotta do you, right?

  7. This is such a timely post for me. I am not FIRE (looking for FI). Big fan of you and Wanderer. All I can say is that you guys seem to ‘raise the bar’ with each post. Keep up the awesome writing.

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