How did you do it?

Seen on the Highline in NYC.

People have asked me, both online and off, how did you do it?  They want to know how we went from being hourly wage earners to living and sailing around on our own boat.  The short answer is, We got lucky.  Yes, we worked hard, and we kept our eye on the ball, but mostly, we got lucky.  

How so?

Well, being born with risk taker genes could be part of our luck.  Too esoteric for you?  How about the luck of being born to middle/working class white parents in the United States in the 1970s?  As compared to being born in say, Vietnam in the early 1970s?  

More recently though, we were lucky enough to get a bank loan to buy a house that seemed pretty far out of our financial reach.  It was 2011.  We both worked in public safety, I worked at the 9-1-1 Center in Aspen and Adam worked at the Sheriff’s Office.  Friends in the area who worked in the construction business had lost everything when the real estate bubble popped.  We were lucky to have the jobs we had, in that our income remained steady even in the face of the highs and lows of the market.  Adam had been wanting to move out of our double wide trailer that we had been remodeling since we bought it in 2004.  He had been shopping for a house for a long while, so when he wanted me to go look at one, I didn’t get too worked up.  But we both really liked it.  It had been sitting empty for some time.  It needed some work, but nothing we didn’t think we could handle.  The asking price was so far out of our reach, however.  It seemed almost ridiculous to ask for a bank loan, but we went ahead and asked some banks to prequalify us.  When we found out how much we could get a loan for, we were pleasantly surprised, but it was nowhere near the asking price.  Thinking, what’s the worst that could happen if we make a low offer, we went ahead and made one.  Shockingly, the seller accepted our offer that was around half of what she had initially bought the house for a few years ago.  Adam knew I wouldn’t accept looking at foreclosed houses.  I had seen too many loved ones lose their homes in the crash.  This house was owned by a very wealthy person.  It was a tax write-off type of loss for her.  She had several houses in Aspen and this Carbondale area house was one that she had intended to be her “little down valley getaway”.  (Imagine needing a vacation from your Aspen houses?) Turns out she didn’t end up spending a single night in the house and after a few years she decided to sell it.  She had apparently received higher offers than ours, but ours was the offer she decided to take.  So…  luck.  We didn’t have a bunch of savings for a downpayment.  We were lucky enough to be eligible for some special loan programs that allowed us to get loans to buy this house and we were lucky enough that the seller chose to accept our offer instead of someone else’s.  

Adam is the son of a construction contractor and had the skills and experience to be able to fix up the house, including remodeling the studio apartment.  My mom had been a housekeeper in Aspen when I was a child.  I had learned from my mom to be exceedingly particular about cleanliness in rental units.  So we remodeled the studio apartment and rented it out on AirBNB.  Again, luckily for us, our area was quite attractive to people who were looking for a rural getaway.  With Adam’s building maintenance skills and my ability to keep the place sparkling and pretty for guests, we were quite successful with our AirBNB endeavor.  But that work was not the whole story.  We benefitted from the innovators who created the AirBNB platform, from the people who worked so hard to protect the pristine wilderness areas that people from all over the world want to visit in Colorado, and from the many people who worked to make the Carbondale area so attractive to visitors with it’s focus on the arts, outdoor recreation, healthy lifestyles, and farm to table food.  All those factors went in to our ability to sell the house in 2016.  The real estate market had recovered, we had done a lot of work to the house, the Carbondale area had become very attractive, and when we were ready to sell the house, it sold ( to former AirBNB guests) without even putting it on the market.  It sold for enough to pay off our bank loan, buy a boat, and have a sailing fund for about a year if we are lucky AND frugal.  Something that could be perceived as unlucky is that we have had quite a few unexpected expenses and our sailing fund is getting depleted significantly faster than we had hoped.  A very big risk on our part is that we will be able to earn Captain's licenses and start chartering the boat to earn some income before we run out of funds.  We are already trying to come up with some contingency plans.  Maybe a Patreon account?  Maybe AirBNB of the master stateroom on the boat once we get to warmer waters?  Maybe sell some photos or some travel writing?  

A lot of you might be tired of reading the word luck at this point.  Some of you might argue that we aren’t lucky, that instead we are “blessed”.  I take issue with that.  I cannot stomach the idea of a God that picks and chooses favorites.  Friends and family members that are just as kind and generous and smart and hard working, have not been similarly “blessed”.  

One friend said, “You’ve worked hard, you deserve this.”  While I appreciate being thought of as a hard worker and a good person, I have to object to the idea that we somehow have worked harder or behaved better throughout our lives than any number of friends and family members.  I, most certainly, am not more devout and I can be exceptionally lazy.   

Another friend said, “You are a powerful manifester.”  While I do believe that having a vision is an important aspect of getting things done and I don’t discount the studies that have found that prayer has a measurable effect, I just…  I think it’s too pat an explanation.  I don’t think there is a recipe for attainting ones’ dreams that can be guaranteed to work and I think that anyone who says otherwise is selling snake oil.  

So how did we do it?  Adam had an idea. We said, why not try?  We planned out some baby steps.  We took them.  Then planned some more.  We worked hard and we took some calculated risks (ones that could easily have gone wrong for us).  We asked for what we wanted even when it seemed far fetched.   We ran into some obstacles and set backs and dusted ourselves off and tried again.  We had a completely irrational belief that we would one day live on a sailboat and sail around the world.  We had two very, very lucky real estate transactions.  And very recently, we had a incredibly lucky boat buying transaction.  

It has taken courage and hard work and faith in each other and patience and …. yes, for lack of a more satisfactory explanation, a whole lot of luck.

I have been thinking deeply about the inequality we have seen both back at home in Colorado and during our travels and I have been ruminating on the myth of hard work.  If hard work is the guarantee of success then I know a lot of people who are just getting by who should be way richer than some notorious million/billionaires.    

How have you accomplished your dreams and goals?  Do you think I am wrong?  Do you believe there really is a recipe?  Do you believe God or the Universe rewards some and punishes others?  

Just in the past week, inequality has been super in my face.  The difference in quality of life of the people of Lewes, Delaware and the people of the parts of Atlantic City that Adam & I walked through are stark.  Even the two libraries are dramatically different.  I have no answers to this puzzle yet.  Only more and more unsettling questions.  

Seen on the Highline in NYC.