A Year in Review 2018: Feeling Lighter in Life

As I have thought about the main ideas I wanted to reflect upon this year, I kept returning to a phrase I had used when Tom Moss asked me how things were going, shortly after he arrived in Bogota last month:

Lighter in wallet, lighter in weight, but most importantly, lighter in heart and mind.

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This has been undoubtedly the most transformational year of my life, a year that has been in the works for several years prior, a year in which I finally announced that this is the life I want to lead, and I couldn’t be happier.

For those who have been close to me over the past couple of years, the fact that I’m now weeks away from opening a coffee shop in Colombia is no surprise. And to KC and I, each step we’ve taken has felt like the natural progression of a chain of events we kicked into motion 3 years ago when we created a “Let’s GTFO” spreadsheet of budgets and plans to pick up our life and move. But on reflection, it’s clear that we’ve made an substantial number of decisions, lifestyle changes, and leaps of faith to get to where we are today.

One lesson I’ve learned this year that I really want to emphasize is that embarking on a new, salary-less adventure is more attainable than it may seem, and that as long as one has a sufficient safety net it is possible to live a life full of purpose and joy without a job (obviously I recognize the privilege in that statement). I can’t recommend it highly enough to friends who have been working and saving for the past few years.

In my head, I have roughly split the year into thirds – our last four months in NYC; discovering Colombia and traveling; and, getting Mesa Salvaje from idea to reality. And each has period has been incredibly special in its own way.

Highlights:

I will forever be appreciative of the time I spent at J.P. Morgan, and having lived the “Investment Banking” life I can attest that the stereotypes of bankers as unscrupulous, greedy assholes is 99% untrue. I worked with some incredibly smart and thoughtful people, and learned a ridiculous amount about Credit analysis and how capital markets work in practice, and while I worked some very long hours, I always felt as though I was working with purpose alongside a deal team that was equally invested in the outcome. I often felt slightly uneasy saying I worked in banking as there are many parts of the business that I feel are morally dubious at best; but I will always be proud of working and learning alongside Don, Peter, John, Bruce, Tina, Davide, Matt, Nico, Jose, Chris, Sree, Yahya, and many others. I ended my tenure at J.P.Morgan shortly after being promoted from Analyst to Associate, which I felt slightly guilty about; but at the same time, I will always have proof that my time at the bank was a success. I was actually one of the last people in my Analyst Class to leave the bank, and I have been so happy to see the analysts I worked alongside go on to bigger and better things, enabled by a solid 2 or 3 year tenure at the best bank on Wall Street.

Knowing that I would be leaving the US by April, I made the most of my remaining time by enjoying NYC to it’s fullest and traveling with friends. I saw Ritual Talk and Reverand Vince Anderson & The Love Choir at least 3 times each, drank wine on the roof of The Whitney Museum twice, organized an incredible throwback Bronx Beer Hall karaoke session, attended the Tournament of Champions Squash tournament in Vanderbilt Hall at Grand Central, partook in an invite-only supper club/presentation in a Williamsburg loft, ate some amazing pizza all over the city, and generally didn’t hold back. I sang Cardi B with friends in a log cabin at Hunter Mountain to celebrate my birthday, skied with colleagues at Windham, hung out like a local in SF where we ate pretty much everything delicious, cycled around the city on JUMP bikes, ran from bridge to bridge, and spent some time in Berkeley feeling hippie. We wrapped up our time in the US with a wonderful BBQ featuring Other Half NEIPAs, Beyond Burgers, Connect 4, and about 30-40 of our favorite people in the world (including one who flew from LA just for the occasion).

Then the move to Bogota! We said goodbye to NYC after one last L’Industrie Jalapeno & Pineapple slice and a Bagelsmith Egg Everything bagel with half jalapeno-cheddar / half bacon-scallion cream cheese, packed up our life into 7 suitcases, and got on a plane. We spent 6 weeks hopping between Airbnbs and hostels, getting to know different parts of the city and its inhabitants before we found our home and settled in to Chapinero Alto. Before that, though, we had the memorable experience of being attacked and bitten by a dog that was assuredly rabid with an eventful subsequent Saturday afternoon and evening which took us to 3 medical establishments across the city where KC finally received a rabies vaccine shot at 5am in the morning.

Our lifestyle changed quite rapidly – more home cooking, more reading, less drinking, less meat, more morning exercise routines and afternoon strolls, less bar hopping. Our stress levels dropped and our waistlines followed suit. We became 99% pescetarian (and even then only eating fish when it is fresh and local), and we took the opportunity to do things we always wanted to do – KC undertook a lifelong dream to become a yoga teacher, I read entire books in 1 or 2 days and spent a long time writing thing both to share publicly and keep privately. We reached out to strangers via Facebook groups and were rewarded with a whole new set of wonderful friends, attended interesting events, and discovered the best way to buy used goods or find out about the best restaurants. We successfully acquired our Business Visas and spent lots of time at the Bank opening accounts for both the business and personal. Our Spanish progressed slowly but progress was still progress, and we were happy to be discovering that there was so much more to Bogota than we had ever anticipated.

The subsequent 2 months, July and August, were an adventure throughout Colombia, Spain, and Morocco (as well as a quick pitstop in Jacksonville for the wonderful Emami-Chin wedding :)). In all honesty I was exhausted by the time we got back, but we took in such an incredible array of culture and nature in such a short amount of time – incredible street art in Medellin, stunning sunrises over the Caribbean sea, beautiful mosaic tiles in a 700 year old Spanish alcazars, delicious cous cous and mint tea down a back alley in Marrakesh’s Medina, fresh sardines in Essaouira and cleaning up a beach at a remote eco-hostel on Africa’s Atlantic coast in exchange for a pot of tea, 6 incredible wedding dresses in Rabat – that I will forever remember those months as a whirlwind of colors and smells.

The last 4 months of the year were characterized as a balancing act between working on Mesa Salvaje and hosting friends and Airbnb guests. It has genuinely meant the world to me that so many friends have already come down to visit us, and this year it has been abundantly evident how lucky I am to have an incredible group of friends who care about KC and me, and with whom we have shared some incredible experiences.

But I’ve saved the best until last – Mesa Salvaje. Since September, KC and I have invested our heart, soul, and bank account into this dream project that we first discussed 3 years ago, and in the last 2 weeks of the year it has taken form into something greater than we could have ever imagined. We have many small details and boring paperwork to take care of before we can share the fully formed end result, but nothing has ever filled me with more joy than talking to our neighbors who have been intrigued and excited about what we’re building, working with people who do fantastic handy-work, seeing one of our custom creations (ceramics, tile design, plants, wallpaper etc…) be realized, finding a sustainable provider who is excited to work with us to make everything zero waste, and explaining our mission to potential employees (of whom we have now hired 4!!!). We’ve learned more about plumbing and furniture design than we ever thought we’d need to, and we’ve experienced the now familiar call from a provider to say that our order will be delayed.

As far as our budget goes, we’re on target to stay within our allotted amount, which includes design and buildout, a year of rent, 3 months of salaries, and coffee equipment. It’s not cheap by any stretch, but cheaper than we originally imagined/budgeted and probably 1/5th of the budget we’d need if we wanted to do something like this in NYC.  Hopefully it provides us with some incremental flexibility to withstand any hiccups as we get started, or on the flipside, more opportunity to share even more of the success with our team and wider community if things go well! As I wrote about earlier this year, having a margin of safety not only protects against existential risk of failure but also provides multiple positive externalities, including reduced anxieties.

We ended the year with our first “events” at Mesa Salvaje, pre-Christmas drinks with friends who were leaving town; a really fun Christmas dinner with our friends featuring homemade gravlax, Venezuelan Hallacas, and Twister; and a KC-classic post-Christmas dinner to welcome her family to town. So far, so great!

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And following a fun but relatively low key New Years Eve with Martha, Wicho, Jack, and a new friend Vince, KC and I celebrated the start of 2019 by making avo toast, burrata toast, and a delicious Colo Gesha coffee at Mesa Salvaje during glorious Bogota morning, and we’re spending this afternoon organizing our mental thoughts in advance of our first employee starting work tomorrow!

2018 was transformational and regardless of what happens next year I will be eternally satisfied at the year we led. Bring on 2019!

 

Opportunities:

Investing was an interesting one in 2018 – I obviously should have sold more cryptocurrency in the earlier part of the year than I ultimately did, and I remain over-indexed to bitcoin and ethereum today. Having sold enough to fund Mesa Salvaje over the summer, I have been slowly buying more in the past couple of months, but it has been painful to see every “bottom” continue to be broken and the slide continue. That said, I remain incredibly optimistic about the technology and think 2018 got rid of the crap and laid the foundation for crypto to mature into a truly revolutionary technology. If you haven’t already, I recommend you read the piece I wrote on why Cryptoassets are important. Similarly, our stock portfolio (which essentially is our safety net) was basically flat on the year, which is disappointing, even if it did outperform the broader market downturn.

I was super happy with my writing at the midway point of the year, but it slowed down in the latter half as things picked up with Mesa Salvaje, and I also struggled to finish a piece about the coffee industry that I feel I still need to get a better grasp on before I can fully articulate. I have absolutely loved writing our monthly Mesa Salvaje Missives that will always serve as the real-time perspective on how we got up and running, as well as receiving many lovely replies from friends and family whom we wouldn’t necessarily otherwise have heard from. My nascent efforts at “podcasting” completely stalled in 2018, and I’m not sure whether or not it will ever get up and running. I don’t really have any excuses – I have the microphone and Anchor takes care of the rest. Something to reflect on as I think about the year to come.

Unfortunately my family situation remains fraught. We all love each other immensely but have struggled to reconcile differences of opinion. Regardless, I love being part of the Garlick clan and hope that 2019 brings us closer.

We upped our composting game in 2018 (which I feel great about), thanks to KC discovering Bokashi, which I highly recommend to anyone who doesn’t have a garden, but unfortunately we haven’t (yet) been able to grow our own herbs, fruits, and vegetables. I love the plant room we’ve built in our apartment but I haven’t yet been able to coax our chili, red pepper, and lettuce plants to produce. Hopefully that changes in the not too distant future :)

 

Summing up:

Travel – 

Won’t dwell on this one, but I revisited San Francisco, visited Madrid, Sevilla and some beautiful small towns in Andalucia for the first time, explored a decent chunk of Morocco, and saw a beautiful fraction of our new home – Bogota, Medellin, Cartagena, Buritaca/Costeno Beach, San Gil, Chicamocha Canyon, and Salento. I do want to note that El Rio Hostel on the Caribbean coast and L’Ane Vert Hostel  in Morocco have been added to our growing list of “destination hostels” – hostels so cool that they are the worth the trip in and of themselves. I doubt I’ll be traveling much in 2019, but hopefully if we’re feeling good about the shop we’ll be able to take time for one international trip and a couple of shorter trips to explore more of Colombia.

Food –

Fortunately, Bogota is a foodie city. Our hot take is that the lack of delicious local “comida tipica” has spurred a very exciting food scene with good representation from all cuisines – some of the best Ramen and Tacos we’ve had in our lives have been here in Colombia. And despite generic “Colombian” cuisine being relatively bland, the quality of the produce here is incredible; not only are there more exotic fruits and root vegetables that we’d previously never heard of, but we’ve found the most delicious bananas, pineapples, mangoes and more here.

And despite being salary-less, KC and I have somehow managed to eat at the 3 highest rated fine dining restaurants in Colombia. We celebrated our anniversary with an incredible vegetarian tasting menu at Leo (with the funny anecdotes that we were the only people to make a reservation for the 9.30pm seating, so we ended up with the whole restaurant to ourselves); we balled out at El Chato courtesy of our very generous Uncle Nevin; and we rounded out the year with one of the coolest and most exciting dining experiences we’ve ever encountered at Villanos en Bermudas, a ultra-hip tasting menu spot just 2 blocks from our apartment that we shared with Tom and Rose. Additionally, while they aren’t included on the list of Latin America’s Top 50 list, we think the food at Salvo Patria and Mesa Franca (both just 1 block from our apartment) are of an impressive caliber.

We also had one of the best meals of our lives in SF with Jackie and Ian at Al’s Place, as well as an incredible meal at Tartine Manufactory to celebrate KC’s birthday and round out the trip.

Additional shout outs to Bistro Petit, Sunday in Brooklyn, and Birds of a Feather in Williamsburg, BK, where we should have earned loyalty points for the amount of times we ate there before we left.

 

Content –

  • TV Shows: The Marvelous Mrs Maisel seasons 1 & 2 are the best fun TV I think I’ve ever seen. The jokes, the acting by Rachel Brosnahan, Alex Borstein and Tony Shalloub, the music and the costume design are all flawless. Absolutely brilliant TV which alone justifies an Amazon Prime membership (although we just streamed Season 2 down here). The Good Place continues to be our unmissable sitcom of choice; Blue Planet II literally blew my mind (especially that one scene with the feast in the middle of the ocean – the footage is epic); and after enjoying Season 1, GLOW Season 2 really came into it’s own and now makes the list of one of my favorite shows. Brooklyn 99 provided a silly staple while we were braving New York’s winter and hopping throughout Bogota’s Airbnbs. Killing Eve was a delightful discovery, and somehow remained light and fun in spite of its gory nature. I was disappointed that we didn’t make it through Season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale, but the truth is, we haven’t been in the mood to watch a super dark show while we’re enjoying this lighter lifestyle.
  • Movies: Black Panther was the best Superhero movie I’ve ever seen;  the acting by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in A Star is Born left me in tears (plus provided the soundtrack to the latter part of the year for us); and A Quiet Place was incredible for the way you could hear a pin drop in the cinema as everyone held their breath in suspense. That said, I think 2017 was better for movies (for me).
  • Music: Ritual Talk / Discovering Latins Artists, especially the song Caraluna by Bacilos
  • Books: I read The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin after listening to her amazing podcast with Ezra Klein, and was subsequently enraptured by the book and the way she build her fantasy world. I read both Tuesdays with Morrie and Kitchen Confidential in 2 days each, and both reminded me how enjoyable it is to read a book wit a powerful, insightful story told by funny voices who know how to write in an engaging manner. I finished Dreams from my Father and my (already incredibly high) admiration for Barack Obama has only grown – his on-the-ground activist work in Chicago and his journey back to Kenya to learn more about his family (before he was ever thinking about running for office) speak to the truly good nature of the man. I reread Crime & Punishment over the summer and am now able to articulate why I called it my favorite book for years after first reading it as a 16 year old – Dostoyevsky’s insight and articulation of the mind of a mad genius is truly one of the greatest pieces of writing I’ve ever read. I also finished Homo Deus and retract my statement from last year’s review that it didn’t say anything new and revolutionary – the conclusion regarding “Data-ism” as a new “religion” that could supplant humanism (democracy/socialism/nationalism) was both insightful and provided me with a new tool with which to evaluate the decisions made by Softbank, Social Capital, and other investors I respect. Antifragile by Taleb was both interesting and frustrating – he clearly has so many non-conventional insights that are incredibly valuable, but the way he phrases everything makes it clear that he considers himself a genius and probably denied the aid of an editor so everything is very long-winded and repetitive. I don’t regret reading the book and I think I learned a lot about the value of asymmetric optionality, but it took me a longgggg time to read and I don’t feel compelled to read Skin In The Game, which is a shame because I’m sure there are more insights I could learn from. The Power was a fun easy read shortly after arriving in Bogota, and The Monk of Mokha is a nice story but I feel like it could have been written much better.
  • Concerts: Shakira (ft Shakira’s Butt)/ Ritual Talk / Future Generations / Reverend Vince Anderson and the Love Choir
  • Podcasts: The Energy Gang, The Ezra Klein Show, and Revisionist History remain my 3 favorite podcasts by far. Pod Save the People continues to be good, but I don’t listen religiously now that I’m not in the US.  The Good Place the podcast showed how versatile this format can be, and fed my Good Place craving and deepened my love for the TV over the summer.

 

Goals for 2019

  • 2019 will be a moment of truth, where I find out whether I can actually run a sustainable business with my life partner and our merry crew. I am ever so slightly anxious but more than anything excited at the prospect. As I sit here on January 1st hoping to open by January 15th, I’m slightly overwhelmed at all the things we need to do to get from here to there, but KC and I are motivated and ready to see what we can achieve. As I noted above, we have some margin of safety to work through the hiccups, but regardless I will know in a year from now whether Mesa Salvaje has a shot at being a truly sustainable business or whether we miscalculated and need to go back to the drawing board. I have previously said that I am looking for work in which I receive truly tangible feedback (i.e. profits and losses) on my performance; now that it is approaching it feels very real, which is both nerve-wracking but also adrenaline fueling.
  • I don’t have too many other goals for the year as I will be 150% committed to making MS a success, but if I am able to keep writing monthly Mesa Salvaje missives and a few other pieces I will be pretty happy with myself.
  • I also want to try and not succumb to bad habits – not going for runs / eating junk food just because I’m working hard again. We came down here to live the lifestyle we wanted to live, and for me running has long been an important piece of that, and since I’ve come down here home-cooking has also been very important.

 

Things I’m looking forward to in 2019

  • Beyond Burger (plant-based meats) is IPOing, and I’m hoping that Proterra (electric buses) and Impossible Foods (plant-based meats) follow suit so that I can gain exposure to these sectors that I think will continue to grow incredibly in the coming years. When Lyft IPOs I might be interested in investing based on their ownership of Motivate (bike sharing operators) and if Uber buys Bird or Lime to complement their acquisition of JUMP I could also be interested, despite their bad track record to date. I hope Airbnb IPOs and that as a Superhost (hopefully) we will receive the opportunity to earn shares through our role as stakeholders in the platform.
  • Transportation alternatives go global and mainstream – It is crazy when I look back on last year’s post that I said electric bikes may grow in 2018, and I didn’t even mention scooters (because until February they weren’t even on my radar). Today there are electric bike sharing schemes in Bogota that I use frequently, and we just received our first scooter drop. I’m hoping that people start to truly see these as viable transportation alternatives this year.
  • I’m hoping that the Democrats in control of the House are able to launch investigation after investigation into the ongoing horrors the White House is committing almost daily, and to block them where possible.
  • I’m hoping Britain somehow comes to its senses and doesn’t leave the EU
  • I think Tesla’s energy segment (and solar roof) will start to really emerge as a huge and incredibly fast growing part of the business in 2019. Hopefully they can build the Chinese gigafactory as fast as they say they can.
  • More SpaceX Heavy launches!
  • I think the stock markets will continue to be incredibly volatile but will ultimately go nowhere over the course of the year – I don’t expect it to get much worse than it currently is given strong fundamentals even with rising rates, but I also don’t see any catalyst for a renewed bull run.
  • I’m very excited for Game of Thrones to come back for its final season – I’m convinced that Bran Stark will end up saving the day.
  • I really, really hope that more friends and family will be able to come visit us, and we’ll be in a position to both show them Mesa Salvaje but also spend some real time with them in this incredible country.

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