Trevor John (previously Trevor Black) is an England-based polymath with experience and interests spanning areas as diverse as investment management, art, yoga, writing (on social media platforms and his blog) and reading. Driven by curiosity and an eagerness to learn about the world around him, Trevor has spent years building an enduring income engine so that he now has the freedom to spend his time on creative and personal projects and on building a global community of like-minded champions. This is his career journey to financial security:
Mind the Gap Years
I took the gap because I had two brothers studying already (making family finances tight) and I hadn’t narrowed down what I wanted to study (ignorant is a self-teasy way of saying always curious to learn). I went to the United Kingdom for the first time on a 2-year work-travel visa.
On leaving school, I wanted to be a Teacher or an Architect. This was because I had a range of interests and wasn’t all that keen on specialising. I liked both Maths and Art. I thought teaching would give me the chance to do extra activities (sports coaching, school plays etc) or Architecture would allow me to combine my core interests. I had also thought of Art Therapy, going via the route of Medicine (like my brothers) and Psychiatry. Although that was a very long path of studying...
I found my Gap Years quite challenging. I have always been an aggressive saver, and I was keen to bring Pounds back to South Africa as well as do some travelling before I returned. This meant that I was (true to form) very tight on controlling my expenses. I have always been money conscious. I hate the control it has over us.
Studying in South Africa
Growing up in Apartheid South Africa, I was also very aware of the different cards we are all dealt. Where we are born, to who, with what skills, and what we look like seemed to determine a disproportionate amount of our success. On reflection, I decided that if I wanted control over my financial destiny, I should be pragmatic in my career choice. It was far more likely that I could make money out of Maths and Business, and keep Art as a creative hobby. I chose Actuarial Science.
People often end up defining themselves by their job and their salary. As if a higher salary means you are adding more value... The truth is a salary is just the price of your time - it is not your value. Water in a desert is invaluable. At home, you simply turn on the taps. It is all about supply and demand. Money is apportioned by the barriers to entry. Doing something hard seemed to be a good way to build a secure foundation. While not high on the lists of sparkle, Actuaries appeared on top of most rankings for job security and bang-for-buck. I would still have evenings and weekends for my less monetisable interests! Another advantage was that I managed to secure a bursary which reduced the financial pressure of university fees.
First roles in Insurance, and further qualifications
I started in Risk Product Development with a specific focus on Disability Insurance. This made me take a look at my own situation. What would happen if I couldn’t work? I calculated the cover amount I would need in order to be able to support myself should something bad happen. I also started saving even more aggressively...
As I was keen to get back into something more people-focused (the noisy part of me wanted to do more speaking), my second role was as a Marketing Actuary. I worked with Financial Planners to explain how the products they were providing ticked. As part of that, I also did a post-graduate diploma in Financial Planning and qualified as a Certified Financial Planner. The intention being to be able to see things from the perspective of those I was trying to support. Immediately after that, I also pushed on with the studying momentum and did the exams of the CFA Institute to assist in a shift of focus to investing (building on my Actuarial Fellowship in Investing, to obtain an investment-focused qualification).
Shifting countries again, and working in Investments
I moved back to the United Kingdom in 2008, partly for family reasons (a new niece!), and partly for the increased opportunity set of working in a global city. I never “left South Africa”; I just thought that earning Pounds gave me a better chance of squirrelling away some acorns for the winter. Like investment returns, opportunity compounds. I got the chance to work in the UK based on my age, income, education level, and ability to speak English. It isn’t an opportunity open to everyone. I joined an investment company focused on bottom-up contrarian stock picking. I continued to build my own Capital, putting as much of my excess earnings to work as possible, using my investment skills to grow my future income engine.
Financial Independence: Income and Expenses
By 2014, still thinking in Rands, I felt I had sufficient acorns to stop worrying about squirrelling if I was good at controlling my expenses. I reflected on the calculations I had made in my first job, and had built up Capital to match the Cover amount I had originally bought for if something went wrong. I thought: “Why should I need to claim on my disability insurance to stop working for money?” I could use the income generated from my Capital engine to allow me to focus on my own interests instead of working for money.
Acorns grown by the Pound go further in cheaper areas. Working is itself expensive: many who work in London (or other global cities) earn more, but still live hand-to-mouth. Living can be done more cheaply elsewhere if your hand and mouth can look up and see a bigger world beyond the periphery.
Spending my time doing what I value
I now live off a Capital-financed basic income and spend most of my time reading, learning and writing. I am also trying to get out of a particularly heady rather than embodied approach to life and focus on wellness - it’s challenging given my cerebral past. I believe firmly that not all good ideas are good business ideas, and not all good business ideas are good ideas. The things that I enjoy most, learning and spending time with people, are inexpensive. Time, space, relationships and autonomy are what I value most.
After a few years of writing my blog, I progressively became a Basic Income Activist. Most of the people in my bubble were happy. While we all like a good whine, we are largely able to make empowered choices with trade-offs and consequences. I started to picture a world with freedom of movement (where others could treat borders with the scant regard I had) and freedom of decision-making (like I had because of the security offered by my basic income). To me, that is a community and a world worth working towards.
Endurance, Resilience and Creativity
I felt controlled by money in many ways growing up. Hating money is counterproductive. It gives it too much control over you. Instead, I studied it to get an understanding of risk management, financial planning, and investing. I believe in micro-ambition. What you do on any given day matters less than your sustainable habits. Real growth compounds over very long periods. By saving aggressively, I put my money to work rather than firing it by spending it. First, I developed the skills and knowledge to generate an income. Then the discipline to live within my means. That allowed me to build a Buffer: some breathing space so that I wasn’t living hand-to-mouth, and wouldn’t be knocked off course by unexpected expenses and bumps. Then I built an Engine to act as a Muse. Capital is better suited to work than Labour. The Endurance and Resilience of an Engine and Buffer provide the foundations for Creativity. Creating things that count, but can’t be counted.”
Time, space, relationships and autonomy are what I value most... Creating things that count, but can't be counted."