Intentional vs Unintentional Living

intentional vs unintentional livingWe’ve been busier than usual the last few weeks due to the annual surfing trip (where I was woefully unproductive outside surfing and eating fish tacos) and preparing for – and running over the past weekend – the marathon. It’s hard to believe we trained for 4 months, and close to 700 km of running, to prepare for that one, single 42.2 km run. With a few days of rest, I’m back to walking like a normal person again. Reflecting on completing this milestone had me thinking about living life intentionally. A lot of times, I seem to observe people living life unintentionally – they just seem to let life happen to them rather than discovering what they actually want, setting a plan to get what they want, and executing the plan. If you live unintentionally, you’ll wake up one day to realize the tragedy of your circumstances. When you have a dream, create a realistic plan to achieve that dream, collect data along the way, and start executing, it’s amazing what you can accomplish. Here’s some musing on 3 recent examples from my life where intentional living has produced outstanding results.


Intentional Living

For the sake of clarity, I’ll define what I mean by intentional living. To provide some precision in the definition, when I say intentional living, I am talking about the following formula:

  1. Identification
    • Identifying what you truly want to accomplish in life and establishing goals.
  2. Planning
    • Creating a realistic plan towards achieving said goals.
  3. Execution
    • Executing the long, arduous process of attaining said goals.
  4. Data
    • Collecting data along the way to see where you are at and where you are heading.

These 4 steps of intentional living have helped me accomplish some major goals in life. With the definition of intentional living out of the way, let’s dive into the 3 case studies.


I once wrote about the half marathon. I never thought before we ran that I could run 21.1 km.

2 years after running that half marathon, we ran a full marathon. I never thought before this past weekend that I could run 42.2 km. Looking at that grueling training schedule at the onset of training, I just could not imagine being able to do it 4 months ago (both the training and the actual marathon).

But we identified that this was a major life goal. We wanted to run a marathon. It was on the bucket list. So it was an important goal in our lives.

With the goal identified, we created a very realistic plan to achieve it (that horrifying training schedule). For someone who had never run more than 21.1 km in his life, seeing training runs that peaked around 32.2 km was kind of terrifying. Nevermind that you had to run 42.2 km on race day.

Big goals are tough. I remember reading somewhere recently that the reason people don’t aspire for big goals in life is not because life is in the way and they have little time: rather, it’s because everyone knows deep inside how truly difficult big goals are and they shy away by using excuses like having little time in an effort to avoid them.

Alas, we trained and ran for 4 months. In the rain, in the shine, in the mornings, in the nights, between parties with friends, in different countries, and during our travels. It became an integral part of our lives for those 4 months. The summer of 2015 will forever be the summer of endless running.

We executed all the arduous training and collected data all along the way. With the data, we were fairly positive we knew the range in which we could run the marathon. And it turned out the data was almost precisely correct in projecting our time. Here’re some of the data:

intentional vs unintentional living 2

We already knew from the experience that we ran a lot of miles. But the data really showed how much we ran in total to prepare. The data gave us a good idea of how we were doing and where we might realistically finish the race.

intentional vs unintentional living 3

These bars show all the distances ran over 4 months. The last, tallest bar is the marathon. The one missing bar is when I was injured and had to skip a run.

intentional vs unintentional living 4

This graph shows the data on our running pace. As you can see, the pace fits in a specific range with only a few outliers.

intentional vs unintentional living 5

This graph combines the two previous and shows the correlation between pace and distance. It shows a clear relationship between how longer distances affect pace. It was with this data that we knew what to expect and where we might realistically finish in the marathon.

When it was all ran and done, we finished on the upper end of the range of possible finish times we had projected for ourselves based on the data we had collected.

What I found interesting throughout the marathon was that the first 20 km was the easiest, the middle between 20-30 km was the toughest, and the last 10 km was surprisingly easy again, relatively speaking.

intentional vs unintentional living 1

If I could visualize for you what I mean by the start, middle, and end, this is what it would look like.

Maybe this extrapolates to other areas of life? Anyways, it was interesting to experience over a +4 hour stretch of running.

Student Loans

I won’t go into much detail about the student loans because I have covered it extensively in the past.

I had $54,000 in student loan debt upon completing academia. It was kind of a shock to see that figure because it didn’t really seem real while inside the confines of academia.

But once I was done and in the real world, it became all too real. It became a major goal – if not one of my most important goals – of mine to get out of student loan debt as quick as possible.

I identified my goal, created a plan, and executed like crazy all the while collecting data to gauge my progress. This is what the data looked like:

How I Paid Off $54,000 in Student Loans in 2 Years and X Months 3

This is the data I collected on repayment of the student loans each and every month.

How I Paid Off $54,000 in Student Loans in 2 Years and X Months 2

This is the visualization of the data in 2 graphs.

Very similar to the marathon training. Suffice to say, I never want to owe money to anyone ever again.


I haven’t talked about our net worth in over a year. I thought I was cool with sharing numbers but I got a little spooked. Call me old fashioned, but it made me feel uncomfortable sharing the figures even though I remain fairly anonymous on this blog. I’m a fiercely private person so it doesn’t surprise me. All I will say one year on is that net worth has grown at a nice clip.

Something I realized very recently is that the total assets held in common stock has reached an amount equal to what I once owed in total student loans. It’s a cool threshold to be at. Looking at the spectrum of time since 2012 to now, it’s all very surreal.

intentional vs unintentional living 6

I couldn’t have imagined in 2012 not having student loans, let alone holding equity shares equal to the total amount of student loan debt outstanding.

The blueprint and habits from paying off the student loans carried over to building wealth. All we did was turn the money hose from paying off debt to filling out tax sheltered accounts. Eventually, the hose will move again from the tax sheltered accounts to regular accounts once the tax sheltered ones are tapped out.

But again, this has only been possible because we identified that building wealth was a very, very important goal in life for us. That led to drawing up a plan, executing day in, day out, and collecting data all along the way to ensure we are progressing along towards our objective.

I often joke to my wife that we could be buying brand new iPhones for ourselves and going on week-long, all inclusive Mexican vacations each and every single month if we wanted to. I suppose if we were living unintentionally, we would be doing something along those lines.


Living intentionally doesn’t just end at these 3 examples. I’m continuously working on building up my accounting and business knowledge. I sure as hell wouldn’t be reading textbooks on GAAP accounting or reading through annual reports if I wasn’t intentional about it. Even after a few years of learning these concepts, I’m still a bit terrified of how much more knowledge there is to gain. It’s even more intimidating than the 20 mile training run I saw on the training schedule at the beginning of marathon training.

But I think it’s the only way to live a full, rich life. Nothing I mentioned would be possible if I just let myself drift unintentionally in the sea of life. I’d have never made it past 10 km of running. I’d still be paying the minimum amounts on my student loans. I’d have no where near the assets we own now. And I sure as hell wouldn’t be learning about finance.

Your dreams matter. But they are damn hard to achieve. So make a plan, put your head down, collect data, and just start doing. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at where it leads you.

Always ask yourself, “If not now, when? If not me, then who?

Recommended Readings

14 thoughts on “Intentional vs Unintentional Living

  1. Well done on the marathon!

    I can’t believe you thought the bit at the end got easier. I was practically dying for the last 5 miles! 🙂

    For me international living encapsulates what you’ve written about but it’s also about what you don’t do as much as what you do. I.e. it’s about deliberately cutting things out of your life that are not important to you, freeing up time and resources for things that are. It’s about living life on your own terms and not marching to the beat of someone else’s drum.


    1. I was dying in the 5 miles halfway through, which was strange because we had run a 20 mile run and it felt pretty great and we were on a blazing pace that whole run. Maybe race day nerves and then race day inspiration got the best of us?

      Yes, it’s important to figure out what’s truly important in your life. Once it becomes clear to you, the things that are not important to you are no longer a priority. You definitely need to deliberately cut out things that aren’t important in your life if you want to accomplish the things that are important.

      I am much firmer on saying no to things that are not important to me, whereas in the past I might have just gone along with something just to please everyone, even though I didn’t actually care nor want to participate.

      And I must say, your running pace is quite impressive. We’re probably going to stick with half marathons from here on out so I’ll use your pace as a benchmark to work towards!

      1. Race day nerves definitely sap the energy out of you I find!
        It was mega hot the day of my one as well, definitely not conducive to running a marathon. Still I got round though that was the main thing 🙂

        I am with you on saying “no” and again I used to be similar to yourself and just go with the flow, follow other peoples agenda. It’s one thing being easy going but another being a complete walkover isn’t it.

        Thanks! I guess the thing to remember is that as with most things in life there is always someone faster than you and someone who is slower. It’s definitely good to have a target though, that is for sure 🙂

        1. Are you telling me we can’t all be a Dennis Kimetto and run marathons in 2:02:57!?!?!? Didn’t you get the memo for our cohort’s generation: we are all special unique snowflakes that can do anything we set our minds to – even running marathons in 2 hours! Not…

          Haha joking aside, while it is important to go through life with a “yes” attitude, the paradox is that you also need to be good with saying “no” as there just isn’t enough time to do everything.

    1. Thanks for the kind words!

      I actually used the native Note app on iOS 9 to make the sketches. I’ve been meaning to get Paper forever but seem to constantly forget to download it.

      And hey, looking forward to some more writings from ya. Been checking in for close to 3 weeks now and have had to settle on reading through the comments!

      1. Hmm – that’s really bad news for Paper’s publishers. They have that exact Paper look, which has now been commoditized.

        Working on a few posts – just been really busy.

  2. Oh, geez, getting in shape is definitely one of those intentional things I keep shying away from because deep down I know how hard it is. The only thing stopping me is me! With that said, I’ve been intentionally upgrading my education. Currently doing Fundementals of Corporate Finance through an Alberta University that offers distance learning. I’ve been slowing doing a bunch of their courses, work has tuition benefits so why not? Eventually they will add up to something and my previous education means I get to do the senior courses and a degree can be mine. But my coworkers are baffled (if I wasn’t so cramped I would avoid doing it at work and keep it stealth but lunch times are good for homework). They don’t get why I would do that. They don’t understand it only costs me time and I will wake up one day better off for it. Not to mention, do you know how helpful senior finance courses are for your own investing? Or accounting courses? Or operations courses? This knowledge has been applied at home and at work. It’s a win win. And it’s intentional. This was all a part of a plan. Is that Intra-personal intelligence?

  3. Very good post!

    Recently I’ve had the same feeling regarding people who live unintentionally in a country they always complain about.
    It drives me crazy when I hear them trashing their government, the taxes and blablabla. But none take action to change this.

    At MP’s household, we always said we wanna live somewhere by design, not by default. Default that can be because your parents always lived there, or because that’s what everyone does.
    Switzerland is our new home. We chose it.

    Good luck with pursuing your dreams, there is no better thing in life!

    Cheers from CH,

    1. Whenever I hear people complaining about their commute, I just want to shake them and say, “Why don’t you do something about it? Why don’t you live closer to work!?” It seems like it’s a losing battle to even suggest such a thing – better to feign sympathy than actually make someone think about their choices and decisions in life.

      I digress. Yes, plan and design the life you want – don’t just default to inaction because no one is going to arrive to hand you your dreams on a silver platter. I think a lot of people are sitting around, waiting for things to happen for them rather than setting out to achieve what it is they want. Maybe some people are just more prone to look at life a certain way.

      We are going to the UK for a friend’s wedding in April and Switzerland is at the top of countries we want to visit while in Europe. Perhaps we may see you around in the land of watches and chocolate (or is Germany the land of chocolate… I think The Simpsons proclaimed that in an episode).

      1. 1/ We should create a book (sure it already exists but who cares) with the main complaints we hear, and their solution. Title would be: “Design your life mofo!”, or something similar 😉

        2/ We will be in our new home when you come visiting our wonderful country. We’ll be happy to host you for a lunch/dinner/coffee/beer.
        Don’t start with chocolate and Belgium, you know it’s false 😉 Regarding watches I have good places to point out if you need and wanna see the home of Swiss Watchmaking.


        On Tuesday, 3 November 2015, Disqus <

        1. That would make a fantastic coffee table book. The niche audience to target such a book would be the MMM/ERE crowd. It could make a killing.

          I’ll make sure to give you a shout when I’m in Europe and perhaps if things work out, we can grab a beer and you can tell me about all the silly things you saw in Canada!

          1. Don’t tempt me with yet another great project 😉
            Although we could make it work as a simple 1-complaint-1-answer-email exchanges together, and then pack all this stuff in an ebook.
            The single idea of a *Canadian-Swiss* book is almost convincing me ^^

            Waiting for you tweet in March-April 2016 so we plan something!

            Cheers from CH.

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