Minimum Viable Life: How to Do What You Love, Forever

written by Dan Silvestre
Entrepreneurship, Personal Development
minimum viable life

Rain falls outside.

The weather contrasts with my mood.

I take another sip of the hot tea and write another sentence. And then another.

The more I write, the clearer it becomes what I want to say and where I need to go next. The clackity noise of the keyboard and the sound of raindrops falling on the roofs become one. If there are other sounds, I can’t hear them. I’m in the zone. In the flow.

The hands are mere translators of what my brain is thinking. I can feel the thoughts and connections on the screen.

What a marvelous feeling.

I love what I do.

And so can you…

For the last 6 months, I’ve been working on my projects.

A year into my first job out of university, I quit. I then worked as a freelancer for a while before moving to Sydney to take a job in a tech company. Nine months later, I realized I liked it better before.

And so I went back to square one.

But this time with a plan.

A plan to start making.

I started a community of productivity hackers. Finally got serious about blogging. Armed with a simple business plan and using OKRs as feedback loops, I went to work.

And in these six months I’ve achieved more than all the other years combined. While those experiences taught me a thing or two, shifting my perspective was the most important thing.

I now accept that things are going to suck.

In fact, I expect most things will.

But if you put in the work and get in the habit of shipping stuff every week, eventually it not only becomes easier but also better.

This is not a bragging post. It’s a super condensed version of everything that I learned about work and happiness in the last 5 years.

Learn to plan your escape to do what you love by building a Minimum Viable Life.

Minimum Viable Life (MVL)

In tech, most companies start by developing a minimum viable product (MVP). You build a product with only the core features in order to gather feedback from early users. It’s the leanest way to test assumptions and know what you need to build in future product development. Less is more.

The Minimum Viable Life (MVL) follows the same logic:

  1. Find the “core features” of your life: everything that doesn’t add value to your life is not core and you can live without it
  2. Design the leanest possible version: once you focus only on the core features of your life, you might discover that you could already be working for yourself
  3. Gather feedback early on and adjust as necessary: rather than a one-off, the MVL is a continuous process of iteration

The true beauty of MVPs lies in little commitment.

Using Minimum Viable Life as a model gives you the same edge: if it doesn’t work, iterate and try again. And if that leads to nowhere, you are free to move on and try something else.

What’s Holding You Back?

minimum viable life

I have been a freelancer for more than 10 years. I started doing writing and admin gigs at Elance (ah, those were the days!) around 16. Pay was great and allowed me to backpack around the world.

Albeit part-time, I rather enjoyed doing it. And yet, I stopped doing it after college and went into banking instead.


In one word? Fear.

I was afraid I “wouldn’t make it on my own”, didn’t have the experience and expertise and had to “fake it ‘till I made it”. I conformed to social norms and did what was expected.

But the truth is right there in the opening sentence of this section. After college, I had already been freelancing for more than five years.

Was I the most successful freelancer in the world? No. Did I know everything about freelancing? Absolutely not. Did I know more than most people? Definite yes.

Fear held me back.

And a couple of years later, I took another job because of it. What’s even crazier was that I was making a decent income already and was expecting it to ramp up in the upcoming months.

Working for yourself is terrifying. It’s like driving on a road you don’t know on a foggy night. You barely see what’s ahead of you. Terrifying.

And yet, that’s happens to be the best part.

I don’t regret those experiences. They shaped who I am today and I learned a lot. It’s because of them that I am in the driver’s seat in my life today.

Want to do the same? Learn to conquer your fears. Believe in your projects and value. If you don’t, no one else will. People will see right through you. The one thing you have that nobody else has is you.

Use it.

Designing a Minimum Viable Life

The first step of your Minimum Viable Life plan is to assess your current situation. You need to know your income — regular, passive, and savings — as well as your expenses — variable and fixed.

Open the Minimum Viable Life spreadsheet and select “File -> Make a Copy” in the upper left. Add your numbers to the yellow boxes. Everything else is automatic.

minimum viable life

Here’s a quick explanation of each category:

  • Regular Income: what you currently make at your job (after taxes)
  • Passive Income: any sources that provide income without doing any work
  • Savings: wealth you saved up over time
  • Variable Expenses: anything that you can get rid of or minimize if you want to (e.g. food, rent, entertainment)
  • Fixed Expenses: anything that you truly cannot get rid of (e.g. college loans installments)

On the table you can see your runway: how long you can work for yourself until you run out of money given your initial financials.

Extending Your Runway

Ideally, you want a runway of at least one year. It takes some adjusting to work for yourself and it will take some time until you rake in your first dollars.

One year is a long enough to start making at least the amount of income needed to cover your expenses. Once that happens, you turn your crashing runway into an infinite one.

If you already have passive income streams, you can adjust the leeway needed.

In any case, extending your runway is a matter of understanding your finances. There formula is: Savings + Income — Expenses.

The easiest way to buy more time is to focus on the “Expenses” part of the equation.

Lowering Expenses to Increase the Runway

Let’s say this is how your runway looks like:

minimum viable life

At the current burn rate, you are dead in the water on month 3. Let’s consider a few adjustments you can make:

  • Moving to a cheaper city (influences all expenses)
  • Finding a cheaper apartment to live in the current city
  • Buying cheaper food and in bulk, eating the same meals most days
  • Cutting back on dining out, going out, and entertainment
  • Canceling subscriptions

You decide to pursue a few of those options. Since you’re working from home and thus avoiding commute, there are no gas or public transportation costs. You will eat at home every day as well. Your new runway:

minimum viable life

You now have a 9-month runway. While not ideal, it’s 4.5x the previous scenario. That’s the power of cutting your expenses. You need to force yourself to think about what you can remove.

A Minimum Viable Life is about making your runway as long as possible. Expenses are mere trade-offs: you are trading money for runway time. Once you look at it that way, few things are essential. The question becomes:

“Do I want to spend money on this or instead extend my runway time?”

If you really want to work for yourself, you’ll choose the latter almost every time. You start to look at money in terms of “time”, instead of currency.

Once you make that shift, you’re invincible.

The “Minimum” Minimum Viable Life

The safest way to start working for yourself it to take the non-commitment clause of MVPs one step further: work for yourself while working for others.

By doing so, you continue to bring additional money to your runway fund on a monthly basis. Work on your side-project before or after work. Aim for at least one hour per day.

And if you already know you want to work for yourself, lower your expenses from the get-go. No sense to keep burning money and your runway.

This is exactly the plan I followed. I saved as much as I could by dramatically decreasing expenses. Soon enough I had a runway of more than a year.

Your escape is less than 6 months away.

It’s up to you to take it.

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