I’m always fascinated by people who start businesses. It’s amazing to me how people can monetize almost anything.
As I was searching for new folks to feature in the Slow FI interview series, I met Kristine (from Norway) who recently wrapped up her Ph.D. in Chemistry and decided to become a YouTuber.
You may be wondering how one simply decides to become a YouTuber.
Same! I know about travel YouTubers and lifestyle influencers, but Kristine is something different! She focuses on sustainability, sewing, and other types of art. I knew I needed to dig in further!
Without giving more away, I’m excited to share the interview with Kristine about how she started her YouTube Channel and what prepared her to be able to do so (hint: it wasn’t her Ph.D. program)!
Let’s get into the interview.
1. Tell me a little bit about you.
Hi there! My name is Kristine. As soon as I finished my Ph.D. in late 2021, I transitioned to making sewing and sustainability videos with a historical flair on YouTube. I now do this full-time. That seems a couple of very odd sentences to sum it all up, and yet here we are.
With me are my spouse and our two cats. We have a goal to achieve financial independence through entrepreneurship and front-loaded passive income such as writing books and publishing videos. Creative work suits our brains best, and we both struggle with traditional employment. I have autism and get overwhelmed and exhausted by all of the interactions with people in a normal workday. My spouse has a chronic illness that makes their days unpredictable.
2. You recently decided to start your own YouTube Channel instead of going the academic route. Tell us more about this decision.
I think to answer that, I need to provide a little context.
Like many working-class kids, I grew up on the idea that education was the key to financial security. I had a “good head on my shoulders” and what felt like an obligation to make use of it. The further into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), the better.
At the same time, as I started living on my own, I realized that I didn’t need very much to be happy. On the contrary, I realized that I would much rather work less and have more free time to spend on hobbies and friends.
The problem, as I quickly realized, was that part-time chemistry jobs were few and far between. In research you are expected to be dedicated to the cause, so why would you want anything less than full-time? As much as I searched after my Master’s, I could not find any part-time opportunities.
In 2017, I managed to land a job as a Ph.D. student at a university in Norway. I didn’t intend to get a Ph.D. but as strange as it sounds, it was the job I managed to get. We needed the money and financial stability. I had my, now, spouse by then, and we knew the next four years were going to be tough mentally.
But, we had a stable, more-than-we-needed income for the first time. I started researching and came upon the financial independence movement. It made so much sense to me, so we set aside and invested what we could. Not a lot, but we slowly built the mentality and habits.
During this time, I was getting more and more disillusioned with academia and research. A lot of what we were trying to communicate was further details on topics people have largely been aware of since the 60s and 70s. I was fortunate to land a job where my research topic was directly related to protecting the environment. But, I still felt like I was just one more voice in a choir that had been screaming for decades with very little outcome.
In 2019, through a combination of work pressure and a medical crisis at home, I experienced severe burnout. I received 60% sick leave and still worked 40% of the time. At the time, I begged not to be put on 100% sick leave, because I was afraid I would never finish my Ph.D. if I stopped entirely. Over the next few months, we slowly dialed the percentage of sick leave down a little bit at a time (and increased the workload proportionally) as I felt better.
Once this change happened, though, life slowed down. I had more time on my hands. At first, my time was mostly spent in a haze recuperating. But slowly, I started to return to myself. I wanted a creative outlet that was not lab work or writing my thesis.
During this time, I got inspired by Bernadette Banner and other “slow” YouTubers. By “slow” YouTubers, I mean people who try to create soothing, calm videos that tell a story. But, they don’t rush you with lots of visual effects and fast-talking. It’s a bit like reading a cozy, slow-paced book rather than watching an action movie.
Inspired by this, I took my phone and started shooting footage of things I made. Sewing, weaving, even darning, and knitting. I was not very consistent, and the videos were pretty bad, but I learned fast.
Then, the pandemic hit.
I had just finished the last of the work that I needed to be physically in the lab for. The rest of my thesis included all things I could do from home. Without my commute, but with the ability to work from home, I had the opportunity to experiment with new projects and iterate while I still had a monthly income.
When I defended my thesis in November of 2021, I knew I could not stay in academia. The “publish or perish” pressure of modern academia was not for me.
So, I took everything I learned and poured them straight into the budding YouTube channel I had started. The transition was seamless. My home office was the same. It simply felt like I was transitioning from one project to another.
Thanks to our financial habits from the beginning of my Ph.D. program, we now had well over two years’ worth of fixed expenses saved up and invested. With my new conviction and enthusiasm, I was even able to secure funding for one year of living expenses through a government program to start my business!
I’ve been running my YouTube channel for a year now, and I am still enjoying it. Of course, it is a lot of work. But working long days at home has never felt as exhausting as the long days at the university. Plus, if I wake up tired or sick, I can take things a bit slower.
In the long run, my intention is to work a little less. But right now, there is nothing else I would rather do.
3. How has the decision to leave academia impacted your quality of life?
Before making the change, I struggled to find the energy to maintain our household at the most basic level. Dishes and laundry tended to pile up throughout the week, forcing us to spend our weekends playing catch-up. My spouse helped as much as they could with dinner and cooking, but they were also sick. We resorted to a lot of pre-made and processed foods that were more expensive and not good for our health. We knew we needed to make a change.
Now, I can do those things throughout the day and still have energy left over in the evenings for things like reading! My quality of life is so much better! I can’t even put it into words.
In place of a commute, I go for a walk in nature and listen to podcasts. I get to have lunch with my spouse almost every day. It’s the strangest feeling. I work as many hours as I did as a Ph.D. student (if not more). But, I’m having a lot more fun, and I have surplus energy left over!
4. In your opinion, what things in your life contribute most to happiness and contentment?
I grew up without a lot of money and still have anxiety surrounding it. I do need to feel confident that we can pay our bills each month (and for the foreseeable future) before I’m able to focus on anything else.
Once that’s in place, I think happiness and contentment are a combination of your mindset and doing meaningful work. To be clear, I needed to expand my definition of what meaningful work meant. I used to believe that I had to do something that society told me was “useful.”
Now, I believe that meaningful work can be anything that brings you fulfillment, helps you pay the bills and does not hurt other people. It doesn’t have to be big, grand, or have an impressive title attached to it. Most of us cannot be the one hero who saves the world in a grand way. But, we can all be everyday heroes that save the world a tiny bit, again and again, every day in small, largely unnoticed ways.
One thing I’ve also learned a lot about is internalizing what is and isn’t within my locus of control. I cannot control my erstwhile boss or the comments I receive on my videos. But I can control how I react and respond to them (or chose not to). I can choose to put the phone away and spend the evening cuddling my cats and being present. Beyond happiness, this focus has also brought a lot more calm into my life, and less conflict.
5. How did the decision to leave academia impact your financial goals or timelines?
Sometimes, I feel like the black sheep among FI enthusiasts because I do not know exactly where we are on the timeline right now. There are a lot of things in flux.
What I do know is that we currently have a cash runway of 3-5 years. The goal is to get my YouTube channel to pay our bills before this runway runs out. If we can do that, I’ll feel like we’ve made it!
The FI equation is difficult to figure out right now because my spouse has applied, but doesn’t know if they will get approved, for disability benefits. If they do, we’ll be able to pay most of our fixed expenses with that, which would help tremendously.
As of right now, we’ve stopped saving additional money for retirement. We are preparing ourselves for a couple of years of minimal living as I grow my income and YouTube channel. Then, we’ll hopefully reach a stage where retirement savings, investments, and larger vacations are back on the table. Since we’re homebodies, we are content with this life for now.
The financially independent part was always much more important to us than the retire early part. Everything beyond that will be gravy.
6. What enabled you to leave academia to build your YouTube channel?
It was very helpful to have our frugal habits and savings to fall back on. I have been frugal by necessity all my life. This was the first time I had the savings to be able to make a values-based decision.
Another important factor was working on my mindset. After my master’s, I was still married to the idea of getting a job and being an employee with some vacation. I had studied chemistry. Shouldn’t I be easily employable?
After a few years of struggling to find good, stable employment, my attitude started to change. I started listening to financial independence podcasts and Rebel Entrepreneur by Alan Donegan. Through these, different ideas of a different life were starting to seep in.
I learned that working online as an entrepreneur was a viable option. I was also starting to feel like 3-5 years of intense work to start a business was not really that long after all. I spent longer in the university system, and the time will pass anyways.
Now, I feel like entrepreneurship is actually a safer path. Being employed by someone else never felt safe or permanent to me. I have a lot more control over my time, schedule, deadlines, and income.
7. What have you adapted so that you could continue working toward your goals?
I’m continuing to work through my scarcity mindset. Here’s an example. For over six years, I’ve had a small laptop that worked fine for remote work, writing, and internet browsing. But, when you try to edit high-resolution videos with any kind of visual elements, this laptop struggled a lot.
I told myself it was fine. I just needed to plan my workday a little better to accommodate the waiting and processing time. I didn’t need the better, more demanding software or a better computer when I already had a “functioning” one.
Finally, my spouse sat down with me, clicked the “add to basket”, and added all the payment details because I physically could not bring myself to do it. We had it in our budget months ago, but it was still really hard. Clearly, I am still a work in progress.
8. Why and when do you think someone might consider “downshifting?”
If you feel like you have no time for leisure or hobbies, I would encourage you to look at why that is.
For me, there came a point where I realized that I no longer knew “how to leisure” anymore. I was either doing work or housework, commuting, watching a movie if I was too exhausted to do anything else, or sleeping. Reading a book made me restless. I felt like I should be listening to it as an audiobook so I could be doing laundry at the same time.
While I still love audiobooks and puttering about the house when it is a choice, I knew my inability to just sit still and enjoy a book was a sign that something was wrong.
I’ve always struggled with finding a purpose, and downshifting helped me to calm down and actually reflect on what I wanted.
9. How did your pursuit of FI help or hinder your decision to leave academia?
It helped so much. Pursuing FI meant I had a practical goal to save up for, years before I knew I wanted to work on my YouTube channel and become self-employed.
I could internalize that I was “saving for financial freedom” when I invested instead of ordering takeout. It built the muscle that still sustains me today.
10. What advice do you have for someone considering a similar decision?
Start practicing! In my case, I transitioned from one type of work to another, which I enjoyed a whole lot more. But, this was not my first side hustle. I’ve tried blogging, weaving, writing, you name it. Nothing felt quite right until I started working on my videos.
So practice. Experiment. Try new things.
If you try something, and it doesn’t work, don’t worry! It was not a failure, you just did an experiment! And now you have some data on what doesn’t work and can adjust.
Even if you do not wish to be self-employed or start a business, I would still encourage you to practice. I still struggle with feeling like I “should” be doing something else when I sit down to read a book. Now, I try to find time to read for at least an hour every week. I imagine I would experience similar challenges if I went from full-time to part-time and suddenly found myself with extra leisure time I did not know how to enjoy.
Thank you so much, Kristine, for sharing your story with us!
There are several important things that I want to hit on from this interview.
First, I love how Kristine shared more about how entrepreneurship can be a viable avenue for people who are neurodiverse and those with chronic illnesses to work and build wealth in a way that is sustainable. As someone who manages and has worked through severe anxiety, I agree that running my own business is more sustainable for my mental health than a traditional (even part-time) 9-to-5 job.
I also appreciated Kristine’s discussion of the runway that she has to build her business. I like to call this F-You money. F-you money is more than an emergency fund. It’s the amount of money that makes you feel comfortable getting out of a bad situation or taking advantage of an opportunity. And, Kristine has 3-5 years’ worth of expenses in her F-you Money account that will give her time to build her business.
I also want to note that I’m very impressed that Kristine is actually using her F-You Money! How many of us build this runway of F-You money and then are too scared to use it?
Lastly, I loved how Kristine talked about practice and experimentation. I see and hear stories often where people stay in a situation that isn’t serving them out of fear. Their current situation is familiar, and “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.” But, if you can experiment and test out different ideas, it makes it a lot easier to see what life could be like on the other side. You answer questions you have about the ideas and build your confidence as well. For Kristine, experimentation allowed her to create a vision of what life could look like outside academia.
If you’d like to follow Kristine’s story or check out her YouTube Channel, you can find her in the following places: