The Daniel Norris Code for Success

“Research the things you love. Gain knowledge. It’s valuable.”
– Daniel Norris

What would you do if you were suddenly given $2 million?

You’d pay your taxes, of course. You’d probably pay off any debts that you had. You might buy a nice home to live in and refresh your vehicles. You might sock some away for your children’s education and maybe some for retirement. Maybe you’d go on a few nice vacations.

After all that, you wouldn’t have too much left. Life would go on as normal, albeit easier without any car payments or house payments or anything like that, and you’d have some nice memories.

Daniel Norris is a 22 year old pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays who, as of this writing, is pitching for their top minor league team in Buffalo. (I mentioned him in a Reader Mailbag a few months ago when he was in spring training and pointed readers to this ESPN article for more details.)

When Daniel Norris graduated from high school in 2011, he was drafted by Toronto in the second round of the Major League Baseball draft. Upon signing with the team, he was awarded a $2 million signing bonus.

What did Daniel Norris do with this money? He bought a used 1978 Volkswagen Westfalia van/camper, then invested the rest of his money – a little over $1 million. He set up that money to give himself a small monthly living stipend of just $800, enough for a single guy living out of a camper to feed himself and occasionally repair the camper, and left the rest to grow in investments. Although his finances aren’t public, the S&P 500 is up more than 65% since the beginning of 2012; by almost any measure his investments have almost assuredly grown well beyond that initial amount.

Since then, he’s risen through the minor leagues and signed several endorsement deals, including one with Nike, and that money goes into his investments as well.

So, yes, this guy is a young millionaire baseball player who lives out of a camper on only $800 a month (plus, presumably, any travel stipends given by his team).

“Be kind. Be courteous. Love others and be happy. It’s that simple.”
– Daniel Norris

The obvious question that most people ask when hearing this is what exactly does a millionaire living in a camper do with his or her time? Well, here’s how Daniel spends his time, aside from the time spent pitching, training, and dealing with the other issues of being a top professional baseball player.

He seeks solitude. He spends a lot of his time alone, exploring places on his own because they interest him. This often involves finding solitary places in nature, like an empty beach or a national park, and just exploring on his own. This doesn’t mean avoiding other people, but it does afford the freedom of just going wherever he wants to go.

He reads voraciously. He spends significant time reading books of all kinds, seeming to prefer hardcover books.

He spends a ton of time outdoors. Part of the reason he lives in a camper is that he rarely wants to be indoors except when sleeping. He’d rather be exploring.

He writes in his journal. Daniel keeps a “thought journal” in his camper where he writes down his thoughts on the things that he’s reading and the places he’s exploring.

He visits new places. He spent his first offseason in Nicaragua, staying in hostels and riding around on a rented motorcycle, just to explore the country. He explored a bit of the jungle as well as the abundance of coastal areas in the country.

What are his after-baseball goals? In his own words, “What I’ll do, if baseball goes well, is I’ll become even more of an ambassador for the things I really care about,” which seem to include nature conservation, energy conservation, and environmentalism.

“Where else can you be as free as yourself in the middle of nowhere, or in the middle of the ocean, or on the peak of a mountain? Adventure is freedom.”
– Daniel Norris

Like many of you, when I read Daniel’s story, I couldn’t help but feel that, on some level, it was a bit… extreme. If I were single, I suppose I would strongly think about liquidating all of my stuff and living like that, but it’s so far from where my life is right now that it almost seems like another world.

Because of that, it’s easy for me to want to criticize and find holes in how he lives. What if his camper, which seems to be on its last legs, fails? What if his baseball career collapses? What things in life is he missing out on? Why not just buy a house and a reliable car and have a stable and steady life?

But here’s the reality of it: rather than using his money to live a life that conforms to everyone else, he’s able to use his money to live a life exactly like he wants to live it. He doesn’t have to use a dime of his money to conform to what anyone else wants or thinks. He has the money to live his life his own way.

In the end, that’s the very goal of financial freedom. It gives you the power to live life based on what you think is right and wrong and what you think is enjoyable and not enjoyable and what you think is fulfilling and not fulfilling.

Financial independence means you’re no longer reliant on an employer in order to maintain your lifestyle in any way. It means you’re no longer reliant on a professional network or keeping up professional appearances. It means you no longer have to keep working at a job where you feel like you morally have to cut any corners, nor does it mean that you have to spend your time on any task you really don’t want to do.

Instead, it means you can spend every single moment of your life doing what it is you want to do. If you want to live in a popup camper and follow your favorite band around the country on tour, you can do that. If you want to move to Kenya for six months to teach children how to read and speak English, you can do that. If you want to live in a national park for the summer while reading and hiking every single day, you can do that.

(To be honest, spending a summer in a national park living out of a tent with minimal items for survival, a few pens and notebooks in a waterproof bag, and a pile of books on an e-reader with a solar powered charger sounds amazing to me.)

For many, the journey to get there sounds dreadful, though. It means choosing to live on far less than you earn while still being challenged by the need to earn a healthy living. You’ve got to spend a lot less than you earn for quite a while to be able to pull this dream off.

Here’s the thing: Start doing these things now. What’s keeping you from throwing out your television set and spending your free time reading and writing down thoughts in a thought journal? What’s keeping you from spending weeks in the summer living in a tent? What’s keeping you from spending most of your spare time working for a cool charity? What’s keeping you from the things you dream about spending your spare time on?

The only person that’s keeping you from those things right now is you.

The best part? Most of those radical life shifts also involve a huge reduction in expenses. That makes it far, far easier to live on less than you earn, and thus makes it far, far easier to reach a point where you can throw away the remaining obstructions in your life and live it the way you want to live.

It all starts with you. You don’t have to do what everyone else around you does. You don’t have to be what everyone else around you expects you to be.

Instead, you are free to find your own paths and your own answers in life – and it’s likely that many of those paths are far more interesting and exciting than the one that you’re on.

As for me? I think today is a good day to start minimizing a little, so I’m going to take the rest of the day and start clearing out my stuff with the hopes of eventually clearing out my time as well.

The take home message: stop worrying about what other people think and do what you think is best for you. You’ll always find yourself in a better place.

Good luck!

Trent Hamm

Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.