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Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed award-winning author Dr. David Phelps about his life, career, and what inspired him to write his latest book, Own Your Freedom: Sustainable Wealth for a Volatile World.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I had a solid family growing up—amazing parents. They certainly provided my two younger sisters and me with all the necessities—food, clothing, shelter, and guidance. Still, when you get to be in the tween and teen years, a kid wants to feel like they have a little freedom. I equated freedom with having a bike that would allow me to travel wherever I wanted to go—within the boundaries set by my parents, of course. Next, I wanted a better tennis racket than the K-Mart special my parents had bought for me.
Tennis shoes came next and then a little black and white TV for my bedroom! I now had the freedom to watch shows I wanted with my TV instead of hanging out in the family room watching what everyone else wanted to see. As a teenager, I expressed my need and desire for freedom, and through that process, I learned that freedom should be a natural process in our lives.
After high school, I took the college route because it was the safe and secure path to financial freedom—according to the world anyway. I plowed into my higher education, determined to be a success. I’d been reading some books on investing money in the stock market—mutual funds. And, I wound up getting some books on real estate, and something clicked.
It made more sense to me to invest in real estate because it’s a tangible asset. I liked the idea of having control over my investment rather than depending on someone else to earn a profit for me. In my first year of dental school, I convinced my dad to invest in a joint venture—my first rental property. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was investing a lot less time and effort into managing a rental property than I had waiting tables in years past to pay my way through school.
We kept the property until I graduated from dental school and started my practice. When we sold it, I reinvested my share of the profit and began purchasing more properties. I then used the extra money from my practice and the rental income to pay down the loans. We call it “snowballing” the loans.
After ten years, I had a good number of properties that were free and clear. After fifteen years, nearly all the properties I owned were free and clear. Now, they were producing what I like to call “annuity passive cash flow income,” which I speak about in my book. I came up with that term because it allows you, the person, to separate from the income you make. That’s huge because your earnings come in from the properties, but the time you need to invest is minimal.
The realization that I could make that happen for myself and my family struck me as I sat in the hospital with our daughter as she recovered from a liver transplant. She’d been fighting one health battle after another since being diagnosed with leukemia. As I sat there at her side, not wanting to be anywhere else in the world, it hit me that I didn’t have to be. We could be living off the passive income from my real estate assets, and like back in college, I’d be committing far less time and effort while still making a living.
So, I did it. I sold my practice and was able to dedicate a lot more time to my family. It wasn’t long before friends, family, and other doctors and colleagues asked how I had “retired” from dentistry. When I’d share my experience with real estate investing, they began to ask for help to teach them how to do it. To make a long story a little shorter, I decided it was easier for me to connect them with someone who could mentor and help them get started rather than bogging myself down trying to manage it all on my own.
Freedom Founders was a natural progression in that process. As more and more people wanted help finding the freedom I had, putting together a group of like-minded people to mentor and challenge each other just made sense.
When did you first want to write a book?
I wrote my first book, From High Income to High Net Worth, back in 2014 to help people realize the difference between earning a high income and having a high net worth. High-income earners can undoubtedly serve their families, but they don’t have the net worth available to them to produce passive cash flow. I wanted to help others learn the ins and outs of real estate investing and the importance of paying down the loans rather than carrying them.
When I wrote The Apprentice Model, I wanted to serve the younger generations, helping them discover a mindset that would enable them to live their dreams instead of spending their lives enslaved to their jobs. It focused on the importance of having mentors in your life.
My next book, What’s Your Next? delivered the message that even though society says to play it safe and keep your nose to the grindstone, you don’t have to stagnate in one career. It in no way defines who you are. Allow yourself to evolve and get out of your comfort zone. When you do, you’ll live a more purposeful life, branching out into different avenues that you’d never have discovered if you’d stayed in one lane.
Own Your Freedom is a book written for everyone—no matter their age—and it contains some information about real estate and capital assets. Still, the book’s primary focus is on principles. Principles that aren’t taught in school but are vital for our success and freedom! These principles are evergreen, and I believe everyone should be aware of them and implement them in their lives.
I hope this book provides the filter and the thinking process that enables others to begin planning ways to build their financial freedom—no matter what career or business they choose. The key is to discover how you want to serve others and do it in a capacity that helps everyone involved in your life.
As entrepreneurs, we typically delegate because we’ve figured out that many hands make light work. On the other hand, when push comes to shove, we have the tenacity to put in 100 hours a week rather than having to submit to working 40 hours a week for somebody else.
When did you take a step to start writing?
It was back in 2014 when I wrote From High Income to Net Worth. I’d never really written anything of great significance before that.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
I probably kicked around the idea for about a year. I had the basic concept but didn’t take the time to get organized thoughts written down. The catalyst was I was scheduled to speak at an event, and I had promised the host that I would have written my book by then. I may be a procrastinator, but I realized the importance of using accountability to someone else as a motivator. As the date drew nearer, I got cranking and had the book written and published just as I’d said I would.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
I started writing the book in August 2020, and we released it on October 12 of this year, so fourteen months total.
Focusing on your latest release, what made you want to write Own Your Freedom?
In August 2020, we were right in the middle of the pandemic. I realized that the people I serve, my Freedom Founders members mainly, but indeed the whole nation—were vulnerable to the extent that we’re entirely dependent upon our income. And, most people have never considered that a time could come that would prevent them from earning an income. For many, this was a wake-up call.
I’m referring to the lockdowns, of course, which caused a lot of disruption. Many people suddenly realized the fragility of income tied to one’s primary business or labor activity. Many high-income earners who never considered not being able to provide for themselves found out the hard way.
When I saw so many people struggling, I was inspired to reach out with a book filled with high-level principles about developing the mindset—and the thinking process behind it—to permit people to break out of the mold. Rather than focusing on learning one thing and then graduating college and concentrating on that one thing for the rest of your life, don’t be intimidated to try something new.
The reason being, that if you put all your energy and effort into just one thing, it’s a vulnerable and fragile situation. Black Swan events, such as the pandemic, industry changes, political changes, economic changes, recessions, health—all those things can disrupt the normal flow, and it can quickly affect your primary income stream. So, it’s good to have other lines in the water, to use a fishing analogy. My book outlines the thinking process and critical aspects of how to achieve this level of freedom.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Own Your Freedom?
Biggest challenges? The biggest challenge comes at the front end of a book because we typically have so many ideas and want to convey everything we know. In my years of writing, I’ve learned that you can’t do that, or you’re going to overwhelm the person you’re trying to help. So, I think taking the essence of all the ideas and boiling them down into the framework that would fit into a decent-sized book is the first hurdle to cross. Once you have your outline down, the rest just flows.
What was your research process for Own Your Freedom?
I researched a few historical facts and statistics, but most of the research came from my own experiences of living the life we’re “supposed” to live and, then, deciding I wanted more than that for myself and my family. In Own Your Freedom, I share my experiences and the experiences of others I’ve helped achieve freedom.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Own Your Freedom need?
I worked with a writer who interviewed me regularly, virtually every week from September to January. He’d write up our interview and send it back to me. I’d review his copy and make changes and additions. I discovered after my first book, which I’d written old school, as in sitting at the darn keyboard and hammering it out, it wasn’t a process I enjoyed. I found it to be excruciating! I like the idea of expressing my thoughts in voice, getting them in print form, and taking it from there.
Together, we probably went through about seven or eight versions of the interviews, cleaning them up and checking and double-checking to make sure I got everything down. We worked on that from February through June of this year. I had several other people proofing for grammatical errors, as well. I wanted Own Your Freedom to be completely error-free. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and it drives me crazy when I find a grammatical error within the pages of a book.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a book?
I’m still thinking about obsessing over proofreading, so my answer is that at some point, you have to stop proofreading and let the manuscript go into production.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I do have some book ideas, but they haven’t come to fruition yet. My next book may be titled something like “To Scale or Not to Scale” because many people today believe that bigger is better. They think that you have to be big in order to get the things you want in life… but I think once you’ve been around the block a few times, a lot of people discover that’s not always the case. There’s the right size for you—not one size fits all.
And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I’ll give a big YES to both of those questions! My greatest joy is seeing lives changed and changing people’s minds and attitudes towards life and our calling. Every person is different, but there’s a reason we’re all here, and my goal has always been to help others find their passion and purpose in life.
But we can’t solve problems for other people if we become stagnant. To be a leader, one that’s worth anything anyway, we have to continue to grow ourselves. Always be on the move and point yourself in an upward direction.
Find More From Dr David Phelps:
Own Your Freedom: Sustainable Wealth for a Volatile World & other works.
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