It’s almost impossible for me to believe, but I’ll be setting off on my 18th trip abroad Monday, when I leave for Japan. It was just five years ago, after all, that I was unemployed, broke and convinced my life was over at the ripe old age of 24.
The crazy part is that, excepting the eight months I taught English in China immediately following this dark period of my life, I have not been employed in any official capacity since then. I have worked harder than I ever have in my life – but more on that in a minute.
If you feel trapped by your life, even if you don’t want to go wild traveling like I did, read on to see some of the most important things I’ve learned along my road to freedom. It’s been a long and tough one but I can safely say, after having walked down it for nearly half a decade, that I am never, ever turning back.
1. Reward is always commensurate with risk
Before I moved to China, I was terrified, but not of my forthcoming move. You see, although my economic circumstances were precarious, I had a sick apartment, great friends and an overall wonderful life – what if I left them all behind, only to fail even more miserably? As you can see, that didn’t quite happen.
2. It’s about making the right opportunities, not finding them
For a while, however, I didn’t feel like a success. My job teaching English wasn’t all I expected it would be, Shanghai was cold and soulless and I missed my beautiful balcony. But, shortly after I arrived, I got offered a gig at a local blog, and the pieces slowly started falling into place.
3. Sometimes, you do have to work for free
That was the good news. The bad news? The gig was unpaid. I considered not taking it – my mother had always warned me never to work for free – but I had a feeling it would lead to better things, so I continued writing, even though I often lost sleep to do so. Simultaneously, I launched the first incarnation of Leave Your Daily Hell.
4. Or not very much
I noticed a call for English-language writers on a local CNN affiliate website one day and, as it turns out, the experience I’d gained writing for Shanghaiist proved just enough for them. The topics I wrote about weren’t interesting, and the pay wasn’t a lot, but I felt myself, for the first time in my adult life, moving up the ladder.
5. But life will eventually pay you back
Like my short fling with CNN, my gig with Demand Media Studios paid peanuts. But although I was only making $15 per article to start, I was able to write from anywhere I had an Internet connection. And so, as my plane to Saigon took off one afternoon in July of 2010, I decided right then and there that I wouldn’t be catching the return.
6. Especially if you continue working for free
Moonlighting, someone much wiser than I once told me, is the surest way to success. That is, doing what you love when you’re not doing what you must. In my case, this meant tirelessly blogging as I wrote articles of various shittiness for others, and even though my blog, at least in the beginning, was pretty shitty in its own right. In March 2012, almost three years after I left for China, I made my first dollar off this blog, which is still my primary source of income to this day.
7. Friends are priceless
If there’s one cliché that’s proven itself to be true as I’ve progressed down the road to freedom, it’s this one. Seeing the face of a true friend is more thrilling than setting foot on the farthest-flung piece of soil. It’s a lesson I’ve had to learn again and again, sometimes the hard way – even through death. Don’t ever forget your friends, even those you know you won’t see again.
8. Love is never a mistake
I go absolutely nuts when I love someone, even if our love only lasts the better part of evening. (I’m a pretty intense person if you haven’t gathered that yet!) In spite of how irrational I usually am when it comes to love, I realize looking back that it’s always been for the sake of expressing the feelings within my heart – and those feelings have always been true and valid.
9. But some lovers are
I’m still single, and though at least 50 per cent of that is due to factors I can control, the fact is that I’ve kissed far more frogs than princes. It took me a long time to realize the amphibious nature of several of these frogs – too long, in many cases. The sooner you can let go of old lovers, the better.
10. Your thoughts determine your reality
I’m not religious or even really spiritual, but I am a firm believer in being able to manifest whatever you want, namely when it comes to money. If you live with an abundant mindset – that is, being thankful for what you have, working hard to get more of it and having a very specific image of what you want next – your life will be an abundant one. The opposite is also true.
11. And so does your behavior
I’ve acted a fool on more than occasion, although thankful not to the extent of getting arrested. Well, except for that one time in Switzerland. Looking back, my behavior – and, more important than that, my unwillingness to own up to it – has kept a lot of doors closed for me.
12. Karma is very real
On the other hand, many of these closed doors have, as Katy Perry is fond of saying they do, led me to roses of the more perfect sort. Karma isn’t spiritual so much as it is physical: For every action in the universe, there is an equal but opposite reaction.
13. Being free doesn’t mean you have to fly
I get a lot of flack from my other location independent friends for maintaining a home in Austin and staying here half the year. But to me, part of being free is having the freedom to stay put when I want. A “normal” life, particularly in a booming city in a wealthy country, is a great luxury to have – and it took me leaving it all behind a dozen times to realize that.
14. But freedom is like a muscle
I do believe, however, that I have to keep pushing myself – in my current mindset, this means traveling more and striving to produce better art along that way – in order to keeping moving forward. Like a muscle you suddenly stop using one day, your freedom will atrophy if you don’t exercise your right to it.
15. You can never go back
Yesterday, I was having coffee with my friend Ben, who recently quit his long-time corporate job. “No chance in hell,” I answered him, when he asked me if I would ever consider working full-time for another person or entity in the future. Freedom is a more priceless currency than even solid gold – I’ll never go back to being shackled, even if it means being penniless again.
informs, inspires, entertains and empowers travelers like you. My name is Robert and I'm happy you're here!