“That sounds awesome! But for real, when are you gonna get a real job?” -Most Humans
As I write this, I’m sitting on my red leather couch in my bedroom here in Ohio. Yes, leather. It’s probably real. Yes I’m vegan. Yes I see the irony, but I bought it seven years before I became vegan, therefore I will keep using it until I no longer get value from it. But that’s besides the point. It’s 4:10pm on a Monday, and I’m working from my bedroom, and I haven’t left the house yet today.
A week ago I was working from a local Starbucks. I actually worked from different Starbucks locations for a week or two. I didn’t purchase anything from any of them, and I’m not even a coffee drinker.
During the long Thanksgiving / Black Friday / Cyber Monday weekend, I was working from my mom’s apartment and my sister’s apartment, both in Florida.
Before that, in October, I was updating my online shop’s inventory from my friend’s swanky condo in downtown New Orleans. It wasn’t his. His work paid for it for some sort of work conference. But I hung out and stole some WiFi for a couple days.
Good for you, but I can’t do that.
Well, you could. Several people have told me I’m lucky and they wish they could do what I do. I always tell them the same thing: you could. Most people won’t, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible for you.
I want this lifestyle more than you want a family, or a new car, or a big house, or fancy clothes, or a yacht, or nine dogs. All of those things are cool, but I don’t need them, and I don’t want them. At least not enough to give up this freedom that I’ve built.
You likely have a normal job. Nothing wrong with that. You might also have all of the things that I just listed too. Again, no issues there. But for the people that wish they could travel more, and work for themselves, and have more location independence, you might have to give most of those things up (ok, you don’t need to sell your kids on eBay).
We all have different priorities, but this is written for the people who don’t want the normal 9-5 career, and they don’t want to keep up with that crazy Jones family (or the Kardashian’s either), and they want to create their own version of the “American Dream,” instead of settling for the default.
So yes, you have the opportunity to work from wherever, if that’s what you honestly want. It won’t be easy, and it won’t happen overnight, but it is an option.
So what the hell do you even do for work?
I do several things. Some bring in money, some don’t. But I have scaled my life down a lot over the years, so I don’t need millions of dollars rolling in. And you don’t need seven or eight figures either, so if you’re looking for a get rich quick scheme, your mindset is broke.
Fix your mindset, then spend your life doing shit you enjoy, rather than stressing yourself out on the constant sprint towards more money.
As far as the work I spend most of my time on, it’s usually in one of these areas:
A lot of these areas are focused on my own projects, but I also do client work that falls into these areas too (typically web design).
And when I say work, again, I’m not just talking about income. I love all of these things, but I don’t force myself to make tons of money from them.
All seven items in that list are basically various forms of art. Maybe I’m an artist. Maybe I’m a designer, or a marketer, or a salesman, or just a content creator. I don’t know what my title is, and it doesn’t really matter.
Maybe I’m lucky for being interested (passionate maybe) in all of these things since they all relate to each other. Being a good photographer can help when it comes to making better looking websites. Learning to write better helps with marketing and podcasting. Being excited about marketing is good for basically all the other skills.
Some people will tell you to just pick one thing and go full steam ahead with that one thing. While I get that, and I mostly agree with it, there’s nothing wrong with having multiple disciplines (multipotentialite) if you’re the type of person that genuinely loves doing a variety of things (like me). Especially when they’re all intertwined.
Plus having this skill set is nice, because all of it can be done with a small amount of overhead. If you want to start a web design business, you really just need a computer and an internet connection (you could even use a library computer and their internet, allowing you to almost have zero overhead, even though that’s not ideal for most people).
Want to start a photography business? Purchase a small amount of used gear and shoot everything for months or years. Build up a portfolio shooting things for free, then start charging, then slowly increase your prices as you get better. You can take great photos with around $500 worth of gear, then upgrade as your business grows.
You don’t need a $200k loan from a bank to do any of these businesses. The merch option is the only one that might have a lot of costs involved with it, but they aren’t mandatory. There are several ways to run a low overhead clothing brand. It’s actually the only thing I’m doing that keeps me in one location most of the time. I could switch things up and have zero inventory, or I could pay someone to handle all the fulfillment, but I’m not worried about that just yet.
Anyways, most of the work I do can be done from pretty much anywhere in the world. I just need my laptop. WiFi is easy to find in most places, and if it’s not available, I can use my phone as a hotspot. And if my phone has no signal either, I can focus on doing work that doesn’t require the internet, like writing, podcasting, etc. And then finish my work when I’m back to civilization.
Again, that’s nice for you, but I can’t do those things.
No one said you have to be a clone of me. This is just what I enjoy and what I’m good at. There are plenty of people who work remotely or run businesses from their laptop that are different than what I do.
That reminds me, you don’t have to work for yourself either. A lot of people have a job, but they have the flexibility to do that job from wherever. As long as the work is getting done, the boss doesn’t care. I wish more jobs would understand this.
But if you want to have complete freedom, I suggest figuring out how to monetize your knowledge and skills. Don’t worry about trying to build the next Facebook or Uber, just find a skill or a problem that others have, and have people pay you for your services and/or products.
There was a time when I didn’t know how to do any of the things I’m doing. But each thing that I listed above, I just found a way to learn how to do each of them. Here’s how I figured out how to do what I do:
- Web Design – I learned graphic design in college, and we briefly touched on websites. But I started to learn on my own after college through trial and error. Then I learned more at a couple jobs. Then I was ready to give up. Then a past classmate mentioned this new platform he was using. Then a coworker at my last job explained some tools. Then my curiosity went into overdrive and I spent a ton of time trying new things, watching tutorials, reading books, etc. Now I’ve been hired to do website work for clients all over the world.
- Merch – I ordered a handful of shirts like a decade or so ago. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I asked a lot of questions. I watched YouTube videos, I searched Google for answers, I asked friends that were doing it already. Then I ordered more shirts. I kept repeating that process until I really understood what I was doing. My graphic design skills also helped a little bit in this area.
- Marketing – We all use social media. At first it was just for fun, then when it came to selling myself and my products, I was already good at using the tools. I used to create catalogs and websites and business cards and ads at various jobs I had. I used to be in customer service at my first job. I trained customers at another job. I learned email marketing at my last job. I read tons of books. I went to conferences. I did a lot of trial and error on my own projects, as well as some client work.
- Writing – Whether we realize it or not, we live in an age where we are writing all the time. Texts, emails, social media, etc. I’ve been doing those things for a long time. I used to write detailed instructions to customers, and now I do that with website clients. I’ve had various journals over the years, and I still do that often. Anytime I have ideas, I write them in my Notes app. I’ve been blogging on and off for almost ten years. I love writing. Just like anything else, you get better the more you do it. I read a lot, and I think that helps with writing too.
- Photography – I used to work at a camera shop, but I was in the digital department where we focused on making photo gifts (mugs, tshirts, restorations, posters, etc). While there, I learned some good photo editing skills, that I still use to this day. I also got my first digital camera while working there. I loved taking photos, especially at truck shows. Then I saw the editors on one of my favorite websites was looking for freelance photographers, so I applied, and a couple people said I was good, so I was one of the people they chose. Then I upgraded from a point-and-shoot to a DSLR camera. Then I was shooting all sorts of things, mainly for fun. And I’ve been doing that for over ten years (seems like a lot of shit happened around 2009). Still learning, working with better gear, still shooting.
- Podcasting – I started listening to podcasts while I was working at my last job in 2011/2012. Then a couple years later, it seemed like more and more people were doing them, and I was thinking I should share my knowledge and interview others. I didn’t know how to do it, but again, I downloaded eBooks, watched tutorials, and figured it out. Then I bought a cheap microphone. Then I bought a ticket to the largest podcasting conference in Texas. Then I was nervous to record my first episode, but I did it anyways. Then I was even more nervous to do my first interview, but I did it anyways. Then I launched the show in mid-2015 and just kept learning as I went. Even to this day I’m still tweaking things with it.
- Online Courses – I’ve learned a lot of things as you can see. But I’m just one person, so I wanted to scale things up a bit, and help a lot more people. So I listened to successful online course creators for a couple years before finally creating my own course at the end of 2016. Then after I was finished I quickly jumped into planning out the next one (which is still in progress as we speak). But I just did my research and found the tools other people were using, and mixed in the other skills I already learned up until this point (audio recording, graphic design, marketing, web design, photography, etc). I plan to spend a lot more time on courses going forward, and whatever I don’t know right now, I’ll keep learning.
After reading through all of that (especially that last line), you probably noticed a pattern. I just figured things out. No one is coming to hand you skills, you have to learn them on your own.
And if you hate learning new things, you should probably just stay at your job and get real comfortable there. The people that find success (define it however you want), they are students forever. The world is always changing, and if you think you already know it all today, you’re gonna be real sad next week when it all changes. You have to be able to pivot when needed. The companies that go out of business, they either sell a shitty product/service, or they ruined the relationship with their customers in one or more ways, or they had an ego and got too stubborn and didn’t want to change their ways (“but we’ve always done it this way”).
I used to build websites with Dreamweaver or Flash, now I build them with WordPress and other similar tools. I used to let friends know what I was doing via MySpace, now I use Facebook and Instagram (and my blogs and email lists). I used to use an Apple computer, now I use PCs and my iPhone. The tools are always changing, but it’s never too late to learn the fundamentals of whatever skills interest you.
Ok fine, I’ll learn some skills, but I can’t just quit my job, I need money.
We all have a different definition for “enough.” The amount of money that’s enough for me is probably less what’s enough for you. If I earn $30k a year, that’s enough for me to enjoy my life. You might need (different than want) $80k a year, or $100k, or maybe only $20k. We likely have different life circumstances. But whenever you figure out what your enough is, it makes it a lot easier to understand how you’ll get there.
I also don’t advise people to just quit their job tomorrow. That would be pretty dumb. Although, if you are debt-free, and you have very low monthly expenses, and you have little to no responsibilities, and you really hate your job… maybe you should quit your job tomorrow.
But for most people, I suggest a side hustle, or a second job that is focused on something you might want to do on your own someday. “Side hustle” is a common phrase these days, but it can be a path towards more freedom.
While working my last full-time job, I had a few projects on the side. I wasn’t getting rich off them, but the extra money was nice when it came in. I started doing more freelance website work in 2011, and when I lost my job in early 2012, I at least had some money coming in. But more importantly, I had several skills that I had been practicing for years.
You should figure out at least one thing you really enjoy doing. More if you want, but at least one. Websites is what I chose, and I built websites for fun, and then started offering my services to clients. For you it might be painting, or creating YouTube videos, or personal finance, or selling cars.
Whatever it is, you can spend your time outside of your main responsibilities learning everything about that skill. Learn, practice, repeat. After awhile you’ll get better at it. To the point where others will think of you when it comes to that skill, or when they have questions regarding something related to it.
But back to you needing money. If you quit your job tomorrow to start learning a new skill, you’re gonna be stressed out because you’re trying to make money from something you don’t understand. That’s why I think most people should keep a low-stress day job to pay their bills, then focus all their time outside of their job (also outside of eating and sleeping) on their “passion.”
If you are self-motivated, then read books, watch tutorials, and put that learning into action. Do all sorts of testing, build things on your own, work for free or cheap for friends, etc. Keep learning and creating.
Sorry, I need more structure than that.
You could find a company that’s somewhat related to what you’re interested in, and get paid to learn the skills, plus having a work schedule will keep you disciplined. Or find people who are where you want to be, and become their apprentice, or work for free just to learn how they do it.
Sure you could go to college, but in a lot of ways, that will just lead you to another job, that you’ll probably grow to resent. I think college is required if you want to be a doctor. College is fine for a graphic designer… if you want a normal desk job. That’s what it got me, until I increased my skills on my own, and created my own path.
But most skills can be learned online, but college is always an option, except for that insane amount of debt that it usually comes with. Which can lead to more stress and cause you to work another bullshit job to pay off all that debt. What a vicious cycle.
I wish more people would take money out of the equation and spend their time doing more things that matter to them. There are people that hate their jobs, but they have a $500/mo car payment, a $1500/mo mortgage, Netflix, cable tv, Hulu, season tickets for their favorite football team, three closets full of clothes they don’t wear, and so much more. When they could lower or eliminate a lot of their debt and expenses, and make less money and be ok.
Most people don’t need to make more money, they just need to spend a lot less money.
You could live in a city that has a low cost of living, find a job that’s cool to work at that’s within walking/biking distance, eat simple meals at home, cancel all your tv & movie services, sell all the junk you don’t use, get rid of your car, read more books (at the library), etc. Basically live a very simple life, well below your means.
Maybe you’ll do that forever. But even if you live like that for a year or two, or maybe even three years, you should be debt-free and maybe even have a good amount of money saved up. If you were in that situation, then you can definitely afford to do your own thing with no excuses. I love this quote:
“Live a few years of your life like most people won’t, so you can live the rest of your life like most people can’t.”
Is it glamorous? In most cases no. My life isn’t glamorous at all. It would be very boring to you if you watched me 24/7 for a week or a month. But I don’t need it to be extravagant, I don’t desire all the luxuries like most celebrities. You know, the ones that you scroll past on Instagram and get depressed because they have the fancy watch or the exotic cars or they just bought a mansion on the island they also just bought.
If you pay attention to all of that and think you need that as well, you might never reach your “enough.” I’m not telling you to skip having big goals. You should do that too, but what you can skip is all the materialistic nonsense that just distracts you from having a happier life. Because those things won’t do much for you.
Tell me more about your specific situation.
Working for myself has been pretty amazing. Definitely stressful at times, periods of uncertainty, many highs, many lows, and everything in between. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
The freedom and flexibility is too priceless. Back in the day, I didn’t even know this type of life was possible. Or maybe I thought it was, but reserved only for the elite. Now, I can barely remember what life was like in the 9-5 world. In just a few weeks, it will be seven years since my last real, normal, full-time job. Crazy!
It’s not a regret, but I wish I would have started sooner. If I could give one piece of advice, it would be to figure this out sooner than later. The longer you keep going down the wrong path, the harder it will be to escape it. Make the leap before you have to, or before you’re forced to.
Like I said before, almost everything I do can be done from anywhere with WiFi. I can just pack a small back of stuff (clothes, laptop, camera, phone, and maybe my passport), jump in my car or jump on a plane, go pretty much anywhere, and be able to do my work. It’s a badass feeling.
But… I do enjoy my time at home as well. Some days I’m in my room almost the entire day and I leave the house to only go to the gym. I’m the hardcore lone wolf, introvert type (INFJ). I love solitude and being alone. I love exploring new places, but I’m totally fine working away from the bed, or desk, or couch that are in my room.
I also enjoy being at home so it’s easier to stick to my daily routine and get caught up on things and strengthen my habits. When I’m not working on something, I’m reading, or sleeping, or doing some form of exercise, or eating vegan food, or finding more shit to get rid of. Maybe one day soon, everything I own will fit in a couple suitcases and I’ll become a full-time digital nomad for awhile. Hard telling with me.
When I need a break, I hit the road or the sky and just get away from everything. But I almost always have my tools with me so I can still get work done from a hotel or coffee shop or friend’s house. I enjoy my work, so it’s hard to go too long without creating something.
I really think more people should embrace the internet and utilize all of the online tools & platforms that are available to us. The people who hate cell phones, or don’t like computers, or can’t imagine learning anything new… they will likely be the ones who are stuck in the trap the longest. They might never get out.
If you’re always complaining about your job and money and other people, I think you need this more than others. Scale down your life, increase your skills, travel more if you want, say no to your friends more often (in the beginning), say yes to clients more often (also in the beginning), and just make it work. You’ll never have it all figured out when you start, but you’ll never start if you try to know it all ahead of time.
Some people ask me how I’ve been able to do this for so long. It’s just normal to me now. When I had two weeks of vacation time during my standard work career, it was like a tiny dose of freedom. Just enough to enjoy most of the beach trips, but in the back of my mind, I always knew I had that damn job to go back to.
But once I didn’t have a regular job anymore, the dose of freedom that I was injected with was something I had never experienced before. I had worked typical jobs from age 12 until I was halfway through age 29. I believe once you have that level of freedom, it’s too hard to ever go back to your old life. I can’t not have it.
Other people ask how I make this work, and I say, “whatever it takes.” Whatever it takes to not go back to another soul-crushing job. Whatever it takes to not be told what to do every minute. Whatever it takes to enjoy more of life.
Basically, I bet on myself. And right now, I’m still ahead on points. I hope you’ll head down this path one day too. I’ll help you anyway I can. I want this for you, and for anyone else out there that hates their current situation. Just remember this:
“You don’t have to live your life the way other people expect you to.” -Chris Guillebeau
This photo was taken at my friends’ house in North Carolina, June 2018. They had an event that I was working at, and then I jumped on the laptop the next day while crashing at their place. Always working. They found this cat in Ohio like four years ago when they were up here for a similar event. I like to think we are both nomads and we have a connection.