“Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard.” – Guy Kawasaki (founder of AllTop)
Inspiration comes in bursts for me, so I decided to write this post quickly before the motivation escaped me.
After nearly 3 months of travel, I needed a place to hang my hat and call home for a while. With no fixed address, the perpetual travel wore me out. Writing a blog post while on the road was the last thing I wanted to do. For now, I consider Chiang Mai, Thailand my home abroad.
Chiang Mai is considered the “digital nomad” capital of the world. The term digital nomad refers to a person that earns their living independent of location; a term that reeks of condescension and screams out, “Look at how big my cock is!”.
However, I secretly wished to be a big swinging dick of this trending work and lifestyle subculture.
This is one of the reasons that I chose to settle down in Chiang Mai for a part of my sabbatical this year. Whether it was spending time to work on my travel blog, developing an online project, pursuing freelance work or learn a new skill set, I wanted to dip my toes into the digital nomad waters. Chiang Mai’s affordable living costs and laid back lifestyle has been a magnet for digital nomads from around the world.
After making the decision to lead a location independent lifestyle, the next challenge was execution.
I can’t offer you any advice in terms of making a successful transition into living a digital nomad lifestyle as I have failed miserably. However with the experience of my brief foray into this arena, I can tell you what NOT to do and what hasn’t worked for me.
One may do well by doing the opposite of what I’ve done
1. DON’T arrive at your destination without a plan.
I arrived in Chiang Mai 3 months ago only with the intent of writing more posts and content for my travel blog. No plan for marketing, SEO, web development, monetizing or networking with other bloggers. No plan leads to nowhere. Without a road map of where I intended to go, my daily life in Chiang Mai resembled a series of aimless figure eights. Without focus to anchor me, I found myself eating and hibernating like a bear; watching re-runs of Law and Order and taking many inexplicable visits to the weird section of YouTube.
DO arrive at your destination with plan or at least a loose blueprint of what you intend to accomplish with your business and ventures.
The plan can change or be adjusted. Know where you want to go and find a beacon of light on the horizon, otherwise you may find yourself waking up feeling like Rip Van Winkle just as I have.
2. DON’T treat your time as an endless and worthless commodity.
When I left Canada 6 months ago, I seemingly faced an open and endless pasture of time. The notion of: “There’s always tomorrow” quickly became a default excuse. The reality that I resisted facing was that time is limited and scarce. How much time and how many tomorrows any of us have will always result in a question mark as the answer.
I discussed this topic with a friend in Chiang Mai and he referenced a Jerry Seinfeld comedy routine that described life as killing time until our deaths. As a guy with a fear of death since childhood that borders on phobia, the Seinfeld reference resonated with me.
The dominating question in my life now is how will I bide the remaining days of my life? It’s a question that I’ve consistently dodged. It’s a question that I face once again.
DO treat your time as valuable.
A few years back after turning 40 years old, my thoughts immediately turned to the next big age marker in my life which would be 50. The time until my next milestone would be roughly 3600 days. When I turned 45 last year, unhappy with what I had done or more accurately, not done in the previous 1800 days, I found myself swimming in a morass of self-pity.
With only an “X” number of days available to any of us, choosing actions that are commensurate with the scarcity of time have become a priority. Otherwise you may wind up like me sporting a new pot belly and frittering the days away watching TV in my underwear. Some may find this a worthwhile endeavour but however you choose to live the rest of your days, make sure it’s worthwhile and valuable to YOU.
3. DON’T be afraid of hard work and new ideas.
The egomaniac in me always wanted to be a superstar at whatever I did. However, I wanted to accrue the accolades with the effortlessness of gods. I wanted to be a superstar without being super. I’ve always had a strong work ethic but only within the confines of what I was comfortable with. I rarely, if ever ventured beyond my comfort zone.
DO expect to work hard and long hours.
My first night in Chiang Mai, I had dinner with a number of fellow travel bloggers that lived in my building. After dinner, everyone excused themselves as they all had more work to do. Seeing behind the curtain of some travel bloggers’ lives, I quickly realized how hard they actually work and in all likelihood, many days amounted to a workload that surpassed many 9 to 5 jobs. However, it was an endeavour that they had passion for and a lifestyle that they could craft to their choosing.
4. DON’T be an introvert.
As a natural introvert, breaking out of this mindset took a Herculean effort. Small talk and conversation is not area of strength for me. Finding a community of like-minded individuals is critical when pursuing any new endeavour. My ego says: “I can do it by myself. I can figure it out.”. With little to no experience as a travel blogger or digital nomad, I didn’t know whether I was standing at the start line or whether I had another 3 miles to go before reaching the starting blocks.
DO reach out to other digital nomads.
It was suggested that I attend some of the numerous meet-ups in Chiang Mai that are held by the nomads and expats. Attending my first meet up re-created the social discomfort of my first day of Kindergarten. However, I failed to realize that some of those attending were in the same boat as I.
The greatest benefit of interacting with other nomads on a similar path was that I was introduced to ideas and possibilities that I never realized existed. Being introduced to new ideas tends to have a domino effect of spawning more ideas. Get out there, say hello and shake a hand.
5. DON’T overthink things.
One of my biggest short comings is my tendency to paralyze myself in excessive thought. Much of my over-thinking is a by-product of the fear that runs my life. This is one of the realizations that became clear to me when I prepared for this year abroad. Over-thinking is a close cousin to: “There’s always tomorrow” from mistake number 2. In tandem, both of these items can incapacitate a day and render it a waste.
DO think less and take more action.
While in Hong Kong, my friend’s 12 year old niece explained to me how she was making money posting items for sale on Youtube. Moreover, she recently found a local store to supply and ship beauty products to customers that bought from her on a newly set up Instagram account. She didn’t have to carry any inventory since she won’t place the order until she receives the payments from her Instagram orders. In effect, she created her own drop shipping business. She’s not old enough to qualify for a Paypal account or something similar. Her customers actually send her cash in the mail. Despite all the limitations and obstacles she faced, she found a solution to them all. I may think her whole set up is outlandish, but she’s the one receiving cold hard cash in the mail and I’m sporting an extra 10 pounds in my midsection. It’s a lesson in keeping an open mind.
She doesn’t dwell on the possibility of failure. Perhaps life is just that simple and all that is required is that you just try. Think like a 12 year old.
6. DON’T undervalue yourself.
During a recent dinner, I shared with a friend about some of the business ventures that I’ve been involved in and she replied: “What haven’t you done?!”.
My negative self-talk often convinces me that I have nothing to offer as a travel blogger and digital nomad. However, I quickly realized that I’ve attempted and tried many new ventures than I care to give myself credit for. I’m sure my ventures ranging from trading stocks to start-ups (including one that made biodegradable shoes out of coconut fibre: Cocoze Shoes), will provide invaluable experience moving forward.
DO give yourself a break and know that you have something to offer.
Everyone has assets and talents that are unique to them. Many people have posed the question to me of: “What makes Wayne uniquely Wayne?”. I reckon once I can answer this question with more confidence and clarity, the road ahead will become clearer for me.
7. DON’T be too carefree and undisciplined.
In a practical sense, this has been the bane of my digital nomad existence. I do all of my work out of my apartment in Chiang Mai which lends to easy distractions. Coffee, food and TV breaks ebb and flow like an active tide. Closely related to the mistake #1 of not possessing and following a plan, routine and structure is paramount to productivity. Without routine and structure, I found myself sleeping when the sun started to rise and wasting away the day’s sunshine.
DO create a structured routine and find a designated work space.
When I return to Chiang Mai, I intend to use one of the many shared work spaces that Chiang Mai offers. Committing myself to an “office” will help me to focus on the day ahead. If you can work effectively in the place that you reside, more power to you.
8. DON’T neglect the mind and body.
When I first arrived in Chiang Mai, I was getting up early to meditate and go for a run. This routine helped energize me for the day and kept me focused.
However, when the previous seven mistakes found their way into my life, the result was a restless mind and an unhealthy dietary regimen. Weight gain and physically lethargy ensued with sleep filled days and sleepless nights. Without focus and sustained motivation, daily life flowed like quicksand. It felt easier for me to do the bare minimum rather than fight through and possibly sink.
DO take care of your physical and mental health.
I started meditating in the mornings during my stay at a yoga ashram in India; I’ve recently started again with 10 minutes and building from there. I find the meditation helps to clear my mind, allowing fresh new ideas to enter my mind. Upon returning to Chiang Mai, I intend to engage in an exercise routine again. Whether it’s running, push ups or burpees, my body needs to be nurtured as much as my mind.
Regardless of what activities and routine you choose to take care of yourself, realize that the health of body, mind and spirit are interlocked to one another.
9. DON’T get too comfortable.
The inexpensive living costs and relaxed lifestyle of Chiang Mai was the biggest attraction for me when I moved there. Ironically, those two factors have become the most dangerous factors as well. I was warned early by retired expats to be careful as I could easily squander my life away in Chiang Mai without realizing it. The prophecy of their warnings came true.
DO change your environment occasionally.
After spinning my wheels in Chiang Mai for a couple of months, I packed a bag and travelled through China for a couple of weeks. Upon arriving in Xi’an, I knew immediately that a change of scenery was the right move. I felt off balance right away and had to be resourceful. A new landscape with a new language forced me to pull out my barely recognizable Mandarin to survive. I felt as if I awoke from a deep slumber. I felt alive.
Change is exactly what the doctor ordered.
10. DON’T make money for the sake of money.
Of all ten mistakes, this is the one that has me most wedged into a corner.
I’ve always been that guy looking a for a “get rich quick” scheme. I’ve ordered those pennies on the dollar real estate programs from a 3:00 am infomercial; that was 15 years ago and I’ve yet to open those packages.
I don’t want to feel like a charlatan earning money and offering nothing. I want to feel like a 17 year old again where I competed in sports and ran in races because I loved doing it. I competed for free with no thought of compensation. As clichéd as, “do what you love” is, I try not to voice it flippantly. I would have a difficult time pontificating to the Chinese factory worker who assembles my smartphone to go and “do what you love”. Therefore, having the mere possibility of doing something that I’m passionate about, I consider a privilege and luxury.
DO try to add value to your pursuits.
There are many ways to make money. The how, what and why of it is what I need to answer. During a recent conversation with a friend back in Chiang Mai, we both agreed that whatever project or pursuit that we chose, we wanted to provide as much value as possible.
With my travel blog, I intend to write more frequently and provide posts and resources that can enhance one’s travel experience. I found my posts that were viewed most were the ones offering value in the form of actionable tips such as: India Survival Guide: 30 Tips To Make Your Travels Easier.
I’m sure stories of me nearly dropping my pants in front of a Cuban prostitute while wearing paper underwear and a cash packed money belt, stops being entertaining after a couple of reads. Don’t worry, I’ll still include stories of my follies and misadventures as they often provided valuable lessons and insights.
Value in whatever form, will be the North Star that I will use to navigate moving forward.
Much of this post, I framed out on my train ride from Xi’an to Xining in China. I’ve sat on it for a couple of weeks and decided to take my own advice in mistake #5 and finish this post; to not over-think it before returning to Chiang Mai.
“Always deliver more than expected.” —Larry Page, co-founder of Google.
Can you learn from my mistakes? As a digital nomad or entrepreneur, what do you do to keep productive and motivated?