When you tell people you are going to Hawaii, immediately people think: vacation. Even if you are from Hawaii and now live elsewhere- when you return, people think you are on a break, enjoying your vacation. This trip was not a vacation (though we tried to have some fun – surfing, hiking, eating, etc…). What this trip was really about was family.
It’s not easy to describe what we’re doing with our lives right now. It’s unconventional. We’re “Digital Nomads,” which is a thing, although most people have never heard of it.
We actually have thousands of examples of other travelers, entrepreneurs, and creative-types who are making a living while being mobile. The more we read their stories and understand that our highly-connected world is shifting in favor of this lifestyle, the more we think that our nomadic journey may last longer than we thought.
Since our return from Peace Corps, we’ve been piecing together an income and trying to keep our costs low (even while traveling). So far, we’ve succeeded in not touching our savings and spending less than we budgeted, all without enduring a commute or sitting through a 9-to-5. That’s not bad, I think.
We’ve got a long way to come, though. Although we’ve prioritized travel and flexibility, we don’t want it to come at the cost of community, meaning, and purpose. We are both big-picture people and we like to be working toward something. We don’t want to just float through life without purpose. We like to do work that makes a difference- which we are, in small ways (like managing social media for a non-profit in Jamaica and revamping a website for another non-profit in DC). But I think we’re both longing to make a bigger impact somewhere, to find a little more focus.
The other day we went to a book signing for The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose To Your Life; and the author, Chris Guillebeau, fielded a question which was essentially about how someone can determine for themself what quest or purpose they should pursue. He wisely reminded us that life comes in seasons, and sometimes the season doesn’t have a focus. Sometimes the season is just about exploring and trying different things.
We are definitely in the season of exploration. We are trying out this new Digital Nomad life. We are taking up offers to help out on farms or in backyards, we are testing our skills at travel blogging, learning what it’s like to cook in a restaurant, connecting with movers and shakers, training ourselves in new skills, reading, researching, and seeing the world.
We honestly have no idea where all this will lead. Actually, scratch that. We have too many ideas of where it will lead. Running a non-profit. Writing books. Owning a farm. Coordinating meaningful travel experiences. Hosting B&B guests. Travel blogging. Making documentaries. Managing social media accounts. Working with refugees. Working with college students. Teaching in other countries. Hosting service-learning trips. Teaching at Universities. The list goes on…
We would love to settle upon one or two ideas and move into our season of focus. We can only trust that that day will come and keep moving forward. We have to practice embracing the uncertainty.
It’s not always easy in the moment. We doubt ourselves. We get anxious. But we have to remind ourselves that every season has its own value. We try to stay committed to intentionally choosing our own path. Not blindly following the conventional prescription for work. Not settling for less.
If you can relate to this stage of life, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below. What is your experience with uncertainty or not fitting into cookie-cutter roles?
Recently the hardest question to answer these days is: “What do you do for work?”
When people ask us this question I think they are trying to understand two fundamental things:
1. How are you supporting yourself financially to do the things you love (ie. travel) and
2. What exactly do you do?
Explaining to people where we currently live seems simpler to answer (in case you are wondering: it’s with family in Oregon when we are not house-sitting or traveling). Still complicated, but simpler.
Living this unconventional,”digital nomad” lifestyle is difficult to explain. It’s based on core values and principles of wanting to live a life that is simple, intentional, relationship-based, and flexible (regarding time). Whenever we are faced with any decisions about what we want to do with our lives, we use these principles to guide us.
Whereas someone with a more conventional life could say, “I live in __” and “I do ___ for a living” and that might not change for awhile, our lives are lived in a much faster, more fluid pace (which has it’s benefits and challenges). I just spoke to a good friend recently (whom we served with in the Peace Corps) and she told me, “Jedd, I couldn’t do what you guys are doing. I need to be in one place for awhile.” I get it.
Currently our unconventional lifestyle is a better fit for us in regards to where we are and what we want in life. Somedays we do think about having a more “settled” life. But for now, the benefits of travel, discovery, and experience outweigh security and predictability. However, we also realize that earning an income is a necessary part of life. Thanks to technology, the sharing economy, the support of family and friends, we are able to do a couple of things that help support us financially. How do we do it?
It can be broken down into two simple concepts: Expenses and Income.
Ideally you want fewer expenses and more income, and not the other way around (a concept I learned late in life, thanks to Michelle and maturity).
We were hanging out with some friends recently (a couple) where one of them said, “I saved a lot of money from this 50% off sale.” Their significant other looked at them and said, “That’s not saving. That’s spending.”
I laughed at this conversation because I would have been the one thinking that I had saved a lot of money. Michelle has the other perspective where money spent is not money saved.
The truth is that life does have a cost, whether we like it or not. There will always be expenses. But one of the best practices I have learned is how to lower and cut out unnecessary expenses. This is important because the more expenses you have, the more income you need to make. When expenses start piling up, it creates a lot of stress and pressure. More importantly, it takes away flexibility and freedom. You may not be able to leave a job that you don’t like. You might not be able to travel as often as you’d like. And what I found was that I was spending more time at work than I was with Michelle.
Here are some of the ways (and I’m sure there are more things we can do) that have lowered or cut out our expenses:
Sold Our Car
Use public transportation, borrow, rent
No gas, insurance payments, repairs, etc.
Not having one when you really need it?
Living from a suitcase, simplicity
No lease, housing payments, utility bills. Ability to travel and live in different places (rent free)
Constantly on the road, nothing to call your own, always looking for the next opportunity.
Using miles instead of cash to travel.
Takes work to keep track of. Must be responsible with credit cards.
Finding mutually beneficial arrangements.
Work for room and board. Additional benefits of networking, spending time with friends, knowledge and experience in different trades or skills, exploring new places for cheap.
Experience depends on your host and if it’s a good fit for both parties.
Family Phone Plans
Cheaper than individual plans.
Must remember to write a check to the person in charge of the bill.
Life without excess stuff.
No furniture to purchase or upkeep, less to manage when moving from place to place, easy to find things because there’s less to look through, etc.
Shopping at thrift stores
Huge savings on things like clothes.
Takes more effort and time to find the things you want or need.
Dining Out Less
Cook on our own.
Huge savings on food. Much more fun and rewarding.
Takes effort, planning, and time to cook.
Remember, it would be nice to eliminate all expenses, but we also know that it’s difficult. It’s also important to note that lowering or cutting out expenses does not mean cutting out value or quality. Eliminating unnecessary costs and expenses should be liberating and not a hinderance. It’s also important for everyone to find the right balance for their own lives. Owning a home or a car isn’t a bad thing. Please let us know if you have additional suggestions on how we can lower or cut more of our expenses.
Before we left the Peace Corps, Michelle and I did some forecasting regarding our first year back. What did we want to do in that first year? Did we want to travel? Where? How long? Then came the big question, how much would it cost? Additionally, when we weren’t traveling, how much would things cost regarding our monthly expenses? Food? Student loan payments? Phone and internet? We came up with some rough estimates and determined what we would need to make in that year between the two of us to live the lives we wanted. If we didn’t earn enough income, we’d have to tap into savings. Anything extra (the dream) would go into savings and retirement. This is how we determine whether or not the life we want to live is sustainable or not. We are trying it out until the system fails. If we feel that we are not earning enough income to meet our expenses with our unconventional living, then we’ll start to consider more conventional means.
It’s important to note that because we are already trying to live simply with minimal expenses, our income goal is a lot lower than most people. It’s what we think is doable and comfortable for us. This is not the same for everyone. As of right now, here is how we earn income:
J&M Consulting Michelle and I started a business as soon as we got back from the Peace Corps. We serve small businesses by providing a wide range of online services that include but are not limited to: social media management, contracting online services, website development, brand and identity development, customer service/client management services, and website management. The key aspect of all of these services is that we can do them from anywhere in the world that has acceptable internet. Currently we have 6 clients from the west coast to the east coast. As a startup, we are still focusing our services and which clients we can serve best, but it’s been going well so far. This is our business website: J&M Consulting
Odd Jobs Every now and then people ask us to help them with some sort of project- farming, yard work, housesitting, computer trouble-shooting, etc.. Most of the time we do these things without any expectation of payment but sometimes people do give us something in exchange.
Just like the expenses section, we of course would be more than happy for any suggestions regarding ways we can increase our income (without compromising our values and principles).
Hope this gives you a better sense of what it is that we are doing for the time being and how we try to live the life that we want. As always, we’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to leave any thoughts, comments, or suggestions below.
Ever since watching Forks Over Knives (which Jedd blogged about here) I found a great blog by the “Healthy Librarian” called Happy Healthy Long Life. She’s another great resource for “simply intentional” because she reviews and writes about medical research behind lifestyle choices, like eating vegan. Super informative! Anyway, I really enjoyed one of her non-food-related posts recently, which was based on the Cornell Legacy Project. The Legacy Project is based on collecting practical advice for living from America’s elders. As I am still honing my New Year’s resolutions now that we’re a week into the New Year, reviewing advice from wise folks seemed like a good idea. Here is the Legacy Project video, and below are some of my favorite tips:
Lessons for a Happy Marriage
1.Marry someone a lot like you. Similarity in core values is the key to a happy marriage. And forget about changing someone after marriage. (My own side note: They don’t have to share your personality though!) Continue reading “Lessons for Living”→
Here’s our official New Year’s update video, looking back on 2011. Although we expected to be heading out to Peace Corps in July, we found out in late spring that our placement changed and we were put on hold until the news of our new assignment arrived in August. Despite this “set-back,” we went ahead with our plans to resign from our full-time positions, travel the country, and visit family and friends. We never dreamed of all the places that our waiting period would take us; and even though the Peace Corps journey is postponed until March 2012, our adventures have already begun!
You must be the change you want to see in the world. -Mahatma Gandhi
This quote bugs me. The feeling can only be equated to the way I hate how much I like Coldplay music. It’s too simple, too cliche, overplayed, overused, and yet, still undeniably good. And now that it’s too late to hide my cheesy taste in music and quotes, this specific quote from Gandhi has taken on new meaning for me recently (even though I have known this quote for many years).
I like to think of myself as an “idea guy,” a “dreamer”. I can’t stop thinking about the endless creative possibilities that can exist. Add my big mouth, my impatient, impulsive behavior and you have yourself an immature “kid”. You have a person constantly needing reminders that life isn’t about him (even though I think I have good intentions).
Work has been very stressful recently. I work for a public institution that, like many others, are overwhelmed, overworked, underpaid, understaffed, and always criticized. And while I know we can do better, I am proud of the people that I work alongside and blessed to work with the people we serve. But knowing we can do better gets at me. I want to exhaust every option before I accept “No”, “We just can’t”. I want to know why. While most of the times I keep the “kid” in check, there have been rare occasions where I lose control. At work the “kid” comes in the form of unwanted ideas and suggestions. My co-worker (and good friend) pointed out that at times, even though I want to help, even though I may be right, some of my suggestions are unwanted. I want to change things around me. I sometimes want to change others. Shouldn’t I be focusing on my own life? It hit me hard. Do I make suggestions and provide ideas on how to help my own life? Do I like when others do this to me? Do I have my ish all figured out?
And the more I thought about this, the more the hits kept coming.
I realized that I’ve done this too my best friend. I’ll tell him what I like or don’t like about his music before being asked. I’ve done this to my brothers. I’ll tell them what I think they can do to start their businesses, to be more healthy, to improve on their lives. I do this with Michelle (we do this to each other). I’ve probably done this with some of you (sorry). I try to fix, to solve, to suggest, try to make the world a better place, but really, instead of focusing so much attention outward, I only need to look inward to see the things that need fixing.
A couple of years ago, Michelle and I went to hear Shaine Claiborne (Author of one of our favorite books – Irresistible Revolution) and his friend talk about living in community. A random guy asked them during Q&A about what he and his wife could do to serve an impoverished community that they just moved into. The response from Shaine’s friend surprised me: “Work on your marriage,” he said. “Have a really good marriage and you will see how your marriage serves the people in your community,” he added. Start inward, work outward. Want a better marriage or relationship with others? Start inward. Work on yourself.
It’s only when I truly embrace this concept of “Be the Change” does the “kid” get humbled to see how messed up his own life is, how much he still can learn. It’s only through this kind of humility that we can truly be in relationship with others. Otherwise we are just bullies, people who act fake or think they have their ish together. If people want your advice, they’ll ask for it. If they don’t want your advice, giving it to them won’t change their mind any way.
It reminds me of folks’ online comments after every news article (go to any news site and after every article read the ridiculousness). It’s easy to hide behind an anonymous name and bash on others or put out suggestions thinking that you know what’s right for everyone. If most of these people (myself included) just focused on the stuff we need to work out in our lives, the world would probably be a better place. No one knows yourself better than you. No one can make changes for your life better than you.
“You must be the change you want to see in the world” are probably more appropriate lyrics than Coldplays’ “I will try….to fix you” (Which of course is still one of my favorite songs).
“We must take time to dress for our jobs, commute to our jobs, think about our jobs at work and at home, ‘decompress’ from our jobs. We must spend our evenings and weekends in mindless ‘escape entertainment’ in order to ‘recreate’ from our jobs.”
“How many people have you seen who are more alive at the end of the work day than they were at the beginning?”
“For most human history people only worked for two or three hours per day.”
“We’ve begun to lose the fabric of family, culture, and community that gave meaning to life outside the workplace. … Because life outside the workplace has lost vitality and meaning, work has ceased being a means to an end [financial support] and become an end in itself. … Our jobs now serve the function that traditionally belonged to religion: they are the place where we seek answers to the perennial questions: ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Why am I here?’ and ‘What’s it all for?'”
“Having the financial independence to walk away rarely triggers people to do just that. The reality is, making money is such hard work that it changes you. It takes twice as long as anyone plans for. It requires more sacrifices than anyone expects. You become so emotionally invested in that world- and psychologically adapted to it- that you don’t really want to ditch it.”
There is this paradox between not letting your job be the center of your life and finding a job that you “come alive” doing. With the amount of time we spend at our jobs (see first quote), it seems we should find something we truly enjoy doing. But at the same time, our jobs aren’t necessarily supposed to be the one source of our satisfaction, nor the source of our identity- they’re a means for us to enjoy the rest of our life (assuming we have time and energy left to enjoy it). I found a lot of “food for thought” in this chapter, and I welcome your comments and reflections.