One year ago I left my cushy desk job as a headhunter and grabbed a one way ticket to Thailand.
I had never been outside the US for more than seven days - the longest you can squeeze out of a vacation without getting dirty looks from your boss.
I always wondered what it would feel like to completely detach from a set schedule and deadlines set by somebody else.
Here’s what happens when you are faced with complete freedom and flexibility to work on what you want, when you want.
The Good and Bad of Quitting Your Job to Become a Digital Nomad
1. Work-Life Balance
I miss weekends where you completely shut your brain off and just relax. I’m not saying this to brag about how many hours I work. I work the same number of hours as last year.
But if you’re working for yourself, your mind never truly shuts off. You’ll have Mondays where you need a mental break, but you’ll have Saturdays where you can’t stop thinking about a project. Ideas will come to you in the middle of the night and you’ll hop out of bed to write them down. Everything merges. It’s your life, and you’re balancing it. That’s all I can say about work-life balance.
2. The Difference Between Stress and Pressure
There’s a quote by Simon Sinek that you’ve probably seen enough times on LinkedIn to hate by now, but I love it: “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion.” I don’t face stress anymore. I’m not building anyone else’s dream, I’m working for myself both as a freelancer and career advice blogger.
That doesn’t mean things are perfect now though. Stress has been replaced by pressure. Pressure is a heavier feeling that you can’t shake. You feel pressure to produce results and succeed every day. I used to sleep like a baby every night of the week and wake up refreshed for my nine-to-five. Now I wake up feeling like there’s always more to do.
I used to make a lot of excuses. You might be the same. It’s okay if you are. In past jobs if I didn’t deliver a great result, I’d think of some excuse to make myself feel better. Or if somebody at work earned more money than me, I’d have an excuse for that too. They had been there longer, or had more experience, or something like that.
If you set out as a digital nomad, prepare to face the reality: Your results are based on your effort and execution. There are 50-year-olds just scraping by, and 20-year-old millionaires. There’s no ladder to climb. You can’t succeed until you become accountable to this fact and to yourself.
4. Becoming a Habit Machine
I used to come into the office, read some emails, do some work, wait for lunch, repeat and go home. I accomplished things, but I never structured my day and prioritized as much as I could have. I changed tasks too often and I left important things for “later”.
If you want to succeed as a digital nomad, you need to become a habit machine and prioritize like it’s your second job. Working whenever it’s convenient isn’t enough. And tackling the easiest things first won’t get you the results you want.
Here are a few habits that I swear by and will use forever:
1. Writing monthly goals and then dissecting that into weekly goals, so I’m always clear on my priorities.
2. Doing the most important things first each day. No “busy work” like checking email until the important stuff is done.
3. Measuring everything possible. I was resistant to this at first, mostly out of laziness. Now I’ll never stop. If you change a headline, measure the result. If you change the price of something, measure that result. Treat everything as a test. It feels 100 times better to be testing than guessing.
4. Plan the first activity of the following morning before you go to bed each night. This helped me break the habit of checking social media and email in the morning, because I always wake up with a high priority task waiting for me.
5. A Month is REALLY Short
I remember in nine-to-five, a month felt like forever. I could start a new job, learn how the team works, how to use the systems and software, and be productive in about two weeks.
When I set out on my own, I realized a month slips by incredibly fast. This is especially true when you’re in a foreign country with tons of distractions. This makes it extra important to set goals and prioritize everything. If you’re not writing down goals each week, you’ll look at the calendar and see that two months have passed, and it’s not a good feeling.
6. Meeting People is Easier Abroad
It’s much easier to make friends while traveling than I thought. I chose to start out in Chiang Mai, Thailand, which is a big digital nomad hub. But any city known for having digital nomads will have Facebook groups, meetups and other activities. This was one of my biggest concerns before starting, and ended up being a non-factor.
As for friends back home, some will keep in touch but some won’t. That’s okay, not everyone needs to be a part of your life every single week. You’ll also appreciate the relationships you have more. You’ll realize having friends you care about is vital to happiness and success no matter where you are in the world.
Recap: Is It Worth It?
There’s no feeling like waking up when you’re ready and working on things you care about each day. To me, that’s the definition of freedom. I’ve learned more about business this past year than all four years of college. I’ve also grown more as a person and learned to overcome challenges more than any year in my life. Was it worth it? You bet.
Biron is a digital nomad, author, and founder of the blog CareerSidekick. He’s passionate about online business, technology and travel, and his writing has been featured in Business.com, Mashable and more.