Posts categorized "Expat Life"

I love coming into the office


Back in Seattle, where I spent more than 10 years in various corporate jobs, I never could have imagined how enjoyable it can be to go to work. I was depressed, tired, and uninspired. I spent my days waiting for the weekend, the next vacation, or thinking about some fantasy or future event. The pay was good, I was supposedly secure, but I simply couldn’t go on playing it safe in a normal life. I knew that I needed to risk everything by changing everything. 


8 years ago, by then already living in Slovakia for several years, I transformed my job into a business. Now, instead of having one employer and one source of income, I have many clients. Sure, it isn’t easy. I need to make difficult decisions all the time, I take on a lot of risk, and many people depend upon me to get it right. At first, running my own business was stressful. Eventually, I learned that if I always did my best and treated people right, enough money would always come.

These days, I love coming into the office. This is a sanctuary of silence where I can focus all my attention on serving companies through outbound prospecting / lead gen campaigns. Because the routine work is outsourced, I also have plenty of free time to write every day, to make music, to podcast, and even more importantly than that—to frequently spend the entire morning with my kids.

If you ever feel inspired to start a business, or to turn your job into an outsourced process or service, then do it. The early months are hard because your entire attitude toward work needs to shift. On top of that, you don’t really know what you’re doing. But, if you can stay true to a spiritual practice that aligns you away from fear and toward love, if you meditate daily, and if you have enough patience, you will get the hang of it and you will be very grateful for the life situation you have created.  


How to dream

Most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year, but underestimate what they can accomplish in a decade. 

-Tony Robbins

I would like to share an amazingly powerful and simple way you can achieve your dreams. Spend an hour or two simply writing an essay about your life 10 years from now. Describe everything about your day, from the moment you wake up until you go to bed. Describe your room, your house, the place where you work. Describe how many children you have. Allow yourself to dream by following just one rule: there are no limits. Write as though there are no financial, geographic, or any other kinds of constraints. Think only about what you want, what makes you excited, what would be fun, what would make you feel good. What would your life look like if you could be completely you?

For this exercise, there are no externally-imposed restrictions or restraints preventing you from everything you truly, madly, deeply want. Write about that. You don't have to show it to anyone (unless your partner is extremely like-minded and open-minded). Just write it, save it, and put it away. Now, go on living your life and see what happens in 10 years.

Debbie Millman talks about this on a recent Tim Ferriss Podcast. I have also experienced this in my life.

Back around 1995, when I was still in college, I had a wild, unrealistic fantasy about my life in the future. I was visiting Slovakia, where my wife was from and where her family lives. I loved spending time in Europe and dreamed of living there. I remember one moment, strolling in the city center of Kosice. I pointed at a beautiful building in the old town and said to my wife, "Someday we could live right here. The Internet will be faster, so we could move here and work at home for American companies. All we need is a fast connection and a US phone number. Nobody would even know where we are located."


Here's the spot in Kosice, Slovakia

This wild dream of living in Slovakia was now vivid. I imagined that, in my spare time, I would read in cafes. I would write books. I would play guitar. Maybe I would even start a band, record music, go on tour. All this would be possible if I could find a way to earn a good living while living in Slovakia. I also needed enough spare time, which I figured would be no problem if I could work from home. Back in the days of dial-up Internet, this dream was laughable. We went for ice cream and did not discuss this further.

10 years later, by 2005, my idea was not so crazy anymore. Broadband and VoIP technology had made it possible to do exactly as I had dreamed. That year, we moved to Kosice and took our American income with us. Remarkably, we lived in the exact building I pointed at in 1995.

In the years that followed, my life became exactly as I had imagined. I wrote books. I started a band. I recorded albums. I traveled Europe. I don't remember striving toward any of this. I did not exactly plan it, and I certainly did not force it through any kind of will-power. It was enough only to imagine it vividly and then go on with life.

Here's how it works: when you have a clear vision that excites you, then you make little decisions every day which are compatible with the vision. If you fall in love with a dream, then you avoid making life decisions which may prevent you from living the dream. Slowly, these small decisions start to reveal a realistic path. What was once distant and impossible begins to look sane and likely. It isn't so much about taking a leap; rather, taking tiny steps each day. A decade is a long time. You don't have to strain yourself. Just paint a picture of your future and go on living. But be careful what you wish for, though, because it probably will happen! 

No matter where you are in life or how old you are, just start writing. Today, I wrote about my life again, 10 years from now. Thank you Tim Ferriss and Debbie Millman for the encouragement.

All popular ideas are wrong

Popular ideas are only useful if you want only to be normal.  If you want only to live an average life, conventional wisdom is all you need.  If you want an exceptional life, you need to innovate and think differently.

Back when I graduated from Business School and went to work in the corporate world, I was young enough, foolish enough, and brainwashed enough to live according to all of the popular ideas.  I hated the 9 to 5 but thought it was inevitable.  I watched TV at night.  I had no real hobbies.  As painful and unnatural as it was for me, I tried so hard to fit-in.  I tried to believe what I was told and any deviation of thought or action only went so far as being still appropriate.  I failed on that path.

Somehow radical ideas never leave me alone.  The problem I've always had is that, when an idea makes sense, when it is true, or when it works to achieve a desired result; I would always toss out what was popular in order to embrace what was better.    

 I'm not just talking about political ideas or opinions.  I'm talking about ideas for life.  I know that it is supposed to be cool not to care about money, but I think that's foolish.  Everybody knows that life is hard when you're worried about money.  Furthermore, lack of resources is the most common obstacle that intelligent, brilliant people have in reaching their fullest potential.

I've done Sales for a living for my whole career.  I sell very expensive software solutions to large corporations.  But I don't sell in the way that everybody else sells.  Over the years, I came up with a specific process that allows me to get 10X the result of my colleagues in something like 2 hours per day.  In the early days, I even told my colleagues about it.  But they didn't do it because my approach wasn't normal.  So I just shut up about it and did it my way.  Then, during the other 6 hours of the workday, I would sit in my corporate prison and browse the web.

In 2005 I decided that I could no longer tolerate wasting my days in the cube.  I told my boss I would be working remotely and that, if he didn't agree, we could part ways.  Oh, and by "working remotely" I mean moving from Seattle to Slovakia.  My boss agreed because they needed to continue getting the results I was getting.  Huge life lesson: deliver value to people and they will pay you even as you get what you want out of the situation.

It isn't unusual to dream of traveling the world or living abroad.  To do it, most people teach languages, work in bars or restaurants, and do whatever it takes to scrape by because it is normal to believe that this is the trade-off one must make.  That's one way to do it and there's absolutely nothing wrong with it.  But there are others ways.  Other people believe that they have to first have a million dollars in the savings account before they can take such a risk (in other words, they never do it at all).  What I figured out is that all I needed was a modest amount in savings (a year's income) and, more importantly, cash-flow.  

Cash-flow is what made it possible for me to live for a month in Cannes, Barcelona, and Paris.  I've travelled to dozens of European countries, and gone back to the US at least once a year.  More importantly; rather than wasting my time in the cube and in the commute, I've spent 8 years with enough free time to chase my passions.  When I moved to Europe, I had never written a song, had never performed live...actually I wasn't a musician.  What made all of it possible was the unconventional, highly-effective approach I took to my career.

Aside from traveling, writing, and recording and performing music, I've met so many amazing people.  I get to spend each day with my wife, we own a home in Europe, and now we are proud parents of a 3-year-old daughter.

But actually there's nothing special or unique about me.  Anything you want can be done.  But you have to let go of popular ideas.  Popular ideas about health will make you sick.  Popular ideas about nutrition will make you fat.  Popular ideas about marriage will bore you to the point of divorce.  Popular ideas about art will make you boring.  Popular ideas about work will make you a miserable slave.  

Anybody can have or do whatever they want in life.  But you're not going to do it with popular ideas.  There are other ideas -- better ideas that are more effective and more true -- which I want to start to start sharing with you in an honest, open way.   Whenever I find the time, I will get very specific and post ideas that I know will help you.

Working from Home

What most people want, more than anything else, is just to be able to do what they want to do.  For most of us, this is the ultimate goal in life.  Going to work is usually the opposite of this.

Time spent at work is time that you are owned by an employer.  Your employer defines your goals and tasks, sets your schedule, and tells you how to behave.  What motivates you at work is mostly fear.  Your alarm clock rings on time because you worry about whether you will lose your job.  At the end of the day, you are afraid to leave the office and go home before your boss does.  Indeed, the primary motivator at work is not the desire to accomplish a goal; rather, it is fear of perception, fear of failure, and fear of consequence.

I have been working from home now for almost 8 years.  Being physically away from the office means that my work behavior is driven less by fear and more by a desire to efficiently achieve results.  My strategies and tactics have become more rational, more effective, and far more efficient.  What I used to do in 8-9 hours I have learned to accomplish in 3-5.  More importantly, the value I create for my employer with these 3-5 hours per day far exceeds that of my colleagues in the office.

Being in charge of your own day requires a lot of discipline.  If you are trying to lose weight or get in shape, it means being internally-motivated enough to work hard and eat well.  If you're trying to learn how to play an instrument, it means making the personal decision to work hard over the course of years.  If you are trying to become a top-performing sales rep, it means having the internal discipline to make the calls and do the presentations.  External fear (from bosses, colleagues, or from a general sense of social pressure) is not really the force that will help you become the person you dream of becoming.  Yet most of us are stuck in the employment trap because we see few alternatives.

I remember my first week, working from home, as an expat.  My life prior to that moment had been spent trying to figure out how to make my escape.  Perhaps, until that point, I had never fully taken responsibility for what would be required of me post-escape.  Until then it was enough to go to work, play the game, and then hold onto a lot of excuses for why my dreams were on hold.  Ironically, my first week of freedom also came with a huge burden.  I realized that what was to happen in my life from that point forward was now up to me.

Working from home is the first step toward designing the life that you want.  While your choice of careers becomes more limited, the options available to you in life become endless.  You can decide how much time you spend working.  You decide how to approach your work for maximum results in minimal time.  You decide how much time to spend with your loved ones.  You decide how much time to dedicate to building your skills or practicing your hobbies.  You decide whether you want to be at home or even working remotely while traveling.  You decide when you want to go to the gym or to the cafe.  Without the commute, waking up to an alarm clock becomes a distant memory.  Working from home, so much of your fear is lifted and you are able to slowly transform yourself into the person you want to be.

On the flip-side, what you give up are the relationships you once had at work.  Working from home, you will no longer have any desire to engage in the usual office gossip.  This is not how you will chose to spend your time now that you have the option.  Besides, you will no longer think in the same way as your colleagues.  It is important to be aware of this try to expand your non-work related social network. 

Becoming an expat was a great opportunity for me to begin working from home.  But even if you don't want to relocate, I would highly recommend finding a job for a company that isn't based in your town.  Better yet, start a business and forget about jobs altogether.  Either way, plan your escape carefully and make sure it is sustainable at least over the short-term.

The picture below is the technology I needed, in 2005, to make my escape.  I didn't bring much with me to Europe, but one whole suitcase was filled with gadgets: a VoIP phone plan with a US and UK phone number from Lingo, a laptop, a scanner, and a printer (purchased locally of course).  If you position yourself properly politically, most people will have no idea that anything has changed.  This is one path toward FREEDOM!