Let me explain the situation at the beginning of the year.
I was working at the best job I’d ever had: the best pay I’d had as an English teacher, a year contract for full-time work, and a job title I could be proud of: English Lecturer at a university in Tokyo.
However, what I really wanted was the freedom and hustle that comes with being an entrepreneur. In my free time, I had been working on my own thing for a few years and was finally starting to see some income, most of which from my YouTube channel and online courses posted for sale on Udemy.
My YouTube channel hit 10,000 subscribers by the end of 2014. I was surprised and excited when actual YouTube officials contacted me to provide free coaching to help me grow my channel’s audience. I committed to release 3 videos per week consistently and made some improvements to the way I managed the channel. I told my YouTube coach my goal was to have 100,000 subscribers by the end of the year — a 10x increase. He said it was improbable, but to do my best and see what would happen.
I learned I could use the nearby YouTube studio space in Tokyo! I made an appointment and was thrilled to record for the first time in a professional, stylish studio green room. It came with an amazing view of the city.
At this point the YouTube channel started growing quickly. I hired a virtual assistant to help me manage my YouTube channel and social media.
I also hired a video editor for a little while to help me get the green room videos ready for YouTube.
My channel grew, and I experimented working with sponsors for little while.
Now back to that job at that university. For a lot of reasons that I won’t get into here, the job was not a good fit for me. The good thing, I guess, is my employer agreed.
In February, near my birthday, I was invited to quit my job and informed that I had one week to leave my housing, provided to me to rent from my employer. Getting fired and evicted at the same time is a little stressful, but it turned out to be the best birthday gift that I could have received.
Imagine being called in to a boardroom by yourself (you’re a young American woman). Five Japanese and three American men sit sternly in business suits. They don’t speak immediately, just stare at you with blank, disapproving faces. They start to ask you questions, kind of like lawyers but in a 7 Samurai (the movie) kind of way. Then, as if the ambience couldn’t get any more uncomfortable, they invite you to quit your job. You smile confidently and agree, leaving them silent, stone-faced, and most definitely flabbergasted.
I had a strong sense that I did not belong there (with middle aged men in business suits enforcing rules from the employee handbook… duh). I felt completely happy as these events unfolded.
Any situation is neither good nor bad inherently; it depends on how you choose to see it.
Getting fired was an invitation to do something more awesome.
When this happened, I became very still and quiet for a few days. I asked that inner voice what to do, where to go.
My thoughts went to Vietnam, a place where I had met several other location independent online entrepreneurs while I was on vacation over the winter holidays a couple months prior.
I sold and gave away 95% of my stuff. I packed a suitcase. I had no idea what would come, but I knew this was the change I was waiting for; the change I had been too scared to make on my own.
In March, my first month “homeless,” I hustled hard and released my first course hosted on my website. That launch earned me three times what I had been making in regular monthly salary at the university. I wondered why I hadn’t quit earlier.
What society, family, and peers told me I “should” do weighed so heavily on me that I could not hear my own inner voice before I was forced to listen.
Don’t believe other people’s stories about what you can and can not do.
During June and July I learned all about the mysterious world of travel hacking. Taught by a travel partner, I learned a lot about the business of traveling with points and miles.
Crossing several items off my bucket list (and then some), we hitchhiked in Japan, went scuba diving in Indonesia, drove around the island country of New Caledonia, swam in natural hot springs in New Zealand, island hopped in Fiji, and swam with friendly stingrays in Tahiti, French Polynesia. Along the way, I met so many amazing people.
When you travel, you usually have a finite amount of time to spend in a place. You get excited planning new adventures between the arrival and departure times stated on your ticket. The reality is that life is like a ticket, but we have only received the first leg. What you do with the journey from now until departure is up to you.
During this time I continued to work. I learned how to plan ahead and batch my work, how to shift gears to more offline work when we were in places with slow internet, and how to get work done and still enjoy traveling. I knew that because of some of the remote places we were traveling, and the frequency of moving around, that travel would really be the focus of these months. I accepted that my income would nose dive and that I would probably have to work extra hard to get things back on track in August. However, my income went down during this time, but the passive income I had built up made it entirely possible to generate enough money to live off of while only working a few hours a week. Essentially, I was living the dream: the 4-hour work week while traveling the South Pacific.
It was an unforgettable summer.
But, I wasn’t content with living off of points and miles. I still wanted to build my business and make it stronger.
I continued to travel, spending more time in each place. While I was on the road, I launched two more courses.
How I Work on the Road
I am still figuring out how to best balance travel and work. One misconception about location-independent entrepreneurs, or digital nomads, is that we are on a constant vacation. While that may be what Instagram would have you think, there is actually a ton of work behind the scenes that doesn’t show up on social media.
The good part though is you can work from anywhere. I’ve created a schedule for my work days. Ideally, I get things done in the morning, then use the afternoons to explore. With a lot of different elements, schedules, and deadlines at play, it doesn’t always work out this way. Flexibility is key.
In lieu of the stability of a home, I’ve developed habits that give me stability. Since I don’t have a set work schedule either, a routine is really important to me. For example, I try to wake up at the same early time everyday — ideally 6am. I work out most days. I start my day with water and coffee. I have weekly rituals, too. I fast on Tuesdays. I only do meetings (online) on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I am working on more meditation and journaling.
I’ve started to see the people in my life as a way to give myself stability. I make an effort to stay connected with great friends no matter where we are. And sometimes, since we have the flexibility, we meet up in special corners of the world together.
Dealing with the highs and lows of this year has taught me not to sweat the small stuff. It has taught me to keep creating consistently, and that the process of creation and following my intuition will draw amazing opportunities into my life.
Day to day, working from my laptop, it doesn’t feel like much changes. But all those hours and days add up and create big changes over time.
I’m living a unique, purposeful lifestyle by choice. I often feel as though I’m swimming upstream — against having a “normal” job, against “settling down” in the traditional sense, against having a tv, car or a fixed address, against a lot of things. I’ve learned that it’s vital to surround myself with a community of like-minded people who are 100% supportive of each other, and not listen to any of the other noise in the background.
To wrap up the year, a few more interesting things happened to me.
My YouTube channel hit 115,000 subscribers — 15k over my ambitious goal set at the beginning of the year.
I registered my business legally as an LLC. I hired 3 Teachers and a Communications Manager for email and social media. I also hire other professionals as needed.
On December 4, I closed a special joint venture sale for which we pledged to give 10% of profits to charity — When I clicked on “donate $4,250” it felt surreal. We donated to Pencils of Promise, an organization that supports education in developing countries, e.g. Ghana.
On December 5, I was honored to give a TEDx talk where I talked a bit about my journey to have the life I really want and how you can too.
A lot of this year has felt like it couldn’t possibly be me. I’ve noticed a lot of serendipity, a lot of coincidences. I’ve felt plans and deals falling together effortlessly. I’m grateful for everything.
When you follow your inner voice, it brings you to coincidences.
After a year of many firsts for me, both in business and in my personal life, I’m excited to keep growing myself and my community.
This journey has taught me the importance of taking big leaps and listening to my inner voice, and I hope that it inspires you to listen and take more risks for yourself, too. Most importantly, don’t listen to what you should do. Instead listen to your true inner voice – the one that knows what you MUST do.
You’re on a journey. You can choose how you spend your time. You can take small, measured steps that lead you down the runway to your big dreams. Better yet, you can book a ticket and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime. When you take big, bold moves (planned or not), you get big results. Do not fear where you have not been, or what have not planned. When the unexpected happens, it’s often better than what we could imagine.