There’s a Southwest Airlines tagline that goes “you’re now free to move about the country.” Ever since my MBA studies in Management of Global Information Technology, I’ve dreamed of being part of a worldwide network of talented professionals. So, when I came across a recommendation by Cup of TJ to check out Toptal, I knew I had to learn more.
If you don’t know them already, Toptal is a marketplace for top talent in different expertise, but they are currently focused around three core areas of expertise – developers, designers and finance experts. That’s no surprise because these are the most portable functions in most companies.
My first taste of remote work was managing projects with AT&T for Sun Microsystems. Often, I would be out of the office at various job sites across the Bay Area, logging in whenever / wherever and jumping on the occasional team conference calls.
Later, I would work as a semi-digital nomad, when I started to do consulting in commercial real estate and buying / selling businesses. Most of the time I bounced up and down the California coast between San Francisco and Los Angeles. While this may sound glamorous, it gets old quick after you realize you spent more time on the road than in your own bed!
As Cup of TJ points out, there are pros and cons to the digital nomad lifestyle. It isn’t all unicorns and working on your laptop at beaches. Clients expect you to be available during certain times and to be professional when you show up on a Skype call.
But the bottomline, of course, is delivering results. They don’t care that you were ziplining on Monday, but you better have that prototype you promised for Tuesday ready.
Speaking of Monday, my next step with joining the Toptal design team is a Skype call with one of their team. Their screening process apparently only lets in the top 3% of applicants – wish me luck!
Recently, I launched a new website, Thriving Vets, to help veterans to live a fulfilling life. Our men and women make a lot of personal sacrifices in serving our country, so this site is dedicated to serving them.
Meanwhile, I spoke with Heather Morrow of Aspen Tango about the immigration crisis that started when President Trump signed an executive order banning immigrants from certain countries from entering this country. One unexpected repercussion was rejecting people with valid green cards. Here’s the replay for more –
On Sunday I will be chatting with Clay Nelson of Portland Tango about why dancers return to Portland year after year like some migratory birds –
Also, I’ve started to do a vlog of sorts to talk about the realities of freelancing and working my way into the digital nomad lifestyle –
Meanwhile, I’ve posted some food recipe videos and plan to write more about this.
Recently, I started to read Eddie Huang’s biography Fresh Off the Boat. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s nothing like the television story, which was watered down quite a bit for mass audiences, of course.
Some of you probably know that I’m a big fan of audio books, especially when the author is the narrator. This is no exception, as Huang tells his own story in a way that no one else can.
Even though I grew up much further north, I can definitely to the harassment and bullying that Huang faced, as well as the identity crisis. Sometimes I felt too Chinese; other times, too American. We first generation immigrants often found ourselves trying to straddle both cultural worlds.
First, my confession – I’m by no means a full-time “digital nomad.” But someone on Quora asked this question, and so I thought I’d answer here since this is longer than your typical Quoran response.
When Life Forces You to Change
Over the last year or so I was forced to switch almost completely to online work because my last car (an old beat up Toyota Corolla) finally died. Before that I would go back and forth between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area to do my main work in commercial property inspections. You can see me do a walk-thru in the video. [link]
While it seems nearly impossible to make a living with microjob sites like Fiverr and more recently http://www.konker.io/, don’t write these off. Besides connecting with other sellers, this can be an opportunity (within the site rules) to get higher paying work.
There are specific niche sites like italki – where I teach English online through Skype calls.
You can even find some work on local sites like Craigslist
People often look for specific tasks to be done or projects to be completed
There are now more and more “digital nomad” job specific sites, but most of the work for technical fields like programmers or other areas of software development. https://remoteok.io/
Like I’ve said, “your results may vary.” What works for one person in one area will probably work differently for someone else.
In general, until you get some ratings, aka “social proof,” are you willing to humble yourself and take a bit of a pay cut? If so, deliver the best work you can each time, and you’ll have no problems earning a solid reputation. Remember, often the best advertisement is a happy customer or client!
One of the favorite jokes of Uncle Ronny, aka the Great Communicator, was a joke concerning twin boys. It went something like this..
Photo: erA_Blackout via Pixabay
Worried that the boys had developed extreme personalities – one was a total pessimist, the other, a total optimist – their parents took them to a psychiatrist.”
“First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys. But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears. ‘What’s the matter?’ the psychiatrist asked, baffled. ‘Don’t you want to play with any of the toys?’ ‘Yes,’ the little boy bawled, ‘but if I did I’d only break them.’”
“Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist. Then he clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist. ‘With all this manure,’ the little boy replied, beaming, ‘there must be a pony in here somewhere!’”
Going without a car in Southern California sucks – there’s no getting around it. This isn’t New York where you can jump on the subway or grab a cab. It’s not Chicago where you can take a bus for anywhere not covered by the Loop. And it’s certainly not San Francisco where you can juggle between BART and Muni to get to just about anywhere you need.
It takes almost an hour to get to Union Station in down LA by Metrolink. Then, if you need to get anywhere significant like Hollywood or Santa Monica.. well, expect significant delay..
Yet, it’s forced me to work on my online business of content marketing – to simply sit down & write.
Now when I go somewhere, there’s still a good deal of walking. So I’ve raided the public libraries for plenty of audio books and supplementing this was Audible.com. Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks (totally worth it!! check it out and let me know what you think!)
Gratitude is about learning to dance in the rain instead of waiting for the storm to pass. It’s easy to be thankful when things are going well, it’s harder to remember to be grateful.
Some of the greatest triumphs in history have come out of our darkest hours. Ryan Holiday shares many such stories in The Obstacle is the Way.
One Zen story he shares tells of a king who places a large boulder at the entrance to their city. He watched in disappointment as one citizen after another turn away. Others openly cursed their bad luck or halfheartedly tried to go around before easily giving up.
Photo: missyliner0 via Pixabay
Sure that his kingdom was doomed to be conquered by any invaders with such softness, the king finally saw a lowly peasant struggle. Something made this one subject persist until he finally made a lever out of a large branch.
Moving the boulder, the peasant found a bag of gold and a note from the king which read:
“The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, with every obstacle comes an opportunity to improve our condition.”
When I finally got up late in the morning, it was still pretty dark with such a hint of daylight. Outside snow covered everything in the courtyard of a friend of a friend’s apartment where I stayed.
Christmas Market Berlin (photo: Asatira via Pixabay)
Having just arrived late that night, I was still a little jet lagged. So I closed my eyes for a bit. When I opened them again a few hours later, it was dark again! How long had I slept?!
I’d forgotten that Berlin was far enough north to get some of the daylight distortion that comes with the seasons. The bleakness of its winter made me imagine why these Teutonic tribes constantly sought sunnier shores to conquer.
Holiday Fun and Games
Yet it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Once I finally met up with my friends Thomas and Erin, we moved my stuff over to their cozy apartment. They were in the middle of assembling a hanging star decoration.
Lovely Holiday Stars
Later we met up with his brother and a friend to visit the holiday market at Gendarmenmarkt near Friedrichstraße. If you ever go, you can’t miss it. It’s all the best of past Christmases wrapped in a bow.
It brought back memories of ice skating at Rockefeller Center, munching on churros off State Street in Chicago, seeing the Marshall Fields window displays.
The Germans know how to celebrate the holidays. There’s nothing like warm mug of spiced Glühwein to brace against the chill, or munch on some currywurst. But, of course, there’s hot chocolate – and the German people know their chocolate!
A Taste of German Food
Now I know that like the county fair back in the States, this isn’t “real” German food any more than funnel cakes and roasted corn is American fare. But there’s still something uniquely different about their spin on celebrating the holidays.
Eventually, we made it to the countryside where we spent the new year’s eve. I sampled one of the traditional German dishes sauerbraten. Unfortunately for my vegetarian friend, it was like that bit out of Big Fat Greek Wedding. They offered him some boiled vegetables.
So when I finally cooked for my friends who hosted me, I improvised a vegetarian chicken parmesan but substituting tofu in place of the breast meat. It didn’t turn out half bad. When I get a chance, I’ll need to make a video.
A Bit of Dancing Tango in Berlin
While dancing tango in Berlin wasn’t much different than other parts of the world, you still definitely know you’re dancing there. The people there have a certain energy that is unique to them. It’s a combination of warmth and austere calm that’s all at once quick with a restrained laugh and politeness for keeping you at arm’s length until they know you better.
That’s probably one of the main reasons why I love to dance tango. Once you connect with someone on an emotional level that’s tangible as touch, there’s no going back to pretenses. The stereotype of the serious, uptight German gives way to another human being sharing a moment of play and self-expression.
So each Christmas holiday no matter where I am and what I’m doing with family and friends, there’s always a special place in my heart for that one time in Berlin.
..and you’ve got to figure that he knows what he’s talking about.
Having done the whole “it’s not just a job, it’s an adventure thing” with the Navy, I’ve had the blessing / curse of seeing the world both by choice and by circumstance.
So, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts and own experiences with Uncle Tony’s travel advice –
Right away, Mr. Bourdain starts with advice to dress for the role. Getting through airports security is key to starting off your trip on a good note. Believe me, you don’t want to struggle with what you’re wearing – having to turn over that prized wedding gift pocket knife or losing that iPod in the security shuffle.
Oh, and yes, comfortable shoes are a big part of this, because never mind the need to put them in the security bin with your other items, your feet will swell. The longer the flight, the more you will wish you had clown shoes!
No matter how much you luggage you check in – what you put in your carry-on is essential, both for access during the fight, and let’s face it.. the more you travel, the more likely the airlines will lose your luggage. If you’re lucky it’ll be for a day or so; if not so much.. well, what you have in your carry-on may be all you have until they return your luggage or you buy replacements.
As Mr. Bourdain mentions, my iPad stays with me – between the audiobooks, Kindle app, music and videos.. oh, and a few offline games (let’s face it – wifi is great but not still available everywhere) – Angry Birds anyone? And as he points out, you may not care for the in-flight selection.
I don’t necessarily read fiction set in the location I’m headed but it’s a cool idea I’m sure I’ll try. But I do like to catch up on that pile of magazines that has built up since my last trip.
While he talks about people struggling with the overhead, here’s where I’m one of those guys who will only check in luggage only when I absolutely have no other choice.
As for food in the airport, there’s only been a few exceptions over the years where I’ve seen some improvement of value and quality. Overall, I still prefer to eat local outside the airport whenever possible. Even a food court in a shopping mall is usually a better option. Mr. Bourdain says that he’ll get ramen in Tokyo and something from the airport’s hawker center in Singapore.
It’s interesting that this Travel Channel celebrity says that he won’t try to weasel upgrades with his status. You’ve got to admire that. I think a lot of folks wouldn’t hesitate in his position.
Generally speaking, I will sleep a lot on long flights, but I avoid drinking myself like Mr. Bourdain, preferring lots of club sodas with lime and an occasional ginger ale for that anti-nausea effect. No sleeping pill needed for me!
Well, as you can imagine, Mr. Bourdain looks on airplane food with disdain. Me personally? I’ve been lucky to find most stuff edible. Maybe I’m easy that way. Heck, sometimes I’ve asked for seconds and gotten it because they often have extra!
Now I have to laugh at Uncle Tony’s fascination with inflight plumbing. Maybe the memories of multi-thousand dollar wasted on air force toilets still linger in my mind, but to me as long it flushes what it’s supposed to, that’s good enough for me.
Over the years I’ve stayed on four or five-star hotels as well as the $10 backpacker hostels. So I’m not afraid to rough it but I’m no stranger to luxury nor uncomfortable to rub shoulders with the rich and not-so-famous. If anything, I tend to splurge if I’m with someone special.
Like Mr. Bourdain, I avoid the knick knacks that people love to buy and bring home. But I’ll write postcards to family and friends who love when I share my latest destination instead of souvenirs. Sometimes I’ll bring back some fun snacks that I can get through customs or a bottle of some local beverage.
Now the meat of his advice has to be how Mr. Bourdain finds the best places to eat. I’ve got some of my tricks which I’ve shared from time to time. Sure, some of it is common sense – avoid the tourist-trap places. Going to the central market is something he’s done again and again on his shows, but getting up early will be my windmill to tilt.
As I travel more, I hope to connect with more locals around the world. Mr. Bourdain offers a fun, controversial way to stir the pot and find out what they say is “the best.”
So.. how about you? What are some of your travel tips?
This is Part 2 of my Oregon camping trip. You can read Part 1 here.
“There’s a fine line between fishing and just standing on the shore like an idiot.” – Steven Wright
I was definitely treading the.. heck, let’s face it. I was running up & down that divide!
Luckily, a neighbor was generous enough to offer part of his catch – a salmon filet from the season.
By now Molly and I had gotten down some routines.. “best practices,” if you will –
Simplify by Being Organized
When you’re running around amuck in the woods, it’s important to be organized.. There’s enough stuff to try and figure each day. A lot of stuff you take for granted – like going to the bathroom becomes a chore.
So, it helps to color code stuff, if you can. Stuff like having bags for specific uses – dry goods in one / utensils in another – comes in handy, so you can find stuff & not spend time looking for that bottle opener when you’d rather be enjoying that riesling while it’s still crisp and nicely chilled.
When we talk about a “sanitized cockpit” in aviation, we’re not talking about keeping hand sanitizer in your flight bag. Just like having clipboards for air charts and pockets for gear, you will appreciate how simpler life is when you compartmentalize.
Keeping perishables in the cooler not only keeps them fresh and handy, but you can quickly know if you’re running low on any items. Separating this from the dry goods makes sure that ingredients are the way you need them when you do.
Keeping a Smooth Camping Environment
In a lot of ways campsites become small towns in themselves. Trust is key – at some point you leave stuff out. So, hopefully you feel safe about doing so with your neighbors.
What helps to build connections with others is sharing information. Sometimes you’re the “expert” but sooner or later you need others. This applies to all kinds of resources, but information is the most handy social currency.
Within your own “village” it’s important to have self-sufficiency, yet you need to work together. Camping creates an environment that’s intense. The last time I spent this much time in such close quarters was my time in the military on a ship in the middle of the West Pacific Ocean. You learn the need to balance between keeping to yourself and connecting with others.
Part of self-sufficiency is re-use – Those paper bags for groceries then become kindling for fires. Having a “waste not / want not” mentality translates to how that plastic container may become a much needed water jug. Even though there’s more recycling and minimizing waste today, we forget some of these ideas in our “civilized” world.
What You Learn to Appreciate
Boy, do we forget some of the things we take for granted!
Bathrooms less than 150’ away
Running water that didn’t require pump
Showers – HOT showers!
Why did we pay for such inconvenience? To be honest this was an affordable way to be with Molly. There was no way that I could have afforded hotels for the time we spent with our limited budget. Plus, we got to know each other in ways that nothing else.
It does take a self-sufficient, capable gal – camping is definitely not for your typical girly girl. At the same time there’s a lot of guys who’d probably have a hard time keeping up with someone like that. I think I did okay. Well, at least average – if not a little above-average? (hopefully, this isn’t the same way we all think we’re above-average drivers..)
I’m still amazed that we did it – not just in the sense of surviving.. unfortunately, Molly got a sprained ankle, but that’s not too bad considering we spent so much time “out in the wild.” Hey, we didn’t get food poisoning, or any number of typical nasty camping ills like poison ivy, ticks, or snake bites.
Our relationship deepened.. something that nothing else can really take its place.
Over the year I’ve tried a lot of productivity tools and time management plans. But probably the most useful method has to be creating a morning ritual.
First, it does what Stephen Covey calls “putting first things first” – unless you put yourself first, no one else will.
Second, it sets the tone for your day. If you start off feeling rushed or frazzled, it’s really hard for things to get better from there.
Having a ritual really also takes away the need to think. I don’t know about you, but even after 10 years in the navy, I’m still not much of a morning person. So, one less thing to think about early is less taxing on my willpower.
Studies have shown how we have a limited supply of willpower. Think of it as your life bar in some video game. Once it runs out, it’s game over.
So how we allocate our willpower throughout the day is really important. Putting the BIG rocks first will actually make it easier to get to the little rocks – not the other way around.
My own personal ritual is based on Hal Elrod’s The Miracle Morning – if you haven’t checked it out yet, it’s a great “open source hack” for your productivity. Because there’s no need for special equipment or facilities, I can do this almost anywhere – even on the road, or while traveling. More here..
What’s your daily success plan? How do you “make it happen”?
We all want to live a life of freedom and passion. Sure, how we make a living and who we spend our time with are a big part of this. But first it’s important to take care of ourselves.
Without our health, there’s not much point to all the fun and adventure of the digital nomad life. It’s hard to enjoy even a good meal if you’re struggling to simply feel good.
So, this article is a little different from what I usually write about. I’m going to share some of my personal secrets to a simple but healthy lifestyle.
Rest is Essential
For me it all starts with getting enough rest. I know, this seems too simple for many reasons. There’s so much to do as an entrepreneur. And even when we’re not working, we just wanna stay up late. But getting enough sleep is just a piece of the bigger puzzle, and that is testing how things feel.
When I was a kid, I would eat and drink pretty mindlessly. Eventually, consuming junk food and sodas turned into alcohol and even cigarettes. Now I’m not going to preach about vices. Some folks may even argue that they enjoy how recreational drugs feel. No judgment here.
Check In with Yourself
All I suggest is to start gauging how what you consume feels overall. Does it make you sluggish for most of the day? Are you walking around in a cloudy haze for hours?
Don’t just go by what I’m telling you. Tune into yourself.
I like to believe that we’re here to really feel and experience things. Sure, there are parts that suck. But the point is to have clear minds and bright eyes in my book – to really experience what life has to offer.
Finding Balance & Calm in the Middle of Chaos
Recently, I came across the idea that balance is a myth. There’s probably some truth to this. Yet it doesn’t mean that we can’t find peace in the midst of everything. Taking time to reflect or meditate is just as important as doing.
When I trained for my first (and so far only) marathon, I learned that the rest days were just as important as putting in the miles. Likewise if we don’t “empty the cup,” eventually we’ll burn out – whether it’s doing work, learning or anything we want to achieve.
In general I love to try different foods. Although there are some fall back basics like pasta or soups, part of the fun is to not only eating out and trying different restaurants but learning new recipes at home (wherever home may be at the moment).
When I went camping along the coast of Oregon a couple of years ago, all we had to do was stock up on a few essentials like bread, cheese and lunch meats then buy some ingredients for interesting meals.
Fresh basil, mozzarella and tomatoes made awesome caprese salads with some virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and ground salt. Easy peasy!
Before I even knew it, I had already subscribed to the Julia Child approach towards that four letter word “diet” of trying different foods. Later on, I discovered Mireille Guiliano who wrote French Women Don’t Get Fat. She also advocates the same philosophy – all things in moderation.
Julia Child on Diet Food
Test and Evaluate
So, that’s my overall approach to health and fitness. Try different things but constantly tune into yourself and check how they feel. I’m still learning and experimenting. More recently, I’ve been more conscious of pro-biotics after a few nasty bouts of food poisoning on set. (But that’s another story for another day..)
Please share your own ideas and tips. I’d love to learn what works for you. Let me know how this helps you, and what you’d like me to write about in more detail.
“Wow, I just made two hundred bucks!” I announced glancing at my phone.
“Really? That’s awesome!” replied Molly.
As we found our seats arms full of popcorn and drink, I read the message again. This was what I’ve dreamed of – the whole “making money while you sleep” thing or in this case while watching a summer flick.
Ironically, this was the tail end of a great three weeks camping along the Oregon coast – not the middle of some product launch.
Years ago I published my first Kindle ebook to “demonstrate my authority” and ultimately teach workshops. I saw the need for this training because when I got started, there was little to no information available.
Although I had tried all kinds of get rich quick schemes and even programs that sincerely wanted to help you make your first dollars on the internet, I just wanted to finally make some real money online.
As I finished writing my book, there was a section about mystery shopping that felt incomplete. A friend put me in contact with Pam of IMSC (Independent Mystery Shoppers Coalition – a group for mystery shoppers formed by mystery shoppers,) and that one call launched my speaking and teaching career.
Pam not only generously took the time to talk to me about her own mystery shopping experiences, but she shared her own book and invited me to speak at the next conference in Las Vegas.
There I shared my journey as a field inspector before pitching my book and training. Although I managed to sell only a few seats, it was the beginning of my teaching online. Since then, I’ve launched other books like Local Business Alchemy and courses like “Build a Business You Can Sell” (based on my experiences as a business broker / small business adviser) and even co-produced one on Instagram marketing with a friend.
I’d be lying if I said that now I have all the answers, and I’m sitting on a beach in Thailand sipping cool drinks. There’s still a lot of work ahead. At the moment I’m doing some mix of freelance work through eLance, Guru and Fiverr. Folks are starting to contact me for things like podcasts through my LinkedIn profile.