2015 was a very strange year for me. I began the year in great enthusiasm. Quit a superb job late in 2014 [Read: How I Quit My Job to Travel the World NOT!], to take up an assignment in a small heritage town in South India, and I thought things would just fly on from there. Only, as has often been the defining trait of my not-so-short-anymore life, things didn’t quite pan-out as planned, and I ended the year far, far away from where I’d imagined being. The things about trying something new though is that it always brings about new lessons, and tests your mettle. So here’s a small list of digital nomad lessons I learned from my first year on the road.
Set S.M.A.R.T. Objectives and Establish a Schedule:
S.M.A.R.T. is one of those annoying acronyms right out of a B-school textbook, that I hate from the deepest depths of my bowels. I’ve never been one for schedules, discipline, objectives and goals. I’ve generally taken great pride in not knowing what I’ll be doing 2 weeks down the line. You’ve to admit that’s got its own charm; but this year has (begrudgingly) taught me how incredibly vital it is to have measure-able, track-able objectives and work towards them in an established, regular manner. We venomously hate routine, but our brains are hard-wired to function to a schedule of some sort, and no matter how hard most of us would like to rebel against the idea, the possibility of achieving optimal productivity without some sort of a schedule or calendar is virtually impossible. It may work for some, and I doff my hat to them, but it doesn’t work for me at all and that’s one thing I’m determined to fix this year.
Same goes for objectives and goals. If you don’t know what the end product is, or at least have SOME vague idea of it, how do you expect to work towards it? So Digital Nomad Lesson #1 – Set Objectives, Set a Schedule and STICK BY IT!
Identify Your Skill-set and Gauge sale-ability
I own a third-world passport. I am not going to whine about my nationality or the state of my currency because I’m obviously proud of where I come from, but take a gander at any digital nomad group on social media and you will see how weakly represented we are as a nationality in this space. The problem is two-fold:
i) as a nation (India), we ourselves are not very open to the concept of remote-work. Most of our major employers do not encourage it, and generally tend to look at it with discomfort and apprehension. This is slowly changing, but is still a long way from becoming commonplace. Naturally, the opportunities domestically are very limited.
ii) it becomes infinitely more difficult to pitch your skill-set to an overseas third-party employer on a contractual/freelance basis. Freelancers from Asia in particular have become rather notorious for offering substandard work at ridiculously low rates (seriously guys, who writes a 1000-word piece for $0.01?).
To summarise, what I mean to say is that if you aim to make it as a digital nomad, you’ve already got your work cut out; to add to that, if you come from a third-world country, like I do, then you’ve really got the odds stacked against you.
Make a list of the things you are good at (and when I mean ‘good at’ I mean ‘professionally good at’. Being able to type one complete sentence in English may not qualify). Your job doesn’t end here.
You then need to figure out if your skillset has market value — both locally and internationally. If not locally, then figure out how open people overseas are, to hiring somebody of your profile for a gig, as opposed to hiring somebody local.
Grow Your Skillset and your Market Value
I can’t emphasise enough on how important it is to keep innovating and updating your skillset as time progresses. If you are amongst the few that has a robust skillset and gets off to a good start, it’s very easy to become complacent and sit on what you have; but the best of our lot are the ones that are always vigilant, constantly networking and quick in identifying an opportunity to grow into. Some valuable resources for self-taught courses:
PITCH, PITCH, PITCH, PITCH
Once you’ve done your groundwork, your real work starts. Find prospective clients and start actively pitching to them. Where you find your work depends on your particular speciality, but there are a few good/decent portals I use mostly for ‘writing’ and ‘digital media’ gigs. Here are a few to get you started:
There are obviously plenty more portals to find freelance work, and if you have a specialised (read: rare) skillset such as say, coding for instance, you’ll find a lot of specialised portals with much better pay and intensive projects. It’s a tough grind – you’ve been warned!
Do Not Trust Lightly and Completely
You know those travel bloggers that keep talking about the ‘kindness of strangers’? Well, I’m not saying they are wrong or misleading, I’ve had my fair share of those experiences; but there’s a hidden danger in reading these stories. You start romanticizing the ‘kindness of strangers’ and you want to/end up believing that everybody’s kind, fair and honest. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. One of the biggest pitfalls of freelance work is that the income is unpredictable and high-risk. Firstly, it will take you ages to find decent clients, and even then, you’ll come across people who don’t pay on time, or don’t pay at all.
Some of the worst experiences I’ve had are working with friends, who promise you the world, and apparently do brilliant, life-changing work, but haggle and cheat and delay and negotiate for every penny they owe you for your services. The sad part about these scenarios is that you don’t only lose time and money, you also lose a friend.
There isn’t a lot you can do once you find yourself in this situation, so the best advice I can give you is ‘prevention is better than cure’. I’ve found out the hard way, it is extremely vital to protect yourself legally as a freelance or remote worker. In most cases, feel free to demand a pre-payment or set up milestone-focused payments through a third-party instrument like Escrow, which will add at least some sort of protection to your interests.
PATIENCE PATIENCE PATIENCE
I’m really sorry to piss all over several thousand parades all at once, but you have got to be both incredibly talented and incredibly fortunate to step into this realm and have everything fall into place for you right away. There’s a very long and weary road waiting ahead of you. Be prepared for 2 years of back-breaking work, with no respite, no rest, no favours, extreme austerity, countless rejections and 50 hour work-weeks becoming the norm! It may not necessarily end up being that bad for you, but I think it’s important to be mentally prepared for the worst (and then smile at how easy it looks later).
Hedge Your Bets/Always Have a Back-up Plan
I am currently in the midst of trying to figure out my way forward and what I want to do with 2016, but let me tell you I’ve already started weighing my options and doing a mental SWOT of each. The problem with being a jack-of-all-trades is that sometimes you have far too many options and you end up incredibly disoriented about what path you want to take in life. Sometimes that isn’t such a bad thing, but every once in a while it is important to sit down and review Lesson #1, and see what route is most likely to lead you to the overall goal or objective you set for yourself.
Onwards trudged the jolly nomad, all weariness forgotten with his goal in sight… Amidst waters of the Irish Sea it stood – Piel Castle, a relic of countless medieval fights! . . . . . . #travel #traveldiaries #travelingram #travelphotos #traveladdict #traveller #instatravel #instapassport #cumbria #england #lakedistrict #castle #wanderlust #wanderer #wandering #nomadiclives #nomadlife #nomad #itchyfeet #vagabond #postcardsfromtheworld #createandexplore #beautifuldestinations #worlderlust #ocean #traveldudes #travelstoke
Walking off the beaten path is no stroll in the park…well sometimes it could be, but you can’t always bank on it. Because there is no precedence, and no ‘one way to success’, unlike some of the more tried and tested ways of life, you will make a lot of mistakes, and that is OKAY, so long as you continue to learn from them and keep eliminating them. You will have moments of acute self-doubt, loathing, despair and “WHAT THE FUCK AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE”, and each of those moments are legitimate, and acceptable – it is ok to feel that way…momentarily; but then you shake it off and get right back to work.
Every time you feel sorry for yourself, remember the words of all the people that thought you were so brave to be able to do what you wanted to do; remember how each of them secretly wished they had the balls to do what you do (even if they never said that explicitly), and remember that even if you fail, it’s okay. You went out and you tried your hand at something most people go through a lifetime dreaming about. You’ve always got the rest of your life to play safe, live comfortably, and write another self-proclaimed expert piece on digital nomad lessons you learned! For now, it’s okay to take risks and want to fly! Good luck and Godspeed 🙂