My transformation experiment: From a pencil pusher to a part-time digital nomad
It was 6 AM when the alarm clock rang. When I got up, it was still dark in Zurich. It was a cold autumn morning like any other, with one tiny difference: I had my resignation letter in my laptop bag when I went to work that day. It would be a slight understatement if I said I was a little nervous. I knew this was the start of something new in my life…I had quit several times before in my life to travel for several months, but it was always under the security blanket of my next contract firmly in my hand. This time I was jumping without a parachute. And this was exactly the reason why my heart was beating faster. There was this awareness of doing the right thing, coupled with the feeling of uncertainty.
The Dead End
Back then I was still working for a management consultancy as a digital manager. It was a dream job when I started. I loved the working environment; it was full of experts from whom one could learn a lot. By nature, I’m a big fan of positive stress, and this place gave it to me where no day was like another. Every morning I looked forward to new challenges and to work with a great team. I know it sounds almost too good to be true, there certainly where things that weren’t perfect, but in which company is there perfection? Wherever people with different values, goals, and attitudes meet, there are interpersonal challenges.
After a few years in business, I know there is no perfect permanent condition.
Teams are quickly thrown together, new departments are created, processes change, and new systems are introduced. Companies have to reinvent themselves to stay competitive, and top management is under extreme pressure to innovate. The constant change means that things can swing to your advantage or disadvantage in the blink of an eye. The latter applied to me. I realized that after a restructuring I was in a career impasse. I wanted to develop myself and expand my abilities both personally and professionally, but the “Open Sesame,” which worked in the oriental fairy tale “Ali Baba and the 40 thieves” didn’t work for me. No door opened. So I sat there in my dead end and stared at the wall. The wall radiated security and habit, but also stagnation. My new position was a step down from where I was, and I saw no growth potential. So I took the time to get inside myself. What did I actually want for myself, my life, and my career?
I did what I loved for more than nine years: helping companies with digitization. It was a rare instance where I had the privilege of turning my passion into my profession, and I knew that this was something, that I wanted to continue doing. Nevertheless, my circumstances suddenly changed and I was no longer in an environment that offered me growth and reflected my values. Increasingly, I felt more and more like Bill Murray in the film “Groundhog Day.” Don’t get me wrong, I had a wonderful time at the company, but I realized it was time for a personal change.
The Digital Nomad Cruise
A Facebook Ad spontaneously appeared on my “wall” at the right moment. A few months before my resignation, I saw this “Sponsored Post” offering a cruise for Digital Nomads from Spain to Panama: a 14-day conference on board with workshops and lectures on Blockchain, storytelling, LinkedIn sales and other exciting topics. The next day I got my holiday approved and clicked “Book Now.”
There were a few “aha!” moments for me during the conference, but two personal stories inspired me in particular. One story was that of a young Hungarian woman who all her life dreamed of traveling to Argentina to attend a tango course there. She had never traveled in her life and from a financial point of view, a long distance journey seemed almost impossible. Family and friends smiled at her dream and told her: “Maybe one day you’ll find a wealthy man to marry you and fly there with you.” But she didn’t want to wait for the prince on the white horse. Like every human being, she had her “Yes, BUT” moments: “Yes, BUT how is that supposed to work without money,” “Yes, BUT your family says it’s not realistic.” “Yes, BUT even if you can pay for the flight at some point, how do you get there,” or “Yes, BUT you don’t even know the language.”
She struggled in this state for years until one day while casually browsing a bookstore, a book on visualization fell into her hand. She took advantage of this technique and imagined how she had already achieved her dream and was in Argentina. Visualization had the positive effect of making her more proactive: she researched flights and accommodations for the very first time in her life. This was in stark contrast to before when the idea seemed so absurd to her that she just sat there passively without taking action. So she found a lot of flights, but they were still over her budget as an office assistant. A while later, her boss informed her that she had been inadvertently overcharged for taxes and that she would get the money back. The reimbursement was slightly more than the airfare. That was her open door. She saw it as a sign, quit her job and flew to Argentina. During her stay there, more and more doors opened for her professionally, and she even made it to the National Geographic with her travel pictures.
The Failed Dream
The second story was that of a young German filmmaker who fell into depression after graduating from school. He had the feeling that with the end of his school days, the seriousness of life would begin and the fun would stop. He suddenly felt like an adult. He decided to start an apprenticeship in media. During this time he met his instructor who became his role model. The over 50-year-old had a long-awaited dream to retire early and travel the world with his wife in his mobile home. The apprentice found this dream “cool” and thought to himself, “that will be the meaning of my life: work extremely hard, put money aside, and finally enjoy life and travel”. Then all of a sudden, a few months before his early retirement, his instructor died of a heart attack. This tragic event shook up the young man and made him realize that he should start enjoying life as soon as possible, because there may not be a tomorrow. So he started his own business to be able to work from everywhere and started to travel the world. Today he is a successful filmmaker and blogger and travels to the most beautiful places you can only imagine.
Moments Of Change
There are many other personal change stories of entrepreneurs, writers and even permanent employees who have begun to focus their careers on their dreams. What most of these stories have in common is the fact that some event shook people up and brought them out of their passive position. Certainly moments of change can open our eyes and give us courage for personal development.
It doesn’t always have to be a stroke of fate that shakes us up. It can also be a book, a restructuring of a company or an inspiring conversation with someone. Each of us is responsible for his own life, happiness, and career.
And it is precisely the dynamic environment in which we work today that makes it necessary for us to carry out an introspective analysis from time to time. In our daily routine, we, unfortunately, take far too little time for it or simply overhear our inner voice and continue as before.
I believe that it is incredibly beneficial to question the present state of affairs every few years regardless of whether you are an executive, manager or employee.
As a passionate surfer, I like to compare personal development with surfing. Imagine you go to a surf spot at the wrong time, you sit on the water, and the waves are not good. Of course, you can sit there in the lineup and wait until the conditions change, but you might start to freeze, get frustrated or lose interest. Instead, you can take your surfboard and just move to a different spot. Just like the young woman from Hungary, it is often the “BUTs” that hinder us, and as soon as we have the courage to take a small step, it doesn’t feel so difficult anymore.
The Opportunity In Every Crisis
After the cruise, I took the time to reflect and ask myself: “Where do you see yourself in the future?” I knew that full-time Nomadism was not for me because I needed a permanent home base to return to. But the idea of being able to work remotely for a few months of the year and live by the sea appealed to me. I’ve always dreamt of being able to surf before work every day and finish my evening on the water at sunset. At the same time, I also wanted to invest time in my own projects and develop my know-how on certain tech topics such as Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence. I was convinced that I could also help companies with my skills from anywhere. In the following weeks, my decision to resign was also strengthened by external circumstances. And these circumstances gave me the last push in the right direction.
I sincerely believe that in every crisis there is also a tremendous opportunity. It is possible to grow beyond oneself through a crisis and to transform oneself in a positive sense. The key question is whether you see yourself in the role of the helmsman holding the wheel in your hands or take a passive attitude of sacrifice?
When you hear the word “transformation,” do you think of Kafka’s book “The Metamorphosis” and the tragic story of the man who turns into an insect and dies at the end or a flying butterfly?
Conclusion After 3 Months
After my decision, I had more energy than I’ve had in a long time. Full of enthusiasm I sold a lot of my belongings and sublet my apartment. I decided to invest five months in myself, my ideas and my further education. So far after three months: I’ve spent a few weeks in Silicon Valley couchsurfing on startup couches where I got to interview and learn from founders. I traveled to Indonesia and have been in Bali for over two months, where I share a villa with young Blockchain experts and Digital Nomads. My co-working space is just 5 minutes away from the beach, where I go surfing before and after work.
I am offering my services to companies as a remote project manager, and I am learning to acquire customers. I’m also working together with a friend on a business idea for a sustainable fashion label, taking an online course on the subject of “Leadership in the Digital Age,” and learning new things every day through the exchange with other co-workers.
I blog regularly, and I’m currently writing a book and consciously forcing myself to do things that push me physically or mentally to my limits. I have often worked on my strengths in the past to develop them further, but it has become clear to me that it is precisely the weak points in which one grows the most.
Some people think I’m merely on vacation when they see my beach pictures on Facebook or Instagram. I have to disappoint them; it’s more of a transformation boot camp with my own personal development program. My body has changed due to regular exercise, healthy food and the hours I spend sleeping more, thanks to my new daily routine. I am meditating and visualizing my goals. I have more energy than ever before, I’m more productive and just bubbling with creativity. My experiment is not yet complete, but I can already see the positive effects.
I’m not encouraging everybody to quit with this blog post, but rather to take their career into their own hands and to develop themselves regularly, in whatever form. You want to lead people, but your boss is not letting you, then just start your own business and build a team. You dream of speaking at a conference but can’t get invited, then just organize your own event and become the keynote speaker. You want to work as a social media manager, but your job profile says that you are an accountant, then start your own YouTube channel. Just because the world built a wall in front of you doesn’t mean you have to stare at it. Find your own way, learn new things and live your life the way it makes you happy and satisfied. The American lawyer and author Elizabeth Edwards once put it this way:
“You cannot change the wind, but you can adjust the sails.”
You can’t change certain external influences, but you are in control of your own life. Are you ready for your personal (digital) transformation?
If you have any input or feedback about my blog post, I’ll be happy to read from you.