A 28 year old millennial fed up with today’s tradition of work.
Every hour, I’d peek at my phone.
Bad work habits — I know.
But I couldn’t help but check my Facebook and Instagram to see what my friends and people I admire were up to. Scuba diving in a beautiful blue ocean, flying on a private jet, splurging on nice clothes, chowing down on weird and bizarre foods, exploring the hidden alleys of the world…
Damn, that’s SO awesome! I’d say in my head.
But seconds later, my head would droop down in misery as the faint image of my tiny office and exhausted colleagues shook my senses awake.
“Man, why am I stuck here?”
I work in Silicon Valley at a tech startup — one that never took any fundings from investors nor accepted extra hires. In other words, each one of us on the team had to figure out how to utilize every resource, brain cell, and opportunity to build our product.
- Renting an office for $1400 vs paying over $12,000/month for 200 sq ft of office space
- Using Medium to bring traffic to our site vs paying for Facebook ads
- Guest posting on reputable sites (like Huffington Post, Inbound.org, ProBlogger, Social Media Examiner, LifeHack, ProBlogger) instead of writing solely on our blog for exposure
- Cooperating with one of our wonderful users to promote her Big Idea with our product (short details here!)
It’s tough, you know — thinking of ways to grow a business that aren’t already written in books or addressed on the internet. Especially when we need to consider our shoddy wallets. Nonetheless, it’s a good habit for business because as Jason Fried puts it,
“You’re better off as an entrepreneur if you have more practice making money than spending money.”
When you learn how to be resourceful from the beginning, you become more inventive with your ideas. You feel more bold trying new tactics. Things that sounded impossible, you got it done. It’s only a matter of time before you start realizing how much you can do with so little.
Maybe that’s why my startup is doing better than the 25% startups that fail their 1st year. And maybe that’s why I’m still busting my a** to get my startup off the ground, where Slack, Medium, and OpenDoor are.
Because the way I see it, how much I do reflects how fast my startup grows.
Of course, there’s a price to pay for being resourceful, at the extreme — that is mental exhaustion.
My mind had already gone through 30+ burnouts (5 pretty severe) within the last two years. And not too long ago, I started losing myself and getting ill with a new kind of loneliness. All because I was always at the office. Working. 10am to 12am.
I knew I wasn’t happy. And I knew at some point, the sweet, emotionally-stable side of me would suddenly snap and start throwing s*** across the room, while cursing everyone for making my life a living hell.
But I didn’t want that to happen. Because then I’d lose everything I’d built for myself and everyone’s future.
So without hesitation, I booked a ticket to Southeast Asia — where I could set my work schedule and choose my own “office.”
In 4 months…
I’d set foot in 3 different countries: Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Each of them, my very first time.
It felt pretty scary, at first, venturing out on my own without knowing a single soul there or understanding the language. But I soon realized how quickly I started to pick up on things like culture, the metro, street sense, the value of the dollar. Most importantly, myself.
Now I understand why so many people pack their bags to work overseas than to stay at the office. Because…
1. It forces me to think on my feet
…not just at work but on the streets too.
My blood comes from Southeast Asia, but I never acquired the street sense most people seemed to have there. Which meant I had to be extra careful about where I went, what I do, and what I say.
For instance, I always look behind my shoulders to see if anyone’s stalking me or if someone gets too close to my backpack.
If I don’t, I get pickpocketed.
If a seller negotiates a new amount, I crunch numbers on the fly.
If I don’t, I get ripped off.
If I have to choose between two routes to get to my destination, a 2-minute walk through a secluded alley or an 8-min walk around a bustling street, I’d choose the bustling street.
If I don’t, who knows? I might get kidnapped, raped, or worst, stabbed to death.
And the thing is, no one can help me if something bad happens. Because 80% of the people won’t understand a word I’m saying (except Malaysia; people speak more English there).
So it’s up to me to think on my feet and not get screwed by life’s peccancies.
2. It cranks up my creativity
Whenever I work at the office and grind (on writing) for 1–3 hours, my mind turns to mush. The next thing I know, I’m littering a good piece with common clichés, dull examples, and a flat, robotic voice.
All at the speed of 1 sentence/5 mins.
*sigh — yes I know, it’s mortifying*
But if I take a 10-minute breather to walk outside, make myself a peanut butter sandwich, or just listen to my friend talk about his/her day, my creativity gets refilled to the max — at 100%.
Working remotely works the same way, but better.
You meet new faces. You smell new scents. You hear foreign sounds. You taste unfamiliar food. You…get lost.
Anything new excites your brain to speculate. And it’s this kind of excitement that churns out those brilliant ideas you wouldn’t get at the office.
But how would I know if my creativity has gone up overseas?
As a writer, I measure creativity by read ratio.
The higher the read ratio, the higher the full-page reads. It’s one of the stats Medium tracks for your post. And actually one you should keep track of because it directly reflects how much people enjoy reading your stuff.
Normally, I’d get a 28% read ratio. But overseas, I’d gotten over 40% (which is really good on Medium, considering the total views I got for each post).
Bottom line: You crank out more creativity and perform better when you immerse yourself in a new environment.
3. It saves me $$$
Southeast Asia is truly the life for a king, because everything is so goddamn cheap. Let me show you.
Meals cost $1–2.
Drinks are less than $1.
A studio or one bedroom condo ranges from $200-$350/month.
Your own ride for $60/month.
A flight ticket to a neighboring country, $8–80.
Stylish jeans for $16.
Ahh, the luxury.
It makes me feel like a struggling peasant living in Silicon Valley, because everyday I worry if I have enough in my pocket to cover these expenses:
- $10 meals
- $4 coffee/tea
- $800/month for rent
- $120/month for gas
- $100 just because I need to have some fun.
By working remotely in Southeast Asia (notably in Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam), I saved $1160/month.
4. It gives me unforgettable stories to share
Even though I spent over $4500 on my Southeast Asia trip, I felt every dollar, every penny, was well spent. Not just on the things I mentioned above, but from the things I’d learned along the way.
Greeting people in their native language. Going towards the wrong destination 8 times on the metro. Calculating the US cost of something in a split-second. Speeding to 100km (~62 mph) on a moped. Partaking in the mourning of Thailand King’s death. Discovering my newfound love for cheese tarts.
All of these are nice bite-sized stories I can never experience at home. That I probably wouldn’t have if I settled down. So I’m very grateful that I took myself away from the office to see how the other side of the world moves with their day.
It makes paying a few thousand bucks feel like nothing. Especially when it’s for experiences that spice up your stale life, break your fears, teach you to get unstuck from problems, and free your mind from clutter.
My last thoughts about work
After working in Southeast Asia for 4 months, I don’t think I could picture myself working at an office again (and stay sane).
There’s just so much more potential we could dish out for our business…if only we’re given the chance to work freely. Without distractions. Without the drama. Without someone peeking over your shoulder.
Offices shouldn’t feel like confinement, but sadly many of them do. Only a few businesses I know of actually care about making the office more enjoyable and dynamic for their team:
These guys know their employees are the blood of their business. If anything stops their flow, you get a clot. And what this clot can do is damage the entire body, the entire organization. That’s why these businesses do everything in their power to make their employees happy. After all, happy employees bring out better work performance (i.e. bigger profits, more accomplishments).
Hopefully, more businesses will embed this concept into the design of their office. But that probably won’t happen anytime soon.
So in the meantime, if you’re feeling the same way as me (fed up at the office), how about trying the digital nomad lifestyle for a few weeks? It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that’ll completely refreshen your mind so you can work your best.
And I promise you won’t ever feel bored, because there’s always something fascinating going on.
You just have to be there to see it. 🙂
✈️ FREE TRAVEL PERKS ✈️
🛬 Cheap Flights — This is seriously the cheapest site I found for international AND domestic flights. Dig all you want, I swear you won’t find a better deal.
🏠 Airbnb — Free $40 credit to book a nice Airbnb home for your trip. (Only for 1st time users)
🚗 Uber — Get a free ride, $15 worth. (Only for 1st time users)