Category Archives: The New You

How to pay off $20,000 in debt AND save $80,000 by working in Korea

Save AND eat awesome Korean snacks... it's a good life
Quality of life, delectable snacks AND savings… Julie lives a good life in Korea…

Do your finances worry you?  Do you feel trapped?  Like you have to put up with a horrible lifestyle because you can’t afford to leave a job?  Do you not even have a job?

Meet my friend Julie Tillotson.  She recently told me the story of how she and her husband, Ben, pulled off what many in the United States and elsewhere consider financially impossible by thinking and acting internationally.  Her story should inspire us all to realize that there are always better options out there if we are willing to be adventurous.

Below are my interview questions and her answers:

 1) What was it that triggered your decision to move to South Korea?

Financial insecurity and restlessness.  Having repatriated to the US after completing university and getting married in the UK, Ben and I were searching for jobs and living with my parents (Thanks Mom and Dad!).  After filling out 60+ job applications, we only managed to get part-time temp jobs with zero benefits.  Wanting to be self-sufficient and passionately wanting to travel, EFL (English as a foreign language) jobs in Korea offered that and more: free plane tickets, free housing, medical insurance, pension and full time work experience.

2) How much do you make per year?

My salary has been between 20,000-35,000USD* per year depending on the job and exchange rates.

*These figures do not include housing, pension or other benefits that vary from job to job.

3) How much is it possible to save per month?

Between 800-1000USD on a reasonable starting salary, more if you are super motivated.

4) Please elaborate on the school and other debt that you were able to pay off as well as the money you were able to save.

Unfortunately, I had a credit card run up to 20,000USD from school bills and emergency use while unemployed. It took 11 months for us to pay it off by each contributing 800-1000USD per month.  Over the next 3 years we saved a total of 80,000USD.  We used the money to do MA degrees in the UK without needing student loans.

Julie and Ben
Julie and Ben

5) What is your advice to people that are considering going to Asia to find work and financial stability?

A. Research! Customs, culture, and work environment are always more different than most expect. Familiar concepts such as contracts, employee/employer relationships, and set work responsibilities can be shockingly different to the unprepared.

B. Documents first!  It’s up to you and only you to have your work visa documents in order.  With criminal background checks it can be a waiting game, so don’t delay!

C. Quality photography!  It’s standard procedure to include a photo for job applications in Asia.  Professional appearance is highly valued in Asia.

6) What are the main risks in making a move similar to yours?

Stress and illness.  An international move, unfamiliar job, culture shock and contact with new bacteria and virus’ is a recipe for catching colds and flu.

7) How long do you plan on staying in Korea? Why?

Two to five years.  My job, friends and a comfortable lifestyle keep me here for now.  However, the declining birthrate in Korea will hit universities with all-time low student enrollment within 5 years, so university jobs will likely become more competitive.

8) If you were trying to sell someone on doing what you have done in Korea, what would you say?

As far as money goes, imagine what you can accomplish without paying for rent, car payment or gas. Korea has a growing economy where English teachers are in demand. Seoul is safe, has great public transportation, and there is always something fun to see or do in spare time.

With dining like this, who needs persuasion?
With dining like this, who needs persuasion?

9) What do you dislike most about living abroad?

Long gaps in seeing family and long-time friends.

10) What are your top relocation tips?

Don’t make assumptions about your host culture, take time to wrap your brain around things that initially seem strange to you.

Do make additional friends outside your workplace through volunteering, church, sports and clubs.

Do learn about local fresh produce and ingredients and create beautiful healthy meals at home.

Julie Tillotson is an American who has been living in Seoul, South Korea with her husband, Ben for the past 9 years.  She currently works at Seokyeong University in the General Education program and loves exploring the city in her free time.

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Why “Follow Your Passion” Can be Bad Advice

Following "your passion" could just mean getting fat unless you have a plan...
Following “your passion” could just mean getting fat in the case of these Argentine alfajores…

Do you like your life?  Are you where you want to be right now?  Are you living where you want to live?  Is your job a good match for your interests?  Are you fulfilled?

In the Fall of 2012 my answers to most if not all of the above questions were “no”.  Then my wife Jammie and I made some drastic changes (we quit our jobs, traveled the world for a year and found new jobs that we liked better.) I can honestly say that my “no” answers have now switched to “yes”.

Some would say that the reason I can now say that is that I “followed my passion”.  I don’t agree.  “Follow your passion” can be horrible advice if it is used as an excuse to avoid hard work or the inevitable pain of growth in an area (even an area that you love).

At the recommendation of my uncle I just read a book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You – Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work Love.  The author, Cal Newport, argues full-force against what he sees as a “follow your passion” epidemic where people obsess about pursing work and a life they are passionate about.  Calport says people spend their lives hopping around and feeling unfulfilled because they never quite find their passion and they never invest in any job enough to gain the satisfaction of mastery.  I think he makes a good point.

Although I definitely believe that you should lead a happy, meaningful life, I want to add some major caveats to the “follow your passion” conventional advice:

Do some careful planning – I get nervous when people hear our story and use it as a justification to think they should quit their job on the spot, throw caution to the wind and pursue what they supposedly love.  I admire courage and going for what you really want but there are good and bad ways to pursue passion.  Thinking that you can get by on passion alone is crazy.  You need a plan.  Jammie and I planned financially for our move for several years.  As in we put aside money and laid the groundwork for more revenue streams.  We also made sure that we had job opportunities that we could take when the time came for a longer term (1-2 years) relocation.

There’s nothing wrong with doing things just for the money - Unless it is unethical or your work makes your miserable, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being practical and doing things just for the money.  My dad gave me excellent advice when I was about to head out to college and thinking about how to create an income stream for pocket money: “Just get a job.  Nobody cares what job you have in college, just get something so you have spending money.”

So I sucked it up and took unglamorous jobs at the university cafeteria (one was particularly horrible and involved walking around in a huge freezer at 6:00 AM).  It worked and I was able to finance what I really enjoyed: hanging out with friends and traveling.  After a year of working in the food service I found better work as a news and PR writer for my remaining three years in school.

Be prepared to not like a lot of what you do – Even great work is work.  And there are parts that are not fun whatsoever.  Jammie and I love freelance writing, for example.  We are good at it and we like the writing process.  But a lot of the related tasks are less cool: finding the business, chasing late payments, writer’s block – I could go on and on.  But this is part of it.  I recognize that but I am not even vaguely tempted to try to go get my old job just back because there are parts of my new life that I don’t like.  Reality is messy.  It pays to understand that and have some patience.

Stop trying to find yourself – If you don’t feel like you are living a life that you are passionate about it is easy to freak out and wonder why you “don’t have direction”.  One of the most common things driving the travel industry is people out there traveling the world and trying to “find themselves”.  With all due respect to the “Eat, Pray, Love” crowd, that is a very flimsy mission.  Recognize that life is fluid and that interests and passions evolve.   Life is a process of discovery and there is absolutely no point spending your days mourning your lack of absolute certainty in life.  If you are miserable about your life direction, start taking steps to correct course but realize that absolutely bliss is not going to manifest.  I am much happier for having planned and executed a lifestyle reinvention but I certainly have my moments of doubt and soul searching.

I will always have more dragons to slay.  There will always be course corrections to make when I misstep.  I will always feel like there is something better just over the horizon.  But I am not going to be anxious about the fact that I haven’t arrived.  Nobody ever does.  I just want to focus on taking the best “next step” possible.

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How to Travel With Someone You Love

Good times on a Bangkok bus...
Good times on a Bangkok bus…

Let me start this post off by saying this:  Traveling for a year with my wife, Jammie, has been the most exciting, enjoyable and fulfilling thing I have done in my life so far.  Despite anything I might say below in terms of cautionary advice, my core message is this:  Travel is one of the best things you can do with people you love.  It brings growth like no other experience.   I wholeheartedly recommend it.

That said, travel can make or break a relationship. We’ll be the first to admit that there were sensational highs and angry lows on the trail. We are a lot wiser relationally than we were a year ago.  Here’s what we learned:

Trust your partner’s travel strengths – Jammie and I each have some key things we are good at when it comes to travel.  She is great at budgeting.  I trust her and she keeps us from overspending.  It’s a little frustrating to be told that we can’t afford something like my pre-trip habit of doing most of my blogging from coffee shops (now I do most of it for free from home!).  But ultimately, Jammie’s skill in this area and my decision to trust her has kept us out of trouble.

Pre-trip prep is stressful – There’s no way around it: pre-trip planning is a stressful process.  There are so many details, you are sure you’ve forgotten something and there is never enough time.  Shut up and get stuff done.  Don’t let the fatigue and pressure make you crack.  Jammie and I have done this right and we’ve done it wrong.  When we have let the pressure make us snap and get mad at each other, a lot of the magic of travel is lost.  So we’ve learned to anticipate the stress and deal with it better.

Share dreams on road trips – Long journeys are great for planning.  As mentioned in prior posts like this one, Jammie and I have a road trip to Reno that we take every year in order to make plans for our lives.  We made sure we took it this year too – right before Christmas.  We talked about 2014 and beyond and actually wrote down our plans  so that we could hold ourselves accountable.  I am not sure what it is about traveling that lends itself so well to planning but I suspect that, like a corporate retreat, travel takes you out of the environment of the daily grind and sparks your creativity on a different level.

Yelling is for kids – Travel is a lot of fun but it is also super stressful at times.  When something goes wrong with your plans (lost wallets; unexpected cancellations; no sleep due to yapping dogs; horrible weather, etc.) it is tempting to take things out on the nearest person.  Don’t do it.  Especially when that person is someone you love.   It never works.  Nothing is fixed.  Nothing feels better.  Learn to bite your tongue and get through the difficulty rather than stamping your little feet.

Sometimes you just have to laugh – Laughter works far better than yelling.  Recently, Jammie and I thought we had booked an amazing deal when we flew to Kuala Lumpur for a two-night visit from Bangkok.  Both the flight and hotel were included for a very reasonable price.  Well, the hotel turned out to be an unbelievable dump, complete with cockroaches, loud guests and completely non-existent insulation that ensured that we got play-by-play updates from the teenagers next door as they hooted and hollered about video game victories under their clueless dad’s non-supervision.  At times like these you can laugh or cry.  We laughed.  And then we left the room.

Be careful with finding accommodation – Let’s talk a little more about accommodation.  Don’t screw this one up.  Jammie and I found that accommodation basically colored our entire experience in the different cities we lived in.  We absolutely loved Berlin, for example, because we found a spacious, well-lit, highly functional artist’s apartment in a cool part of town.  It worked out great.  Our apartment in Buenos Aires, however, was cold, dark, damp, cramped and ridden with random maintenance issues that required constant attention.  We hated it with a passion.  It put a damper on our entire experience in what, to be fair, is one of the world’s most fascinating cities.

Find alone time – One of my favorite things to do in each of the locations we visited was to go on long walks (in Bangkok my average daily walk was over 10 miles).  Jammie, on the other hand, it not into urban hikes.  So my walks allowed Jammie to catch up on writing and personal projects while giving me some exercise and thinking time.  This allowed us alone time to process our thoughts and brainstorm solutions individually.  I frequently stopped in my tracks and entered ideas into my iPhone while on my walks because I recognized this alone time as the most creative part of my day.

Volunteer together – At first glance, the idea of sorting old shoes in an ill-lit Berlin basement sounded like a downer.  But it actually became a fun ritual for Jammie and I since we had chosen to help sort these shoes for the homeless.  Volunteering together felt great and ended up being really entertaining as we joked about the absolute un-sexiness of our service project.  Wherever and however we volunteered around the world, we always left feeling recharged.  It was great to be able to share that feeling with someone else.

Admit when you are lost – This holds in a strictly literal sense (you’ve just led you and your partner on a wild goose chase for a famous pastry shop that seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth) or metaphorically (you are at your wit’s end and have no idea how to face a challenge).  Either way, travel as a couple works better if you are straight up as soon as possible. Don’t try to be a hero, be honest when you don’t have a clue.

More tips to come! – As with any journey, you learn more the further you go so I’ll keep you in the loop on future thoughts.  For now though, let me end where I started: traveling with someone you love is one of the best things you can possibly do together.  Whether you are a new couple, starting out in your shared life or an established couple looking for adventure, do yourselves a favor and try it out!

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How We Paid for 12 Months of World Travel

This is NOT how we did it!
This is NOT how we did it!

“How could you afford to travel for an entire year?”  I’ve heard this question asked in a hundred different ways this year.

I held off on answering partly because I wasn’t sure if our plans would work.  We are not wealthy people.  I secretly feared that we would have to come back early. Luckily, things worked out more or less to plan. Here are the main takeaways:

Plan your prison break carefully – I’ve said this a lot but it bears repeating: we planned our leap well in advance.  We decided that cutting back on expenses was totally worth the effort it if it meant that we would be able to quit our jobs and have the freedom to do exactly what we wanted to do.

So we saved money by living in a one-bedroom, rented apartment instead of giving in to peer pressure and buying a house.  We cut back drastically on eating out and entertainment.  We drove older cars with no payments. We canceled subscriptions.  I bought most of my shoes at thrift stores (good thing too, as I had a thing for cowboy boots and they only cost $20 at Goodwill instead of $200 new).  We competed to see who could contribute more of their pay check to the travel fund. No cost saving measure seemed too much when compared to the absolute liberation that awaited.

Relocation not constant travel – Rather than opting for constant travel, our goal was to experience real life in different countries around the world.  So we opted for a series of 3-month relocations instead of country hopping every week.  This is critical.  It saved us a lot of money.  It was also more enjoyable than the stress of constantly being on the move.  By choosing the 3-month relocation model, we actually felt part of the various communities we lived in, we were able to make friends, lend a helping hand to various meaningful charities and have a deeper understanding of the place we visited.  It also meant that we could live in these exotic world cities for an average of $1000/month.  That was very little compared to what we were spending at home.

Sell all your stuff – I sold my car and most of our furniture within the span of a week right before we left Chico, the Northern Californian town we lived in prior to our trip.  I didn’t make a killing but we made enough to pay for our rent, groceries and entertainment for the first few months of our adventure.  Not bad for a ’99 Jetta and furniture we had paid less than $500 for in the first place!

Make friends - In each of the countries we visited we either made new friends or reconnected with friends that we already had.  Apart from the awesome social value of having friends to hang out with, these amazing people were generous with their time, networks and ideas.  The result?  We were hooked up with safe, affordable living accommodations, we were shown where to shop and eat out to save money and were (frequently) directly or indirectly offered income-generating opportunities.  This made a big difference financially.

Identify all possible revenue streams (even small ones) – In stark contrast with the traditional rat race model where you work your tail off for one company or organization (which then has a lot of power to control you), we learned that freedom on our travel year had a lot to do with diversifying income streams.  We decided that we were not going to hitch our wagon to one single employer (even if we were offered an opportunity to do remote work).  Instead we worked hard on identifying and growing multiple income streams.  We ended up with the following kinds of work:  blog ad revenue, various freelance writing gigs, consulting and other jobs that we picked up on the way.  This meant a lot more freedom and the ability to walk away from organizations we did not like.

Don’t buy crap - We stayed away from buying tourist trinkets for at least two solid reasons:  1)  They were a waste of money  2)  They took up too much space in our luggage.  This tactic alone freed up cash to pay for more important things like groceries.  In the end, we found a very low cost way to bring back souvenirs for friends and family: right before Christmas we bought non-perishable snacks from a few of the countries we visited and gave them as Christmas presents.  That was a lot more cost effective (and tasty) than buying random, made-in-China plates with “Kuala Lumpur” stamped on them…

Buy cheap tickets – Despite a few big mistakes in this area (like buying a round-the-world ticket and having to abandon the final, Mumbai leg), we eventually learned a lot about buying cheap air tickets and saving money that way.  The winning formula ended up being this: 1)  Buy your long-haul tickets on a reliable, third party discount site like Priceline  2)  Buy your short-haul flights from low cost carriers like EasyJet / Ryanair or Air Asia in Europe and Asia respectively and 2)  For long-haul flights, buy the day before your flight (you save BIG by doing this because the airline realizes it will make nothing on empty seats)  3)  Buy tickets leaving Tuesday – Thursday because these are less popular travel days and therefore cheaper.

Live like a local – We decided that there was nothing ritzy about going into debt by trying to live above our means and living above local standards.  So we lived in fairly humble living conditions, never stayed in expensive hotels and almost never splurged on over-priced restaurants that catered to wealthy expats.  As mentioned above, we learned that if we lived like locals we not only saved money but we also got a much more authentic feel for what life was like in the countries we visited.  For example:  we both wanted to see great tango performed in Buenos Aires but instead of dropping $100 on an over-produced tourist show, we accepted an invite from a friend to a fundraiser milonga (community tango dance) held at a local vocational school.  The experience was great and we got to help support a worthy cause.

Always have a safety cushion  – We did not want to lose our new-found freedom by having to return early to the US or having to return hat in hand, asking for donations.  So we decided that, regardless of the fact that we had saved up quite a bit for the trip, we were going to leave a healthy financial cushion for future expenses.  This allowed us to travel with more peace of mind and also allowed us to be more selective when crafting our professional plans for 2014 and beyond.

What are your travel budgeting tips? - We have learned so much from listening to the advice of others.  How have you budgeted for world travel in the past?  What has worked?  What hasn’t?  Leave a comment and give the CultureMutt community your best advice.

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How to Change Everything with One Bold Decision

In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, about 12 months after the decision that changed our lives forever
In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, about 12 months after the decision that changed our lives forever

 

What is one decision that would change absolutely everything about your life?

I am not talking about some flimsy resolution to change breakfast cereals.  I am talking about the boldest kind of decision.  The kind of call that makes you shudder at its potential impact.  The kind of decision that few make but that, once made, completely changes your life.

In the fall of 2012, Jammie and I made one such decision.  It was to quit our jobs to travel the world and do service projects in 2013.  Our lives have never been the same since.  Here are some of the biggest changes:

Action = Liberation! – A year of travel and service is easy to talk about.  We know.  We talked about it for years and did nothing about it. It was just too scary.  Taking action involved quitting our jobs; uncomfortable conversations with family and friends and diving into the unknown.  But we finally decided that we simply could not put off action any longer.  When we, at last, quit our jobs and set our plans into motion we learned that bold action is one of the most liberating things in life.

Risks are less scary once you take them – Less than three months into our year we realized that we had been foolish to fret so much about the risk we had taken in opting to reinvent our lives in 2013.  We were offered jobs; we made friends thousands of miles from home and began to see life-changing opportunities that we had never before noticed.  The risk we had taken in leaving behind the old turned out to be not very scary at all.  It was exciting!

Relationship magic – A lot of people say that travel is the ultimate test of relationships.  Both Jammie and I say that we grew closer in 2013.  Travel taught us to handle disagreements better and gave us a LOT more time to spend together.  We had conversations about things we simply had not talked about in our first year and a half of marriage when we had been stuck in the rat race, running faster and faster for lack of a more healthy perceived alternative.  This year we learned to appreciate each others’ qualities more than ever.  Quite simply, we are better friends than ever.

Seeing the value of  money- 2013 taught us to be frugal.  We had planned carefully for 2013 financially but even so, the fact that we were living off of reduced income streams and savings meant that we learned to be more careful.  Little savings tricks really helped.  One I use a lot is converting prices into Thai baht (there are about 30 Thai baht to 1 US dollar) and reminding myself how much I could buy in Thailand with what I am about to spend on, say, a Starbucks Frappaccino in Los Angeles (I can eat out for two days in Thailand for the $5 I would spend on that one drink).

Learning the limits of money – Even if our financial planning was a big reason that we were able to do what we did in 2013, we have noticed some very clear limits to what money can provide.  What good is money if you spend your every waking hour in a dreary office trying to accumulate more?  I’m not knocking hard work but living in the illusion that postponing real enjoyment of life for some nebulous future “retirement” is dumb.  You have absolutely no idea how your health or closest relationships will look by retirement.  Find ways to enjoy the benefits of retirement (time with loved ones, travel, service and personal growth) using your current budget.  It is probably not as expensive as you think.  For example, living in a place like Bangkok for a month can be done for less than $500.  Don’t have a month?  Start with relocating somewhere for two weeks.  Even two weeks of completely unplugging in a new environment can do wonders for your outlook.   If you really want to see me get on this soapbox, read this: Retirement is fool’s gold, live your life now!

Leaving the United States makes more sense than ever – Growing up outside the US, I was always convinced that America was the land of greatest opportunity.  That may technically still be the case but the magic seems to be fast evaporating.  On the flipside, the pace of progress in Asia and other fast-developing parts of the world makes even a bustling city like Los Angeles feel like a sleepy backwater.  I’m no hater, just stating facts.  Dare to think bigger than life in the US.  Trust me, you will thank yourself.

A quick word to my American friends: this is NOT about being unAmerican or lacking patriotism.  Surely one of the best things about American thinking is the pragmatic, no-nonsense pursuit of opportunity.  You are not being a bad American by pursuing opportunities outside the country.  What do you think the future pilgrims lives would have looked like if they’d stayed in the Old World?  Moving East is to the 21st century what moving West was to the last five.

We see more options than ever – Even if I theoretically knew that I had options in life, I was too jaded to really think about them before we took off in 2013.  Whenever layoffs took place at either my workplace or Jammie’s, I would get really worried.  What would happen if we lost our jobs?  How would we survive in a weak economy?  I would let such concerns influence my decision making and my overall happiness.  I grew much less adventurous and assertive.  I put up with things in the day-to-day that I should not have.  Looking back at 2013 and the improved work and life opportunities we now have, I wish I had been bolder before our trip.  There were always better options.  Fear blinded me to them.

What is the one decision that would change everything for you?  A new year is approaching.  You’ve got it in you to make a decision that would change just about everything for the better.  What is it going to be?  Investing in a relationship?  Completely changing what you eat?  Firing a bad boss?  Traveling the world?  Please don’t waste time the way we did before making our life-changing big decision.  Boldness now could mean a world of difference.

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Quit your job: Hatred for it not necessary

Razwana Wahid
Razwana Wahid

Since Jammie and I quit our jobs and took off on our 2013 world service tour, we’ve heard a lot of feedback from people that have either done something similar or are contemplating dong so.  Today’s guest post is by my friend and très cool Paris-based blogger, Razwana.  She is about to quit her job to become an entrepreneur.  She writes this post as motivation to herself and those in similar situation to make the jump and work for themselves.  All yours Razwana!”

 

I love my job.

It’s the best one I’ve had yet.

It’s perfect balance of my three non-negotiables for a job – the location, the people, and the work itself. It’s perfect.

Or is it?

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a colleague. Let’s call him….Burt.

I asked Burt why, even though it’s technically possible for me to work from anywhere in the world (with internet connection), I couldn’t work from a location of my choosing?

Neither Burt, nor his coat of infinite wisdom could give me an answer that made sense.

When he stopped looking at me like I’d asked if it was OK to work in the office butt naked since it’s particularly warm out, he finally mumbled something about how ‘that’s just the way it is’.

That’s just the way it is.

The illusion of the perfect job shattered in 2.2 seconds.

And that’s when I realized The Pattern I had been living.

See, I get like this about a year after I work in a job. It’s peachy perfect at the beginning.

Then the newness fades away, the shiny surprises stop coming and all that is left is this big, fat, stop-staring-at-me empty space that yells ‘WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS? AGGAAAIIINNNNNN?????’

Because I hate being told what I can and cannot do.

So The Pattern must be broken.

I’ve always wanted to work for myself. No time like the present, right?

But wait!

What if this is the grass is only greener effect? I mean, the grass is only greener when you’re looking at it with envy. So what if I am just running away from something that otherwise serves me rather well? Nothing is that perfect, is it?

What if the business idea I have doesn’t work? (See also:  fear of failure)

What if my market research is a lie?

What if I run out of ways of making money?

What if I make ZERO money after I quit my job and have to go grovelling for it back again?

What if my fear of winding up on the street, living out of a box and wearing plastic bags as shoes becomes a reality?

But the biggest what if of them all?

What if I stay in this job and never know what life is actually like on the other side?

And that is one scary “what if”.  It’s the ‘what if’ that keeps me awake at night. It’s the’ what’ if that creates an urgency to do something about this situation.

It’s the ‘what’ if that I really, really, really don’t want to experience.

So the time is now.

Time to stop dreaming of tomorrow – and start living it.

Time to stop saying what I will do – and actually do it.

To stop thinking of what I am capable of – and start believing it.

Bio

Razwana Wahid writes at Your Work Is Your Life, a service dedicated to making your writing work

better – to sell, to convert, to connect.  Read more at www.yourworkisyourlife.com or follow her

on Twitter: @razwanawahid

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Retirement is fool’s gold, live your life now!

London, nothing quite compares...
London, nothing quite compares…

One of the things Jammie and I decided to do nine months ago was to try to create a life where we experienced the benefits of retirement right now.  Most people, ourselves included, put world travel, high-quality time with those you love and pursuing hobbies, in a “things to do in retirement” bucket.  Here’s why we decided that was a bad idea:

1) Retirement is fool’s gold.

Thinking that retirement is a good reason to neglect your family and your health for 40 years is just a very terrible way to live.  In fact, if you follow most of corporate America and live this way there won’t be much family or health left to enjoy by the time you get that $35 pen engraved with a swirly font, thanking you for your “years of service”.  Don’t buy into the “fool’s gold” of retirement that tells people that it is good to put off the best in life until the end.  This is fundamentally bankrupt.  Reject it now while you have the time.

2) Retirement is too far away.

I think there is a lot to be said for delayed gratification, being content in life and learning to wait.  It is good to be patient. That said, you can definitely make decisions NOW that set you up to taste some of the things that are typically associated with retirement (long-term travel, freedom from a cubicle and living in a way where you call your own shots) in far less time.  CultureMutt is about finding solutions for what we call savvy, global do-gooding.  In our posts we want to give you the inspiration and the tools to plan for and make the jump into a more exciting, fulfilling life of service SOON rather than in some distant retirement.

3). Who knows how you’ll feel when you retire.

I was talking to a retired attorney friend this week via Skype.  He has been a mentor of mine for years.  “I’m so happy you decided to travel now instead of waiting for retirement when you may not have the energy.  That took a lot of foresight!” he said.

I thanked him for the encouragement but on a deeper level I thank the writers and bloggers that convinced me by their ideas and their personal lives, that this kind of life is possible in the here and now.

I’ve had too many friends and family members fall into ill health around retirement age to buy into those posters of smiley seniors frolicking in the sun.  I hope that will be me at 70 but just in case I’m playing dominos at a care facility instead, I’m traveling now.

4). You could die

OK, we’re not going to spend a bunch of time on this very depressing thought.  But who cares if you reach the top of the totem pole in some corporate hell hole if the first day of retirement results in a heart attack?  The stats about retired executives that die within five years or retirement are alarming.  Don’t be that statistic.

5).  Ditching the rat race could be your best financial decision so far.

At the risk of repeating everything I said a couple posts ago about the very healthy financial realities that could be yours if you quit an unfulfilling job to travel and/or follow your passion, let me just state again, with all my heart, that I am SO glad I did not let fear of financial ruin stop me from leaving the office worker life.  The long-term risk of failure in life if you stay in a crap job are FAR greater than the possible temporary financial setbacks of letting passion sculpt your future career.  Nobody is saying it won’t be hard work to create your ideal life.  At first, at least, this kind of independent work is harder than the traditional 9-5 life. But the hard work that you put into doing something your are passionate about and love, is so much more meaningful, exciting and fulfilling than being a slave to a broken system.

Retirement is NOT the answer.  More than ever, we have choices and we can opt to live our ideal lives now.  Keep reading CultureMutt and we will do our best to keep inspiring you and showing you practical tips on how to take the leap, follow your passion and serve the world around you.

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Do you feel imprisoned by life?

Life should not feel like a dungeon...
Life should not feel like a dungeon…

Do you feel like you have to put up with the following?

1)  Tedious bumper-to-bumper commutes

2)  “Mandatory” office meetings that make you want to poke your eyes out

3)  Passive aggressive or straight-up-abusive people at work

4)  Living in fear of a massive layoff at work

5)  Wondering where all your money went at the end of the month

6)  Being unhappy with life

7)   Feeling like you HAVE to keep sprinting away in the rat race because you have to maintain your current lifestyle.

Well, then I know exactly how you feel.  I felt trapped on the corporate hamster wheel for years and, even worse, I felt helpless to do anything about it.

You can choose!

I felt that way until I decided that I had to do whatever it took to make sure that the number one commodity that I would seek in life was the ability to choose.  I needed to wake up to the fact that I had options.  Not stock options.  ACTUAL options, as in having the ability to make life-enhancing choices.

Hardly a revolutionary idea but definitely a shot of adrenaline when I actually started pursuing it.

San Francisco Beginnings

This is how it all started:  On a cold, fall night, on a visit to San Francisco, I locked myself into a bathroom stall and decided that enough was enough.  This was it.  For years I had dreamed of having the guts to do one thing: claim my right to options.  And that night I decided that I needed to do what I had wanted to do for years: travel the world and volunteer, not as a short term trip but as a lifestyle.

“We need to do this!”

Within days I told Jammie of my decision.  I still remember where I broke the news: in her workplace parking lot during her lunch break.  “We need to do this!  We’ve talked about it forever. Let’s quit our jobs, travel the world and do service projects.”. It didn’t even take her a minute: “I’m in.”

It’s impossible to exaggerate how much happier and fulfilled we now feel. Now we wonder what took us so long.  Why did we wait so many years to choose differently?

Jammie and I dedicate CultureMutt to talking about how we can all live better lives by claiming our right to options in life.  To claiming our right to serving those around us by doing what we are best at doing.  Join us in that quest.  Thank you for being part of the CultureMutt community!

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Approval is Overrated

At the Berlin Wall.  July, 2013.  7 months after declaring our independence from approval:)
At the Berlin Wall. July, 2013. 7 months after declaring our independence from approval:)

Here’s a handy rule for getting nothing done in life: Seek approval.  Have your family sign off on your every decision.  Get a job where the very lifting of a finger requires your boss’s signature.  Never do anything out of the ordinary or risky for fear of failure or ridicule from your peers.  Think that your friends have to agree with or be jealous of your decisions in life.  Live the entirety of your days, stepping around gingerly, all concerned with what people are thinking.

Don’t get me wrong.  Approval is nice.  It is nice to have family, bosses, pretty people or peers approve of what you are doing.  It feels all warm and fuzzy to get the thumbs up for all your major moves.  It is validating.  It is reassuring.  It feels right.  It’s all smiles.

Here’s the one little problem with that strategy:  It leads to absolutely nothing.  It does not change the world, it only deepens mediocrity’s rut.  All that a life of approval-seeking does is produce more of the same.  More people on anti-depressants.  More impressive pot bellies.  More cookie cutter houses that are built too fast and that ensnare their naive owners in too much debt.  More blah, day-to-day living, much of it spent commuting to a barely tolerable job doing something you don’t enjoy for people you don’t like.

Freedom

If you have had enough of approval-fueled existence realize one thing:  No Pony Express is rushing to the rescue with a delivery of some cure for your own timidity.  Changing your life is going to take some really uncomfortable, bold moves on your part.  You will have to go against the grain.  You will need to ruffle some feathers.  You are going to get people talking about you.  And yes, you will have people disapprove.

If this sounds too awkward and you don’t think it is worth the trouble, do us both a favor and stop reading this.

If, however, a life more meaningful, exciting and intentionally-lived is of appeal, join me in my working Declaration of Independence from the Approval Culture:

From this instant, decide that you will do whatever it takes to absolutely and completely live these truths:

You don’t have to care about what everyone thinks.

This isn’t about being a rebel or being reckless.  This is a fundamental truth in life:  if you care too much about what other people think, you become imprisoned by the prevailing attitudes around you.  You are no better than those that stood by and condoned the worst atrocities in human history.  You are the epitome of small town thinking or big city politically-correct-and-impossibly-fashionable lifestyle adherence (equally despicable ends of the same plinky coin.) You are expendable and destined for the rubbish heap full of everyone else who blindly followed.

You were never destined to be imprisoned by your cubicle

As comforting as it is to have a measure of climate-controlled stability, you were never supposed to be holed up in your cubicle.  You can decorate the walls of that office cell with pictures of Yosemite and quotes about dancing like no one is watching.  You can pin up big-fonted affirmations of the riches, Riviera-lounging and adventure that will some day flood into your life.  But the reality is that if you are not gutsy enough to execute a prison break, the farthest you will go is down the hallway to the water cooler for another rousing conversation with the guy from Accounts Payable.

Your current income (READ: Capacity to take on even more debt) was never meant to define you or your future

There’s a predictable cycle for most reasonably competent types.  You finish school, get a foot in the door of some workplace as a coffee-fetcher that is paid the bare minimum.  You stay in the job, lured by the prospect of promotions and raises.   Time passes, youth and its sparky ideals fade and you may be able to impress those above enough to get a raise.  Either that or you just stay put long enough that your step wage increase makes those 10 to 40 years of doing the same thing add up to ensure that you are one of the better paid photocopiers around.

Either way, there is a huge temptation to think your worth and self-esteem should be tied to the way the system pays you.  It is hard to resist the endless cycle of approval-seeking at work and society. You obsess about the opinions of others so as to increase your standing, which (hopefully) will increase income and, because you are a slave to the system, your self-esteem. STOP BUYING INTO THIS.  It is a slow, painful, unrewarding death march.  You can liberate yourself.  Freedom and meaning are possible.

Prison Breaks Take Planning

If you see yourself (as I did for longer than I care to admit) described by the depressing verbiage above, it is often tempting to do something drastic, like march into your boss’s office right away and say you quit.  For some, this may be just right.  For most, however, an effective escape takes planning.

If you belong to the second pack, make sure you start planning TODAY.  If you are dissatisfied at work (or in any major life context), decide exactly where you want to be a year for now.  Do you want to be on the beach in Thailand? It’s pretty nice.  Do you want to be in a better job? You can.  Do you want to be your own boss? Hey, crazier things have happened.  Each of those options are possible.  And quite frankly, “possible” is enough reason for you to get off your butt and put your all into making it happen.  It’s up to you.  Is it going to be the orange cubical jumpsuit or is it going to be a life of fulfillment?  You can do this.  Dumber people have pulled this off with spectacular success.  Don’t sell yourself short.

The world is dying for you to do something different

Here’s the deepest reason of all for shunning the approval culture: You are called to a life of service.  The world is suffering from a malady that only you can cure.  This isn’t grandiose thinking.  It is reality.  Face up to it:  You are supposed to help people in a way that is unique to only you.  You can make this world better in a way that nobody else can even imagine.  You have something that nobody else does.  If you squelch this individuality by conforming to the oppression of approval seeking, the world will be all the worse for it.

Realize this isn’t about you.  The biggest reason to declare your independence from the approval culture has nothing to do with you.  It is unselfish.  It is altruistic.  It is about following a calling.  It is about finding and following the reason you are living and breathing.  It is about relishing the fact that you are different and it is about giving yourself entirely to making the most of this life and its ample opportunities for service.

_________

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

(Apple ad copy from back in the day when they were the scrappy new kid on the block)

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Don’t Waste Your Life

Adventure time!!

Are you wasting your life?

When you get up in the morning, do you feel like you are one day older yet not a step closer to what you have spent your life dreaming you could do? Do you feel like you are just working for the paycheck? Do you feel like you are in a self-made prison? Do you wish you had the guts to call things as they are? I felt that way for a very long time.

OK lives

In many ways there was nothing wrong with our lives. Jammie and I had respectable, sought-after jobs. We had wonderful, supportive friends. We lived in a fun little college town in Northern California. We made decent money for a young couple. We were active in our communities. On the surface, our lives looked fine. If life continued as it was, we could really settle down, live comfortably, start a family and raise kids who would repeat the cycle.

The burning desire

But for years we had harbored a will to do something bold and fresh. Something that wasn’t just about a paycheck, benefits and water cooler conversations… about going through the motions. Something that would change our lives completely.

The secret plan

We knew what it was and for years we had secretly been talking about it: a trip around the world. But not just any trip. This would not be just a vacation. It would be an extended trip. A long-term adventure where we helped other people through service projects. This would be something idealistic. Something radical. Something completely, utterly life-changing that launched us on an international, meaning-filled life of service for years to come.

Every time we talked about it we got more excited. We knew this could change everything.  And every time we put off the trip off we grew more frustrated.

Enough is enough

In the fall of 2012, Jammie and I decided that we could not wait any longer. We simply could not put off our plans any more. If we didn’t take the step now, life would make it harder and harder to escape and we would just grow old, fat and frustrated bemoaning the lives we wished we’d pursued.  We simply could not let that happen.  We made a pact:  “We are doing this and we are doing this now!”

ACTION!

We did all the scary stuff as fast as we could so we wouldn’t back out. We told those closest to us of our plans. Job resignation letters were drafted, re-drafted, signed and delivered. We sold, gave away or dumped a ton of stuff that we had collected over the years. We bought round-the-world tickets. And we got on a plane.  This was it!

Five months in… 

We are now one month into living in Buenos Aires (city #2 of our Bangkok-Buenos Aires-Berlin-Bombay tour) and starting the  fifth month of our year.  We are starting to adjust to our new life. I am not going to pretend that we like everything.  We often miss family and friends.  I could do without the nightly mosquito bites and I could kill for some decent Mexican food.  But for the most part life has improved drastically.

I could spend several posts listing all the ways our lives are better but for now I can say this with all honesty:  For the first time in years it feels like everything I used to dream of doing is still possible.  I walk around unbelievably excited about life.  I am no longer as cynical.  I don’t roll my eyes when I hear people talk about their lives being happy.  I am happy.  And I am rapidly gaining perspective on how I want to live the rest of my life.

Here are some things I have learned:

Don’t waste your life thinking things will change – Part of what kept us from taking the bold step to get on a plane and follow our dreams was the vague feeling that things would change if we just put in a little more time. Maybe things would change with a little more money… or a more adventurous week of vacation time or a slightly better job. The truth was that none of those things would really change anything. Every little step we took on the same conventional path confirmed the obvious: more of the same would lead to a lifetime of boredom and regret.

Don’t waste your life thinking that “benefits” are a valid reason to stay in a job – Medical, dental, paid time off, growing retirement funds… we couldn’t just walk away! Or so we thought. But the golden hand cuffs were surprisingly easy to shake off when we realized that they were standing between us and doing what we really wanted with our lives. Security is fine but not if if means being handcuffed securely to a suboptimal life!

Don’t waste your life dreading risk – Within two weeks of landing in Bangkok we were offered four jobs between the two of us. We were not interested in taking them just then but we did the financial math just for fun anyway and the reward for shaking off the golden handcuffs was clear immediately: If we were to get jobs we could easily save over twice what we had been saving in the US. So much for our risk-averse golden handcuff thinking!

It was already clear that this world was full of opportunities and that risks where never quite as scary once you took them.  The rewards of action are great.  Everyone’s circumstances are different but don’t make the mistake of living your life dodging risk.

Don’t waste your life worrying about acquiring stuff - Traveling has taught us a lot of valuable lessons but one of the most important is this:  acquiring more “stuff” is one of the most pointless things we do in life.  Jammie and I ended up donating a ridiculous amount of our possessions to our local thrift store when we left Northern California.  I mean it was crazy. These were mostly things that had cost quite a lot to buy.  And in the end it was all just stuff… stuff that was in the way of us and a better, freer life.  This stuff didn’t add value; if anything it was a hassle, a nuisance.  The hours we spent giving or throwing it all away have taught me one thing as we walk past shop windows around the world: Keep walking.

Don’t waste your life chasing the American Dream – The house, the car, the white picket fence.  Keeping up with the Joneses is less and less attractive when you realize that they are upside down on their house, their possessions own them and living life chasing the American dream has them tied down and miserable, running faster and faster on the hamster wheel while their finite days on Earth slip away.  The American dream is not what it is cracked up to be. People should get over it.

Let’s end with some good news:  It is never too late to make a change… to make the jump.  If you are wasting your life, the time to stop is right now.  Right this second.  Stop it.  Seriously.  Don’t rationalize away this moment.  If you are tempted to do so, accept this absolute truth: This post was written for you.

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