In another city, this would have been the perfect setup for a long, fulfilling career. Unfortunately, coastal southern California isn't budget-friendly to a skilled day-laborer.
And then my hours got cut. Significantly. My budget got even tighter, and I found myself keeping a close eye even on the miles I drove each week. I would walk into Trader Joe's and do a mental tally of my groceries for the week, often to the dime. I was happy, to be sure, but I knew that if I stayed in this rhythm for the next year, nothing was going to change, and I had big goals on the horizon.
Specifically, I wanted to become a digital nomad, someone who takes his work on the road with him, ticking off items on the travel checklist while still pulling in a paycheck. Given that I'd recently found myself in the lowest tax bracket recognized by the IRS, I felt this was the perfect opportunity to cut my ties to Santa Barbara, move in with the folks back in Alaska, and launch Sparkpunk Media.
In retrospect, I did just about everything wrong that one could do when starting a business: I had no startup capital, no clients, and no significant online presence. But of all the things I did wrong starting a business, there were two things that I did right. First, I wrote out my goals. Second, I didn't give up. Plus, there was a little bit of right place, right time in the mix (hint: to be in the right place at the right time, just stand in the right place all the time).
I've now turned around work in over a dozen countries spread across two continents and an ocean. I've accepted new work from urban coffee shops, produced it at 35,000 feet, and submitted it from the ass of a volcano on an island in the middle of a lake. No fewer than ten visits to Tim Horton's in one month have been business expenses (on account of using the wifi there), and instead of paying rent I pay for a bed in a dorm in whatever city I'm traveling. By all accounts, I've made it. I'm a digital nomad.
What do I do now?
Short of going to outer space, I accomplished everything I set out to do—and in quick fashion, by most entrepreneurial standards. My list of goals has been mostly met, but two years after the adventure began I recognize a familiar scenario: if I keep doing it this way, not much is going to change in the next year.
The mulling process began long before Slovenia, and I left Koper over a month ago. The thought process has led to some great conversations with Mike Sowden (one of my favorite writers), and though the list is still in its toddler phase, I'd like to share it with you here:
Zak's "Now What?" Goals, 2013-2014
- Ramblers: I'm starting a "wandering school/workshop/internship," quite possibly the first of its kind. I'm still building up the overview and curriculum, but in principle it will be an opportunity for undergrad college students to combine professional development and great travel experiences. The first session is scheduled for summer 2014.
- Book release: Not to be one of those guys, but I'm writing a book. No, really! I have the outline for it and everything! Think Anne Lamotte's Bird by Bird, but with a travel emphasis instead of writing. I'm hoping to release it some time in the spring.
- e-Commerce: I have a few services for sale on this website, but I'm also interested in launching a small line of travel products you never knew you needed until you saw that they existed. Really, I just want the products for myself, but prototyping can be expensive, and at that point the investment for a thousand pieces just seems more appropriate. I'm looking at a spring launch date for the first product.
- Expand: I like designing things a lot, but the lines are getting blurrier and blurrier between schools of design. Interactive media will soon take over as the public's primary information source, and my days for being a one-trick pony are limited. I'll be branching into other fields of creativity, like coding or CAD.
So why am I sharing this list on the blog? It's simple: by making it public, I now feel responsible for following through. It's easy to defer work if goals are private. I put the pro in procrastination, but if I know that others know about my ambitions, I'm accountable to them, even if they're not even passively interested.
Of course, if you're actively interested, let me know! I'll probably need someone to crack the whip, anyways.