When I quit my job 16 months ago to start my social media marketing company and become a "digital nomad" (noun: a person who uses technology, and wireless networking in particular, to work without a permanent address.), I had no idea what I'd gotten myself into. Like 79% of millenials, I'd always dreamed of leaving my job, joining the "gig economy" and becoming a location-independent vagabond. But unlike others who'd made the leap from full-time to freelance, I had little savings. What's more, I had a monthly mortgage, a car payment and no clear plan for what I'd do to make money. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. I was terrified.
As it turned out, I had been right to be worried. The last year has been one of the most challenging 12 months of my life. Since launching Skylark Media Consultants, there have evenings when I sat on my couch in tears over the negative numbers, subisiding off of ramen noodles and reality TV; precariously clinging to a splinter of hope that against all odds, it would somehow all work out in the end. And it did. Over time, I developed my client list and my income rose to the point where I could graduate from ramen to Ragu. Eventually my revenues became steady enough that I was able to make my "work and travel" dreams a reality: working remotely from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Hawaii and Florida.
Although it has been a stressful last year and a half, it has also been a year and a half of tremendous personal growth experience as well. The following are several unexpected and awesome things that happened after I quit my job and became a digital nomad.
1. I learned to better manage my money.
I never realized how much I took those regular deposits on the 15th and 30th of every month for granted until suddenly they weren't there anymore. Nowadays I'm often left waiting several weeks or even months to receive a payment from a client, and frequently spend several hours chasing overdue invoices.
While this has been stressful, the unpredictability has forced me to reevaluate my spending and live on a budget. I've since switched to cheaper food brands, renegotiated my car insurance rate and no longer pay for expensive cable channels. Streamlining my spending in this way has made me happier because I'm no longer blindly wasting money on overpriced products or services I don't use.
2. I became more productive.
When I was a salaried employee, I was paid for 40 hours of work regardless of whether I was actually working. This meant I could enjoy lunch breaks, sick time and vacation days, secure in the knowledge that no matter what happened, a paycheck would be waiting for me at the end month. When I become self-employed, however, luxuries like paid coffee breaks with coworkers and Friday afternoon Facebook chats disappeared. On days when I felt too sick, tired or unmotivated to work, I don't get paid. This forces me to work harder and smarter. Time, as they say, is money. And I can't afford to waste any of it.
3. I started eating healthier and exercising more.
Working from home means that instead of eating out everyday, I'm able to cook — which means less carb- and calorie-heavy meals. I also discovered that I no longer need to confusme as much coffee or sugary sweets to survive to the end of the workday. Because I'm my own boss, if I feel tired, I can just crawl into bed for an hour. I also designed my work schedule so that fitness would become a priority; squeezing in afternoon trips to the gym whenever I need a break.
4. I lost 10 pounds.
All of the stress of starting a business, in combination with a healthier diet and regular workout routine resulted in losing (a needed) 10 pounds in five months.
5. I let go of perfectionism.
I've always struggled with perfectionism, but it wasn't until I became self-employed that I was forced to overcome it. Working seven days a week under strict deadlines and "I need this yesterday" client requests means that fussing over the details is no longer an option. I simply don't have the time.
6. I became more assertive and self-confident.
I used to think I was fairly self-confident, but then I started a business. That's when I realized just how much work I needed to do in that area. In the past year, I've had to defend my work performance, admit to mistakes and initiate uncomfortable conversations with clients about hourly rates or overdue invoices. For someone who hates conflict, this was incredibly challenging. However, it has forced me to confront issues as they arise and gain the needed self-esteem to trust my work product and charge what I am worth.
7. I became comfortable living with uncertainty.
I run an Internet marketing business, which means that at any given moment, a client could decide that they no longer need my services and fire me. At first, living with the idea that my income could drastically decrease at any moment was frightening. I experienced a lot of sleepless nights before accepting the fact that worrying is pointless.
8. I became happier.
After I stopped working to build someone else's dream and began working on manifesting my own, I felt happier and more self-content. Although my life as a freelancer is more difficult than ever, I wake up each morning eager to tackle the challenges of the day; a sentiment which many digital nomads reportedly share. According to a study of oDesk customers, 92% of digital nomads said their happiness levels increased after they became "less tied to a physical workplace."
Though I wouldn't recommend following my path and flailing into the world of freelancing without a solid plan or savings, sometimes I wonder if the added stress was precisely the motivational push I needed. If I'd had more prep time or money in the bank, I may have coasted when I needed to hustle. As Ray Bradbury once said, "You've got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down."