Over a year ago in November 2008 I hit the publish button on my most recent blog post, then took a hiatus. A one year hiatus. Needless to say, life since then has been fun. And challenging. And amazing. So what’s been happening? A lot. Let’s put it in context and rewind back to 2008, then I’ll give the lowdown on 2009.
2008 – Globetrotting, remote working, geo-arbitrage and lifestyle design
Most of 2008 was spent trotting across the globe, and some remote working posts gave a few clues as to my location – there was some inspiration found in NYC and a classic example of geo-arbitrage from Costa Rica. Flickr and Twitter made my movements a little more obvious, but I slowed things down there for a while too. Without listing a stack of countries, I’ll outline the loose itinerary;
- Thailand – what better way to kick off a trip? A couple of weeks in the sun, then took what I think is one of the longest flights possible; Bangkok-New York City (16 hours).
- USA – started in NYC and took 3 months to drive across (and up and down) the country with my best mate. Loved it. Decided I’d live in the USA at some point in my life. Worked a little, partied a lot.
- Mexico/Central America – crossed the border from the USA and spent a few months living comfortably, working remotely and surfing quality waves. Recovered the fitness I lost in the USA. Put the amazing theory of geo-arbitrage into action by working remotely for various clients at commercial US rates whilst living very well, and very cheaply.
- Europe – flew to Amsterdam from Coast Rica. Worked my way overland through Eastern Europe (it’s Europe.. but it’s cheap!) for 3-4 months until I hit Russia. Didn’t enter Russia (visa, etc) but went as far as seeing St Petersberg from the Estonian countryside. Eastern Europe is incredible.
- UK – flew from Tallinn to London. This whole time I’d been travelling with my best mate, and it was time for him to head back to Australia. I wanted to spend my birthday with my twin brother in London (well, our birthday) and put my UK ancestry visa into action.
So there I was. I was in London, it was November 2008, and I was at the tail end of an epic year. I based myself in the very cool area of Shoreditch and sub-letted a room from Dave of the-affair – isn’t that neat? I caught up with friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, partied some more (it’s a trend, I know) and snuck in a quick surf trip to France with a few mates (why not?). The $USD and $AUD were weak against the pound, so I worked a short on-site contract in London and started spending pounds instead of dollars.
2009: Professional development – from Consultant to Director
Here’s the thing about lifestyle design and remote working. You can earn an income in a stack of different ways. Most people aim for automation, a theory also known as muse creation and popularised by The Four Hour Work Week. I’m on my way there, but I’m not there yet. I earn my keep from consulting, and the value of my consulting, like most consultants, is largely determined by my experience. Now my CV was strong, but it wasn’t amazing. I’d designed experiences, set digital strategies and produced websites for some big names and had achieved good results. But I hadn’t done it all – I hadn’t directed large projects end-end and delivered. I mean really delivered something great – including the entire management and orchestration of every single little detail. I wanted to invest some time. A year, maybe two, maybe more. I decided to put my remote working goals on ice until I’d achieved a level of Experience Design Director.
It was like a capital investment of time; an expenditure of time to achieve a greater return in the long run.
Get me out of here
London wasn’t the place to be. I’d been there for around six weeks, and the day rates are good, but at the time it was the world’s third most expensive city. It’s also big, busy, filthy, and has an awful public transport system known as the Undergound. Beaches are beyond reach for daytrips. There are hardly any swimming pools (although I was swimming regularly in an outdoor heated pool in London Fields). Rent is exorbitant. International airports have been dropped in awkward locations. You get the idea – for all of its reputation, I really don’t rate London highly. It was time to leave. I made a lifestyle choice, and moved to Edinburgh.
I took an opportunity with the best experience design agency in Edinburgh and immediately fell in love with the city. Who wouldn’t? Beautiful architecture, almost unmatched walkability, creative arts culture, underground vaults, international airport 20 minutes from the city, the immensely impressive Edinburgh Castle, a jovial and irreverent vibe, the Edinburgh Fringe festival, Arthur’s seat, the attitude of Scottish folk, incredible and affordable accommodation.. it goes on. The architecture deserves a second mention. Edinburgh is the most beautiful city I’ve lived in.. and I’ve lived in Sydney (which is amazing, for those who haven’t been there). I just love it there. Luckily enough, another good friend of mine moved there at the same time and we started planning getaways from day one.
I worked hard and threw everything into the gig – I wasn’t working ‘long’ (working long hours is what inefficient people and wankers do), but I worked hard. As 2009 started ticking away, I was in a senior role directing experience design for some big corporates. It’s not the style of work I’d like to do long-term, but it’s what I needed, and I made it enjoyable. We partnered with some other niche agencies in the UK and did some outstanding work – the projects I delivered are some of the highlights of my career.
Lifestyle design for location dependents
I mentioned the getaways. My ‘boss’ – she’s one of the most hands-off, flexible and capable MDs I’ve encountered – was extremely cool and is pursuing lifestyle design herself, so time off wasn’t a problem. If the schedule allowed for it, I was free. Over the course of nearly a year with the agency I had over 10 weeks off. Sometimes long weekends, sometimes weeks, sometimes a month. A few highlights:
- Hiking in the Scottish Highlands – I dragged some friends along (reluctantly) and we climbed Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain. By the end of the day they were as stoked as I was. We climbed it in winter; ice makes things more interesting.
- Australia Day Ironman in Edinburgh – Frosty sand, a run, a swim, and lots of beer. Wearing nothing but speedos. The video describes it better than I can. (I’m the first guy interviewed – I’m shorter and not wearing a hat).
- Snowboarding in France – Friends, French alps, wine, cheese, enormous bar tabs. And some rad snowboarding – the cover wasn’t great so I spent a few days only riding switch.
- Surfing in Portugal – We hit Supertubes, one of the sickest waves in Europe. The surfing was fun, and meeting my girlfriend was cool too (ha!). She’s an American who was living in Paris. Then she came to visit to visit in Edinburgh, and six months later was still there with me.
- Australian Rules Football tournament – I played most of an Aussie Rules football season for Edinburgh, and we went down to England for a UK cup tournament. We made the final (good), but during the final I dislocated my shoulder (bad). Subsequently (as a direct or indirect result, I’m not sure!) we lost the final.
- Exploring Europe – My girlfriend and I spent some time exploring Europe. I won’t list all the cities, but my favourites were Istanbul, the Amalfi Coast, and Rome.
- France and Spain in a VW van – Surfing (who would’ve thought?). A thieving Frenchman broke into our van and stole passports, wallets, credit cards, cameras and some more stuff, but it was still a good time. You can’t let the loss of possessions get you down – it’s all stuff you can get back.
I was working hard directing experience design, but I was playing almost harder. Lifestyle design doesn’t have to be achieved working location independently – during the year I spent in Edinburgh I wasn’t going to let a day job alter my lifestyle design ambitions.
The opportunity I was waiting for
Whilst most of my remote working ambitions were on hold, I was still working on a couple of side projects with my good friends Zac and Zolton Zavos (who were recently named Creative Catalysts for 2009). We have a few projects spread across the interweb, and some others we’re launching soon. We’ve been gaining a lot of momentum over the past couple of years, and Zac and Zolton have been full-time on these projects for a while now. As of a few weeks ago, I’ve joined them part-time. As they know, I’ve wanted to work with these guys more regularly from the outset. The opportunity arose, so we took it. We’re now a three-man team (although there are more peeps behind the scenes).
Time to move
So after my capital investment of time it’s back to remote working. As much as I love Edinburgh and have some good friends there, the cost of living is too high without earning pounds. At the final party I threw at my flat I realised leaving people behind doesn’t need to be hard.
I wasn’t really ready to leave my friends and the city, but I just had to if I wanted to keep my plan on track. I know I’ll see some of them again soon – it’s a small world.
Travel is affordable, distance matters less than ever before, and it’s easy to keep in touch. But where should I live? During the 2008 recap I mentioned a country I wanted to live in. You may have also noticed my girlfriend is from there. It was time to go back to the USA.
The rainy north-west of the USA, specifically. I’ve been here for about a month now. There’s some cool stuff going on here with art and music, we’re close to good snow, I surfed last week (in boots, a hood and gloves), I’m finally doing CrossFit, and I have a great studio space in what’s been dubbed the coolest artist enclave in Seattle. Working with the boys is great – we love what we do – and I’m amped for 2010.
2010: Ambition, remote working and automation
So that’s two years in one blog post. What does 2010 hold?
Most importantly, we have some goals and ambitions we’d like to achieve with the various projects we’re operating and launching. So we’ll give it everything, and we’re really excited about it. During my downtime I’ll continue my work on muse creation and some other lifestyle design experiments I kicked off back in 2008. Over the past couple of years, I’ve learnt a lot about remote working, automation and lifestyle design, and I’m considering spinning off a separate blog to share some of the learnings. Would you be interested? I’ll think about it. My blogging track record hasn’t been great lately (ha!), so we’ll see.
It’s nice to be back in touch
Hope to share some more updates with you soon, and I may even get back on track with some user experience and digital strategy posts. Twitter gets most of those updates these days, but I’d like to be (once again) sharing insights longer than 140 characters.
All the best for the new year.