How to be (F)UN-employed
16 December 2017
Nate sent me an article touting that the most popular blogs are How to blogs. Always wanting to please my audience, I thought I’d give it a shot and talk about how to be (f)unemployed. To clarify, if you want to know the nitty gritty of getting oneself to a place with enough savings to survive, talk to Nate. That’s his area of expertise. Here you will learn how to prepare your brain, not your bank account, through three easy steps (and one kinda difficult one).
Step 1 – Pre Plan
This stage is where you spend your final days in America fantasizing about what wonderful things you’ll accomplish with your time once you’re no longer in soul-sucking cubicles under the ubiquitous control of The Man. Note that this fantasizing should not result in actual, concrete plans. Plans are for suckers, not for nomads.
Step 2 – Arrive
Step 3 – Freak Out
Less self-explanatory. This stage may come as a surprise to the uninitiated (me), especially with all of the intense pre-planning from Step 1 (see Step 1). The freak out wasn’t so immediate. I focused on being all go-with-the-flowy at first. Nate explained that after a few weeks the familiar, Western need to feel “busy” would melt away. I set about sleeping in, seeing the sites, eating a lot of delicious pretzels and sausages, strolling, more eating, and awkwardly “talking” with Nate’s cousins through Nate. Heck! I even drank a beer…on a train! I fought off every urge to plan out my day (see Plans are for suckers from Step 1), feeling like somehow structure was the enemy. At the end of five days, though, my skin was crawling. I craved routine, productivity, exercise, and vegetables. I didn’t want to admit to Nate that I was unhappy, but I was, terribly so. Of course, he read right through me and made me talk. My scattered confessions all distilled more or less to this: I wasn’t doing what I had dreamed about in Step 1 (see Step 1). Instead, I was trying hard to be someone I was not.
Step 4 – Redefine the “Fun” in Funemployment
After a lot more talking and journaling, I made an important and helpful distinction: “Busy” is the enemy, but there is a world of difference between busy and driven. Not being busy doesn’t equate to not being purpose-driven. I’m happy when I’m figuring, creating, learning, exploring; especially when I can be relaxed enough to do them on my own terms and deadlines with time and space for spontaneous adventuring and time with friends. Former SEAL Commander for the U.S. Navy, Jocko Willink, came to the same conclusion but refined it even further to the mantra “Discipline is freedom.” In an interview with Willink, Tim Ferris expanded on the concept stating, “Freeform days might seem idyllic, but they are paralyzing due to continual paradox of choice and decision fatigue. In contrast, something as simple as pre-scheduled workouts acts as scaffolding around which you can more effectively plan and execute your day. This gives you a greater sense of agency and feeling of freedom.” I wanted the freedom to explore my own career and creativity, but I needed discipline in order to have it.
All that to say that Step 4 is the kinda difficult one. The Brain Changer. Replace your preconceived notions of funemployment and freedom (i.e. sleeping, eating, lounging) with activities that you’ve found fun all along but have been too busy to do. I’ve started getting up early(ish), running, and planning out a schedule(ish) for the other things I wanted to achieve (e.g. blog, doctorate program research, art projects, learn German). This part is a little harder because you aren’t constrained to the typical boundaries of the employed life, like Monday through Friday and 9 to 5. Now you might only be constrained by weather and Wi-Fi availability, and you will want to be open to sudden trips or drop-everything moments. Luckily, Nate already had a good system in place. He works in what he calls “zones”, chunks of time that he cordons off for focused attention on one project. The zones aren’t bound by days or hour hands on the clock. He simply listens to his mind and body, and acts according to his motivation and reserves at the time. He does, however, follow Willink’s tenets, removing distractions and setting a timer to ensure that he works for at least an hour at a time.
Ok, so maybe plans aren’t for suckers after all. I’m happy to report that only a few days after my own journey through these steps, I’m…well…happy. More than happy, I’m excited to see what I can achieve now with the discipline and freedom to do so. You, too, can be this excited. You, too, can make the transition from an overachieving workaholic to an overachieving nomad in just three easy steps (and one kinda difficult one).