Yes, I Am A Digital Nomad And Here's How I Got Here
I know what you're thinking.
Like most people, you've probably never heard of the term "digital nomad" and you're wondering what it means.
I'll save you the hustle of going over to Google or Wikipedia by laying it down for you.
A digital nomad is a (really brave) person who uses telecommunications technologies to earn a living and more importantly, to be able to enjoy the freedom of conducting their life in a nomadic manner.
So, to break that down in layman's language: a digital nomad is someone who uses a laptop (and/or smartphone) and an internet connection to earn a living so that they can be free to be and work from anywhere they want.
I'm one of these "weird" people.
I work with different clients as a freelancer so that I can enjoy the freedom of being wherever I want - as long as I have my laptop with me. This means I can travel to whatever random town or city in the country or in the world and still be able to work. It's this beautiful thing called location-independence. And I'm sort of obsessed with it!
I love it so much that I extended it to my studies.
I'm also a location-independent student.
Why the heck do I choose to live this way? Why can't I just get a regular job and be like normal people?
Well, because I tried - I really did - and it just didn't work out.
It's just not me.
But to understand how I got here, you need to understand my story. A story that begins right after my AIESEC and university days. A long-winding story. A story that explains why I'm still as unemployable as ever.
So here goes:
After leaving University of Nairobi, I was lucky enough to get my first-ever job as an intern in a small-team Communications startup in Nairobi. It was an amazing time where I learnt how much I loved the idea of managing social media accounts. And it's something I'm currently still doing by the way.
After three months of interning, I got lured into a move to Lagos, Nigeria where I worked as Business Development Consultant/Manager (not sure really) for a small Technology company. I had a great time there and I learnt a lot. My love for the tech world grew at about this time. But after close to a year, I was hoping for a new experience.
So I left Lagos and was back in Nairobi where I was recruited to work on an exciting new web startup. I learnt about the lean startup methodology and was happy to be building something from scratch.
But months later, I heard that the company never materialised - probably as karma for firing my colleague and I unfairly and prematurely.
Anyway, at that time, I was still supporting the Nigerian startup by searching for East African partners. I was also trying to pull together a startup from scratch with a good friend of mine. Eventually, I felt like I was failing in both endeavours so I decided I needed to do something else - go somewhere else.
So I woke up one day and decided I was going to go to Latin America! And being an English teacher there would help me learn (my dream language) Spanish and at the same time, help me become an even better English speaker and writer.
Thanks to the AIESEC Exchange program, I put together an application and soon enough, I was selected by an English School in a small town west of Venezuela. A few months and a bank-account-on-minus later, I was on a flight to Brazil to visit friends - and later, a flight to Venezuela.
I had the priviledge of working as one of the only two foreign English teachers at CEVAZ in Cabimas and Tamare for one glorious year.
Then I had to move countries. It was a sad move. I had absolutely loved my job and the time I had spent in that country. But a Maduro-fied Venezuela was not exactly an easy place (economically) to live in - and sadly, it still isn't.
So early October, 2014, I found myself on a bus - with all my luggage and a few notes of the "worthless" bolivars - heading to Colombia.
I ended up staying in Bogota for six months. I also taught English but this time in a corporate environment. I enjoyed it but it was just not as fulfilling as the Venezuala gig.
So after having the time of my life in Latin America, and becoming an intermediate Spanish speaker, I found myself back in Kenya unexpectedly. Why and how I got back is a story I would have to share with you over a drink.
Anyway, I was back in Nairobi and clueless. Absolutely clueless. Clueless as to where my so-called career was headed.
And I decided or rather, life/my mum decided that it was time for me to find a job and become a normal person. I had to "grow up" sometime, right? And that's what I did.
I worked on my resume, sent word out to my networks and waited.
In a few weeks (and I realize how lucky I was), I got something. A job as a social media manager at a small-but-big PR company. I did that for six months and I kind-of enjoyed it - up until the freedom itch sneaked up on me.
I started feeling trapped. Trapped in an office for a prison. And there I was - the prisoner getting a "secure" salary.
Was this it for me? Was this how I was meant to live the rest of my life?
I thought about the life I had been dreaming of back in 2013. Before Latin America and way before my period of cluelessness.
Back then, I had dreamt up "the perfect day". It was the result of an exercise called lifestyle design. I even wrote it all down in my notebook. For me, "the perfect day" would be one where I would be free to begin working from wherever I was - whether in my pajamas or not. A day where I would have time to work on things I love. A day where I would have more time to read or audio-book some or a lot of hours away.
These ""perfect days" were things I started thinking about thanks to the "brainwashing" I happily got from the book The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. I first read it in 2012. And since then, I began to chase freedom.
I was actually lucky enough to live some "perfect days" for a few months of 2013. I was able to taste the freedom of working from wherever I was and still getting paid for it. It felt awesome! But it didn't work out for long though because I chose to pack my bags and jet off to Latin America - remember that?
Anyway, I had tasted it. I had lived it. And I knew I loved that lifestyle.
I even had friends who somehow understood and supported it. They either cheered me on or spent the exciting days of freedom with me as I "lifestyle-designed". You know yourselves- and I still love you for that!
But fast forward to two years later. I was back in Nairobi and back in "prison".
The only thing I could think of was how to escape.
At around that time, I got wind of a friend (your quintessential freedompreneur) who was living it up in Zanzibar. One of those friends who had cheered me on in my lifestyle design shenanigans two years before that.
So put together the idea of Zanzibar, the need for escape and some money in the bank and you've got me rushing to the HR guy, justifying my leave days and buying a flight ticket to the Spice Island.
I was there for three days. Enough time to hatch a permanent escape plan from my then 8-8 job.
Fast forward to a month and a half later and I was back in Zanzibar for the Christmas holidays. Those holidays then morphed into a sales job for a hotel marketing company by an AIESEC alumni who had pretty-much head-hunted me for the role.
But let's not forget one thing: I hadn't officially broken up with my office job. I was literally cheating on it with my new-found paradise life.
And you can't blame me. If you've been to Zanzibar, you know how amazing the place is. If you haven't been there yet, I have no idea what you're doing with your life. Honestly.
I thoroughly (and I mean thoroughly) enjoyed my time in Zanzibar that December. By January, I became the escaped employee who was trying to make a living doing sales in hotels across the island.
Believe me - it was hard! And not because I was selling something expensive or difficult to sell. Nope! I was selling a FREE-to-join package for hotels and all they had to do was sign up and get marketed online. But it was difficult for lil-ol-me. Let's dismiss the fact that this job was paying me peanuts - and focus on the fact that I HATE doing sales.
Yeah, yeah - I know. "If you want to become self-employed you must sell." I hear that all the time. But it doesn't change the fact that I hate selling. I really do. Yes, I did it back when I was at AIESEC and maybe I'm not bad at it - but the point is, I just don't enjoy it. And if you know me, you know that I avoid things I don't enjoy. I mean - life is too short to get stuck doing things you hate.
So as you might expect, I eventually ended that sales gig - or to put it more correctly, the sales gig was ended for me - and much to my relief.
But there was one tough reality I had to face.
The fact that was broke as f$%&.
It was that bad.
And honestly, God bless anyone who was close to me back then because they could see it and they either lent me money or tried to find an opportunity for me. I will never ever ever forget that. Again, you know yourselves. I love you for that.
It was around this time that I rediscovered online freelancing. "Rediscovered" because I had dabbled in it for a few weeks before I got the office job that I ditched for Zanzibar. So I went back to Upwork and searched for gigs that would feed and house me while I was in paradise.
I was lucky enough to get one and it lasted a few months before it ended abruptly and I found myself in back in Kenya and broke - again.
Social media paints such a different picture of someone's life. We carefully curate what we end up showing the world. In those difficult months in Zanzibar, I was still showing the world that I was having a fabulous time. Who's going to say they are broke and depressed on Facebook? No-one. Certainly not me.
But that was my situation at the time. Some people close to me knew about the "broke", but very (very) few knew about the "depressed".
So I was back in Kenya trying to piece my life up again and guess what a big part of that meant - yes, it meant getting a job. Becoming "normal" again.
And I got a job. Not just any job. I was back at the same office I had ditched a year earlier. Yes, they called me back.
But if you've been reading this for this long, you know what's coming.
I left the job once again.
Mainly to get back to school and of course, to be free once again.
So here I am. I'm studying as a virtual student for a course I hope I chose correctly. Bachelor of Science in Information Technology. I don't have to go to class - thank God! and I can be wherever I want. On a daily, I work for a couple of clients remotely and they too don't care where I am or if I'm dressed up for work.
I'm finally living the life I had once dreamt of. A life of location-independence. I am free to be where I want when I want.
I am writing this from a guesthouse in the middle of downtown Maputo in Mozambique. I chose to come here on a whim and I can't wait to choose many other places and countries that I can work from as I try to design my life the best way I can.
Sure, I think of alternate lives I could be living. Lives in which I would be earning way more, knowing how to drive a car, owning a car - maybe a house, "building" a life and becoming a "normal" adult.
I am not saying I will never have that. I certainly want to earn way more eventually. I want to be able to drive my car one day, own a house somewhere and settle down. But I want it to happen on my own terms. In my own time. In a space where I am free to be me and do what I love. In that space that I will call home - eventually.
I started saying no to location-dependent jobs offered to me because I know what kind of lifestyle I'm suited for. No more saying yes to location-dependent jobs only because they are "well-paying" or they are "such a good opportunity"!
It's just not me.
I already created my ideal lifestyle and I want my job to fit into it. And not the other way round. Not for me to fit my life or my entire lifestyle around my job.
The reason for this is I want to live a full life now while I earn a living because I have no idea how much time I have on this earth. I don't want to wait for work leaves or work holidays or worse, my retirement, to be free and to see the world. I prefer to do it now.
And I must admit - my life at the moment is not 100% what I envisioned when I designed my lifestyle a few years back. But it's pretty damn close - meaning, I'll eventually get there.
What's your 100%?