How I Became a Digital Nomad

How I Became a Digital Nomad

I am not what you would define as your typical 9-to-5 laborer. Although I once tried to find my place in the corporate world, I quickly realized that I wasn’t cut out for an office job. Over the last 15 years, I have pursued higher education and international positions looking for the right career path for me. After several ventures and failures, I discovered the perfect job was right under my nose. Even though I had been working as a digital nomad for years, it wasn’t until recently that I finally had a name for it. Here’s what led me to work online and how I turned it into a full-time career.

Fed Up with Corporate Jobs

My life as a digital nomad first began when I left the U.S. to pursue a graduate degree in Belize. I knew that I simply wasn’t cut out for the corporate world and wanted to take an alternative career path. Making that leap of faith and moving far from home, especially to a place as wild as the mountains of Central America, is not a decision you make lightly. However, once my mind was set, I knew there was no turning back.

I had spent two years sitting at a desk and building seniority and security in the world of corporate America. Although my salary grew, my satisfaction with life diminished daily. Every email and every angry customer took a small piece of my joy for life, chiseling away at it one complaint at a time. I was absolutely miserable and often thought about handing in my two-weeks notice.

After one particularly nasty call, I hung up my headset and stared at the monitors in front of me. I felt dazed and numb as I looked at the open windows and endless emails. Right then, I knew I had to make a change. Even though I hated my job, I was doing nothing about it. I’ve always told myself that if you’re not changing the situation, then you’re choosing it. And, I was choosing to be miserable.

The world was a vast place I wanted to explore. And, I couldn’t do that working 60 hours a week in front of a screen. I had to get out before I withered away and watch my life pass before me.

Answering the Call to Travel

I spent the next three years completing my master’s degree and taking every opportunity to travel. Although my studies and love for archaeology were the initial reasons I began my life abroad, I discovered a deep love for cultural diversity and making connections with people. While my degree offered me greater insights, it didn’t come with a steady paycheck. So, I began looking at other employment options that both capitalized on my experience and allowed me the freedom to continue traveling.

Once I gave up the pursuit of academia, I veered into other classroom roles. As an experienced writer with proficient foreign language skills, I decided to try my hand at teaching English. As an ESL teacher, I truly enjoyed working with students and watching them build their communication skills. Having the opportunity to do it in multiple countries around the globe fulfilled both an economic and personal need.

However, obtaining correct documentation to comply with the foreign tax and labor codes is a very complex and time-consuming process. In some cases, I spent weeks sorting through paperwork and visa applications. Other times, employers would take advantage of my trusting nature. The last straw was when one director put my legal status in jeopardy with questionable accounting practices. After that, I decided it was time to go into business for myself.

Supporting Myself as a Digital Nomad

I had considered the idea of working for myself ever since I graduated. However, I never had a strong enough desire or need to make it happen. With the release from my contract and the prospect of further international travel, it seemed like the perfect time to start looking for online work.

In college, I had made money editing research papers and ghostwriting for websites. Since I had still had the contact information for people I had previously worked with, I reached out to see if they had a need for anyone with my skill set. Sure enough, one of them responded with a potential job opportunity. With the approval of my sample writings, I was now officially self-employed.

But, the hardest part was yet to come. Although I had landed consistent work, it was not nearly enough to support myself. Therefore, I had to establish a good reputation within the freelance community and pursue bigger contracts. Two years later, I am finally at a point where I earn a steady and competitive full-time salary.

Things I Wish I Had Known Starting Out

Although things run smoothly now, there are a few pearls of wisdom I wish I had known starting out. While many acquaintances and business contacts helped me along the way, there were a few of the hard lessons I learned early as a digital nomad. Perhaps my struggles can spare future freelancers from making the same mistakes.

  1. Be patient. It will take time to establish a good reputation with the freelancing community. So be patient as you build your business.
  2. Beggars can’t be choosers. Even though you earned a higher salary from previous positions, you may have to take low-paying jobs to start earning clients in the beginning. Once you attract more business, you can increase your rates.
  3. Know your value. On the other hand, you don’t want to undervalue your skills and experience. Compare your rates with other people to know your value and the fair market price for your time.
  4. It can become a full-time job. Despite what many people tell you, it is possible to make a decent living as a digital nomad. You can support and not only rely on it to supplement your income.
  5. It is possible. I wish I had ignored the naysayers and started sooner. Branching out on your own is not as implausible as people make it seem.

After so many wrong career choices and so much self-doubt, I recall the moments when I experienced what true freedom meant for me. I go back to the moment I finally got off the corporate cycle and that first bumpy bus ride on the back roads of Belize. In these moments, I knew that a new beginning was exactly what I needed. Just like the dusty summer day, I am now heading towards a new dream and a new life.

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Posted in: Career, Online Income, Travel

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