Within the online entrepreneurial community, there are various hot topics that make their way in and out of the spotlight. Yet in the past year, one particular theme has been glued to my newsfeed: The term “digital nomad”.
At least twice a week, one of my community members approaches me and asks why and how I created a digital nomad lifestyle around my business. Yes, it’s true that I moved to Tel Aviv from San Francisco three years ago and have done quite a bit of traveling since then. It’s true that I run a very successful location-independent online business. It’s true that my mini Macbook makes its way into every city I travel to, helping me stay engaged with my community as I eat pasta in Rome, hike through Petra, or swim in the waters of Goa.
But did I build my business and then embark on this never-ending international adventure? Did I always have a dream to take the alternative route and roam the earth with nothing more than a backpack?
Hell no! In fact, it was quite the contrary. I didn’t even know what an “online business” was when I first decided to move to Israel. Because unlike many tech-oriented millennials looking to build businesses in the Startup Nation, I moved here for more “old school” Zionist reasons.
At the age of 22, two months after graduating from college, I said goodbye to my family, received my Israeli citizenship, and moved into an immigrant absorption center in Israel (not exactly the sexy Tel Aviv beach scene that people imagine).
And just as most recent graduates do, I started (attempted?) to figure out this whole adulting thing. The first item on the list: get a job.
Except here’s the catch that no one told me about when I decided to build my life in Israel: the average yearly salary is $30,864, but for entry-level positions available to people like me starting their careers, I was applying for jobs that were offering much less than that. It’s also important to mention that an average apartment in Tel Aviv costs $1,446, making it one of the most expensive cities in the world for young people. In fact, one in every five Israelis lives in poverty, which is the highest percentage in the developed world and higher than countries such as Mexico, Turkey, and Chile. Essentially, I was setting myself up to fail.
But between my optimism for my new Israeli citizenship and a commitment to fitting into Israeli society, I took my first full-time post-grad marketing job. I was offered and reluctantly accepted a $23,000/year salary position.
After six months or so, I started becoming resentful toward this position. I didn’t feel appreciated, I was overworked, I was commuting multiple hours a day, and I had little creative freedom. And here’s the real kicker: when I mentioned this to various people in Israel – Olim and native Israelis alike – I was told that I was being ungrateful. “This is just how Israel is.” “Living in Israel isn’t about the money, it is about living a meaningful life.” And suddenly, just as millennials are around the world, I was labeled an entitled, ungrateful 20-something who lacked a basic work ethic.
And then I was left with two choices: I could either move back to the United States and get another marketing position for maybe $60K, or I could suck it up and accept my $23K/year salary. But both of those options sounded miserable, so I started thinking outside of the box.
A third option popped into my head – one that was really risky but might just be worth it.
I could start my own marketing business. Set my own rates. Choose my own clients. Work from my own home. I could do this whole freelancing thing and potentially make a lot more money independently while also having the ability to stay in Tel Aviv.
I had the same skills either way, right? So why not just offer them independently and cut out the middleman (the employer)?
After thinking it over for for about 24 hours, I quit my job and launched my marketing consultancy. This was two years ago. I now run an online coaching business that specializes in teaching other millennials how they can do the same: build their own businesses, set their own rates, and generally live the lives they want.
I didn’t become a digital nomad so that I could work and travel.
I didn’t build an online business because I wanted to go learn the tango and cage fighting in obscure international locations. (Tim Ferris, who are you?)
While everyone else thought that I had launched my own business for these “non-conventional” reasons, I was actually seeking practicality.
Practically, I wanted to be able to afford rent in an apartment that wasn’t in an absorption center. I could barely do that with a full-time Israeli salary.
Practically, I wanted to go visit my family in California once in awhile. I couldn’t do that with a full-time Israeli salary either (between available vacation time and travel expenses).
And most importantly, I couldn’t build a new life for myself in Israel – make new friends, create a community around me, attend meetups, learn Hebrew – if I was trapped in a full-time location-dependant job. It simply didn’t align with my goals as an Olah or a millennial.
When I did launch my own business, everything that I now know as the “digital nomad lifestyle” seemed to naturally fall into place. I suddenly had flexibility, I was able to travel, I could work from home or a cafe or a shared workspace, I could go visit my family for months at a time, and I had more than enough money to afford a nice apartment in Tel Aviv. It was clear that it was the right choice for me to make.
If you’re a millennial who has struggled to find balance and fulfillment in your career – no matter where you are in the world – here are a few reasons that launching an online location-independent business might be the most practical decision for you too.
Traveling at a young age will benefit your long-term career
The other day, I was visiting my boyfriend’s grandparents in Be’er Sheva. Both Argentinian Olim, they spent their entire lives working themselves to the bone in order to retire around the age of 66. Their plans were to travel the world and finally start living, never having to work again.
And guess what ended up happening: They didn’t travel. They can barely even walk out of their apartment. They’re elderly, frail and energy-depleted. The best years of their life are gone.
It doesn’t make sense for people start “living their lives” and waiting to travel only when they’re physically incapable of doing so. It’s a backward system that needs to be seen as such.
Today, on the other hand, you are young. You’re energized, motivated, sharp, flexible. I’m not implying that you need to hike Kilimanjaro or participate in a European Iron Man. But if you do plan to see the world at any point in your life, you should probably create a career that will allow you to do it now. It’s simply impractical to wait until you’re 70.
How does this pertain to your career? Traveling strengthens your skills as a young professional, making you both more intelligent and resourceful. Allison Hope explains the impact of travel on the young mind’s creativity. By traveling to various countries and experiencing new foods, languages, cultures, and environments, it opens up new neuropathways in your brain, allowing you to process information in new ways and improve your creative abilities. This is obviously beneficial to any entrepreneur in the midst of Tel Aviv’s competitive startup ecosystem.
Learning a new language makes you more focused and efficient
Immersing yourself in a new culture forces you to challenge and expand your thought processes. It also teaches you to adapt to new surroundings and receive new information with more ease. Having this skill, which I adopted in Israel, has allowed me to work with clients internationally from every culture and language background.
Living in Israel has also encouraged me to learn a new language, which I would have never done if I had stayed in the United States, a country often criticized for its “language entitlement” (learning a second language perceived as an option other than a necessity, as it is in almost every other country). As studies have proven, learning a second language makes us more intelligent and capable people both inside and outside of professional environments. “A polyglot is much better at weeding out unnecessary details and focusing on the salient aspects of a given task, as demonstrated in the common psychological test called the Stroop Task,” says Anthony Martinez.
It’s also important to note that modern businesses internationally are making tremendous efforts to implement measures that will allow them to work with foreign enterprises. “Nearly 80% of business leaders surveyed believe their overall business would increase notably if they had more internationally competent employees on staﬀ, the CED concludes,” says Cheryl Conner. Having non-native language skills will naturally put you ahead of the game and increase your chances of working with various clients around the world.
Your income will skyrocket
I’m well aware that the number one pain point for millennials who are hesitant to start their own businesses is that they’re fearful of financial instability. What most don’t realize is that the earning potential without the middleman in place (the employer) could be 5 or 10 times higher. For example, if you work for a creative agency as a graphic designer and you’re paid $30 an hour, it’s possible that your employer is getting paid $150 per hour for that work from the client. But if you offer your services individually, that’s an extra $120 in your pocket per hour. Now, multiply that times 160, the average number of hours someone works in a month. The amount that you can scale this is unlimited.
The next question is obvious: How does one ensure that this revenue is consistent as an independent provider? With the right marketing strategies and sales funnels in place, there is no reason for there to be even one incident of a gap in your revenue. As long as you put consistent effort into your personal branding, community building, and marketing efforts, you can consistently earn more as your own boss. Trust me, I’ve done it with two 6-figure businesses now.
But even beyond the monetary benefits, you can drive this revenue from anywhere in the world, all from the convenience of your laptop. No office or 9 to 5 schedule necessary!
You can own fewer things
To some, this might sound like a downside. Instagram has defined the ideal entrepreneur as the suited man with the Lamborghini, poolside mansion and private jet. And maybe for some, this is still the entrepreneurial dream. But practically, I’ve learned that I find much more value in experiences that I pay for instead of things that I pay for. Having the freedom to travel and immerse myself in various cultures has driven me to thrive in my business unlike any physical object has.
In fact, Dr. Thomas Gilovich from Cornell University conducted a 20-year-study that eventually proved one fascinating fact: people gain far more long-term satisfaction and fulfillment when they invest in experiences, not things. “Experiences become a part of our identity. We are not our possessions, but we are the accumulation of everything we’ve seen, the things we’ve done, and the places we’ve been. Buying an Apple Watch isn’t going to change who you are; taking a break from work to hike the Appalachian Trail from start to finish most certainly will,” says Travis Bradberry in summary of Gilovich’s findings.
Don’t get me wrong: living in a nice home is something that I still value, but I’ve found that I enjoy having fewer things to worry about. It makes me feel lighter, more flexible, and more free in my business. This August, my boyfriend and I will drive across the United States for three months without an apartment (we’re not resigning our lease) and will only find a new place to live once we return to Israel. And while to some, this might sound anxiety-inducing, for me, it practically makes so much more sense. I don’t want to be weighed down by a huge mortgage and never-ending furniture and car payments at age 25. I want to focus on my work, my loved ones, and experiencing the world. That’s it.
If you’ve considered launching and scaling an online business, I’m guessing that people have called you impractical or immature or selfish. I’ve been called all of these things and then some. But the people who have labeled me as impractical and irresponsible are the same people who are trapped in full-time jobs they hate until retirement, wondering what’s going on in the outside world while I’m out here experiencing it. Consider what’s possible in the modern online climate and create the best life for yourself based on that, not on a nonsensical standard that was enforced 60 years ago. Long story short: Start living your life now, unless you have a better idea.