12 Lessons Learned from Year One of Jobless Freedom

July 12th, 2010 § 0 comments

How I didn’t end up living in a ditch down by the river

Written by Everett Bogue | Follow me on Twitter.

This week (July 15th 2010) it will have been exactly one year since I quit my day job photo editing New York Magazine’s blogs, and started on an unexpected adventure in self-employment via minimalism.

Here’s a short recap of what happened in that year:

1. I hopped on a plane Portland Oregon on August 22nd 2009, reducing my possessions to what would fit into one carry on, one computer bag, and a camera bag — 97-things in all.

2. In October I started Far Beyond The Stars, a blog where I wrote about my minimalist journey escaping my day job and living a simpler life. I threw a party for myself when I hit 23 subscribers. Now I have 4000+ subscribers and 50,000+ monthly readers. Wow, thanks for being here everyone!

3. I drank a lot of coffee in a lot of different cities. Stumptown (Portland), Blue Bottle (Oakland), and Ritual Roasters (San Francisco) rank high on my roast choices. Intelligensia in Chicago doesn’t even compare, sorry guys.

4. At the end of November I left Portland and took the Empire Builder Express (named after Chris Guillebeau’s epic guide to self-employment) to Chicago where I spent the holiday with my family, went skiing in the upper peninsula of Wisconsin and started writing The Art of Being Minimalist.

5. In January 2010 I flew back to New York with every intention of leaving asap. My girlfriend missed me, so I convinced her that we had to move somewhere other than Brooklyn eventually.

6. During January I finished The Art of Being Minimalist, which teaches people how to apply minimalism in order to survive without a job for long periods of time, among other things. In February I released the e-book, and surprisingly the profit from the e-book started paying for my minimalist lifestyle.

7. People started emailing me about how I was able to make a living from a little e-book on simplicity. I tried to help as many people as I could individually, but the emails became too much, so I decided instead to write another e-book.

8. In May I pre-relased Minimalist Business before it was done. Perfect is the enemy of done in my mind (more on that later). A lot of people went out of their way to purchase Minimalist Business before it was done. Thank you everyone! From what I hear, many people liked it.

9. On May 15th my girlfriend Alix, myself, and Lola the cat relocated to Oakland, CA. I reduced my possessions to 50 things for the move, but afterward realized that I needed a few more shirts so I wouldn’t have to do laundry so much.

10. In June I released Minimalist Business. My income surpassed what I made at my day job around this point (ie, a little more than I need to be making to support my minimalist lifestyle.) Now a legion of extraordinary individuals are applying the theories in the e-book to build their own minimalist businesses. Yay!

Not bad for one year since I quit my day job!

That being said, I’ve learned a few things since making the transition.

This is why I’ve compiled this list of 12 things I’ve learned since quitting my day job.

1. Moving anywhere isn’t as scary as you think.

I was absolutely terrified of moving to Portland. Everyone told me that I’d end up in the gutter at the edge of the river under the bridge with the bums.

In all honesty, here’s what people are scared about: the choices they have to decide on in order to make a long distance relocation a reality. Mostly this involves giving up your wall-sized entertainment system, and all of the knickknacks that you’ve been keeping in boxes since high school. They’re too freakin’ big to fit into a carry on bag. This junk is also not important, because you don’t use it.

I had to give up some things to be able to live anywhere. The 20lb light kit that I’d purchased in order to pursue the dream of becoming a photographer (which was never happening anyway, because I wasn’t really interested in it.) was one of the causalities. I also had to donate some jackets I never wore.

Of course there was more, but I forget now what that stuff was.

The reality is that freedom is much more important than your stuff, and anything you lose can be regained if you truly miss it.

2. You know what really scares me now?

Being forgotten, saying nothing important, living a life that I didn’t believe in. If I ever find myself in a place where I’m afraid that I’m not doing what I think is important, I will do everything in my power to change that.

I hope you will too.

3. It’s easier to live and work from anywhere if you make it easier.

Many people make it incredibly hard to work for themselves, and that’s why they fail.

The #1 culprit for self-employment failure, in my observations, is over-extended life overhead.

The reason I’m still standing here, one year after leaving my day job, and now making MORE money than I did at New York Magazine (and working 1/4th as much as I used to,) is because I was able to survive for the first three months without any income at all. It takes a long time to build the momentum to make a business happen, and if you’re feeling the pain of high-overhead, you’ll fail before you see results.

If your monthly overhead is $7,000, it’s much harder to succeed than if your monthly overhead is $1,000.

What is the easiest way to lower you overhead? Adopt a minimalist lifestyle. Ditch your car. Move somewhere cheap and live in a studio apartment or with roommates. If you truly want to live and work from anywhere, you have to sacrifice your consumerist tendencies and focus on the important until you see results.

4. You need to tell a simple story.

Look to the right of this blog post, in the sidebar of my blog (if you’re reading this in a feedreader or in email, visit my site.) What does it say?

“Hi I’m Everett Bogue. I’m the author of The Art of Being Minimalist and Minimalist Business. I live with less and work from anywhere in the world (currently Oakland, CA).”

People need to know exactly what you’re about immediately — because most people are only going to see your work for a 1.52 seconds. 80% of the people I come across on the Internet haven’t made it clear what they’re about, and that’s why they don’t get traction.

In reality my story is much more complicated than the one above, but you need to dig deeper to find that out.

You need to define yourself as a leader in order to make a living from anywhere in the world. The most effective people I know have tell people what they’re about in a very simple and direct way. Ashley Ambirge rejects the status quo and rebels against mediocrity. Glen Allsopp teaches people about how to use viral marketing to get their message to the world. Karol Gajda teaches people how to live free anywhere in the world.

In order to break through the noise you need a simple message that can spread. Make it fit into a tweet. Make it memorable, so if you meet someone on the street they’ll be able to remember you later.

Some call this an elevator pitch, but I don’t really use elevators anymore. I’d prefer to refer to it as a simple message that defines your work.

“Hi. I’m Everett Bogue. I teach you to apply minimalism in order to live and work from anywhere.”

5. Ignore Everybody.

This is the title of Hugh McLeod‘s book (he’s one of my heroes.) It’s a mantra that’s stayed with me through all the entire year — especially for some of the harder months in the beginning when things were first getting started.

Whenever you try to do something against the status-quo, such as starting your own business or pursuing your art, the naysayers will do everything in their power to let you know that you’re going to fail.

Over the last year my family thought I’d fail, my girlfriend thought I’d fail, everyone who I’d worked with previously thought I’d fail, some of my readers thought I’d fail. The only person who knew I wasn’t going to fail was me.

They all said ‘why don’t you just get a job like everyone else?’

Would I been successful if I’d given up because everyone thought I’d fail? Nope.

We only define success after a person has been successful. This means that you will never be successful when you first get started. No matter who you are, or where you’re coming from, you can never have a successful beginning.

This means you need to tune out everyone who tells you to take the safer road, and trust your gut.

6. The safest thing is often what everyone isn’t doing.

Believe it or not, the safest thing you could probably ever do is to do something that everyone thinks is impossible — most people don’t try to do impossible things, they try to do easy things. When you’re competing with 50,000 people trying to do the easiest thing, you’ll inevitably have a really hard time making a living doing that easy thing.

For example: getting a job in a coffee shop is basically impossible in Portland, because there are thousands of indie kids all competing to pour your coffee. Only the really talented coffee pourers win in this situation.

The tinier the niche you’re trying to fill, the easier it is to find success. I’m one of the very few people that teaches people how easy it is to live and work from anywhere by applying minimalism, this is why I haven’t encountered many brick walls on this path.

If I tried to write about celebrity gossip, I wouldn’t have been so lucky, because everyone does that.

7. Authenticity is in living the change you believe in.

Write what you believe, from the place where you’ve actually been. There are a lot of minimalist blogs out there, if you’ve noticed. I believe the number one reason that mine has been so successful is because I’m actually a minimalist, and I actually live and work from anywhere in the world.

If you write from a place of ‘look at this hypothetical idea that I’m not actually going to try.’ people aren’t actually going to believe you, because you’re not doing it.

I actually threw out my stuff and lived with 50 things for awhile. I actually moved across the country a few times. If you’re writing a guinea pig blog, you’d best actually have guinea pigs. If you’re writing a ‘save the planet’ blog, you’d best not be driving a car anymore. If you want to end world poverty, writing about it isn’t enough, you should actually be feeding people. If you write about raw food, you’d best actually be eating it.

If you don’t, no one will believe you.

How do I know that creating a minimalist business is a lot more fun than having a day job? Because I run one.

8. There is no original.

If you set out to be the most unique person on the planet, to only have original ideas, to only say something that no one has ever said in the history of the planet, you will never be able to say anything.

Everything has happened before, and everything will happen again. You can’t avoid that.

It’s being you that brings the originality. It’s your approach that makes it unique. It’s the fact that you’re actually doing something that inspires people.

Don’t worry that you’re stepping on Thoreau’s toes. He doesn’t mind.

9. Be ruthless with your attention.

You only have so many hours in your day. Don’t waste it on stupid things that don’t matter.

There are millions of channels to tune into in the Internet age, you can’t listen to them all.

In order to succeed you need to cut through the noise by using your attention wisely.

  • Unsubscribe to a blog if it bores you (even if it’s mine.)
  • Unfollow someone on Twitter if you don’t care anymore.
  • Don’t answer that email if you know you’ll just get another one in return.

Your attention is always best spent on your work. Your work is actually creating things.

Track all of your other time. Social networking, email, reading noise, etc. Chances are you’re probably finding some hidden way to procrastinate against the actual process of creation.

Don’t do anything else until you’ve made work that matters.

10. Test all of your assumptions.

Everything you learned in college about how the world works was probably a lie. This isn’t because people are intentionally deceptive, it’s because the way the world works fundamentally changed in the last five years — most college professors still think it works the old TV-industrial way. It doesn’t work that way anymore.

Every time you find yourself assuming that the world works a certain way, make sure you test that theory out first. Because it is just a theory, assumptions aren’t necessarily reality.

I was told every single day in college that the only way to get my work published was to get an internship at a newspaper and work my way up newsroom ladder until I was a senior editor, and then I’d be able to say whatever I wanted. Two years later most newspapers in the country stopped being profitable. Now no one with any sense reads newspapers anymore.

You wouldn’t believe how many of my journalism school colleagues still think this false idea of current reality is true, just because a professor told them it was.

There are obviously a million examples of untested assumptions that people insist on believing. The record label is the only way to bring their music to the world (there is no music industry). The only way to be happy is to buy things (buying things makes you unhappy). McDonald’s hamburgers are made out of meat (mealworms?). Etc. None of these things are true, but you haven’t tested them now, have you?

Make sure you prove theories through execution, and not just because some old guy told you it was true.

11. Everything changed after 2003.

According to The Long Tail, 2003 was the last year that there was growth in the mega-artist industry. Remember the blockbuster albums from when you were a kid? There are no blockbusters anymore. Sure, there’s still somewhat popular stuff like Twilight and Lady Gaga, but this stuff will never be as popular was it was when the TV controlled what we heard and saw.

You are in control now. You are responsible for every single element of getting your message to the world. No one will pick you up and dump you in success-land. This also means that you can be successful with a very small group of people… some say you only need 1,000 true fans, and I concur, because the fans of my work support me.

The world is an equal playing field thanks to the Internet, and you have no excuse but to step up and start playing the game. Yes it’s hard. But do you know what’s harder? Sitting at a desk all day hating your life.

12. Your business shouldn’t cost anything.

The one sure-fire way to never be able to support yourself is to make your business cost as much as the revenue you have coming in.

I don’t care about your revenue, I care about your profits. My business works because every single dollar coming in either goes to an affiliate (because I pay my fans to support me) or it goes to me.

I know it’s obvious, but so many people just don’t get it. I wouldn’t be living and working from anywhere if my business overhead was more than my profits. If you start out thinking that investing tons of money in an idea is how money comes back, you’ll end up going bankrupt, not building a business.

Instead try the opposite approach: only invest what you need to, when you need to do it. Chances are you can build a business for free, or for very cheap. This is how to build a business: not the expensive way.

Thanks for reading this long blog post. I can’t wait for the next year, it’s going to be great!


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Oh! and before I forget. My buddy Tyler Tervooren interviewed me about running a minimalist business at Advanced Riskology.

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