Mistakes are the best part of starting a business
The internet is saturated with best practices to become a digital nomad and start your own business. Do a quick search and you’ll find workshops, retreats, books, blogs, online classes and Facebook groups galore. Many of them make the process sound simple and straightforward… just follow these 10 steps and you’ll be an overnight success.
A lot of them are based on “Western” concepts like:
Time is money; Do it right the first time.
Set SMART goals (specific, measurable, agreed upon, time-related).
Create an action plan and follow through with it.
These are all great ways to get stuff done quickly and avoid costly mistakes. There is also a dark side. In this approach to professional life, achievement is everything. Its followers are often obsessed with perfection, optimization, automation and failing forward.
I used to be one of these people. It’s exhausting. One would think that I would have left these beliefs in the dust when I quit my corporate job, but I didn’t. It was the only way I knew how to work.
Crash & Burn
Summer, 2015: I thought everything was going well in my new life as a digital nomad. I had just finished an intense business accelerator program where we met for two hours each day for six months. I had an awesome idea and was making tons of progress. I was following best practices and implementing tips and tricks. I was on fire!
One day I was hunched over my laptop reading business advice blogs. My mind was swirling and questions and doubts. Should I focus on my social media outreach strategy or the search engine optimization of my website? What if I skipped both of those and worked on my marketing plan? Or maybe I should spruce up my You Tube channel like the guy in the Skill Share talked about earlier today. “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh” my mind screamed. My neck hurt. My back hurt. My brain hurt. I needed to take a break.
Burnout: “A state of emotional and physical exhaustion caused by a prolonged period of stress and frustration; an inevitable corporate condition characterized by frequent displays of unprofessional behavior, a blithe refusal to do any work, and most important, a distinct aura of not giving a sh!t.” – The Urban Dictionary
Meeting My Favorite Mistake
In the midst of my frustration, I closed my laptop and walked over to a dive bar with live music and cheap beer. A local man with crazy hair, wild eyes and a mischievous smile sat beside me. I was mesmerized by his peace of mind and decided to overlook his empty wallet. I paid for the beers. We moved in together a few days later. And then I paid for everything for about a year.
I’m pretty sure none of the blogs I read mentioned dating a dirt-poor musician with tons of tattoos as a best practice for building an online business. My friends and family thought I was making a HUGE mistake. Maybe I was, but I didn’t care. I wanted to see where this fantastic disaster/dating adventure would take me.
My Lazy Phase
With him, my days were slower, filled with silliness and completely unpredictable. He used to do this hilarious impression of me working on my laptop. It reminded me of Cookie Monster eating cookies. Instead of shoving massive quantities of cookies in my mouth, I was banging computer keys at warp speed, trying to build my business.
When I’d get too wrapped up in my work, he’d grab my hand and pull me outside for a long walk in the fresh air. Somehow my marketing plan didn’t seem as important anymore. That’s when I realized why this “mistake” of a man had waltzed into my life.
He showed me how to santai, which means “relax” in the local language. I like to think of it as the art of doing nothing. It is essentially the opposite of Western thought.
I had somehow stumbled upon one of life’s great gifts – how to exist in the present moment. I didn’t find it in a yoga class, by meditating in a rice paddy or reading a self help book. I found it through dating someone most people would refer to as a “total loser.”
Once I was able to relax, I realized I had been busily working on the WRONG IDEA all along. I found clarity and creativity came easily when there was no pressure to be successful. To my great surprise, it was during this time of “doing nothing” that I made the most progress on my businesses.
Mistakes Make the Best Memories
A few months later I was sitting on a lounge chair at a resort admiring the turquoise water with a few friends. A group of tourists walked up to the activities desk and said they would like to try snorkeling. I’m pretty sure they had never set foot in water before because they did EVERYTHING hilariously wrong.
They put their life jackets on backwards and tried to slip them over their heads already clipped closed. Their masks were on upside down. They put their fins on about 100 meters from the shore and kicked sand in their faces the whole way. As soon as they got to the water, they instantly sank in the waves.
My friends and I tried not to laugh and exchanged “did you see those idiots” smirks. In hindsight, I’m pretty sure they had a way better time than we did sitting on the sidelines. Their goal wasn’t to win a snorkeling competition. It was to have fun and make lasting memories.
Know Your Goal
What if the point of becoming a digital nomad is NOT to optimize your sales funnel or bring in six figures from your e-commerce site on your first try? What if the best parts of life pass you by while you are slaving away on your laptop? What if there is no right or wrong way?
If you are in the midst of starting a business or considering it as an option, think about what you really want to get out of it. It will be a million times more fun if you make a ton of mistakes, santai, and enjoy the messy sunshine.
Building your new business?