(You’ve stumbled upon a long, gratuitous, reflective post that I write every year on my birthday. This is my 15th year. It’s really for my own personal archive, but if you’re curious: happy reading!)
If you would have told me at any point in the last 29+ years that I would be celebrating my 30th birthday on an island in South Korea, I would have thought you were off your rocker. Yet here I am, doing the thing that I’ve been trying to do for almost all of my 20s. It took a while to get here, but I’m so, so glad that I finally did.
Re-reading my 28th and 29th birthday posts, it almost feels like this year is the culmination of everything I tried to get started then. I was on the brink of making a location-independent, travel-focused life a reality and here I am, writing my 30th birthday post from my hotel room in Jeju, South Korea where I’ve been living and working (remotely) for the last 3 weeks. I had a lot of doubts that I would actually be successful at achieving this particular goal. The fact that I’m living this life that I’ve wanted and dreamt of for so long is just mind-boggling and amazing and so gratifying. It was all worth it.
I’ve been mentally preparing myself for this birthday for the last few years. It feels like only yesterday that I was just graduating from college and 30 felt like an eternity away. Thirty was “old.” Now that I’m here, though, I completely understand what everyone was saying about it actually being one of the best times of their lives. This year has been amazing. Now I think of my 22 or 24-year-old self and just think “Wow, I was still just a baby then!” It’ll be interesting to see what I think of my 30-year-old self in 6-8 years!
On my birthday last year, I was about 3 months into the start of my consulting practice. I had 1-2 projects and was making some plans for a few quick trips before the end of the year. In the last year, I’ve traveled to 12 countries, living in 3 of those countries (on 3 different continents!) for a month each. That was the dream. That is the dream. I completed my #30Before30. Obviously, I’m still kind of in shock that this is my life.
I did a lot of growing this year, particularly when it comes to letting go of what’s expected of me and instead doing what makes me happiest and makes the most sense for my life. Against my years-long protestations about moving out of NYC or moving to my mother’s house, I finally accepted that it’s actually the best choice for me at this point. I made myself some spreadsheets to rationalize it, because at 30 years old, living with my mom is not necessarily something I’m super proud of. It feels like a certain piece of independence or self-sufficiency is gone, or that I’m shirking some of the responsibilties of adulthood, but on the flip side of that, it’s unlocked a whole world of possibility (literally) for travel and fulfilling my goals. And at the end of the day, that’s what matters in my book.
While it’s been fun to spend time at home again after being on my own for the last ~12 years, I don’t see it as a long-term setup. I’d still like to have a place of my own in the not-too-distant future, but I’ve also finally let go of the notion that I need to live in New York City or San Francisco or some other major city in order to have a “social life” or amazing food or even a sense of success. I’ve actually abandoned the idea of living in one of those cities altogether in favor of living somewhere that will not drain my bank account so much and therefore still allow me to travel. If that’s not an adult decision, I don’t know what is.
In the last year I’ve also gone from a wannabe-freelancer-type to a full-fledged business person. I’ve grown to understand the importance of building structures and processes that enable me to operate as more than just someone who’s doing some freelancing to get by between “real” jobs. If I had to “theme” this year, I’d have to go with something like “the long game.” I think this is the year where I’ve truly started to think about life in more than 2-3 month blocks. I put a lot of effort into getting my financial habits in shape. I put a lot of effort into starting to save up for a house. I put a lot of effort into paying down my student loans. I put a lot of effort into making the choices that would serve me best in the long term instead of what’s going to get me to the next stepping stone.
Although there have been a few hiccups in the last few years, I’ve continued to move in the same general direction and I’m so glad to finally have some stability and rhythm in my life. Hopefully those aren’t famous last words because every time I say something like that, a curve ball comes my way. Stay away, curve ball! I just want one full year of not changing jobs, or having a hiccup that forces me to rearrange everything. Just one. I’m doing my damnedest to make that happen.
If 27 and 28 were the years where I thought I was toe-ing the line between post-college-life and adulthood, 29 found me firmly entrenched in adulthood, and I loved it.
Now for a look back at the goals I set for myself a year ago:
- Support myself through location-independent/remote work. FINALLY. I run my own consulting practice and that enables me to work from anywhere in the world. It's been over a year and I have no plans of stopping.
- Balance work and travel. Visit at least 1-2 new countries. Maybe try living in a different city for a while. SUCCESS! I figured the 1-2 countries would be achievable, but the "try living in a different city for a while" was definitely a stretch goal and my intent was actually another city in the US. Turns out it wasn't much of a stretch at all!
- Figure out my "home base" for the next 2-3 years. I've been toying with the idea of moving out of the city to decrease my monthly expenses and increase my travel budget. I did, indeed, move out of NYC and my monthly expenses are now pretty reasonable. I don't know that I'd say I have my home base figured out for the next 2-3 years, but I have it figured out for the next year and I think at that point I'll be ready to buy my own place.
- Better manage my health and fitness. Find a way to stay fit while on the road. Perhaps pick up running even though I hate it. Hmm...I'm going to have to go ahead and call this one a fail. My fitness is definitely not where it should be and I've really struggled to figure out how to make it work in my on-the-road life because the only time I've really been successful at staying fit was when I had a personal trainer kicking my butt in a gym 2-3 days a week.
- A slightly different take on managing relationships: It turns out that a lot of my friends are now outside of NYC. Some still in the general area, but others all over the world. I'd like to be better at making time/effort to see them in person more often. I actually think I did an OK job with this one this year. I managed to catch up with some of my friends in The Netherlands and Singapore. I even ran into US friends unexpectedly in Dublin and Tokyo. I threw a barbeque over the summer to catch up with some of my friends from home. I could have done a little better than I did, but on the whole, I think this was a success.
- Continued efforts on the dating front. This one continues to prove difficult to manage when I'm changing locations every month or so. I made some valiant efforts, but not much success to speak of. I've decided that if I'm going to focus any attention on dating, I'm going to need to start dating fellow travelers haha.
- Some other, smaller goals that I'm posting on Accompl.sh. Well, Accomplsh is now called Betterlist, so there's that. There was my #30Before30 goal, which I finished by the skin of my teeth, and some other random silly ones that aren't really worth writing about.
And goals for this coming year:
- Have traveled to all 6 continents (+ Antarctica if I can swing it by some miracle!)
- Continue to support myself through location-independent work.
- Spend more time visiting friends and family in-person when I’m home.
- Invest in a piece of property that I use either as my home base or as an income source (or both).
- Establish a small exercise routine that I can do anywhere in the world without needing equipment. Do it at least 3x/week.
- Explore some cities outside of NYC and SF as options for places to have my home base (i.e. Nashville, St. Louis, Boulder, Milwaukee, Richmond, etc.)
If I think back on everything that happened this last year, I think it was the year where I put almost all of the pieces into place that will structure my life for the next few years at least. I finally figured out the combination that works best for me and, hopefully, now it’s just a matter of improving each piece little by little.
I know I keep coming back to the sense of disbelief that I’ve actually managed to make my goals come together and turn into reality, but it does still sort of feel like a fragile balance that I’d like to build a stronger foundation around. I’ve planted the seeds, now I just need to tend to them, weather the storms, and do everything I can to make them grow into an awesome, sturdy tree that I can build a treehouse in when it comes time to retire. Or something like that.
I’m going to throw something new in this year’s post, because I think it’ll be fun to look back on and why the hell not. I’m going to take a stab at what I think my life will be like in 5 years. Here goes:
I’d be surprised if I were traveling full-time in 5 years. I think I’ll have a home base somewhere, possibly outside of the US, but I think I’ll have picked a place where I’ve established some sort of roots to keep me grounded between travels. There’s a decent chance that I’ll have some sort of half-year-expat setup where I have an apartment or a place I live outside of the US but still keep a home in the US. I think I’ll have bought a place or two, and maybe use that as some of my income.
I also don’t necessarily think I’ll be doing technology or product / ux work in the same sense that I am today. I think technology will still be a big part of my life, but I’m not convinced that I’ll be working for (or with) technology companies directly. While I hope that part of my career is built around a creative endeavor (perhaps photography?), that’s almost too tough to guess at this point. Plus with all of the new, amazing stuff coming out in tech (like VR), maybe I’ll find a renewed interest.
And while I’d like to think that in 5 years kids and a family of my own are in the picture, I’m thinking that might be more in the 10-year plan. I think in 5 years I’ll still be living a bit of an independent, wanderer, non-traditional life. It’s just in my nature. But maybe it won’t be considered so non-traditional. Digital nomadism has grown a lot in the last few years. It could become the norm!
Most importantly, I’d hope that many of the people in my life today are still a big part of my life in five years.
I was way off base in what I thought my life at 30 would be like when I was 25, but hopefully I know myself a little bit better now. Then again, who knows what life will bring!
As for celebrating this birthday? I hear rumblings of karaoke, because this is Korea after all.