• Sarah Yoo

4 Profound Life Lessons From One Year As A Digital Nomad



Travel: it’s exhilarating, energizing and super fun. As we throw ourselves into the deep ends of new cultures, people and places, we find ourselves living on the edge of our comfort zones. Traveling challenges us to think differently, adapt quickly and therefore grow in profound ways.


One year ago, I hopped on a one-way flight from New Zealand, leaving my friends, family and the comforts of home with just one plan: to be in Bali for 6 months and begin my new life within the digital nomad community.


Today, I’m writing this in my home office while overlooking the lush trees of Medellin, Colombia - a city that I never thought to visit.


My conclusion with a year under my belt?


Traveling while building my dream career has so far been thrilling, invigorating yet tiring and challenging. But the biggest gift of all? This lifestyle has served as a great real-world classroom; every day, I am presented with interesting life challenges and its lessons at an exponential rate. ⁣


Here are four most profound insights I’ve gained from my newfound nomadic lifestyle.



Lesson #1: Things Don’t Go As Planned.



Many begin a long journey of travel as a result of life at home not panning out as they had planned. Ironically, it’s the same but in a different capacity when you’re a digital nomad.


Time after time I learned that whatever you plan may not be what you expected:


  • Everything will take twice as long. This is especially true if you’re used to a first-world ecosystem that’s efficient and streamlined. Many third world countries are far from fast life. From the time it takes you to find a new home, your closest supermarket or ways of transport - everything takes longer than originally anticipated.

and

  • Things are always changing. People in the digital nomad community are constantly on the move. As they come and go, your own feelings about a place can change. You may suddenly love or dislike a place or you may suddenly find yourself in countries that you never thought you’d visit, as you join people you meet on the road.


This was a tough lesson for me to learn.


Growing up, I was rather neurotic when it came to planning - I always did things in advance and in painful detail. I had an insatiable desire to be in control and needed to know everything. And I was easily irritated if something didn’t go exactly according to plan.


Now?


I leave home knowing that I might get lost.

I walk into a restaurant knowing there is a chance my order will be wrong due to the language barrier. Or, I may not understand what’s on the menu.


Other times, I don’t have an answer as to what country I’m going to next.


Letting Go




Letting go of control and accepting the uncertainties of life has been one of the most challenging yet rewarding lessons of my life.


I was always afraid my life would explode into chaos if I didn’t try controlling it.


However, paradoxically, the more I surrendered the control and leaned into uncertainty, the more effortless my life became.


This isn’t to say that we should absolve of lives of any planning or expectations.


Rather, I am suggesting a balance of both. There is incredible power in maintaining the act of control AND surrender in our lives - it is a delicate dance.


Now, I do my best to live my life to these following rules:


  1. View planning as a starting point - Know that it will and can evolve into something more.

  2. Be OK with the worst-case scenario - Appreciate anything better than this.

  3. Don't fight changes - Anticipate and welcome unexpected changes.

  4. Trust the process - the outcomes are the organic meeting of all the present chaos and variables coming together harmoniously.


"Change is the law of the universe." — The Bhagvad Gita


Lesson #2: There Is No ‘Right’ Way To Live


“Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.” - Morticia Addams

Before my life on the road, I was surrounded by people who followed a similar life template, values, and goals. Since joining this new lifestyle, I began meeting people with completely different understanding and perspectives of life.


I learned just how it is easy for us to get trapped in the prison of the “right or wrong” mentality.


When I first arrived in Bali and saw people living in “less-than-ideal” standards with inefficient ways of doing things, I remember thinking;


“Why aren’t they working smarter so they can get more money?”


Turns out, I was wrong to think that they weren’t happy.

They were and truly believed they were living their life’s purpose.


We each have our own way of living our lives.


The problem arises when one believes anyone or anything that doesn’t live life like theirs is ‘wrong’. What’s worse is when one then want others to conform to their expectations and tries to change them.


Life is not so binary.




What feels right for one isn’t right for another. “Rightness” is relative and therefore different for each person.


For example, one of my favorite cafes back home opens 7 days a week to make as much money as possible, while a popular restaurant next to my house in Thailand, had no sign or indication of a weekly schedule. They will randomly close when the owners want to.


Each business may struggle to understand why the other behaves that way. But both ways are just fine because one owner values profit while the other values flexibility.


There is no right or wrong way to live a life.


The reality is that all ways are neither good, bad, normal or strange.

It just is a way they choose to live.


Instead of making judgments or arguing on what’s right/wrong, what if we spend that time and energy improving our ability to accept and become copasetic with things that are not like us?


Trying to win the arguments of 7.7 billion people is an impossible goal to accomplish.


So we might as well play a game that we even have a chance at winning - the game of ourselves and our own lives.



Lesson #3: It’s Lonely Sometimes



Life is funny because it gives you the lessons that perhaps you most need - the nomadic life constantly slapped me on the face with doses of loneliness.


Many think that being a digital nomad, you’ll constantly be meeting new people and surrounded by community all the time.


The opportunity to meet interesting people from all over the world is one of the greatest things about this lifestyle. However, while new friendships can be deep and worthwhile, they are developed in a transient setting.


Going back to Lesson #1, you must accept that things don’t go as planned. This may mean, your new friendship can and will last as long until someone’s next trip is up.


When is their next trip?

When is yours?


You probably won’t know until it’s time.

With that said, when they leave, this can lead us to feel lonely.



Loneliness is not a character flaw but rather a normal emotion.



It exists to satisfy the deeply ingrained human need for connection. We all need community that helps us feel supported and part of something, especially when we’re living far from the comforts of our home country.


The key is to embrace loneliness without shame and to reach out for connection despite fear of rejection or embarrassment.


Artist - Liz Climo

It is when I bit my tongue and shared;


"Hey, I’m feeling a bit lonely.”

"To be honest, I’ve been struggling to find people that I get along with.”


My friends called me, invited me to things and connected me with their friends in a new city.


I learned that we find the connection and a sense of belonging that we yearn for, when we dance with the very thing that we fear the most - vulnerability.



Lesson #4: You Build Confidence In Knowing Things Will Work Itself Out



When we feel uncertain, it’s natural for us to start questioning ourselves and our decisions.


“What am I doing with my life?”

“Am I just wasting time? Maybe I should just go back home.”


When we experience challenges, we tend to assess life with a narrow perspective that often blinds us to this temporariness - “This too shall pass.”


Knowing that things will always work out won’t prevent unpleasant situations from occurring but it will help us to pull through and surrender to the things that are outside of our control.

We may not fully understand why we are experiencing certain difficulties at the moment but in hindsight, I learned that there is meaning in each event that occurred.


Simply put, I’ve learned that things aren’t nearly as bad as I anticipated.


Our greatest moments and gifts will come from the unexpected and difficult moments of our lives.


“I've got a theory that if you give 100% all of the time, somehow things will work out in the end.” - Larry Bird


If you have been thinking about starting your life as a digital nomad and have questions, feel free to email me - I'm happy to help!!


If you are already a digital nomad and resonated with any of the lessons above, I'd also love to to hear from you.


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