For the last 3 years I’ve been living completely off the grid. I don’t have a regular job anymore, my income sources are completely erratic, and my personal relationships are either collapsed or very hard to understand from a traditional perspective. I travel a lot and when I work, I set up my own hours and spaces. From the outside, I often characterize myself as a digital nomad, but on the inside, I’m just living off the grid.
It’s an incredibly powerful experience and, the more I get into it, the more I enjoy the whole process. But, as cool as it may look or feel, living off the grid is not easy. Also, it is a socially alienating lifestyle, and that’s for a very good reason: any individual living outside normal rules is intrinsically a threat to the society. Which will in turn do whatever it takes to alienate those who are not obeying its rules. And believe me, I’ve been treated like this by what we call “society” more than once.
What Does “Living Off The Grid” Means?
Before diving too much into the causes and consequences of such a lifestyle, let’s stop for a moment and try to understand what “living off the grid” means. At least for me.
First of all, it means I’m not socially enrolled as a worker. It doesn’t mean I don’t work, it just means I don’t have a regular job. I don’t fit into any socially accepted description of a job, although I do perform a lot of value creating roles. I code iPhone apps, although I’m not a programmer. I write on a popular self-improvement blog (the one you read read right now, that is), although I don’t define myself as a blogger. I wrote 5 books, though I’m not a writer.
In fact, I do have a very odd lifestyle and it took a while even to me to come to the terms with it. After jumping from one definition of what I do to another, from blogger to writer and from entrepreneur to programmer, I finally decided that I’m neither of them. And that I just live outside of a normal grid of rules. With all the good and bad stuff that may come out of this.
Second, living off the grid also affects relationships. I don’t have any of the socially accepted roles in this area, nor do I want to embark on one anymore. I’m not a husband to anyone (I’m twice divorced, as a matter of fact). I’m friend of a few, although I do have a rather eclectic taste in friends. I have short bursts of powerful social interactions, followed by long periods of solitude.
All in all, I’m not following any traditional patterns in living my life. I do not comply with a lot of socially accepted rules. Also, I’m not a nice guy, by any standards. And that’s true, although parts of my blog may have mislead you in this matter.
And yet, I live an incredibly fulfilling life. I don’t experience any of the limitations that come with following the rules. I have an unbelievably diverse field of experiences. I see a lot of places and interact with a lot of people. I create and provide value on many levels. And all this while still maintaining a decent level of comfort, enabling me at least to provide for myself and for my kids.
So, that’s what “living off the grid” means to me. Now let’s move a bit to the reasons for this lifestyle.
After giving it a lot of thought, I came to the conclusion that living off the grid has 3 main reasons: impossibility to adapt, boredom and, finally, curiosity. Let’s talk a bit about each of these and then we’ll go deeper with the implications that this lifestyle had on me for the last 3 years.
1. Lack Of Adaptation
Some of the people living outside of the grid are just unable to cope with the normal rules imposed by society. They simply can’t accept something that is imposed to them. The energy necessary to follow all the rules will simply dry them out. They’re the unadapted.
To some extent, we’re all unadapted. We do not obey to all the rules, all the time. But we do obey to a certain set that allows us to survive in the grid. We’re able to cope with the majority of rules imposed on us, and we do this for the vast majority of time. But once we reach a certain threshold, once we’re not able to fit in properly, we’re off the grid.
If there will be a scale for people living off the grid by lack of adaptation, to the most violent end of it we’ll find criminals, homeless or other “extremes” of the human nature.Their lack of adaptation is so obvious and aggressive that society simply can’t manage them in a frictionless way, and they have to be put away. On the other end of the scale are the shy, unobservable, silent people. So shy and unobservable that we don’t really know they’re there. But they are. We’re only not accepting them in our “circle”.
Another cause of living off the grid is boredom. You know, when you just had enough and need a break. Everybody needs a break every once in a while. We’re designed in such a way that we need diversity, otherwise we tend to implode sooner or later.
Boredom makes rules so unfulfilling that simply obeying them became a chore in itself. Why being a socially correct individual when you don’t get any excitement back? What’s the good in being correct if you don’t get back anything funny?
And, sadly, this is true: the role of rules is to keep the larger structure going on, not to provide excitement. Rules are made to keep everything under control while excitement, by definition, it’s something completely out of control.
That’s the third, and, if I may say that, the most “healthy” reason for living off the grid. If lack of adaptation is your “child” mode and boredom is your “adult” mode, this is what I call your “experimental” mode. The playful one, curiosity in action, but doubled also by responsibility. Trying things outside the normal scope, just to see what happens. How you feel. What you can get off of it.
It’s different from lack of adaptation because you know you can cope with the rules, but now you just want to play. Deep down you know you’re fit, you just try something different.
It’s different from boredom also as it doesn’t set any expectations. In the boredom mode, you expect a thrill as result of your action. In the curiosity mode, you already have the thrill inside, regardless of the outcome of your action.
So, to finish this part, my main reasons for living off the grid are in order: curiosity, boredom and lack of adaptation. I always was almost clinically curious, I was really bored after running my own business for more than 10 years and I also have my share of not coping with the rules. Like I told you, I’m not a nice a guy.
Consequences Of Living Off The Grid
During the last 3 years many things in my life were changed. I will only talk about a few of them, namely about those who may be of interest for a broader audience.
Doing business when you live off the grid is kinda difficult. You must rely only on your own efforts for branding and networking. You won’t get any help back from society: none of your diplomas will work here. It’s only what you know to do and how well are you able to sell it. If you’re good at these, you may end up pretty good. You may create an image of success and you may attract a lot of partners. In my case, I have to admit I also relied heavily on my successful history as an entrepreneur. Before living off the grid, I acted as an important society pillar: I created a big business, which in turn created jobs and generated a lot of extra value. But if I wouldn’t have such a successful history, my current position as an “off the grid” business man would have been very different.
Doing business when you live off the grid is also borderline fraud. Or, to be more correct, this is how it’s perceived by normal society. And why is that? Because you, as an outsider, claim ownership to stuff that is no longer backed up by your lifestyle. You want money, right? But money is a value that was generated inside society. You’re no longer part of that society now, you live by your own rules, so why you still need money? Of course, what’s happening in real life is that you start to align some of your “off the grid” rules to those of a normal, protective society, in order to keep the revenue area in sync, so to speak. Many of the popular icons of this lifestyle are actually doing it. Think Tim Ferris or Steve Pavlina. Although they’re prophets of a lifestyle in freedom, outside a regular job, some of their rules are making (a lot of) room to (a lot of) money.
In my experience, doing business off the grid took a lot of trial and error. The good news is that my initial model, building an online brand around a blog, was validated. This thing is actually working. The bad news is that I have to work way more than I initially thought to make this happen. And I also had to increase the speed of my experiments. If you’re reading my blog, let’s say, twice a month, you wouldn’t have notice any of these. There was very small experiments in monetization, like advertising, affiliate products and so on, each in a very narrow time window. They were taking place at a very high speed, so the regular flow of my messages wasn’t disturbed. Also, I had to invest a lot of time in building some real life connections. These efforts couldn’t be seen also on the blog, but they were part of this new lifestyle.
After 3 years I can finally testify that doing business as an off the grid individual can work in a sustainable way. But it’s not even remotely as easy as doing business in the normal society. So if you wanna take on this path, be prepared to work your arse off.
Probably the most challenging area. First of all, when I really got into this new lifestyle, my traditional relationships went bonkers. Although it worked well for a year or two, starting with the third year, my traditional marriage collapsed. It took almost 2 years to solve the whole separation related stuff and it was one of my most painful and difficult times ever. Mostly because my daughter, Bianca, had to witness a lot of unhealthy emotional reactions.
I won’t blame entirely my new lifestyle for my marriage collapse, but it was certainly an important part of it. As much as we, as men, don’t want to believe this, women are also starting partnerships with our images, not with us, as human beings. Just as we, men, are attracted by their exciting shapes or flirtatious games (which are almost never exact mirrors of their real human beings), they’re also attracted by our (often unconsciously projected) images of protection and power. In my case, being “the CEO” had a big impact on my last marriage. So big that when the “CEO” part of me was gone, wasn’t much left, at least in the eyes of my ex-wife. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no one to blame here, this is just how things were and I don’t hold any grudges to anyone.
Subsequently, starting new personal relationships when you live off the grid is equally difficult. You know, before this, every time a woman was asking me what do I do for a living, the answer was easy: “I own my own business”. From that point on, things were usually pretty straightforward. But now, I am having a real hard time trying to explain to my new acquaintances what I do for a living. In the beginning, I was taking this question seriously and started to really explain that I have a blog, and around it I built an ecosystem of products, and brands, and so on. Big mistake. Now I only tell them: “I do everything I can to avoid a 9 to 5 job”. It seems that it keeps their minds busy enough so we can move to other parts of the game.
But even if they eventually understand what I do for a living, the real bonding is very difficult, especially if the other person is very much “into the grid”. As a matter of fact, the higher is on her career path, the most difficult is for a woman to relate properly with a man off the grid. Their minds are pretty hard wired into stability and protection (usually, that’s the main reason behind their effort to climb on the career ladder anyway). So, if at any moment they will perceive (and women are extremely good at perceiving things, you know) that you’re not into this protection role anymore, and you’re just experiencing and looking for adventure, they’ll back off. Of course, there is also the other side of the coin, when your adventurous image will arouse them and made them push things even deeper, just to experience a little bit of the thrill they see inside you. But in the end, the planet represented by society is way bigger than you, and its gravity will attract them back.
There is always the possibility to meet a woman who also lives off the grid, or who has a deeper understanding of the world. In that case, things will really work out. But, as you may imagine, this is an order of magnitude more difficult to happen than a normal, society compliant relationship.
This area was one of the few that benefit 100% from my lifestyle change. I will just start by saying that every time I’m asking an unknown person to tell my age just by looking at me, I invariably get “30, 33 or 30 something”. I will be 41 in 3 months.
The main reason for my huge massive health improvement was that I escaped a very tiring work routine. Getting to work day in and day out, whether you like it or not, well, that’s not a good thing. I know you know that. I’m just saying. Doing things in a forced way is not good for anyone. Unfortunately, when we sign up a social contract to have a job, we gotta follow through, otherwise the whole universe around us will collapse. And that mere thought is literally killing many of us slowly. And don’t even imagine that just because I had my own business I didn’t have to go to work day in and day out. As a matter of fact, I think I worked more than any of my employees.
Another important consequence for my health was that I also had a lot of time to experiment. One of the most interesting health experiments I did in the last 3 years was my raw food diet. I stayed raw for like 9 months. During this time I lost 12 kilos and I felt like I was 14 again (minus the hormones thing). I was sleeping 5 hours a night and felt absolutely great. But in the end I had to give up. The main reason for that: society is not ready for this lifestyle. I simply can’t be 100% raw and still have a normal social life. Right now I’m omnivorous but I also drastically changed my physical exercise routine.
And by that I come to another fortunate consequence of living off the grid: the ability to start complex 30 days challenges. I started a 30 days challenge to exercise 2 years ago. I also started a “taming monkey” experiment in which I re-learned how to run. And in the meantime I did countless of other small improvements in my physical health. Like walking instead of driving and not eating after 7 PM. And more. But there’s a very important caveat to this situation and I’m very much aware of it. None of these experiments would have taken place if I wasn’t a self-improvement obsessed freak. And by that I mean it’s much more difficult to get motivated when you’re off the grid. When we’re sharing our lives with other people, by following the same rules, much of our behavior is on auto-pilot. Most of the time, this is a bad thing. But there are situations when being part of a larger group are beneficial. Like your weekly basketball game, for instance, if you know what I mean.
And with that, I’m going to the part that was most heavily changed by living off the grid: social interactions. In the beginning, the most important consequence was that I was able to filter all my social contacts based on a simple rule: whether I like them or not. You have no idea how heavily our social contacts are influenced by our jobs and how little we can influence them when we follow the rules. Once you’re off the grid and once you can make a conscious choice, your social life will be completely changed. You will meet only people you want to meet. This simple change will have enormous effects on your social life. You will simply be able to ignore people you don’t like. Because you’re not forced to deal with them anymore. Massive amounts of anger and rejection won’t be triggered at all. Instead, your emotional life will start to heal. At some point, you will grow so strong that you will not need this filter anymore. You will be able to deal with all kind of people the same way you deal only with people that you used to like. And that’s huge. It’s an internal transformation that will literally catapult your social life. As of today, I have no difficulty whatsoever to normally relate with basically anyone. And I mean anyone.
Also, another important consequence was that I started to work from home. For the last 10 years I had an office. All that was “work” was happening in that place and in that place only. But after I sold my company I didn’t want an office anymore. So all my work started to happen at home. As surprising as it may seem, this was one of the most effective disciplinary measures I ever took. Working from home, instead of making me a lazy couch potato, transformed me into a productivity freak. There were also a lot of other lessons I learned from this.
But probably the most important thing that happened to me on the social level was traveling. It may sound strange to you but I never left my country until I was 35. And since 37, when I sold my company I went over the world and back 2 times. I started a company in New Zealand (and thinking to start one in US too). I went to Asia, from Thailand to Japan. I gambled in Vegas, ate cooked rice in Hong Kong and croissants in Paris. Visited half of Europe and also crossed my natal country, Romania, in any conceivable way. I learned how to fly in Christchurch and also made my first tattoo. I simply can’t imagine myself being capable to have all these experiences by living a socially accepted lifestyle. Like having a regular job and so on. If there is one, I simply cannot see it, so I’d greatly appreciate any insights in the comments.
The Most Important Lessons From Living Off The Grid
Living off the grid is cool. It’s also pretty difficult, as you already saw. But there is also one thing that proved to be the most important of all. A thing so simple and yet so powerful. A thing that made me realize that I can really keep this lifestyle for as long as I want to, provided I won’t forget it.
Without further ado, here it is: living off the grid doesn’t have any positive outcome if the grid doesn’t take something back of the outside experiments. In other words, if you’re living off the grid for yourself, you are not improving anyone’s life. In fact, you’re not improving your life either. You may say that, as a result of your actions, you’ll be a different person once you get back to the grid. But, since the grid hasn’t changed at all as a result of your absence, your newly acquired abilities or skills are useless.
So, if you really want to live off the grid, remember to give back. Stop every once in a while, look back and see what you can share with others that will make the grid a better place. Start telling your stories, for instance. Or start teaching others, Or just start providing some service you learned on your off the grid experience.
In my case, I’m giving back on this very blog more than 500 self-improvement articles. All free of charge. Just browse and read at your leisure. Also, I wrote 5 books and created an iOS productivity app. All these are some of my ways to give back to the grid.
Because I have no intention to get back there soon. It’s way too cool out here.
Even if it gets really tough at times.