One of the most popular posts on my blog is 100 ways to live a better life. Until now, it was read by more than 300.000 people. There are ebooks based on it, available on Amazon, Kindle or iBookStore and some of them are even translated into Korean. It’s still visited by at least 300 people every day.
But I’m not gonna talk about it today.
Instead, I’m gonna talk about one item from the 100 presented there, namely: “move to another city or country”. Changing residence is by far one of the most difficult lifestyle changes, but, if done properly, it can generate tremendous benefits. I recently went through something like this and I thought it would be useful to share my experience.
Many are trying to generate this type of change in their lifestyle, usually after they’ve been exposed to some motivational material, like a workshop or a book. They harness all the energy they can and they push it forward in one giant leap, trying to break free with the past in a single step. And, most of the time, they fail.
A drastic change in your lifestyle is a complex process. It cannot be done in a single step. It takes time and patience and persistence. Take a cup of tea, sit back and relax. I’m gonna tell you a real story. Yes, it’s real and it’s mine.
The Background Story
After I sold my company, almost 4 years ago. I decided to relocate to New Zealand. As many other people, I took a deep breath, harnessed all the energy (and that includes a lot of money) and went on a plane. In a few weeks I started a company there, visited a few houses (with the obvious intention to buy one) and started to put together a strategy for the legal part. My intention was to bring with me my 4 year old daughter and my soon-to-be-ex-wife (we took the decision to leave together when we were still married but, shortly after I realized there was no real intention on her part to follow through, we divorced).
You have to know that until then I was a busy CEO, owning 100% of my own company, working extra hours and trying to split my infinitesimal free time between my little daughter and a bit of a gardening in my state of the art villa in the suburbs. By any standard I was doing great in Romania. I had two four wheelers in front of the villa, I was driving my ass in leather seats all day long, talking 2-3 hours a day on my cell and I was thinking I was running on big horses. Which was partially true, by the way.
Then, the reality hit hard. The first hit was when I realized my ex-wife won’t follow through. That was quickly solved with a divorce. The second hit was when I realized the crisis will make the financial part of this move way more difficult than I thought. And the third hit (the most important, to be honest) was when I realized that if I’m going to completely relocate, New Zealand will be way too far for me to actually represent something in my daughter’s life. And that was something I wasn’t ready to accept.
So, that was my big push. That was my one big step to change my lifestyle. As you can see, I failed miserably. I didn’t plan it correctly, I didn’t chose my partners wisely, I didn’t have a backup plan. I just jumped forward and, this time, I hit the wall.
That’s the bad news. But the good news is that I didn’t give up. I didn’t take the hits and stepped down. No way. I may look gentle and almost shy on the surface, but I have to tell you that I’m probably the most stubborn person you ever met. And I’m not even nice. I never try to be nice, I always try to be honest. I think honesty literally beats the shit out of niceness.
So, after the one-two-three punches series, I took a deep breathe and started to figure out what type of lemonade, if any, I could prepare from the lemons I was given by life this time. What follows is a detailed description of the phases and steps I took.
1. Making Peace With The Past
The first step was to see what exactly I had left from the past that was still affecting my current reality. After the divorce was settled, it turned out there was still quite a bit of stuff that had to be managed.
First of all, I had to comply to my own decision to keep the same place and location for at least one year. At that time, there was a considerable chance that the New Zealand path could raise again. And that basically meant to keep taking care of the huge house in Romania, with all the associated expenses. And there were not only financial expenses, most of them were opportunity expenses. I was living in a place from where I could barely reach to other people. In other words, I was isolated. And isolated is wrong.
And second, I had to clean up my own internal stuff. To understand where exactly am I heading. The context was drastically changed now, and I wasn’t not even close to be adapted to it. That was, of course, the hardest part.
But I took this one year pause very seriously. I carefully inventoried all the things and promises that I have done, to others and to myself. And started to honor them one at a time. Pretty much like I was discharging loads of heavy stuff off of my back. As months went by, the number of promises was decreasing. And I was starting to feel lighter. Until, one day, I realized there was nothing keeping me there anymore.
2. Internal Decision
When I reached the point when past promises weren’t affecting my current reality anymore, I had to come up with a decision. This time had to be a much better decision, in terms of what I was able to actually do. The first one proved to be a lithe bit far fetched. So to speak.
So, instead of moving to New Zealand, I decided to become a digital nomad. To spend an increasingly amount of time each year in that beautiful island, while making arrangements to weaken my links to my current country. Again, this was meant to give me a much higher degree of flexibility. The internal decision was to spend half of the year in New Zealand and half of the year in Romania.
But, at that point, it was just a decision. As important as it may be as a step, a decision in itself does nothing. You need action.
3. Actually Doing Something
Once the new plan was crafted, I started to reach out. To actually do something.
It wasn’t an epiphany. It was a cold, disciplined approach to find a new, much smaller place to live for myself, while managing the house (the crisis was at its peak, so selling it was out of the question). In 2 weeks I found a tenant and I rented an apartment for me in a nice neighborhood in Bucharest. The apartment was just a quarter of a space I had in the house, but it felt more than enough for me.
4. Cleaning Up
After all the paperwork was done, I focused on cleaning up. By far, this was the most tedious, but also the most rewarding part. I know now that this is the most difficult part in any lifestyle change process.
Because, as humans, we thrive on our attachments. As time goes by, we tend to identify with what we own, instead of what we really are. We identify with the stuff in the garage, with the couch in the living room, with the car, with clothes. But we’re none of them.
We’re the all singing, all dancing crap of the universe, as Chuk Palanchuk said it once, in a famous movie. But when we have loads of stuff stored in our houses, it’s hard to sing and dance. We simply don’t have the space for singing and dancing. That’s why I chose to live as “light” as possible from that moment on.
Cleaning up took around 2 weeks. All the stuff that was in my old house was processed, which means 90% of it was thrown away. I still remember the feeling I had in the first mornings after that, when I woke up into my new apartment, although I was sleeping on a mattress. It was the feeling of freedom. And, as the feeling of freedom was settling in, another one emerged. The feeling of loving life again.
5. Adjusting To Change
This stage took a few months. I literally started to explore by foot the new distances in my neighborhood, I started to identify places to spend quality time with my friends and with my daughter and I started to find new places to work (I work in coffee shops, most of the time, and finding a good one, in terms of internet connection, atmosphere and traffic is usually quite challenging). But it was also about finding new people.
I remember that at that time I started a crazy experiment about improvisation. I started to invite people (almost randomly) to an improvisation show. At some point, I was providing, through my social experiment, half of the available seats for that show. Crazy, I know, but great in terms of social connection and re-insertion. It was like drinking from a hose, after a year in Sahara.
6. Locking In
But as the events unfolded, as things started to form some kind of a routine, I felt the need to lock in everything. So, I started to exercise and run pretty much every day. Except for the running, which I went for only 3 times a week.
I also started to cook, to create weekly events (going to the movies, inviting guests or going out) and to create a predictable flow for my days.
It’s interesting that in that stage some of the people that used to be part of the process simply disappeared. It was like they weren’t necessary anymore.
7. Designing The New Path
That’s the current stage. For the last few months I’m experiencing a stable flow of actions in all areas, personal, professional, social, you name it.
I am a digital nomad, I live as light as I want, I blog, I write code, I exercise, I have fun, I have a good life. The amount of changes that occurred in my life in the last year is just amazing.
I’m not 100% to my goal, but I’m slowly closing in. For instance, last year I spent 1 month in New Zealand, whereas this year I expect to stay at least 2 months there. I’m closer.
The “How To” Part
I know that each and every person is different. We have different experiences, expectations and tools. You know better what works for you and what not, so I’m not gonna give a detailed breakdown in an easily digestible form of a “how to change your lifestyle worksheet”. First, because I don’t think such a thing is possible, and second, because I don’t believe in advice. (at least not at this very intimate level).
I do believe though in inspiration and trial and error. If you’re inspired by this article to try out something for yourself, my job here is done. The rest is trial and error. Your trials and your errors.
But at a very general level, here are the things that proved to be incredibly useful for me during this process of a lifestyle change.
Journaling or blogging. I kept a journal for many years and after I started to blog, I used the blog as an accountability tool. Regardless of the actual tool, the accountability output is the important part. You may use journaling, blogging, or even weekly meetings with friends willing to listen to you, but the bottom line is that you have to be accountable. you have to keep your promises. One way or another. If you don’t keep your promises, there will always be strings pulling you back, making the leap way more difficult.
A lifestyle change process is incredibly stressful. You may be prisoner to your own adrenaline bursts and don’t realize how heavily your body is impacted, but that doesn’t mean you won’t feel the heat. Take care of your health, eat properly, exercise, don’t indulge in fun that’s too unhealthy. For instance, I never said “no” to a white night in a club, dancing, drinking, having fund and detaching from my own chimeras, but never did two nights in a row. Always waited at least one week to fully recover.
Just observe. Be present and let the reality unfold before you, but observe, be aware. It’s impossible to judge the extent of a change if you don’t know from where you started. Keeping a detached perspective is fundamental. By being aware, you actually see, feel and understand the place where you can say: “It’s ok, I did it. I’m over the bridge now.”
During a lifestyle change, you will experience a lot of confusion. That’s ok. You’re walking on uncharted territory. So, whenever you’re confused, use some confusion killers to get out of that zone quickly. Most of the time, this comes into the form of “do or do not, there is no try”. In other words, follow your gut and, if you feel the need to try out something, just do it. For instance, I gave room to a lot of new relationships (while keeping my awareness) without getting too involved, just to see if that relationship is ok for me (and I’m not talking only about romantic relationships, also business or just new friendships). Oh, and I did all sort of other crazy experiments, like being an independent forex trader for about 5 months. Amazing experience, by the way, I’ll blog about it soon.
The Next Step
As much as I would want for this current (balanced) period to last, I know there is another challenge waiting just around the corner. Another lifestyle change may be forming under my feet as we speak, just like tectonic plates are slowly moving, pushing one against the other until they reach a point when a massive earthquake is generated. After all, change is the only constant thing in our lives.
But then again, by my own words: happiness is a process, not a goal. 🙂