I’m not what you would call your typical 9 to 5 worker. Although I once tried to find my place in the corporate world, I quickly realized I wasn’t cut out for an office job. For the past 15 years, I have pursued higher education and international positions in search of the right career path for me. After several feats and failures, I found that the perfect job was right under my nose. Even though I have been working as a digital nomad for years, it was only recently that I finally got a name for it. Here’s what led me to work online and how I turned it into a full-time career.
Fed up with corporate jobs
My life as a digital nomad began when I left the United States to pursue a degree in Belize. I knew that I was simply not cut out for the corporate world and wanted to pursue an alternative career path. Taking that leap of faith and moving away from home, especially to a wild place like the mountains of Central America, is not a decision you take lightly. However, once I got my mind, I knew there was no going back.
I had spent two years sitting at a desk and building seniority and security in the American corporate world. Although my salary increased, my satisfaction with life decreased every day. Every email and every angry customer took a little piece of my joie de vivre, chiseling it one complaint at a time. I was absolutely unhappy and often thought about giving my two weeks notice.
After a particularly bad call, I hung up the headset and stared at the monitors in front of me. I felt numb and numb as I looked at the open windows and the endless emails. In that moment I realized that I had to make a change. Even though I hated my job, I wasn’t doing anything about it. I’ve always told myself that if you’re not changing the situation, then you’re choosing it. And I was choosing to be unhappy.
The world was a vast place that I wanted to explore. And I couldn’t do it by working 60 hours a week in front of a screen. I had to go out before I wither and watch my life pass in front of me.
Answer the call to travel
I spent the next three years completing my masters and taking every opportunity to travel. Although my studies and love of archeology were the initial reasons why I started my life abroad, I discovered a deep love for cultural diversity and connections with people. While my degree offered me more insights, it didn’t come with a fixed salary. So, I started looking for other job options that would take advantage of my experience and allow me the freedom to continue traveling.
Once I gave up on academic research, I veered into other classroom roles. Being an experienced writer with proficient language skills, I decided to try my hand at teaching English. As a ESL teacher, I really enjoyed working with the students and watching them develop their communication skills. Having the opportunity to do so in multiple countries around the world has met both an economic and a personal need.
However, obtaining the correct documentation to comply with foreign tax and labor codes is a very complex and time-consuming process. In some cases, I’ve spent weeks sorting out paperwork and visa applications. Other times, employers would take advantage of my confident nature. The final straw was when a director jeopardized my legal status with questionable accounting practices. After that, I decided it was time to go into business for myself.
I support myself as a digital nomad
Since I graduated I had considered working for myself. However, I’ve never had a strong enough desire or need to make it happen. With my contract terminated and the prospect of further international travel, it seemed like the perfect time to start looking for work online.
In college, I had made money publishing research papers and writing ghosts for websites. Since I still had the contact information for the people I had previously worked with, I contacted to see if they needed someone with my skills. Sure enough, one of them responded with a potential job opportunity. With the approval of my sample writings, I was now officially self-employed.
But the hardest part was yet to come. Although I got a steady job, it wasn’t enough to support me. Therefore, I had to build a good reputation within the freelance community and pursue larger contracts. Two years later, I’m finally at a point where I’m earning a steady, competitive full-time salary.
Things I wish I had known at first
While things are going well now, there are some pearls of wisdom that I wish I had known in the beginning. While many acquaintances and business contacts helped me along the way, there were some of the hard lessons I learned early on as a digital nomad. Perhaps my difficulties can prevent future freelancers from making the same mistakes.
- Be patient. It will take some time to establish a good reputation with the freelance community. So be patient as you build your business.
- Beggars cannot choose. Even if you’ve earned a higher salary from previous positions, you may need to take low-paying jobs to start earning customers early on. Once you attract more business, you can raise your rates.
- Know your worth. On the other hand, you don’t want to underestimate your skills and experience. Compare your rates with those of other people to know your value and the right market price for your time.
- It can become a full time job. Despite what many people tell you, it is possible to earn a decent living as a digital nomad. You can support and not just rely on it to supplement your income.
- It’s possible. I wish I had ignored the naysayers and started earlier. Branching out on your own isn’t as implausible as people make it seem.
After so many wrong career choices and so many insecurities, I remember the moments when I experienced what true freedom meant to me. I go back to the moment I finally got off the corporate cycle and that first bumpy bus ride on the back roads of Belize. In those moments, I knew a fresh start was exactly what I needed. Just like the dusty summer day, now I’m heading towards a new dream and a new life.
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Jenny Smedra is an avid world traveler, ESL teacher, former archaeologist and freelance writer. Choosing a life abroad has strengthened her commitment to finding ways to bring people together across language and cultural barriers. Although most of her time is devoted to working with children, she also enjoys good friends, good food and new adventures.