Wherever you go, there you are – Part 3 of my life story
No matter where you go, you are what you are, player.
That’s a line from my dawg Jay-Z.
And this article picks up my life story where we left off a few weeks ago.
Just me being me, wherever I go – and whatever that means.
If you want to start at the beginning, it’s here.
In any case, we last saw our hero – if you can call him that – in a church on top of a hill, in a small Italian town.
Just after midnight on Christmas Day.
The year was 2011.
And I guess he was having some sort of epiphany. One of those moments where everything is clear, and suddenly you’re filled with hope – no matter how insane hope seems at that precise moment.
In Buddhism, we talk about how thoughts arise from nowhere, go nowhere. They’re just something that happens to you – you the observer – and are largely out of your control.
Products of your Monkey Mind, as the saying goes.
And my (other) dawg Sam Harris talks a lot about free will.
The “sea of prior causes” greatly limits what we’ll choose to do or be: we don’t choose our parents, our society or culture. We don’t choose the setup of our brains or our neurochemistry. We can set goals, but have little way of knowing where those goals arise from.
We can do what we want – sometimes – but where does that feeling of “I want this, not that” come from?
And how about our level of will power and work ethic when it comes to reaching those goals?
Do we choose that?
We like to imagine there’s a corner office somewhere up in our brains, where a little CEO is running the show – we call him (her) our “self”.
The real me. Or you.
But scientists have taken apart plenty of brains at this point, and found no evidence that there’s a unified “self” at all.
Fact is, we’ve got brains made of lots of pieces, with different agendas and different ways of getting you to do what they want.
These different parts of the brain are always in conflict – and the result is your “personality”.
You want to raise your sexual market value by having perfect abs, but crash and burn the first time you walk past a donut shop.
“That’s just who I am” you say. “I’ve always had a sweet tooth.”
You truly intend to study for your exams but end up spending the day scrolling through photos on Instagram or watching Game of Thrones. You convince yourself you’ll get up early tomorrow morning, set your alarm for six, and then proceed to hit snooze for two and a half hours.
The list of ways “you” can sabotage your “true self” is nearly infinite.
My favorite quote form Harris…
“None of these mental states are the real you. You are not controlling the storm, and you are not lost in it. You are the storm.”
You are the storm.
“The Amygdala Rules Everything Around Me” – not coming to any Wu-Tang album, ever. (Although they did manage to work the words “cerebral cortex” into that one song.)
Anyway, back to my life story…
It was probably in spring 2012 that I saw a documentary on TV of a guy climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
I had heard the name “Kilimanjaro” before, but I was somewhat surprised to find it referred to an actual place – turns out it was a mountain in Tanzania, and you could just take a week off and go climb it.
(Thanks, American educational system.)
The documentary was well-made and I found the idea thrilling.
Ok, I decided. I’m going to do it. I’m going to climb Kilimanjaro.
The next morning, I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations and discovered that if things went on as they had been, I’d be able to afford an African vacation sometime in the early 24th century – depending on interest rates, of course.
And that was it…
It was like a switch that flipped in my brain: I was going to do whatever it took, but I wasn’t going to be broke anymore. I was going to become financially independent.
Did I use my free will to arrive at that conclusion?
It seems unlikely.
Just like I never really decided to be a writer – it’s something I’ve always done. I’ve tried to quit a few times, and failed.
I write things. If I get paid, I write. If I don’t get paid, I write anyway. It’s my addiction.
Like some drug, but less fun.
I feel better when I do it, and barely human when I don’t. So I try to sit down every day and write – even when it’s the last thing in the world I “want” to do.
A few months previously – in the first days of the new year – I’d frantically typed out a short ebook about the habits of good language learners. Stuff I’d picked up from living in Spain, teaching English and my travels in Italy.
Like any other difficult, ambiguos task, most people fail at learning a language. And I wanted to write the definitive guide to being bilingual.
Not that I really expected anybody to care.
I’d published it and started working on something new. I was also blogging. Throw enough shit at the wall and some of it will stick.
How I learned to stop worrying and love marketing
It was around this time that I had a conversation with my friend Alison.
She was (and is) a pretty smart girl, and I’d just had a pretty smart idea on the metro: I’d heard there was a thing called marketing. And I was going to learn about it.
(Free will this time? Obviously not. The idea just popped into my head.)
Over lunch, I asked Alison, “So, uh, whaddya know about marketing?”
“Well, I checked your Amazon page, and it said you only had 2 books. It feels disappointing somehow. What if you had 6 or 8? Or 10?”
I wasn’t sure if that was marketing, and it also sounded like a lot of work. So I went home after a few glasses of wine and googled “what is marketing?”
The answer didn’t give me the warm-fuzzies, so I tried “best marketing podcast”.
I have no idea. I’m fairly certain I’d never listened to a podcast in my life. I’d probably only recently heard of their existence.
(The thoughts arise from nothingness, but seem obvious. You don’t control them any more than you control the currents of a river. Also, it turned out years later that Alison was right: 10 books is way better than 2 books. Who knew?)
In any case, I came across a podcast called I Love Marketing with Dean Jackson and Joe Polish. I saw they’d interviewed Tony Robbins, which seemed promising – he’d sort of changed the course of my life back in part 2 of this saga.
They’d also talked with Tim Ferriss, whose book about the 4-Hour Work Week is responsible for much of the fun in my life these days.
Soon I was hooked.
It was the future of everything.
And it led me to…
My first life plan, finally…
More back-of-the-envelope calculations ensued.
And what developed was the first thing I’d ever had that looked somewhat like a “life plan”.
(Not counting, of course, the sort of teenage stupidity that originally got me to Spain. I guess we could summarize that plan as “move to Europe, meet girls, be poet, die young”. It was a vague idea… calling it a plan would be a bit of an exaggeration.)
So the new plan was this: I was going to achieve financial independence through Kindle ebook sales.
Now all I had to do was use what I was learning about marketing in order to sell thousands upon thousands of $3 ebooks. How could I possibly fail?
In the meantime, I’d had another work permit application rejected. I was going to be illegal forever, it seemed. (Note to self: don’t move to a foreign country without a visa and hope things will work out at some point. It’ll suck the life out of you.)
I did some more calculations.
This time, I worked out how many ebooks I’d need to sell to fund my ideal lifestyle in Costa Rica.
Result: only about 20 times more than I already was selling.
I had already multiplied my sales by 20 once – I’d gone from selling one copy a month to selling 20. So I figured another 20x was right around the corner.
Anyway, that could be my backup plan, if I really had to get out of Spain.
How little did I know…
Turns out the first 20x is the easiest. By far.
But then it happened – through a stroke of bizarre good luck, I got the work permit on an appeal.
It was a stroke of good luck so bizarre, it made me think…
Karma does exist.
Certainly not in the woo-woo new-agey way.
But it’s out there.
The wheel of karma is turning. Karma or fate or luck or whatever you want to call it…
What’s the opposite of free will?
Fate. Destiny. Luck.
A deterministic universe that’s mostly indifferent but occasionally awesome.
That thing. It’s out there, and you are at its mercy.
Buckle up, buckaroos… It’s your life, and it’s already largely over.
Anyway, I was ecstatic to be a legal, taxpaying member of Spanish society.
It was an ecstasy that lasted for about 4 weeks, until I got my first official “on the books” paycheck.
(You should read the word “check” as a metaphor here… it was an envelope full of 20s, as usual. Except thinner.)
“Damn”, I thought. “All this ‘free’ healthcare is taking 20% off the top.”
Better than being sinpapeles.
That summer I got a message from a fan of my blog, where I was teaching English to Spanish speakers around the world: “Why don’t you write a series of articles for absolute beginners?”
I did. Then I turned the articles into a new ebook, which I published on Amazon. I was becoming more confident as a writer. Some things I did were clearly working.
Others weren’t. No matter.
Fail and fail… then fail better.
That summer, back in Italy, I was so bored I took out my prehistoric smartphone to check sales on Amazon. I have no idea how it happened, but suddenly I was #1 in the education category with my little ebook on how to be a successful language learner.
Suddenly, life as a writer seemed much more promising.
Nevertheless, the slow slog towards old age continues…
Towards the end of the year, I celebrated my 30th birthday.
I was getting old.
In the morning, as usual, I was listening to I Love Marketing – the one with Blake Mycoskie, founder of Tom’s Shoes.
There’s a guy who’s working pretty hard to get good karma. For every pair of shoes people buy, he donates another to someone in need.
At the time I was still somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of “business”. Was I going to turn into some evil top-hatted oligarch if I kept this up?
Some stereotype from Karl Marx’s nightmares?
I wasn’t sure.
But Blake Mycoskie changed my mind.
I didn’t feel up to starting my own charity… but by this time I was earning a little money from ebook sales in faraway countries I’d never visited. I was getting emails from all over the world, too, thanking me for what I was doing. People would send pictures and tell me about their lives in Venezuela or Argentina or Mexico. I visited their towns on Google Earth.
It was a trip. I was feeling, like never before, a member of a global community.
What if I made it one of my main objectives to donate part of the money I earned to development projects?
I couldn’t exactly “afford” to just give away money. I still could barely afford a weekend outside Madrid – unless room and board was provided by the “in-laws” out in Italy.
But I was going to start giving anyway.
Lesson: start before you’re ready… ’cause you’ll probably never “feel” ready.
I sent some cash to FINCA. Because if karma exists, I want it on my side.
Then I went off to my afternoon-evening job.
After work, I celebrated my birthday with Mariglia. Steak and wine. Happy 30 to me.
It was a cold winter, and we were 5 years into the economic crisis. But hey. I was going places. Maybe.
Soon, I was back in Italy for another Christmas.
At the beginning of the year, my books were selling much better than expected…
And the high point of 2013 was at the end of January, when I did the math and decided I could totally afford to quit one of my day jobs.
No, no… not my only day job. Not even my big day job. Just one of my smaller day jobs. It was sucking the life out of me proportionately faster than the others, so it was the first to go.
Typical business classes. I went to the office of a financial company – lunchtime from Monday to Thursday – and tried to keep a boardroom full of people in grey suits entertained for a hour.
My boss at the language school was a total douche and the financial company where I actually gave the classes was slowly collapsing. Every week, more of my students were fired.
It was depressing.
These days I see Instagram ads all the time – girls with great butts jumping in front of the sunset on some exotic beach. The caption says something like: “I used to have a well-paid job in the corporate world, but the 9 to 5 was just so unsatisfying. So I became an even better-paid consultant and moved to Thailand. Yay! Sign up for my email list for more lifestyle, fitspo and detox smoothies.”
My response: “Oh wow. I feel your pain. Your well-paid but ultimately unsatisfying corporate job must have been so hard on you. All I had to do was build an online empire while working 2 to 3 jobs as an illegal immigrant – in a country under an austerity plan.”
Then I think: “Now Daniel… please. What would Buddha say if he heard you talking like that? Have some compassion for those poor cubicle monkeys and their 9 to 5s. That’s a FULL 8 HOURS!”
Then I think: “HAHAHAHAHA 9 to 5. Fuckin’ please…”
By this time I’m giggling so hard I’m spitting 4-euro wine out my nose. (That’s 4 euro a bottle, and it’s probably better than whatever you’re drinking. ‘Cause Spain.)
Anyway, I quit.
I’d walked out of jobs before…
But that was the first time I’d fired a boss because I actually had a backup plan. And it felt SOOOOOOO good. I was still working 14 hour days, but at least part of the day was on my own thing.
The thing that was going to save me from wage slavery forever.
Nose to the grindstone…
In any case, I’ve searched the depths of my mind, and can’t think of much else that happened in 2013. I just worked a lot, and learned a lot about marketing.
I wrote a couple of second editions of my books, and came out with paperback copies.
I started doing a lot of pushups, inspired by a system called Convict Conditioning from Dragon Door.
I travelled around Spain a bit.
My Facebook status for July 26th of that year was: Before enlightenment: do squats, eat chorizo. After enlightenment: do squats, eat chorizo.
And that’s about where I am now, a few years later. I’ve changed my way of expressing it – now it’s pushups, steak and wine. But that’s my basic life strategy: wake up, do some writing, work out, eat protein, do some more writing, drink some wine, eat some more protein, go to sleep.
Repeat the next day.
In late 2013, I was coming up on age 31. But by that time my brain had stopped growing and I wasn’t jumping from one thing to the next all the time.
I guess now neuroscientists have discovered that the brain doesn’t really stop developing till age 25 – or even later.
But if someone had told me at 19 that I should just relax because my pre-frontal cortex was still under construction, I probably would have…
I probably would have wandered off, silently recalling Thoreau’s quote: Adults are morons, so don’t listen to them. (I guess I’m paraphrasing, but whatevs.)
Or I would have, perhaps, recalled Abbie Hoffman’s admonition not to trust anyone over 30.
Now, of course, I realize that younger me was full of shit. But try telling that to someone with a barely-formed teenage brain.
In any case, most of my articles from 2013 are about austerity and the economic crisis, or about how teaching English was both badly-paid and ultimately unsatisfying – read: most of us were going slowly insane on the edge of poverty.
I had my big dream, and silently my subconscious was hatching an even bigger plan… I was going to drop out of the Spanish labor market altogether.
Around this time I read Daymond John’s autobiography. He founded FUBU – a brand which is now worth $6 billion. But in the book he says something that’s stayed with me ever since: “If I’d known back then what it would take to get where I am today, I would have kept my job as a waiter at Red Lobster.”
Interesting statement. And the book is great.
Did I listen to his hard-earned wisdom?
Of course not.
Let’s quit while we’re ahead…
I started this article with a quote from my favorite Jay Z song.
A song about being who you are – and about the futility of trying to change your basic personality.
I’ve loved the song for years. But only recently gotten around to agreeing with the basic premise.
“You can try to change, but that’s just the top layer.”
At this point, it seems true enough. You gotta work with the cards life’s handed you. The genes you’ve inherited from your ancestors. And the state of the world as it is.
Accept it and move forward.
Which doesn’t mean you should become a nihilist. Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. Just assume you have enough free will to be completely fucking awesome, and to live the life you want… because the only way to find out whether you do or not is to give it your best shot.
In any case, I’m going to leave the story here.
In our next chapter, coming some day, we’ll have – wait for it – my breakup with Mariglia, adventures with online dating, the big move to Tetuán, my victory over the Spanish labor market…
…and much much more.
Sex, love, heartbreak, self-employment and real estate – what more could you ask for?
I hope you enjoyed this story.
And of course, you’re welcome to hit me up in the comments.
Daniel (AKA Mr Chorizo).
P.S. If you want to support independent “journalism” like you find here on the Chorizo Chronicles, pick up a copy of my book The Zen of Blogging. It’s about how I fired my boss and became one of those people like you see on Instagram – but with less jumping in front of sunsets. Have fun!
P.P.S. You can also make a donation, if you’re so inclined. I promise to spend the money on wine, chorizo, and my rent in one of the least glamorous parts of Madrid.