Four Hour Work Week… and the truth about being a digital nomad

Several years ago I sat down with a business coach for a strategy session.

It was illuminating.

He drew all the moving parts of my expanding online empire on a flow chart, figured out where the pressure points were, and announced that if I changed a few things, I should be able to double my income in about 6 months.

Double my income, huh?

I thought about it. My stomach knotted.

And he looked at me and said, “Seems like you’re a bit scared of achieving that goal.”

four hour work week case study
Me, on top of Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid. Photo by Gloria Atanmo.

Very perceptive, that business coach.

He was right.

Thing is, I was already making a reasonable amount of money with my blogs and my books and my online courses.

If I were suddenly earning twice as much…

What would I do then?

I’d read Tim Ferriss’ instant classic The Four Hour Work Week twice by that point.

The first time, around 2010, it’d convinced me to start an online business.

And the second, about five years later, it’d convinced me to quit my day job and go full time.

But I’d always had a lot to do. I’d probably been busy every day since I was 5 years old.

Aren’t we all?

Between school, homework, household chores, shitty summer jobs, and then regular shitty jobs as an adult, I hadn’t had a day “off” in 30 years.

And reading the book, I’d steadfastly ignored all of Ferriss’ advice about outsourcing and automation, because secretly…

I was terrified that I might end up, after years of toil, living the “four hour work week” – and having nothing left to do.

work less and move to the beach as a digtal nomad
Nothing to do but stare up at the palm trees, here in Barcelona.

Which, eventually, is exactly what happened – despite my best attempts to avoid it.

These days, my life is pretty much a young lifestyle designer’s wet dream. I have no boss, no job, and no schedule.

I live in Barcelona, Spain, about 40 steps from a beautiful Mediterranean beach.

And now, most of my days consist of some combination of the following:

  • Walking on the beach.
  • Reading books on my Kindle.
  • Wandering around Barcelona.
  • Going to the local market to buy fish and veggies.
  • Drinking beer.
  • Working out – either boxing or weightlifting.
  • Eating.
  • Napping.
  • Playing the guitar.
  • Walking on the beach, again.
  • Sitting in the sauna at the gym surrounded by geriatric Catalan dick.

All of this is funded, of course, by what author Tim Ferriss calls “my muse” – the mostly hands-off business I’ve created to pay my bills while I design my ideal lifestyle.

Work, to the extent that I do it, involves improving the SEO on my blog posts, emailing my list to try to sell something, and making occasional YouTube videos.

I sometimes make new products, and sometimes write new articles. But mostly, I’m free.

I don’t even have a team to manage.

quit your job and buy a boat
Beach life in Badalona, just a few miles from home.

So I guess my romantic, beachy, location-independent lifestyle is pretty ideal, right?

Well…

It is, and it isn’t.

The truth of the Four Hour Work Week

Sometimes I love it.

I’ll be wandering around Barcelona’s Gothic neigborhood at 11 in the morning on a Tuesday, without a care in the world except where to find better coffee, and realize, “Wait, isn’t this a work day for other people?”

After some soul searching, I’ll discover that yes, most people I know are currently at work and have seemingly no choice in the matter.

However, working had barely crossed my mind as an activity I might pursue – it’s a Tuesday, after all.

Other times, though, I’ll find I’m just bored with the structureless life I’ve created.

It’s exactly what I predicted when the business coach took me through the nuts and bolts of doubling my income: sounds nice, but what then?

What then?

Which of course begs the question…

How did this even happen?

Tim Ferriss’ book has been criticized for a number of things, but my only real beef is that he doesn’t quite emphasize how fucking hard it is to start a sustainable hands-off business.

On the other hand, if he had dwelled on the difficulty, I probably never would have gotten started.

I got into business with no knowledge whatsoever: just start a blog and money will come!

At least, that’s what I thought. Way back in 2010.

When problems with that simple business model cropped up, I solved them, and that – of course – led to new problems.

Which I also solved.

Etc etc etc.

Checking out some Roman ruins in Tarragona.

Eventually, I’d solved virtually all of them, made myself obsolete, and only had to worry about death and taxes.

Mostly taxes. People in my family live a really long time.

I guess you could say my business – my muse – has gone through a few different phases in the meantime.

Phase 1: Humble beginnings

I started my first blog thinking it’d be an online billboard for my private English lessons.

“Having a blog” would raise my visibility in the marketplace, I’d raise my prices, and eventually achieve what previously I’d only dreamed of: a four figure bank balance.

Then the economy collapsed, and kept right on collapsing for the next several years.

Suddenly people were a lot more price conscious – or, perhaps, my plan just sucked from the beginning.

Either way, it didn’t work.

So I decided to monetize with ads. Soon my blog was covered with ugly ads for weight-loss programs, language schools and payday loans… and I found that I was still only earning pennies a day.

Undeterred, I published a few short ebooks, about 50% of which were complete failures.

The successes, though, were enough that – a coulple of years into my adventure as a self-published author – I was able to quit one of my three day jobs to have more time to work on the business.

I don’t know if a lot of people read The Four Hour Work Week and just quit right there so they can spend more time hang-gliding in Costa Rica, but I sure didn’t.

Some dubious life decisions such as dropping out of college and moving to Spain without a work visa had ensured that my salary would go low and stay there – quitting my job(s) and taking an exotic hang-gliding vacation while I plotted my next move was pretty much out of the question.

So I kept working as before and building the online business as a side hustle.

Phase 2: Building the empire

In fact, it took me about 5 years from when I started to when I was able to quit my final day job, fire my final boss and walk off into the sunset, towards a life of profitable self-employment.

However, once again, I didn’t realize how difficult it was going to be.

Without a steady paycheck, I suddenly had to make ends meet by my wits alone.

And if sales were bad this month, and I had a big tax bill due, guess what?

My life was going to suck until I managed to get some euros in my bank account.

It was, in other words, very hard work getting to a point where I wasn’t constantly worried about money.

No four hour work week yet.

During those years of pain, struggle and highly volatile monthly earnings, I wrote more books, started an online course by subscription, and hacked the shit out of the Amazon algorithm…

All so I could be sure of some regular monthly income.

I also built email autoresponders and SEO-optimized posts to sell stuff for me while I was eating, sleeping or going on Tinder dates.

Which brings me to…

Phase 3: Four Hour Heaven… or Four Hour Hell?

It took me a while.

A couple more years actually.

But I finally made it. The algorithm hacking and automation worked.

These days my passive income is basically enough to cover my lifestyle needs.

However, I’m finding that being semi-retired at age 36 is harder than you’d think… at least psychologically.

What I expected from the beginning is true: I’m not particularly good at dealing with a lot of free time. I’m not the kind of “fun” person who decides to take up windsurfing or enroll in tango competitions.

So I walk at the beach, I read, I drink beer, I work out…

All stuff I did before, but in larger quantities.

I’m the one on the right. The one who’s about to get punched by the scary Russian dude. Barceloneta Beach, Spain.

Of course, ol’ Timmy deals with this part of the journey at the end of the book, in the part called “Filling the Void”.

What to do when you don’t know what to do

After a discussion of the meaning of life, and why it’s a stupid question to ask yourself, he has two suggestions.

  1. Continual learning.
  2. Service.

As of press time, I don’t seem to be very good at either.

Most of my learning the last several years has been stuff I needed for my business. And I guess I’ve learned a ton: copywriting, wordpress, SEO, video editing, etc.

Not to mention getting my Spanish up to a good enough level to write a dozen books.

But after that I’m a bit lost about what to learn next: language learning is only fun if you’re going to be using the language regularly, and learning more tech skills seems less than fun as well. Why learn CSS when there are so many brilliant CSS people already doing it in an open-source way?

When I asked Morena, she promptly googled “hobbies for men” and – several extremely heteronormative seconds later – started reading off a list of suggestions like spearfishing, woodworking, putting tiny model ships in bottles, marksmanship, stamp collecting and plumbing.

four hour work week in spain
This seagull is surely having some really deep thoughts about the meaning of life. Cádiz, Spain.

I have to admit that spearfishing sounds pretty awesome: your humble narrator, wrestling a giant tuna in the bottom of a rustic little boat, knife clenched between his teeth…

And finally standing up, drenched in blood, having cut the beast’s throat: victorious once again in the struggle of man vs nature.

The rest of the “hobbies for men”, not so great.

Ships in bottles? Pfff…

And service?

Honestly, going overseas to do manual labor for free seems to defeat the purpose of building a profitable business all these years.

Maybe I’m a terrible person, or maybe I’m just not aware of all the options.

But wasn’t the point of building a business to avoid manual labor?

I’m sure shovelling dirt around while building a hospital in Honduras is satisfying for some, but if I wanted ot be a ditchdigger I could have stayed home in Arizona.

I’d probably make more than I ever did as an English teacher – even if I did have to get sweatier in the process.

En fin…

I’ll be the first to admit that these are some very high-quality problems to have.

I’ve achieved every goal I had in life, then set bigger ones, then achieved those.

And I guess I should be honest: I still work more than 4 hours a week. But it’s not much more, and it’s on a very flexible schedule.

If I wake up at 7 AM and feel like getting things done, I can be finished with my big daily tasks by 9:30. Or, if I want, I can just take the day off to ride a bike along the beach to the next town.

Some days I work more, others less.

But one thing’s for sure: if I could go back in time 5 years to tell 2014 Daniel what his life was going to be like now, he’d never believe it could get so good.

Here’s a quote from Naval Ravikant that pretty much sums up my life philosophy these days…

I don’t care how rich you are. I don’t care whether you’re a top Wall Street banker. If somebody has to tell you when to be at work, what to wear and how to behave, you’re not a free person. You’re not actually rich.

Naval Ravikant

By Naval’s definition, I’m rich.

However, I do feel like I should do more.

So now, the adventure is to figure out what.

To all those who might want to follow in my footsteps and create their own online business, my advice is, DO IT!

Don’t let my story discourage you…

It’s been a hell of a ride getting to this point, and while sometimes I’m bored with my structureless life, other times I feel like I’m just getting started.

This little adventure could go literally anywhere.

Or nowhere.

We’ll see.

Philosophically yours,

Daniel AKA Mr Chorizo

P.S. If you like this, you might like my articles about how to monetize your blog, or how to self-publish a book on Amazon. They’ve got a lot more about the nitty gritty of how I’ve gone from dead-broke English teacher to Four Hour Work Week case study. Have fun!

P.P.S. If you’re not quite ready to quit your day job and join me for a walk on the beach, maybe you’d prefer to read my guide to working in Spain. It’s got some info about visas, where to find a job and more.

Daniel
 

How did I end up in Madrid? Why am I still here 12 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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