Wow. What a year it has been. It feels like I fit a decade's worth of experiences and emotions into just one year. Here's a recap of my 2017 year in review.
I quit my finance job, gave up my apartment in Hollywood, and sold my sports car. Instead, I traveled the world with my girlfriend Joanna on the cheap, organized the Work Anywhere Summit, started teaching English online, and launched this blog.
Life will never be the same again.
Here's to 12 months worth of jubilation and frustration, ups and downs, laughter and tears.
Most importantly, here's to doing (most of) it all over again in 2018.
January: Los Angeles, CA
I resigned from my job in January, and it was one of the most gut-wrenching days of my life. Even though I was very good at what I did, I wasn't enjoying the work nearly as much as I wanted to.
On top of that, my super duper long distance relationship with Joanna was not going as well as I had hoped.
I asked my boss if I could work for him remotely, given that I was doing a lot of the work independently anyway. He declined, and that's when I had to make a choice. I decided that my relationship with Joanna was more important to me than my steady paycheck.
At the end of the month, I packed my bags and moved out of my apartment. I sold or gave away most of my furniture and stored what was left in my parents' garage.
My new life was about to begin.
February: San Jose, CA
A few months prior to leaving my job, I was approached by an old college friend. She was starting a new education company in Silicon Valley and wanted to know if I'd be interested in joining her. I agreed to give it a shot because I was promised a decent salary as well as the chance to work remotely. I was skeptical enough to not tell my friends about the move, but I also figured that I had nothing to lose.
Alas, I did have something to lose. After a little over a month without any sign of getting paid, I decided to cut my losses at just over $10,000 dollars.
I learned a very expensive lesson, indeed.
March: Shanghai, China and Thailand
I went to Shanghai, China to attend meetings on behalf of the startup and realized that my intuition was correct. Even today, I still shake my head, wondering why I even joined in the first place. I think it's because I was drawn to the allure of education, of being able to make a difference in young people's lives.
After leaving China, Joanna and I spent 2.5 weeks in Thailand, traveling from Bangkok to Krabi to Koh Lanta to Chiang Mai and back to Bangkok. It was a much needed vacation for both of us.
I had heard about Thailand so much over the years, but never had the chance to see everything for myself. It was an eye-opening experience, a sensory overload. I don't even know where and how to begin describing it.
The food was beyond amazing everywhere. The ladyboys and bar girls were out in full force in Bangkok. The beaches in the south would have been pristine if not for all the local boat drivers throwing cigarettes into them. The old temples in the north were beautiful pieces of art.
And everything was very, very affordable.
On top of that, I finally mustered up the courage to ride a scooter for the first time. It may seem trivial now, but it was a big deal to me. And I only did it after realizing that bicycles couldn't get us to where we wanted to go.
At the end, my fear was unfounded. Riding a scooter ended up not being such a big deal at all. Silly me.
Next time, I would skip China and head straight to Thailand. I miss Thailand already.
April / May: Taiwan and Japan
Next up was 6 weeks in Taiwan visiting my extended family. Ever since I moved to the US at age 10, I had never spent more than a week or two in Taiwan during each visit. This time around, I made sure to stay longer and introduce Joanna to my roots. It was important to me to show her where I came from.
We spent a couple of weeks at my dad's side of the family and another couple of weeks at my mom's side of the family. We attended my friend's wedding in Tainan, hung out at a beach resort in Kenting, and hiked the gorges at Taroko National Park.
And we ate at a restaurant dedicated to poop.
In the midst of it all, we took a one week side trip to Tokyo.
To say that Japan was everything I expected and then some would be an understatement. Everything was clean. Everyone was polite.
We went to a baseball game at Tokyo Dome and took a day trip to see Mt. Fuji. We soaked up the scenery at Akihabara and Harajuku.
Most interesting of all, two random experiences basically summed up what I had only ever read about Japan.
First, we saw a wallet lying on a busy street. Someone had clearly dropped it, but no one dared picking it up. The Japanese believe that anyone who loses a possession will trace their way back to find it, so the wallet laid there waiting for its rightful owner to show up.
Secondly, we saw a drunk man laying on the floor of a subway car at 6am. His backpack was open and his wallet was out. Again, literally nothing happened. The other passengers simply walked quietly over him, allowing him to sleep in peace, along with the two salarymen nearby.
Tomb Sweeping Day
Back in Taiwan, I was able to visit my paternal grandmother's grave on tomb sweeping day, a Taiwanese national holiday. That moment meant the world to me because I was very close to her growing up.
Since my parents left Taiwan to establish residency in the US for 5 years before I saw them again, my brother and I essentially grew up with my grandparents.
I was also able to see my maternal grandmother celebrate her 90th birthday, which was another experience that money simply couldn't buy. I can't wait to see her at her 91st.
Overall, my visit to Taiwan was meaningful, if not exhausting. Being able to stay with family meant that every family member asked me about my job and marital status every single day. It became a bit overwhelming at times, especially when someone would tell me to find another girlfriend who didn't create such a logistical nightmare. I simply had to nod my head and try to change topics very quickly.
The stress even broke me down a couple of times. I learned a big lesson here. Next time I'm in Taiwan, Joanna and I have to find our own place to stay.
June / July: Orange, CA
Back to the house that I grew up in, spending a couple of months with my parents. I helped out around the house, started putting together the Work Anywhere Summit, and generally just tried to be around my parents as much as possible.
This is also a time that I conquered another fear: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I had been wanting to start BJJ for a while, but I was afraid. I had never trained on the mat before. The first couple of weeks of classes were horrifying. I had no idea what I was doing. Guys bigger than me were hurting me left and right (well, they're not supposed to, but stuff happens), and within a month of training I was out of commission twice.
Even though 6 months later I still lose to my sparring partners 9 out of 10 times, I can officially say that I'm addicted to BJJ. There's literally nothing like it. I learn every day, and I'm now less afraid. Not only that, I've lost 20 pounds since I started. The only regret I have is not starting years ago.
Finally, towards the end of my stay at home, I decided to sell my Audi A5, a car that had been with me for over 6 years. Selling the car was the right thing to do, but it was also difficult because I had grown very close to it. If there was a defining moment to the start of my minimalistic ways, this would be it. I ended up selling the car to a friend who really loves it, so I'm happy to know that it is in good hands.
August - November: Wrocław, Poland, England, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Germany
Since the education startup kind of blew up in my face, Joanna decided to find work in Poland. She was facing her own family's pressure about work and money.
She eventually found a job in Wrocław (formerly known as German Breslau) and asked me to join her. What started out as a 3-month trial because of the Schengen visa rules ended up being 4.5 months. I found out that Poland has a separate agreement with the US that allowed me to stay longer than 3 months. It was a cool discovery.
We toured neighboring countries as much as we could. We saw our fair share of castles, ruins, and churches. Joanna's friends invited us to my first Polish wedding.
We mourned at Majdanek concentration camp.
We visited an old friend of mine for Oktoberfest. I drove a stick shift for the first time in almost twenty years. Another fear, conquered.
I launched a successful Work Anywhere Summit. I interviewed for remote jobs with stateside companies without much success. One company even said I was too remote for them. I applied to teach English online for VIP Kid in China and failed.
I started to transcribe audio on Rev.com for about a week before realizing that I was only making about $4 an hour.
Then I found italki. I've been teaching English to adults from all over the world ever since.
The money isn't great right now, but what's important is that I actually enjoy teaching English to adult learners. I've had the opportunity to meet people from 15 different countries so far. I've helped them pass interviews, prepare for presentations, and pursue their dreams of learning English, something that I just take for granted.
To be clear, teaching English isn't the end all, be all, although I do plan to launch a website geared towards helping these students even further. In addition, I'm working on a book project that aims to inspire and help others who are looking to pursue a location independent career.
All these projects are huge undertakings, and they all take time, but at least I know for sure that I'm moving in the right direction.
December: Orange, CA
Back at home for the holidays, I end the year on a down note. Four days before leaving Poland, I received brutal news from my brother.
His wife was 3 weeks away from delivering twin baby girls. They had just named the girls at a festive baby shower when all of a sudden one of the two heartbeats stopped. An emergency procedure was performed. Only one of the twins made it out of the womb alive.
A week ago, I attended the funeral of a stillborn baby girl who never got a chance to open her eyes. That's also when I realized that I had never seen my own baby brother cry.
I realized a lot of new things in 2017.
To Kylie: I never got to meet you, but I love you nonetheless. Your whole family loves you and will always love you. We will never forget you.
To Skylar: life is so, so precious and unpredictable. When you grow up, you will learn about your twin sister. You are forever linked to her. You'll have lots of questions and you'll wonder why.
Simply know this: You were brought into this world to live, so live your life to its fullest, for you and for your sister.
The year 2017 didn't end the way that anyone in my family had envisioned. The wounds are still fresh. The healing process has barely begun. If time does indeed heal all wounds, I would gladly sign up to trade my time in exchange for the healing of my brother's family.
What I am no longer willing to trade my time for is a life that I'm not passionate about. I've got one life to live, and I've already used up more than half of it, so I'm going to guard my time as the most precious commodity I have.
Lots of important lessons were this year...
- I learned that most of my fears are unwarranted, that I'm capable of more than I give myself credit for.
- I learned that once you're out of the rat race, you realize just how free you feel, and how you would do anything to not have to go back.
- And I learned that I get more joy out of teaching than I had previously expected, and just how privileged I am to speak a worldwide language.
- I learned that having joy is way more important than having luxury.
- I learned that life is totally unfair. Good things happen to bad people, and bad things happen to good people. There is literally nothing I can do about it.
- And last but not least, I learned that when you find someone beautiful in every sense of the word who you truly enjoy spending time with, someone who makes you laugh, wipes away your tears, and stays by your side through thick and thin, you hold on real tight and never let go, logistics be damned.
On this December 31st, 2017, I can honestly say I am happier than I have ever been, and I can't wait to see what 2018 has in store.