You've successfully subscribed to lost en thought
Great! Next, complete checkout for full access to lost en thought
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.
stories & adventures

Mini-retirements Experiment | 4 months unemployed

. 22 min read .

My last day in the Nexmo office. Laptop handed in; check. Badge; check. Locker cleared; check. Exit velocity has been reached.

A few slices of pizza later I landed home.

It was day 1 of an experiment I called: productive unemployment.

The plan

Instead of jumping onto the next gig right away I decided to spend some months investing those 8 hours to activities that inevitably took the back seat while I had a full-time job. I wanted to read and write, do my sports, see new places, learn new skills and expand my knowledge in random domains. That is all I was craving for at the time. And that's exactly what I figured I'd do.

During the past 2 years, I put ~40% of my salary in a combination of indexes (NASDAQ, S&P etc.), tech stocks(AMZN etc). With a ~13% return (excluding crypto), I decided to take a part of my 'earnings'(~4500) from my Vanguard acc and go out in search of adventure!

id rather use it to live than wait to to enjoy when im 60

And so it began: project: productive unemployment.

The TL;DR

🇬🇧I decided to spent the first few weeks in London. I was convinced that my next adventure would not be in this city and so I decided to tick everything off my London Bucket List (aka my starred places on Google Maps). That was primarily.. food. In the meantime I continued job hunting, weightlifting and started working my way through my reading list.

🇮🇹Before I knew it it was hiking time. 2 weeks of heaven & hell in the Dolomites w my pals Litsa and Lucy. What an epic trip that was...

🇸🇬As soon as I landed I only had a few days before I packed my bags again for Singapore. It was interview time with GRAB!

🇹🇭From there I hopped to Thailand for a mum-daughter trip around the Ademan sea.

🇨🇾August was for family time, friends and vitamin sea. I talked philosophy with my grandparents, daydreamed with friends and enjoyed weekends with my parents. I read, wrote, ate and swam a lot. 3 books 100+articles and 20+hours of podcasts. Got back into weightlifting and got my dose of wakeboarding which I had really missed. I spent time w my dad learning the ins and outs of BBQing, time in the kitchen with my grandma and time in the garden with grandpa. In the middle of all of this, I got that much desired offer. Ya buddy!

🇬🇷Ahh then it was Greece visiting my aunt with my dad and grandpa.

🇳🇴In the middle of it all, my buddy Daniel proposed we visit Oslo. I loved that place and fell even more in love with the Scandis.

🇬🇧Time for goodbyes. As excited as I was for the next adventure, it would be a lie to say I was not bumped fo be leaving all my pals from London behind. I made it a point to have some quality time with each and every one of them.

🇦🇪Made a stop at my fav playground; Dubai.

🇹🇭Chiang Mai was the final stop of my productive unemployment chapter.

I feel bitter. I know will miss this freedom. A lot. Because I know I am not made to be an employee. Yet at the same time I couldn't be more excited to embark on this new adventure!

I wanted to turn the final page by reflecting on what I got out of these past 4 months.

Traveling

  • Routine is underrated. 2 months spent eating good food, relaxing, adventuring around the world and being around family & friends are absolutely amazing but I found the constant flux of things rather draining. The things I was trying to escape from at the beginning of this adventure were the same things I ended up  craving in the end: healthy light food, boring old routine, collaborating w my team at the office, spending time alone, being in a buzzy metropolis. I have thus appreciated that the spice of life is undeniably contrast. The art of living w contrast is in the timing of those activities: doing them at the right time for the right duration just so that we rebalance and then switching the balance once again and repeating. Relaxation-action. Routine-adventure. City-nature. Alone-together.
  • Hiking is one of the most refreshing activities I ever did and I am bitter it took me so long to realise. The lack of comfort, good sleep and good food refreshed my system and made me appreciate little pleasures and comforts like no other. The highs we got from having a warm shower and enjoying a cup of hot tea after 7h of hiking were unreal. It acted as a much needed digital detox since for half of the trip we had no signal (it was the longest I spent away from my laptop scree for at least 5 years(!)). Hiking can also be an absolute blast if you are walking with interesting people with whom you can have awesome conversations throughout the day. All of that AND you get truckloads intense fun activity. PRO Tip: Hiking + audiobooks. In the course of 10 days I listened to 4 books. Not hard to achieve if you think we walked for 7h a day and the average audio book length is about 6h.
  • Different cultures have completely different definitions of fundamental concepts such as: what constitutes a 'good life', how 'success' is defined, the role of family, what is considered disrespectful, how one defined entertainment, what is honourable and so on.. Observing all these different definitions allowed me to rethink and redefine my own definitions which are now a mix of all the cultures I have had the change to experience. I also appreciated that the fact that the only way to get closer to the essence of something is to shed light on it from different perspectives.
  • The whole digital nomad movement is not a hype. It is perfectly feasible to be working remotely on your laptop while enjoying life at a fraction of a cost of the big city. 1 week in Chiang Mai cost me 100£ in hotels + 60£ in scooter rentals and gas + 50£ in delicious food + 50£ in coffee. Grand Total: 260. During a typical day in Chiang Mai I managed to produce more work than any did on any day in London. You wake up. You pick a cafe, you ride for 15mins there, you work is an awesome environment with speedy wifi, you take a break for food, you work some more, you eat, relax, shower and sleep. With 20cents you can get coffee from the street and with 90 you could get yourself a pad thai, with another 50 you can get yourself a nutella crepe. One day in Chiang Mai will cost you less than the price of a Starbucks drink! It is perfectly feasible to take a year out every couple of years just to go out explore countries of such money arbitrage.
  • Traveling forces you to adjust to the new environment so coming back, you are able to see everything with fresh eyes. Coming back to London after 2 months of traveling made me look at everything from a completely different perspective. London never seemed so damn charming. I noticed how picturesque every corner of London is, I noticed how soothing the sound of the birds first thing in the morning was, I observed architectural details in the neighbourhood I have been living for for the past 2 years, I appreciated the diversity of people which was so refreshing and I became super grateful for the circle of friends I had here.
  • There should be a link between productivity and the weather of a place. Hotter places seem more laid back than ones further north.
  • Dubai has become my playground. Expensive yet an amazing place to play and do work as long as you are willing to rent a car (300 euros for 2 weeks. I slept in it some nights).

Making

  • Without creative skills you cannot really create the future. Your futuristic ideas have 1/10000 of the value of your implementation. This was particularly hard for me because I do not believe I am particularly great at any creative pursuit like programming, designing, writing, photography and so on. Luckily or unluckily, I was catapulted into management soon after university. Although I could have not picked a better fitting career for me that Product Management and although I think I am  good at it, I do suffer from a creative inferiority complex because I did not spend the blood, sweat and tears creatives spend to build the future. Instead I am only able to form an idea of the future and bring a team together in achieving it but ask me to build it and I am hopeless. Though I have been spending most of my time outside the office working on creative pursuits, I think this insecurity will chase me for a while.
  • Inspiration is not required for writing. Writing is required for inspiration. — Paul Jarvis Same with any worthy pursuit. People think that you need inspiration and motivation in order to start working on that painting, to go to the gym, to start the online course on typography, to start learning Lightroom, to read about growth marketing, to write that blogpost. Surely inspiration and motivation help with the initial boost but mostly it is through work that inspiration and motivation exponentially grow. On a similar note but specific to writing:
  • You write to think. You don't think first and only when you know exactly what you want to say, you start writing. Writing has been the single biggest contributor to whatever growth I have had in the past 3 months. Simply releasing all that jumbled up mess that you have in your head on paper is not only insanely therapeutic but helps you absorb and build on ideas and think in a more structured way. It is hard to explain how great writing is without experiencing it first hand. Though I have only posted a handful or blogs online, I have written more than 30K words in my various Notion notebooks, 50+ skeletons of future blogs and a mini-book. Writing is one of the most underrated activities.
  • Post processing is what takes images from meh to amazing. I played a bit w Lighroom and I now know the behind the scenes of my instagram feed
  • If there is a pursuit out there we wanna embark on, a big problem we want to solve, something we want to change, it is up to us, the 'average-joes' to make it happen. There are no super-adults out there, sitting in a boardroom and planning how to save the world. If there is something we feel passionate about; you gotta take action. Anything as small as cutting off meat from our diet because we believe that way we can contribute in saving our planet to founding a company to tackle education in our home countries. If we have the courage; we have to take responsibility and lead.
  • The answers are in the work itself. More people will fail by overthinking, over planning and over researching than any people ever failed because they started without planning. 80% of the 'figuring  out' comes after you start. Read this 10 times; self.
  • Perfect is the enemy of good. This is my procrastination prob. Embrace the suckage. Instead of having high standards by thinking ' i will now do this sketch and it will look f amazing, as good as that one I saw online.' I tell myself ' you will do this first draft and it will suck bad. and with time it will suck less and less' Reframing it in that way forces you to lower your expectations and hence not be disheartened and lose momentum. Good taste is a blessing and a curse. Good taste usually implies high standards. High standards prime you for disappointment. Expectation is the root of all hearthache doesn't Oscar Wilde say?
    [note from the future, Oct 2020. I did not post this online for over a year because I felt it was not up to my standards. I wanted to post process all images and add more material. looking back; I was stupid. still am.]
  • Similar to the above; Writing is mostly about editing and then about sources. I spent plenty of time working on a book w my pal Daniel. The first draft of every section has always been shit. Beyond shit. It is not before the 2nd pass that it actually starts 'feeling right'. Edit, Edit, Edit.
  • My best days were not the ones where I was max productive but the ones where I was max creative. The resistance though for that kind of work is much higher. This kinda goes to show that obsessing about how much you produce is not the end. The real question is; what really are you productive doing? It is about priorities; not productivity. There were days in which I read 10+ articles, cleared my todo list and exercised and still didn't feel as good as a day where I did nothing else other than work on the blog's design, wrote an article and took a swim. There is resistance though. Much more than other tasks. Maybe because it in uncomfortable. But maybe that's what makes you enter flow and that's what makes it so awesome.
  • If you want the best work you need to hire the best people. You don't need to learn everything on your own. This has been the eternal question for me. Do I learn how to do it or do I rely on somebody else to do it? This is relevant in daily life: do I pay for a meal or do I cook it? Do I hire a cleaner or do I do it? But also in side-projects. Do I hire a developer to build my blog or do I learn how to do it myself? Do I hire a designer to make my banners or do I hack it myself? Do I hire a photographer to take some profile pics for me or can a tripod and my canon do the job? The answer is always highly contextual. Do I wish to improve on that domain? Do I have the disposable income? Am I clearly weak in that domain?
  • Watch your digital diet. There is so much interesting shit out there. At the same time it is also easy to justify spending every waking hour online watching videos about how to grow tomatoes on your balcony to reading about inter-galactic exploration. That is to say; we can be consuming the best content out there that is enriching and entertaining but still that can be a type of 'noble procrastination'. We spend hours watching about how to shoot the perfect B-roll but never pickup a camera and actually press record. We watch hours of gear reviews to find the perfect running watch but use it once a month. Before starting to consume something, I learned to ask myself if that thing will really benefit me or if I would rather be producing instead of consuming. This simple heuristic made me decrease the number of content I am consuming drastically while pushing me to instead do the real -hard- work.

Learning

  • No online course, article or YouTube video can come close to the learning you get with 1:1 time with a 'teacher'.
  • Reading transfers knowledge, taking notes crystallises it, discussing it solidifies it. Unless we apply a layer of metacognition to learning, only a small % of what we consume really gets absorbed and only a small % of that % sticks.
  • Newbie mistakes when it comes to photography. You don't have to fit the entire scene in one photo. Don't be afraid to crop. You won't know which one is the best picture when you are taking it, so take loads. Images that have a person or an animal in them will always be way more interesting than any landscape out there. The secret to a stunning picture is singular: post-editing. specifically: Lightroom. Also: Your iPhone camera is more than enough to take solid pictures. You dont need a 1000$ setup what you are first getting into photography/videography.
  • The hardest thing by far when it comes to learning something new or creating something is starting. As soon as you do, everything falls into place. You have more ideas, more concentration, the way now seems clear. Note: YouTube videos, articles and making plans do NOT count as starting. Starting is doing the actual activity even if you feel lost, clueless and embarrassed. You don't watch 1h of videos about how to do the standup. You watch two and you go ahead and try it. You don't watch 2h of how to film a b-roll; you go out and take some crappy footage, import it and try to make it work.
  • The value of learning how to code lies less in coding itself and more on the attitudes it encourages.
  • Learning only happens though metacognition and deliberate work. Intensity over duration. But  at  the same time, consistency over quality.
  • A Digital Brain is absolutely paramount. Your mind is made for having idea not for holding ideas. — David Allen (listen on the Tim Ferris podcast). I spent 30+hours migrating all the notes I had ever written in Notion. My Notion has now become my most precious posession I cannot live without. Everything from my blogs, projects notes, personal CRM, bucket list, to-do lists, travel plans all live in my personal digital brain. It gives me immense peace and focus.
digital brain v1 at OTAKU in Dubai
  • I will never be a specialist in anything. I will never be the best, an expert or a master in anything. Put simply; I am too insatiately curious for that. Though I have been trying to deny it, I am undeniably a generalist. And that is exactly why I love the career path I chose, Product Management. Society has been structured to reward the specialists. The people that are reeeally good at something. But I genuinely think that some people are not wired like that. And that is cool. I am def one of them and I do not and will not try to force myself in a box. I just follow whatever sparks my curiosity instead of feeling like i have any obligation to stay in the lane.

Fitness

  • They say: 'find work that you love and you will never work a single day in your life'. In the same spirit I realised that if you find a physically activity that you have fun with, you will not feel like you are working-out. Team-sports like basketball, football or are a good examples.
  • Intermittent fasting works wonders. Start with 12h fast and just push up to 16h in the course of 2 months.
  • The trick in staying fit and healthy as you grow older is simple. Don't stop.
  • We are taught that with hard work we can get anything or become anything. While a very romantic idea, this is far from the truth. Theres an element of luck that has a much bigger weight than people would like to think. There are many types of luck but the one that is often overlooked are genetics. No matter how much hard I work; my waist will still be wider than i would like it to be and my calves small. While it is tru that one can 'increase their luck', I still think that we over-romanticise the weight hard-work has over luck.
  • People get in shape because they want to be healthy they say. While important, most people that are not ill already don't get in shape to be healthy. They get in shape because they want to look healthy and feel healthy. Most importantly, I believe, the biggest upside of getting in shape and being happy with the way you look is again; not health but more confidence. It us emotional not functional. If you look you are more confident to interact with people, ask the girl out, go out at the party. It also mostly manifests in ever other domain of your life. Being fit spills over everywhere. And I don't care how much people say ‘love your body and who you are’; you are better than that! You can be better! Love it but don't confuse that with being satisfied with it.

Relationships

  • Unless you are full as a person, you cannot give out to the world at the max of your capacity. Do not expect from anybody to 'complete' you. Humans are multipliers to our experience. If you are at 4/10 then your friends/partner adds say 20% to that. If you are at 8/10 then they add 20% to that. Notice it is not +2 it is *2.
  • The awesomeness score of an activity can reach a max of 8/10 when done alone but it won't be until you add a human element that it can reach a 10. I love writing. But writing with a friend was always better. I love BBQing but BBQing with people for people is twice as good. I love wakeboarding, but wakeboarding with friends was triple as fun. If you are lucky enough to find your tribes in each of those activities/idenitities, you can multiply their effect.
  • The bigger the city, the less open people become. It is much harder to approach people in a metropolis than in a village. People will look at you suspiciously if you smile, if you try to help, even if you say good morning. I found this especially true when the other person is a stranger so in the specific scenario of trying to  break the initial barrier with the person.
  • Finding quality trustworthy ethical people with which you want to collaboarate in the future should be one of your top prios at any give point. Spot these people, nurture a relationships, plant the seed and keep them close at all costs. They are rarer than you might think.
  • People don't want advice. They want to be heard. Advice is primarily serving the one who gives it. Instead focus on listening attentively and ask good questions that let the person uncover their truth.
  • Sometimes what moves people most is a healthy dose of harshness. During a discussion with one of my closest friends about her career I called her skill-less but potential-full. That was the shake she needed. 'Don't worry, you will figure it out.' has never helped anybody afaik. Want to be a good friend, colleague, mentor and enable people around you to grow? You have to provide a healthy balance of support but at the same time challenge. Shame can be powerful.
  • Remember that if you are above 25yo; you have probably spent 80% of the time you will have with your parents/grandparents already. Do not lose any opportunity to spend time with them.

Tech & Product Management

  • Tech is the Pinnacle of 'business'. Legacy companies can benefit immensely from using tech industry methods. Or they will get disrupted by one sooner or later. One way the tech industry can be viewed, is a process by which we collectively push forward our understanding of industries and new business models. — Kevin Kwon
  • Want to get in a company? Ask for referral. People who refer you get a referral bonus if you are successful. So if you are a good candidate, you are actually indirectly returning the favour of them referring you by free cash. The best way to find these people; Twitter. NOT LinkedIn. I applied to GRAB back in July. Ignored. I decide to try again by asking a guy on Twitter for a referral. 1 week later I was asked to interview not with 1 but 3 different departments.
  • I love my career but not enough to sacrifice so much to go to San Fransisco or NY. It is undeniable that the most interesting products -outside China- are built in the US but at this point in my life, what I seek is a quality life. A good career is a huge part of a good life, not not the whole thing.
  • Twitter is the land of opportunity to connect all the cool people. It is giant yet feels intimate. DMs are not treated like spam so you can connect with so many people and open so many doors. It is the most concentrated feed of combined interesting-ness + intellect + usefulness. Not using it is a heresy.

Philosophy & Fluffy Stuff

  • Focus. If you are curious and you live in this day and age (of maximum opportunity and information overload) and you have NO discipline; you are f*cked. There are so many fascinating things to learn, awesome things to do, amazing people to meet, impactful projects to start, insightful books to read, experiences to live, places to travel to. BUT here's my motto: in life you can do anything but not everything. Sad but true. Limiting but freeing. Focus. Imagine focusing your camera. You turn the lens clockwise and anticlockwise until the picture clears up right? Well; the right amount of focus for you, the point in which the picture is clear, is the point at which you don't have TOO MANY 'focuses' and are unable to produce but at the same time you don't have TOO FEW focuses and your work feels monotonous and boring.
  • Not everybody needs the same level of intellectual stimulation. Don't judge people as shallow. Not everybody has to be ambitious. Don't judge people as lazy.
  • Time is our most precious commodity. Don't postpone living.
  • Very few of us really think for ourselves. Most of us are on auto-pilot and will be until our deathbed.
  • Time alone in introspection is heavily underrated. "most of problems come from being unable to sit in a room and think" True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation. One’s inner voices become audible… — Wendell Berry
  • Alone is not the same as being lonely.
  • You can source all human behavior to evolutionary residue.
  • Take it slow. Most of the times there is no rush. Wake up slowly, walk slowly, speak slowly. Appreciate the silence and the stillness. There is past, present and future but the only thing that is real is the present.
  • This:

Lifehacks

  • Plans don't work for me but rules do. I am realising more and more that freedom is not the absence of rules but the ability to set your own. Setting boundaries might at first sound like something negative. Yet in fact I found that it is one of the most calming, grounding things one can do.'Only wear black/white tshirts' and 'Don't have fried stuff', 'Never raise your voice', 'Before buying anything, wait for a week' are all examples of lower level rules. As you go up, you find one's moral code. They highest level or rules ones should have. I find that the higher up the rule, the more strict the rule becomes. Rules serve the cause of reducing cognitive load by reducing choice. Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom. — Kierkegaard 'Isn't a plan sort of a rule?' you might ask. I guess you could say so. But i have another rule: 'You don't have to follow plans if they don't feel right at the time' that overwrites that .
  • Buy used shit. The savings are worth it imho. I got a Canon 80D & a Sigma 16-35 f1.6 lense for 60% of the price.
  • I did not realise how much any sort of possession is a burden, until I got rid of 50% of it. Before leaving London, I had to audit all my stuff and either donate, sell, toss or keep them. I ended up getting rid of 50% of my possessions. It felt SO good. The Marie Kondo hype was 100% justified. Whatever doesn't bring you joy; get rid of it. In fact; I made it a point not to buy it in the first place. I used to be an impulsive buyer. Cute plushy panda toy? Sold. Nice smelling candle? Yes please. Cool little gadget? Mine. Now every time I am considering purchasing something, I make sure it would make a big difference.
  • Link spaces to modes. My room is for youtube and sleep. The living room table is for writing. Coffee shops are for more focused work. The beach is for reading. The gym is only for weightlifting. It is hard for me to do focused work in my room, since my brain associates it with laying flat and chilling. Which brings me too:
  • Some Chinese/Korea/Japanese videos I discovered are so good for relaxing. Like.. check this or this or this out. Another level.

After 4 months and 4500 spent, I feel more more self-aware, confident and energized than ever. I feel more mellow, grounded and more in control of my future. I grew so much that I had now made it a rule to have a big break in between gigs fully devoted on play.

I keep highly highly recommending to any and every of my friends to do this. Put some money aside and just live your life. The money will be plentiful in your 30s but your time and independence will be scarce - at least that is my belief; take it or leave it-.

I am extremely grateful and extremely lucky I was given the chance to have these 3 months of exploration and play. I know how privileged I am and if there is one thing that came out of this experience is a commitment to myself that I will give back x100 whatever I was given.

Now time to turn the page.

I am calling this next chapter: "Mass creation".