I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for a leap of faith I took after college.
At that point, I was 21 and had graduated from the University of California, San Diego. I majored in Economics — with a minor in International Studies (zomg!) — and had a 3.8 GPA.
I was also President of the Undergraduate Economics Society, which was a chick magnet if I remember correctly, and I was a member of the honor society, Phi Beta Kappa.
After college, my plan was just as conformist: I wanted to move to Manhattan and work at a bulge bracket investment bank. I wanted the corporate life, I wanted to make a killing in Wall Street, I wanted an MBA at an Ivy League college, and I wanted those 6-figure Christmas bonuses and inflated salaries only the finance industry could afford.
That was “the” plan.Three years later, I was working at a tiny gym in glamorous Newhall, CA, cleaning toilets, mopping floors, and washing dishes for $9/hour.
And strangely enough, THAT’S exactly where I wanted (and needed) to be at the time.
So what the fuck happened?!
I completely changed every single thing I wanted in my life.
And I owe much of it to my 22 harrowing months abroad.
Every day taught me something profound.
Every day challenged me and forced me to grow.
And every day encouraged me to ease my grip on the path I thought I wanted in life.
In this article, I want to share the most powerful lessons the experience taught me (in no particular order). I hope they offer the same life-changing benefit to you as they did for me:
I Stopped Caring About Money
You’d be surprised how little money you need to enjoy a great life while traveling.
When I lived in Taipei, I made a whopping NT$500/hour (roughly US$16/hour) cash and worked only 11 hours a week. And it was more-than-enough money!
I lived in a nice apartment in the middle of the city, partied on the weekends (and weekdays), and had all the shmoney I needed to enjoy a good life for a single, 23-year-old dude.
If it was 1992, I would’ve had a beeper and a gold chain too!
But let me adjust that first sentence a bit:
You’d be surprised how little money you need to enjoy a great life
You really don’t need much money to have a good time ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD. Think about it: How much of the shit we waste our money on do we actually need? And how much of the greatest pleasures in life are absolutely free?
The more we feed the mindset that we need a lot of money to “enjoy life,” the more trapped we become.
Sure, certain places like Sydney, New York, and London are expensive as fuck, but don’t forget, yours truly somehow managed to survive in those places without dancing naked for nickels.
Also, don’t forget the other 80+ countries that are WAY cheaper than America and just as fun.
I Wanted A Life Of Freedom
After I left America, all I wanted to do was to NOT come back to America.
I was hooked. I wanted to travel so badly that, during my time in Taiwan, I even created a remote business, which eventually got shut down by the Federales (aka “Google”).
But it planted the seed to make my dream a reality. And from age 24 to 28, I hustled my ass off to build a lifestyle to do the work I wanted, to do the work when I wanted, and to avoid a goddamn office.
It isn’t perfect by any means, but I’m grateful everyday I created freedom for myself.
I Embraced Risk
The riskiest thing I did in the 20 years before I graduated college was watching ESPN2 instead of ESPN.
Okay, I’ve done some risky things before then, but risk is kind of a mixed bag: What many people consider “risk” is shit like skydiving, bungee jumping, having sex without a condom, etc.
But to me, that’s not really risky. (Well, the condom one is.)
I think “risk” is to abandon your existing way of life for something new.
I think “risk” is to give up your status quo to chase a dream with no idea if you’ll succeed.
Anyone can jump out of a plane when they’re strapped to a skydiving expert; few people can quit their job TOMORROW and reject their former life for something new.
Even fewer people can do that while moving to a new continent where they don’t speak the language.
Eventually, I realized these “risks” weren’t as damning or permanent as we made them to be. If anything, life gets a hell of a lot better when we do embrace risk.
I Eliminated Distractions
As part of my English teaching contract in Korea, I would get TV and internet.
Well, I got internet, but I didn’t get a television. Here’s the crazy thing: After 21 years on this Earth, that was the first time in my entire fucking life where I lived in a place without a TV.
I loved it! If I had a day off, I’d just put my laptop and a book in my backpack and tour the city.
In Taipei, I cruised around town, exploring different neighborhoods, talking to girls, and drinking boba. In fact, I’m writing this as a 29-year-old and wondering, “Why the hell am I not there RIGHT NOW?”
I Made An Effort To Explore
The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
— Saint Augustine
Growing up in LA, my family and I never really explored the city: We just went to the same places and did the same things.
Even in college — isolated in a bougie, White enclave of San Diego called “La Jolla” — I rarely ventured into the city despite having a car and all the free time in the world.
I never considered checking out different neighborhoods and enjoying a cup of coffee and a book. (I didn’t like either of those things back then, actually.)
When I lived in Taipei, however, I explored the city almost everyday. I would randomly pick an area and check it out. If I found a coffee shop, I’d hang out and read a book for a little. If I met someone cool, I’d talk to them and follow them around. (I obviously had no shame.)
But I kept that mentality with me.
People think you need a passport, a plane ticket, and free time to “explore the world.”
All you need is the explorer’s mindset. Suddenly, even your hometown will look different. How many different areas in your own city have you traveled through? How many different people from different cultures have you talked to in your own building?
By the time I moved back to Los Angeles, I started exploring different neighborhoods on foot (again) armed with nothing but a backpack, a book, and a bottle of water.
In Denver, I do the same thing.
No passport required.
I Fell In Love With Reading
I used to joke I was illiterate; that’s how little I read.
I never knew it could be fun, inspiring, and beneficial.
At some point in Korea, I think I was so starved for some English, I just bought a book the first book that looked interesting and read it. And with all the free time (and dead time) you get while living in another country, it became an amazing way to fill the void.
Thankfully, it also taught me many amazing things and helped me create my journey.
I Fell In Love With Writing
This blog is NOT my first blog.
My first ever blog was on Blogspot and titled, “Second Life: The Emancipation of Anthony Yeung.”
It was a place for me to document my travels and share my lessons. Actually, to write this article, I reread a few of them and, surprisingly, they weren’t too shabby. “Moe Kah Rahh Tey” is my favorite — it’s my glimpse into the lifestyle of modern-day South Korea. (Perhaps I could pitch it to the Enquirer.)
But I never wrote until I lived abroad.
I never voluntarily wrote one single article, blog post, essay, or whatever until I moved to Korea. Previously, I was a “terrible” writer, getting C’s in English and struggling to use proper grammar and spelling.
But I didn’t care. I just wanted to write and have a creative outlet.
Thankfully, it created a new path for me. If it wasn’t for that, I would have NEVER gone on to write for Esquire, Men’s Health, and GQ.
I Cut My Possessions
When I moved to Korea, I brought two large suitcases and a carry-on bag full of clothes, shoes, and random crap.
By the time I left, I eliminated about 75% of my possessions and started doing a “Great Purge” every few months. (Mao Zedong eventually borrowed my idea, but I like to think my purges were more productive.)
My experiences also inspired me to create my life rule: “Donate one article of clothing for each one you buy.”
It’s not “hard,” but it ain’t “easy.” The reality is a minimalist lifestyle requires sacrifices — although I wouldn’t call them “sacrifices;” they’re more like strict rules. (This also helps for the “I Wanted A Life Of Freedom.”)
No pets. No plants (except easy ones like money bamboo and cactuses). No maintenance.
Because I NEVER want to be in position where I CAN’T go somewhere or do something because I have to arrange for someone to water my fucking plants, have someone feed my fish, or get someone to turn off my fucking sprinklers when it rains.
I Became Intentional With My Social Circle
I had a lot of internal problems after college. A LOT. (I still do actually, but you probably knew that.)
But when you move and surround yourself with an entirely new array of people, it gives you a tremendous opportunity to choose your social circle wisely.
And while I place ZERO responsibility for my problems on my friends, I couldn’t help but notice my friends reflected the exact way I lived, the way I felt about myself, and the way I saw the world around me.
In other words, I manifested my friends and made it almost impossible to break out.
When I moved to Korea, I met so many kind, generous, thoughtful, and positive people — I knew I wanted to surround myself with them because, as the saying goes, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” And I credit a lot of my self-improvement to their influence and encouragement.
From that moment on, I understood the importance of our social circles.
I Learned The Transience of Life
Thanks to a few early heroes, I discovered the world of Roman Stoicism.
It taught me the transience of life and the importance of embracing death.
It was February 2011 when I used my school’s printer to make my Memento Mori chart, and I still have it with me to this day.
The reality isn’t so much that life is short. (I mean, is ~75 years a “short” amount of time?)
It’s that life is fast.
When you see those years speed by, you gain a lot more perspective. Suddenly the things you thought mattered don’t and the things you thought didn’t matter did.
Suddenly, you realize spending one year — let alone one month — doing something you don’t like is just too much. Because when you look back on your life, you’ll notice how quickly everything went and how precious those wasted moments were.
I’m grateful I discovered those powerful lessons.
And I thank my travels for it.