It’s Much Easier Than You Think to Live the Life You Want

Maybe not “easy”, but entirely possible.

I recently listened to an episode of The World Wanderers Podcast where the host discussed working at a Cafe in a great city that a lot of people would love to live in.  She mentioned how, had she not moved to this cool, exciting city, the job she had would have made her feel like a loser.  In your hometown working retail after getting an expensive degree seems pretty lame.  Up and moving to a destination city and working retail to support the lifestyle seems kind of adventurous.

Back home, she would have dreaded seeing an old friend come in.  “Oh, so you’re working here?”  In the new city when someone she knew came in the question was more like, “Wow, so you’re living here?”

Just a few days ago I talked to a guy who’s biking across the country and loving it.  He spent several months in beautiful Missoula, Montana waiting for the weather to improve so he could continue his journey.  He worked at a grocery store while there and it provided everything he needed to live the lifestyle he wanted and get back on the road in time.  What would his resume look like when, several years out of college, he had “Grocery bagger” listed?  Not great, except when put in the context of, “Spent two years biking across the U.S., paying my way through with odd jobs and blogging about the adventure.”

I thought about this phenomenon more in Mompiche, Ecuador a few weeks ago.  We found a little place with a sign for American-style pancakes.  A welcome breakfast after days of fruit and cereal.  The breakfast nook was run by a twentysomething woman from the Ukraine.  She fried up pancakes on a small griddle and served them with coffee for breakfast and lunch in the tiny Bohemian surfing village.  She lived in a neat little house right above the pancake joint and spent the rest of the day as she pleased.

Imagine this ambitious young woman back home responding to the common, “So, what do you do?” with, “I make pancakes for a living.”  Likely her friends and family would be a little worried and ashamed and think something wrong with her.

Contrast that with the same answer to the same question but with a change in geography.  “I moved across the world to a tropical surfing village in Ecuador where I opened my own business.”  Wow.  What an enviable life, right?

There’s something weird about staying in your hometown.  It severely limits the definitions you accept for what makes you successful.  Oddly, most of the hometown definitions of success have nothing to do with happiness.  They have to do with becoming what everyone in your past expects or desires given who you used to be.  It’s a sort of tether to a past self that no longer exists.

When the expectations of back home no longer apply you can ask better questions and make clearer connections.  What kind of person do you want to be (vs. what job title do you want)?  What kind of people and surroundings do you want to be immersed in (vs. where do you want to work or live)?

Many people would probably love to be the master of their own schedule, be in a beautiful outdoor setting with interesting people from around the world, seriously pursue a hobby with lots of their time, and be challenged in new ways daily.  Yet most of those same people would be horrified at the idea of playing guitar on the street for money, flipping pancakes, or doing freelance odd-jobs online, any of which might be the very means to achieve the life described.

Most people have this idea that you have to work a boring job in a boring house in a boring city for a few decades, and then if you play your cards right and all kinds of things totally out of your control (like the stock market or real estate prices) do the right thing, you can have some kind of two week vacation cruise or retire in a place where you enjoy good weather and leisure.  The weird thing is, all those “someday” goals are available right now with relatively little difficulty.  You can afford to live in a cool bamboo house in a beach town just by making pancakes for lunch and breakfast.  You can (as was one guy I met) travel the length of South America living entirely off the cash you make playing guitar outside of restaurants.

I’m not claiming this kind of life is for everyone.  Not at all.  There is nothing wrong with a 9-5 job and life in the suburbs if that’s what really resonates with you.  There’s nothing inherently noble about traveling or working some low wage odd job.  The point is that it’s too easy to choose things based on an artificially limited option set.  It’s too easy to define your life by stupid things like college majors or giant industry labels or titles that will make Aunt Bessie proud at the family reunion or salary levels.

The last one is especially dangerous.

It’s a weird habit to measure your success in life only by the revenue side of the equation.  Who cares if you bring in $100k a year if it only buys you a crappy apartment that you hate in a city that stresses you out with friends that don’t inspire you and a daily existence you mostly daydream about escaping from?  Your costs exceed your revenues and you’re actually going backward.  You very well could get twice the lifestyle you desire at half the annual income.  Like any business, the health of your personal life should be measured using both revenues and costs.  On the personal level, neither are not just monetary.

Only you can know what kind of life you want.  But getting off the conveyor belt of the education system, getting out of the home town expectations trap, and opening your mind to measures of progress beyond salary will give you a much better chance of crafting a life you love.

Here are a few articles to chew on:

Why You Should Move Away from Your Home Town

Why You Should Get Off the Conveyor Belt

Why “Escapism” Isn’t a Bad Thing

Why It’s So Hard to Exit a Bad Situation

Do You Need to Do Work You Love to Be Happy?

Stop Doing Stuff You Hate

Focus on What You Don’t Want

Do What You Love, or Have it Easy?


Ecuador Trip By the Numbers

  • 5 weeks (one more remaining)
  • 3 complete changes in plan
  • 2.3 times over budget
  • 3 languages (kind of) spoken
  • 8 exotic fruits we’ve never heard of ingested
  • 7 colds
  • 3 sinus infections
  • 3 foodborne illnesses
  • 1 sprained ankle
  • 1 (probably) broken nose
  • 1 ear infection
  • 1 visit to the doctor
  • 4 cities stayed in
  • 9 cities visited
  • 3 climate zones experienced
  • 9 power outages
  • 14 books read (between my wife and I)
  • 2 visitors from back home
  • 1,000,000 (rough estimate) hours swimming
  • 28 hours spent driving
  • 30 or more videos streamed on Amazon/Netflix
  • 2 houses lived in
  • 4 flights (by the time we’re done)
  • 3 dollars spent on the best lunch ever experienced
  • 2,374 miles from home
  • 1 hell of a good time!

Some Great Bucket List Items

Last week I asked for people to send me some bucket list items – things they want to do before they die.

I got some great stuff in response.  Matthew Hartill won the books via the random selection process (my ten-year-old kid picking a number).

Thanks to everyone who played!  Here’s a compilation of submissions.  I’ve anonymizes, slightly edited, and combined similar items.  Maybe you can take inspiration from a few of these…

  • Become fluent in one romance language, and one language with a (very) different alphabet
  • Live in 4 foreign countries for a period of 6 months or more
  • Create, launch, and flip a business from start to finish
  • Create, launch, and maintain a business from start to finish
  • Hike sections of the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail
  • Vastly improve my skills and be a ____ bum for my three favorite extreme sports (rock climbing, surfing, and skiing)
  • Get good enough at code and computer programming to keep up with my imagination
  • Make a crucial impact in one or more charitable organizations that I admire
  • Reach a place of spiritual comfort; whether that be through meditation, religious practice, or anything else
  • Travel
  • Fall in love
  • Create a successful business that changes the world.
  • Have a child, and/or adopt a child
  • Meet Bob Dylan
  • Meet Mike Rowe
  • Live in the house of my dreams
  • Be a pilot
  • Participate in Praxis
  • Graduate high school a year early
  • Stay frugal, stay giving, despite income growth
  • Reach 50,000 hits on an article
  • Drop acid with Tim Ferriss
  • Legitimately learn Spanish and maintain fluency
  • Finally write my stand-up comedy sketch and prove to myself that girls can be funny
  • Do a scorpion shot a la James Bond in Skyfall
  • Deadlift twice my body weight
  • Climb Mount Kilimanjaro (and post-Kilimanjaro, complete a Bang Bang Bang in the style of Louis C.K. — three consecutive full meals, consumed all in the same timeframe)
  • Visit Meteora Monasteries
  • Start a ministry in a city that has never heard the Gospel before
  • Visit a country currently listed as “3rd world”, then visit it when it becomes 1st world
  • Write a novel
  • Give a sermon
  • Be a part of a metal band’s album or tour
  • Buy something for my child, in cryptocurrency, from a major department store
  • Win a baking competition
  • Travel to space in a commercial flight
  • Slam dunk a basketball while in my 30s
  • Watch the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers football team win the Rose Bowl





James Walpole’s Praxis Story


Now that we’ve had a few classes graduate and more are getting underway every month, the stories are beginning to roll in.  I love it.  This is the stuff that reminds us why we do what we do every day.  It’s not easy, but nothing good is.

Praxis September 2014 participant James Walpole joined the program right out of high school, deferring a college experience he wasn’t entirely sold on so he could get some real world time under his belt.  A year later and James was running marketing for a tech startup in the Bitcoin space…at age 19.  No degree, just the kind of job he had hoped a degree might get him four years and untold thousands later.  Not to mention a new outlook and the confidence to try a great many things never before considered.

I’ll let James tell it in his own words…

“I’ve always had big goals for my life. When it came to actually accomplishing them, I wasn’t much different from many people my age: I was getting nothing important done. I was keeping my head down and working hard to do well in school and have a “normal” teenage life. I had done well at these, so I was waiting for the conveyor belt to carry me on to my dreams of being a great thinker and entrepreneur.

I was being complacent. I think that complacency would only have gotten worse if I had chosen to stay on that path into college and beyond. I had already applied to several schools. While I wasn’t impressed by the conformity of college culture, I thought I had no other choice but to go.

Praxis was a breath of fresh air. It shook me back to the awareness that I was sleepwalking through important decisions in my life. More importantly, it showed me than an education that fit my values was possible and did exist. I could bring my ideas to life in my work, and I had no excuse not to take the first steps toward making my goals real.

While it was scary at first to turn down college and scholarship offers to do something so different, the decision to apply was one of the best I made. Throughout my time in the program, I gained hard skills and work experience in an industry I loved, explored great works and ideas alongside my Praxis advisors, and built strong networks in my business community and friendships with my fellow Praxis participants. I know a little bit more now about what it takes to be an effective entrepreneur and thinker, and I’ve taken responsibility for getting there.

The growth I experienced in Praxis has continued after the program. I’m still working full time for my Praxis business partner, managing marketing work to which I was new just a year ago. Learning how to handle this responsibility and the challenges that have come along with it has made me a better, braver, and more competent person.

When I think about my future now, I’m not worried about who’s going to pay me or who’s going to hire me. I’m also not expecting to achieve my goals automatically. I know I can handle challenges above my “approved age level”, and I know how to create my own path. I have Praxis to thank for that. This experience didn’t just save me four years – it’s changed how I’m living my life.”

If you want to take a leap and do what James did, apply now.  There’s nothing to lose but the known, well-worn path that will always be there.

James blogs regularly at the Praxis blog as well.  Read his full story and other posts here.

If you want to talk to him about his experience, email James here.

Why You Should Apply to Praxis

Why I Started Praxis

Praxis requires the right people.  It’s a challenging program.  It’s not for everyone.

So who’s a good fit?  If you or someone you know fits any of these descriptions, it might be a match made in heaven…

You’re good, but you’re bored

You can do well in school.  You’re typically one of the best students.  You can do well in a job.  You’re typically one of the best employees.  Most social and educational situations are like games, and you’re pretty good at figuring out the game and doing what it takes to win.  Still, you’re restless.

Gaming the school system for grades seems a bit pointless, and you’re jonesing for something more real.  You want to succeed, but you’d like to do it in an environment that’s connected to something bigger, more valuable to the world and to your own future.

You know you don’t know everything and you’re bored getting rewarded for stuff that isn’t all that challenging.  You relish the opportunity to try bigger things, and to be in an environment where open experimentation and failure aren’t the enemy, but stagnation is.

You’ve always got side projects and ideas

Not satisfied with officially sanctioned clubs and activities, you’re keen to create your own.  You’re the one who’s always starting fantasy football leagues or planning poker nights.  What?  No aquatics club?  You’ll remedy that.  Nearest Red Bull supply is too far away?  You’ll start a little delivery service.

From building club websites and Facebook pages to finding someone to make a new logo for your softball team, you never stop coming up with new ideas, jumping on opportunities, and completing projects of your own design.

You know this urge to build things might take you places if put in a more expansive context.  You know you could learn so much more being around others who have built amazing companies and brought big ideas to life.

You can’t stop seeing how everything around you could be done more efficiently

Everyone in line at the airport is staring at their phone and mindlessly wandering through the rope maze.  Not you.  You’re analyzing the way the line is designed and frustrated that they chose such an inefficient configuration.

You immediately see how the class assignment could be done in a much cleaner, quicker way with the same result.  You probably got in trouble for discovering shortcuts and hacks in grade school.  Everywhere you look, you run numbers in your head or ask questions about how the model works.  When you drive through a neighborhood, you’re looking at the cars and houses and estimating the annual salary and debt needed to sustain the residents.  You wonder if they’d have a higher quality of life in a different city with lower cost of living.

You feel like the world is full of inefficiencies but this doesn’t make you angry, it makes you excited.  Where others see pain points, you see opportunity.  You may not know yet how to channel this mindset and you may not have any particular passion, but you can’t turn off that part of your brain that sees areas for improvement all around.

You’d love to enter an environment where that mindset is valuable and cultivated.  You’d love to take it to the next level.

If that’s you, so is this

Praxis is ideal for anyone who fits any of these descriptions.  An intensive 3 month bootcamp on personal and professional skills, 6 months working at an amazing startup, a rigorous series of personal development projects, coaching, and a deep dive into what it takes to be an entrepreneur and self-directed learner.  This is the career and educational experience you’ve always wanted.  No fluff.  No BS.

Why wait to do awesome stuff and work with innovative companies?

Start today.

The Expedition of Our Age

unnamedNothing is guaranteed.  There is no plan or path that can ensure the kind of life you want.  There are only opportunities with varying degrees of risk.  And sometimes the least risky opportunities are also those least likely to result in fulfillment.  The great success stories are the result of daring expedition and pursuit of unique goals.

There was a time when a college education was something of an adventure.  It was exclusive, not easy to get, and signaled something special.  Leaving your home town for a university was a big deal, a great expedition.  This is no longer true.  Going to college is not difficult today.  It’s not elite or rare.  Most young people can easily travel and live away from their home towns and many have even before college.  Today, college isn’t much of an adventure.  In fact, it attracts some of the most risk averse individuals, and perhaps paradoxically the higher ranked the school often the more risk averse its students.

There is a small but growing number of young people who see this and they’ve got the itch.  They go to college only to realize it’s a warmed over version of all the years of safe, institutional schooling they’ve just completed.  No one will question their decision to go.  No one will call them crazy.  The risk of flunking out is as minuscule as the risk of standing out.  The sense of adventure is gone, replaced with a sense of perpetual adolescence and paternalistic planning.

Those with the itch for real adventure realize that no one is going to give it to them.  The prefabricated social life and conveyor-belt career track isn’t enough.  If they want to embark on a daring expedition, they’ll have to do it themselves.  The great secret is that it’s far easier than anyone imagines.  All the resources exist already within arms reach.  Anything in the world you want to learn or do, anyone you want to meet, any personal challenge you want to give yourself, any skill you want to devote yourself to: they’re all doable, without anyone’s permission.

The world is waiting.  It won’t be found on dorm room couches.  It won’t be found in cinder block classrooms.  It won’t be given to those who simply follow the rules and don’t upset the apple cart.  It will be discovered – it will be created – by those daring enough to seek adventure and live life on their own terms.

The geographical territory of the earth has been largely discovered.  But we’re only on the borderlands of human potential.  It lies before us vast, untamed, full of mystery and possibility.  It will be explored by those brave enough.  No special qualifications are needed beyond courage, self-honesty, a hunger for self-knowledge, and willingness to break the mold.

The great expedition of our age is the self-created journey; the self-directed life.