The past year has been by far the most eventful year of my life (so far). I’ve done a lot of things, taken a lot of decisions and learned a lot. 10 days after turning 18, I moved to Montenegro, in October I decided to get a job instead of continuing on my entrepreneurial path, I traveled a bit, dropped out of high-school, moved to Vietnam, quit my job, started a business..
Here are some of the things that I’ve managed to keep in the back of my head from all of these experiences, decisions, failures and of course – some struggles.
I’m not putting them in any particular order (consciously) so if you can’t relate to one of them, move on.
1. It’s easy to take things for granted
When you meet me for the first time and ask me about my country, Estonia. You’re not going to get a very positive answer. I always rant about it. In reality, I don’t hate it as much as I say – although I’m definitely happier in Vietnam. It has it’s downsides, but that’s where I grew up and have experienced the majority of my life. Memories.. Family.. Friends..
I realized this approximately a month ago. I had been away from Estonia for two months and was having a drink by the pool at my office with a beautiful girl. I was pretty happy. My mom wrote to me and told me something happened to my dog. She got attacked, had stitches done and might have a tumour. I freaked out. I was probably the worst conversationalist for the next two hours, proceeded to drink a ton of whiskey of a German guy in the office and ended up driving home WASTED. I got off my bike in my house’s garage and practically fell over – until then I had zero tolerance for drunk-driving (even one beer).
Less than a week later, things got more serious with my dog. She had a total of three surgeries. Some Wednesday morning at 11 AM I decided to go back to Estonia. Five hours later I was broke and on a plane towards “home”.
I felt bad about leaving my dog when leaving the country. Four years of growing her up, walking her every single day while listening to countless of audiobooks that have changed my life. Whenever I was sad, angry, depressed (or asleep) – she would welcome me and make me happy. Even if I was an asshole and wouldn’t walk her for more than 10 minutes because of a hangover, she didn’t care.
Leaving – I though I can “always” come back and see her again and rationalized saying she would be better off living with my mom. What I forgot was that animals (like people) can die. My dog was pretty close to that.
Don’t take the things you care about for granted. Make sure they know it – show it. Be grateful, even when things are not going “your way”.
2. Things don’t make you happy. Experiences and people do.
When I got into internet marketing at the age of 14, I was obsessed with materialist crap. I spent the first money I made on a new phone, xbox, computers, a massive bed, thousands worth of clothes and other things I didn’t really need or care about.
At one point it got really bad. I got obsessed with Mustangs. In May, 2013 I decided that I’m going to go to my high-school graduation (hah.) in a Mustang, no matter what. I started saving money for it and did it super successfully, I didn’t touch a single Euro I put aside. Honestly, I wasn’t very far off my goal when turning 18 and I got my driving license the same day I was eligible.
Luckily, I didn’t make the stupid move of buying a 15 000 € muscle car. I had developed critical thinking and realized it was stupid – every good memory I had was an adventure, experience, party, hangout – whatever. Not a material item I saved up for and purchased.
I took all of that money and moved to Montenegro for two months. I was splurging like crazy. Buying drinks for everyone, buying any drink, going on vacation every other week in expensive apartments on airbnb with sea-view balconies and whatever. Way too much money was spent for an ex-yugoslavian country where beer is cheaper than water. But it didn’t matter. I met the coolest people (Bogdan, Janko, David, Rebecca, Kelly, Rose – hi :)), did the coolest stuff and had a really good time.
The same goes for Vietnam.
Yes, I love the country, no doubt about that. I like it a lot more than I like “home”. But I don’t think that’s the reason I’ve fallen in love with this place. It’s the people I’ve met. Whether it be Swiss, German, American or Vietnamese, from the office, the bar or Tinder, young or old – these people have made my stay special. Special shout-out to all of the people at saigon coworking space and you (you know who you are, don’t you?).
3. You need patience for some things
This was a big one for me. I’ve always been a super impatient person – I cannot wait for anything. I want to take shortcuts, to take the quick route (DON’T confuse this with the “easy route”!!!) and get results quick. It turns out, some things are worth waiting for. Can’t go too deep into details with this lesson, but it’s one of the biggest one.
Meanwhile, I think my impatience is one of my core strengths. It has allowed me to progress a lot quicker than a lot of the people out there, get what I’ve been dreaming of quicker and so on. I guess the lesson is more about thinking deeply about things, what you really want and then deciding whether the potential reward is worth the wait, or not.
4. Goals are to be changed around, often
I used to have this mindset with goals that once you set them, you have to finish them. For me, it has always been “all or nothing” with everything. So I either achieve my goal, or I fail.
Now I know that you should change your goals and you should change them often. Reevaluate what you’ve been wanting and see if it still applies. A great example of that was my “Mustang dream”. No, I didn’t get it but that doesn’t mean I failed my goal, I simply changed it around. It still helped me get a lot further financially than I would have gotten with no goal. Keep goals as guidelines.
Another example. In November, 2014 I set myself 11 goals. I’ll bring out two of them.
- Finish high-school
- Move to the Philippines on 13/11/2015
In theory, you could say I failed both of those goals. All of my friends finished high-school a week ago and I live in Vietnam, not the Philippines and it’s not November 13. (My mom’s birthday is on the 12th – I didn’t want to leave before that, out of respect for all she’s done for me – hi mom.)
I didn’t fail, I changed my mind. Finishing high-school would in no way help me with where I’m going, my priorities are way different. If those change, I can always go back and finish the last two months and exams. I didn’t want to go to the Philippines anymore – Vincent Nguyen, who partly inspired me to go there, told me to look at Chiang Mai or Vietnam instead. So I did, and I’m happy here.
5. Make people happy and be nice
I’m pretty easy to please. A lot of little things that happen make me happy. It could be a slightly creepy security guard calling me handsome, a little Vietnamese saying “Hello!” 15 times to me in the elevator, someone smiling at me or even holding the door. By instinct, I started doing the same thing more often and then realized everyone gets happy from it.
Someone might have had a really really really shitty day. You giving them a nice smile or saying hello could make that persons day. They’re going to pay it forward to another person and the ball usually keeps rolling. Of course, this also makes you feel way better and you’re making the world a better place 😉
6. Do things you’re afraid of
I’ve always been crappy when it came to dealing with fear. I’ve had a lot of different fears over the years, but I’ve managed to conquer a big chunk of them. I’ve been afraid of swimming, diving, needles, blood, heights, bees, cockroaches, talking to random people, charging money for my time, saying no to clients, traveling, living on my own, dropping out of high-school and so on.
There’s this quote that I think I got from Pat Flynn which goes something like this:
The things we’re most afraid of are the things we must do
And it’s been so true for me. Every fear that I’ve taken on head first has lead to something positive or simply gotten rid of the fear. Conquering my fear of heights lead me to an amazing trip in the canyons of Budva and a lot of potential adventures. Conquering my fear of blood and needles by donating blood (which I’m eager to do again) helped me get more confident, made going to the doctor easier and made me help people. Conquering the travel fear led me to the best times of my life.. and so on.
Analyze the things you’re afraid of and look into what the TRUE worst-case scenario is, what the odds of that are and whether it is irreversible. The odds are high that you’re over-thinking it.
7. YOU have control over EVERYTHING in your life
Sounds like a cliche, but hear me out. Yes, there are some things you truly cannot control – a natural disaster in your area, a relative with a deadly disease and so on. Those are the exceptions.
Most people complain about things that they can change, but don’t have the courage to. This could be a stupid boss, a boring job, a bad relationship, your financial situation, your weight or whatever. You can change all of these, no matter what your situation is. Stop thinking you’re an exception – in most scenarios, you’re not.
I’ve met blind graphical designers, people who have grown up on the streets and have turned to be super successful online entrepreneurs and lots more. You can see people with no legs or arms climbing Mount Everest, yet you can’t get your ass to the gym twice a week? Really? Get rid of the excuses and do something, or stop complaining.
I wasn’t happy with the idea of getting a 9-5 job for the rest of my life – I took control.
I wasn’t happy living in Estonia – I moved.
I wasn’t happy being as skinny as I used to be – I started lifting.
I didn’t feel like I was progressing at the company I was working with – I moved on.
…. You get the point.
8. Meet a lot of people and be nice to ALL of them
As said in the fear part – I used to be really shy. A true introvert. I’ve changed – I can go up to anyone and ask them anything, seriously. Ever since I started traveling, I’ve met hundreds of amazing people and talked about everything ranging from space shuttle programs and dogs wearing clothes to business opportunities in Africa.
The problem was – I would often judge people rather quickly. She’s old and boring, I don’t care. That guy seems like an asshole, I’m going to make up an excuse to leave now. This guy looks like he’s full of shit, I’m just going to nod along and listen to the music.
Pretty often, I’ve ended up being dramatically wrong. I’ve later met these people again and had long conversations with them and now have a good relationship with them. Who knows how many bridges I’ve burned by jumping to conclusions? Well, I changed that around and I’m already noticing a lot of cool things happening because of that.
9. Don’t burn bridges – end things on a happy note
It’s inevitable that you’re going to have some “break-ups” in your life. It could be a relationship, a business partnership, a job, friendship or a client refusing to pay what you’re worth. It’s easy to get defensive in this kind of situations and start rationalizing it to them. Don’t. I can’t think of a single time this has helped anyone.
Even if you disagree.. Agree to disagree and focus on the positives.
“Although you’re not going to pay my rate and our partnership is over, I’m grateful to have worked with you until now. I’ve learned a lot and hope you find a good replacement.”
“I’m sorry you think I did X. I can assure things are not how they seem but understand your point of view. If you ever changed your mind – give me a call.”
This can be applied to almost every conflict. Often times, I’ve noticed it’s the best way to manage conflicts 😉
10. Find out what makes you happy
I think happiness is one of the most complicated things in the world. The “secret” we’re all looking for. The problem with me and happiness was expectations and stubbornness.
I would always think too much. If I do this, I will be happy. If I get that one more thing, I can do that. If I travel there, my life will be perfect. Just one more vacation and I’ll be productive.
An example of this would be my trip to Phu Quoc in Vietnam. I was excited about spending my days at the beaches there, sipping cocktails, reading books and thinking about life. I got tired of the beaches, the cocktails had fake alcohol in them, my computer broke so I couldn’t read books and so on. I was disappointed – the place didn’t meet my expectations.
However, I had an amazing time doing other things – things I didn’t take the trip for, things I didn’t expect. Spending my evenings with a “very Vietnamese” family who were nice to me, chatting with a German elevator repairman and his wife who worked for Armani for 7 hours and so on.
I was also disappointed when I didn’t get an internship with the guys at EmpireFlippers a long time ago. Thinking back, it led me to a lot of things I would never want to replace. I was disappointed not getting equity at the company I was working with – I later realized that it was for the best and I would’ve eventually wanted my own thing anyway..
11. Work HARD and then relax
I’ve had several different “productivity systems”. I’ve worked for 16 hours a day for a month and got burnt out so bad I couldn’t do anything for two months. I’ve also done 4 hour days and gotten “in trouble” for it, while in reality getting a lot more done, creating more value.
I don’t think work is about hours – it’s about value. The job I’ve had for the past 9 months has confirmed my assumptions.
My new model is to work as hard as I can (140%) for as long as I can. If I feel that I can’t put in more than 100% or create a lot of value rapidly – I take a break or move on to the next thing. There’s no point in wasting time on something you now you’re not going to do optimally, with the best results or whatever.
Work smart, not long.
12. Don’t overwhelm yourself – FOCUS.
Aaah, another big problem for Karl. Being an impatient person as explained earlier, I tend to do a lot of things at once and go “all out”. This could be starting 20 websites at one time and finishing them within a month, it could be ordering 54 articles for one website at a time, it could be trying to go out 7 days a week and staying productive, it could be trying to juggle 4 business ventures at once – whatever.
Choose one or two things that you think are most important to you and will get you the best results and give that your all. Take one step at a time. Otherwise, you’re going to get overwhelmed and everything will be done half-assed, or nothing will be done.
Those 54 articles I ordered at once for one of my websites.. I still haven’t put any of them up, because I couldn’t choose the “first one”. Stupid.
13. Enjoy the moment, it’ll fade
Being an overly ambitious person, I’ve spent a lot of time dreaming and thinking of the “next big thing”. I think it’s human nature. You just keep chasing and chasing and chasing and never truly enjoy any of it. Like the people who set a goal of traveling to 40 countries in three months… What have you really seen? Nothing. You just “check the boxes”.
This goes the same for business, relationships, vacations or even your workout. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it might end. Yes, you do have to go home in 7 days. Forget about it and focus on what you’re doing right now. Make the best of it, enjoy it or just be..
Getting back my habit of meditating every single day (thanks Max) has helped me with this more than ever. I think this is a big part of happiness as well.
14. Be nice to yourself
As said before, it’s super critical (and easy) to be nice to other people. Don’t forget yourself, though. It’s alright to be selfish sometimes, it’s alright to splurge on the things you care about. It’s alright to fuck up your diet once in a while (especially if you’re enjoying the moment). Give yourself a break.
Do what makes you happy, but do it consciously.