Lessons I Learned From Doing a Working Holiday in New Zealand

J E McLaren
Nov 26, 2020 · 7 min read
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Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

In 2017, I let myself down. I was a coward and a fool, but I promised that I would reprimand the mistakes I made in that year.

It started in India; 4 magical months of spiritual indulgence. Then, carried by the whims of spontaneity, I went to Germany and then London, England. I had a grandiose vision of starting a new life from scratch where I could be anything and anyone.

I ended up burning through all my borrowed money, partying and avoiding any responsibility. I moved back to Canada with my tail between my legs in a sudden bout of depression and anxiety. I regretted that decision for a long time and I vowed to rectify that failure by moving to a foreign country and sustaining myself.

In October 2019, I moved to New Zealand on a working holiday visa. Now, it’s November 2020 and I can safely say I’ve succeeded in my mission. Beyond succeeding, I’ve learned some valuable life lessons that I want to share with you.

Social Networks Make Life Exponentially Better

I am undeniably introverted. I want to do things my way and by myself. I can be easily drained by social situations and I am alone as much as possible.

When I first came to New Zealand, I avoided meeting new people. I stayed in Airbnbs and focused solely on my personal projects (writing mainly). I travelled around looking for a place to settle down. I met obstacles for opening a bank account, getting a tax number, and finding work.

As my money dwindled, I knew that staying in B&Bs wouldn’t be sustainable. I made the move to a hostel, though I was desperate to avoid people. It was the best decision I could have made.

Let this be a lesson to introverts everywhere! Having connections in a foreign country makes life much easier and enjoyable. Connections are a human need, though it might not seem like it to us extreme introverts.

I met people who had faced the same obstacles I was then facing and who could help me overcome them. All my jobs came from the connections I made and all my best experiences. Not only that, I was pushed by the influence of my social circle to step outside of my comfort zone and attain marvellous experiences: A wonderful partner, my first gig as a musician, and many more adventures.

You don’t have to be travelling to take advantage of a social network. Reach out to someone who’s faced the same/similar challenges you’re currently facing. Be honest, be pleasant and don’t expect anything in return.

Increase your reputation by adding free value to the people in your life. Be reliable as much as you can — you might be friends with someone who can connect you with someone else who can improve your life. If you’re not reliable then you won’t be recommended to anyone for anything. Think about it, you probably have a friend you like spending time with but wouldn’t recommend to anyone else to do a job/provide a service/be in a relationship with because they’re not reliable.

When You’re Asked to Step up to the Plate, Step up

I have always been a risk-averse person. Even when opportunities came my way, I would shoot them down because of fear — because I might risk my sense of self. That was my fixed mindset; a belief that my performance is an indication of my talent — and that talent is a fixed trait.

What I’ve learned from disregarding fear and my fixed mindset is that when an opportunity comes your way and you grab hold of it, many more opportunities spring from that. Not only opportunities but courage and confidence too.

I’ve played music at an amateur level for the past 5 years or so. I never took it seriously. I always wanted to perform but I never felt confident enough to get on any stage. I had a friend at the hostel I stayed in New Zealand that saw me for more than I saw myself. When he saw a notice that a pub was looking for a musician, he was adamant that I play there. His enthusiasm and confidence rubbed off on me and I went for it.

Okay, so the performance wasn’t great. But it made me realize that it wasn’t a big deal. If you fail, no one really cares. I realized that I could in fact perform. I started going to open mics, busking in the street, and eventually got a paid gig at the bar I worked at — and that was a great success. I gained more confidence, courage, and opportunities for stepping up to the plate.

If someone suggests for you to try something — if they see something in you that you can’t see in yourself — go for it. Go for it if fear of rejection or failure is the only thing stopping you.

If you see an opportunity, a flyer for example and a part of you wants to go for it, but you’re scared — go for it! I know it’s impossible to transmit this, but trust me when I say that you’ll realize it was no big deal. No one really cares if you fail, not forever anyway. Say yes before you feel ready.

Balance is Key/Sacrifice is Necessary and Ultimately Positive

Work-life balance is a common issue people face. Balancing work, social activities, hobbies, and rest can seem nearly impossible — but it’s not. It requires deliberate sacrifices and consideration.

James Clear references the ‘four-burner theory’ in an article. The theory considers four major quadrants of a person’s life (concerning a work-life balance). The four quadrants are family, friends, health and work.

The Four Burners Theory says that “in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful, you have to cut off two.” — James Clear

James, like me, didn’t like the idea that one or more of these major areas of life needed to be cut off to support the others. So James presented options to circumvent cutting off burners. They’re all outlined in the article I linked above. For a brief overview, the options are:

  1. Outsourcing areas of your life (work mainly).
  2. Embrace constraints and work as smart/hard as possible within those constraints.
  3. Rotate which burners you’re prioritizing in seasons. Eg. 1 year is family and work, another is health and friends, etc.

I find balance in another way — maybe it’s not the most efficient way, but it brings me joy and I continue to progress in all areas of my life. It still requires sacrifice though. I do a hybrid of seasons and embracing constraints. Basically, as a young man with little responsibility, I work as little as possible in the sort of jobs that pay me money. I’ll work a lot for a few months, and then work only a little for the subsequent few months.

Currently, I’m in a season of little work. I live in a hostel with most of my friends, and I’ll schedule calls every couple of weeks with the others — that’s the friend burner sorted. I call my family overseas every week and spend most evenings and whenever my partner is off work with her — that’s the family burner. I go to the gym 3x a week for roughly 1.5 hours per session and eat healthy as often as I can — that’s health sorted. The rest of my spare time is spent writing — which is my work goal or as a bartender on the weekends.

Yes, there is uncertainty in my life. Yes, I don’t save as much money as I could. That being said, I wouldn’t have it any other way for the time being. I put energy into all of my burners in an intentional manner and I feel fulfilled.

I sacrifice making money in the short term to put more time and energy into my future goals of self-employment while still having time to spend on friends, family and health.

Consider which burners you’re putting the majority of your time and effort into. Then consider which burners you want to improve and how you can maximize your constraints and seasons of life to actualize that intent.

Perhaps you’re working 40 hours a week and spend your free time relaxing and then on the weekends you hang out with family/friends. That’s perfectly alright if that’s what your goal is. Balancing your life is about being conscious and intentional about how you spend your time and energy.

If you want to be more fit, perhaps you will need to sacrifice relaxation for a time and go to the gym instead. Or if you want to strengthen your relationships with friends and family, you can use your spare time to call your mom or friends. If you’re dissatisfied with your work (say you want to work fewer hours or be self-employed,) it could be in your best interest to double down on work and side-hustles.


I’ve learned a lot from doing a working holiday. It’s something I would definitely recommend to most young, confused people — and especially to those of us who are more introverted. It’s a great way to challenge yourself and step out of your shell. That being said, you don’t have to go on a working holiday to take advantage of these lessons:

  1. Making new connections and friendships opens many doors to opportunities that weren’t seemingly available. It also teaches you how to be a more likeable person by exposure.
  2. If someone believes enough in you to present an opportunity, take it. There are so many real obstacles in life, don’t let yourself be one of them. Trust that the person who is presenting you an opportunity knows what they’re doing and that you are ready. You will strengthen a powerful muscle that is present in every successful person — courage.
  3. Work-life balance is entirely possible but it requires some sacrifice. The joy of balance outweighs the pain of sacrifice. You have options — you are the captain of your life.

“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”
― Vincent Van Gogh


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J E McLaren

Written by

Canadian born writer with a drive to share his research and experience. Check out my blog: www.blueprintorigin.com



A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (https://medium.com/swlh).

J E McLaren

Written by

Canadian born writer with a drive to share his research and experience. Check out my blog: www.blueprintorigin.com



A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (https://medium.com/swlh).

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