“Tom, what’s your story? It sure sounds like an interesting one!”
I was taken back. Weirdly enough, I’m apprehensive to tell it.
I don’t know. At one point in my life I was proud of “my story.”
How I quit Panera Bread, became a freelancer, did a road trip across America, started blogging, sold a course, then moved to the Philippines and started a vlog.
Some of my videos have received tens of millions of views. Some of my articles have been syndicated across major websites. When I’m awake during the day, my parents are asleep — I’m living in a foreign land.
I was once very proud of the life I built for myself, but now?
My story is stale. I’ve gotten used to it, maybe. I spend so much time “in it,” that I hardly ever look back on what I learned. What did I learn?
I graduated college five years ago next month. Five years it’s been. Gone by in a blink. I remember being a scared recent graduate. I was a horrible interviewer. I had severe doubts I’d be able to live outside of my home state — much less my home country.
I was scared.
What would I tell that person, though? My past self? That recent graduate? What guidelines would I tell any recent grad to follow?
These are the things that worked for me.
1. Lean On Your Friendships If You Can, And Don’t Be Sad When They End
I just texted my best friend. After five weeks of driving across Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California, I finally made it to San Francisco. To my best friend’s house.
He came outside and we both couldn’t believe it. I was here. I was here for the summer. How? I made money from my laptop. If I could see my best friend again, I would.
So I did.
For two months we lived together in the greatest city in America. I couldn’t get over the beauty, and the weather. It felt like heaven. Every morning I woke up, went outside, and saw massive cloud formations rolling over distant hills with a light wind in my face. Cold, but not bone shivering cold.
The air had more of a brisk freshness to it. Yeah, brisk is the perfect word.
I enjoyed that time with Dylan. My best friend. We went on many adventures together and life felt like a story.
A few years later our friendship ended. It was both of our faults, I guess. Maybe it was more-so mine. It doesn’t matter how it ended, what matters is these things happen. Whether they end with a bang or die a slow death.
Our friendships will end. After five years of post-grad living under my belt, I’ve found that’s more of the rule than the exception.
Be thankful for them, though. Do all you can for your friends while you still can. Lean on them, and tell them to lean on you, too.
2. Spend More Time With Your Family
I lived with my parents and brother for two years after I graduated. I leaned on them a good bit, too. What I’ll always cherish, though, was the time I spent with them.
I worked my ass off on my freelancing business during the day, then stayed at home at night.
I’d get a 6-pack of Angry Orchard on Fridays and my brother and I would play Call of Duty until one in the morning. Good times. Infinitely better than going out to the bars.
I’d also watch movies with my parents and I got to spend pretty much all day with my Mom since she worked from home, too.
I miss them now. What I’m most proud of after school has nothing to do with accomplishments — I am most proud that I spent a lot of time with my parents and siblings.
I’ll never regret that, and I’m privileged I was able to come home and live with them for two years.
You won’t regret it either.
3. Do Not Listen
“Tom, I don’t think that’s a good decision,” my mom said.
I just told her I wanted to quit my new job to work as a freelancer online. My gosh, how horrified she was.
I didn’t listen to my Mom. The next day I quit my job. The day after that I made $100 writing an ebook for a new client.
It was sh*t money, but I loved it. I was free. I was making money from my pajamas. If I would’ve listened to my Mom, I would still be living in Florida right now, and you wouldn’t be reading this very article.
Do not listen.
I know that’s weird advice. I know that listening to wisdom is good. However if I listened to everyone who “knew better” back then I’d be a shadow of who I currently am.
You owe it to yourself to not listen.
Right now is the time for making mistakes.
If you make them, so what?
You have time to recover.
4. Journal Daily
Buy a journal and start writing in it. You’ll become infinitely more self-aware. I didn’t know I wanted to be a travel blogger until I stumbled on Adventurous Kate’s website in 2016. Then I journaled about how inspiring she was.
Then I realized, “Shit, I need to do this, too!”
So I did.
It surprises me how many recent graduates have no idea what they want to do. It’s because so many important thoughts escape our minds every day. Journaling is like placing a sieve in the river that is our thoughts.
You need a heading to achieve a dream life. What does your dream life look like? I’m not talking about safety, either. Some might say “Stable job and a house and blah blah blah.”
No, what’s YOUR dream life? What would you be doing if you could do whatever you wanted? Would you own a dive shop in Panama? Well, shit, get on it then.
To get a heading, you must journal. You must marinate on “What do I want to do?” for days and weeks and maybe months.
Buy a journal.
5. Take Some Damn Initiative
“Tom, how do I publish a story on Wordpress?”
I get questions like this every single day in my inbox. People asking me easily google-able questions that have been answered about a billion times on Youtube, LinkedIn, and thousands of sites across the internet.
I remember when I started learning about blogging, I did DEEP Google dives for hours at a time. I’d emerge from my diving lessons exhausted, big red veins popping from my eyes.
I took so much initiative and found so much information about blogging that I practically bounded over my competition.
Initiative. Initiative. Initiative.
People don’t know how to take initiative.
This goes for work, side hustles, and personal relationships. My friend Todd Brison created a new position at his own company by working on a passion project over lunch breaks. When he was done he pitched it to his boss, and they loved his proposal so much they made an entirely new position for him at work.
Nobody told him to do that. He didn’t ask for permission. He just did it.
Trust your hunch more, and take initiative to make it a reality.
6. Persevere For Years, Not Just Months
“You know what’s the one quality that practically guarantees success according to studies?”
“What?” Joe Rogan said.
Someone said that on Joe Rogan’s podcast recently.
I see A LOT of writing students come and go. I’ve had over 300 students so far for my course. 70% of my students write one or two blog posts and hardly ever publish again.
20% write steadily for a few months then fizzle out.
10% stick with it. They stick with it past weeks and months. They stick with it for years.
You want to take a wild guess who’s been the most successful?
I’d been a blogger for 18 months before I ever made a penny from it. I wrote probably hundreds of blog posts for free. I did it because I loved it. But I also did it because I knew if I kept going long enough, success would have no choice but to embrace me.
And it did.
People tell me they want to be a writer all the time. Then after 4 blog posts and $.30 of earnings they quit. I did it for 18 months without earning a penny.
Perseverance is such a weird piece of advice. It’s so simple. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Yet nobody follows it. That’s because people value their Xbox more than their dreams. Or the bars. Or watching movies.
It takes a special person to really persevere.
7. Jump When It’s Time, And Don’t Hesitate
“I’ll get a large cheese pizza.”
I was slightly allergic to pizza. I didn’t care. I ordered the pizza and devoured it like a pig on that somber October evening.
I had just lost a freelance client. 50% of my income disappeared overnight. After 2 year of freelancing, going from client to client, getting paid sh*t money, I was sick of the grind.
I was at the end of my rope.
It was here, with my back against the wall, sitting in my own greasy pizza pit, that I got an idea. In an instant I got up from my table and flew outside to my car.
I needed a pen and paper.
Once home I wrote down an idea for an online course. It was an online course unlike anything else I had ever seen. Nobody was teaching this. It was a gigantic gamble — especially for someone who had never made a course before.
I didn’t have a choice, though. I put together a webinar, a sales page for my idea, and over 150 people signed up. I was stunned.
I put the live show on, and I remember how nervous I was. I was so nervous nobody would come.
I’m happy to tell you that many people came and, drumroll, my online course sold quite well.
I had 10 people sign up live. I practically jumped out of my chair afterwards. I had just made more in an hour than I had in the whole previous 2 months.
Moral of the story? Jump when it’s time. Don’t hesitate. When your back is up against the wall, and it’s time to jump. Jump.
Doing that changed the direction of my entire life.
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