Why I am so Successful (Hint: It is not because of my over-sized ego)

The Secret of My Success

The Secret of My Success

In a recent email, a reader of this blog asked me how I became so successful. He read in one of my posts about how I moved to Japan on one week’s notice with no job, no work visa and only $1000 to my name and later became a jet-setting global rock star celebrity. (Okay, I added the ‘jet-setting global rock star celebrity part ‘ for added effect. :-))

Here is the Secret to my Success

The short answer is … I am not successful. Most people, myself included, tend to glamorize or even exaggerate successes and hide set backs or negative aspects of their lives. Don’t believe everything you read or hear because you are only getting the positive side of the story.

I am not rich. I am not famous. I am not particularly smart or talented either. I am just an ordinary person that is not afraid of hard work. When I arrived in Japan more than 13 years I worked a lot to save money and pay down debt. I worked two English teaching jobs and a bar job.

A couple of years later I started teaching private students in my apartment. A year after that, I took those students and opened up my own English school. My wife and I worked 50 to 60 hour weeks for close to 10 years. For several of those years we lived in the same building as our school. We were able to save 50 to 80 percent of our gross income. Our secret was work lots of hours and don’t spend much money.

After several years of frugality, we started to grow tired of working so many hours and started working less. We hired other employees, bought a new car and house. Spent lots of money on furniture and started traveling several times a year. We were just burnt out from working so many hours for so long and we thought buying all the things we wanted would make us happy. Well it didn’t. The happiest times of my life have always been when I had no money and was working insane hours to build a business or work on a project of my choosing. The struggle to achieve is far more rewarding than the actual achievement. More money and more things are nice when you have nothing, but after a certain point they become a burden.

Get Out When the Getting is Good

As you can probably tell, my wife and I should have sold our school several years ago when sales peaked and our expenses were minimal. If we did sell at that time, we would definitely have had a lot of extra money in the bank. We both knew about 4 years ago that it was time to move on to something else but we kept procrastinating and making excuses.. We told ourselves that we had a great lifestyle with a good income and lots of vacation time. Why change when everything was so comfortable?

Finally, enough was enough and last spring I made a public declaration on this blog that we were going to leave Japan and change our careers within one year. It was that deadline and announcement that gave me the fortitude to actually follow through on the plans. I can honestly say that blogging has changed my life.

Three years ago we were spending about $5000 per month on living expenses, now we can get by anywhere on about $2000 and much less in cheaper countries. We are getting back in shape and starting to eat healthy again. I am running regularly and playing a lot more guitar. We are also just starting to get back to work on our other business projects. We aren’t making much money and we don’t expect to for a while yet, but it is nice to see new projects slowly come to fruition.

The Future is Bright but a little Scary Too

We have our fears and worries as well. We have enough savings to last for many years, but we don’t want to blow all of our cash either. We will need to work again, but we want to do it on projects that we are excited about.

We don’t have fat corporate pensions so we are thinking about our retirement and also worried about what will happen if one or both of us has a major accident or illness. Our biggest fears are not finding rewarding ways to spend the rest of our lives. We want to do interesting things but we are afraid that we are getting too old or we don’t have the right experience. (We are 40 and 41 years  old.)

Overall, we are extremely happy about where we are in our lives but we also have a lot of regrets about all the things we could have and should have done. We can’t change the past so all we can do is make sure that we are putting in 100% effort everyday into everything we find important in life.  I just want to end each day knowing that I lived as much as I could have.

Am I successful?

I don’t have a house in the suburbs with two SUVs parked in the garage. My essential possessions can fit in two bags on an airplane.  I don’t have a prestigious career or major accomplishments behind me. I am not successful by any of the popular metrics of society. However, I am happy. I now know that material possessions will never satisfy me so I don’t want them anymore. My wife and I are both healthy and we were fortunate enough to be born in rich countries with good parents. Everything else has been a fantastic bonus.  I want to be fully alive each and every day and I am doing that now. Life is good. We live in amazing times.

Are you successful? Please share some of your accomplishments in the comments.

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My name is John Bardos. My wife and I gave up our business, house and possessions in Japan to search for more meaning and fulfillment in our lives. We've discovered that a satisfying life is about rich experiences, quality relationships and meaningful contribution, NOT consumption.

50 Responses to Why I am so Successful (Hint: It is not because of my over-sized ego)

  1. Maxim says:

    Yeah, it’s all about priorities and courage to follow them once they are defined even if it means sacrificing some other things… Thanks for the great post!
    .-= Maxim´s last blog ..Save time by approaching your RSS subscriptions in a completely new way: 7 principles for effective reading of blogs =-.

    • John says:

      Thanks Maxim,

      Well said, “it’s all about priorities and courage to follow them.”

      I am still having trouble with my priorities. We all have so many interesting options that it is hard to narrow them down. I really wish I had only one major career focus. Then everything would be much easier.

  2. Excellent, candid post John! Glad to hear about the projects you guys are working on and excited by! 🙂
    .-= Cody McKibben´s last blog ..27 Tips for First-Time Travelers to Thailand =-.

    • John says:

      Greetings Cody,

      Thanks for the comment. It is great to see you ‘killing it’ everywhere.

      I can’t wait to get to Thailand and connect with all of you!

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Cody McKibben and arielle p scott, Juan Medin. Juan Medin said: RT @codymckibb: RT @JetSetCitizen: Why I am so Successful (Hint: It is not because of my over-sized ego) http://su.pr/2waGGT […]

  4. Michelle says:

    I love reading your blog. My husband and I have fallen into the materialism trap as our incomes have risen as well. We have four children and have made up our minds when our freshman goes to college, we are selling the big house and eventually all our possessions and moving! I love Cambodia and would like to live there for awhile. In the meantime, I am working on my bachelor’s degree in education. Presently, my husband is 47 and I am 44, I have no regrets really, the years up to this point have allowed us to save money for the future and most importantly, raise amazing children. My only fear is being considered too old to teach in countries that are more age discriminating.

    Again, love reading your blog – thanks for writing it!

    • John says:

      Thank you Michelle,

      I really appreciate your kind comment and thanks for sharing your story. It is fantastic that you are going back to school. I loved my university days and would love to go back.

      You will likely encounter some age discrimination but some schools also understand that age brings more stability and life experiences.

      If you are going to Cambodia, you probably won’t need to work at all. Salaries are low so teaching would probably be volunteer work anyway and cost of living is inexpensive so you can live on very little.

  5. The Dame says:

    I never think f myself or my life in terms of success that needs to be achieved. I guess I feel successful when I get to do what I want every day. Im just 31 and single, but I can come and go as I please which suits me just fine. Success is relative. For me, being able to afford to do life enriching things is success.

    • John says:

      Thanks for the comment.

      I think we have a similar definition of success.

      I personally don’t need to achieve goals, but I must be striving to achieve. The rewards come from the effort not the results. I enjoy being able to do whatever I want, but I think I need to be working on projects that are not only about me.

      It is a good question.
      Does success equal getting to do what you want every day?

  6. Rowan says:

    You have achieved success in my book. That is why I was curious to know your secret to success.
    I am curious why you don’t view yourself as successful if you are happy? Isn’t that the point -happiness, fulfillment, connection.
    I am working and saving about 75% of my paycheck for the not-too distant future where I will be financially independent. I also have a great life with friends who don’t view owning designer handbags, McMansions, SUVs and a blowing 100k on a weekend in Vegas as success, either.

    • John says:

      Thanks Rowan,

      Another good question,
      Does happiness equal success ?

      I am happy when I am playing guitar, exercising, reading and writing this blog. However, those things I am doing for myself. Doing pleasurable activities doesn’t full like success to me. Right now my life is all about me (and my wife.) I guess my idea of success must incorporate contribution to others. I have to be striving to make a difference in the world, even if it is small.

      When I think of it, success is more about the value I have created for others. Maybe I don’t even need to be happy to be successful?

  7. Working your ass off, not wasting money on stupid stuff, and doing this steadily for years with no guarantees sounds like every other story of overnight success I’ve heard. That definitely isn’t going to sell well to the get-rich-quick crowd looking for the magic answers 😀

    Great post, John. I hope you’re enjoying the new life.

  8. John says:

    Thanks James,

    That is my problem. I don’t have a ‘get-rich-quick’ scheme to sell anyone. If I did, I would be rich and famous now. 🙂

  9. I really like how you can fit all your possessions in two suitcases/bags! That’s awesome, and something I may try to do in 8-10 years when I hang up my day job. Hopefully by then, my online endeavors will make more than enough to just do other things freely.

    .-= Financial Samurai´s last blog ..The Dark Side Of Early Retirement =-.

  10. You seem successful to me. You built up a business from nothing, and made it quite profitable. You successfully set a goal to leave Japan in a year and you did it. I guess my definition of success means that you achieve what you set out to do.

  11. Farouk says:

    hey John
    you know what
    if you are happy then you are successful
    personally i believe that success is reaching certain goals that would make you happy, you can have a ferari and still be unhappy
    nice thoughts

  12. floreta says:

    What is the definition of success? By most people’s standards, I’m probably not successful either. But I’m happy. I worked a mediocre desk job, got fired, and am now traveling Asia. I had less than $1000 to my name but through freelance writing and other things to ‘get by’ have more than enough to live successfully in Asia. The thought of coming back to the states and living successfully by those standards now intimidates me. I am one of those people that thinks its more about the process, and not the destination, so having personal projects is great. I like to think of work as “projects” and just trying to achieve different projects throughout life… works for me so much better than the 9 to 5!
    .-= floreta´s last blog ..Embracing My Inner Hippy Child =-.

    • John says:

      Thanks Floreta,

      The idea of coming back to Canada permanently also intimidates me. Being able to ‘fit in’ would require building a lifestyle that I don’t really want. Canada is a beautiful country and I love coming home for a visit, but I definitely don’t want to get caught up in a work-consumption cycle again.

  13. Diggy says:

    Hey john!

    Very inspiring to read this! My parents and grandparents have done the same thing and worked many years of their life. My grandfather was working 12 hours a day or more up till the age of 65 when he finally sold his business. After that he literally almost died from boredom and not knowing how to fill his days any more.

    The thing that counts most is that you are happy and healthy. Whether you have $10000 in the bank or $10 million, it will not necessarily make a difference to your happiness.

    • John says:

      Hi Diggy,

      As I am getting older, I definitely place more importance on health. In my twenties I thought I was going to live forever. I honestly believed I wouldn’t change much as I got older. I wanted to keep doing the same thinks indefinitely.

      Age does catch up eventually. Muscles start to ache and your body doesn’t recover from exercise like it did in the past. I am definitely putting a lot more effort into healthy eating and fitness now.

  14. John, thank you so much for sharing your story. It is wonderful to read about others that have taken a “different path” in life and are happy as a result. It is great to see you redefine the term success.

    I am in the last few months before walking away from an 18 year career to travel the world for a few years and see where life takes me. We have been downsizing for the last several years in preparation and I have never been happier, though I have never owned less. We move out of the house we sold next week, have sold/given away 95% of everything we owned, and now are more excited and invigorated than we have been in years.

    I too have the arresting fear that I do not have a good answer to the question “what will you do when you come back” but know that I would rather focus on the next day than the next 5 years all the time. I crave the opportunity to slow down and enjoy life and intend to do just that.

    You have been one of the inspirations on this path and I am indebted to you for paving the “road not taken” in front of me. It is sure to be an amazing ride for us both. I look forward to watching the growth as you all embark on a new chapter.


    • John says:

      Greetings Warren,

      Congratulations on the downsizing. Simpler = Happier in my opinion.

      I am worried about the future, but I also think there are unlimited opportunities. Twenty somethings are building million dollar businesses in relatively short amounts of time. Talent and hard work are not restricted to age so there will still be opportunities to reset if necessary.

      I have to catch myself from basing my life decisions on assumptions I learned 20 years ago. Opportunities really are endless compared to a few decades ago.

  15. “Overall, we are extremely happy about where we are in our lives”

    Hey, John, I’d call that success!

    I think at different ages, one thinks of success in very different ways. I think out of all the things I have done in my life, being a good mother to my child and in a happy marriage for 20 years is perhaps my greatest success…I never would have guessed that at 20!

    Bask in your new found freedom..that is a great gift that you have given to yourself! May more & more success come your way!
    .-= soultravelers3´s last blog ..Camping Europe in a Motorhome RV: 5 Best Sites! =-.

    • John says:

      Thanks for the kind comment.

      Life is definitely good. No, complaints here at all. Your family has been a good model of what success should look like.

  16. TimB says:

    Hi Cody,
    Great to hear your refreshing take on what success means, particularly as it’s not some schlock get-rich-quick crap. My family and I (I’m married with two 6 yr old kids) are working really hard to scale down our consumerism as now we’re just working many stressful (employed) hours for reasonable income but still having to juggle the figures just to get by. We were never happier than when we stepped outside of the rat race for a couple of months back in 2008 and travelled, on a pretty tight budget, through Hong Kong, Australia and Singapore. We were pretty frugal but we saw and learned so much as well as meeting some fantastic people on our travels and have some very precious memories of that period in our lives. Now its pretty much Groundhog Day and those memories seem increasingly distant. Our goal is to find a balance somewhere between those days and where we are now. You blog is an inspiration. Keep it up…

    • John says:

      Hi Tim,

      Thanks for the comment but my name is John. 🙂 You are probably thinking of Cody McKibben of ThrillingHeroics.com.

      I have been hoping to get-rich-quick for a long time but haven’t been particularly successful. 🙂

      Travel really is life-changing. It is great that you made it happen for your family. I hope you can find a way to create the lifestyle you want.

  17. Nomadic Matt says:

    Like they say, a penny saved is a penny earned.
    .-= Nomadic Matt´s last blog ..Coming Back to Amsterdam =-.

    • John says:

      Hi Matt,

      Definitely true. In fact, a penny saved is actually more because you would you be taxed on extra income for the equivalent savings.

  18. Friday’s Links — A Meaningful Existence says:

    […] John’s article at JetSetCitizen who wrote about his life and struggles in his article Why I Am So Successful (Hint: It’s Not Because Of My Oversized Ego). What I really liked about John’s article was this part (which is so bloody true!): Here is […]

  19. Earl says:

    Hey John – Excellent, excellent post and it’s wonderful to know that you are quite happy with where you are in life at the moment.

    And when you mention that “the struggle to achieve is far more rewarding than the actual achievement”, it seems that sentence alone might be the measuring stick of your happiness. As long as you continue to challenge yourself, to create new and lofty goals and to put effort into achieving them, you’ll find happiness even if you don’t find ‘success’ every time around.

    I consider myself to be successful in much the same way that you do as the source of my happiness comes from being able to constantly learn about the world through travel. It does not come from money or material possessions. At the end of the day, even if all of my project ideas fail, as long as I gained some extra knowledge, I’m as happy as can be.
    .-= Earl´s last blog ..Challenges Of A Permanent Nomad =-.

    • John says:

      Thanks Earl! I appreciate your kind words.

      I guess I value happiness much more than ‘success.’ I don’t really need to prove anything to anyone anymore. I just want to strive to be better for myself. The struggle really is the most rewarding part.

      I hope we can meet soon!

  20. Andi says:

    What an honest and thoughtful post! I think most people think that money = happiness and it just isn’t true. You have to follow your heart and that will bring the most happiness you could ever imagine. Best wishes with whatever path your life is going to be taking you in next. 🙂
    .-= Andi´s last blog ..imgp2629 =-.

    • John says:

      Thanks Andi!

      I really appreciate the feedback. Money definitely doesn’t equal happiness. It is no fun being poor, but it doesn’t take much money to stop being poor.

      It is really easy to spend our lives focusing on things. Shopping for things, taking care of things, replacing things, upgrading things, worrying about things. I hate things. I want to spend my time on cool experiences. I am finished being a shopper.

  21. I’ve worked for a Fortune 100 company, and two of the largest professional book publishers in the world. I’m not bragging. That’s what I’ve done. I was on the road every week generating the next sale and wondering where the next sale was coming from. I watched as people who had 20 years with a company get sacked because their performance was off for a few months.

    I left it all in 2000, and I have never looked back. I’ve sold my house and gave sold or gave away my belongings.
    I have no regrets. I enjoy working half the year and traveling the other half. This is my success.
    .-= Nancie (Ladyexpat)´s last blog ..Election Campaigning =-.

    • John says:

      Thanks for the comment.

      There definitely is more to life than work. It is great to hear that you have found your success out of traveling. Congratulations.

  22. John says:

    It’d be a poor trade-off to make everyone else happy while you remain mserable. So, yes, happiness is a part of success. If you are happy, it means you’re doing something right.

    Transient joy/excitement/elation isn’t real happiness. Those are just distractions. Real happiness and contentment comes from the sense that everything is in its proper place. And that sense is the result of being who you are in such a manner that you are able to give value for value and, thus, feel you have made a contribution.

    But, you still have to make time to give value to yourself. You have to recognize and protect your own value. Else, you’ll burn out and become resentful (“What about what I want? Isn’t that important, too?”) when you run out of emotional energy.

    Frankly, I’m beginning to think more and more that people who are megasuccessful by society’s standards are driven by an internal slave master–some kind of acutely critical conscience–to be more than human as some kind of cover-up for feelings of low self-worth. If you feel goos about yourself, huge piles of money, acclaim and rewards aren’t needed to by happy. If they come your way, by all means take your fair share. But, if they don’t, don’t worry about it, as long as you’re happy.

    Believe me, if you’re truly happy, you’re in the minority. So, behold your success.

  23. […] Jet Set Citizen – John Bardos is a textbook example of the new rich (experiences not money), by living, working, and playing anywhere in the world he wants to. My favorite post on his site is, “Why I am so Successful.” […]

  24. Kyle says:

    So much of being successful is just a state of mind! I feel insanely, wildly successful. Beyond my biggest dreams actually. Yet, but some people’s standards, I’m sure I haven’t scratched the surface of what “successful” means to them.

    And isn’t it funny how getting into shape and getting finances in order always go hand in hand?!?

    • John says:

      Thanks Kyle,

      I think US (and Canadian) ideas of success are much different than other parts of the world. Most countries still value family, community and free time more than material possessions and social status. The problem is that everyone is copying American values. Hollywood ideas of bling and consumerism are taking over the planet. Shopping malls look the same all over the world. now. I wish the west could learn from lessor developed countries before it is too late.

  25. johnny says:

    hey John,

    greta post and great story. Success is an ambiguous term and i guess it will always mean something different to everyone. For me, you’re bloody successful mate! U live a cool life, doing what you want and if u get hit by a bus tomorrow (God forbid) i’m sure ur life won’t flash before you in a disappointing series of meetings, grey suits and regret. You’re truly living and that’s true success

    • John says:

      Thanks for the kind words Johnny. I am grateful for the life we have, but I also feel I am capable of a lot more. I am spending too much time doing fun stuff and not enough on creating a legacy. Success to me is more about contribution, I guess.

  26. Azarethroy says:

    So true. The term “success” is so arbitrary. I’ve met people who are financially successful but spiritually bankrupt. End of the day, we all have our own internal definition of what success. For me, it’s DEFINITELY not more stuff!! 🙂

    • John says:

      There is so much pressure to consume in society. I don’t think people understand how little they are in control of their own lives. Now that consumption has shifted to travel and acquiring experiences. It is just another form of attention getting and status climbing.

  27. Sheyi says:

    Even after some years, this post still makes sense a lot and i think it’s what we call Epic Posts.

    Thanks for posting this John and how’s life in Japan with you?


  28. Annie Andre says:

    Just came across your site and laughed at the part where you said that you left to Japan with 1,00 dollars to your name. It’s the same exact thing i did 20 years ago and lived in Tokyo for 3.5 years.

    Now i have a family and i’m doing it with a husband and 3 kids in France. (much more at stake)..

    Anyways, just saying hi. Enjoyed your story too…

    • John says:

      Hi Annie,

      Thanks for the comment. Moving to a foreign country sounds terrifying, but as you and I have proven, it really isn’t that difficult. These are great times!

      I hope your relocation to France is going well.

  29. I’ve lived in a variety of countries (South Africa, Philippines, Thailand) and I’m always amazed at the scary travel advice I hear for these countries. I was in the Netherlands a few weeks ago and happened to look at the news where they were talking about this Dutch guy that was murdered in the Philippines. When people see this -my mom!- they tend to immediately assume that this must be going on there all the time. While from my 2.5 years of living in the Philippines I’ve never felt unsafe. In fact, I found the Filipinos to be the friendliest people I’ve met, and felt more safe in the Phils than I have felt in some places in the Netherlands at times.

    Sure, bad things happen in every country, but I think that the fear of “foreign” countries tends to be quite exaggerated due to incomplete information coming from the news and other resources that only light out the negative things.


    Am I successful? I like to think so. I definitely do not have any fancy possesions other than my laptop and iphone, but I am free to travel wherever I want to, I can surround myself with the people I love, and I contribute value to the lives of others.

    When you live up to what you value (your core values), you’re happy. When you’re happy, I call that successful. 🙂

    Thanks John, great post

    • John says:

      Hey Sebastiaan,

      Thanks for the comment. It’s easy to fear the unknown. For those who haven’t travelled much, other countries are imagined as the scariest Hollywood movie. 🙂 However, people are people every where. The scariest part is how quickly other countries are being westernized. It is sad to see all the global franchises springing up around the world.

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