Have you ever wished you could reinvent yourself and start over? Maybe you’d start a new career, be more productive or act with more confidence. Wouldn’t it be great if you could get rid of all your old limitations and completely begin anew? Living as a digital nomad offers those opportunities on a regular basis. Relocating to a new city, particularly if it has a completely different culture, is an opportunity for a lifestyle makeover.
You Are Not In Control of Your Life
It’s can be very surprising to learn how much our cultures influence our lives. Our families, peers, societal norms and social status all have very strong control over what we do and strive for everyday. It’s difficult to understand if you’ve only lived in a single culture.
People don’t get tattoos and body piercings, wear the latest fashions, drive certain cars, purchase trendy products or join clubs and religious groups to stand out. We do those things to fit in.
This is very important. Most of us think we are unique and freely choosing everything we do and buy, but we are not. Even worse, those societal pressures that dictate our preferences all too often keep us from doing what we most want in life.
Look at a group of junior high school students in any country in the world and you’ll likely see very similar fashion styles and attitudes in small groups of friends. Those weird haircuts and strange fashions might be different than what their parents find acceptable but there won’t be too much deviation between close friends.
Adults are not very different. The singer in a rock band might think he’s unique and non-conformist, but he’s just dressing and acting like other rock singers. The sunglasses, body piercings, tattoos, and ripped jeans are what other rock singers wear.
We often try to be non-conformist in the same way as the other non-conformists in our social group. We all want to feel special and unique, but the reality is that we just want to be liked and respected while fitting in with our peers.
There is nothing wrong with trying to fit in. Being accepted in our communities makes us productive, contributing members of our society. Humans are social animals so building strong affiliations with others is a critical part of our lives. It always will be.
The important point is that we get to chose which social circles we want to be a part of and can change circles if we have enough courage. Our peer groups and cultural expectations drive our beliefs and actions so this is a critical step in helping us improve and grow.
Digital Nomad Reinvention
Changing social circles is the ultimate purpose of a digital nomad reinvention. Each of us can become who we really want to be far away from the disapproval of our families and friends back home. When we step off the airplane we can have a different attitude and spend our days doing new activities. It’s possible to transform our personal identity, occupation, peer group and almost anything we can imagine.
The more exotic the country, the easier it is to make major personal changes. In a drastically different culture it’s easier to question and over-ride our previous social conditioning.
It can be near impossible to make that level of transformation in your home city. The pressures of your own culture, peers and friends is often too much resistance to become the person you wish you could.
My One Year Plan to leave Japan and change countries and careers was the only way I could give up on the secure and comfortable life and business I built there. I don’t think I could have incrementally changed to my current life path. It was all or nothing.
The Dark Side of a Digital Nomad Reinvention
Wearing new clothes and eating strange foods are an easy transition to new cultural norms. From there, it’s easy to get caught up in new social groups of drinking and partying. Unsurprisingly, many become willing try things in SE Asia they’d never do at home like dabbling in drugs, hiring prostitutes and riding motorcycles in insanely dangerous traffic.
Unfortunately, lax legal enforcement, the low cost of living and cultural freedom mean that the reinvention is typically towards more destructive activities for many.
It Doesn’t Always Work
Don’t expect that one-week all-inclusive tour to Mexico to lead to big changes. Arriving on an organized tour keeps your past cultural conditioning largely intact. When all the other tourists around you are all herded around to the popular sightseeing destinations, restaurants and back to a western style hotel, it’s difficult to really experience a local culture.
The real value of a digital nomad reinvention comes from a long-term relocation to a new city. When you set up a new apartment, connect with locals, and start living in completely different surroundings, it’s much easier to create new routines and habits.
My Reinvention in Chiang Mai
My wife and I have just arrived back in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I can already see that I’m a different person here. It starts with simple structural changes like not having a TV in our apartment. That guarantees that we won’t be watching any TV for the next several months.
We rent a small, one-room apartment which encourages us to spend a lot of time exploring the city. Since we don’t rent a motorcycle, that means a lot of walking. We’ve also just joined a fitness club, so I know that we’ll be working out 4 to 6 days a week.
Also, Chiang Mai has great vegetarian restaurants and the food is incredibly inexpensive, so we’ll be eating healthy meals out every day.
While I like to drink wine in Hungary, shochu in Japan and whiskey in Canada, the high cost of those products in Thailand keep me from drinking much alcohol here. The fresh fruit smoothies are so amazing that I prefer them anyway.
All the walking, Yoga, healthy food and the elimination of alcohol mean that I will most certainly get in much better physical shape. The last time we came to Thailand, I lost almost 10kg in less than two months. (Yes, I was 10kg over-weight. Family is dangerous for your waistline.)
This time, I want to take a more structured approach to the re-invention. There are different areas of my life that I’d like to improve so I want to make sure that I put in consistent daily effort towards what is most important. I won’t bore you with the details but I’m scheduling daily improvement activities in all the key areas of my life. I have a lot to improve. 🙂
Have you ever strategically reinvented yourself after a move to a new country? I’d love to hear your story in the comments.
Anita @ No Particular Place To Go
Loved this post and your observations about travel allowing you to reinvent yourself. Over the months that we’ve traveled I’ve consciously worked at becoming more patient, more spontaneous (after a lifetime of being a methodical planner) and more willing to try new things and also retry things I’d decided over the years I didn’t like or was afraid of (like beets and pushing myself to experience heights for the view and challenge). The things that were present in my former culture, location and life that “defined” me prevented me from moving forward and exploring new facets of myself.
Thanks for sharing your experiences Anita!
I’m working on being more patient as well. Another big one for me is to become more out-going. It’s working so far. I feel like a different person in Chiang Mai.
Long-term travel is life-changing on so many levels. It’s one of those things that you have to experience to really understand.
And what about your digital social circle? There was a time where you could reinvent yourself in a new location. but we live in a digital era, where a big part or your social connections are done independently of your location. example; facebook.
Looking forward having a bee….. ahum a shake together in Chang Mai & discussing that subject! 🙂
Great point Pascal.
I never considered my digital social circle. In my case, my online connections don’t really factor in my decisions. Live interactions are so much stronger than digital connections that I think my online social circle doesn’t really hold me back in any way. Maybe I’m too old to have rich online social connections. 🙂
Those are pretty much my thoughts too John. Changing locations keeps providing those little challenges that keeps us moving on many levels.
You still need a certain outset on life for this to work, but if you’re determined it gives great rewards. We recently arrived and settled in Mexico for the next few months, and I can already observer myself changing and learning many new things.
Great points, John. Excellent post and I’m including a link to it in my “Friday Finds” post on my Living Free blog (just preparing the post now).
I’m older than you and have already lived through what you’ve talked about in your post. At 68, while I’m still very active and young at mind and heart, I have some regrets that I didn’t do more of what you’re doing when I was younger, like at your age.
While, being a lifelong entrepreneur primarily in the recording industry for 50 years, both somewhat non-conformist lifestyles and career paths, I did find myself conforming to the typical U.S. Middle Class culture and lifestyle. So, now, living free and being basically a digital nomad, I’m exploring much of the U.S. and experiencing the cultural differences within this continent. They are significant, but not like your “reinvention.”
I’m still hoping to do some international “reinvention” myself, but my age does potentially allow for a more limited timeline for all I want to do. I encourage your readers and anyone I come in contact with to break out of the rut and reinvent themselves. Unfortunately, most won’t. Keep up the good work.
I think about this all the time to John. It’s amazing how much the environment I’m in impacts how I think, behave, feel, etc. It’s easy to try and beat yourself up to say I should be doing X and then set yourself up for failure by putting yourself in an environment where that’s tough to do.
That’s one of my favorite things about travel. You get to go to a totally new place and “engineer” your environment to set yourself up fro whatever you’re trying to achieve.
Welcome back to Asia!
Long time no talk. Yes, we heard from Alyona that you were in Mexico. How does it compare to Chiang Mai? Do you like it?
I agree that you need a certain willingness to change before you can really transform. Living abroad makes it much easier and more likely, but not everyone will be affected.
I have many regrets as well. It’s so easy to get caught up in life that we don’t take time to do what is most important. I’m trying to live the rest of my life in regret avoidance mode. A question I always ask is, “Will I regret not doing this in the future?” That simple question alone is enough to spur action.
Age is a big issue. So many people put off their dreams and passions until retirement, but many don’t even live that long. Even if they do, many don’t have the health and vitality to really enjoy it.
In my twenties, I thought I was going to live forever. I don’t think that anymore! Life is precious. If you’re not doing what you most want in life now, then when?
Thanks Taylor! I didn’t think you read my blog. 🙂
I’m so excited to be back in Asia. The quantity and quality of people I meet in Chiang Mai is absolutely astonishing. It’s incredibly inspiring to be surrounded by so many doing interesting things. Life is good!
I hope you and your wife are well.
Congratulations on the move to Chiang Mai. I am looking to leave the US in April and CM is the leading contender for my relocation.
I follow JC over at RetireCheap.asia. He has provided some good insights regarding Thailand.
I would be very interested in the cost of living there, so any post on that topic would be appreciated.
All the best going forward.
Chiang Mai is great, but you don’t want to be here in the summer. April gets very smoggy from farmers burning rice husks. Then rainy season comes and gets hot and wet.
Here’s a quick break down of our (2 people) costs in US$.
Rent $180 per month.
Coffee $150 per month
Eating out (2 meals per day) $600
Groceries $150 per month (lots of fresh fruit)
Occasional transportation $30
Gym $80 per month.
Total $1190 (Approximately)
This is really powerful:
“Most of us think we are unique and freely choosing everything we do and buy, but we are not. Even worse, those societal pressures that dictate our preferences all too often keep us from doing what we most want in life.”
And well-timed for my new move into an apartment in Chiang Mia. Already I have found it paramount to set aside a daily morning ritual of reading and writing – basically doing what I enjoy personally and making forward progress on personal goals. Not so easy to pull off with the wrong roommates!
Maybe it’s fair to say we ARE in control of what we do and buy – through being control of our surrounding environment.
Great insight Zach. I agree, “we ARE in control of what we do and buy – through being control of our surrounding environment.”
The problem is that it takes a long time and effort for most to come to that realization.
I look forward to meeting in Chiang Mai.
John, I and my husband completely agree. Ever since taking a year off to travel we have changed so much that many of our friends have fallen by the wayside. Whether that was our doing or theirs, I am unsure. Although we do feel a bit weird compared to everyone else. Living in Alberta (which I know you understand) we see such waste a sense by many that it will never end, but with no real importance placed on the experiences you gain throughout life, rather than the possessions. It is a constant struggle living where we are, but have a plan to retire in 2-3 years. Our original plan was for Chiang Mai, but have found out it is very difficult to retire there if you are under 50. We are actually headed to Thailand & Vietnam for a month on Jan 18. Would love to get together with you and your wife for a smoothie or dinner! Would love to hear about your adventures and experiences.
Thanks for the comment. It’s difficult to officially retire in Chiang Mai, but it’s not very difficult to stay here long term. It’s a pain to do the visa runs, but that also opens up opportunities to travel and live in nearby countries.
Email when you get to Chiang Mai. We’ll be doing a visa run about the time you arrive, but we’ll only be gone for a week or so.
Agness of eTramping
Wow John, it’s incredibly courageous of you to leave everything behind in Japan in hopes of a fresh start. I am very impressed with your way of thinking and very inspired by your strong will.