Sunday, December 30, 2007

Dharma Economics

"While the materialist is mainly interested in goods, the Buddhist is mainly interested in liberation. Buddhism is the Middle Way and therefore in no way antagonistic to physical well-being. It is not wealth that stands in the way of liberation but the attachment to wealth; not the enjoyment of pleasurable things but the craving for them. The keynote of Buddhist economics, therefore, is simplicity and non-violence.

For the modern economist [and consumer] this is very difficult to understand. He is used to measuring the "standard of living" by the amount of annual consumption, assuming all the time that a man who consumes more is "better off" than a man who consumes less. A Buddhist economist would consider this approach excessively irrational: since consumption is merely a means to human well-being, the aim should be to obtain the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption. The less toil there is, the more time and strength is left for artistic creativity. "

--E.F. Shumacher, Small Is Beautiful

I admit that my recipe for economic "success" is quite different than the advice you'll get from most.

Bookstores are filled with books about making money and getting rich. But they all come with certain basic philosophical assumptions-- mainly that MORE money is always better and the key to "success" is to be rich.

Even books that I recommend, such as The 4-Hour Workweek or Your Portable Empire, have an underlying philosophy of "getting rich". All of these writers are firmly centered in mainstream capitalist thinking.

My philosophy is essentially that of a Buddhist economist. While others speak of "success" and "wealth", my concern is liberation. And when I speak of liberation, I mean financial liberation, physical liberation, emotional liberation, mental liberation,.. and ultimately spiritual liberation. However, at this time in my life, I'm only qualified to give advice about financial and physical liberation (and somewhat on emotional and mental :)

Its important to understand the profound difference between seeking wealth and seeking liberation. Mainstream financial advice is always focused on more, more, more.

However, my starting point is always less, less, less. Simplicity is the core of my approach to financial liberation. Learn to need less, and you automatically become freer. Learn to need a smaller and cheaper living space. Learn to need a smaller and cheaper car... or better yet, a motorcycle,... or still better, no vehicle at all. Learn to need fewer gadgets. Learn to need fewer and less expensive clothes.

Simplify, simplify, simplify. This is the core of my "method". Before you worry about building a micro-business, before you worry about debt elimination, before you worry about working fewer hours or making more money-- Simplify every aspect of your life--- persistently, continuously, relentlessly. Pare away all that is unnecessary, distracting, and fashionable. Go to work on your cravings.

This is the basis for liberation. Without doing this, you'll always be a slave... no matter how much money you have-- because you'll always need more.... and thus will always remain a slave to work and economics.

On the other hand, if you simplify drastically-- you'll find that financial liberation is much easier than you thought. You'll find that you can work much less and live much more. You'll find that escaping your job and boss (part-time or permanently) is much easier than you thought. You'll find that eliminating debt is much easier than you thought.

You'll find that you are much less stressed about money. You'll find that you have many more options in life. You'll find it easier to save, easier to travel, easier to do those things you always put off doing.

Simplicity is the starting point, the center, the foundation, and the ending point. It is the key to your financial (and physical, and emotional) liberation.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bliss

"Follow Your Bliss"
--Joseph Campbell

Let's be honest.

Most of us love quotes like the one above. We've all read great words about "following our bliss" or "following our genius" (Thoreau).... and we've nodded our heads. We love the words of Emerson, Alan Watts, Jack Kerouac, and other free spirits. We love the IDEA that following our bliss will bring happiness, prosperity, freedom, fun, etc...

But let's be honest. At a deeper level, we don't really believe it can happen to us. At a deeper level, we have been programmed much more strongly by our mainstream culture. That culture tells us "You must work hard", "Follow the rules", "Success, Happiness, & Bliss require hard work", "Be practical".

Be honest. No matter how much you profess to be an idealist, or a romantic, or an artist, or a free-spirit... you have these cultural messages deep inside and they have a strong effect on you. They have a strong effect on all of us. And so, when we read Thoreau or J. Campbell, there is an unconscious reaction that thinks, "this really isn't possible... its a great and beautiful idea... but its not possible practically".

That unconscious programming is THE barrier... THE thing which keeps us enslaved. We are enslaved to jobs, to "hard work", to "being practical" not through force, but through mind control. I know that sounds sinister, and in fact, the effects are indeed sinister and heart-breaking.

For years, I fought with these beliefs. My chosen route was to first prove to myself that Thoreau was right- that I could live extremely simply... and that by doing so life would not be a hardship... but would in fact be easier.

That's why I lived in my car, and then a van. And through direct experience I learned that Thoreau's words were not only beautiful... but EXTREMELY practical.

That set the stage for all that has followed. The old programming lost much of its power. I began to BELIEVE. I thought, "damn, if this is true, maybe its also true that prosperity, freedom, and happiness will come NOT from hard work... but by following my bliss".

So I took off to Thailand, one of my favorite places in the world. I started teaching English.. something I liked doing in the past. But this time, I decided I'd do it only my way.. that Id only teach in a way that was fun and thrilling to me (and my students)... consequences be damned.

Which led to two results: 1) I developed a very unique, energetic, and enthusiastic teaching sytle. 2) I was fired from my job.

I came back to SF, and got another job... at a place that afforded me more freedom. And I started recording my lessons and selling them. For YEARS I had thought of making my own micro-business.. but I didnt. Why not? Because of the old programming. Because of thoughts like, "Im bad at business", "Ill have to work hard to succeed, and I don't want to be a slave to my own business", "Having a business means I only care about money".... etc.

But it was different this time because I was doing something blissful-- recording fun, loud, enthusiastic, and somewhat strange English lessons. I finally asked myself, "why should my boss get most of the money for MY work, my energy, and my creativity?"

From there, in fits and starts, it grew.... and I quit my job. The amazing thing-- its MUCH easier than working. SO much easier than working a job. My micro-business feels like a "past-time" (to use Thoreau's words). It feels like a fun hobby, not a "serious business".

So whats the point of all this babbling? The point is, I finally realize that Thoreau, Campbell, Watts, and others were NOT dreamy romantics. Their words are sober and practical.

Following your bliss does produce prosperity, freedom, etc. The only caveat is that you must do it with all your faith and enthusiasm. You must work on all those cultural programs and dismantle them.

Ive found the best way to dismantle them is through direct empirical experimentation with my life. Direct experience. Try simplicity and see what happens. Try following your bliss, and see what happens. At first, do it as a temporary experiment. Then experiment again. Eventually, make it your lifestyle!

When you do this, you will indeed find that life proceeds effortlessly. What was once difficult becomes easy. Everything begins to flow.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Fruits of Freedom

After several months of transition, I have finally settled into my new freedom. I know it sounds strange. It sounds strange to me. Who would have thought that when I finally achieved liberation from wage slavery, I would need an adjustment period.

I imagined myself immediately jetting off on exciting adventures. Instead, I continued to go about my daily routine in SF. Truth be told, I was kind of bored. Then Id think, "what the hell is wrong with me? How can I be bored? Im finally FREE!" But still, something was holding me back.

Looking back, I think it was a lack of faith. Put another way, I didn't quite believe it was real. I suppose I was waiting... waiting to see if it was all a short fluke... waiting to see if the rug would get pulled out.

Then slowly, week by week, it became more real.

And now, I have finally realized that Im free and its time to start the next phase of my life.

So, here I am in Guatemala, learning Spanish. The first thing I aim to do with my time-freedom is learn. Learn, learn, learn. I want to learn Spanish. I want to learn about other countries, people and cultures. I want to learn more about ecology. I want to learn more about sustainable economics-- so called "natural economics".

Along with this, I'll be doing a lot of playing-- starting next week with a 15 day SCUBA diving trip in Honduras. Ill be learning there too-- doing an advanced certification course and then diving, diving, diving...... soaking up the sun, sucking down pina coladas, hiking in the jungle, strolling on the beach, swimming with dolphins, visiting an iguana conservation center, and, of course, practicing Spanish.

To say that this beats wage slavery is the understatement of my life! I think back to a year ago... to the daily grind... the routine... the boss.... the boredom. I think back and I want to shout "Hallelujah" a million times!

Hallelujah!

Hallelujah!

Update From The Road

Hello from Guatemala. Its been a while since I updated this blog, so here's a quick summary.

After a few months of independence the reality of my new situation is finally sinking in,.... and Im finally starting to take advantage of it. Currently Im in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala-- studying Spanish. Ive been doing an intensive Spanish course for the last two weeks. Of course, two weeks isnt that long, but I have had a mini-breakthrough... Im no longer so nervous about speaking. I make mistakes in every sentence I speak, but Im really communicating in a foreign language for the first time, and it feels great.

Next week Im heading to a Honduran island for two weeks of diving. Ill be doing an advanced certification course and then diving, diving, diving like crazy. This is my long overdue celebration and "reward" for financial freedom-- two weeks of fun and hedonism!

After that its back to SF for a month or so. And then? Well, Im cooking up a whole series of trips and adventures. Nothing is definite yet, but at the moment Im thinking: Argentina in the Winter for Spanish study and general exploration (including some outdoor adventure), SE Asia (Thailand, S. India, Malaysia..) in the Spring to visit friends and have fun, a motorcycle tour around America in the Summer, and finally Spain in the Fall (for more Spanish and general exploration).

As always, these ideas are likely to change at my slightest whim. But I suppose thats the point-- spontaneity is entering my life again.... and I love it. This is what freedom is all about-- living according to your wishes, hopes, principles, and yes...even your whims.

Monday, August 06, 2007

A Message of Hope

One thing I love about this blog is that it offers an honest view of the process of moving towards one's vision. A big problem with "self-help" books and programs is that they often seem unbelievable. Why? Because the authors write them AFTER they have achieved their own vision of success. No matter how many times they say "sometimes it was tough", you get the feeling that they always felt confident-- that they always knew they would succeed.

There is a lot of that in Tim Ferriss' book The 4-Hour Workweek. Its a great book with practical advice. But as I read it I felt an almost smug sense of confidence. Sure, when you arrive it all seems easy and pre-ordained. But when you're stuck in a crap job, depressed and frustrated... nothing seems easy.

I also admire Self-help guru Anthony Robbins for his passion, but again, when I read his books it seems like this guy was always a super-charged, enthusiastic, dedicated maniac.

So, when we read these people's books, its easy to think "they are super-human freaks and Im nothing like them".

My hope is that the extensive archives of Hobopoet will provide an antidote to those thoughts. In the archives, you find that I was frequently upset, depressed, angry, frustrated, and restless. I frequently had doubts. Sometimes, I was overwhelmed by them. You see the whole process in all its roughness. You see the occasional bitterness. You see the failed experiments. You see the desperation.

But hopefully, you'll also find some hope... knowing that despite all that I somehow find myself here... free from wage slavery at last.

So what do I have to offer, in the way of advice? What were "the secrets" to getting here?

I think I can identify four... and they are Principles, Vision, A Process, and An Attitude:

1. Principles
My strategies, ideas, plans, and moods have changed constantly... and quickly. But throughout I have always had a core set of principles that have not changed. For me, these include Freedom (economic, political, social), Compassion (ie. a sincere wish that other beings be free of suffering and control), Lifelong Learning, Simplicity, etc.... You may have a different set, but the important point is that we all need a set of principles that enoble, guide, strengthen us. These are our compass.

2. A Vision
My serious journey towards Freedom started in 2000. At the time, I was working a horrible wage slave job as an Emergency Room social worker in a big hospital. I was doing 12 hour days... days full of crisis and chaos. Worse, I was in a new town that I hated (Greenville, SC)... a super-conservative and very Christian enclave where I had no friends. My longtime girlfriend had just broken up with me-- and I was living alone (with my wonderful dog :) in a small, dingy apartment. I was deep in debt and had just started the process of filing for bankruptcy. I was so desperate financially that I briefly got involved with a multi-level marketing company... and was bothering my friends with ridiculous sales appeals. Truly, a low point.

But I had one important thing-- a vision of the kind of life I wanted. I knew what I wanted. I knew the kind of lifestyle that fit me and pleased me. I knew I needed an independent income-- that I HAD to be free from wage slavery. I knew I wanted plenty of time and money for travel... that I wanted to travel the world and live abroad at will. I knew I didn't want or need a big apartment or a "nice" car.. but did want enough time-money for interesting adventures. I knew I needed a community of friends who shared this vision.

Though my life sucked at that time, I never forgot the vision... and never abandoned it in the name of "realism". You must do the same. Many "responsible adults" will try to convince you that your vision is "irresponsible" or "childish" or "unrealistic" or "abnormal". They'll tell you its time to get a "real job" and settle down. They'll tell you its time to conform. Never listen to these people and, in fact, eliminate them from your life. Never forget your vision no matter how far you seem from it.

3. A Process

Compared to the "experts" and self-help gurus, I have a very simple formula for living your vision (my definition of success :)

Most people make just one small mistake.... which dooms them to servitude. Most people follow the following process:

A. Brainstorm/Think
B. Analyze, Plan, Debate, Research, Contemplate
C. Try/Do

In fact, most people get stuck at B. They brainstorm some cool ideas. Then they start analyzing them... weighing the pluses and minuses. They think they can predict the success or failure of the idea through analysis. But since they can never be sure, they never stop thinking, debating, analyzing, researching, etc. They never reach C.

My process makes just one small change to the formula:

A. Brainstorm/Think
B. Try/Do
C. Analyze, Plan, Research, Contemplate

What a difference this makes. The truth is, you can't predict anything. Forget trying to do so... its impossible. Ive been shocked by so many unexpected failures and successes that Ive realized that debate prior to action is nothing short of asinine idiocy. As the Tao Te Ching says, "those who talk don't know". To that I'd add, "Those who talk don't do". Forget talking and endless planning.

Just brainstorm some cool ideas and then try one. See what happens. Save analysis and planning for after the fact... when you have something concrete to analyze. Analyze your successes and failures, not your ideas. Do that, and you will be inexorably pulled along a path of discovery and learning. Keep doing that, and you will reach your vision.

D. An Attitude

The last key is an attitude of persistence. Its not easy to do, but persistence with equanimity as an ideal is vital. Scan my archives and you'll find I often lost my cool... but you'll also find that again and again I corrected myself and tried to re-center. I tried to regard my downs as interesting results rather than failures. I whined and raged... then got off my ass and tried something else.

Persistence is more important than cleverness. I've met countless clever people who never do a damn thing but talk cleverly. They win every argument, but remain pathetic wage slaves nonetheless. Avoid these people. Cleverness is a dangerous thing, because clever people have a way of fooling themselves more than anyone else.

Persistence is a much more useful trait. Cultivate it. Try to see experiments in terms of "results"... not in terms of "success" or "failure". Develop the skill of dusting yourself off and trying again. Learn to love the challenges... and the interesting results they bring.


Enjoy The Journey

That's the sum total of my advice... nothing too clever or amazing. As usual, the doing of it is more impressive than the talking about it.

Mostly, I want to deliver a message of hope. I know there are many people in the world like me... people who hate their jobs, people who feel trapped and degraded by employment, people who long for a freer and more adventurous life. Hobopoet is dedicated to you. To you I say, It Can Be Done.

Take Care and Good Luck!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Choosing A Micro-Business

You often hear the advice "do what you love" when starting your own micro-business.

Im not sure this is the best advice. My advice would be-- do something you enjoy AND are good at.

That's probably not going to be your favorite passion or hobby. In fact, I think its generally a bad idea to create a business that involves something you truly and fanatically love doing. For example, I love to travel. I also like writing and am decent at it when I put my mind to it. So its obvious-- I should do travel writing, right?! Wrong.

I did a bit of freelance writing while living in Thailand. It was alright, but in general I found I didnt like turning two passions/hobbies into work. Writing is great when Im doing little haiku in my journal or blog posts... not so much fun when I feel the need to make money doing it. This is even more true with travel.

I did some thought experiments on this topic. I imagined various travel based businesses and realized theyd all destroy my love of spontaneous wandering. I thought of being a tour guide but as I imagined the details of ferrying tourists around, the thought lost its appeal.

Finally I settled on English teaching... an excellent choice it turns out. This is something I like doing... but as a job. Also, Im good at it. Though I really have fun teaching English, I have always thought of it as work and so Im happy to work at it.

When thinking of what to do for your own business, I recommend you set aside your true loves and passions-- dont base a business on those. Instead, think about what you've already done (or are doing) to make money. Could any of those jobs-tasks be turned into a micro-business? What about items you know a lot about (clothes, computers, etc.)... could you find a manufacturer and sell one of those?

Remember, we're not trying to become rich here... you don't need something that will make millions. You just need enough to support your simple Hobopoet lifestyle. Think hard-- there's definitely something you can do.

As for the details of running your project, start with The 4-Hour Workweek... its got some good practical suggestions.

The scariest part is starting. You don't need to choose the perfect thing... just choose something and try it. Try, test, evaluate, modify... then repeat. Thats the basic process for micro-business success. You can do it.. you can free yourself from wage slavery and be free.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Mexico

Im currently in Oaxaca, site of an ongoing people´s struggle against big business, big money, and big government. The downtown Zocolo is filled with revolutionary banners and graffiti. Meanwhile, armed stormtroopers with machine guns circle around the downtown area.. 6-8 sitting in the back of pickup trucks.

Last Friday, two demonstrators were killed by police. More are in jail, being tortured. The people are dedicated to non-violence... but its not the whimpy kind you see at US demonstrations where protesters obediently apply for their permits and stay in their confined protest zones.

Being here shows me just how dead democracy in America is. Latin America is for real (witness Venezuela, Bolivia,.. and to a lesser extent Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador). Poor Mexico has always been under the imposing gun of the US, but even here democracy stirs and people fight for their freedom.

I stopped going to demonstrations in the US because they felt more like farcical parades than anything else. The general attitude was a subservient one-- yuppies arriving in their mini-vans, carrying little signs, chanting moronic ditties,... and basically begging "oh please listen to us". When they are ignored by the corporate media and the government, they whine.

If you read Gandhi´s autobiography, you discover that the sort of demonstration you find in America now is NOT what he had in mind. As he quips in the movie, "I have never advocated passive anything". Gandhi, and King, were extremely confrontational. Their forefather, Thoreau, was likewise a disobedient, cantankerous, no-nonsense guy. When Gandhi said "non-violence", he meant non-violent DEFIANCE of the law. Gandhi constantly, publicly, and extravagently broke the law. Same with King.

Which brings us around the honest truth of it-- none of the demonstrators (sadly, me included) in the US really cares much about the Iraq War. We liked to march a little to feel good about ourselves, but none of us wanted to go up against billy clubs or tear gas. Lets face it, the Iraq War, for us, is an abstraction. An idea. It doesnt effect most of us in the gut, heart, pocketbook, or home much at all.

As much as I hate the IDEA of the war, I must agree with Hakim Bey in the end-- freedom, anarchy, etc. must always be focused first on your own life-- here and now. Its easy to bemoan the faraway war... much more difficult to confront the economic and mental chains that hold YOU.. RIGHT NOW. For most of us, our job is the single most oppressive reality we face... day after day. Behind that, the mental-media environment keeps us enslaved to that reality.

Which brings me back to Oaxaca. Democracy has a pulse here because the people are fighting for THEIR own lives and the lives of their neighbors. They are confronting the daily realities of their moment.

Those of us north of the border have different realities. We´re bloated with material excess... but we too have our chains.

Democracy and freedom will only awaken when we turn our attention to breaking those. Thats where it must start... because its pointless to whine about the oppression of strangers half a world away while doing nothing about your own shackles.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Let Freedom Ring

Today is my Independence Day.

Today was my last day of work. We can never predict the future, of course, but with luck this is the last job I will ever work.

Today is the culmination of a 23 year struggle for freedom from wage slavery. It began with my very first wage-slave job at Arby's (fast food) and has continued until this day. In that time, I worked many horrible jobs, a few tolerable ones... but always the yoke of wage-slavery weighed me down.

To escape, I radically simplified my life-- perhaps the most important step on this journey. I lived in a Toyota Corolla with my dog, I lived in a Van, I lived in Thailand. Year by year, I whittled away unnecessary expenses & distractions.... and then whittled down the hours I worked to pay for my remaining wants and needs.

The final push started 8 months ago... Halloween 2006... when I started my own micro-business. This little project started because of my love for teaching English and meeting international people, coupled with my loathing for work, bureaucracy, and bosses. It was never intended to make me rich... and it never will.

The goal was simple-- help English learners around the world enjoy English, learn it effectively, and gain independence from schools & teachers. While I sell lessons, what I'm really doing is teaching students a way to learn independently. At the end of my course, they should be able to keep going on their own, with no more need for textbooks or schools.

On my side the goal was equally simple-- make a decent living independently, doing something I love to do. Free myself from bosses, bureaucrats, wage slavery, etc.... and make enough to live an enjoyable and comfortable life. Since I live like a student and enjoy doing so, I didn't (and don't) need to make much.

I have achieved these goals. The students are happy and most seem to love the lessons. I'm happy to finally be free to live as I want. Win-win.

So what's next? For starters, I'm off to Mexico for a two week vacation. After that, I'll be taking a break from English-- to do some fun and interesting things I neglected during the past 8 months.

And then? Well, I'll continue to develop the English Club. I have some strict principles about this. The first is-- it will never grow large. Most of the evils of business that we are all familiar with come from big-business. Few of us hate our local coffee shop or Thai restaurant. Business at a human scale can be a force of good... a force for connecting people and providing helpful services.

But when a business gets too big, humanity is lost. It becomes a machine... a profit-making monster that destroys humanity and destroys human lives. How will I avoid this. Well, first of all I have no desire for riches, and to build a big business requires a high level of greed and drive.

Second, I have a strict no employee policy. I absolutely will not be another person's boss. I'm happy to partner with people, but will not employ them. This puts a strict limit on how big my micro-business can grow... there's only so much one person can do after all.

So there it is.

It has been a very long time coming. The reason I write this blog is to help others find their way to this point-- hopefully much faster and much easier than I have. If you read through the archives, starting with post #1 until this one... you will find my own personal road map to freedom from wage slavery. I hope some of these experiences will be helpful to you, in your quest for freedom, autonomy, and adventure.

I hope that some day soon, you will celebrate your own Independence Day.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Independence Day

The time has arrived.

Tonight I write my resignation letter. With luck, it will be the last such letter I ever write... for the last job I ever have.

My final day of employment will be July 12th--

The next day, I board a plane to Mexico City to celebrate my Independence Day.

It has been a very long struggle. A long long struggle for financial independence-- for freedom from wage slavery. Finally, after many experiments-- I am free.

Now the fun really begins. Now its time to revel in possibilities. What's next?

Well, First Im going to take 6 months to re-invent my life. Wage slavery does bad things to you. It tightens your heart and makes your mind rigid. I've been stuck in the same routine for over a year and a half. My first task is to shake things up-- get out and live. After that, Ill think in bigger and deeper terms.

But for 6 months Im just going to have fun, dammit!

Here's a sample of possible mini-adventures for the next 6 months:
*SCUBA course and diving in Monterey Bay
*6 day hike in the Sierra Nevada Mountains
*Salsa dancing lessons
*Drawing workshops
*TPR Storytelling workshop
*Motorcycle class
*Spanish study
*Trip to L.A. and the Grand Canyon
*Camping & Hiking in Redwoods
*Diving in Honduras
*Spanish classes in Central or South America
*10 day Vipassana meditation course
*Tour Japan (onsens, hiking, castles, etc.)

That should keep me busy for a few months-- and break the mental chains of lethargy and routine.

Ill update you all on these mini-adventures, and my slow healing from wage slavery.

Meanwhile, I look forward to celebrating my Independence Day-- July 12th!

Take care and don't give up.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Jessica's Birthday

Today is Jessica's birthday. I still think of her often-- but especially on her birthday. I remember her unrivaled enthusiasm for life. Its a trait that all who knew her remember. She was unique in the best and brightest sense of that word.

I hope that today, we can remember that brightness. Of course, I still feel sad when I think about her death. But as time passes, I try to focus more on her life. I feel that she still has much to say to all of us. Even now, she is telling us-- live life with joy, enthusiasm, and passion. Don't waste time on pettiness. Never give in to despair.

This week, take a little time to think about her. Quiet your mind. Remember.

And listen very carefully. You can still hear her speaking. Today. Now.


Visit Jessica's memorial website at: http://www.memoriam.atfreeweb.com/jessica.htm

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Damn Good Book

Tim Ferriss has written an amazing book-- basically a how-to guide to living an abundant Hobopoet life. Its called "The 4-Hour Workweek" and its great.

You can get it on Amazon at:
The 4-Hour Workweek

Here's a nice quote from the book:
"Life doesn't have to be so damn hard. It really doesn't. Most people, my past self included, have spent too much time convincing themselves that life has to be hard, a resignation to 9-to-5 drudgery in exchange for (sometimes) relaxing weekends and the occasional keep-it-short-or-get-fired vacation. The truth, at least the truth I live and will share in this book, is quite different."

That quote echoes the Thoreau quote that heads this blog:
"In short, I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain one's self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely; It is not necessary that a man should earn his living by the sweat of his brow, unless he sweats easier than I do."

Not a hardship... but a pastime. That, in a nutshell, is the Hobopoet credo. Our mission is to create a life of abundance. A life of freedom. A life of options and choices and opportunties.

Both Thoreau and Ferris are right-- its not hard. Its not necessary to live by the sweat of your brow. Its not necessary to work 40 hours a week.

The obstacles to freedom and abundance are mostly mental and emotional. It took me many years to figure it out. In many ways, this blog is a chronicle of the series of experiments that have brought me to that point. I started with a deep and abiding disgust for employment. That led me to Thoreau and several years of radically simplifying my life. I lived in a car. I lived in a van. I cut back to part-time employment. I lived in Thailand. Little by little groping for pieces of the puzzle.

What I didn't do, until 6 and a half months ago, was start my own micro-business. Why not? It turns out I was able to start the business (a website for English students) for only $150.

It wasn't money I lacked-- it was imagination and willingness to risk. I'm not talking about financial risks. Those were negligible because I bootstrapped on the tiniest budget and refused to borrow any amount of money.

The risks were emotional. What would I do if I failed? Did I have 'what it takes'? As an anti-corporate hobopoet, could I even manage a micro-business? Would I embarrass myself? Would everyone realize I didn't know what I was doing?

My deepest fear was that I'd never get the first customer. I had this irrational fear that I would not get even one-- a total rejection and failure.

Sounds stupid, I know... but those fears were the true obstacles.

Since actually starting, I'm amazed at how easy it is. I kept working, so there was never any pressure to make a lot of money. I never borrowed or spent much, so there was never much financial risk.

In the beginning it was slow, to be sure.. but the first customers came very quickly.

From there, it has been a constant process of testing, improving, testing, improving, testing, improving. For 6 months, I just tried shit. Much of it bombed... some of it proved popular with the members of my site. I kept the good stuff and got rid of the failures. Then I tried more stuff.

I also read every damn book I could find on e-commerce, internet marketing, website design, etc. I read most of them for free... in Borders coffee shop.

That's been my "secret recipe" for every aspect of this project. And it has worked. Each month was better than the last. Then suddenly, this month-- a breakthrough. A 400% increase. Suddenly its making more than my job salary.

Once Im sure this will hold (and indeed, I'll keep working that "secret recipe" to improve things)-- I'll quit my job and become a full time Hobopoet.

What's my main point? My main point is-- you can do the same thing. Realize that the obstacles are mostly mental.

Will you start a micro-business and be instantly rich? Probably not. The secret is to bootstrap, live simply, and keep working whatever job you must work... while you test, improve, test, improve, test, improve. You do this as cheaply as possible. You don't borrow any money. Mostly, you invest your time.

The key, the secret, the only thing you really must do is: Start.

Just start, trust the process, and in 6-12 months you will have your own independent income. You will liberate yourself from wage slavery.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Breath Held

by Skald

I got my first job at age 16. Arby's Fast Food Restaurant. After the first day, I knew. Work sucks. I knew. I knew that employment was inherently demeaning.

The past 23 years have only confirmed and strengthened that insight. I've had crap jobs, I've had "decent" jobs. I've had one cool boss. I've had loads of shitty ones.

But always the institution itself was a prison. Always the inherent hierarchy. Always the "never left high school" feeling. Maybe I'm more sensitive than most. But employment has always meant dread and misery for me.

That is the root source of my rage-- the rage I felt upon returning to America. Once again, I was in the American economic system-- a system of wage slavery... of just getting by... a society whose sole focus is money, money, money. Money & work dominate America like nowhere else in the world, save, perhaps, Japan.

I'd spent 2 wonderful years in Thailand. 2 years without money being the central worry of my life. 2 years to live. And then I came back.

Since returning, the need for money has dominated my life. During my first few months in San Francisco, I was dangerously close to INVOLUNTARY homelessness. For the next year, it was always a struggle to have enough... enough to cover rent, food, basic living... but not much left over for anything resembling fun.

I finally saw the light and started my own micro-business. In the beginning, it brought in a little, but not enough to live off. Meanwhile, I had to work both my job AND my little micro-business. Work consumed my life.

------

This is why I have barely blogged during the past year and a half. What could I write? I was certainly not living the free Hobopoet life. Though teaching part time.. it was not a life of abundance and freedom.

But now.... a 23 year marathon nears its end. The goal-- freedom from wage slavery. Independent income. Financial freedom.

The micro-business is now making plenty for me to live off. It has surpassed my job income. Its generating enough to fund year-round travel.

------

For the moment, I'm holding my breath. I want to shout and celebrate and dance like a maniac. But I'm waiting... waiting to be sure this will continue.

I plan to work my job through the end of this summer... to be sure the micro-business stays steady.

Meanwhile, I'll be saving the extra money. Saving..... waiting just a few more months...

For Independence Day. My Independence Day. The end of wage slavery. My declaration of independence from employment. The day I quit my LAST job.

And then, there will be shouting. And dancing. And a big fucking party.

..... After that, I'm hitting the road. Not sure where, when, or how. But I'd like to see some of California and the Western US first-- do some camping and hiking. And Im thinking of a short teaser trip to Mexico. And then a BIG tour of South and Central America-- learn Spanish, learn salsa, SCUBA dive,... wander.

....And when my Independence Day comes at last, I plan to revive this blog and share the experiences and strategies that led me to it.... and the adventures that follow.

Stay tuned. And for the dedicated few readers who have stuck with this blog-- Thanks!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Break The Chains of Employment

Perhaps the most compelling reason for working for yourself is that it pays better. As a wage slave, a significant portion of what you "earn" is taken by your employer. That's why they employ you, after all. They make money by doing nothing.

In the beginning, independent income is risky and difficult. The allure of the paycheck is its (illusory) dependability. Every two weeks, you get that check. Most folks seem to like that routine, even though it enslaves them to boredom, tedium, and 40 hour a week imprisonment.

Its much better to go your own way. To be sure, in the beginning its tough-- you've got no income so you must continue with a wage slave job while at the same time doing your new independent vocation.

Its been a tough six months for me as I've done this. I become frustrated because my wage-slave job takes so much of my time and energy... making it tough to do everything I want to do for my website.

And yet, the thing has slowly grown. I've reached the important milestone where the site covers my basic, rock-bottom living expenses.

And while its not much, if I calculate that income on an hourly basis-- I find the site is paying me 2-3 times more per hour of work than any job I've ever had.

This is important-- because it shows that as my micro-business grows I can get a reasonable income without being a slave. When the time comes to do it "full-time"... I'll be able to leave wage-slavery for good... and devote a very reasonable 12-20 hours a week to the micro-business. Of course, as my own boss... vacations, rest days, road trips, sabbaticals, summers off, and the like are mine to choose whenever I want them.

The bottom line is this-- though it seems risky, and though it can be difficult during the first year or so... the best way to economic freedom and self-reliance is through micro-preneurship. Start your own tiny business. Do it now. Work on it a little, part time, for a year or two. Grow that seed and you will one day be able to break the shackles of wage-slavery for good.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Progress Update

The website continues to grow, allowing me to save money. That's important- because I'm eager to get on the road again. My goal is to hit the road before the end of this year. By that time, I'm hoping my website will be making enough money to cover my day to day travel and living expenses.

One thing you should know about doing your own micro-business-- there will be a lot of competition. It seems that every day, there is a new English teaching website or podcast. If I wanted to build a big successful business in a traditional way, this would be very stressful.

But being a hobopoet is a big advantage. My needs are small. I don't need to get rich. I don't need to build a huge company. I don't need (or want) employees. If my micro-business brings in 2000 a month, I'm set. At a 1000 a month, I can still live very well in Thailand or a similar country.

The hobopoet lifestyle has removed much of the pressure that entrepreneurs face. While most people who start their own business do so for the freedom, most that I have known end up as slaves to their business.

For example, I remember a guy named "John" in South Carolina. I worked at his new smoothie store when I first moved there. He had just opened. In the beginning, he was a lot of fun. He loved having his own business-- finally free from his corporate career.

But in the months that followed, he became increasingly stressed. To start his little store, he had to take out a big loan. He had rent to pay. He had to pay for a big inventory of products. He had to pay for advertising.

The result-- he was under tremendous pressure to make money. The fun attitude disappeared and he became more and more of a scrooge. However much he focused on money, he still couldn't make the business profitable. He became bitter and exhausted. After two years, the business failed, leaving him with a pile of debts. He returned to a corporate job.

When you look beyond the hope and hype, you find this is the normal situation for most entrepreneurs.

But not for hobopoet micropreneurs. While we may never grow rich (and don't want to), we can more easily enjoy the benefits of having our own vocation. Since we don't have huge expenses, we don't need to take out loans. Since we don't have big loans, we are under no pressure to make big bucks fast. Since we don't have that pressure, we can relax and enjoy the freedom and creativity of working for ourselves only.

We don't have to compromise our principles, or become slaves to our own businesses. We don't have to compete aggressively with bigger and richer companies. We can do what we want, how we want to do it. We can enjoy the process and the lifestyle.

Its unfortunate that so many people are caught in the spectacle of greed and riches. If they simplified their lives and reduced their material needs, they could easily find the freedom and ease they long for.

It doesn't matter whether you are an artist, an entrepreneur, or a discontented wage slave-- radical simplification of your life is the key to freedom, ease, and autonomy.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Subversive Business

by Skald

Business has been co-opting and subverting noble causes for decades (well, centuries). This is their preferred method for destroying any movement that challenges them. The environmental movement is a perfect example-- big business simply runs countless "green" ads and creates scores of fake "environmental groups" (which are actually fronts for polluting industries) in order to confuse and befuddle the public. They also keep the media firmly focused on trivia, and use their media power to demonize and marginalize activists and concerned citizens. They buy "scientists" and government officials... and even environmental activists.

The 60s counter-culture is another great example. Big business has turned that rebellion into a lifestyle industry of cool. All the counter-culture trappings of that era now serve to sell Gap jeans and Cadillacs.

As I embark on my own "business" project (I still hate using that word.. need to create a new one), I ask myself-- can the tables be turned? Can we co-opt business and use it for radical, subversive ends?

The first attempts at such a thing were probably Ben & Jerry's and The Body Shop. These two companies, especially Ben & Jerry's, tried to weave a social-progressive fabric into their business (ignoring the very ill health effects of their products :). In fact, social change was part of their business mission. I remember how impressed and inspired I was when I first read Ben & Jerry's book.

Years later, I was extremely disappointed to hear they had sold out to a soulless mega-corporation-- swallowed up by the beast. Similarly, The Body Shop was eaten by Loreal-- an evil company that tests on animals. It seemed that subversive-business was an impossible oxymoron.

But maybe not. On a smaller scale, there are projects that are more progressive.

However, I don't know of any that I'd call truly radical. I hope to change that. Since my website is basically an information business, I plan to incorporate "subversive" information into its core. What does that mean? It means that when I choose articles to teach English, I won't just be using mainstream media pap. I'll also use the site as a way of exposing members to the likes of Noam Chomsky, Hakim Bey, Ralph Nader, Thoreau, and the like.

The nuts and bolts of teaching English are only a small part of the site. The content is equally (more!) important. My members aren't just interested in grammar and vocabulary-- they want engaging, interesting, thought-provoking content.

So, my little project has a dual mission. One is to teach English in the most natural and effortless way possible. The second is to build an international community of progressives and subversives-- who will use English as their medium of communication.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Making a Website

by Skald

If you are a programmer, you can make your own site quite easily. Another option is to spend a good chunk of money for a professional to create one for you.

However, that's an expensive option. For aspiring micro-preneurs, I recommend a simpler and cheaper route-- go with a pre-packaged template service-- these include Godaddy.com, Yahoo Stores, Ebay Stores, etc.

No, your site won't look "professional" necessarily. However, in the beginning your main goal is to experiment. Most likely, you won't know what the hell you are doing. I certainly didn't... and honestly, I'm still mostly clueless. To start your own e-business cheaply, you've got to have the luxury of having plenty of time for trial and error. That means you probably can't afford to spend chunks of money for web hosting and web design. Save that for when you've figured it all out and already have a successful site.

Another key point to consider, when starting out, is how you can become more extreme. As a low-budget bootstrapping cyber-hobo, there's no way in hell you can compete directly with any normal company that has a bigger budget. As a tiny cyber-hobo, you've got to be unique.

How can you do this? Seth Godin recommends "going for the edges". By this he means, identify your unique qualities or strengths.... then push them to the farthest extreme. For example, I cannot compete with the giant English chain schools & their websites directly. Nor can I compete with huge corporate textbook publishers.

But one of my unique qualities and strengths is that I use only natural approaches that do not teach the analysis of grammar. Lucky for me, all the mega-schools and corporate publishers focus on precisely that-- grammar analysis. So one of my edges is "real English without grammar study". I NEVER use textbook-like activities on my site, I NEVER use contrived conversations on my site.... I use only authentic English--- meaning real conversations (unscripted), real movies (made for native speakers), real letters (not contrived by a textbook publisher), real articles (made for native speakers), etc... I'm always searching for more ways to push this edge... to provide more authentic, real-life, uncontrived English-- and natural ways to make it understandable for my website members.

Finally, one more point. The "edges" you choose must be in accord with your passions. The one thing you can't afford to be as a tiny cyber-hobo is boring. You've got to invest your heart and soul. As an English teacher, I'm passionate about this style of teaching. I deplore the traditional ways of teaching the language-- especially grammar-analysis. I detest the structure of the English as a Foreign Language industry. I detest the textbooks and the publishers.

I'm not just "interested in" this topic-- I'm a passionate crusader for it. In fact, I was fired from my last job in Thailand because of my defiance of traditional teaching methods and my refusal to use them.

You've got to find that same passion & crusading mentality and tie it to your little enterprise. If you want to sell your own jewelry, don't try to sell boring stuff that is just like what everyone else is selling. Sell YOUR art--- and make it completely and truly YOURS. Never, never, never think like a business person and ponder, "What do people want to buy... what could I do or make that would reach a big market".

Instead, think, "What am I crazy about, What do I love doing, and What can I do in a great and unique way". Find it, do it... then launch your website and seek out the other crazy people in the world who are on the same wavelength as you are. Leave the bland mass market to Wal-Mart and their evil brethren. Create something with heart.

Don't worry, if you are patient and persistent... you'll find plenty. For my part, I knew that the vast majority of English students want grammar-- and think its absolutely necessary. They are wrong, but I'll never convince most of them. Luckily, I don't need to. Because with the internet, I can slowly connect with the tiny percentage (but still huge number) of people who are looking for a teacher like me.

Trust yourself. Trust your passions and your genius. Accept your fears.

Then launch that site. That's when the real planning, adjustment, and experimenting begin.

Monday, March 12, 2007

First Steps

by Skald

So, how do you get started as a cyber-bedouin? What are the first steps to starting your own web micro-business?

I recommend a slow, easy, and super-cheap start. In fact, the first steps aren't really about "business" at all.

The very first step is to identify your passions. Not interests. Not skills. PASSIONS. What are you crazy about. What do you love to do, learn, and teach? You probably have many.

I certainly do. I love travel. I love living simply. I love writing. I love SCUBA diving. I love teaching English. I love walking. I love hiking.

Once you've identified your passions, try to pick one or two that you might actually want to do as a business. Ideally, this is something you can be GREAT at. Not good. Not very good. GREAT.

After thinking a long time, I realized writing and teaching English were the two passions I had the greatest potential for.

That's when I moved to step two-- Start a blog (or blogs) about your great passions. I started Hobopoet, originally, as a way to practice writing and a means to record my experiments with living a freer and simpler life. Later, when I realized I truly loved teaching English, I started "Effortless Language Acquisition" to record my thoughts.

For a couple of years, both of these blogs evolved. I slowly picked up readers. But more importantly, I slowly evolved my ideas. In time, I realized that English teaching was a better fit for starting my own business... while Hobopoet and writing were things I preferred to do for my own enjoyment only.

Even after this realization, it took time to land on the idea of an English teaching website. I first thought of opening my own school somewhere... but finally realized that the web was the way to go.

Thats when I moved to step three-- building an audience. I began to take the English teaching blog more seriously. I also started a podcast called "Effortless English". It grew steadily.

Most importantly, I created an "opt-in" subscription service. I created an email group using Google Groups... then put a link on the blog & podcast page.... targeted to students. English learners could add their email address to my Group and get periodic English learning tips. Later, I transferred this to a GoDaddy email-list account, and formalized it a bit more as "The Effortless English Newsletter". I still have it.

Through the newsletter, I continued (and continue to this day) to evolve my ideas on teaching and learning English. I communicate with English learners. I get feedback. I learn. I develop and evolve. I build a dialog with my subscribers. Eventually my skills, audience, and ideas evolved to the point where I was ready to launch my web business-- The Effortless English Club....

This, then, are the beginning steps for starting a web business:

1. Identify your Passions.
2. Pick the ones you can be Great at. Study, learn, practice.
3. Start blogs (or podcasts) on these topics. Write. Develop your ideas. Keep learning and improving. Get readers and communicate.
4. Create a Free Email Subscription Service related to your Great Passion-- a newsletter, a Google Group, whatever. Continue to learn, grow, and evolve.
5. Let the Email Subscriptions, and your abilities, grow........

Nuts & Bolts

by Skald

If there are any longtime Hobopoet readers left out there.. they know that this little blog has been on semi-vacation for quite a while.

The reason is simple, I didn't know what to write. For over a year now, I've been in transition from Hobopoet living in Thailand to Cyber-Bedouin living in San Francisco. The Bedouin part only started last October, when I finally launched my English teaching website.

Until then, I was only teaching part time at a school here in the city-- living cheap.. but otherwise doing nothing much of interest. I simply didn't have anything interesting or useful to write.. because I wasn't doing anything interesting.

After starting the website, I knew the cyber-hobopoet (or "bedouin") experiment could be useful and interesting. But, to be honest, I feared it would quickly flop and I'd look like a total idiot for writing about it. Another concern is that when I started the site, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. "Flying blind" is a kind way to put it.

But now I've been at it for about 5 months and have more of a clue. The website hasn't flopped. Quite the contrary, it has slowly grown. Little by little, Im learning. Little by little Im improving.

And now that I have a few months of experience under my belt, I feel I have more to share.

So when I have the time, I'll be posting more to this blog. I'll be focusing on issues related to my current cyber-bedouin experiment.. including the nuts and bolts issues of starting your own web micro-business.

Neo-Nomads

by Skald

On the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle today was this headline:

"Where Neo-Nomads Ideas Percolate"

The story was about the growing number of neo-nomads or "bedouins" in San Francisco. Bedouin doesn't describe just any Hobopoet... it specifically refers to what I often call cyber-hobos. These are people who run their own web based businesses using a laptop, a cell phone, and an internet connection. I'm one of them.

The article also describes the SF coffeehouse culture that is tied to the bedouin movement. The bulk of the cyber-bedouins use coffee shops (with wifi connections) as their office. I certainly do. While I do have a connection in my apartment, I find I quickly get claustrophobic and prefer to be in a coffeehouse where I can people watch. My favorites in SF are Cafe Puccini in North Beach, Quetzal on Polk St. (next to my apartment), and Its a Grind... (also on Polk... in Lower Nob Hill).

The infrastructure of coffeeshops, free wifi, Kinkos, etc. "makes it possible for people to work where they want, when they want, how they want" said Dan Pink, author of "Free Agent Nation".

Pink calls it "Karl Marx's revenge, where individuals own the means of production. And they take the means of production and hop from coffee shop to coffee shop."

I agree. The high-tech Hobopoet revolution has started. And I also agree with Dan Pink's implied conclusion-- the bedouin movement is, at its core, about freedom and autonomy.

Its about financial independence-- owning the means of your own production. Its about doing what you want to do, when you want to do it, how you want to do it. Its about being able to invest your personality, emotions, and values in what you do. And while I've discussed many strategies for doing this, increasingly I see web technology as the most promising way to do this.

Starting a normal small business" requires sizable loans-- even a tiny Mom & Pop corner shop required tens of thousands of dollars (at a minimum) to get going.

But a web business is open to anyone with the patience and persistence to learn and experiment. All you need is a laptop... and enough for a coffee each day at a cafe with free wifi.

As I explore this trajectory, and progress upon it, Im becoming more and more enthusiastic about the possibilities. To be sure, this is not a "get rich quick" scheme, as some seem to think of the internet. In fact, it might not even be a "get rich slow" scheme. But its certainly possible for almost anyone to "make a living" with their own web business (given enough patience, experimentation, and persistence). And thats HUGE.

Why? What's the big deal?

For one, it means for a very tiny financial risk-- anyone can start and own their own business. Furthermore, such a business can be run from anywhere. You can stay on the move,... you can travel the world,... you can work another part or fulltime job while growing the thing for a few years,... you can try absolutely anything you want.

I've never thought that the Hobopoet life was solely about laziness (though I am a proponent of periodic inspired laziness). The whole point is autonomy-- being totally responsible for your own life. The internet makes that easier than it has been in a very long time. And thats exciting.

So to all my fellow disgruntled wage slaves out there, I say-- Start your own web business now. Just start SOMETHING. Wade in and experiment. Keep your foul job for now, if necessary. Dabble and play and experiment with your little website as much or little as you like. But do it. Don't believe what all those business books tell you about having "a business plan" and the like. You don't need one. Develop it as you go.

Just get started, try stuff, see what happens, and your little business will evolve.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Ever So Slowly

Financial independence is coming along, ever so slowly. I'm now happy to report that my website is making enough for me to live, job free, in an inexpensive country (such as Thailand, Cambodia, India, Ecuador, etc.).

However, I've decided to wait a while longer to build the site and be sure it will be a consistent source of independent income. It would be nice if it eventually generated enough for me to be independent even in more expensive countries-- ie. The US, Europe, and Japan... but at least I've hit the first milestone.

What this little experiment has taught me is that the key to being a successful micro-preneur is simply this-- START. I can't tell you how many years I wasted THINKING about starting my own little project. I dreamed. I analyzed. I planned.

I suppose these activities had some psychological value-- helping me overcome doubts, fears, and hesitations.. but thats about it. Beyond that, it was just a lot of wasted time and energy.

The key to becoming financially independent is not a super idea, or a genius plan, or the amazing thing that no one else has ever thought of. The key is to simply start something-- anything. Just start and then adapt. That's all it really takes.

Because before you start, you really don't know what the hell you are doing. You THINK you know what will be necessary. You THINK you can predict the problems and opportunities. You THINK you can plan everything. But you are wrong-- you can't. The only way you learn those things is by starting, trying things, and seeing what happens.

Of course, this works best if you are going the bootstrapper micro-preneur route. If you are taking out a 100,000 dollar loan, its probably more difficult (psychologically and financially) to start without much of a plan. Which is yet another reason not to go this risky and failure-ridden route.

Instead, start with what you have... do something you can afford to do... try SOMETHING... see what happens.... reflect, adapt, innovate... try something else...

There's the "magic secret" to becoming financially independent (which I define as freedom from jobs and bosses).

No business degree or massive loans necessary.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Hobomusic-BENCHMARX

If you've got a bit of talent for music... you might be able to get a few free meals and beer for your efforts.

That's what these boys in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia did....

They don't get paid.. but they work for beer... and a free meal..

It's nothing new but a damn good way to spend a Saturday night and get something in return for your efforts.

Check out their music at:

www.myspace.com/thebenchmarx

Download the songs for free... no profits here.. just good ole fun and free music!

They even recently put on a show and raised US$2500 for sea turtle conservation in Malaysia!

Using your talents to benefit society in a positive way....not bad at all methinks!

-matt salleh