You could say that you are on a “career adventure” instead of a career path. Welcome to “Choose Your Own Adventure”! Our “career adventure” interview series charts the joys & challenges, and many different directions our career adventures can take us. Anything from career changes, working remotely, freelancing, contracting, self-employment, starting your own business, working on your own projects alongside your day job, having a side hustle or a portfolio career – all depending on what choices we make, what steps we choose to take, what opportunities or challenges that come our way in the most unlikely of places that help you to choose your own adventure.
We recently interviewed Matt Young, Founder of Nomadic6 and a freelance digital marketer who is currently located in Koh Phangan, Thailand. Here he shares how questioning everything set him on a path away from advertising towards digital nomadism and social entrepreneurship. Thanks, Matt for sharing with us your adventures taking you from going across the USA to adventures taking you all around Europe and Asia!
Tell us about yourself
Howdy, where to start? Originally from a rural town outside of Tampa, Florida, there was nothing global, worldly, nor ambitious in my upbringing. By all accounts, my family’s expectations were pretty low and stopped at “go to college.” So I had no pressure to do anything big, and had complete support in everything that has lead me to where I am now.
I had been introduced to the art world pretty early on. By the time I was 15, my whole life was centered around being creative. Little did I know that the courses I enrolled in and the pure act of creating was shaping a mind that questioned everything and that quickly saw a flaw in the traditional work/life model.
I never became a Michelangelo, but I did work in the “professional creative industry” of graphic design. This however felt too restrictive for me. It stifled any freedom of expression. It paid the bills, but somewhere in grad school I realized that the world was taking a downward fall in terms of mental health, global sustainability, and that the path I was on towards a global advertising career, wasn’t going to be solving these problems.
What are you working on now?
I’ll shamelessly plug Nomadic6 in here, and call it my life’s work (so far) as it’s consumed the better part of my professional career post University, and has the potential to leave the lasting change I intend it to have on the globe. What is it? It really depends on the day, haha! As with most startups, it’s pivoted a bit, but began with a vision of remote workers traveling in tribes to different spots in the world. Then upon discovering co-living, I was inspired to create a network of these centers.
In a more meta perspective, the spaces, let’s call them a co-space, serves as your all in one living, working, and community center that doesn’t just benefit it’s residents, but the surrounding neighborhood. Think of it as the future of sustainable, happier living. No more commutes, lower cost of living due to shared expenses, and an active space where people can come together to learn, share and grow. Sounds pretty nice right?
Could you tell us about how your career adventure(s) started, about what experiences, challenges or opportunities you came across over the years that led you to choose your own adventure? Where has your career adventure taken you in the past leading you to where you are now?
Before graduating I was already taking on freelance gigs. T-shirts, flyers, posters, small jobs where I accepted beer and food as my fee. Eventually I got more serious and took a job at a t-shirt print shop. This was my first creative full time job, and was nice to work with my hands. Soon I moved into product design, and eventually found myself in an advertising agency’s creative department. This was my first sense of the infamous glass ceiling that most careers have, where you can foresee the best-case scenario for your life, and realize you want more.
So a postgraduate degree was my next move. However, graduate school is 50% practical 50% research based. I had been cursed with the burden of truth; communication, or lack thereof, was at the center of today’s greatest travesties.
Queue the 2016 election, and Brexit.
A few short months after publishing my thesis on the benefits social media has on modern democracy, we were all blindsided by the ultimate perversion and exploitation of said tool. It was not hard for me to decide at this point that I really didn’t want to sit through any more pointlessly misinformed conversations, and I took a traveling job. I was hired by a couple start-ups to market and sell their platforms to universities across the states and the UK. Along the way I began my own digital marketing agency with a few other clients, and was quite successfully living a remote lifestyle.
One day someone called me a digital nomad. I had to google it, and yeah! That was me.
What past projects or anything that you have worked on spark joy for you when you look back at what you have worked on?
Once upon a time I volunteered for a not-for-profit center called the Zen Village. What a magical place. Lead by Master Chufei Tsai, a Zen Buddhist from Taiwan, this spot was tucked away in The Grove, one of Miami’s busiest boroughs. It was an oasis of Zen in every sense of the word. From tea ceremonies, meditation classes, live music and art nights, my life had been thoroughly changed here. At a time where everything seemed to be utterly chaotic, this was my happy place. I would visit weekly and learned so much. Sadly, the property was set to sell, and although the village was prepared to buy it, one of the other members decided to buy it from under the organization, forcing a 2-day eviction. Property value and greed was the motivation, so is the Miami mindset.
I still remember the Sunday I pulled up to make my weekly visit. All the doors were left open, and all the beautiful shrines and decor that were once inside were gone. I sat there in the parking lot for a while until the now owner arrived and walked up to me. His justification was that she was profiting off of selling religion, and how that was morally wrong. In a world craving spiritual guidance but no longer is convinced by the old doctrines and books, Master Tsai lectured about perspective, and finding purpose in one’s life, with very little mention of any hard-religious doctrines. She fused lessons of Eastern and Western philosophy, and was renowned as one of the very few practitioners in the US that had an American following. Needless to say, I felt a huge sense of loss, and wished this man much illness. Master Tsai had attempted to keep the spirit alive by offering her programs at different conference halls and centers across Miami, I helped the best I could from a digital position. But a community needs a community space; somewhere to gather without the expectation of commercial exchange.
A couple years later, she rang me out of the blue, and invited me to travel with her to China. She needed a videographer and since I was still remote, seemed like it would be silly to say no. So to China we went, and after an exhausting month visiting many cities and cultural heritage sites, we ended with a retreat outside of Shenzhen. This was my first full on meditation retreat that sent me through all my troubles and despairs. At the end I felt beaten and bruised, but in a process of healing and understanding of myself. As I’d always wanted to live on an island, and needed some time to recover, I randomly selected Koh Phangan, where I stayed at my first co-living space, Koh Space.
Seeing that this was what the Zen Village once represented, but with a modern twist, I formed my vision and from there, the rest is history.
How do you choose what to work on?
Depends on my financial situation! If I need cash, I’ll take what I can get, when I’m comfortable, I follow the credo; good people buy good products for good reasons. Generally over the past 2 years I have been more focused on Nomadic6 as it has surpassed just about anything else I’ve worked on in terms of interest. Though it’s well known that startups don’t always make cash immediately. We also have had our own recent setbacks. Thankfully I have friends and old clients willing to throw work my way while we revamp and push Nomadic6 forward. It’s true what they say about the entrepreneurial journey, there is no straight line.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start a career adventure similar to your own?
Don’t stress the cash part. Many people think they need to save tons of money before even starting something, or need the security blanket they think money provides.
Instead, just go! Start something, go somewhere, take out some credit cards. Whatever, man, just don’t make the excuse that you’ll start next year or when you have X dollars saved. This adventure will be a systematic string of failures that ultimately lead to the next chapter.
Perseverance and unshaken optimism will drive you forward. Press on, you only truly fail when you quit… I can keep throwing these lines at you but you’ve probably heard it before.
Look at it this way: dying with $1 million in the bank or $1 million in debt leaves you in the same spot. Dead!! As a good friend said once upon a time, the only thing you have to do in life is to die. Better make the most before then.
Could you describe your day-to-day at “the office(s)”?
I’m a big fan of the Miracle Morning, a daily routine to jumpstart your day. Working remotely requires a lot of self-discipline, especially if you choose to work from home, or a tropical island. It’s important to have a routine that keeps you going, and gives you something to look forward to everyday. If I’m not working from home, I find a coffee shop or coworking space to hang out for the day. It’s good to be in an environment that promotes productivity, even if it’s just working with other people nearby. Then I’ll head home and cook dinner, with a nice podcast in the background. Cooking is a nice flow state to take the mind off of work for a bit. This is also when we plan most of our events. Like a networking event or happy hour, we organize different things to do throughout the week for our community. Then if there’s still some work to do, or if I have clients on the other side of the world, I clock into the night shift for a few hours.
Where do you feel you work best and thrive the most?
If I have some nice lofi music, a comfortable chair with lumbar support, and a good leveled desk, I can sit for hours and lose track of time. Sometimes I’m into the standing desk but this is still new territory for me.
If a place is too busy or has a lot of foot traffic, it can be distracting. I’m a bit of a cave dweller and like being the only one in a bar or cafe, silently working away in the corner.
A bit of a guilty pleasure is having a beer whenever I want throughout the day 😉
What inspires and drives you every day?
Persistence. Something I learned in college, even when you’re down and everything seems to have fallen apart, you gotta keep going. Part of the miracle morning I mentioned above is visualizations and affirmations; picturing what your goal will look like, and saying to yourself what you need to hear to get there. I keep a journal that I write in at least once a month. It’s built up a few years now, and it always makes me laugh how optimistic I am and how at the time something that seemed so promising later fell apart. But in the words of Kurt Vonnegut, so it goes.
What advice would you give to your younger self, knowing what you know now?
Your intuition has usually been right in the end, you should listen to it more. Faith in a silver lining is nice but not always promising. Don’t worry about other people so much, they have their own demons and battles, you can’t save everyone. Own your failures and learn fast. Find a stronger tribe and support system, you’re great at being alone but you can’t do everything by yourself. Make decisions based on what you want, not what others want for you.
You can find out more about Matt’s nomadic community venture at www.nomadic6.com or by following Nomadic6 on Instagram or Facebook!
Feel free to contact us at Project Anywhere if you have any questions about any of our career adventure stories. Come back soon to read more career adventures! Contact us here if you’d like to be featured here to share your own career adventures story or if you would like to write a guest blog for Project Anywhere.