For the past three weeks I have done my work, writing blog posts, managing social media accounts, drafting case studies, and executing email marketing campaigns, all while staying in a three-bedroom penthouse apartment overlooking the beach, kitesurfing in the afternoons when it gets windy, taking not a single vacation day from my job, and spending no more than a few hundred dollars. That’s a few hundred dollars – for the whole trip!
But this story isn’t just about the last three weeks. The fact is, my life is generally charmed beyond belief. I have a job that I enjoy at an amazing company, filled with fantastic people. I have a perfect three-year-old son, who is truly the best kid in the whole world. I live in a great house in a great neighborhood right outside DC. I travel often, I have free time for myself, and am surrounded by people I love.
But it wasn’t always like this. In fact, like many good stories about living the good life, this one starts with my getting fired.
Step 1: Get Laid Off
Almost exactly two years ago, I was laid off from my job as Communications Director at an internationally renowned and venerated DC think tank. I mention its reputation only because that is really the only good thing I can say about it in terms of being a good place of employment. Organizational goals were disconnected from daily activities, the people were ensconced in various fiefdoms of closely guarded influence (with much of the hard work being churned out by unpaid interns), and it practiced death-by-meeting like an art form.
Several months before I was laid off, management called a general staff meeting to inform us that they were unsure whether they had the money to meet payroll that month. Consequently, if we wanted to cut back our hours or even not show up at all, we should feel free to do so, since, after all, no one knew if we would get paid.
As a result of this staff meeting I began to look for work wherever I could find it, which meant contacting an old colleague who had started a marketing consultancy. As it turns out, he had a re-branding launching that very week and would need someone to setup and manage new social media accounts. From there work grew and I found other clients, and by the time I was finally laid off from the think tank several months later, I had more than replaced my salary with consulting work.
Step 2: Find One, Amazing Client
I loved all my clients, truly. But from the beginning, I had one client with which I gelled particularly well. I could see immediately that they had a good story to tell because they were doing innovative work in healthcare. Their leadership was actually forward-thinking, and they gave me largely free reign to beef up their social media marketing activities in support of clear overall business goals.
Step 3: Go Work For Them, If You Want
My work for them grew over time, until one day they raised the possibility of bringing me in-house. At that point they comprised roughly 50 percent of all my consulting work, and culturally it was a good fit.
My main condition was that I would continue to work on my own schedule, coming in to the office as needed for meetings, check-ins or events. For a metric-driven company more concerned with getting results than with having a lot of butts in their office chairs all day long, this wasn’t a problem. Besides, I had been getting stuff done for nearly two years as a consultant already. Thus was born my work-at-home job, with people I love, doing work that is important.
Step 4: Learn How to Kitesurf
Why should you learn how to kitesurf? Besides the fact that being sped along the ocean on a wakeboard whilst flying a 12-meter kite and getting 10 feet of air jumping off the waves is absolute pure, unfettered joy, there is also the fact that kitesurfing is the perfect activity to do in-between work.
That is because you can generally only kitesurf one to three hours a day, after which you are totally spent. In the case of kitesurfing in Cabarete, Dominican Republic, it only gets windy for a few hours each afternoon anyway. The rest of the time there’s not much to do. That means my schedule in the Dominican Republic was nearly identical to my schedule at home. In both places I woke up and immediately started work, but instead of a mid-afternoon break to workout, I took a mid-afternoon break to kitesurf.
In the mean time, I spent my time with my laptop either out on my porch overlooking the ocean in my hammock, or at the bar restaurant on the beach next to the kitesurfing school. Both places had excellent Wi-Fi.
Step 5: Combine Other Lifehack Strategies and Execute on Grand Plan
After what has come before, the following should be pretty standard operating procedure for Lifehack.org readers. These strategies have been written about extensively elsewhere, but it’s worth noting that there are several aspects of new media, the sharing economy, and general sociableness that combined to make this whole experience possible:
- I rented out my place in DC for three weeks on Airbnb, meaning I got a deposit of $2,066 into my bank account just as I left for the Dominican Republic. Pretty sweet. This essentially paid for my plane ticket and for my room and kitesurf rental for three weeks at the amazing eXtreme Hotel. The only other money I’ve spent here is about $150/week on food: cheap and tasty.
- I forwarded my cell phone to my Google Voice number, which rang straight through to my laptop any time someone called me. Likewise, I could make free calls via Google Voice back to work colleagues in the U.S. any time I needed. This allowed me to both launch a new website and coordinate troubleshooting of some complex technical challenges even while out of the country.
- Dropbox plus WordPress plus Salesforce plus Google Docs. I can’t say enough about web-based software that is designed to enable remote collaboration. I can log in to post new blogs or add new leads or edit case studies as easily from the Dominican Republic as I can from my house or from the office.
Finally, there was one non-technology-related bonus. Shortly after getting to the hotel, I and another couple struck up a conversation with the hotel manager about the three-bedroom penthouse that overlooked the ocean on the top floor. She offered to put us up there at no extra cost, since the place wasn’t booked. Rest assured I will be writing her and the hotel a badass TripAdvisor review. This development was mostly luck, but it goes to show what being social and willing to take a risk with some people you don’t know can get you. They were great company, and the penthouse overlooking the ocean made the trip.