Two years as a professional blogger – and what I’ve learned

July 2, 2017

Two years ago today, I wore my only decent pants for the last time.

I had an early class, so I caught the bus at 7:15 and went downtown.

I spent the morning giving English lessons to executives at a huge bank, wandering from office to office in massive marble hallways filled with impressive art.

And when I finished, a few hours later, I was done – hopefully forever.

I went back to the academy, picked up my severance check, and walked off into the sunset.

Adiós, Spanish labor market.

So long, terrible Spanish salaries.

I won’t miss you.

Not one bit.

Let’s talk immigration in Spain

The great irony here is that I spent 7 years just trying to become a legal member of the Spanish labor market.

I arrived in Spain with no plan and just a tourist visa. Just figured I’d hang out till the visa was up and then do…

Something else.

I had no idea, actually. I was 21 and expecting to die young anyway.

Those 3 months turned to 6 and then to 9. I left and came back, having decided I was going to make it work in Spain.

And that meant passing an indefinite time living on the fringes of legality.

Oh well.

I still had no real plan, so “living on the fringes of legality” turned out to be a seven-year struggle with bureaucracy. Finally, I got the right to work legally (long story)… and immediately started striving for the next big thing.

Namely, firing my boss.

And that’s exactly what I did. It took longer than I had hoped, but I did it.

That happened two years ago. Two years ago today.

An artist’s rendition of the author the day he quit his real job to become a full-time blogger.

Yesterday, though, I sat down with an accountant, and learned about the horror of the Spanish tax system…  And how nearly impossible it is to make a decent living here within the bounds of legality.

Unless, of course, you’re willing to give up half of your income to the corrupt politicians.

And now, I’m thinking…

What am I really doing with my life?

Why am I trying to be a respectable citizen?

What am I trying to prove?

Listen: I’ve been through a lot of different things in the last few years. The highs and the lows. Success, failure, misery, euphoria, heartbreak.

And what I’ve learned is this: it doesn’t matter.

No matter how good (or terrible) today is, tomorrow I’m going to do the same thing. Do pushups. Eat steak. Drink wine.

Go to bed early, get up early, put some coffee on the stove… and get back to work.

Because no matter what happened today, tomorrow it doesn’t matter all that much.

I’m the same guy. Not much happier, not more miserable. Just me.

The misery is fleeting, and guess what: so is the euphoria.

External conditions aren’t all that important, in the end. Check out Shawn Anchor’s TED talk for more about that. He says that you can know everything about a person’s external conditions, and still only be able to predict about 10% of their long-term happiness.

‘Cause most of life is internal.

It’s not about what happens to you. It’s you.

Always, wherever you go, and whatever you do. (More about that here in part 3 of my life story.)

It’s. Just. You. (Mostly.)

These kinds of ideas make me think about when I was younger, when everything I owned could fit in a backpack and a duffel bag for a transatlantic flight.

I was pretty damn excited – because Europe!

With no job, no plan, and basically no prospects, I felt pretty good.

For a while.

Once I got into a routine, I went back to my normal self, and my baseline level of happiness. Which, honestly, is probably higher than the average person’s.

On the top of Peñalara, the highest mountain in the Madrid Region, about 7 years ago.

But I was no longer able to walk out of the house and marvel at the simple fact that I was in Europe. I was used to it. I also got used to the chronic employability of English teachers: the fact that the pay might not be good, but you can find a new job in 4 days if you need it.

I got my ego inflated by having rooms full of cute girls staring at me for hours on end, taking notes about everything that came out of my mouth… trying to decipher my cowboy accent full of big open ahs and “real no foolins”.

It became less interesting with time. All of it.

Just in case you’re interested, it’s called the hedonic treadmill.

Or as my dawg Buddha would say, “Desires are limitless, but we should transcend them anyway.”

That’s a very loose translation, of course.

But Buddha knew what was up: you get to one goal and you just move the goalpost out a little further. So you’re always striving. Striving…

Striving towards nothing.

Death and taxes. And probably more taxes after death.

(What tax bracket was Buddha in?)

And also…

What is success, anyway?

I hate the word success.

For one thing, it’s way too ambiguous. And for another, it calls to mind images of those lame stock photos of guys with suits and perfect hair, holding their hand out to shake yours.

Dean Jackson, who’s like the Buddha of Marketing, suggests an alternative way of thinking about success. Rather than going with the normal societal definition, he suggests making a list of ways that you know you’re being successful.

So rather than chasing some big thing in the distant future, or trying to conform to what everybody else considers successful, you transform it into a daily practice, with a concrete goal you can achieve now.

I have a list, and it goes something like this…

I know I am being successful when:

  • I can head to the park on a weekday morning to read a book for 3 hours.
  • I can get through most of autumn an winter wearing a t-shirt and a hoodie – not having to dress up for some job.
  • I can go out of town at least once a month.
  • I’m able to read a book every week.

I know, I know…

These are not the types of things that get you on the cover of Forbes magazine. But do I really want or need to be on the cover of Forbes?

Most definitely not.

Do I really need to impress people with my level of “success” as defined by the general public?

Not really.

Nobody seems that impressed anyway. So who cares?

These are the things that keep me awake at night

All this to say…

The life of a professional blogger is still pretty good. And I wouldn’t trade what I’ve learned over the past two years for anything.

But if I do something silly like decide to live in a cabana on a beach in Nicaragua, or go full-on digital nomad and start travelling around the world, now you know why:

  1. I don’t want to spend my life running on the hedonic treadmill. And…
  2. Having a simple beachcomber tax return sounds pretty nice, compared to some other things.

And for now, I don’t have much else to say.

Anyway…

Wanna go to live on the beach with me?

Hit me up, right here in the comments.

I’ll bring the van, you bring the portable barbecue. Hopefully we can figure out how to fish.

And we’ll have a blast.

Yours,

Mr Chorizo.

P.S. Did I really get through this whole article without a single gangsta rap reference? Well, as Biggie would say… Mo’ money, mo’ problems. Then he got shot, so I guess he was right. I’m hoping to avoid gunfights for the foreseeable future, myself.

P.P.S. If you want more contemplation, check out the meaning of life, or my recent article about getting old. Have fun!

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About the Author Daniel

How did I end up in Spain? Why am I still here almost 20 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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  1. Just saw your post on Serious Bloggers Only. Wondering how you actually make a living blogging. Where does the income come from? Ads, freelance writing, sponsored posts, affiliate links? Trying to find out what really works.

  2. Hi Daniel, Since I’ve retired, I’m feeling like you do, although I did enjoy my job. It doesn’t matter what you do though, it’s all about how you feel about your own life, not what somebody else thinks or conventional ideas of success. I’ve been having a lot of fun living on my boat, even if it’s loads of work just to keep it ticking over. It’s ok for each of us who is that free, but not so much fun when you have loads of responsibilities. I’ve seen friends and family who have felt they need to put the interests of their loved ones above their own interests and that makes it so hard for them. We are very fortunate. I think by any standards, you’ve had a fantastic success, living such an interesting life. Congratulations for supporting yourself from blogging for 2 whole years – that’s an amazing achievement. I hope you go on to enjoy your successes for many years.

  3. “Chronic employability.” Love that terms and all too true for those still stuff in The Matrix.

    Yes, it is a good thing when you know more or less what will happen tomorrow. Definitely part of making today a happier place.

    Congrats on the anniversary. These things are definitely epic and worth pouring something on the ground about. I splash ghost-Guinness on a ubiquitous European street in your honor! 🙂

  4. Great read, Daniel.

    I’m still at the earlier stage of life here in Spain. I’ll have been here 2 years in September. I really like the bit about how you define success. I, too, enjoy having the luxury of reading in the park for hours at a time. For me, success is minimizing anxiety. Changing my lifestyle to a slower pace has allowed me to do that. It’s easy to get lost in the idea of what we should have accomplished by a certain age, but my work is low stress, I’m able to live within my means, and I’ve got plenty of time for personal development.

    I also liked that bit about happiness being internal. In the age of social media, it’s easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing (or even with what they APPEAR to be doing), but we can’t see inside, where they really live.

    I look forward to reading more from you in the Future.

    1. It’s true that everybody has these nice curated social media lives that make it seem like fun fun fun… I guess we’ve gotta stop comparing their best moments with our day-to-day. Thanks for commenting!

  5. Nice post 🙂 As a fellow expat trying to get started making my way from the English teaching hedonistic treadmill to a digital income through blogging and e-books, I’d love to hear more about what happened with the tax guy. I’m assuming your autonomo… do you file all of your income as Spanish tax? Do you know if it’s possible as autonomo to solely file US taxes and dodge the bullet here if you earn your income through a US bank account rather than Spanish?
    I realize these questions are in-depth but would really appreciate any feedback you have time to give!
    -erica

  6. Hi Daniel,

    I found this article in a very round-about way; I got an email from Backlinco about youtube advertising. To my surprise, I read it to the end and went ahead to make a comment. When I decided to have a quick look at all the comments, I got carried away and scrolled, way down, to a random point and landed on your comment! It caught my eye (I think it was the lonely planet, to be honest) so I went ahead through Facebook trying to find what your gig was. And here I am… thoroughly enjoyed this article. You never know where a new reader may come from!

    I am hoping to be at the start of my own firring-the-boss project – I struggle to have the courage to imagine what it will be like at the 2-year mark. You know, I think I can honestly say… I ENJOYED EVERY SINGLE WORD of this article, so please keep striving.

    singing off, with honest Buddah stardust 😉

    1. Hey Anya, thanks a lot! It’s been quite a journey but it’s mostly just the small actions day by day that got me here. Nothing exceptional or massive. Have a great day, and thanks again!

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