6 MINUTE READ
My life is pretty awesome now, but it hasn't always been that way. Here's the beginning of the story that led to me living 5 years as a digital nomad.
It seemed luck had never really been on my side. It’s something that I accepted. But, when it came my way, I appreciated it and smothered it with affection.
I haven’t yet discovered where my story actually begins. There are signs throughout my life that I believe show I was destined to live my life a little left of center. I feel constantly judged by family and society for not being normal. Yet, I never had the opportunity to learn what the heck that means.
You see, I was initially raised between two states. Not shuffling between two parents, just two states. One on the Canadian border and the other retirement heaven. My parents were products of their in-between generation. They were not squares, but they were also not hippies. They chose to live their lives in the middle.
When we lived in the north, we lead a life that was the closest to normal. Mom stayed at home and took care of the kids. Dad was usually away for work for weeks at a time.
When we lived in the south, our home was more like a commune. Mom and Dad were always around, so were their friends. One lived with us full-time and was like a second dad. He took care of the house when we would go north for Dad’s work. The others would stay whenever they needed to save money or couldn’t find an immediate home. The house was always full of people.
Then, we moved to the Caribbean. This was the closest I came to understand what people meant by normal. Except, we were living the expat life in a place that had different social rules from the mainland.
What Does Luck Have to Do With It?
Bad luck is just bad timing and the wrong choices. My 20’s were full of it.
After college, I chose to move out to Los Angeles and continue working in the entertainment industry. This was the height of $5-20 million independent filmmaking. I loved every aspect of it. The work, the hunt for a job, the people, and the long hours.
I was young and living in a fantastic city full of opportunity. I didn’t care that I never saw my friends who moved out there with me. I loved that I worked 12 or more hours five or six days a week. My life was so exciting that on the days that I had lost track of time and got a parking ticket because of street cleaning was even a good day.
My days off were spent watching back-to-back movies at the theater, then going to the bookstore to read and learn more about screenwriting. Made my first short film in my first six months out there. One of my screenplays was a finalist in a competition.
I hustled the crap out of every opportunity. Unfortunately, the world I developed around me was about to unravel.
The summer of 2001 was supposed to be a significant SAG (Screen Actors Guild) strike. All of the studios decided to pre-empt the strike by making all of their films for the year in the six-month window leading up to the deadline. There were not enough workers to fill the staffing needs.
One of the films I worked on required 100 production assistants. It was a big action sequence that required shutting down all of downtown Los Angeles on Super Bowl weekend. We were pulling people in from everywhere. Seriously. I saw a couple walking down the street and hired them for the day.
Then, the strike deadline came, and nothing happened. A deal was struck. But, all the movies had been made. The only work was random pick up days that were needed to finish the films.
So, I went home for the summer.
When I got back, independent films were picking up again. I was put on hold for a few movies that were slated for the fall. Los Angeles was rocked by an earthquake on September 9th. My apartment was close to the epicenter. The ceiling, which was also the roof had shifted two inches.
The apartment was covered in dust and debris. My roommate and I cleaned up what we could. Put plastic over the furniture and waited for a call from the landlord about the next steps for the ceiling. We were exhausted by the following night and resolved to sleep in and rest.
I was awoken by my cell phone ringing. I kept ignoring the call. Yet, the person was persistent. Finally, my roommate comes in with her phone, “your dad.”
“Where are you?”
“I’m sleeping. Leave me alone.”
“Are you in LA?”
“What do you want?”
“Are you in LA?”
“Yea. Where else would I be?”
“Turn on the news.”
I yelled at my roommate, who I could hear in the living room, “turn on the news.”
“Oh my god!”
As I stumbled out of bed, I made it in front of the TV as the second tower was struck.
The earthquake paled in comparison to 9-11. All of our lives were changed that day. For me, it meant those jobs that were lined up went away.
Between the economic aftermath of 9-11 and the growth of technology. The world of the $5-20 million movies seemed to evaporate, and the rise of the “no-budget” filmmaking began. The pay was now a fourth of my previous rate if the payment wasn’t meals. I had made enough to get by and live a good enough life for an early-20-something. The new rate meant that I couldn’t even make rent.
I was worn down from years of trying to convince people about the opportunity to change the way we consume entertainment. The likes of Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube hadn’t wholly altered the entertainment landscape, yet.
Then, overnight the same people who had considered my proposals crazy changed their tune. They were excited about the prospects of “new media,” “hybrid shows,” “internet television,” and many of the other buzzwords around that time. Venture capital was on board to throw money at it. It was all fun-loving, jolly good times of seeing what could work.
Then, words like “sub-prime mortgages” started to appear in the news. These headlines filled me with dread. It felt too similar to where we had been before. Before the banks closed and the economy went into free fall, I had one foot out of the entertainment industry.
Sure enough, like to so many industries and workers. The entertainment industry was stuck, and everything new was shelved.
I had driven across the country enough times that I had a sense of small-town America. Their unique, individual charms were crazy awesome to experience. On a trip to Chicago, I noticed a drastic change in the landscape. If the mom and pop shops weren’t abandoned, they had been replaced with chain restaurants and big box stores.
It became important to me to help small businesses with the digital skills that I had developed. I wanted to try to do my part to bring the country back to life. Since college, I had built websites as a hobby. It became the core of my new business.
Websites just weren’t perceived as a necessity, which was a significant oversight on my part. I came from a digital-forward career, it blew my mind that people needed to be convinced that the internet wasn’t a fad. That the internet wasn’t going to die because the economy was in free fall.
Here I was again, down on my luck with unfortunate timing and bad choices. Every few days I would run the numbers to see if a real job made sense. It never made sense because no one was hiring for my skill sets. That didn’t stop me from trying to get a job. It also didn’t stop me from bringing on new clients, even if it meant that flat rate turned into earning a few cents an hour.
Times were bad. Times were just very bad.