How To Escape The 9-5, Follow Your Heart, and Find Your Life’s Work

I returned to Latvia defeated. 😞

I opened my email and there it was.

The number showing how much my life’s work was worth.

Looking at it made me feel sick in the stomach. It was a dire reminder of my failure and the fact that I was abandoning my baby to whom I had devoted 8 years of my life, and it was devastating.

I always thought if I just follow my heart, move to the Philippines and give my all, I was supposed to win.

But here I was, three years later, in the worse place than I started, hiding from the world and getting wasted.

It wasn’t like me at all. Just a year ago I was waking up at 04.00 AM, working towards an ambitious business plan and stretching my limits, but now facing reality was too painful.

I clicked reply and confirmed the sale.

It was done.

What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone.

How did I get there? Let me back up a little

How I Escaped 9-5

My mom and dad divorced when I was 8. All I remember there was screaming, then dad packed me and my brother in the car and drove us to the big city. Our lives would never be the same again.

The school was tough because besides being poor, I was also the youngest in class, from the countryside, and with glasses. I was an outcast, an introverted boy.

At the time I thought money could solve everything. Money seemed to unlock doors. If I had enough of it I could afford nice clothing, my own apartment and life would be different. Then I would be popular and accepted, I thought. 😎

And yet here I was still living with my dad. I couldn’t crack this money game.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying. I started working as soon as I could — picked strawberries, worked in construction, promoted products in shopping malls, yet the pay was meager.

However, now there was a new hope. I had graduated from programming school and just entered in the Baltic academy to study web design. I liked building websites, had some experience and soon got a full-time job in the design agency.

At first, it seemed like dream come true until I learned the reality of 9-5. I had hoped to be able to express myself and grow, but quickly learned that I was a simple cog in the wheel who just needed to follow the rules. On top of that, open office space surrounded by colleagues and politics drained my energy quickly.

I woke up one morning and realized I have sold my soul for the weekend. Can you relate?

Your boss is an asshole. You spend hours doing stuff that doesn’t matter. You get up, go to work, come home, eat, watch a few episodes of Game of Thrones, go to bed…and repeat day after day, years passing by — and for what? For weekends?

It was January 2008. I was sitting in the cubicle, mindlessly staring at the clock, fiddling at the computer, when it hit me how insanely stupid it was.

Yes, I got a regular paycheck, but no it wasn’t enough for me to afford my place, and no, I wasn’t happy, worse — I was miserable.

So I flipped the switch. I quit my job and turned to freelance. Freelancing was better (no office, plan your own hours), but the same thing repeated itself – I felt at mercy of my clients. For every great client, I had three clients from hell. It was frustrating.

But things were about to change… One day phone rang with a job offer to design templates for Myspace. These templates were posted for free on the website and monetized by ads. It was mind-blowing at the time, I had never seen anyone make money online.

Later I discovered my new client Maris was a serial entrepreneur. He had lots of online projects. His main one was a blog, where he wrote about technology news (with a team of writers) and made money selling ads. This blog was making him easily full-time income. I was taken aback.

I asked, “Did I get it right? You make money online writing on things that interest you and get paid for it?
Maris smiled and replied, “Yeah, pretty much.”
WOW. Epiphany moment.

For the next two months, I scoured the Internet to learn all I could about blogging. In my wildest dreams, I hadn’t thought something like this would exist – to get paid to learn and write while sitting at home in pajamas. Introvert’s dream.

For the next two years, I didn’t just dabble with blogging. I dedicated myself to it. I started work at 8 AM and didn’t stop till 11 PM. I turned down freelance work, missed classes in school, didn’t see my friends. I disappeared from the world for a few years. From morning till night I was writing, studying and marketing my work. Nothing else.

Results soon followed. Within the first three months, 1stWebDesigner got 100,000 visitors and started making money with ads. A year later I was able to move into my own apartment. In two years I quit school, repaid my student loan, and booked a one-way ticket to the Canary Islands, Spain. 🔥

Can you imagine how precious it was? For a guy, who lived in a tiny 1.5 room apartment with five people to go to the bank and repay ALL his student loan in cash? 💰

…and that’s how I escaped the 9-5 trap.

Follow Your Heart To Uncover What You Were Meant To Do

Have you ever experienced the feeling, the pull to do something? You cannot explain it, the best you can come up with is – “it just feels right.” People call it following your heart.

That’s what happened to me. For a few years, I felt that to grow further I needed to move to the Philippines and build an office there. I tried to silence that voice, but it kept persisting. In the end, I understood that it will be easier to live in regret of failure than in regret of not trying.

I mustered up courage and took the leap.

In the Philippines initially things went well —  team grew to 25 people, dream office designed, plan “ChangeTheWorld” set in motion. Two years later, my partner James joined me to help to lead the team. I was horrible with people, but James was natural.

A month later James told me he had bad news. He had discovered that one of our key employees wanted to quit, people were not getting their work done, and there was much more. In short — the team I had built wasn’t working. I had scaled too fast for the wrong reasons trying to chew too much at the time. It served the illusion of growth, but in reality business was imploding.

Our team shrunk as quickly as it grew. On top of that other business parts fell like dominos, we had become average at everything. It was a horrible time. 💩

Devastated I flew back to Latvia and returned with tail between my legs.
How could it be that you give your all and still fail? I couldn’t wrap my head around it.

For the next year, I kept working, but it was too painful.
I needed a permanent escape and that’s how I ended up selling my business.

After the sale I spent a year waking up to sober life-sucking emptiness, silencing it with whiskey, cigarettes, and episodes of Breaking Bad. Months went by like this. 😕

Finally, I got sick of feeling sorry for myself and slowly picked myself up. I started to read books and dance again.

That’s how the answer what to do next came. I went to the dancing class by Ronie Saleh. When I saw Ronie I felt something I had lost along the way. Ronie was beaming with energy, passion, and purpose. I was mesmerized. He had what I craved – purpose, passion, and mastery in his craft.

I made a crazy and seemingly impossible decision to become a professional kizomba dancer at the late age of 28. What could I lose? I could return to meaningless drinking or accept the new journey.

For the next year, I danced every day from morning till evening, traveled to 21 festivals around Europe and built Youtube channel to 11,000 subscribers, Facebook page to 10,000 likes. I called the brand – Onkizomba.

It was amazing. Just a year ago I was nobody, yet today I was friends with teachers I admired, and people approached me to thank for the work I’ve been doing.

It felt like everything was going for me. Few more years and my new dream would be realized, but then something happened that changed everything…

How I Found My “Unfair Advantage” And My Life’s Work

One day, I checked the Facebook and couldn’t log in. I typed in my Page address and pressed Enter. “Sorry, this content isn’t available right now”.

My heart froze. Overnight half of my online presence had disappeared. For whatever reason Facebook decided they didn’t like what I was doing and deleted both my page and profile. There is no number to call to Facebook, customer support just sends automated replies. I felt like being punched in my gut and fell on my knees gasping for air.

This event made me stop to reflect. I realized when I started Onkizomba I was overly optimistic. My plan had always been to make money selling dancing online courses, not go teaching at festivals. But I had never done proper research to see if I could make enough money that way. I just hoped I would.

When I finally sat down to look at numbers I realized the harsh reality – there were ZERO kizomba teachers making a full-time income online. I realized I went all in for passion and all zero for finances.

I needed a new plan. I found myself under serious deadline, ticking time bomb. Money was running out. I had one year to decide what to do next.

It was time to re-discover myself. I spent a year trying and failing at more things than I would like to admit. I read over 100 books, dabbled with cryptocurrencies, Instagram, dropshipping, and more. I felt ashamed when my friends asked what will I do — every month my answer has been different.

One of the mini projects – OneMinMotivation

At the end what helped to find the right answer was unexpected — looking within.

I stopped listening to others opinions and looked back at my life. All of us have natural strengths and winning formula based on our experiences.

The trouble is we don’t appreciate things we are naturally good at, we think everyone is the same way. It took me months of soul searching, countless personality tests and honest friends to find the right answers.

I discovered three simple ideas:

  1. I naturally loved to read, learn and write. I’ve been journaling for years.
  2. I needed to share what I learned to stay motivated. This was how 1stWebDesigner and Onkizomba grew.
  3. Blogging isn’t dead and in fact is a very viable option. I saw Brian Dean dominate SEO industry with only 42 articles published in 5 years, Jon Morrow building multi-million blogging business in past 8 years.

Instead of looking for new opportunities, I looked at things where I had the biggest edge. I looked at my experiences, skills and natural strengths.

Looking back I could see how every failure made me stronger and only helped me arrive to Foundertips, blog about blogging you’re reading now.

The best lessons come from the biggest failures, and if we don’t succumb to them, but rise instead, we will experience more and more fulfilled life.

That being said, this story is not finished yet. There is no happy ending, the journey is still in progress, but now fear of uncertainty is replaced with quiet determination.

And here’s the thing, no matter what stage of life you are currently in — your story is not finished either. Even if you have stopped pursuing your dream, it’s still there waiting for you.

And that’s the reason I told you my story — to show you how path outside 9-5 could look like. To show it’s possible to live your dreams and the work required to get there. I’ve been living it for 10 years.

How Can You Find Your Life’s Work?

Fear kills more dreams than failure ever will. But don’t you think that regret of failure is much better than regret of never trying?

Because listen …

When I started 1stWebDesigner:

  • I had crappy English (I am from Latvia and our native language is Latvian);
  • I was a lousy coder (I barely finished programming school, and did it only by copying other students work);
  • I was a mediocre web designer (to this day I have never designed a website from scratch).

..if I could become a professional blogger when I had no business to succeed, why can’t you do seemingly impossible things?

No, it won’t be easy. At some point, you will fail. At some point, the thing you thought as your opportunity will prove to be a dead end. At some point, you will feel sorry for yourself and will want to throw in the towel.

But whenever you think of giving up, look for the lesson and hidden blessing, and keep building your persistence muscle. The person who falls and gets up is so much stronger than the one who never fell.

Failure in the Philippines:

  • Lesson: Don’t scale for the sake of the scale. Grow slowly and do it for the right reasons.
  • Blessing: I wasn’t enjoying web design anymore, I had lived up this purpose and needed to find the next one.

Failure with Onkizomba:

  • Lesson: “Do what you love and the money will follow” is a terrible advice. Find what you’re enthusiastic about AND where the money is.
  • Blessing: I found the love of my life and kept dancing as a hobby

Year of confusion:

  • Lesson: You cannot just read books —  you need to go out, implement and fail in order to discover your next thing
  • Blessing: I read over 50 books, established many healthy habits and practiced patience

Look inside, learn what makes you – YOU. Look at your past experiences, analyze them to discover what you do well naturally, discover your “unfair” advantage. Look at your bookshelf to uncover topics you are obsessed about.

Be patient. You won’t arrive from wrong to right. But every next time you’ll be less wrong and get closer to the right thing.

Yes, you gonna fail a lot. But obstacles are there for a reason. Obstacles aren’t there to stop you, obstacles are there to test how badly you want it. Obstacles are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. To stop the other people!

That means practicing your craft for hours at the time, instead of 30 minutes.
That means persisting until you win, instead of giving up at the third failure.
That means stopping when you’re done, instead of stopping when you’re tired.

You have to realize that if you won’t fight for your dreams, no one else will!

Your dreams are the seeds in the fertile ground, and you are the rain that makes them grow into mighty oak trees.

So make it pour, baby.

Your dreams are depending on you.

Now I’d like to hear from you…

Look:

Everyone has a story to tell, and I know you have one as well.

What’s YOUR backstory?

Share it in the comments.

I’d like to see where you came from and where you’re going.

And if you know anyone who might be inspired by this, feel free to pass this on.

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