As I write this, I’m living in South America. I have spent the past 3 years working and travelling in the US, Canada, Peru, Germany and Colombia. I’m 25 years old, I have no debt, a decent amount of money in the bank, and everything I need, for the rest of my life. Most importantly, I’m busy making my dreams real. I’ve achieved all of this independently, and in a sustainable manner. Without further adieu, I present the following habits that have allowed me to go far and keep my dreams alive.

  1. Minimalism

I’m very proud to say that I initiated a minimalist lifestyle before I know what a minimalist lifestyle was. These guys made a Ted Talk that sums up Minimalism, but if you’te not in the mood to watch it, I’ll break it down for you: Minimalism allows you to focus on your soul, your health, your relationships, and your role within the world, in a way that a standard modern lifestyle prohibits. Think of your brain like a computer processor. The less things you own, the more of your “mental processing power” you can dedicate to things that are more important than your belongings, just as uninstalling programs you don’t need allows your computer to run faster.

Example – You own a car. Every year you invest a significant amount of resources on maintaining it. You drive it everyday, you buy winter tires, pay the insurance, pay for gas. While I’m all for saving the planet, reducing the environmental crisis to cars is blasphemous reductionism and saving the planet is not why you shouldn’t own a car. I’m saying you shouldn’t own a car for the following: What would you be able to accomplish if you invested all of that time and money in something besides a car? You would have significantly more “mental processing power” to allocate to things of greater importance than your transportation.

In addition to increasing your “mental processing power”, Minimalism allows for location independence. Nothing holds you back from getting up and going somewhere when everything you own fits into your backpack or suitcase. While there is yet to be a causal relationship established between travel and dreaming, the two frequently go hand in hand. Furthermore, knowing that you can get up and go somewhere at the drop of a hat, give you a lot of freedom to do what you want.

Perhaps most importantly, when you get rid of the things you own, you are confronted with your real identity. In Western Culture , our identity is largely made up of the things we own. When you shed the layers of belongings that shape your identity, your soul is revealed, and you can focus on who you really are, and what you really want to do with your life.

  1. Enjoy Failure, it’s good for you

We are taught that failure is bad. I missed my highschool prom because I was in jail for having drunkenly tried to run from the cops in my parents family sedan. I was expelled from high school twice. I went to Australia to experience another culture, and spent all my time and money going to bars and drinking. I have spent countless time and money on relationships that haven’t worked out. I have quit almost every job I’ve had. I have majorly misspoken or misinterpreted Spanish thousands of times.

Why am I proud of this?

When you fail at something, two incredible things happen.

First, you learn. You learn because every time you are not successful, you feel like an outcast. You are not one of the many people in this world who are successful. Our biggest drive as human beings is to fit in. Failure teaches us to change ourselves so as to not experience failure again. When a lesson has to do with your identity, you learn quickly, and you don’t forget.

Second, when you fail at something, when the plan doesn’t work out, you are forced to maintain yourself in a state of heightened awareness of your possible opportunities. When you are busy being successful, you are also neglecting the opportunity to optimize your level of success to beyond its current level.

Example: Go to college, graduate, get job, live happily ever after.

Or,

drop out of college, sleep in dorm room floors, return Coke bottles to make money, and then start a company named after a fruit that changes the world.

You should never try to fail, but as Micheal Jordan said :

” I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

  1. Avoid Ownership.

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As I get older, I keep on getting the urge to buy a home. I could buy one, right now, in South America, on a half-acre of land.

But here is the thing – Why not just continue to pay rent? Is your dream owning a home? Well then, go for it. But what if you are dreaming bigger than that? How is investing your money and time in a home going to get you closer to accomplishing a dream? It could get you closer to security, a family, and maybe it will get you a feeling of accomplishment. But if you want more than that, avoid owning a home.

This isn’t just for homes. By sharing, renting, or paying for services, we are forced to use what we really need, and nothing more. This is great for the environment. It could also change our economy to be focused on producing better solutions instead of more things. It could resolve the global poverty crisis. But none of that is beneficial to you personally.

Your personal benefit of avoiding ownership, is that you will have more money available. If I were to buy a home right now, I wouldn’t have money to travel. If I were to buy a home, I would feel the necessity of having a steady job, and I wouldn’t have the luxury of trying to create my own dream job. It would limit my focus to my home, and it would prevent me from focusing on greater things.

Heres an image, that captures the essence of what I’m saying.

The Cost of Ownership

The average rent price in the US is $962 as of 2013 (probably much more than what a minimalist needs). If you rent for 30 years, that will cost you about $346,320. Based on the figure above, that leaves you with about $726,680 to add to any retirement savings you might have made along the way.

Imagine if your budget was made up of the following: rent, food, and savings. That’s my current situation, and I sleep like a baby while I travel around the world. I also have more than $10,000 in the bank, after in the past year having a spontaneous trip to Germany, 3 months of travel in South America, and only being employed seasonally.

If you avoid ownership, you will have more freedom, more time, and more money. You will have more freedom because when you don’t have to maintain a home, you can go further, for more time, and you don’t ever have to come back.And instead of all of your money tied up in your home, you have full access to it at any given time. You will have more time because you won’t have to work so many hours to pay for your home. You will have more money, because as the numbers show, you have more money available when you don’t own a home.

  1. Don’t let money motivate you.

While money is important, it shouldn’t be your goal. Why? because getting rich limits your potential to impact positive change on the world. If money is what you truly want, become a lawyer, or work in the oil industry. Go to wall street. You can get tons of money that way. If money is what you really want, ask yourself why. Do you think that more things will get you closer to happiness?  The results are in, and buying things don’t buy you happiness.

If you want to really feel alive, you should be motivated by changing the world. By making it better, by enriching people’s lives, by creating solutions to problems that affect the inhabitants of this earth. If you limit your goals to getting rich, then you limit your capacity to contribute to the world. If you make the world into a better place, you will more than likely be compensated financially. Here is an example of a company that has revolutionized transportation, connection and information access – they are also doing pretty well financially.

  1. Environmental manipulation

When you change your environment, two things happen that augment you dreaming capacity.

First, you empower yourself. While the people who you have known your entire life love you, they don’t forget your shortcomings.  Every time you meet someone new, you are given an opportunity to show who you are currently, without your past limiting you. I’m not saying you should forget your past, to the contrary, you should learn from the past. However, when you change the people and places that surround you, you realize that your current reality has nothing to do with the past. You can focus on your dreams, on being the person that you have developed into, and your environment will happily encourage you.

Second, when you change your environment, you are forced to confront the world. You interact with people who are different from you. You meet people who you wouldn’t have ever met if you had stayed in your tiny little corner of the earth. By changing your environment, you understand the world in a way that directly affects your life. If I tell you that the world is full of different people, you will tell me you understand and soon forget it. If you go and meet those people, you experience a world that you didn’t know existed, and the more familiar you are with the world, the more empowered you are to change it.

A good example of environmental manipulation is Nicky Jam. Nicky Jam was a struggling Reggaeton artist, and was in a self-described “fall” in his career when he moved to Medellín, Colombia, from Puerto Rico. He says that when he got to Medellín, the people gave him a second chance, and his career took off. As I write this, he is Number 1 on the Latin Billboard charts, and his YouTube channel currently has over two million subscribers and more than 1 billion views.

  1. When you let things go, you have the opportunity to get something better

Last year, I was given the opportunity to get paid to travel as tour guide for G Adventures. I drove a 15 passenger van around the United States. On a weekly basis I visited Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite National Park, all the while interacting with young people who were experiencing America for the first time. We stayed in hotels and campgrounds, and the days were filled with sunshine and laughter. It was truly an incredible experience.

I quit after 5 weeks.

Even though I met some great people, and I had a lot of fun , I knew that it wasn’t right. Something was missing. It wasn’t the best it could be. I knew that travel could be more authentic, interactive, cultural, and affordable. I didn’t know what the solution was, but I knew I was not getting closer to it working for G Adventures, so I called them up, and asked to be taken off the schedule.

It wasn’t easy – I spent time second guessing my decision. I worried about how I was going to adjust to a normal job after having such an exciting job. But I knew that letting it go was the right thing.

This summer, I will be working for a company called Walking Tree Travel. Just at a glance, it seems like a better fit – cultural interaction, longer visits, community benefit. I don’t think it’s my dream job, or my final destination, but it’s a lot closer. If I had been scared of losing my job at G Adventures, I would have never found something better.

It’s never easy to give up something, but the effects of holding on to it can be even harder on you. If you have to fight to hold on to something – a job, a place, a thing, a relationship – the energy you are spending in keeping it going, could be better spent in finding something better. Humans are scared shitless of letting things go, it is an irrational part us that sees loss as worse than it actually is. But the truth is, when you live in fear of losing things, you will never reach your full potential.

  1. Value your time

For those of you who are asking ” Who does this guy think he is?!”, I don’t think I’m anything I’m not. I’m not famous, and I’m not any more talented or intelligent than the rest of the world. But I do have something that most people don’t: Time. I have made a life that is fulfilling, sustainable, and exciting. I’m not waiting to live out my dreams. I’m not waiting for retirement. I’m doing everything I ever wanted to do, now. I have everything that I’ll ever need, and that has nothing to do with my belongings. I have a small carbon footprint, a small budget, an even smaller amount of stress, and a staggering amount of opportunities.

Few people realize that having a complicated, stressful life is a choice. That you could be doing the things you are waiting to do in your retirement, now. That your income is used to pay for a lifestyle that doesn’t benefit you. Few people dedicate their life to time – but those who do are the richest.

What good is 300,000$ every year, if you don’t have time to enjoy it, or even worse, if you spend all that money on stuff that really doesn’t benefit you. If you valued your time more than you money, how would your life be different? Let me just go ahead and tell you: You would be more focused on things you are passionate about, your relationships, and your dreams. 

Postscript:

I imagine that the older you are, the less possible this will all seem to you. I’m only 25 years old, and I don’t have kids or a partner. I was speaking with an Irish coworkers this weekend, and he said that he spent his twenties hitchhiking, camping and hiking, without a cent in his pocket. He’s 32 now, and when I told him about avoiding ownership, he said it made sense, and he used to think like I do, but now he doesn’t.  I write this because I want to die living my life, and I don’t want to live my life waiting to die, and capturing how I live my life right now might help me hold on to my ideals as time pressures me to change. I believe living this way is the right thing, and the better thing, and it only seems crazy because that which is different can often be intimidating.

Furthermore, I acknowledge that my parents own homes, and I grew up on in one them for my first 18 years . I was privileged enough to “test drive” a materialistic lifestyle without having to commit to it, and it’s all because my parents lived a traditional lifestyle. I might not have the sense of security to try out an alternative lifestyle, if they had lived like I do. Also, I’m happy my parents never “let me go” because I definitely wasn’t an easy kid to “hold on to”.

18 thoughts on “7 Essential habits that will get you far and keep your dreams alive

    1. I would add an eighth. The 8th would be: Always be First…First to nod, first to smile, first to compliment, first to forgive. A smile to you.

  1. Beautifully written and very thought provoking, Zach. I am very proud of you!

  2. Ojo! Atención! Alma vieja debe ser sometida a estudio, alta posibilidad de reencarnación de un Buddha 🙂
    Que poder, que magia, eres fantástico Zach, afortunadas todas las vidas que tocas, gracias por añadirle gracia al mundo.

  3. Dude every time I read your blog it blows my mind man. It’s incredible shit your doing man, your living your own life on your own terms which is fucking awesome dude. Email me sometime and don’t forget u always got a place to crash in Edmonton

  4. One of your best ones yet 🙂 the structure and thought that went into this post is evident and I always enjoy your point of view

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