Uncommon Profile: Colin Wright – Exiled from the Status Quo
written by Kent Healy
⇒01 Jul 2011
Uncommon: The “uncommon life” can mean many different things to different people. And sometimes you stumble upon individuals who cannot be placed into an existing mold or stereotype.
These people are the outliers, the change agents, the disruptors of the status quo. Whether we see eye-to-eye with them or not, they serve an important purpose: to encourage us to reexamine our more calcified paradigms about what life ‘is’ or ‘should be.’
One of these uncommon individuals is Colin Wright. He may appear to live life “against the grain” but he never set out to “prove” anything except the fact that life truly is what you make of it.
The following is a thought-provoking interview with Colin Wright, by yours truly. It’s a look into a life full of travel, constant change, adventure, and geo-arbitrage. While it’s longer than usual, it’s well worth the read. Enjoy…
You have definitely chosen an unconventional path through life. Why not just opt for a traditional position in society?
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t really see any other option!
I followed the expected path for a long time, and I basically got far enough along to realize that – even if I reached all the goals I had set for myself – I wouldn’t be satisfied. Additionally, the more I dug into my personal beliefs and philosophies, the more I came to see that the way I was living didn’t quite sync with what I valued and considered to be moral.
Breaking away from the conventional path has allowed me to customize my lifestyle from the ground up, which means I’m much more in line with my overarching philosophy and able to enjoy the journey a whole lot more.
How did this unique life-perspective and lifestyle begin?
I found myself running a successful branding studio in Los Angeles, living in a great townhouse in a great spot in Los Angeles with a great girlfriend. Despite everything being ‘great,’ though, I could feel myself getting bored and discontented… I could tell I wasn’t living up to what I could accomplish, but there didn’t seem to be a way to keep growing as a person as quickly as I would have liked with the situation I was in.
It’s a bit of a story, but the short version is that my girlfriend and I finally told each other that we both felt this way, and had all kinds of other things we wanted to pursue that we simply couldn’t living the way we were. So we decided to have a breakup party 4 months in the future, and then both move from LA to pursue our passions.
Before that point I had already been spending a lot of time thinking about what I wanted and believed, but I hadn’t acted on it in any big way. Those 4 months after that conversation were full of rapid change, however, and my lifestyle since then has been one big adventure.
Your life is an ongoing adventure you have come to call an “exile lifestyle.” For those who may be confused by this phrase, what does it mean?
‘Exile Lifestyle’ has come to have a couple of meanings for me.
The first (and most obvious) is that I spend my life in transit, moving to a new country every 4 months and learning what I can about other cultures and countries. In this way, my lifestyle is similar to that of someone who has been exiled from their country, though in this case, I’ve exiled myself in order to fill in the gaps in my education.
The term ‘exile’ has also come to represent a certain type of person; the kind of person I actively seek out in every country I visit. These people have a twinkle in their eye that show they’re enjoying life and wake up in the morning thinking ‘what do I GET to do today?’ rather than ‘what do I HAVE to do today?’ They’re the people who innovate and inspire and fill others with ambition as they live their own lives the best way they know how. They are exiles from traditional society and the traditional ways of life, and that makes up the second layer of meaning to ‘Exile Lifestyle’ and why I think it’s good to live such a life.
How many cities have you lived in since beginning this journey? What are your top 3 favorites?
I’ve lived a full 4 months in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Christchurch, New Zealand; Bangkok, Thailand; and Reykjavik, Iceland. In between, I’ve been to a few dozen other countries as well.
As for favorites, that’s an incredibly difficult question, as they are all awesome for different reasons, and each has its downsides, as well. Buenos Aires has amazing food and culture, but the machismo and crime leave something to be desired. Christchurch is gorgeous and relaxed and full of friendly people, but it can also be a bit socially dull because it’s so chill (especially if you’re someone like me who is always looking for new experiences). These pros and cons exist for every place that I’ve been, and so, like rating ex-girlfriends against each other, I just can’t bring myself to compare them in any quantifiable way…I’m not sure it’s possible.
I can tell you that I would recommend visiting every place I’ve lived in or visited, and each for different reasons. Even the places where I had a terrible time (Lima, Peru, for example), I would definitely visit again, as each visit has the chance to be a completely different experience, even if you’re in the same city.
What have you found is the greatest challenge in leading an exile lifestyle?
Ah, well, explaining what I do is quite tricky! Especially to people who aren’t familiar with the Internet… they can’t wrap their minds around how I do what I do, and I’m pretty sure they usually come away from the conversation thinking I’m some kind of con-man or spy.
The most difficult thing for me personally, though, is dealing with relationships. Imagine a really tough breakup with someone that you truly liked and cared about, saying goodbye to your best friends and family, and leaving behind everything comfortable and familiar in your life; I do that every 4 months.
When I first started, the toughest part was getting integrated into a new social circle, building up a group of friends and a strong network when I initially arrived in a new city, but that has actually become fairly second-nature, and I actually enjoy the process a whole lot (and learn so much!). That separation at the end of my time in a new home, however, is tough every single time.
What is the greatest benefit in leading an exile lifestyle?
The freedom to live outside of society a bit, and evolve more naturally than you would if you held a more concrete position within a community.
I may have to explain that a bit better.
When you live in one place, you tend to have a group of friends, family and co-workers who know you as you know them. These people mean very well, but because they know you so well, they also treat you the way they expect you to be; if you’re the class clown, you’ll always be the class clown to them, if you’re the radical politico, you’ll always be that kind of conversationalist, etc. etc. etc. It’s incredibly difficult to change who you are or what you believe when everyone around you is treating you like the person you’ve always been.
When you’re on the road, however, you only have very limited contact with others, and that contact can be as frequent or infrequent as you want. If you want to think through your entire life philosophy and change everything about it, you can, and there’s no one there to act as if it’s weird or that you’ve changed…you can be whomever you want, and that allows you to evolve your mentality and philosophies quite rapidly.
I LOVE this freedom, and it’s probably the last thing I would ever give up, now that I’ve had it (and is a big part of why I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to totally rejoin society as I lived in it before I started traveling).
You talk a lot about minimalism. What does this mean and why is it important?
You’ll hear a lot of different interpretations of what minimalism is, but to me it’s about reducing the clutter in your life to make more room for what’s really important.
In essence, it’s about spending less of your time, energy and resources on crap you don’t need (possessions, relationships, activities) so that you have more to spend on the things you are truly passionate about.
It’s a really simple concept, actually, and it doesn’t mean you reduce what you own down to a handful of possessions (if you LOVE shoes more than anything else, don’t buy that new big screen TV and buy more shoes…reduce the clutter in your life from stuff you aren’t passionate about and fill it with the stuff you are). It’s incredible how something so simple can change your life, though, and how easy it is to wean yourself off that meaningless stuff once you start paying attention to what really matters.
How do you pay the bills and allow yourself to keep traveling?
A couple different ways.
I still do brand consultations, and I’ll still build branding collateral (websites, t-shirts, logos) for clients I’ve been working with for a while, but I tend to avoid taking on too much of this kind of work these days (much harder to manage from the road).
I create my own products (ebooks, t-shirts) and sell those online, using zero-overhead methods of construction and fulfillment.
I also run a handful of small companies, each with a different niche and monetization strategy. I see it as having diversified income streams; if one dries up for some reason, I can refocus on the others and start up new ones. This is also kind of a hobby of mine, experimenting with businessy-stuff, so it fills that role in my life as well.
What personal story/example do you think best portrays the exile lifestyle?
Oh man, there are so many. Hmmm.
I think the connections I’m able to make through my blog actually serve as a great example of what the exile lifestyle is all about.
I essentially create value and distribute it to as many people as possible through my stories and the lessons I’ve learned along the way. By sharing this information with others, they are able to better run their businesses, many their social lives or take leaps they otherwise wouldn’t have considered possible.
In return, my readers tell me about their lives, sometimes buy my products and promote my work to their friends. That exchange of value for value (without either party actually keeping track) is a microcosm of what I do each and every place I go. I visit Iceland and I give talks at businesses and schools and on TV and do what I can to connect the local entrepreneur community with others in different countries so that they can flourish on a global scale (something they have trouble with at the moment). In return, they connect me to others, show me a good time and help me promote my work and story throughout the country.
Healthy relationships are based on this kind of balance, and my whole life seems to revolve around keeping the balance in that value-for-value exchange. Each and every interaction has that kind of play-by-play going on under the surface, whether it’s a group of portenos taking me out clubbing in Argentina (in exchange for getting to practice their English with me) or a friendly housewife inviting me over for dinner in exchange for telling stories to her children. It’s sharing what I’ve got with others and them sharing what they have with me and both of us coming out on top as a result.
Seems like a strange thing to focus on, I know, but when you never have the chance to get past the ‘honeymoon stage’ with anyone you meet, keeping interactions balanced from the beginning becomes very important, as it’s what encourages both parties to stay friends, even when there’s a great deal of distance between them.
Do you encounter resistance or negativity from those who uphold a more common approach to life? If so, what is the most common response? How do you respond?
You know, I did at first, but I haven’t in a long time.
I think the reason behind this is twofold:
First, I don’t try to push my lifestyle choices on everyone else. I’m acutely aware of the fact that what I’m doing works for me, and that it wouldn’t be ideal for everyone. My older sister, for example, likes to travel, but only for a few weeks at a time. She likes to have work hours and to socialize all day at an office and to be able to turn it all off after 6 when she goes home. While her lifestyle would make me incredibly depressed, she could say the same of mine, and I wouldn’t dream of trying to preach to her about why she’s wrong (because she’s not, and neither am I).
Second, I’ve taken the traditional path, and pursued it far enough to have earned the respect of many people who would otherwise criticize me for just trying to escape responsibility and the like. I’ve also managed to be successful enough at the things that most people consider important in life (money, relationships, traveling) that it’s difficult to argue against what I’m doing and saying it’s bad. Backpackers and hippies, for example, would have a much harder time than I, because they tend to deny the importance of a lot of the things that society as a whole tends to value, whereas I still consider those things fun and valuable. I just acquire them in a different way, and use them differently as well in some cases.
Not much to argue against, really
I did get some people criticizing (actually, it was more like good-naturedly warning me) at the beginning, as I was getting rid of everything that wouldn’t fit into a carry-on bag and preparing to ship off from LA, but after it became clear that I wouldn’t become a tragic vagabond, many of the people who were concerned instead started visiting me and using me as an excuse to get away from their lifestyles for a while.
The best response to criticism, in my mind, is just to remember that you can both be right, and then go live the best life you can. Nothing makes a stronger argument for your philosophy than living well.
You’ve written a book titled, How to be Remarkable, which is similar to the underlying message on The Uncommon Life. Why, in your opinion, is it worth being remarkable and what is one imperative thing/s people must do to become remarkable?
To become remarkable, do remarkable things. What is remarkable? Basically, if you figure out what you truly believe and value, that’s pretty remarkable. If you pursue those values and the lifestyle you crave like a bullet (and achieve it, even to a small degree), that’s even more remarkable.
Always listen to other people’s suggestions, but stick to your guns when you think you know better. Even if you don’t, you will have learned a valuable lesson that you won’t forget.
On that note, also don’t be afraid to fail. Failing with class and dignity is incredibly impressive, and I’d always rather know someone who has failed spectacularly five times and succeeded once than someone who has succeeded three times and never failed. Those who have failed are usually well-rounded people with confidence and just enough humility to be able to change course when necessary.
You have just released a new book titled, My Exile Lifestyle, tell us a little bit about it and where people can pick up a copy if they wish.
My Exile Lifestyle is different than my other books in that, rather than being instructional in nature, with stories to back up that instruction, it’s full of stories about how I live my life and events that led to where I am now. Most of it consists of events from the past few years (since I started traveling), but there are a few from before that, all points of reference that I think are important in showing how I’ve come to be where I am today, and some of the successes and failures that made it happen.
I mostly wanted to show that this lifestyle isn’t easy any more than the path here is a straight line, and I think that’s something most people will be able to relate to in some way.
I’m also trying out a new price point with this book. My last book (Networking Awesomely) sold really well at $20, but My Exile Lifestyle is selling at $2.99 from day one. I’m hoping that this lower price point will allow me to sell more copies to more people, and that it will be profitable enough for me to keep writing these kinds of books more regularly, and at lower prices.
Finally, if someone is itching to lead an exile lifestyle, where/how would you suggest they begin pursuing this uncommon life?
I think that’s going to be a different answer for each and every person.
What I recommend is taking a few hours and just sitting and thinking about what you want to be doing with your life, and where. Figure out your absolutely ideal life situation and lock it into your mind. Then figure out how you get to that point. What’s the first step you need to take? The second? Even if it will take a while to get there, start yourself along that path IMMEDIATELY, and it won’t matter where you end up. The journey is the really valuable part, anyway, and in most cases the goal will change as you progress. Let it happen. That’s living.
What are your thoughts?
Have you done similar things in your life? Share the same perspectives or different ones? Why?
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