In 2008, Johnny FD left behind a soul-sucking 9-5 in California to move to Thailand.
He quickly picked up scuba diving and spent the next few years going from zero dives to nearly 1,000, travelling the world teaching diving and searching for the perfect place.
Until he decided that wasn’t enough. “I realised I no longer wanted to be the dive guy working at the resort,” he told Business Insider. “I wanted to be the guest. I told myself I didn’t want to dive again until I could afford to be a guest.”
To get some cash and free gym time, he tried something new: Muay Thai, a fighting style practiced in Southeast Asia. “I was turning 30 and thought if I don’t try it now, I never will,” FD (the surname he uses professionally) remembers.
But it wasn’t a living. “I was down to my last couple hundred dollars and knew I’d probably have to go back home and get normal job,” he said. “I thought if I go home empty-handed, this whole trip would have been a failure. Yes, I would have had an amazing time, but I would be in my 30s, broke, out of shape, and have nothing to show for it.”
So he repackaged his blog into “12 Weeks in Thailand: The Good Life on the Cheap,” which made $600 in its first month on sale.
“After I wrote that book, I wanted to find out how to sell more,” he previously told Business Insider. “I started meeting all these people doing internet marketing that happened to be travelling or living in Chiang Mai. I had no idea there was this underground community of digital nomads. It was kind of just emerging, and I would meet whoever I could and ask if I could take them to dinner or coffee and pick their brain.”
This year, between blogging, writing books about living in Thailand and earning money, conducting online courses, investing, and running a drop-shipping business, the 35-year-old is on track to earn $250,000.
Now that he’s worlds away from a dwindling bank account, he said, his perspective on wealth and success has changed. That’s not to say he doesn’t like it — just that it isn’t about the dollars and cents.
“Success absolutely worth it, because it gives you options,” he said. “To me, having the freedom of time and money is priceless. It’s the best gift I’ve ever given myself — and I know it’s 100% achievable for anyone willing to put the work in.”
When he originally set out to set up a business and pursue success, he had his mind set on freedom: being a guest at a resort instead of the dive instructor, travelling Europe with friends when they offered, and having access to every resource available to help him get in the best shape of his life. However, one of the major benefits was something he didn’t expect.
“The biggest success I’ve had is being able to retire my mum,” he said. “She’s 66 and was still working as waitress part-time to pay the bills. She started having foot problems, and when I spoke to her and she said she had to go to the doctor to get shots for the pain, I was finally a point in my life that I said ‘Quit your job.’ I never thought was a goal, but when it happened, I realised this was way more important than anything I can buy.”
While he’s now able to stay in resorts, travel Europe, and “not worry about how much a side of avocado costs,” he purposefully doesn’t seek out luxury on a regular basis. “I think I realised that even though it’s awesome to fly business class and stay in five-star hotels, once you get used to being too comfortable you don’t really strive for more, and you don’t enjoy it as much,” he said. “So I purposefully put myself in uncomfortable situations. I travel light, I take buses, I take trains. I love having the option of luxury more than I do the necessity of it.”
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