The Cult of Commitment

We live in a society that glorifies commitment. The label “commitment phobe” is a put-down. However, what is a commitment? Based on a nearby dictionary, it is “an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action.”

An engagement that restricts freedom of action? How is this a good thing? It is my belief then that commitment-phobia is not something we should be ashamed of. Rather, I am a commitment phobe by choice.

Happiness is an elusive goal for many, but many studies show that an important component of happiness is freedom or autonomy. This is why I believe that the formula for freedom is based on commitment or obligation. If you have less obligation, you have more freedom, and more freedom means more happiness.

However, as many people point out, you cannot be completely free of all commitment or obligation. For example, there are necessities like food, water, clothing and shelter. However, necessities are no longer an obligation if it is someone else’s obligation to provide these to you.

This is where passive income comes in. If you hold shares, bonds, etc. then it is the obligation of borrowers or corporations to pay you.

Hence freedom depends on how much obligation others have to you versus how much obligation you have to others. You want to increase the obligations others have to you and reduce the obligations you have to others.

Commitmentphilia permeates society

About a week ago, during a Saturday, I commuted into the city to have dinner with a work colleague named Paul. We went to an Indian restaurant where I ate yellow lentil dahl with roti and basmati rice. I mostly eat a vegan diet, but when going to Indian restaurants I give myself the freedom to eat some dairy because there supposedly a considerably amount of dairy products such as ghee in Indian food. Paul, on the other hand, kept telling me he was on a low-carb diet, so he ate lamb. It was strange because Paul is quite an obese man, yet he was lecturing me on how carbohydrates make people fat, and I am a fairly slim man. Anyway, I didn’t want to come across as a crazy animal rights activist, so I didn’t talk much about his diet. The topic of conversation quickly moved to how I live with my mother.

Paul lives in the city. He rents an apartment for himself and pays about A$2000 (US$1600) per month for it. Meanwhile, I live out in the suburbs in my mother’s house (my parents are divorced). I pay about half the bills, and I commute to the city for work.

Many people try to shame me for living with my parents, and Paul was no exception. His first argument against me living with  my mother is that it would be hard to date women, and I quickly agreed with him on this. My previous dates did not go well, and I am sure that living with my mother did not help. However, I am well aware of this, I accept that women don’t like men who live with their parents, so the solution is to simply not date. I haven’t been on a date in about three years.

My friend then asked me if I would ever date ever or whether I was going to go MGTOW. I simply told him that I do not commit to anything. I am actually open to dating, but I’m not going to make it a priority in life because, based on experience, I find dating to be quite a hassle. I will not commit myself to dating. I also won’t commit myself to not dating.

Paul was perplexed. He expected me to commit to something. He expected me to have my future planned out. He expected me to be clear about whether I was going to date in the future or not, but my position is that if some perfect girl drops into my lap while I’m going about my life, that’s great, but otherwise I am happy being single.

Paul then asked me if I planned to live with my mother forever or if I planned to move out, and yet again I have to repeat to him the fact that I have not committed to anything. I live with my mother now simply because I don’t want to pay for accommodation. I don’t want to rent nor do I want to buy a house because I do not want to be a slave to the banks. It is a purely economic decision based on an assessment of costs and benefits. I have taken into consideration the shame and stigma of living with parents as well as the inconvenience of living with others, and I have weighed this against the money I’ll save by not renting or buying.

I haven’t committed to living with my mother. Currently it is an arrangement that I like. My mother does not micromanage me that much. There are some moments when she treats me like a child, but she has a job and she is out of the house quite often, so I do have autonomy, and I do have my own car, so I often drive off elsewhere, e.g. work, the library, shopping, etc. There are many moments when my mother has annoyed me so much that I simply drove off.

Currently I accept the arrangement, but that doesn’t mean that I plan to live with my mother forever, nor do I plan to move out. I simply have not committed to anything. There is no benefit in commitment. It is better to simply see how things go and adjust if the cost-benefit analysis tells you that you should. For example, if my mother were really annoying me, so much so that I could not avoid it, then I will just move out, and I can easily rent a cheap one-bedroom apartment somewhere for about A$1000 (US$800) per month. Not only that but if I needed accommodation suddenly, there is always Airbnb, and I have performed numerous searches, and there is plenty of A$30 (US$25) per night accommodation out there. There is simply no need to commit yourself to anything when you live off dividends and rent everything you need as and if you need it.

Paul and I then spoke about something else, but then the topic of conversation veered into financial independence. Paul knew that I wanted to save money by living with my mother, but he asked me why in the world I was saving up so much money. He accepted that saving up allows you to retire early, but according to him, he loves his job, and if he didn’t have anything to do then he would be bored, so he would rather work.

Once again, Paul was showing me how brainwashed he was into the cult of commitment. He has committed himself to working in the future, and this was something he was telling himself so that he can rationalize not saving up for the future. Just because you save up money so that you are financially independent and are capable of retiring early, it doesn’t mean you will. You may be a millionaire but you may decide to work anyway. Nevertheless, being a millionaire who decides to work even though he doesn’t need to is better than a broke man who decided to work because he must (and has an incentive, for the sake of his own self-esteem, to convince himself that he loves his job).

Suppose you are broke and you are convinced that you love your work, so you don’t bother to save. You live paycheck-to-paycheck. You may love your work, but in ten or twenty years, will you still love it? Will the passion stay? What if the organization restructures and you lose your job? What if you get a new manager or new coworkers whom you do not like? Just because you feel one way one day, it doesn’t mean you will feel the same way the next day. However, if you are financially independent but choose to work, you have the option to quit. You can quit to try another job, you can retire, or you can simply not work hard. This is my plan. As I save up more and more, I will not work as hard. I may work part-time. I may even ask my manager if I can work remotely. Otherwise, I may quit and simply do freelance work from coworking spaces around the world such as Hubud, Beachub, or Angkor Hub. In fact, my ultimate dream is to travel the world and work in coworking spaces. Saving up is a necessary part of this dream because I will need to convince my employer if I can work remotely from a foreign country, and if I have saved up enough money to retire, I will not be concerned about whether my employer accepts or rejects my offer.

Conclusion

After my dinner with Paul, when I was on the train back home, I realized just how ingrained commitment is in people’s minds. A man is expected to completely commit his future so that everything is set in stone. There is a standard template for how you should live life, and you’re expected to plan everything out and know exactly if you’re going to move out, who you’ll marry, etc.

But I argue that it is simply better to commit to not committing. You do not know what will befall you in the future. Everything changes, and it is better to give yourself the freedom and choice to adjust yourself as things change.

Quit Your Job and Go to Chiang Mai?

I love YouTube. In fact, if you still watch normal TV, I highly recommend you buy a Google Chromecast, attach it to your TV, and watch YouTube instead. I watch about two to three hours of YouTube per day while I eat dinner.

If you spend a significant amount of time watching YouTube videos about veganism, entrepreneurship, minimalism, and digital nomadism (as I do nowadays), a recurring theme is that of quitting your job to work on your online business. Most likely the recommendation is that you move to a place with a low cost of living, such as Chiang Mai, the digital nomad capital of the world.

I have recently been reading The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss, which is described by many as the bible of digital nomadism. This book gets mentioned frequently by digital nomads. This book seems to strongly recommend to its readers that if you don’t love your job, you must move. Two other digital nomad books I’ve read, Johnny FD’s 12 Weeks and Thailand and Life Changes Quick, seem to make similar recommendations. If you hate your 9 to 5 job, then just quit otherwise you are wasting your time, and you’re watching your employer’s time.

Of course, the advice to simply quit initially didn’t resonate with me. Everyone is different. I haven’t finished reading The Four Hour Work Week, but it’s clear based on reading the first few chapters so far that Tim Ferriss is not your average person. He has been starting companies ever since he was young and was likely already well off.

I have read all of Johnny FD’s books via Amazon Kindle, and his situation is slightly different to that of Tim Ferriss. Although Johnny FD makes close to $30k per month now, he spent about four to five years in Thailand not sure what he would do with his life. He dabbled with writing ebooks, Thai boxing, and being a divemaster. He finally started making serious money when he discovered dropshipping.

Everyone is different. If you are young and single, with no mortgage, car loan, or children, it is less risky to simply move to Thailand. If you are renting in a developed country like Australia, you will likely save money on rent. For example, US$1500 per month in Melbourne, Australia would only get you an average place to rent, but in Chiang Mai you can easily rent a place for US$500 or less. Even if you have a mortgage, you can rent your house out and use the rental income from your house to live in Chiang Mai.

As for me, I have not quit my 9 to 5 job yet, which is unfortunate because I hate my job! There are days when I feel like quitting on the spot, but my mood seems to go up and down. I remember I was very unhappy with my job about a month ago, but more recently I feel better. There are days when I wake up and dread going to work, and there are days when it’s not so bad.

My biggest fear with quitting and going to Chiang Mai is that I run out of savings, which means I’ll need to return to Australia and start applying for a job again, which is not ideal. Not only would I not be living my dream as a digital nomad, but it’s also quite shameful chasing your dream in a faraway land only to return defeated.

My advice is to follow Sean Lee’s advice (below), which is to only quit your job and go to Chiang Mai if you have set up at least one online business that is producing money.


I live off dividends

I would even go further. Sean mentioned in his video that you can live like a king in Chiang Mai for US$1000 per month, so you should not only aim to create income from an online business but you should also aim to invest in ETFs and produce US$1000 per month in dividends. This ensures that if your online businesses fails for whatever reason, you can draw upon your dividends, live in Thailand, and continue to keep building your online business. Your dividends should be your safety net.

Personally, I already make more than US$1000 per month in dividends, but I have no online business, and I do admit it’s difficult to get an online business going because there are so many ideas that it’s easy to get lost, but I believe that the first step is to simply devote time to trying different ideas out. If it fails, move on to something else. I am busy during weekdays with my 9 to 5 job, but on weekends I have spare time. I have discovered that I waste far too much time on weekends.

Don’t talk to your coworkers or your family about your digital nomad dreams!

Among just about everyone in a 9 to 5 job, socializing, travelling, and going out are seen as status symbols. On Fridays, everyone asks about what’s up for the weekend, and if you tell them you will stay at home and read The Four Hour Work Week, they think you’re a loser. They ask, “Don’t you have any friends? Don’t you have a girlfriend?” They may even attack you for reading a self-help book. One coworker said to me, “How can you work four hours a week? That cannot possibly work because you’re still working here!”

My advice to 9 to 5 worker is to not talk about your dream at all, and if people ask you what you’ve been doing over the weekend, you don’t need to lie, but you don’t need to be specific either. You can speak generally and tell them you are “relaxing at home, browsing the internet.”

The reality is that there is a crab mentality among most office workers. The office is filled with negative people who are fearful of being fired from their jobs. They are also envious (and fearful) of those higher in the hierarchy.

Most people look down upon status symbols like Ferraris, Rolexes, and Hugo Boss clothing, but personally I find these products cheap, especially since you rarely buy them. The worse status symbols are those accepted by society, e.g. going out with friends, taking a girl to a fancy restaurant, marriage ceremonies, having children, and getting a mortgage. Before you scoff at me calling these “virtuous” expenses status symbols, you must admit to yourself that when people talk about these virtuous expenses at the office kitchen, people are showing off. You can tell when someone is showing off. There is a snobbery vibe they give off. I have felt it, and I’m sure you have as well.

Conclusion

As mentioned above, I am not an expert in online business, but currently I am experimenting on or thinking of the following: blogging, eBay arbitrage, online stores, and buying/selling websites (e.g. using Flippa or Empire Flippers).

What is great about living off dividends is that you can live off dividends forever, which means you have a lifetime to devote to making your dreams a reality. If you simply saved up, quit your job, and moved to Chiang Mai, you’d run out of savings and you’d need to return.

 

Sean Lee Makes $30k per Month Passive Income

Sean Lee from MinimalPro.com makes a six-figure passive income from a fully automated online business (HDpiano.com). His YouTube videos teach viewers how to live as a digital nomad.

I currently have zero income from businesses. All my passive income comes from investments, the bulk of which are from dividends and distributions from stocks, ETFs, and managed funds. However, once my dividend income reaches about $30k or $40k, I plan to quit my job (or significantly reduce my hours) to focus on earning income online.

I currently generate about $15k per year in dividend income, which I consider to be enough to live in, say, Chiang Mai. Although there is great freedom to be able to escape to Chiang Mai and live off my investments, I wouldn’t rely on $15k per year because it is a very mediocre standard of living. It is enough to survive, but little else.

It makes sense for me to reach for something higher, say, $30k to $40k per year in passive income, which is my goal now, and after this I will focus on income from online businesses.

Working with a Stern Manager

My manager is inundated with work. There are times when he curses or swears at his computer. The stress must be getting to him. I am concerned because there are times when I try to talk to him but he tells me plainly that he is too busy and that I should come back later to talk to him. I apologise and get back to my desk.

Work is still dreary and boring. My manager is quite a stern man. I am, however, very loyal to him because he hired me, promoted me, and has made significant attempts to try to develop my skills. His sternness is just his personality. He is not the sort of person who naturally smiles a lot. He is just like me, so I understand him well.

It’s difficult working with a stern manager. There are other colleagues at work who have managers who are fun and easy-going, and I envy them. Throughout my career, I’ve work under many different managers, and I am used to working with all sorts of different personalities, so I’m not too fussed. I’ve worked under some very difficult managers before.

There are times when I hate my job immensely. There is just a dead and dreary feeling I get at work, like I wish I was somewhere else. I sometimes imagine I’m on a tropical island, lying on a deckchair with a laptop. I am working online. I am drinking cool and refreshing coconut juice while working under the sun. I can hear the waves of the beach nearby.

This is a dream, but working through a cold winter makes me dream of becoming a location independent entrepreneur (also known as a digital nomad). There is a lot of stuff on the internet about digital nomadism. Believe me, for a 9-to-5er who is sick of his job, digital nomadism is career porn.

So why don’t I quit? I’m sure I don’t get paid as much as doctors or investment bankers, but for what I do, I get paid quite a fair amount. If I move to another job, I feel I will either work much harder (and be stressed out) or get paid less. I therefore have it good, but the work is not really rewarding and I feel depressed often. The people I work with are also annoying. I suppose it’s not really my job that I hate. I just hate working.

I have also travelled to developing countries, and when I see poverty up close and in person, I really feel blessed because no matter how bad I feel, when I think about it I have it quite good. When I compare myself to people in developing countries, I am happy with myself, but of course when I compare myself to some of my colleagues, things don’t look so good. Some of my colleagues have done so much better than me, and maybe I feel a bit of envy, shame, or anxiety. The stigma is there. I try not to make deep friendships at work for this reason. I feel like I want to hide myself, to distance myself from everyone so that at the end of the day I just do the work I’m told to do and that is that. I am like a machine who goes to work to just do what I need to do as dispassionately as possible, and if there is any emotional void then I can look for ways to fill it outside of work.