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The Work That Matters

On taking the not so shiny trail.

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RHODES, Greece- I filled my bag with a little too much stuff. The seams stretched and then they ripped, pouring everything out upon the ground in a disorganized heap.

I’ve taken on too many projects — I’m trying to do everything but I’m doing nothing well enough. I’m missing deadlines and not responding to emails. Otherwise good opportunities are going up in smoke because I do not have the time to do them all.

I was trying to write books, publish 10-15 articles per month, blog daily, vlog regularly, make documentaries, give talks, run webinars, and pen reports for academic journals. I can’t complain — this is all the work that I love but there was just too much of it.

I needed to change something. But what could I do? What could I cut out? How do you purge your children?

My grandfather was purged. He was from a large family and on a particularly dark day during the Great Depression his father called him and one of his brothers into a room. They were young teenagers at the time, and they were informed that the family could no longer take care of them and that they would need to leave.

This was something that’s virtually unheard of now but back then it seems as if it may not have been outside of what was considered ordinary. So the two boys headed out on the road and hitchhiked across the country. They ended up in Burbank, California and had successfully auditioned to be stunt men for Warner Brothers.

However, on the night before they were supposed to go onset for the first time they went out with some girls and ended up waking up late the following morning.

“I will always remember the look on that guys face when he fired us. He had this long face and he was like, ‘I’m sorry, boys…'”

I can’t purge my children. I need to keep doing it all but I need a different strategy. I need to pinch myself all over for fat and sluice it off — money needs to be an afterthought in this process.

The work that matters is the work that you will remember and be remembered for. This is something more valuable than a paycheck.

I need to keep blogging. This is my story. I’m doing this for me not for the audience who may read this — although your attendance is very much appreciated. This is a record of what I do and what I think and what I feel. If I don’t have this there will be gaps in my own narrative and it eventually won’t stand together anymore. In more simple terms, I will forget … and that’s perhaps the worst thing of all for a traveler.

When you live like I do you don’t get to have these nice houses and cars and bulging bank accounts or impressive financial portfolios … You make a play for and an investment in the acquisition of knowledge and experience and the making of memories. I know that at the end of the day this is all I’m going to be left with.

By leaving gaps in this blog I’m leaking my most precious asset. I need to write my story and I need to do so daily — even though it only makes me around $500 per month.

The work that matters is often not the work that makes money, it’s the work that’s of most valuable in the long run. While I can make $1,000 writing one article for an in-house corporate publication that takes hardly a few hours at the keyboard the value of that only lasts as long as I can spend what it earns.

But if I write a series of feature stories for a highly-targeted publication like The Diplomat for $200 or on Forbes this will help me to drive the conversation in the topic I’m covering and position me as an authority, which has long-term value that lasts far beyond the chit.

If I write a book I get paid virtually nothing — seriously, authors don’t really make anything for the books they write — I put myself in a major financial hole but I come out of it with a something big to place on the mantle piece of life. I become “the guy who wrote the book on___” which has incredible long-term value monetarily, professionally, and personally — writing a book is like running a marathon for one to three years. It’s not easy and few will ever do it. It something that makes you proud of yourself, it’s something you will always remember.

I need to cut something out and I know what it has to be:

Shit that I do for no other reason than to make money.

I had to make a decision between doing what has immediate monetary value and doing what has the most long-term value.

What has long-term value for me is writing books and features on Forbes, the Guardian, and the Diplomat, the SCMP, blogging on this site, and vlogging and making documentaries. I will do as much of this as I can do and cut out the rest.

The question that I now must ask when a new opportunity presents itself isn’t how much does it pay but how much long-term value will it have.

Opportunity begets opportunity, and playing the game for money is to miss the plot.

I’ve restructured. It may hurt financially in the short game but in the end I believe it will have a higher probability of getting to where I want to be.

In my experience, when you do the work that matters everything else has a way of working itself out.


Filed under: Travel Diary, Travel Philosophy, Work

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3691 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: Trenton, Maine

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