College Library Career Cover

I Spent My 20s in College Libraries and Came Out With a Career

I’d love to tell you that, to me, the library has always been a magical place – but it wasn’t.

Having grown up in a pile of books in a home where the walls were already lined with literature, library visits were rare and, often, disappointing. Our local, small-town book collection didn’t feel as refined as the one we had at home and due to funding issues, the place itself always seemed to teeter on the brink of foreclosure.

Today, you can get most books rather cheaply right from your couch, but there are still many reasons to go to the library beyond selection and price. Sadly, I never found those reasons when I was younger.

But when I started college, all of that changed. I’ve spent the majority of my 20s in campus libraries and, to this day, they’re the only kind of office I know. As it turns out, the library is more than a place of knowledge and wonder.

If you want to shape, even invent your own career, it’s a factory of dreams.

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Digital Nomad Cover

Digital Settler: The Healthy Alternative to Being a Digital Nomad

“If you need to take a vacation, never come back.”

— Joel Salatin

It feels almost weird to acknowledge it: I make a full-time income using nothing but a laptop and an internet connection. I wasn’t born to be an entrepreneur, so growth’s been slow, but for the past four years, I’ve made a very livable amount of money for a single dude in his 20s.

I first learned about this new-rich, digital lifestyle in 2012. Back then, I painted the same picture in my daydreams that must decorate millions of desktop backgrounds around the globe: a chair on the beach, an ice-cold drink, and a laptop on my lap. But then, something interesting happened: I got the travel without the work.

The New American Dream

From September 2012 to May 2013, I studied abroad in Massachusetts. While I was there, I traveled to Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, San Diego, Las Vegas, and dozens of other cities. I went all around California, to Hawaii, Canada, and even Mexico. After returning home, I also went to London, Tokyo, Seoul, and Sydney. All in the same year. It was insane.

Especially because, thanks to a generous friend, we lived the high life wherever we went. We lived at the Bellagio in Vegas, drove around in a Mustang 5.0, rented a Jeep to drive up Mauna Kea, and enjoyed the skyline view from the indoor pool in Tokyo.

My view from the Marriott Waikiki Beach. Jealous already?

It was a glimpse into the life every digital nomad dreams of. A glimpse into a life I was as far away from as one could possibly be. I come from a German upper class family of academics. Most of the people I grew up around don’t even do digital and they’re definitely not nomads. On the trip, I thought a lot about the gap between who I was and who the new American dream was reserved for. And then another funny thing happened: Once I returned home to a cold, German winter, I didn’t want it anymore.

What’s the Opposite of a Digital Nomad?

Traveling full-time was a lot of fun. But, just like anything you do full-time, it inevitably turned into a job. We constantly had trains to catch, planes to book, trips to organize, things to pack, and rooms to get out of. If you do anything long enough, the boring parts catch up to you. Always.

You begin to think about your problems, flaws, and what you could have done better. Because no matter where you go, you are still you. The novelty of different places wears off quicker and quicker, until you find yourself lamenting the same issues you’ve had long before you left.

This problem isn’t new. It’s as old as man. From Seneca’s Moral Letters:

You should change your attitude, not your surroundings. You may have crossed the expanse of sea, and as our Virgil says, ‘lands and cities may grow distant’, but your faults will follow you wherever you reach.

This is what Socrates said to a man who was complaining: ‘Why are you surprised that traveling does you no good, when you are carrying your own state of mind around with you? The same cause is weighing you down now which drove you from home.’ […] You ask me why this flight is not helping you? Because you are in your own company.

And yet, traveling the world at 21 years old was the best thing that ever happened to me. Why? Because it gave me a sneak peek at the end result of the career path I was about to commit myself to. A chance to realize that, once again, the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes.

Still, I was grateful for the experience. Because even though it showed me I had the wrong goals, it gave me a sense of calm when letting my travel desires go. I have seen more of this planet than 99% of folks ever will, and if I die seeing nothing more of it, that’s fine. That’s a powerful source to draw happiness from.

But there was still something about working for myself that wouldn’t let go.

Being a Digital Settler: An Unexpected Source of Happiness

As I was studying for my next set of exams after my trip around the globe, I noticed something: The allure of long-term travel was gone, but the attractiveness of a local, regular job hadn’t come back. It slowly dawned on me that maybe, being a digital nomad was a thinly veiled excuse to make the grind of entrepreneurship look more attractive.

I think that’s the big mistake aspiring digital nomads make. Like I did, they chase the right outcome for the wrong reasons. Thanks to my big trip, I can tell you that needn’t be the case: If you lift the veil, entrepreneurship is still beautiful. For as much as we overrate the joys of long-term travel, we’re also too quick to dismiss how much meaning we can draw from growing roots where we’re planted.

Nowadays, my friends commend me for the high-degree-of-freedom life I’ve built. I agree, it’s satisfying. Because just like I can relocate tomorrow, I’m free to go to the same café, sit at the same place, and do my work. In the past five years, I’ve only taken three round trip flights. I spend most of my time in Munich, where I live, and some of it with family back at my parents’ house.

I’m digital without the nomad. What does that make me? A settler? Whether saying no to travel is mad or wise, I don’t know. But I can wholeheartedly say: Most of the happiness you gain from working for yourself comes from having a choice, much more so than from whatever choice in particular you make.

And you don’t need to travel around the world to find the truth in that.

6 Unwritten Social Rules Everyone Should Know Cover

6 Unwritten Social Rules Everyone Should Know

When you drive into Area 51, past the sign that says “Restricted Area,” you know what rules you’re violating. You’re trespassing on secret government property, you can be searched, photos are forbidden and boy, you better not launch any drones.

But there’s also a set of unwritten rules of Area 51. Nobody knows exactly what they are, but they’re what leads to all the rumors and myths surrounding the place.

  • Will you never come back?
  • Will you come back, but not be the same?
  • Can you ever talk about what happened?

Every place on this earth is like Area 51. There are rules, written and unwritten, and they depend on the time, the people, the country, the culture, the politics, and a whole lot of other values.

Following these rules as best as you can is less a sign of being a blind follower than it is a gesture of respect for others. Adapting can be a way of being kind. That said, sometimes you can also lead by making your own social rules and hoping others will follow.

  • When you enter a quiet room, be quiet. When you enter a lively room, be lively. Read the room.
  • When your opposite is talking to you, don’t use your phone. Don’t even touch it. When your opposite is on their phone, don’t be on your phone also. Maybe you can bring them back.
  • When people pass you in the street, acknowledge them. Look, nod, be part of the world. Don’t stare at the ground. Don’t be an antibody.
  • When you love someone, don’t tell them all the time. Just show them. Look at them, be attentive, listen. They’ll understand, even without words.
  • When you disagree with someone, ask: “Does it really matter that I disagree with them?” Is it worth starting a fight? Most of the time, it’s not.
  • When you can help people without really going out of your way, do it. Including, but not limited to, holding doors, standing up and giving exact change.

These are some of the ones I try to follow. So far, I haven’t ended up in Area 51.

The 5 Most Powerful Questions Every 20-Something Should Ask Themselves Cover

The 5 Most Powerful Questions Every 20-Something Should Ask Themselves

It was a random moment. Not one you’d celebrate. Or even notice, for that matter.

I was walking along the sidewalk, like every day. Morning snack from the bakery in hand, headphones in my ear, Kygo playing on repeat.

Suddenly, I stopped dead in my tracks.

*Ping!*

The insight hit me like a stun grenade. I actually had to step aside, into a little alleyway, so people could pass me by.

“You will never figure out life. There will never be an end to all the questions. You’ll just get better at dealing with them and learn to do it faster.”

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Are Your 20s Really the Best Years of Your Life?

Here’s a picture of me when I was 16:

That year, I went to England. All by myself, in a foreign country, for the first time ever away from home. I spent two weeks in a language school, parts of which looked like Hogwarts.

It was the year the last Harry Potter book came out. The camp supervisors took a couple of kids into London to get their copies on release day. I missed it. One day later, one of the guides brought me one. I read it in 3 days.

It was the best year of my life.

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