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On alternative lifestyle

September 22, 2018

I haven’t written much on this blog in a while. Especially, nothing personal. It’s mostly because I felt there’s nothing particularly interesting going on in my life. I moved around a couple of times, got married, travelled a bit. If we’re friends, you know it anyway, if we’re not - why would you care?

However, recently I went through some bigger changes that I thought might be useful to read about even if you just know me from the internet (or not even that). If you’re into alternative lifestyles, read on.

After I got married, it felt like it’s an easy way out to follow a typical life path: get kids, mortgage and a house in the suburbs. Actually, it feels like an effort to avoid following such a path. I’m a bit of a an odd duck, so I decided to question that. Why do I feel like an odd duck? Well…

  1. I’m a programmer by trade. I got a Master’s degree in Computer Science from a nice university, I could’ve followed the quite common path of writing Java for banks or corporations, but instead I bet on Ruby - at the time a fairly little known language from the other side of the world. Over the years it grew a lot in its popularity and became one of de facto standards in the startup world. Being an early adopter gave me a lot of opportunities and was the first lesson that it might be worth to question the status quo.
  2. I come from Poland, but I’ve spent almost the whole last decade living abroad. First in Spain, then I moved to Germany. Although it’s by no means a rare occurence for a Polish person to move abroad (I think there are 2 million - around 5% of the whole Polish population - living in foreign countries), it was the first step that pushed my to question the common path. Where I come from, it’s popular to get married and settle down when you’re 25, jsut after finishing university - get married, a mortgage, and a corporate job. However, when I moved to Barcelona I saw a completely different life - this city is full of single people with absolutely no willingness to put down any kind of roots. That might have been the first spark to start thinking what I could want.
  3. Then I started a programming company. Since the beginning we decided to go fully-remote. In the beginning, my business partner and I spent a lot of time working from the same coworking space (and that was good), but it was more of a coincidence than a plan. We knew that sooner or later one of us is going to move, all our employees will work remotely, and that we’ll never get an office. Nowadays it doesn’t seem that surprising, but three years ago it still was a novelty. Especially in Spain, where the business culture is… let’s say conservative. My main motivation why to go through the rollercoaster run of starting a company was to get more freedom in the long run.

All of the above things still seem like a pretty common path to me. Probably they don’t seem that common to many people, but in my bubble I meet other people following similar paths. It might be a survivorship bias, or some other kind of psychological effect, but I don’t think it’s particularly special.

That’s where the latest change comes in. I’ve recently moved into a car:

My new home during the building process

Why would I do such a thing?

Well, I’m glad you asked! There’s a variety of reasons, ranging from being misinformed to trying to carve out my own path through life:

  • There’s this whole hashtag-vanlife thing that shows all the bright sides of living in a van, travelling the world, and enjoying the great outdoors. But, worst of all, it’s full of stories about how somebody converted a van into a living home in a month, two weeks, or sometimes even just a week! Amongst such positive stories, it’s easy to drink the Kool-Aid and say: hell yeah, I could do that as well! So I did.
  • I’ve been thinking for a while what’s important for me in life and trying to actively achieve my personal goals. In the business world it has a fancy name of OKRs, but in my case it was basically a few pages of plans written down and milestones that I was aiming for. When I was doing my quaterly reviews (an evening with a glass of wine when I cross things off the list), I noticed there were two aspects that weren’t being addressed at all: photography and climbing. Both used to be a big part of my self-identity in the past, not so much anymore, but I still considered them important. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to climb much outdoors (I consider climbing gyms fitness, not the real thing) when you live in Berlin. Same thing with photography - I feel like I have to travel to feel motivated to pursue it. Moving into a campervan for a tour of Europe’s best climbing spots seemed like a good remedy to both those problems.
  • Lastly, it’s a bit of a “now or never” mentality. When you don’t actively take charge of your life and where you want it to lead, something else is going to make the decision for you. I didn’t want to wait for this to happen and decided to go for it.

Luckily, my wife was happy with this idea and we could pack our things, leave our flat, buy a cargo truck and spend the next five months transforming it into our new house.

Was it worth it?

I don’t know yet. I’ve only spent about a month living in it until now, but I can already see positive changes that happened since we started the project:

  • I learnt a lot of things. Do you know that feeling like you get a new project, with a new framework, maybe a new programming language, or a programming paradigm? It’s nothing like that. You learn basics of various completely new and unrelated skills: carpentry, electricity, plumbing, or heat insulation. You get new skills to work with, new tools to play with and a completely new outlook on various household items.
  • Nothing increases an interest in renewable energies and sustainable living like doing calculations of energy usage to make sure that the solar panels you installed on the roof can power all your fancy electronics. Same for water usage when staying off-grid for three days with just a 70 litre tank of water. It changes the whole perspective on what we need and what we just use.
  • Coincidentally, around this time I also learnt about the solarpunk movement. It was a perfect moment for thoughts on how technology can make our lives cleaner, simpler, and better. Similarly with the interest in distributed networking development: dat, ssb, and the Beaker Browser. When you can’t easily transfer a file between your computer and your wife’s phone, because they can’t connect to some server half way around the globe (and you’re in the middle of the woods), it makes you question the idea of centralised networks.

What’s next?

We’ll see. For this blog it means probably more photos, hopefully with a story. However, if you want to follow how’s that experiment unfolding, it’s probably not the best place. I’d rather recommend one (or mix) of the following:

  • An Instagram account where my wife makes sure to update friends and family on what we’re up to.
  • A blog where she wrote some details about the build process and she posts in more details where have we been.

Why am I writing all this?

I feel like there needs to be more people contradicting the common paths. I want to let you know it’s okay to do your thing and you don’t have to follow the same highway other people around you go on, but rather you’re free to choose your own path. The world doesn’t end when you do.

Would I recommend it?

Hell no! It was a lot of work to convert the van and I wouldn’t encourage anyone to do this. To be able to complete a project this big you need a lot of intrinsic motivation. If you really want to do it, it won’t matter if I recommend it or not. If you’re not sure - well, you’d better figure it out before you start ;)

Written by Wojciech Ogrodowczyk who takes photos, climbs mountains, and runs Brains & Beards to help companies deliver better mobile applications faster.

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