The Year of Emptiness – And How it Turned into The Year of Development

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This is a story of the 15 months in between my travel experiences in Sweden, Spain, and South East Asia. It’s a story of how a fear of depression turned into gratitude. Goals changed into achievements and loneliness into friendships and love towards my family. Extra kilos turned into new perspectives on food and exercise.

The time line: From mid-November 2017 to mid-February 2019.

The Story Begins

When I got back from Sweden and Spain in November 2017, I had only three things in mind: 1. Graduate as fast as possible, 2. Start a digital marketing company as fast as possible and 3. Get out of the country as fast as possible.

I had spent all my savings from my summer job in Sweden during my two months of volunteer work in Spain. I moved back to my mother’s because I had given away my apartment in Turku where I had studied for 3 years. As my mother offered me to stay at her home, it made more sense than finding a job while still studying. I needed to finish my bachelor’s degree and I was determined to get that done.

Finland was dark and cold. Most of my childhood friends had moved out of the town. I hadn’t got many good friends from my university. I had felt like I was too different to fit in my year class, even if I did make some friends (who I still appreciate and love). I was afraid of coming back to Finland because I recognized the risk of depression.

To battle the emptiness and get something to think about other than just studying, I started to walk to the gym every morning. I didn’t take stress about sports although I wanted to lose the kilos I had gained in Spain and Sweden. This decision, along with a few other realizations, slowly evolved to change my whole perspective on healthy life, sports, and food.

I’m lucky for having parents who were able to help me economically and support me through that time. I can’t deny that such luxury is an advantage for an adventurer like me. Although I’m proud of many of the development I’ve made in my life, I do acknowledge my privileged background. Don’t mistake this like I only had a privileged background, however, because I did have my downs and disadvantages (dyslexia for example).

The Goals

I think that development mostly beings with proper self-reflection. Self-reflection is probably the one most important skills when it comes to taking your destiny into your own hands. I acknowledged my situation and identified goals for the year 2017.

The Goals where:
1. “Graduate” – as a Bachelor of Economics
2. “2 000€” – Start getting an income of at least 2 000 €/month. This goal wasn’t so much about the exact amount but about being able to support my living again because I had 0 income in spring 2018. For comparison, the average income in Finland is 3 000€/month and we pay high taxes from that). This goal was connected to my goal of starting a business.
3. “65kg” – I had gained weight so I wanted to get rid of it. At the worst, I was 77kg which means I was still normal weight but I knew I’d look and feel better with at least 5kg less.

I wrote these into a sticky note and glued it on my mirror. The idea wasn’t that I achieve them all in a year. I wasn’t obsessed with them. I made them for me visualize what I aim for and to give strength and motivation to get there.

If you ever make such goals, I recommend being as specific and concrete as you can. However, progress is more important than any goal. Usually, if you are planning to maintain the results, it doesn’t matter much when you achieve them. As long as you make progress, you will achieve your goals eventually. Often times it’s easier to maintain the results after you’ve achieved them gradually, rather than quickly. What comes fast, goes fast, they say, so take your time.

The Results

“Graduate”

This goal was the most straight forward one. I studied hard and traveled by train to Turku for my studies a couple of times a week. I passed courses and wrote a thesis. School is easy in that sense that you are pretty much told what to do and you just need to work for it. Learning is cool, so keep on working for it. Knowledge is power and learning about pretty much any subject gives you more or less of an advantage in life.

Graduating from Turku School of Economics
Bachelor of Economics with a major in marketing and minor in business law, ready to launch a business.

I graduated in summer 2018. My thesis (on way too difficult subject of the Shared Value by Porter and Kramer, 2011) was rated 4/5 which I was happy with.

“2 000€”

I didn’t reach this goal yet in 2018 but I got closer to it. I launched Digimonkey in August 2018, basically at the same time as I graduated. I had worked with a few client cases already at the side of my studies but because of economic reasons, I started the company officially only after my student status was over.

Digimonkey provides SEO and Google Ads services for companies, mainly in Finland but I’ve got a few clients from abroad as well. My major in Turku School of Economics, Turku University, was marketing. I felt that digital marketing is the future. My father gave me the golden advice to focus on the more narrow field than trying to be the best at everything (you’d end up being average or below at everything and stressing way more over the work). I decided to focus on search engines because I had good references on the subject already and I think it’s one of the best marketing channels for the majority of the companies.

Why did I want to start the company so fast and not go to work somewhere first? I knew that the market is not saturated but it will be. There is a shortage of SE-experts, especially in Finland. More and more companies are waking up for the realization that they need to be found on Google and there is a way to do it.

The digital marketing education is lacking behind. I did 4 years of marketing studies and only on one course, we rushed through search engine marketing. Still, I highly value my academic marketing background. It gives me more general thinking patterns that have helped me to improve my clients’ businesses online and offline.

If I had waited for another year, the situation would have been different. I’m happy I went for the business immediately without wasting my time elsewhere. Now I’m a pretty good expert on this field and companies are approaching me to fix their website visibility. I made the right choice.

Starting a company means a big learning process. Everything took more time than I thought. I wanted to leave Finland on the Fall 2018 but I couldn’t before spring 2019.

“65kg”

I did lose “only 7 kg” during that first year but I was happy about it. It’s crazy how the magazines advertise with 2 weeks or 1-month weight loss although most of us should already know that the permanent results come over time.

Do you want to be slimmer in a month or do you want to be slim for the rest of your life? If your answer is the latter, you shouldn’t worry about time limits. You can have deadlines but don’t be obsessed about them. If you have adopted a healthier pattern of eating and exercising, you consume more calories than you eat, you will get slimmer. If you stress about deadlines, the stress makes you eat more, and your chances of success are low. Stop stressing about it and learn to love the process. Being healthy feels good. You have more energy and you feel capable of doing more awesome things with your unique life.

My weight had dropped about 8 kilos by the time I was ready to leave from Finland again. Today, my weight is 68kg and I’m pretty fit. It’s been 1,5 years since I came back from Spain. I was in Indonesia for the past three months. I like how I look, I love my body and I’m mostly confident in my skin.

Social development

Power to People hackaton at a nature park. My first ever hackaton which lead me to another hackaton that eventually gave me new friendships and professional partnerships.

I didn’t write to my sticky note but while I was finishing my degree, I realized that I have to do something about my social life. Most people start a job after finishing their studies. They naturally slip from social school life to social life at their workplace.

For a solo entrepreneur, it doesn’t work that way. I had to make my own work network and find colleagues to share my work life with even if we wouldn’t work at the same company.

I created a plan. I googled events and joined Facebook groups. I attended to every interesting event around me, including three hackathons (an event where you spend a weekend or so with a team trying to solve some professional problem, usually for a sponsor company. I ended up winning one of the hackathons and ranked second at another one. For my big surprise, I found amazing like-minded people. I’m still good friends with some of them and I appreciate each of them.

Playing with our robot at Robot Uprising hackaton
Battling against other lego robots with our robot at Robot Uprising hackaton. None of us had built robots before but we ranked second in the competition. More importantly, I made awesome friends.

Leaving

All these things eventually took me a bit longer than I had hoped for. I was happy about the achievements but I started to be afraid of being stuck here while my long-time plan had been to leave the country for more adventures and test out the digital nomad lifestyle. The final step was slipping away from me.

I told my father that I had been looking for flights to Indonesia. He looked up at me and said, “What? You just started a company. You can not leave now!”. I reminded him that it was exactly the reason why I had started my business. My clients took it more positively luckily. As long as I do my work, what does it matter where I am?

On the last months before leaving for Indonesia, I was at the edge of a breakdown. I was fine and happy on some days but other days I was anxious. I understood that my options were to go to a psychologist or to go abroad. Both of the options are expensive and have the same impact. Eventually, I was able to take the latter. I knew I have to do it even if it was a leap of faith. If things go wrong, I simply come back. (Everything went perfectly! More about that on my next articles!)

Gymnastics, a new dear hobby.

I left Finland in February 2019. To my own surprise, it wasn’t so easy to leave. Looking back to the past 15 months living at my mum’s, I had learned a lot, found friends, started a new hobby that I was in love with (gymnastics), I was fitter than ever before and had got closer with my family. I had a life here again. The impact of the year and the changes I had experienced were more than I had hoped for.

The Last Words

I came back from my three months in Indonesia (and a bit in Malesia) two days ago. The trip was amazing. I found new friends and learned incredibly much. I wouldn’t change a moment. I’m full of inspiration and want to share it with you on the next articles. Unlike, when I came from Spain, this time however, I was happy to be in Finland (though sad to leave Indonesia). I missed my friends, family, longboard and gymnastics training.

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