How a soul-searching trip off the grid lead to the formation of our badass branding company…
In 2011—before a branding studio was even a figment of my imagination—my then-fiancée Steve and I retired early. Really early: ages 31 and 27, respectively. With $10,000 in our savings account, we sublet our Brooklyn apartment and bought a one-way ticket to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.
We found a farm through WWOOF.org that allowed us to live and eat off the land in exchange for working it. It was the simple life—no watch, clock, phone, or computer. No stoves or washing machines. And no money.
We slept according to the sun—waking up to the roosters at what we can only guess was around 4 or 5am. After working for a few hours, we hitchhiked to the beach, swam, and read: first a stack of classics by Hess, Rushdie, and Coelho, and then whatever we could swap with other WOOFers and nomads we met along the way.
We got used to our early retirement. And we were ready to call it forever.
The Paradise Bubble Pops
We met an older couple on one of our many afternoons at Buzzards Bay Beach. They were curious how it was we we’re already “retired.” Once they learned why, the judgment rolled forth. You’re too young, they said. Retirement is for people who put their time in—and deserve it.
We countered back with a question of our own: why should we wait when we can do it now? She said we were lazy kids. And that got us thinking.
In truth, our “retirement” wasn’t about avoiding work at all. We didn’t think we could cheat the system, or that we were better than those who worked hard for decades. We were experimenting with our options.
We wanted to see if island life—free of money, stress, and to do’s, was for us; to experience the life that so many people dream of living—if only they didn’t have to worry about money. But wanted to do it when we didn’t have any money! No washing machines or clocks isn’t luxury—but it sure was a kind of paradise.
But the question stuck, and we came terms with the truth: life is life, wherever you are. Despite vast lifestyle differences, the people of Tortola had similar problems and stresses as people in New York. Our perception and approach to life is what creates our experience—no matter where we are. Our beautiful paradise started to seem pretty secondary.
Bringing the Island Life to Brooklyn
Coming to terms with our realization, we packed our belongings and headed back to Brooklyn. We took a lot of time to think—and we designed the life we wanted, right in the hustle of New York.
We always knew we wanted to work for ourselves. Now accustomed to living on almost nothing, we weren’t afraid to jump all in anymore. We had made the decision together: we wouldn’t look for jobs. I would find and manage Steve’s freelance design work, and he would deliver the creative.
We had $3k in our pockets. We had to make it work. And we did—with some ups and downs along the way. Now, we’re running the badass branding agency you know and love.
So what did our stint with early retirement teach us? Stripping away the bullshit—the noise, the expectations, the gnawing feeling that you should do something just because someone else is doing it—can put you in touch with the life you want—and give you the balls to go out and grab it.
And that’s when you really become a badass.