I don't believe in right or wrong. I believe in experiences. I believe there's no right path in life, there are just different experiences. The fork in the road metaphor that we were taught in school at a young age is just too extreme and not the reality we live today. Do you remember the picture? The left path takes you into this darkness and what seems to be a horrifying jungle where pain and horror await and the right one takes you to this beautiful land where all your dreams come true.
But to tell you the truth, between these two paths, if I had to pick, the left one has always been more appealing to me than the right one. Why? I think it's because I just don't believe there are any shortcuts to your dreams in life. In fact, whenever I've been shown or offered a shortcut, I've always turned around and run the other way. From getting job offers with fancy titles at industry-leading companies to acquisitions offers for my company from the big league and investment opportunities from the rich gangs in our own ventures.
To me, these are all distractions. My goal has always been the same. To own my own time by doing what I love. To me, that means turning my passion into a business and to run it until it can run itself.
I don't believe working for a big company would teach you anything about running your own company, so I've always declined the job offers, no matter how good the titles were. I also don't believe selling your company is such a good happy ending as most people think, regardless of how much money you are offered. I would rather have a recurring income doing what I love than a fixed big sum in my bank account. And lastly, I don't believe you can learn how to make money by spending someone else's money. I believe you need the financial constraints to keep your team's focus in check. Otherwise, it's effortless to jump between things and develop this shiny object syndrome most founders seem to struggle with and as a result, lose sight of what really matters.
That's why I believe walking in that dark jungle is necessary, regardless of how many bruises you get when you come out. Those are just signs of the lessons you had to learn in order to find your own way out.
I've been using the same framework, the same core principles that I apply to make decisions in my professional life, in my personal life as well. That means I tend to take the path with the highest risk and endure the pain in the short term to get to my long-lasting reward. Sometimes I get the reward I aimed for, and sometimes I benefit from the lessons I learned later in life, which always turn out to be much more valuable than the reward I was aiming for in the first place. But unlike my professional life, I've spent the last 14 years of my life trying to find a way out of this jungle with no luck as of yet.
Let me explain.
I currently have no country I can stay in more than 90 days. That means I don't have any permanent citizenship or even a temporary one, in any country at this moment. Not even the country I was born in. Nor the country that I grew up in. Yes, there are two different countries. And no, this is not my first time. I believe most things that “happen” to us in life are just the result of our own choices and actions which means these could've easily been avoided if I took the right path, the shortcut but somewhere deep inside me, still believes that beautiful land is just a facade. The real destination lays after this dark, scary jungle.
Let's take a walk.
I was 14 years old when I moved to Sweden with my family and applied for asylum. Roughly six years later, thanks to my mother's job, my parents got the citizenship. Me? I got deported because I was 19, adult in the eyes of the law, no longer dependent on my family to survive. With no country to return to, I had no choice other than picking a random country I had never been in nor did I know anyone there, outside of Europe which would grant me a 90 days tourist visa just so I had a bit of time to figure out a plan to get a temporary one-year visa. I chose Malaysia (one of the two countries with more than 30 days tourist visa), booked my own ticket, and left Sweden within the four weeks' time frame to avoid getting deported by the police. That was the first time I got deported.
After almost three years of living in Malaysia and a few other neighbouring countries and airports in South East Asia, I came back to Sweden with a work permit.
Fast forward to today, five years later I'm getting deported, wrongfully, again, at the age of 28, because of an insurance we missed from the beginning. It's a matter of a few thousand kronor (a few hundred dollars). For some reason, the Swedish Migration Agency never bothered to let us know we were missing the insurance five years ago when I applied for my work permit or three years ago when I extended it. They simply waited until I applied for my permanent citizenship to tell me I never actually met all the requirements to begin with and therefore need to be deported. Again.
I'm going to skip the part when the Swedish Migration Agency lost my case for over a year with no effort whatsoever from their side to get things back on track. For the record, let me just say that it's the waiting that takes the most toll on you, not the final answer.
That's 14 years of my life spent in uncertainty. That's half of my life, not knowing where I belong. Even though my entire family are Swedish citizens now, I don't seem to belong here. I mean this is the second time I got deported from this country.
- Members' Q&A: Why is Sweden deporting foreign workers?
- What to do if your work permit renewal is rejected
Let me put things in perspective for you.
I started my company in Sweden when I was 20. A few months before my first deportation, I signed the ownership of my company over to my family so I could keep it alive. For the past eight years, I took it from absolutely nothing to a world-class agency working remotely with Fortune 500 and governments as clients. In fact, if you've applied for a visa lately, the chances are you went through the system we designed together with governments in over 60 countries to make the process simple, transparent and more efficient for you and the staff.
The success of my first company gave me the opportunity to reinvest some of our profit into our own ventures that gave birth to our second profitable business. I like to think that these are the results of the constraints I've lived in for so long. But I also sometimes think that I might have jeopardized my own comfort in my personal life to keep myself in check and focus on what matters the most.
To tell you the truth, I've never felt comfortable in my comfort zone so I've always done whatever I can to make sure I never end up there. Or maybe I've never really been that comfortable to see what it's like. I just know there were shortcuts I could've taken to get my visa like marrying someone as most people do in this situation. But both times I got the option I turned around and walked the other way. Mainly because I believe I shouldn't have to marry someone just to get what is rightfully mine. I mean I grew up here, my entire family is here, I went to school here and when I wasn't allowed to continue my studies in university because of the lack of permit, I instead started a business while I was in the refugee camp and grew it into the successful business it is today from absolutely nothing and created jobs in Sweden and paid millions in tax in the process, just in the past few years.
This is why how I get this visa is so important to me. I invested too much of my time and energy here just to take a shortcut now. This is why the How is more important to me than the What, and it has become a core principle, both in my personal and professional life.
The system in the Swedish Migration Agency is unbelievably broken, and I have my life to prove it.
As I'm preparing to leave Sweden again, within the next two weeks, with no destination where I can stay longer than 90 days, I can't help but feel resentful. But I've been here once before so this time around I'm more mindful about how I can use this energy to my benefit. I'm more aware of what kind of opportunity I have on my hands too. There's a rare luxury in having everything taken away from you. There's a certain freedom to it that I now come to desire. You get the chance to start over from scratch with nothing in your luggage. I see it as a plain canvas with endless opportunities. Do you realize this is what most people are afraid of? Here's what I've learned in the past 14 years of living in uncertainty:
- Realize there are no right or wrong paths in life, just different experiences. Believe in yourself and trust your own intuition. Somehow, deep down, unconsciously, we all know where we need to go.
- Realize you are where you chose to be. Nobody took those steps for you. Take responsibility for everything you are and everything you are not. You are always in control of your life.
Realize you are more than what you own and what you don't own. You are not your house, your car or in my case, where you are from. Never let this stuff become a reason to stop you from taking risks necessary to achieve your dreams.
Realize all you have in life is what you choose to do with your limited time. We are all going to die. Sooner than we would like to. People put their money in the bank to buy the things they don't need and continue to sell their time until it runs out. Do the opposite. Protect your time and ruthlessly prioritize what you invest it in, and spend your money on things that buy you more time.
Last but not least, realize the power of spoken words. Always speak your truth or don't speak at all. We tend to listen to our own words more than we listen to our own thoughts. It's like a magic spell. What we say, we feel, what we say often, we believe, and what we say the most, we become. That's how our mind is wired, and that's how we can reprogram the picture from within. To reach our true potential, we must carefully select the words we speak because it will change the way we think which leads to desired behaviours and that becomes the force to change our lives.