Army’s Story: How My Mom Inspired Me to Become a Digital Nomad

by | Aug 21, 2017

I’d like to share my personal story of why I am choosing to embark upon a life of perpetual travel and adventure. Why? Because people have a fundamental desire to feel understood, and I am no exception. My choice goes well beyond my love of travel, my desire to break free from societal expectations, and my desire to stop paying $1895/month just on rent.

Being a 1.5 generation immigrant, I grew up heavily influenced by Korean culture where don’t air out your dirty laundry is the de facto credo. This practice of privacy continued well into my adult life, and it made me feel disconnected from everyone. I couldn’t expect to truly connect with someone if I was unwilling to bare myself and be a little vulnerable in the process.

By contrast, American culture taught me that personal tales of overcoming rough patches in life are inspirational and something to feel proud of.

Today, I’d like to air out my personal dirty laundry in hopes that it will help me connect with the people who come to our blog to read about our journey.

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I’ve been told that, at first glance, it’s hard to imagine that there has been so much adventure behind my 32 years. It’s not that my hardships themselves have been unique and rare; what’s unique is that I experienced all of them at the same time so early on in my adulthood.

It’s true that my life has always been an adventure of some sort. From growing up in poverty in South Korea (it was a much different place in the 80s), immigrating to Los Angeles when I was eight years old, learning English as a hyper-introverted child, working at a swapmeet in a rough neighborhood to help my parents, dealing with a bipolar father, working four jobs to put myself through college, battling my own lifelong depression and anxiety, hardship has always seemed like my life’s state of equilibrium.

Then, seven years ago when I was 26, my mom fell ill and ultimately became disabled… and I became the sole provider for my family as my parents lost everything to medical bills and my dad became her full-time caregiver. I eventually took over both roles when my dad suddenly passed away four years ago.

There’s just no way to sugarcoat it: this was the toughest moment in my life. I truly and sincerely love my mom more than anything, but being her caregiver has been the most heartbreaking and draining thing I have ever done. She needs help with daily activities like eating and taking medications, and I had convinced myself that I was the only person capable of taking care of her. This meant that I missed out on a lot of things that most people in their 20s get to experience.

Every time I said “no” to opportunities that would broaden my horizon and make me grow as an individual (because they would physically take me away from her), it slowly depleted my ability to evolve. I started feeling like caregiver was my only identity and right. My mom encouraged me to see friends and to “have a life and a laugh,” but I felt too guilty, like I was leaving her behind while I selfishly pursued life. This guilt paralyzed me.

This may sound like a cliché, but falling in love with Ryan changed my life and my perspective. It changed my being. I learned to laugh again and started seeing all the possibilities – especially in myself. He is such a beautiful, loving, joyous human being that his optimism and positivity slowly tinted the way I experienced life. It encouraged me to remember all the things I used to dream about.

It took me a long time to realize that it’s okay to be a little selfish and pursue the life that I’ve always wanted, that I am not beholden to just live the life that has been GIVEN to me. The guilt still paralyzes me sometimes, but rather than dwelling on how sad it makes me to know that my mom isn’t able to enjoy the life she has worked so hard to cultivate, I started to let it be a reminder and motivation to go after the life I want before it is too late. And THIS is the life I truly want.

I want my next chapter of life to be filled with candid stories of love, laughter, and travel. My mom sees how this decision has returned the twinkle back into my eyes and supports our decision to become digital nomads… even though that means someone else will be taking care of her 99% of the time now and I won’t be able to see her as often. She told me that she doesn’t want her only daughter to just survive life, but to LIVE life. I am holding on to the hope that I can take her traveling someday soon and show her all the things she’s taken a raincheck on.

I hope my story can provide some inspiration and hope for someone else seeking a fresh start filled with adventures of one’s own choosing. I feel so lucky right now that you are reading my story. It motivates me to continue sharing my pursuit of life and happy-ness.

Thank you again for taking an interest in my story and journey.

With Love,

Army + Ryan