An Exclusive Interview With Colin Wright
He likes to call himself an Authorpreneur — he is an author who thinks with the mindset of an entrepreneur. He is an ardent believer of minimalism; he dresses minimally; he travels minimally; he designs minimally. Colin has been featured in USA Today, The Jeff Probst Show, TEDx and many other major media outlets around the world. His blog, Exile Lifesyle, has more than 150,000 monthly readers. I found him on Instagram, and when I asked him, he readily agreed to sit down for an interview.
Colin Wright is now known as a successful business man, who has co-founded a publishing company, and is earning even when on travel, which he does most of the year, but he’d had a humble start. He’s originally from Bay Area, California, but spent most of his childhood in Missouri. He’d then majored in Graphics and Illustration in University, paving way for his design career, which he had thought his life was going to be set on. He’d had a bunch of design and design-related jobs in his teenage years, but had quit all of them to start a business at the age of nineteen in the area he was new to: a culture magazine.
I was going to wait, but I gave in this morning and tallied the votes for which country I'll move to next. I'm SUPER excited about this, and will be revealing the country with the most votes this afternoon in my newsletter. You can sign up for the newsletter through the link in my profile (or by typing colin.io/newsletter into your browser). Looking forward to making this announcement, and cannot wait to grab my bags and arrive in my new home 🙂 #travel #author #announcement #blog #colinwright #vote #international #bag (photo by @dannynguyen_photos)
What do you think were the driving factors that gave you the nerve to go after such an ambitious project? How did it feel when it failed?
Honestly, I didn’t really think of it in those terms at that time. I was working for a magazine and had some (I thought) good ideas, and my boss essentially told me to know my place and avoiding rocking the boat. I quit to start up my own magazine and try out these ideas. It was a bit of agitation and a bit of curiosity that made me do it, more than nerve. I didn’t realize I was starting a business until I was already scrambling to build it into something that earned money, so I could pay rent.
It sucked when it failed. I felt horrible. I let myself down, I let down a lot of people who’d put time and energy and money into the project, and I felt I’d lost a lot of face; I was ashamed. Thankfully, that was primarily in my head. There were repercussions, but they paled in comparison to the congratulations I got from even giving it a try, from doing what I had done before everything collapsed. I started my second business not long after, because I was reenergized by the thought that I’d had this business-related near-death experience: why should I be scared; now that I know if worse comes to worst, I’ll stand back up and try again? It was liberating.
Armed with new-found confidence, Colin decided to go to Los Angeles, and had worked for a Production Studio for a year, before founding his own. He’d messed around with web-development, generalised designing, before focusing heavily on Branding, which he says had touched his sweet-spot between many of his interests: design, philosophy, communication and sociology. His novel and unique ideas had done spectacularly well. But in 2009, he’d decided to leave everything behind in LA to go on a world-trip.
Why did you decide to leave everything behind, and go on a world trip? Were you psychologically prepared? Was it scary?
I was living a lifestyle that was earning me a lot of money, but I was also giving up on my health and life; I had no time to do anything but work, and I had no reason to think that would change. So I pivoted and moved in a different direction. Best decision I’ve ever made!
“Now that I know if worse comes to worst, why should I be scared?”
I was psychologically prepared to be unprepared, if that makes sense. I knew that there was so much I didn’t know, so I was prepared to be surprised and caught off guard. That was good, because it was true; I’ve learned so much since I started traveling. There are so many gradients in the world I would never have guessed were there, trapped in my bubble back in LA. It was disorienting and a questioned my sanity a few times, but thankfully it has seldom been scary. People are generally good everywhere you go, and trusting in that helps with any fear you might have.
Even when being on the road, Colin had his work focused and organised. From afar, and while gazing the beautiful Argentinian skyline from his flat, he’d managed to pivot his business from building brands for other companies, to consulting on branding, to building brands for himself. Now, he co-owns a publishing company called Asymmetrical Press, and most importantly, he writes books to make his living. He is an author who owns a publishing company. But how does he stay organised to monitor work, being a thousand miles away?
How many hours do you work a day? Do you have any working pattern? Do you have any applications that you use frequently to design your website?
Oh, it’s hard to say. Sometimes none. Sometimes I work literally all day long. It depends on what I’m engaged in at the moment.
No real working pattern, no. Nothing consistent, anyway. If I’m writing a book, I get pretty disciplined for a time. Once I start writing, I like to finish as soon as possible, because I’m not able to focus too well on anything but that book. So I’ll sit down and start writing, and I’ll keep going to 12-hour, 16-hour swathes of time, getting up only to eat and use the bathroom, and to work out a little bit every half-hour or so. I’ll do that for days, until I’m done writing the book.
Beyond that, though, I work in the morning, or I’ll work in the evening, I’ll work from the couch or from bed or from a standing desk, or seated at a local coffee shop. I like variety, so there’s nothing terribly consistent. I thrive on inconsistency much of the time.
I use WordPress for most of my websites, which is easy to customize, with my background. I use Photoshop a lot, and Scrivener to outline my books (that’s probably my favorite piece of software. [It] has made my job as an author a million times simpler!).
What’s made him famous these days is the fact that he asks readers to vote on where he should live next. He spends around a couple of weeks to six months in a particular place. He travels minimally, carrying only two duffel bags. In the past six years since quitting his job, he’d travelled to some 30 countries (whoa!); he’s road-tripped through South America, had called Argentina his home for four months, and unsurprisingly, he’d stayed in Kolkata, India for five months.
What do you think of Indian society, our culture?
It was an incredibly educational and rewarding experience, though also quite uncomfortable. The level of pollution and corruption and poverty was intense, and I had never experienced those things on that scale before. That said, I also met some of the most amazing people I’ve ever had the good fortune to encounter. Wonderful people who manage to be thoughtful and giving brilliant and talented, even with the infrastructural disadvantages they experience. It was eye-opening on multiple levels.
I also had the opportunity to experience many aspects of the culture, which was vibrant and intense: the holidays were remarkable, though that impressiveness pushed up against what a burden some of them became for the local economy. Diwali was very cool to experience, but I couldn’t help but notice how much money everyone spent on decorations that would be discarded immediately afterward, when fundamental things like portable running water and functioning roads weren’t being invested in.
Also: the food was just so damn good. I think I gained five pounds while living there because I couldn’t stop eating.
Colin, although travels around a lot like a nomad, does seem to have a very fulfilling romantic life. I asked him how that works out for him.
How do you convince yourself philosophically that non-standard relationship is for you?
I’m very intentional with how I live: it’s important that my actions are aligned with my beliefs. And when it comes to relationships, the more traditional model doesn’t fit with my beliefs, and as such I’ve adjusted my relationships accordingly.
There’s no right or wrong way to live, and no right or wrong way to interact with others. When I say my relationships are non-standard, what I mean is that they’re a lot more flexible than I might have once thought possible; they adjust based on the people in them, and don’t follow certain rules just because those rules are traditional and are considered to be the only legitimate way to do things.
It is quite clear Colin is one of the few guys in our society who truly believes in going for what he loves; and he isn’t afraid of redefining the old, if need arises. And for this reason, he has lots of thoughts, lots of courage, and world wants to hear from him more. To me, he seemed to be the definition of a maverick. He also has a few words for budding authors:
As an authorpreneur, what are you thoughts on how authors should align themselves to write something that sells in the real world?
I think it’s important for a creative person to sustain themselves financially, but part of why that is important is so that they can maintain their true voice: [they] can share the things they think need to be shared, and in the way they want to share them.
So finding a balance is vital. For me, that means writing the things I want to write and figuring out ways to draw the proper audience to me. For others, it may be bending their creations so that more people will find them palatable, without losing the meaning of that work. There are lots of ways to make this happen — to create work you believe in, while also paying the bills — and each person has to figure out how that aspect of creation fits into their lives. If they don’t, someone else owns them through their inability to pay their bills, and that means they can never quite create the work they want, can never quite control their own creative destiny.
One shouldn’t create sub-par work to satiate the masses, but one also shouldn’t give up their own autonomy because they consider it noble to be completely unyielding. That’s a fragile, rigid path, and most ideal is one that’s firm, but flexible.
Thank you, Colin, for being who you are. The world is a wonderful place with people like you in it.