Hello friends, I hope you’ve been good. I’m writing this from the beautiful island of Koh Lanta in Thailand. I’ve been here for exactly a week now. It’s a work-vacation for me, wherein I work for most of the time and explore the island for the rest. This is also my first international visit, so yeah, I’m pretty psyched.
I had to fail my way out like never before to finally end up here. Last couple of months have been pretty interesting that way, it had fucking so many ups and downs that I almost had a breakdown (Yes, I who always motivate people about life was on the verge of a breakdown).
I’m dead sure that you’re already excited to know what has happened with me. Your test of patience is over now, let me tell you how it all begun.
Chapter 1 – How it all begun
As I remember, it was the month of December 2016, when it stuck me that I wasn’t doing enough with my life. Fortunately, I had been able to achieve quick progression in my career as a Product (UI/UX) Designer and had managed to earn a decent reputation within the design community. But (There’s always a big fucking BUT),
I always felt that I was just following a regular progress curve with just a little more pace than the usual. I had a realisation that I could do much more had I gathered the courage to.
No, it wasn’t really about founding my own startup. I believe it’s better to gain some real industry experience before hoping on to a crazy unvalidated idea that might just leave you to rags. Well, it’s a different case altogether if you’re already privileged and can afford the luxury of failing early.
So, what I wanted to do was explore the broader market, test myself on a global level. India is definitely a great market for tech products and is taking great measures to support the same. But, I felt that I had learned a lot in about 2 years of full-time and 5+ years of freelance experience about this market. This and another reason why I had considered moving abroad for a few years was that I have always been an explorer. Getting to travel the unusual, discovering foreign culture and the type of people and trying and adapting their lifestyle has always psyched me to the core.
Chapter 2 – The baby steps
As we all do, I began researching for the probable options for moving abroad. The parameters that I considered were (not necessarily in the order of importance),
- Startup culture and support for the same
- Cost of living and avg, salary range for designers
- Standard of living
- English speaking city
- Connectedness to the global market
These were the crucial ones, others I could manage with or without. After some research and help from the community, I found out that San Francisco, Sydney, Melbourne, Vancouver, Berlin, Amsterdam, Lisbon and Singapore were some real good options.
Chapter 3 – The first engagement
Because of my active participation in the design community, I’ve been able to establish some good connections from all over the world. During one of the usual and longer nights in Mumbai, I had casually messaged my dear friend Lorenzo in Sydney about the possibility of me moving to Sydney. And to my surprise, he immediately considered the fact and gave me a brief idea about work culture in Sydney. He then messaged me a few links that I could go through to find out about the types of visas for moving to Australia. He also set up a call to help me even further.
Lorenzo, being a Creative Director of a digital agency in Sydney had considered hiring me as a Designer there. Our call went smoothly, we got to know each other even better. He had to then have a word with his founders, the reason why he didn’t promise me anything at that time. I was already psyched about the whole conversation and was seriously considering this as the opportunity to move abroad, which obviously was too soon and slightly stupid of me.
As you might have guessed already, things didn’t turn out quite the way I had imagined. They were vary of the visa procedures and the time and effort it would demand. Eventually, they went ahead with a local contractor.
This was my first encounter with V-I-S-A and the moment that made me realise the bitch it could be. Also, this is where the series of failures begun.
Chapter 4 – Beginning of the series of many failures
After the Sydney gig didn’t go through, I was even more motivated than ever. This was because now I knew that my ambitions of moving abroad had a real good chance. Thanks to Lorenzo again, he had already validated my design skills and found out that I had been underrating myself all this time. I think the reason why I always felt overwhelmed of other designers is because I started as a Developer/Hustler who slowly made his way into design and obviously started off with shit.
Then came an email from Matt, the Founder of UpLabs. Matt was looking for someone who could take over the community relations at UpLabs and I had come to his notice because of my active participation on the UpLabs platform.
UpLabs is a great product and the one that I could instantly connect with. The vision Matt has for UpLabs is something I really believe in. And that’s the reason why I felt very overwhelmed after reading Matt’s email.
There was a slight problem though. I really enjoy building communities around a product, I’ve been doing this since the very start of my career. But, I love designing as well. And I can’t just leave designing and only continue with community engagement. I’m more of an end-to-end guy, I love to take the ownership of the product that I’m building and like to see it through.
Fortunately, after a few calls with Matt, I was able to convey my ambitions and he responded well. He was then interviewing me for a position of Design and Community Lead. There was 1 more problem though, that the position was remote and they wouldn’t be able to help me get out of India.
Considering all the pros and cons, I made my mind to go all-in for this position. I would’ve still traveled the world, just that it would’ve been like a Digital Nomad. So, the process began upon my willingness to join the company. It went on for around 3 weeks and it included 3-4 calls with both the Founders of UpLabs and questions and answers exchanged over the emails.
They seemed to be overwhelmed by my enthusiasm and the value that I could bring in and hence, they decided to go ahead with the reference checks. Reference check with my last 2 collaborators/colleagues went smooth as expected and I was just hoping for the contract to be released.
That’s when I was given another surprise, they were happy with how things had gone till then, but since they’re a small company of all remote workers, they wanted to do a final check, which seemed fair to me. I was asked to complete a design assignment, which I took in the best of my experience and limited skill-set. I was very positive about the results, but unfortunately, things weren’t perceived the same way on the other side.
I was told that I needed some more experience in hands-on design and they weren’t in a position to give me a full-time contract at that time because of the same. It was obviously a disheartening result, but I was sure I wasn’t the best designer yet and accepted the feedback in a positive manner.
The only regret I had was that the process took so long and I got rejected just a step away from landing a contract.
Chapter 5 – The period of self-doubt
Before UpLabs, there wasn’t a single instance where I wasn’t able to land a contract after going for an in-person/video interview. May be I hadn’t tried that hard before, but I had this fact stored in back of my mind which gave me enough confidence to land up any job had I taken enough efforts for it.
This rejection had already brought me some self-doubt. By this time, I had started applying for jobs abroad via emails or their online job opening.
I don’t believe in job portals, it feels like a total scam which never yields in any sought job position.
As you might’ve already guessed, many of my emails didn’t get a reply, some received a red-tape reply saying that the employer liked my work but don’t find the perfect fit yet and would circle back to me in future if at all a need arises. Some employers showed real interest, but backed off when it came to sponsoring a visa.
I had realised by this time that I had to work a lot on my portfolio and make such exceptional work that the foreign employers would go beyond their regular boundaries to get me to their workplace.
In order to make this happen, I left my full-time job on 25th of January, 2017 and shifted my complete focus towards building a kickass portfolio.
Well, there was 1 more reason why I had decided to quit my full-time job. I wasn’t making much good progress at the company I was working at and it also had a reputation for not being half as fair to its employees. I wouldn’t like to bad-mouth here, but that’s enough to convey that I wasn’t really having much fun at work.
Along side of all this mess, I was fortunate enough to continuously receive emails/calls from the Indian companies who were interested in hiring me for Senior/Lead Design positions. I had really like to work with them at some point of time, but right now, it’s just not what I’m aspiring to do. Though it’s always good to receive such emails, it helps you fight self-doubt when you’re at a low in life.
Chapter 6 – What seemed like a success
Another casual conversation with a design connect from Facebook yielded in some hope for a job in Berlin. Rick had experience working with tech giants like Apple, Airbnb, Pinterest and more… He had also worked as a Entrepreneur In Residence with Berlin based Startupbootcamp (SBC). SBC does this accelerator every year for 3 months where they invite shortlisted startups in Berlin and get them floating with their respective vision.
Rick and I had exchanged a few words, we shared our work and he found my profile fitting for the accelerator that was to be commenced from April to July of 2017. He was kind enough to recommend me for this position of EIR where I would supposed to be helping those shortlisted startups (around 10) with their design during the accelerator.
The folks from SBC were real quick and very professional with their recruiting. They sent me an email within a couple of days since I last talked to Rick and we set-up a call to learn more about each other and the opportunity at hand. The call was smooth and things seemed to be fine for the moment. I wasn’t over-expecting this time because of the lessons learned from my previous engagements with the employers.
They didn’t really have much questions for me regarding my design skills since they had already seen my work and also because I came recommended by Rick. After the final call with the MD of Startupbootcamp (SMTE), I was all set for the job, which was more like a short-term contract job. Following this, I received my contract and the invitation letter from SBC. I was really overwhelmed with tbhe promptness and humble nature of these people.
I was all set to go to Berlin, just after acquiring my visa. And that’s when a horror story begun.
Chapter 7 – V-I-S-A is a bitch
I had already began with my preparations to move to Berlin. I had the trip saved in my Google Trips (which is a great app for travelers), joined Slack groups focused around startup culture in Berlin, started learning basic German from Duolingo, made some good connections in Berlin via internet. and what not…
I applied for my Schengen visa for Germany and was refused within 4 days (Germans are very quick that way). I was terrified of the reasons that were mentioned in the refusal letter. It said that I failed to prove enough economic rootage in India and they weren’t sure of my return to India after the expiry of the visa.
After a lot of back-n-forth with my SBC connects and consulting a few people here in India, I could make some assumptions why was my visa refused. Yes, I had to make fucking assumptions, because the embassy won’t tell me why exactly was it refused and what documents would support my case. They’re famed to give you a red-tape reply over the email and show zero transparency in their visa process.
Later, I realised that they might’ve been right to refuse my visa application because of some missing documents viz., my freelance record, my reasons to return back to India, flight tickets and confirmed accommodation in Berlin. Since, it was my first visa application to any country for that matter, I accepted that I might’ve missed out on a lot of things due to lack of knowledge.
I rectified all of this for my 2nd application. I got my uncle to translate our property papers and get it notarised, gave enough evidence to establish my freelance record by providing them with the invoices, experience letters from my clients and ongoing contracts, got a letter drafted from Berlin Partner’s Head of Talent (A government non-profit agency in Berlin that helps with immigrations services for talent recruiting), made all the necessary flight and accommodation bookings. I had literally given them everything that I possibly could to justify my intent.
I and the concerned folks were very certain of this time. But then, that’s not how things were going to end up. The German Consulate General in Mumbai decided to refuse my visa for the 2nd time in a row. And the reason he had given me this time was that he didn’t find the justification of intent and the purpose of stay to be reliable. Yes, the reason was very subjective this time around and there wasn’t much I could do to prove the reliability of the same.
Yes, we were all shocked and terrified by the whole visa fiasco. It was almost like the Consulate General just didn’t wanted to allow me to be able to go to Berlin. I did try reaching out to him via email and also via Twitter, but nothing worked. SBC and Berlin Partner tried reaching out to the embassy from their end, but didn’t receive very polite answers. That was the end of something that seemed like a long-awaited success.
— Darshan Gajara (@WeirdoWizard) April 21, 2017
There’s this 1 person I really need to mention here. Vishal from mCanvas (my current client) had been 1 gem of a person in helping me out with this entire visa mess. It was only because of him that I didn’t lose my shit.
Chapter 8 – A break from everything
This visa thing had already eaten up my head. I wasn’t able to think or do much. I couldn’t help but just keep on thinking about how it all ended up here. I was terrified by the fact that how a few people in power could just crush your ambitions for no good reasons. It was high time that I took a break. And that’s when I decided to just go home (I’ve been living away from my family for first education and then work for 8+ years now) and do nothing till the time I start thinking clear.
I did exactly that, just went back home there in Gujarat and just did nothing for about a week.
I’m always overwhelmed by the way my family welcomes me back home and this time was no different. They took good care of me and made me realise that a few failures like these can’t really take me down.
I returned to my normal and felt full of energy again.
Chapter 9 – A few failures are just the indication of bigger success
Yes, a few failures are just the stepping stones towards a bigger success. You can either fear the unknown or embrace it. A few failures would never be able to put you down, you would always come back, and come back stronger.
And that’s how I ended up here in Thailand, living the remote life. I’m still glued to my ambitions of exploring global markets, it’s just that I’ve now found new perspectives of looking at it. There were a couple of more things that didn’t go through during this rough phase, but that’s alright and all good.
I would also take this opportunity to thank all of those who constantly supported me during such times of failures. I wouldn’t be able to name them all here, but know that I’m thankful for what you’ve done for me.