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Interview with David Kadavy about Medellín as a Creative City

David Kadavy in cardigan and big glasses

I interviewed David Kadavy last week for my documentary The Rise of Medellín as a Creative City, which you can watch for free on YouTube. You can also watch the interview with David on its own. He is, among other things, the writer of the bestsellers The Heart to Start and Design for Hackers and he is also the host of the creative entrepreneur podcast Love Your Work. He moved from Chicago to Medellín three years ago and never looked back. Here is the slightly edited transcript of the interview:

Julian Power: David, three years ago you decided to come to Colombia and before you have lived in Chicago and San Francisco. What was the reasoning behind moving to Colombia?

David Kadavy: I grew up in Nebraska. I lived in San Francisco and then Chicago, both pretty expensive cities. I really wanted to double down on writing. I felt like it was going to need some runway. I had spent enough time down in Medellín starting to feel like my home already. I saw that I was doing my best work here as well. I decided to move, and it’s a good environment for writing, because you can keep a routine going. The weather is perfect every day. That was three years ago, and it was a great decision. I’ve produced much better work since I moved here.

Julian Power: And what do you like most about living here?

David Kadavy: I think my favorite thing is the weather, is that it’s basically room temperature all year round. Having grown up in Nebraska, where it’s as low as -40 degrees Celsius and as high as 40 degrees Celsius. It’s very cold and very hot, and it is neither of those things here. It is just the perfect temperature all the time.

The next thing I like is just the pace of life. People are very laid back. Living in places like Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Chicago, people are very career obsessed. Not that I’m not career obsessed, but I want to be able to disconnect when I’m not working. There’s very much a culture of relaxing, taking it easy, tranquilo, everything. One thing that I’ve noticed that I don’t notice in the United States is if I get out of a taxi and it’s after 6:00 PM or something, then the taxi driver will say: “Descances,” which means basically rest well. I cannot imagine hearing that in a place like Chicago, or San Francisco, or New York.

Julian Power: In one of your podcast episodes of Love Your Work, you said that the next Austin is not going to be in the states. What do you mean by that?

David Kadavy: When I was looking for places to live, a cheaper place where I could be creative, I didn’t really see a lot of options in the United States that appealed to me. I think Austin would have been an obvious choice, maybe 10, 15 years ago. It’s one of these places that was kind of a smaller, unknown town that became a very popular destination and now it’s full of people. The traffic’s terrible. It’s not so cheap to live there anymore. It’s changed a lot, it’s developed rightfully so. When I look around the United States, I don’t really see a lot of other places to go where it’s cheap and you can be creative and live a relaxed type of lifestyle that lends itself to creativity.

Outside of the United States, especially with the technology that we have where you can live anywhere and you can stay in contact with friends and family through video chats and stuff, places outside of the United States are starting to look more and more appealing. I think that there will be more and more people who live in these industrial countries, leading countries like the United States, but decide that they want to move outside the United States so that they can be creative, so they can follow some sort of an entrepreneurial thing. As Tyler Cowen would say: “Be dynamic.”

Julian Power: What does it mean to be dynamic?

David Kadavy: I think being dynamic, according to the way Tyler Cowen, the economist, talked about it, is kind of exposing yourself to risk. Exposing yourself to discomfort in a way that will cause you to grow. I think of it like when I decided to move down here, I traded one set of problems for a different set of problems. My problems in the United States, I found to get more and more petty. I found myself getting more and more annoyed by sort of everyday things, maybe my grocery delivery was a little bit late or something like that. I wanted to trade those problems for different problems that were challenging, that helped me grow, the problem of living in a different country where you have to learn the language, that causes you to grow.

So it’s sort of like the concept of anti-fragility that Nassim Taleb talks about, where like a coffee cup, you can smash it on this rock here and it will break but your body is anti-fragile. You can expose it to stress, to a point, whether that is through exercise, lifting weights, something like that. You’re literally will be damaging yourself in a way that causes you to grow. I think that it’s easy to get complacent in the United States and when you expose yourself to these challenges, that makes you dynamic and brings creative work out of you that you might not have gotten otherwise.

Julian Power: What are the biggest challenges you’re facing here, living in Medellín?

David Kadavy: I think my number one challenge living here is patience. It’s that as an American, I’m used to getting what I want, when I want, exactly what I want, and to my detriment in fact. I think it’s bad for my mental health. Personally, makes me quite miserable to be in that state all the time because it inflames the ego. It makes you look at the world as like it’s going to serve me with this thing exactly what I want. It’s a different culture here. Things don’t necessarily work as well. I’m operating in a different language. So I definitely have to manage my expectations with things, and so I can find myself getting impatient about something and realizing that it’s not something worth being impatient about. And so I think of it as like a patience therapy. Which ironically makes me much more happier, much more content to be in a challenging environment that way.

And like I’ve said before, it’s a laid-back culture and so it helps me be more laid back because I tend to be a little driven. Hopefully, I’m not polluting the laid backness of this place by being here. That’s one thing that’s challenging, that also helps. There’s also the issue of when you live in a different country, every once in awhile, the top priority in your life becomes figuring out how to keep your body in the place where it is. That is that you can’t just go to a foreign country and stay as long as you want and not have problems. There are legal requirements, you need to get a visa. You need to make sure that you are following the immigration law so that you don’t create problems for yourself in the future.

I’ve had an incident where I invested a large sum of money in a company here and that was supposed to qualify me for a visa here in Colombia, but my visa was rejected by the country. Then I basically had to rush, leave the country within several days and then I could come back with a tourist stamp. I’m currently watching my days as a tourist. I’ll be reapplying soon and hopefully that will go better, but that is a harrowing experience, to suddenly have this place that you have come to call home, to have to leave that place. To suddenly have to leave this place that you call home. So that is something to look out for. It’s also a lot of extra unexpected expense when you’re doing the calculations of what it costs to live in a certain place. I think especially if you are going to spend a lot of time in a particular place, you have to assume that there’s going to be things that you can’t foresee, that are just going to happen that will cause that expense to go up.

Whether that’s lawyer’s fees, emergency travel, things like that. If you’re okay with jumping from one place to the next, according to what the immigration law allows, that might work fine, but you still have to figure out your travel for that. Now, my solution for that is that I use the Capital One 360 savings account, which allows you to have sub accounts. So I have an account called emergency travel and I have like $50 a month going in that. I have another account called Visa snafus, I’ve got $50 a month just automatically going in that. So when these unplanned, expected things happen, you already had the money set aside to help you deal with the issue.

Julian Power: I think a lot of people who are watching this documentary, they are thinking about coming to Medellín but they are still on the fence. So what would you say to them?

David Kadavy: I would say think about the things that I was talking about. Are you okay with the laid-back culture? Can you handle things not always going as planned? Does nice weather appeal to you? Can you live without a beach or water? Because that’s important to a lot of people who decide that they don’t want to come here. If those things sound good to you and you’re interested in learning the Spanish language, as well, I would say come. It does not have to be a binary thing. You do not have to uproot, like I did, and move here. You can do like I did, come for a couple of months, feel the need to come back every several months until the point that it feels like home for you, and then you move. Then it’s your home.

Julian Power: Thank you for being part of this documentary, and where can people find more of you?

David Kadavy: I blog at kadavy.net, I am very active on Twitter at @Kadavy, and my podcast is called Love Your Work.