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Ep. 323: How This Former Software Developer Pivoted To Become An Online Personal Trainer with Joe Müller

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In this episode, I speak with Joe, who was a former software developer turned online personal trainer. Together with his friend Marlon, they founded nomadstrong.com, the first online gym for digital nomads. 

 

Listen on to find out how Joe created an online business that helps others live a healthy lifestyle while on the road.


Listen Below:

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Transcription:

Debbie:
Hey everyone, thank you so much for being here. I am really excited to speak with my guest today. I am here with Joe. Hi, Joe.

Joe:
Hello, Debbie.

Debbie:
Thank you so much for joining me here. Joe, before we get to all of the great things you’re gonna share with us, can you tell us a bit more about you and why you live in offbeat life?

Joe:
Yeah, so I’m Joe. I’m originally from Germany. Why I live in offbeat life is a big question. I think it started when I was a kid. We moved around a lot, and so I kind of got into this rhythm of not staying in a city for too long. And yeah, then I tried to do normal jobs. I became a programmer for a while and then realized that’s not really for me. And then I became a fitness trainer, personal trainer, and then decided to take that online and on the road.

Debbie:
That is pretty incredible that you change all of these different things. But you also started, you mentioned where you grew up traveling around. How did that happen where your parents also travelers like you or was that a job that they had?

Joe:
No, it was more job situation, so it was just me and my mom and it wasn’t traveling. It was more moving to places. So then we lived where I was born for a few years and then to another city, but so it wasn’t travel, it was more still a little bit location independent. And yeah, so just out of necessity, getting new jobs, then moving closer to my grandparents. And then when I was 18, I wanted to move away from there because they lived in a relatively small place and I wanted to see the big world. And yes, all

Debbie:
That’s, it’s really funny because when Joe and I first started talking before the interview, I was telling him I’m currently in New York and he’s in a really beautiful place. Are you are in Spain, right? Like you’re in an island in Spain. Is that where you are right now, Joe?

Joe:
I mean, geographically my neighbor always tells me it’s more Africa than Spain.

So I’m on the Canary Islands and it’s indeed really beautiful. Yes.

Debbie:
Yeah. And then I was telling Joe, I’m like, you know, if you hear any noises, I’m in New York City, it’s really noisy here. And Joe’s like, I don’t know, I, I wouldn’t be able to stand that. You like the quiet, and it’s funny that you left the place that you grew up in because it was too quiet. Now are you craving it again? You’re like this, that’s my roots.

Joe:
No, I was quiet and small, like just a handful of people. And like, also like, sometimes I like the noise, but then where is it? And no, it’s just the New York City noise. If it never stops, that would be crazy to me.

Debbie:
Yeah, it’s like finding the little balances that, that you need both like quiet, but you also can’t just have too much quiet. Okay, I understand that. I definitely understand that.

Joe:
I mean, that being said, I also lived in Berlin for a while, which is also a pretty noisy place. And yeah, so I think I’m still looking for the best the best balance. So honestly, in here, 10 Arif, it’s, I love it, but now I also feel like it’s a little bit too quiet.

Now I’m trying to find the, the middle ground somewhere.

Debbie:
Yeah. But that’s one of the best things about becoming a digital nomad is if it doesn’t fit you, then you can always change your location where you are. And that’s a really good thing. And you were able to do this and discover this is what you wanted to do because you tried a few things. So once you left home, did you become a programmer right away or was that something that you kind of just like stumbled upon?

Joe:
So after I left home, I had a, a few years where I did some non-digital nomad or mega bonding, if you want to call it that. <Laugh> maybe. And no, I mean, I left home at 18 and then I messed around for a few years and then I started studying it in my early twenties. I think it was 20 when I started 21, something like that. But then realized studying is not for me. Again, went to another city did an apprenticeship as a programmer, and then since then it became more digital, the, the travels.

Debbie:
Yeah. And what, what made you kind of go into this full-time, Joe? Because obviously you had it in you. I feel like sometimes with people, you discover it later on in life, and then there’s just some people, it’s kind of in their blood, and I feel like you’re one of those people.

Joe:
Yeah, I really feel that that situation as a kid. So it’s I, a while back, so a little bit personal, but a while back I was struggling with that, like not having a real home or not feeling rooted anywhere. And that’s definitely something I had to come to terms with in my, in the lifestyle now or just in the life that I live. And now I enjoy it. But now I definitely feel like a true blood nomad <laugh>, if that, that makes sense.

Debbie:
Mm-Hmm.

Joe:
Because there’s also, there was never a place where I would’ve said, okay, I’m going to go back to there, or that’s, that’s my home base. So I’m basically moving from home base to home base. And no, I mean, it’s an interesting question I have to say. I also think about that a lot, especially when I think about my future and how will that be?

Will I ever have a home base or will I ever enjoy this lifestyle? And so that’s also pretty common questions with other moments I talk about. No, but I think I’m getting closer and closer to thinking this is probably forever. I mean, without being too what you say it too negative about it, but I also think the world changes rapidly. And so for me, it doesn’t make sense to think about the home base where we’ll be in 20 years. Like, what will the world look like in 20 years? Where can you live? Where is it nice? Where, what would you maybe wanna avoid? And so now I’m planning six months ahead around that, and this is, I think, a good timeframe for where I want to live and not just let it, let it flow.

Debbie:
Yeah. And and that’s, that’s really interesting too that you mentioned that, Joe, because I haven’t really talked a lot about this, right? Because usually the digital nomads that I talk about, either they do it for a certain amount of years and then they go back to their home base, or maybe they’re like, well, I plan on doing this for a few years, but I’m most likely going to settle down somewhere.

Or maybe something happens and they start a family and they’re kind of based somewhere, or it’s kind of like a back and forth, there’s always a home base they, they go back to and then they travel and then but you kind of are thinking maybe this is a forever thing for you. How does that make you feel in a way where I know you said it, you struggled in the beginning, not having one, but did you have a point where you were just like, okay, I I am embracing this, or I feel like I have to embrace this in terms of being a forever digital nomad or being a forever nomad?

Joe:
Not, I think it was the last two or three years where I really started to first accept it and then embrace it. And really also yeah, see my, see a good future in that. And really so if I think into the future when I’m, I don’t know, 60, and so it’s just way more realistic in my mind that I’m still moving, probably not every week or every two weeks, but I’m also not doing that now.

So I’m very slow maning and that’s also a part of it. So I think I became pretty good in building like temporary home bases and meeting the right people and going to the places where I meet the people that I like to hang out with. And so now I have a few places where I could back, go back to probably and be at least not alone or kind of integrated into a community. And now, so right now I’m really, really enjoying it and really see that as a life I want to live.

Debbie:
And in terms of community, because you do meet a lot of people, how does that work for you? Were you like an an extrovert and you’re just the type of person that gets to meet people and then you make friends? Or were you an introvert that had to, to become <laugh> an extrovert? Because I, I feel like unless you are the type of person that you don’t mind being alone all the time, it could get lonely. And in certain situations, you know, when you’re moving from one place to the next, how do you make it so that you do have a community wherever you go?

Joe:
Mm. So I think, or what I discovered for myself is, I mean, I have a handful of good friends that are spread all over and that I am in contact with over phone and that like, that I feel connected to. And then what’s, for me, the most important thing, or what I feel is super important for me is the daily social contact.

Like the small, the small contacts, like going to the same cafe, meeting the people, getting friendly with them, talking to the neighbors in the place I stay. And so that’s like the baseline. And then I I like to do jiujitsu and that’s for me, it’s the most welcoming community I’ve met so far. So you can just show up anywhere and say, Hey, can we train together? And since it’s very physical, it has some, I don’t wanna call it intimacy, but you, I don’t know, it’s a different connection than you would have if you, I don’t know, meet some somebody and play soccer, I guess…

And, and there it’s easy to then immediately meet people to, to hang out with or to connect with. And it’s, and the one, the other thing I like to work out work out outside, and especially here in Spain, they have calisthenics places all over. And it’s also something I tell my clients, like, if you’re on the road, this is the best place to meet people because then you hang out at the calisthenics bars, everyone has to do rest between their sets. You can easily strike up a conversation like, Hey, cool exercise or whatever. Like, it’s the easiest place to talk to someone. And also that’s how I, I put that together, like, go to cafes a lot, go to jiujitsu, work out outside. And then depending on how long you stay, obviously it’s can become more, more friendship like.

Debbie:
And in a way, even though you are a digital nomad, the connections you’re making while you are on the road is not as digital. It’s actually more personal. And, and, you know, you have to force yourself to, to make those interactions, the, the in-person interaction to make that connection, which I think is really beautiful, right?

Because like your work is digital, but then your life is very much person to person. And I think there’s beauty in that, especially if you’re getting to know the area. But I always find that the people in those location is what makes it unforgettable and something that you wanna come back to every time. Because there’s definitely a lot of beautiful places on earth and it’s absolutely incredible. But it’s usually the people in the places that make it, that it’s like that little cherry on top that you, you really, it becomes unforgettable.

Joe:
No, that’s right. For sure. And the only other way around, I had places where I felt like I can’t read Bur Berlin, for example, when I lived there, I, I mean, it was maybe also the wipe of the city, but there somehow I just couldn’t connect really. And then it didn’t, or it didn’t, maybe it’s too many people or maybe too many jujitsu clubs.

Maybe not enough outdoor training facilities. But no, definitely like the, the people I think mostly make the wipe or the, the general feeling of how good it feels, which comes back to me really believing also in a, if you’re not a nomad, like I think the daily small interactions like smiling at the hir ke, how do you say it in English?

Debbie:
Yes.

Joe:
This guy,

Debbie:
Those people. Yes.

Joe:
Or the lady at the bakery or the small talk at the bus stop. And no, I think that’s super crucial for everybody, and it’s a little bit easier to get if you’re a nomad. I think if you’re new in a place like you, little bit wide-eyed, pushy, tailed, oh, this is so nice. And then you sit in the cafe and it’s easier to strike up a conversation than if it’s horrible. You can leave anyways. So

Debbie:
Yeah, that’s, that’s true. And I, I also find that being social, especially when you’re traveling solo at first it’s hard, but then as you keep going, I think more people are open to you. ’cause They kind of, I don’t know, this is how I feel, Joe. I don’t know how you feel, but most of the time when I used to travel solo, people would kind of feel bad seeing me, like eating by myself or, and then they would just invite me to, to eat with them or like hang out with ’em. And that’s so nice. And it, you know, it allows you to really see how people are usually, you know, most of the time are good and they wanna include you in things and they don’t want you to feel lonely or alone. And not most people are just, you know, they have a good heart.

Joe:
That’s, yeah, that’s my experience. Definitely. I don’t get invited to eat that much, but I also really enjoy being alone in a cafe or then just sitting and especially new places and then looking at people or just like soaking up the vibe of what’s happening. And then, no, but I invite myself to eat. Sometimes – or like, then you strike up a conversation and then like you said, like people are, I didn’t have bad interactions yet. I think,

Debbie:
Yeah, knock on wood, not gonna happen.

Joe:
Maybe I don’t just, just don’t remember them. That’s yeah, maybe I just remember the good ones. It’s good. Yeah, just, just, I like it.

Debbie:
Forget about those things, right? Hide that away. Tuck it away somewhere if, if that happens. But usually, you know, like if that happens, like you’ll remember it for a little bit, but the things that stand out are the best moments that you experience, which is good.

Let’s kind of go back to, you had mentioned in your twenties you started doing programming, but then you realized it wasn’t for you. And obviously you’re a fitness person you love being active and you do this for a living and you help people do it on the road. How did you transition from being a programmer to now being a digital nomad who helps people stay fit while, you know, they’re on the road themselves?

Joe:
So, I mean, originally it started when I, when I was doing my intern no apprenticeship as a programmer, like most people who sit all day, I started getting back pains. And then by coincidence, I met a personal trainer who needed a website, and I made him a website and he came to my place and we did a few workouts together.

And so this guy got me hooked on working out, and then I started doing that more and bought a pull-up bar from my place. And then just got really into it. And unfortunately, or now I wouldn’t say that way anymore, but at that time I got really into amphetamines and like in general, just raving and party trucks which was also because I hated my job. And yeah, so that kind of happened at the same time. And so I got deeper and deeper into this addiction issue while at the same time becoming fitter and fitter.

And then, I mean, at some point I decided I can’t continue taking drugs or I don’t want to. And then just fitness helped me the most, like training, I mean the physical part of it, but also the success feeling or the feeling of progress, or also a feeling of like taking care of yourself better. And so that was my initial motivation to help people or to become a trainer. So at first I wanted to work with addicted people because it felt like, oh, I, I helped myself out of my addiction by doing a lot of pushups. But then I realized also going to rehab.

And then I realized like, this addiction thing is way more complicated than just working out. And so I decided not to, not to specialize in that or not to think that I could save addicts by making them workout programs. And then I started just working in a gym as a trainer. I started doing online training in 2017 already, because one part of the programming job that I like is like, I can do it from everywhere. And then being a trainer is normally not something you can do everywhere or not normally what people do. And so then that’s how I stumbled onto online training, started doing that 2017, then also worked in gyms and traveled a little bit, did some seminars, and yeah, so that was the transition mainly.

Debbie:
Yeah. And in a way it was something that you really needed and it was necessarily for you to, to do in order to save yourself. And I love that you talk about just doing pushups, right? And that was the first thing. And it’s like the little things like that really matter for your health, and not just physically, but mentally and also helping you get through things that were really rough. And I’m sorry that you had to go through that Joe.

And I’m sure a lot of people can really relate to that when you feel like you’re stuck in something and then you try to avoid it by doing something that you know, is not healthy for you, but it helps you take your mind off of it. So I kudos to you for realizing that, and then another for realizing that you needed more help. And I think it takes a lot of guts to, to kind of realize that on your own because as, as people we’re usually very stubborn, right? We, we, we don’t wanna be wrong and we don’t wanna fail at things. And your transition to that was pretty incredible.

Joe:
I mean, it also took some time. It’s not like I just woke up and decided, oh, yes, this, this is gonna be it. So it was indeed I’m, I’m not sorry anymore that it happened, so I’m actually really happy. It’s was a important turning point and some crowing pains that came with that. But now I’m, I’m really happy to, to have this experience and to look back on it.

And, and yeah, it’s still guides a lot of things that I do, like not going back to that or also seeing the changes possible, you know, like changing all of that, even though it was long and painful, but now it’s, yeah, it’s put, puts a lot of things in perspective of what’s possible or how I want to treat myself, how I wanna organize my life as well. So,

Debbie:
Yeah. But you know what, that’s usually one grow the most is when we make those changes. Sometimes they’re small, sometimes they’re, they’re really big and oftentimes they could really change the trajectory of our life. I think a day or two ago, I was just scrolling through social media and, you know, I don’t know if you do that, Joe, but I do sometimes, ah, I also forget too much.

Joe:
I know.

Debbie:
I’m like, just to get my mind off of things, like when you’re working too much. But I saw this clip, I keep forgetting, he’s like a late night show host, and he was getting interviewed and the, the interviewer asks him like, ’cause I think he wrote in his book that I, I can’t really say it word for word, but pretty much the premise was he said in his book that there was nothing that he regretted even like the worst parts that happened in his life.

And the interviewer said, is that true? Like, do you not regret anything? Even the worst things that’s happened to you? And he said, no, because life is a gift. And just living is a gift. So if you get life you are gonna have the good and the bad, and you know, that’s what you just have to, is just appreciate that, right? Because it’s a true gift to even live. And I was like, wow, that’s such a profound thing because you know, a lot of, especially now with everything that’s happening, it’s very easy to just think, you know, life just sucks, right?

Like when things happen to you. But thinking about it in a way where it’s like, life is a gift. Like just even being born was a gift, right? Out of all the, you know, in your parents, like, one of you like, or millions didn’t survive, but you did. So it is a gift. So I’m like, that’s such a great way to think about life being a gift in that. So I was like, yeah, that’s, that’s so true. Life can’t be as good if the bad things don’t happen. And it does change us in, you know, so many different ways.

Joe:
That’s what I meant with, I’m happy for the experience because I feel some people got a gift. So some people really have a painful life and it doesn’t change. And so for them it’s bad forever. And I get that it’s not that they can see it as a gift, but for me, like having had the opportunity to change out of that and now like the painful periods now, like that’s what I meant with the perspective. It just, yeah, it’s tough, but I also know it can be good again.

Debbie:
Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s interesting because I think when you’re, when you’re in deep into something, when some things are really bad, you can’t, sometimes it feels like you’re drowning, right? And especially if you’re on your own, it’s so much harder because at least if you have some sort of a support system, they kind could help you out somehow.

You have a shoulder to lean on. But when you are on your own, that’s a really tough thing. Especially if you are drowning, like, you know, the, like, you feel like you’re drowning and there’s nothing that you can do personally. ’cause But to get out of that especially if you don’t have a built-in support system, and you have to find that on your own is a pretty incredible thing. And to see life as a gift, even after everything you’ve gone through, you know, with you Joe, I’m sure there’s other things that’s happened in your life too that’s come to that point.

But it’s, it’s amazing. When we do take our life and see it as, as a gift and see there’s chances and what we’re going through right now is not forever. And it also takes a special type of strength to do that, which you obviously had. And I’m sure a lot of people who are listening to this do have, ’cause I feel like as human beings, we are really, we are really strong and sometimes we just don’t know how strong we are until those things actually happen to us, which is ironic ’cause I’m like, no, not, not that, but you know, you just get through life, I guess.

Joe:
But that’s funny you say that because that’s one of the things I say to my clients often, that you’re way stronger than you think. And that obviously with me relates often to training or physical stuff, but also the mental, mental aspects of it for sure. And I think it fits also to, to what you said earlier with people inviting you to eat or just like not wanting you to be lonely. I think what helped me a lot, oftentimes, especially in my addict times, it felt, of course it felt like I’m only by myself and I’m drowning and I have nobody.

But now it feels like there’s a lot of people, like there’s a lot of help available. And I mean, of course you can’t go to a foreign country and then just be like, oh, I’m, I’m not feeling well. Someone help me please. So it is even though that might work or someone would help you because like you said, humans are overall very good and very interested in others being good and getting better. And I think it’s probably also the experience I had then from rehab and how people treated me and helped me in a lot of ways, strangers, that that never got anything back from it except a good feeling of having helped me, which seems to be enough, which is enough for most people. Like you and me probably don’t know, just feels good if you help someone.

Debbie:
Yeah. And I, I think that’s also, you know, as, as a human being, and I’m sure this happens to you a lot, like even this conversation we have, right? You feel good when you’re connecting with someone. And I think that is something that people get when they’re helping you.

They’re getting something out of it, and it doesn’t have to be anything like you’re giving them money or you are doing something back for them, but that feeling that they get from just helping you, and I think that’s something that you can’t really replicate with other things because you do have that connection and you feel like you’re doing some sort of a purpose in your life and if that makes sense. Because there’s only so much that you can do with, with things, right? Or with money or whatever it is with your job.

Like you can only go so far. But in terms of like giving back or feeling like you have that connection with, with another human being, I think that’s really beautiful and something that you can remember for a really long time. And yeah. And I, I love that, that you’re able to do that and you really changed the trajectory of where you were to what you’re doing now, and it’s giving you that same sort of feeling in a way. I don’t know, maybe I’m putting words in your mouth, <laugh>, because it changed you as a person, I’m sure, and now you don’t hate it <laugh>, and you, you have other support systems in your life.

Joe:
No, you, you’re not putting words in my mouth. I have to be honest. Like, this is the main reason I’m doing this job. Like, it just feels good. I don’t know what else to say. Like if people do physical stuff they couldn’t do before and they’re happy about it or people are out of pain or not getting any more pain and then, I don’t know, like, I think a lot about that. Like what’s the, the psychology behind it or the social construct that carries all that and why does it feel good and blah, blah, blah. But I don’t know, I had a few years ago I trained with a guy, he was in the thirties and he heard his back when he was in his twenties. And so for 10 years he didn’t walk faster than a quick walk and like he did nothing athletic, nothing.

And then I had him jump onto a like 20 cent that we worked on that for a few days before he jumped on a 20 centimeter high like you in America, right? That’s like two hand, probably like a very small step. And he jumped on it and then we were in the gym and he started crying for joy. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative> of how good that made him feel that he was able to do that again. And I still think about that so much and it’s, it’s feels so good.

Debbie:
Yeah.

Joe:
Seeing that more and more awesome than other people, like more, I feel most people have that and just want other people to feel good and then just link into that and also put some trust into that. Now, for me now when I have trouble sometimes, or if I feel a little bit disconnected or like not drowning anymore, but like I feel the water rising a little bit, it’s like, yeah, I help people, people help me. It’s a good system. It’s feels good for everybody.

Debbie:
Yeah. And it may seem for us who can do things like that, it may seem so little, right? Like Tim just jumping Yeah. Those tiny little steps. But for that person, that’s, that’s a huge thing. It’s something like you had mentioned Joe, like he hasn’t done for a very long time. And also that gives you hope, you know, like, okay, now that I can do this, maybe I can do other things. Yeah. Or I could jump higher, bigger, I could actually feel good again. And that changes your whole being in, in a lot of ways. And hope goes a very long way, you know, even if it’s just a tiny little bit, it definitely goes a long way

Joe:
And without a tiny little bit of it. So if you don’t have any of it, like it pretty much kills everything. Like if you don’t have hope that it can get better, why would you even try?

Debbie:
Yeah. And, and that’s the thing about resiliency in humans. Like when you’re just given that little tiny speck of hope, you can pretty much do anything or it feels like you’re invincible and you’re like super human in, in a lot of ways, which is good and you help people do that. So, you know, this is actually a good segue to my question to you, Joe. So let’s move forward to about 30 to 40 years from now. And you’re looking back in your life, what legacy would you like to leave and what do you wanna be remembered for?

Joe:
Hmm. How much money I made? Nah, I’m kidding.

Debbie:
I’m like, interesting Joe.

Joe:
Just the most absurd thing I could mention think of in the moment. Hmm. Like we said earlier, like I, I think about being in the future and where would I want to live and what would my lifestyle look like, but I’m not really thinking about what kind of legacy.

I mean, I, I think it’s just the guy jumping on the steps. So this is my, my base module and I mean, this is an extreme example, but like most people, probably all people I work with feel better after a while and this interaction happens where they tell me that they got better and I’m happy and it feels good to me.

And I just now trying to multiply that and as much as possible and I’m, I don’t know, like I said when I was in my twenties and after the addiction thing, when I was convinced that I’m gonna help 1 million addicts quitting their stuff through working out or something and had this like ose goals of what I would like to achieve or be remembered for, but no, no, I honestly don’t think about leaving something behind or legacy.

It’s just I’m trying every day or I’m most of the days when I feel feel good enough to do it to just replicate that and make it bigger and reach more people with the same, same solutions or with the same mindset of let me just help you.

Debbie:
Yeah, absolutely. And I think I love that you’re trying to pay it forward because you did get a lot of help when you felt like you were drowning and now it’s your time to, to pay that forward. And I love that you are able to create this and do this not just for yourself, but for for other people as well. And I love that legacy and that’s something that definitely and, and our death bets one day, you know, when somebody asks us, Hey, what do you remember? And that’s the thing that you remember the most too which I think is really incredible to leave. Like that human connection and what you can do for, for others, that gives you a lot of joy.

Thank you so much, Joe, for joining us today. Thank you for letting us into, you know, your journey for sharing with us what what it was like and you know, transitioning to, to everything that you have gone through.

We really appreciate you being here. If our listeners wanna learn more about you, where can they find you?

Joe:
So first off, thanks for being so interested. That always feels good to talk about yourself, right? And people find me on nomadstrong.com. This online gym I have or on Instagram, @Joekeepsmoving. The name is the program and no, that’s the main, main places I am.

Debbie:
Perfect. Thank you so much Joe.

We really appreciate you!

Joe:
Likewise, thank you.


Listen to Joe’s extended interview where he talks about how to stay fit while on the road.

What you’ll find:

In this extended interview, Joe talks about staying fit even while you’re on the road!


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Show Credits:

Audio Engineer: Ben Smith

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