Ever since I posted the picture of my boyfriend and I enjoying ourselves in Japan, Bali and New Zealand as part of our 6 month living abroad experience, I’ve received messages asking: How do you start a business like that? How I can also pursue the creative path and have a life that you have?

Below are the three main ingredients that has helped me start the type of business that matches the life I want to live, filled with play, freedom and abundance. 

Side note: Before I start, I want to address the most common obstacles that people face in starting a business: the limiting beliefs that they don’t have the skills, that it’ll be too hard, and it’s impossible for them to succeed. I’ll dive deep into these three beliefs in another post, but right now, I just want to put this in perspective and give a shoutout to our immigrant parents: They came to the the US, sometimes barely knowing English. And YET they still started their own businesses, whether it was restaurants, dry cleaning or salons. They didn’t have an MBA or graduate from business school. What they did have though was infinitely more important: they had a vision, resilience and determination. 

So let’s not second guess ourselves shall we?

If our parents made it happen (with much less resources than we have now) and built something of their own, we too can absolutely start a business.

To take it a step further, here are the three things that has helped me the most in building a business that empowers me to live my dream life: 

1. I clarified my nonnegotiable values – and held steadfast

After being in my job after a couple of years and feeling stagnant, there was this powerful ache to find a career I love. And one of the most important things I did was to not ignore this desire.

I took advantage of the lessons I learned around what I didn’t like, and used that to determine what my nonnegotiable values were for the next career: social impact, work flexibility, and 1:1 relationships

With social impact, I chose to continue working in the education field. With work flexibility, I wanted to dictate my own hours and be anywhere in the world, so being a digital nomad and an online entrepreneur felt like the best way to go. And with client relationships, I knew I wanted to work with people deeply and powerfully one-on-one, whether it was for consulting or coaching.

And so I went to build a life from inside out, based on what I wanted first and then creating a life around it, instead of the traditional way of job searching and pigeoning myself into a box. I also made sure that when I realized that something wasn’t aligned with my values, I would no longer pursue it. And the more I set boundaries and said NO to things, the easier it was to focus on my vision and clarify it. And that’s how I naturally transitioned into becoming a coach, thanks to the three value pillars. 

The second part of the equation is to not give up — once I was committed to figuring out my next career and making it work, I made sure I did whatever it took. Whether it was moving out of San Francisco to save on rent, or staying at friends’ and my parent’s place, I did it. Because I knew that getting closer to my dreams was better than feeling secure but stagnant at a job that I couldn’t see myself growing in. Above all, I prioritized learning first. Because investing in my brain and my future is the best investment that I can make. And if I never stop doing that and hold steadfast, then it’s inevitable that I can get there. 

2. I chose to focus on getting results and experiences over traditional ‘best practices’

Traditional wisdom tells you that you need to go to business school to start a business or a certification to start coaching. But really, the only thing people (your future clients) care about is: Can you help me? 

And the best way to do that isn’t through gaining more knowledge or getting that sheet of paper, but it’s through you getting results for yourself. You are the best product of your product and the best testimonial to what’s possible after working with you. 

It all starts out with being willing to experiment with strategies to your unique situation and YOU deciding what’s the best for you, regardless of what the internet or people around you say. 

For example, here are three examples of how following my heart, instead of best practices (probably saved me 1–2 years and tens of thousands of dollars, which I invested back into the business for growth): 

  • When I quit my 9–5 job, I didn’t have anything else lined up. Because why would I rush and tie myself down in another unfulfilling job and repeat the cycle? Instead, because I didn’t even know I wanted to do next, I took the time to create a 2 month learning bootcamp for myself to actually get real-life experience on what brought me joy on a day-to-day basis, which ended up being writing and teaching. And this remains the foundation for my business and coaching to this day. 
  • When I started coaching, I didn’t get a certification. I actually really wanted to get one but then realized that it was merely so I could feel better about my skills after someone externally validated me. Instead, I focused on coaching people and getting them results, and learned by doing, instead by the textbook. Because sooner or later, you’ll need to apply it anyways, so why not start now?
  • When I first work with clients, they usually want to be on all of the marketing channels (thanks to the advice of marketing ‘gurus’), but I coach them to focus on only one. We choose a platform that feels the best to them and grow on it, instead of trying to be omnipresent and overwhelmed. My philosophy is that the most sustainable way of building a business is doing what you love and focusing on what you’re naturally good at first. We focus on ease and alignment rather than the traditional methods of forcing and productivity — and my clients have the results to show for this new way of building a business as well. 

3. I hired a business coach

This is probably THE BEST decision I’ve made in building my business. Before getting a coach, I signed clients, but they were inconsistent. My business was all over the place (though I didn’t realize just how much of a hot mess I was in at the time), and I was more of a stay-at-home struggling entrepreneur rather than a global coach and world traveler. Hello parents’ house and their incessant statements telling me to get a real job!

Everything changed after I started investing in myself — not only did I get more integrity as a coach (as the saying goes, a coach always needs a coach), but also I saw the results right away: for the first time, I was able to work with high-end AND super aligned clients, which made such a big difference in my growth as a coach as well as possibilities in my life. This was how I was able to travel and live abroad for 6 months earlier this year, where I went with my partner to see the Sapporo Snow Festival and cherry blossoms in Japan, a month-long road trip across the beautiful mountains of New Zealand, and a creative staycation at a fisherman’s village in Bali right by the ocean.

While I’m so grateful for my business transformation, I’m even more thankful for my personal transformation (I know, what an incredible added bonus on top!). Not only did my business and finances blossom, but so did all areas of my life: relationships, self-love, spirituality, etc. It’s because everything is interconnected: the way we do one thing is often times the way we do everything.

It was so fascinating and freeing to experience my self-worth, confidence and boldness going up. As I got life coaching as well, I became more playful and loving, like I was a totally different person! I also learned to let go of striving, and be present. I seriously cannot recognize the Yunzhe from 6 months ago. And the beautiful cycle is that the more I did inner work, the more my business also grew, and vice versa because a business is an extension and reflection of yourself.

My whole life changed because I was ready to go ALL IN and invest in myself. After years of struggling, I finally decided to give myself the chance to believe in myself 100%. That’s also the beauty of getting coaching — once I decided to invest, my whole thought process automatically changed because I made an action that said: “I believe in myself and I’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen. I CAN make it happen”. When your belief is this strong, it reprograms your brain and success is inevitable. To paraphrase Gandhi: your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your results. 

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These 3 foundational pillars to build the business + life of your dreams may seem too simple and straightforward to be true, but often times, the simplest thing is also the hardest thing. I’ll never forget what my mentor said to me when I was debating whether to take an internship or full-time job after graduation. He said:

“The right decision is probably the harder decision to say yes to.”

If you’re anything like my clients, deep down you probably want to change into a more creative career and start your own business. The good news is that if I could do it, then so can you. There’s no magic sauce that I had, only a dream to love the work I did and the rewiring of beliefs due to coaching. I didn’t start entrepreneurship when I was 16 or was born an extrovert. In fact, I actually got rejected from business school in college

But I never stop pursuing my interests in business and lovable work.

Because if there’s a desire, the potentiality exists. And if you have a desire to create your own thriving business, then it’s absolutely possible for you as well.


  • Yunzhe Zhou

    Business + Creative Coach for Asian Americans

    Yunzhe Zhou is the business and creative coach behind yunzhezhou.com. She helps Asian Americans leave the 9-5 and gain the confidence and clarity to start their own creative businesses. As a result of working with Yunzhe, her clients from traditional backgrounds such as Fortune 500 and top tech companies have built their own successful paths as writers, artists and entrepreneurs. Yunzhe's work and holistic style of coaching have been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, and other leading publications. She's also the founder of the One Month Projects framework, the ARTS podcast (Asians Redefining Their Success), and loves all things creative: whether it's Zumba dancing, painting or making travel videos. You can follow Yunzhe on LinkedIn where you'll find her talking about career experimentation, life lessons and traveling around the world as a digital nomad.