In 1998, my wife and I, along with some friends, took up the challenge of learning Mandarin. 

23 years later, I still pinch myself when I think about all the experiences we've had because we decided to step completely out of our comfort zones.

Why the heck did you decide to learn Mandarin?

In the '90s, Chinese students were arriving in Canada to attend university. My wife and I had the opportunity to know many of these students, and we were interested in learning more about their culture. 

It became clear that one of the best ways to learn more about a culture is learning the language. So, in May 1998 we took up the challenge to learn Mandarin.

You've probably heard people say things like, "Mandarin is the hardest language in the world to learn." Well, it isn't. Other languages can be more difficult. That's not to say learning Mandarin isn't challenging. It most certainly is, not the least of reasons being that there's no alphabet. 

On top of that, the sounds in Mandarin are very different from sounds commonly used in English. Mandarin is also a tonal language, so if you're hard of hearing or were just born tone-deaf, you're going to be challenged and frustrated. 

Nevertheless, my wife and I both speak it fluently, and now that we're back in Canada (more on that in a minute), we still use our Mandarin daily. 

Right about now, you're probably wondering how any of this is related to content marketing, writing, and blogging. Good question. So, let me share the steps I took to become fluent in Mandarin and show you how you can apply the same steps to achieve your goals, regardless of what they are.

How To Achieve Your Goals

Step #1: Make up your mind to start.

Making up your mind means more than just saying you're going to start. In our case, this meant finding someone to teach us Mandarin, learning about the culture, and trying to create a Chinese environment for ourselves.

As I mentioned, we knew Chinese people who had moved here to attend university. We were also close to a couple of Chinese families who were raising their children here. That made it easier for us to create as much of a Chinese environment as possible, considering we weren't living in China.

We also began learning Chinese with a group of Canadian friends. That was a way to inspire each other, be accountable, and share lots of laughs too.

How does this apply to achieving your goals as a freelancer, writer, blogger, coach, or entrepreneur? 

You've got to do more than saying you're going to achieve something. Talk is cheap. You've got to access and use the resources you'll need to succeed. You may need to enrol in some training or find a coach to improve yourself or develop skills you're lacking.   

You'll need to learn the " common language" and "culture" of the market you plan to serve. Create an environment that mirrors it by connecting with people who've already succeeded in that market and can help you quickly gain the knowledge (think fluency) and skills you'll need for success.  

Things to do:

  • Read one article per day related to the market or industry you want to work in so you learn the "language and culture."
  • Connect with individuals who are successful in your chosen market. They'll help keep you accountable, inspired, and having fun. 
  • If you need to up-skill, then enrol in some training or find a coach who can help you develop the skills you need.

Step #2: Don't get discouraged and don't give up.

A little over a year after we began learning Mandarin, we were at a Chinese convention in Vancouver and had a chance to meet many native Canadians who spoke Mandarin fluently.  

One couple we met never lived in China, yet they spoke "perfect" Mandarin. The wife told us, "whatever you do, don't get discouraged and don't give up, because you can learn this language." 

That advice would prove valuable. Whenever I felt my progress was slow and wanted to quit, I would recall those words. Learning a new language and discouragement can go hand-in-hand, especially when learning one as "foreign" to an English speaker as Mandarin is.  

How does this apply to achieving your goals as a freelancer, writer, blogger, coach, or entrepreneur? 

The reason most bloggers fail at making money is that they give up too soon. The same thing applies to freelancers, writers, coaches, and entrepreneurs. 

Despite what you see online and what so many people claim, success doesn't happen overnight. 

It's like watching sports and seeing athletes perform incredible feats of skill. What we don't see are the hours of practice and training they put in behind the scenes. 

Likewise, when you see someone who's achieved a high level of success, you don't see all of the work and training they've put in behind the scenes to achieve it.  

When you're pursuing personal and business goals, there'll be times when you feel discouraged because you think you're not making any progress. It's at those times when you've got to dig deeper and remember these words: "Don't get discouraged and don't give up, because you can get this done."

Things to do: 

  • Maintain a positive mindset. Keep track of your progress and celebrate the wins, even the little ones. 
  • Take care of your physical health by eating well, drinking plenty of water, exercising, and getting sufficient rest. Handling setbacks and overcoming discouragement is harder to do when you're exhausted. 
  • Schedule work breaks throughout the day. Just as your body needs rest, your brain needs rest during the day too. Get up, walk around, get some fresh air, listen to some uplifting music. 15 to 20-minute breaks throughout the day will keep you refreshed and energized, and you'll be more productive.

Step #3: Once you've built a foundation, go all-in. 

We continued building a foundation in Mandarin here in Canada for 3 1/2 years. But, the game-changer to becoming fluent was leaving and moving to China. We did that in September 2001. 

It was a big move and a massive change for us. Aside from family, we left nothing behind in Canada. It was a clear break for us and turned out to be one of the best decisions we ever made. 

We spent the first 5 years in Taiwan (2001-2006) and the remaining 8 years in Guangzhou (2006-2014), a city of approximately 22 million people in southern China, close to Hong Kong. 

Now we were fully immersed in the Chinese culture, way of thinking, and language. After 18 months in Taiwan, I started to feel comfortable speaking and understanding Mandarin. It certainly helps when you're surrounded by native Chinese speakers 24/7. 


Gaoxiong Taiwan

I'm also an extrovert, so it was relatively easy for me to make new friends, which created many opportunities to use my Mandarin. As I've already stated above, the game-change for me was moving to China. 

In Guangzhou, we started a consulting and training company, TWAllison Corporate Consulting, designing and conducting soft skills training programs for multi-national companies in China and providing us with more opportunities to progress with the language.

Guangzhou China

Guangzhou China

How does this apply to achieving your goals as a freelancer, writer, blogger, coach, or entrepreneur? 

Perhaps you're starting to build your freelance business on the side while you keep your regular job. Your goal might be to continue growing your freelance work until you're able to transition it into a full-time business. 

If that's the case, and you've been freelancing for some time "on-the-side," I would encourage you to give serious thought to planning how and when you can "go all-in" on your freelance gig. 

Leaving Canada and moving to China was the game-changer I needed to achieve fluency in Mandarin. Likewise, all successful entrepreneurs and freelancers have, at some point, moved from their 9 to 5 jobs and fully immersed themselves into succeeding with their businesses. 

Leaving your comfort zone behind is the secret behind how to achieve your goals. It can be a tremendous impetus for growth and success. 

Things to do: 

  • Continue working on your freelance business while keeping your 9 to 5 job. 
  • Grow your customer base and continue improving your services and products. 
  • Set a hard date when you're going to finally leave your "regular job" and go all-in on the business you've always dreamed of having


I started learning Mandarin 23 years ago, and the time has flown. It required hard work and some significant changes. But it was well worth it. The experiences and friendships gained far outweigh anything we "left behind." 

I trust you can use my experience to inspire you to pursue your goal (dream), whether you're a freelance writer, blogger, coach, or entrepreneur. The 3 steps I've briefly outlined here are the secret behind how to achieve your goals.   

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About the Author Mike Allison

My life and work have been fulfilling and exciting. I have lived in the Caribbean, Taiwan, Mainland China, and Germany. While in China, my wife and I had a successful consulting and training company.As a certified business and sales coach, I have had the privilege to work with hundreds of sales managers and sales teams in more than 15 countries throughout Asia, Europe, and North America. Now that I am semi-retired I am focusing on helping individuals build their freelance business and succeed online.

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