Not a Digital Nomad: The realities of remote working

The world around him started to stir and wake. The Digital Nomad glanced up from the silver keyboard of his MacBook Air and from the project in which he was so deeply engrossed. The gentle heat of the morning sun warmed his cheeks, and the soft golden light of dawn began to turn everything a warm yellow colour. The colourful birds in the tree-line behind him started to chatter and start their choral warm-up for their morning songs. The sun peeked its glistening head just above the horizon and poured light across the tips of the light-blue ocean waves. Those majestic waves pushed towards the coastline and crashed down onto the beach, churning the sand over and over in a never-ending cycle.

“F**k my ridiculous life“, he thought. “Digital Nomad B.S. Another half hour of this and I won’t be able to read the damn MacBook screen due to the bloody reflection. I’ll be too hot, sweaty, and sticky to concentrate. The owner of the cafe I’m sat next to will arrive to open up and discover that I’m freeloading off his wifi. I’m knackered from having to get up this early, only because I need to talk to the client in his timezone. And I am sick to death of trying to keep the sand out of the bastard USB ports.

4-hour workweek, my arse. Tim Ferris has a lot to bloody answer for.

Can Digital Nomads really work sitting on the beach by the sea?
It’s a good job I’ve got this laptop to type on, having sold my voice to get my legs from Ursula

Real life of a Digital Nomad

That’s how I imagine the life of a Digital Nomad to be once the initial buzz of working for yourself and not working for ‘the man’ wears off.

The reality of the life of a Digital Nomad kicks in once the first storm blows in and cancels your daily surf, and once you realise that client’s payment terms don’t synchronise with your beach apartment landlord’s rental terms.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that the self-employed utopia is not possible. I’m saying I don’t believe that we should all aspire to those dreamy stock photos of a beach paradise that go with every annoying article about becoming a successful Digital Nomad.

The truth is that being a real-life Digital Nomad is incredible. But it’s fantastic in a completely different way to the dream that we are all being sold. Literally sold – because if you look more closely at the articles selling you the hope of Digitally Nomadic life, you will soon pick up on the fact that the only thing that these authors sell is an e-book on how to become a Digital Nomad. Can the only answer be selling ebooks for $9.99 or less?

My Digital Nomad life is fantastic because I’m currently typing while laying on a picnic blanket at the side of a cricket pitch on the school fields of my son’s school. Yes, the screen glare is a pain and no, there is no sea, sand, and indeed no table service – but I am free, free to be there for my son, free to enjoy a summer’s afternoon being a Dad rather than sitting under a fluorescent lighting strip in a hermetically sealed office block, somewhere in central London.

Tomorrow will be awesome too; I will be working from my garden, then around lunchtime – the local pub garden, and finally I will finish work early so that I can go sailing with my Son and Daughter.

The day after I will probably locate myself in the local garden centre cafe; for a change of scenery, better coffee, and because I find I work better in amongst the din of people I do not know. I can knock out the equivalent of day’s office work in under 2 hours when I’m on my own. The choice is then mine – work and earn more, or achieve that life-work balance that so many of us crave.

Being free to work anywhere with an internet connection means that I measure my life differently than before. I measure client billings rather than expecting a monthly salary. I measure output instead of time; how many tasks have I got to do/have done rather than did I arrive in the office for 9 am and did I stay until 5.30pm.

I measure how much time I get to spend with my children where I would otherwise be sat commuting on a train, watching a film on my kindle, or sleeping because I have to get up so early and back so late.

This is the actual life of an average Digital Nomad, and I’ll emphasise this again, it is incredible. I don’t need to sell you the beach-side dream.

Life-work balance with a family
Throwing a child in the air isn’t essential to demonstrate happiness, but you get the point: life-work balance is awesome

Is it possible?

So how do you go about finding your remote working solution? How can you change jobs, careers, or persuade your current boss that a work at home contract would be beneficial for all? Sadly there’s no one answer, and I wouldn’t dare to try and pretend that I have all the answers (or maybe if I did, then I’d be selling you an ebook!). It’s tough, but you need to find your path in amongst the useless prolific Digital Nomad nonsense that’s out there.

Start by working out how it is that you want to live your life? What would you do if you were free to choose? Would you run every morning? Start the day off with an hour in the gym?

Ok, grab a pen and paper and start planning out a structure to your day; 1-hour exercise, 1-hour breakfast and contemplation/planning. Then find a coffee shop and work – get away from the distractions of home. 2 hours there. Lunch – take a pack up and sit in the park, get away from the screen for 30 mins and look up, appreciate the fact you are outside and not sitting in a cubicle. Change coffee shop and over the next two-hours, wrap up another project and get it billed. Finish off your day with 1-hour admin and going through emails, plan your schedule for the next day. Wrap up by 4 pm – head to the cinema, pick the kids up, paint – whatever your passion projects are, make time every day to feed the soul as well as the bank account.

Life-Work Balance or segregation? For some remote workers, the goal is to have a mix of work and play every day.

You can work hard and long while you are young so that you have money and time when you are old and retired. Or you can live every day in balance, never worry about retiring because it won’t be more fun than what you are doing now.

Some Digital Nomads prefer segregation; compartmentalising their lives and fix work between 9 and 5 and then it’s switch off and no emails or calls when the family are home.

There is no correct answer.

The actual life of a Digital Nomad is fantastic and achievable
The actual life of a Digital Nomad is fantastic

So what am I?

And is this article the place for such existential positing?

I don’t want to be a Digital Nomad, wandering from place to place with abandoned friendships in my wake. What if I find somewhere lovely to work and live – somewhere where I would like to stay and put down roots? Do I then have to transition from being a Digital Nomad to becoming just an ex-pat? And what is the difference between an ex-pat and an immigrant anyway?

The point of working for myself, the point of remote working, of being agile and flexible and adaptable and all those other adjectives that mean I can deliver my duties in a way that I see fit – providing I hit my client’s deadlines and uphold my high professional standards. The point of all of this is that I don’t have to wander around the world to fulfil some rose-tinted nomad plan, but I can work anywhere if I want to.

So am I a remote worker? No, because that would indicate that my workplace is somewhere else. It’s not. I am working for myself all the time, and I don’t have an office. I can work anywhere.

My advice to those daydreaming of becoming a Digital Nomad is stop dreaming. Stop reading all the pseudo-inspirational Digital Nomad LinkedIn articles by self-proclaimed Digital Nomads who failed to run a legitimate business from their beachside hideaway and now make money from selling people e-books about the dream of being a Digital Nomad.

Do get off your backside and decide if you want to be a producer or a consumer. Do minimise your life, your assets, and your fixed costs so that you have more freedom to do anything you want to, anywhere.

Do prioritise the real over the digital, your friends and family over followers and likes. Do go to the nativities, sports days, and school concerts. Do make sure that when your life requests it, you can be present. But remotely, nomadically, you can still do the work needed; work as an anywhere.

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