You feel stuck at work: unhappy, disengaged and uninspired. Is quitting your day job the best next step? Should you take your show on the road? Maybe. Not necessarily. It’s not for everyone. In the last few years, the idea of work freedom and fulfillment has become linked with a location independent, minimalist lifestyle. Digital nomad-ism has a unique allure to it. And the Internet has truly opened up an entire world of options and opportunities that were nearly impossible to imagine before. But as with anything that becomes trendy, before you dive in, it is worth stepping back to question whether it’s truly the right path for you.
Be aware of the subtle bias in the terms that we use to describe different work-life options. Common epithets like "corporate drone" or "digital nomad" connote a sense of emptiness or a sense of freedom. But true freedom isn't as linked to your state of residence as it is to your state of alignment... with yourself, with your values, with your curiosity, with your passions. You can have an impact by working inside an existing organization, by creating a new one, or by becoming a free agent. None of these options is inherently better than another. What matters the most is designing a life that is aligned and authentic for you.
“If the path before you is clear, you're probably on someone else's.”
~ Joseph Campbell
Here's an example from a coachee.
Lina is/was an attorney in Paris, and she was initially seeking an executive coach to help her make Partner at her law firm and manage that transition. After a few sessions, we uncovered that she didn’t have a lot of conviction around pursuing this goal. She realized that becoming Partner at her prestigious law firm was actually her father’s dream, not hers. Yet she struggled to identify what work would really light her up. She likes living in a big, metropolitan city (an expensive one). She enjoys the intellectual challenge of the law. She thrives in a fast paced, high stakes, competitive environment. She didn’t feel called to sell all her worldly possessions to travel the world, or to move to an island to become a yoga teacher… but she felt shame around not having those desires! What was chafing for her was not the job itself. What was causing angst was the types of clients she was working with. As it turns out, her client’s goals were in direct conflict with her values. Lina is now working to transition to doing the same work, with different clients.
Another example from a woman I met while traveling.
Corporate life was already a distant memory for Amber when we crossed paths in South America. Her dream was to be a B&B owner. It was a romantic vision that she’d concocted in her head... one where she would trade in her suits for sarongs, and wake up in a stunning tropical paradise every day. She quit her corporate job as an operations executive. She then spent two years of her life and tens of thousands of dollars of her savings to build a small, luxury eco-resort in a beautiful, remote location. When we met six years later, for all appearances, she had achieved her dream. But she confided, it was not quite what she had imagined. Culturally isolated in a foreign country where she’s accepted but will never be fully integrated. Lonely because the travelers that she regularly meets are transient, so it’s hard for her to build meaningful, lasting connections. And, frustrated with the challenges of running a business in an unstable political environment. I don’t know where Amber is now, but it’s likely she’s working to get unstuck again.
There are an incredible amount of resources out there designed to help you “Take the leap” and “Quit your job” and “Create a life you love” if that is what you choose to do. Take caution if the approach seems a little too formulaic. Make sure you leave some room for yourself to customize and adapt as your perspective and your priorities shift, because they inevitably will. And before you start in earnest on any plan to make changes to your work-life, first do the work to understand yourself better -- what excites you, what bothers you, what allows you to thrive, what you most want to give. It takes more time that way, but it’s worth it. Otherwise, you run the risk of escaping one prison only to create a new one.