8. pm. The office is empty. Darkness. Silence. The desks all around me are empty, with papers scattered and notebooks haphazardly shut – frozen in time. I look down at the list of things to do. Just a little more to go.
A YouTube pre-roll ad is playing on my laptop.
Two lithe bronzed 20-something blonde women. Talking about being a digital nomad. Bathing suits. Living the dream. Tropical country. Now they’re doing a backflip off a boat. They have a free e-book I can download to find out all about how to become a digital nomad. How to make money online.
The ad finishes. Nothing registers within me. I continue with my work, steadily making it through the To-Do list. In 90 minutes, I’m done. As I drive home past the sparkling skyscrapers scratching Dubai’s cloudy night sky, I see the faces of those women.
The glow. The smiles. The words: Freedom. This is my office.
I shrug. My shoulders are tight from a day of work at the desk – I’ve worked for 13 hours straight today. A thought arises in my head. Can I be a digital nomad too?
‘What A Life. I Wish I Could Just Work Online Like You!’
Three years later…I am that woman.
I’ve just finished a two-hour swim on a coral reef. I’m washing my hair and dabbing a little powder which I hope will distract from my red ocean eyes. I have a call with a client. I’m hot – this is a tropical island after all. I pull on a spaghetti strap black top, hair wet and skin glowing.
My client is in a very different life situation. She sees me and exclaims
“Hellllllllllllllllo! Island girl!
What a life. I wish I could just work online like you!”
Debunking The Digital Nomad Bliss
Nearly three years into running a business online and four years of living nomadically – I have thoughts about what is being sold and the reality. Is the life of a Digital Nomad all it’s cracked up to be? I think the answer is extremely complicated.
There is a huge GAP in what the promises are being sold.
No amount of changing your location will be able to shift the problematic nature of capitalism.
The typical digital nomad advert goes something like this: ‘Do you hate the 9 to 5? Work remotely and you choose your time. You choose your hours, your scenery, and your leisure.”
And here’s the thing – working from 9 to 5 is not inherently a bad thing. Working at a desk is not even that awful. I now know that a balanced fulfilling life for me does include a somewhat regular amount of work done on or around a deck of sorts.
What I hated about being in corporate was the inflexibility of the larger system.
The pointlessness of the work.
The frustration of interdepartmental politics.
The constant extraction.
The constant trying to get ahead.
The rat race. The hamster wheel. Dubai Media City.
All of these things are defaults in our culture. Most companies follow some version of awful leadership. We suffer slow death on a variety of levels. We believe we are unending resources that need to be taken from. Thank you Capitalism.
So, You Want To Leave The Nine To Five?
Well, then leave the 9 to 5 in every sense. Leave the 9 to 5 notion of hyper-productivity and constant exponential growth.
It is a lot harder than it sounds.
This isn’t about living on a smaller budget. No, this is deep inner work. I’m talking about getting out of the matrix. Decolonizing your time (h/t Ixchel L). Deep healing and unlearning. Renegotiating old money models and money ethics. Taking on a justice-informed lens asks how do we do business differently.
You need to tap into a lot of creativity and tune out of the quick fizzes and get rich easy schemes. There is a deeper reckoning with the question of what is enough? How much is enough? What do I need? There is a deep revaluation of financial priorities.
How do you work from a place of integrity?
It means divorcing yourself from the urgency of making money. If you don’t have the cash to pay rent for your tropical jogolo – don’t become digital. Rather than that, stay in your nine to five. Earn money. Bide your time. Spend less money. And then come out.
Leaving the 9 to 5 – means fine-tuning your work so that it truly does fill up your heart, soul, and mind. Again. So much easier than said. This isn’t about ‘finding your passion’ – it is about a lot of reflection, experimentation, and professional community-building.
Being on a tropical island, traveling and seeing different beautiful sights in the countries – does a lot of things, but it doesn’t provide you with career advice. Traveling and sitting infront of a swimming pool to answer emails doesn’t take you closer to the question of why am I here? What do I love? What gets my heart going?
I’ve met travelers, who spent their entire savings backpacking across Asia for six months because they were sick of their jobs. At the end of it – when I asked them, well, what do you want to do now? They looked at me blankly. Blinking. I don’t know.
Does Being Nomadic Mean Being Anti-Capitalistic? Hell. No.
When I meet digital nomads on the road – so many of them are experiencing the same thing I felt in corporate. They may be on a tropical island, but their head is cast down, fingers furiously typing and temple veins bulging. Many are struggling for money dealing with the usual frustrations of the gig economy: vendors who expect too much and companies who don’t pay freelancers on time.
So many digital nomads are just struggling to try as hard as they can to scrap a few dollars to get by. They aren’t building wealth. And so many of them are perpetuating lies (Buy My E-Book To Learn How To Become A Digital Nomad) – thinking their lifestyle is something others can or should emulate or that they can teach.
Being on a tropical island or a beautiful ski town – doesn’t change the fact that Work is Work is Work is Work.
It doesn’t change the fact that Capitalism rewards depletion, rewards harm, and has lost its sense of ethics. Capitalism requires you to forge a sense of ‘passion’ for your work. Capitalism snuffs out creativity and pleasure.
Sure, the scenery is better – but not much else.
Work Is Worship. Work Is Important.
After spending 18 months not doing anything after I left corporate – I did crave to go back into work.
I love working.
I want to keep working until I die.
What I don’t want – is more of those 12-hour days of plod plod plod. Click. Click. Click.
How Do You Find Work That You Love?
The larger question is about why we do feel a deep dissonance with working the nine to five. The reason isn’t just that the office is crowded and the view sucks. Well, maybe it is. Still, there is a deeper reason.
We want to feel like our work matters.
We want to feel more pleasure and rest.
We want to feel like the best versions of ourselves.
We want to feel like we are well-positioned to do what we need to do.
So, here’s the thing – doing work that you love is a journey of refinement. The answer can’t just come from quick fixes, a book, figuring your zone of genius or having the right connections. Nah. It needs to come from a lot of experimentation. A lot of trial and error. And also… a lot of luck.
There is genuinely another way. It creates more ease. But it isn’t easy.
Getting Professional Support
If you are considering doing this work – consider getting professional support or in the right community of people who are thinking about these questions. Acknowledge what is ahead of you is a deeper question. You may need a therapist. You may need a very different kind of support system. You may need a business coach. You may need some kind of mentor.
Otherwise, you will fall into the same old trap or the belief that creating a workshop and going for a course and selling it to your email list will help you build a fortune. Here’s the answer. It won’t.
Ultimately, every day, every moment, there is a question you need to be asking yourself
I speak from experience when I say, changing your scenery can be a surface-level fix.
As long as we are operating at the surface level of our lives – we don’t ask the tougher questions about ourselves…we keep replicating systems of oppression and result in a fair amount of dissatisfaction and even cause harm.
Travel is a wonderful thing and it has changed my life. BUT travel can also be an excuse, a way to run away from deep inquiry, and a bandaid solution. Travel can be an extension of the ills of our consumeristic tendencies – instead of asking do we need this… we replace the question with more stuff.
More experiences. More “friends”. More co-working sessions.
If you are at the junction in your life where you are considering becoming a digital nomad – ask yourself these questions:
What is it that I want?
What do my bank account, spirit, heart, mind, and body need?
What kind of support can I find to help me through these questions? If you have extra money – investing in yourself FIRST to be rooted, grounded, and focussed – will give you so much more insight for your career than a backpacking trip across 40 different cities.
I learned this the hard way.