Location Independence is the objective; it’s not just about traveling
Since we don’t have enough that divides us in this polarized world, now we’ve got a new manufactured “us versus them” — what makes an authentic “digital nomad.”
I get it. When you’re finally living the dream trolling the airport for outlets and lifehacking the hotspot options in some obscure destination, eating like a local and sleeping in hostels, thrilled that you’ve escaped the slow death of a cubicle-dweller back home, it’s easy to think that you’re the right kind of digital nomad. After all, it’s right there in the name — nomad.
Let me offer an alternative, and probably unpopular, viewpoint.
You don’t have to travel to call yourself a digital nomad, just like you don’t have to be published to call yourself a writer. Or have a company on the verge of an IPO to be the CEO of a company.
To be called a writer, you only need to — wait for it — write. To be CEO, you need to start a company, and it can be a solopreneur side gig. To be a digital nomad, you only need to be in a vertical that makes use of digital (think writers, web designers, graphic artists, and other creatives) and location independent. Meaning you could travel if you wanted to, but maybe you’ve chosen to stay put and raise your kiddos near a good school. Or you genuinely like the vibe of a particular place, and you’ve bought a home. Or you want to be close to an aging family member.
There are seasons in life that necessitate flexibility. And the plethora of choices that the global job market allows makes it possible for more people to choose where and how to work without sacrificing a lifestyle. That’s fantastic. I’m fortunate that I was able to to see this come full circle. When I first decided I wanted more time and flexibility to raise my small daughters, I pitched my then-employer on the idea of ‘telecommuting’ — the precursor to remote work.
My boss agreed with a couple of conditions:
I paid for my own internet, I took a pay cut, and I called my supervisor every morning when I was at my desk at 8 am to “report” to work.
Yikes. I actually paid for the privilege of being more productive and happier. No one really knew back then that advances in technology would lead to a revolution in options for companies and employees, Nor did we know it would lead to a massive opportunity for freelancers to be able to ignore time zones and work from anywhere in the world.
Twenty years later, studies on the state of remote work bear out that remote workers are happier, more productive, and are less likely to leave a company that values flexible choices. (Source: Owl Labs State of Remote Work, 2018) It’s also no secret that freelancing in all industries is now the new normal. Nation1099.com released a study in 2018 stating that nearly 1/3 of Americans are Freelancers now, and fully 1/2 will be part of the gig economy in 2020.
Back to my unpopular definition of a digital nomad, it’s evident that some of the freelancers and remote workers in this new paradigm don’t fit the definition of digital and location independent. Ride-sharing drivers, delivery drivers, and workers required to show up in a space and place aren’t able to take their work on the road.
Now, I’m not saying that every freelancer is a digital nomad. What I am saying is that if a graphic artist can take an afternoon off to hang with her kids at school and she wants to call herself a digital nomad, then by virtue of her digital location-independent freedom who can tell her she’s not?
Recently a couple I know sold their RV and decided to buy a condo here in Austin, Texas. Someone replied to a social media post asking when they were planning to change their Instagram handle? The commenter assumed that they would abandon their “nomad” moniker. They had no plans to travel, but that certainly didn’t mean that they couldn’t. They were still of the mindset that they were digital nomads. I don’t disagree.
We have many things that divide us in this world. Too many, and too polarizing to list here. If you’re a galavanting copywriter sitting in a castle for the next month, I’m happy for you. Congratulations, you’re a digital nomad. And hey, if you’re sitting at a peewee football practice while you design business cards for a dentist, congrats, you are too. Let’s support every digital nomad, no matter how that looks and celebrate that we don’t have to pay for an ISDN line that gets interrupted when we get an incoming fax.