How to Stay on Remote Year

I’ve been writing a draft about the specific reasons that people cite for leaving RY and have my thoughts about that as well as some critiques for Remote Year and their application process and approach. But that’s for another post (to come!).

When it comes down to it, this is my bigger takeaway about how to approach this crazy life experiment and how we participants need to shift our mindset in order to make it through the full year.

In our early days of starting Remote Year in Montevideo, Uruguay in February, we had a group session with all of RY2, our two staff managers (Dave & Jason), and some of the RY overhead staff (Trish, Heather, and Sam).

We discussed what this experience would entail (based on the experience thus far of RY1, which was nearing the end of their year) and what our group goals would be. In small groups and as a whole, we brainstormed top 5 values we wanted to have / embody as a group.

Battuta Values Session in Montevideo

The value that I contributed was “fladaptability” — a made-up term that my college crew coach used to encourage our team to be both flexible and adaptable.

It was one of many terms and phrases of his that our team used to joke about, but it stuck with us. We spent hours every day in challenging conditions, testing our bodies and, to an even greater extent, our mental drive.

To this day, tongue-in-cheek but with genuine intent, we continue to remind each other to be “fladaptable” through all that life throws at us.
Receiving our purple oars for rowing all 4 years; a sign seen on a racecourse my freshman fall; and winning our team NCAA title (my senior spring).
Coach Moore in the background (drenched in champagne) while we touch our trophy; and celebrating my hometown rodeo and 10 years of friendship (and counting) with my teammates days before I came on Remote Year.

The word is permeating my RY community as well — I’ve heard people telling each other to be fladaptable (also jokingly serious) and smiled, thinking about how Coach Moore would be pleased to know his coaching has spread across the world and beyond our rowing bubble.

We’ve had a number of people leave our group, some already gone over the past couple months and others to leave in the upcoming months. I would say the specific numbers, but I honestly don’t know an exact count of who’s leaving and when. We started with 76 people, and I’d estimate we’re (currently) around 65?

So it’s become a common topic of conversation — discussing who’s going to leave, their reasons, asking each other if we’re going to stay, etc.

My response is always the same:

I committed to doing this program for the year, and I’m only going to leave for one of two reasons: either some amazing opportunity comes up that I have to take, or something really bad happens that I have to leave to deal with.

This morning, I was talking to a fellow Battuta about his reasons for considering leaving and then deciding to stay and why people are making the decision to go.

As we talked and debated the merits of different arguments, I came back around to my experience as an athlete:

Ultimately, it comes down to emotional maturity and being able to deal with discomfort. The program hasn’t changed. Its terms haven’t changed. We knew that it would be a year, we knew the fees, we knew that we didn’t control the itinerary.
We made that commitment knowing what it would be — and knowing that it was finite. There are going to be challenges in that experience — and I wouldn’t want to live like this forever, not having control over my lifestyle. That’s not what we’re being asked to do — and it’s not what we committed to do.
I know from crew that you have to finish the whole season (or year, or four). 90% of the time, it’s hard, painful work to train and practice. It’s not a solo endeavor — it’s a team sport, and you can’t succeed without your teammates.
And you only know at the end of the season if it’s worth it (hint: it is).

For four years, I learned and practiced how to breathe through discomfort in the pursuit of a greater goal. The result was both winning several NCAA championship titles and a bond with my teammates that wouldn’t be as strong had we only spent weeks together having fun.

Being part of that team, learning to handle daily discomfort, reaping those tangible & invisible rewards — that experience taught me about life and how to approach it. It trained me to have grit and to work with & support others.

I am confident and brave and tough and daring because I learned how to take risks and overcome challenges and always cross the finish line.

Remote Year is an amazing experience.

It’s fun to travel and live in new cities and countries. It’s great to take side trips and see incredible sights and places. It’s nice to have a community of people around you, always ready to go out for a meal or drink. It’s (superficially) rewarding to have an instagram feed chock full of enviable photos.

But this is not a vacation. It’s real life. It’s challenging and uncomfortable.
Take all the normal elements of daily life — work, eating, sleep, chores, relationships, personal needs — and then magnify any challenges due to constant change and upheaval, taking away all your comforts and known quantities, and do all that for an extended period of time.
We’re not on this adventure alone, either. Our attitude impacts the others around us. What this year entails & how we remember it depends on how we each approach it every day. Our words and actions either drag each other down or lift each other up.

There’s a reason there are 75 of us in this community. There’s a reason our itinerary isn’t the top places you want to live or travel to on your own later on. There’s a reason that Remote Year (the company) asks us to commit to a full year, to 12 months.

Our generation, not to be curmudgeonly, does have a tendency to quit things. We don’t make long term commitments. If we don’t like something, we’re out the door.

I personally haven’t lived anywhere for longer than 20 months since I graduated college, I’ve changed career fields twice already and worked for 5+ companies in 7 years, and I don’t expect (or want) to have the same job for the rest of my life.

But some things are uncomfortable and worth sticking with. Sometimes you can’t know whether it’s worth it until you’ve worked through a few rough spots.

I don’t claim to know whether it’s right for every single one of us to follow through with our commitment of being on Remote Year for the full year. There are absolutely valid reasons to leave.

You have to evaluate that line and know whether Remote Year or any job or experience or relationship is truly problematic and worth changing or if it’s just a rough spot that requires patience + effort + breathing through the discomfort.

To my fellow Battutas, to the other RYers on various programs, to people considering Remote Year in the future, to people thinking about making changes in their life:

Know the reason behind your decision. Understand the commitment. Approach the experience like an athlete (on a team sport):

  • Commit yourself fully to reaching the finish line.
  • Show up to practice every day.
  • Breathe through the discomfort.
  • Learn to coach yourself through hard moments.
  • Support and encourage the people around you.

And then see where you are at the end of the season.

Katherine is a digital nomad, working remotely while she travels the world — on the road since June 2014. She’s a member of Remote Year 2 Battuta, living around the world with 75 other digital nomads from February 2016 to January 2017.

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