There’s a beautiful anonymous quote that is famously misattributed to John Lennon that says:
“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”
I’ve always loved that quote because it speaks a very fundamental truth about people. Not only do most of us have no idea what will make us happy in life, we also feel compelled to judge other people about how they live their lives.
And when you live a lifestyle like mine, which is uncommon to say the least, people are especially quick to judge.
I recently called my mom after applying and interviewing for a position in the Peace Corps to let her know and get her feedback. Because though I might value other people’s opinion, I’m certainly not one to ask anybody for permission. And like the mother in the quote, she just assured me that as long as I was happy, she didn’t have any major objections.
But like all parents, she also jokingly (not-so-jokingly) asked if I ever intended to resume my real life. And that’s certainly not the first time I’ve heard a comment like that, either in jest or in serious judgment. Because I think many people don’t fundamentally understand my lifestyle, so they don’t think it’s valid. But like telling someone who is gay that maybe it’s just a phase, that’s kind of an offensive reaction.
My job is not fake
What people fail to realize is that just because it’s not a lifestyle that you want, or that you envision the average person having, doesn’t make it less “real.” I work to support myself, like anybody else. In fact, like many red-blooded Americans, I have more than one job.
So what is it about the way I choose to make money that is any less real than other people’s? Because I don’t have to get up at 6 am and sit in 45 minutes of traffic to get to the office? Because I don’t hate my job? Because I can spend all day in pajamas? Or because I don’t have coworkers and overbearing bosses to complain about?
All of that may be true, but that doesn’t mean I work any less hard than other people. I just work differently. And it just so happens that the way I work affords me the possibility of doing a lot of things that I love in my free time: like traveling and writing. In fact, this morning I woke up and after making myself breakfast, I published a collection of short stories. Because I felt like it, and I had the time. Outside of my prolific travel blogging, that’s the third book I’ve published in less than a year. And after I finished that and had lunch, I worked for 8 hours. I just now wrapped up my grading for the day around 11 pm. And I’m tired but I’m satisfied, because I did what was really important to me first.
But some people, including my parents to some degree, see the life I have now and assume it’s like a gap year. Which is bewildering to me, because I love the life I have, and I can’t see myself wanting to give it up to start busting my ass for no reason. Why is it that any kind of life that doesn’t involve a grueling 9 to 5 is considered temporary? Why am I only expected to enjoy my life after I’ve worked like a dog until I’m 65 years old? My life did not pause so I could move to Europe. This isn’t a gap year. This isn’t a distraction. This is my life.
Change is not necessarily instability
To other people, the fundamental issue with being a digital nomad is the fact that I’m choosing not to stay in one place for any extended period of time. Because the prevalent societal expectation is that when we age, we buy property to plant our flag and stay there forever. But I have absolutely no interest in doing that, even if I wanted to stay in the same city my whole life. Maintaining property takes money and effort that I don’t want to invest in a house. I rather invest my effort in writing and my money in traveling.
I’ve lived in a few cities in my life, and each time I happily welcomed the change. I didn’t feel out of control or unstable. I thrive when I’m in a new place, and I like that feeling so I seek it out. And maybe one day I’ll be so tired of moving around and traveling that I’ll want to stay somewhere permanently. But it’s not, as they say, “because you HAVE to settle down eventually.” With all due respect to anyone that thinks it’s appropriate to talk to other adults that way, I don’t have to do anything.
I am not fundamentally less secure or less stable in my life just because my relative location changes over time. There’s an illusion of security that comes with living in the same place over a long period of time. That’s why it’s so devastating when a tornado comes and razes the home that you thought would be there forever. Or when you lose your job without warning and find yourself unable to pay your rent. Those things can happen to anyone, anywhere. And I’m not any more susceptible to that kind of instability just because I’m halfway around the world.
But what about a family?
Let’s be honest, as a woman, I am considered a vehicle for procreation. That is 97% of the reason I was put on this earth according to anybody in my family and the majority of elected officials. And my lifestyle doesn’t quite jive with that. But I’m not interested in having children. I don’t personally consider that a valuable or worthwhile pursuit.
To be clear, I’m not giving up the idea of children to travel. I never wanted children to begin with. I don’t like them, and I don’t see them as a necessity just because other people do. And no… that won’t change when I’m older. And to be honest, this world is such a terrifying mess right now that I’m just hoping that it survives my lifetime. I wouldn’t wish the anxiety I feel when I see the news on any of my offspring.
I also don’t consider myself to be without a family just because I’m not married with two annoying brats ruining my life 24/7. I have amazing supportive people in my life all over the world. No matter where you go, those people will always be there. And moving around doesn’t prevent you from having passionate love either (in fact, in my experience, it usually intensifies it). You just have find the kind of person that has the same nomadic DNA and is supportive and happy for you when you tell her you might be moving to a jungle for the next two years.
“Pssh… must be nice.”
It is pretty nice actually. But so is your beachfront condo and your Mercedes Benz. I’m just not interested in either of those things, so I spend my money on travel. Besides, a flight to Belgium is a lot cheaper than your monthly payment on that brand new luxury lease. Don’t judge other people for what they spend their money on. It’s tacky. You wouldn’t want people listing all the ways they think you mismanage your money, would you? Didn’t think so.
So just let me live
If you want to spend 80 hours a week at the office so you can make $200k a year, I’m not going to judge you. If you want 6 kids and a ranch, I’m not going to judge you either. Your life is yours to do what you wish with it. But so is mine.
So when I tell you that maybe I’ll be moving to another country next year, I don’t want to be questioned about when I’m going to settle down and get a real, normal life. This is my real life. It’s not perfect, but it makes me happy, and it’s my choice. And all I ask is that you respect my choices.
To travel once a month if I choose. To write constantly for no money at all just because I like it. To move to the middle of nowhere if I want. And to work however I want, no matter what your idea of a successful career is.
Who knows? Maybe in a couple of years, the steady stream of people who come to my website to see where they can buy weed in Prague will single-handedly fund my travel lifestyle, and I won’t need to work at all. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.