The Digital Nomad Dilemma
Take a few moments and invent a new object.
It could be anything… a toy, a gadget or an accessory.
Not so easy, right?
Now, take a few moments and invent a new cleaning product.
It may still be challenging, but at least you know the right direction to send your thoughts.
I once attended a seminar and the speaker opened up with this challenge.
He explained that creativity needs constraints. Otherwise, your brain gets overwhelmed with infinite options and shut down.
Recently, I’ve learned that the same concept applies to life.
In the summer of 2016, I started working as a freelance writer. I had a steady gig reading and summarizing books, and it was truly my dream job come to life. For me, the best part was that I could do it from anywhere in the world.
So I bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok and spent the following seven months gallivanting around Southeast Asia.
It was liberating and exciting and fun. I met countless incredible and inspiring people who opened my eyes to an entire world I had never dreamed of.
Before long, I had found myself a home amidst a community of fellow digital nomads – people that can work from anywhere with a strong enough wifi signal and use that freedom to hop around the world, often living only with the items they can fit into one or two suitcases.
It’s a community that I am proud to be part of. But it’s a strange reality.
Friendships form quickly and deepen over Facebook messages and Instagram likes.
Real life friendships are strong, but fleeting, because after only a few weeks, it’s time for someone to jet off to their next destination – Europe, then Central America, then Asia.
There are many parts of this lifestyle that I love. I love that I can work from anywhere I please. I love that I have the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want.
But having the freedom to travel perpetually also presents a perpetual struggle, a never-ending quest to find the answer to the ultimate question – where to next?
It’s a lifestyle characterized by constant movement, which makes it difficult to live in the moment and enjoy the present. Part of you is always thinking about the next somewhere.
I know the journey is the destination, but in the digital nomad community, the destinations become the journey.
It can be a dangerous mindset, always focusing on the future and trying to decide the best place to go.
And, like trying to invent a new object without any direction, having limitless options can be paralyzing.
For me, it’s always going to be about relationships. But even with that constraint, I’m still left with a million questions.
Should I spend time with my 90-year-old grandma who loves me unconditionally and probably doesn’t have much time left on this planet?
Should I spend time with my parents, who gave me life and the solid foundation that let me spread my wings and fly in the first place?
Whenever I’m in one place, I feel guilty for not being in another. After all, I can theoretically be anywhere. But that freedom of choice can be a burden.
Should I spend time with my childhood best friends? My new best friends? Or that sweetheart I can’t seem to get enough of?
Should I spend time with my brothers? My cousins? My aunts and uncles?
Or should I spend some time traveling by myself so I can see if I even need any of these people to be happy? (Spoiler: I do).
It sounds like a ridiculous thing to feel anxious about, but it doesn’t make it any less real. I know that I am so privileged and fortunate to be having this problem in the first place, but that guilt only makes it worse.
And it sure doesn’t help to scroll through social media and see the highlights of my peers’ exploration.
Bangkok, Budapest, Bali…
Is that where I should fly to next?
Manila, Medellín, Melbourne …
Is that where I should spend my time?
FOMO is hard enough when there’s a party happening down the block. In the digital nomad community, there are a thousand parties happening on a thousand blocks in cities all around the globe.
Scrolling through the staged slideshows of their lives, it’s easy to feel like they have all the answers. But I know they don’t. Nobody does.
And flying to the next destination won’t necessarily make me feel any happier or more fulfilled than I am right now.
Part of me says to simply accept the present moment and stop yearning for the future.
But another part of me protests, saying if I accept the present moment forever, I’ll only stay in one place.
And the worst part of me is the part that feels the need to optimize everything. The part that feels like I need to find the best destination, so I can learn the most, see the most, and experience the most.
All of those parts of me are battling for their voice to be heard, and it’s driving me insane.
But today, I find comfort in a simple truth, a truth that applies to travel, work, relationships, and life.
A truth that reminds me that any decision I make is the best decision.
Life isn’t only about finding the “good” things.
It’s not about the best food, or the smartest friends, or the most beautiful scenery. It’s not about discovering the perfect location or the perfect group of friends to explore it with.
I don’t need to put pressure on myself to find the best path to take, because there is no best path.
The “bad’ parts of life bring good things, and the “good” parts of life bring bad things.
And most of the time, it’s impossible to distinguish between the two.
Because of that, there is no such thing as a wrong decision. Whatever I decide to do is the best decision because it’s the one that I’m doing.
There’s no need to put so much pressure on myself to find the best destination or build the best business. Because there is no best. There is only what is.
So the answer to the incessant digital nomad question is an equally incessant answer.
Where to next? It doesn’t matter. Because wherever I’m going is the best place to be.