For many aspiring entrepreneurs (especially readers of Tim Ferriss’s 4HWW), the “digital nomad” lifestyle is the holy grail. And it sounds great – globetrotting, living on a beach in Thailand, working a few hours a day from your laptop, running your business through a 4G modem. And I must admit that I spent a few years of my life trying to do the same thing. But there’s one thing I’m finding out as I mature as an entrepreneur and a human being – our digital nomad culture often focuses too much on building a lifestyle, rather than a life.
Yes, Thailand is gorgeous. It’s an incredible spot for a vacation, it’s comparatively cheap when you earn in USD, and you can post pictures on Facebook that will make all your friends ultra jealous. But for most, Thailand isn’t a permanent lifestyle – you’re going to land in Bangkok, go sit on a beach, and two weeks later you’re going to realize that you’re still you. All your challenges, your aspirations, your demons – your life is sitting right there next to you on that beach.
I think as an entrepreneurial community, we are selling people a dream that’s partially hollow. “You too can create an affiliate website and then move abroad and be happy forever! Just buy my e-book…” And for sure, the digital nomad lifestyle is FUN! A lot of fun. Thailand is fun. Globetrotting is fun. But I think it’s about time for some real talk about the difference between fun and happiness. As my friend Dave Craige says, “Happiness and contentment do not come from external things like parties and beaches. They come from the inside.”
Last year, I spent 3 weeks traveling through Italy with my family. It was easy to do – I brought my Macbook Air, grabbed wifi where I could, and the business continued to run without a hiccup. But by the end of those 3 weeks, I was ready to be back home. Not ready in a homesick way, ready in an excited way. I had meetings scheduled with other awesome entrepreneurs, had a factory visit planned, and dinner with my friends at our favorite local sushi joint. These are things you don’t get when you’re a digital nomad.
For me, I’ve realized that you don’t need to move abroad in order to be “doing it right” as a location independent entrepreneur. Being location independent for me is becoming more about having the freedom to do the things I want to do and go the places I want to go, while still having a home base here in the USA.
I feel like the digital nomad community dramatically undersells the US as a place to live. Beyond the basic amenities like unlimited clean drinking water and excellent hospitals, we have some of the most incredible geography in the world. In just the past year, I have: spent three weeks on a remote beach in South Carolina with 4 entrepreneur friends, hiked to the top of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, skied some of the best terrain in the world at Telluride, listened to live jazz in New Orleans, climbed to the top of the Empire State Building, and sipped wine in the hills of Sonoma. No passport needed, and I’m still around enough to nurture relationships with my family and my friends. And it’s hard to put a price on that.
So to all the current and aspiring digital nomads and 4 hour work weekers out there – let’s shift the conversation and weave “happy” into our aspirations together with “fun”. Let’s stop chasing ghosts around the globe, and give ourselves permission to build lives in addition to just lifestyles.