The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Location-Independence
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Such a beautiful word, isn’t it?
It’s probably the most beautiful hyphenated word I’ve ever heard.
I define location-independence as a lifestyle that awards cookie-cutter-defunct workers the freedom to dictate their whereabouts, their schedule and what gets to be on their schedule.
In layman's language, it’s a lifestyle that allows you to live and work from literally anywhere.
Now do you understand why I love this word so much?
Before I fully understood what it meant or whether I could actually pull it off, the mere discovery of this concept had already caused enough pomp and fiesta in my head. A flame of wonder was sparked inside me.
I was working in Lagos at the time.
I’m not sure how but I managed to convince my then-boss to allow me to leave Nigeria and continue working from Nairobi.
The stars were clearly aligned for all of this to happen.
I was in a position that didn’t exactly need me to be in the office. It was more about me making connections with other countries in Sub-saharan Africa. I was lucky in this regard. And Mr. Chike (God bless this man) agreed to try the idea out.
So I got back to Kenya, rolled up some sleeveless sleeves and figured out how I would get this location-independence thing going.
Weeks later, I stumbled upon The 4-Hour WorkWeek (the location-Independence bible) by Tim Ferriss and everything I was figuring out suddenly became way more possible.
Records of orders from my Amazon account clearly indicate that this was the first book I ever bought online.
February 8th 2013.
That’s the day I decided to throw some deliciously worthwhile petrol to that flame of location-independence wonder.
That year then went on to pave the way for my on-and-off love affair with this beautiful concept.
Since then, I’ve continuously pushed myself towards all manners of location-independence. At times, life unceremoniously jumped in out of nowhere to zap me right back into the rat race - but I kept the dream alive. And I finally became a digital nomad.
Location-independence is much like that lover that totally gets you and almost no-one in your life gets them.
But you know what?
This lover makes you happy, they make you feel alive, they make you feel seen, they make you feel heard, they give you a crazy kind of excitement. At times, they also make you sad, angry, confused, lonely or weird - but that doesn’t really matter because you still love them.
My tumultuous love affair with location-independence is far from over. It’s also far from perfect. Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly of this love story.
Everything that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside and plasters a goofy grin on my face throughout the day. Behold! The GOOD.
Good Riddance, Daily Commute
If there’s one thing I dislike more than 1-ply toilet paper, it’s got to be traffic. I despise thinking about it, seeing it, sitting in it and snail-driving in it. It’s one of those things that are designed to waste our precious little time on this earth.
Remove the daily commute from the picture and you won’t have to tolerate traffic on a daily basis. Location-independence is the magic that allowed me to wave my wand and make the daily commute go poof.
I believe everyone loves travelling.
Okay, I’m exaggerating. It's maybe only 99.999% of the world who love it and wouldn’t mind doing it every now and then. But amongst those people is a special group of weirdos who don’t just love it, they worship it. Case in point, yours truly. “Hashtag: #AkumuExplores”.
For me, travel is life. Being location-independent allows me to work from anywhere. Any house, any cafe, any city, any country, any continent, any planet (Joking! One planet is enough for me in this lifetime. Sorry Elon Musk).
I normally take advantage of this kind of freedom by being very creative and very Houdini about where I am and where I can be. For example, I'm writing this from Hyderabad, India.
I have a wide range of hobbies. Give me some free time and you’ll see me doing anything from idly reading Wikipedia pages of celebrities, to getting enthralled by Youtube’s algorithmic spell, to sketching random things around me, to dissecting Shondaland shows, to aiming for mediocrity with my toddler poetry, to watching Mexican soap operas in Spanish, to staring blankly at the floor.
I absolutely love doing all of them. I need time to do all of them.
Ever since I became location-independent, my free time gained some considerable weight and I now get to do these things that I genuinely enjoy slicing my time for.
One of the superpowers that naturally appear in your arsenal once you become location-independent is productivity. You somehow become a pro at it even if you never quite managed to achieve it during your location-dependence days.
For me, the feeling that I’m in charge of my “day-stiny” (yes, I just made that up) gives me enough momentum to make better use of my days. I’m way more productive knowing that if I mess up my schedule, I have no one to blame but myself.
There are no dog-ate-my-homework, traffic-was-hell and my-workmates-were-yapping-too-much-that-I-got-distracted excuses to fall back on.
Like you, there’s so much I want to do in this lifetime. So many goals to crack, so many people to exist next to, so many places to fall in love with, so many things to get schooled by, so many blessings to gawk at.
But life is short.
Location-independence gives me the beautiful illusion that maybe, just maybe, I can make this short piece of lifetime count way more than I ever thought would be possible. I get to add more life to my time and it’s nothing short of a marvellous miracle.
Everything that makes me feel like an alien creature who’s trying really hard to get a grip on this thing called Life On Earth. Behold! The BAD.
The problem with being able to work from anywhere is that you get to work from home on most days. The problem with getting to work from home on most days is that you get to NOT move around much. The problem with getting to NOT move around much is that you literally become a statue.
You become a statue that wakes up, works, eats, sleeps and repeats. You become a laptop-wielding antiquity that is very much revered in the location-independence museum - in the Sedentary section.
Note to self: Snag that gym membership, wake up early, change your clothes, go out to that cafe, visit that friend, take a walk, get to know the sun again, get up and do some Beyonce moves, get down and dirty with some Yoga.
Blank Slate Days
As a kid, I always loved it when the Art teacher gave us copies of already done sketches to colour. It was simple. All I needed to do was grab the rainbow pencils and remember to colour inside the lines.
Someone else had taken the responsibility of drawing the necessary boundaries so that I could easily create my very own piece of art. Lucky me!
But on the days when that same Art teacher would give us blank sheets of paper, I would panic.
What do you mean?! No ready-made sketch!? No outlines?! Nooo! What do I do now!? Hmmm. Maybe I could do this. Or this. Or that. Or that other thing. Or maybe this? Nooo! I’m confused.
With location-independence, my days sometimes resemble that panic-inducing blank sheet of paper.
Note to self: YOU get to colour inside lines that YOU yourself drew! That’s badass. You’re in charge. Take charge.
The beauty about having someone else in charge of much of your weekly schedule is that when life throws you those imminent curveball days, you find a way to weigh in on them and decide if they are worth your attention.
But when you and only you are in charge of your schedule, you might find yourself welcoming and attending to every single curveball that appears on your radar. You want to put out that little fire over here. You want to save that teeny tiny cat on the tree over there.
You’ve got time, right? Well, until you don’t anymore and exactly ZERO gets done that day.
Note to self: Jump in on that emotionally-charged twitter hashtag rant LATER (or maybe never?). Correct that hardly-life-and-death glitch on your website LATER. Reinstall that stupid android app that just stopped working LATER. Correct that dumb spelling mistake in your Instagram caption LATER. Chase (or run away from) that little annoying critter in the room LATER.
I know, I know - I already said that location-independence makes you a pro at productivity. But sometimes it can turn you into a pro at ducking things that you should actually be doing.
Distraction is the name of the game.
When you’re working from anywhere, anything and everything is a distraction -especially on the internet.
That juicy chat with your best friend that’ll only take ten minutes to start, continue and fizzle out. That trending video that’ll only take ten minutes to watch and laugh at. That shocking blog post that’ll only take ten minutes to skim through and share on social media. That envy-inducing Instagram post that’ll likely turn into thirty minutes of idle scrolling.
Then BAM! One hour gone. Forever. Just like that.
And there’s no-one there to look over your shoulder and order you to get your freaking act together.
Note to self: Would you stop looking at your goddamn phone?!
In some ways and on some days, being location-independent gives you the dangerous idea that you can also be sleep-independent.
Being the master of your schedule means that on some days, work will spill so much into your night that your bed will start to miss you.
The bigger the project, the scarier the deadline. The scarier the deadline, the less sleep you end up getting. And suddenly, your days turn into scenes from The Walking Dead - and you’re the star zombie.
Note to self: Remember, sleep is a schedule item.
Everything that keeps me up at night. Everything that makes me want to punch a non-feather pillow so hard that feathers come off. Behold! The UGLY.
Being location-independent means being free. It also means being free from the normal human interaction you’d otherwise get if you worked in an office with a bunch of workmates.
I’m a weird cocktail of introverted and extroverted so I can handle too much people-ness and too much alone-ness with equal swag. The problem comes in when I enjoy my own company for too many days on end and it turns into a podcast-heavy hibernation.
Whenever I get out of this kind of hibernation and back into normal human interaction, I usually find myself randomly throwing in regurgitations of everything I heard podcasters say that week. The science stuff. The self-help stuff. The spiritual stuff. The random stuff.
It all usually ends up with raised eyebrows - making it a situation that’s both alarming and pathetic.
Note to self: Find people to talk to. Use your own voice when you talk to them.
I know they exist. I know they’ll appear. But they almost always still shock me when they reveal themselves. I’m talking about the Doubting Thomases. The skeptics. The non-believers.
I mean, there I am - lil ol’ innocent me. Just busy minding my own business. You know, doing my thing - living MY life. And then it happens.
Someone somewhere decides they’ll do their good deed of the day by blindsiding me with some “advice”. In their minds, what I’m doing is too outlandish and too scary for them so they need to set me straight. They tell me to at least consider being “normal”. And for a moment or two, my sunny happy and dandy mood gets a little grey.
Then my voice of strength comes in to save the day. It reminds me that location-independence goes against the grain. It reminds me that my “crazy ways” are bound to inspire an army of skeptics who are just waiting to crawl out of the woodwork.
Note to self: Don’t let them dampen your spirit. Listen, say “thank you”, then promptly forget what they said.
Remember that voice of strength that helps me whenever a non-believer decides to launch a nuclear attack on my peace of mind?
Well, that voice has a couple of friends. Very different friends. Together they contribute to the schizophrenic chatter that goes on in my head.
The voice of doubt gets really loud sometimes. The voice of reason chimes in every now and then. The voice of fear is quite controlling on most days. It’s the notorious one that plays back whatever some skeptic told me - and it does it over and over again like a broken record.
I believe there are a few other shy voices in there - like the voice of instinct, which is by far my favourite. As you would imagine, location-independence is always a tense topic of discussion - especially when my moods are down or when life decides to throw attention-worthy curveballs my way.
Note to self: “Voice of instinct, I totally agree with you. But I might need to discuss things with the voice of reason first.”
One of the weird implications of becoming location-independent is that it can sort of complicate your career path, especially on paper.
It causes the inflection point that your resume certainly didn’t see coming. It becomes an interesting turning point in your once-comprehensible career path.
Once you become location-independent, you suddenly have to back up what “remote work” means. You have to give an entire TED talk about where you were when you were doing that job that has no office location or Google-mappable city tied to it.
You’ll even find yourself blaming that man Tim Ferriss for convincing you to escape the 9-to-5 because now you have to explain that whole “lifestyle design” concept to a bunch of clueless potential employers.
It’s probably best to jump into location-independence with a plan to never return to the rat race. Or at least stay armed with an idiot-proof presentation that is basically Location-Independence For Dummies. Trust me - you’ll need it if you ever have to stand before a jury to explain your adventurous stint away from the Office-world.
Note to self: Your career is your canvas. Don’t be afraid to splash on wild and interesting colours.
Once you get a taste of location-independence, beware! - there’s a high chance you’ll get addicted to it.
The freedom aspect will dance inside your veins. The you-are-in-control aspect will fill your head with all kinds of unbridled confidence. The you-against-the-world aspect will turn into a soundtrack that will consistently celebrate your swim against the current.
How will you ever be able to return to your previous existence after getting a taste of this? Is it even possible to go back?
Note to self: Dear life, please don’t take me back there again. Location-independence is my normal now. And yes, I’m an addict.
Do you think there’s something missing on this list? Out of all the issues mentioned, which ones stand out the most for you?