I hear it time and again over coffee and while speaking on college campuses: “I just want a location independent job. I want something I can do from anywhere so I can travel and see the world."
There is no shortage, it seems, of people who want the same. Do a quick online search and “location independence” will bring up eBooks and blog posts by people who have claimed to achieved such and now spend their time Instagramming their lives from remote locales, all while apparently “killing it”, making a ton of money, and collecting the photos to prove it.
The king of this growing tribe is Tim Ferris, whose “4-Hour Workweek” is still the definitive manual for working less and seeing the world more. And while Tim has gone on to build an empire and worked hard to do so in the process, I’m wondering if the glorification of location independence is sacrificing depth on the altar of cheap thrills.
It’s time to make the case for location dependence.
Fly away with me
For the better part of the last decade, I felt most at peace high in the sky, locked away in an aluminum tube (you may know it as an airplane) cruising at 30,000 ft. on my way to give a speech. I worked from the skies, SkyClubs, hotel rooms, coffee shops, and rental cars. I could do my work (speaking) from anywhere.
I wore this like a badge of honor. Scroll back through my social media feeds a few years and you’ll see smug captions that accompany plane wing shots or show me on sandy shores after entertaining a crowd for an hour on a stage.
But the truth? I was lonely (I didn’t have the self-awareness or emotional ability to recognize this at the time). My quest for attention turned into a quest for frequent flier miles and the dopamine hit that came with their accumulation meant that I could very proudly claim to be location independent.
Look at me! I’ve made it! I can work from anywhere!
If you can work from anywhere, be careful. You’ll soon wind up belonging to nowhere.
Opportunity calls when you stay put
You think opportunity is knocking and asking you to flit away for a season? To do yoga in India in between client emails? You think that now is the time to backpack across the Andes while you drop ship nutritional supplements? While these may indeed be the deepest longings of your heart, make sure that the knocking you hear isn’t something closer to home. Just because the sound of opportunity is faint doesn’t mean it’s because the knocking is coming from a thousand miles away. (Click to tweet.)
While amid the busiest speaking and travel season of my life, Batch began to grow. What was meant to be a part-time hobby for me and two friends suddenly had the chance to blossom into a legacy company. But to achieve this, I couldn’t manage it from the road. I couldn’t serve as an example of dedication to colleagues and employees if my head was in the clouds and my feet weren’t firmly planted on the ground, packing boxes or going on sales calls when needed.
As we began to raise money to create something big, one investor turned us down saying, “Your scale doesn’t depend on technology. It depends on people. You have a physical company - humans are needed to put items in boxes and service customers. We’re looking for companies that don’t need people."
I have never been happier to receive a rejection from an investor. I’m glad I run a company that needs people.
Location independence has its distractions; location dependence has its relationships.
Travel, but know why
By all means, travel. Get a ticket. See the world. Create experiences for yourself. Take in views. Make memories. Try new food. Smile at strangers.
But know why you’re doing all this. If you’re escaping a reality you don’t want, then work to create one you do. Don’t assume that unplugging from true community will offer you the chance to find yourself. I think we find ourselves the minute we begin to share who we are with others (this is a lesson I didn’t learn until recently). That’s tough to do when all we can manage is to tweet what the sunset looks like in Sydney tonight.
So, go. But make sure you know where you can come back to. Yes - you want to go places that take your breath away for a moment. But you also need a place to catch your breath for a lifetime. You need a people and a place that is yours, that can breathe with and for you when needed. You need to depend on a location.
This artwork hangs in my home. Just last week my daughter asked what it meant. I tried my best to explain: “It means that whenever we’re together, we can feel like we’re home. Home is a safe place - a place where you always belong, where you can be yourself, and where people love you. And it doesn’t matter what a house looks like or how big it is. What really matters is that I love you, that you love me, and that if can remember that, we can feel safe and that we are where we need to be."
Ron Swanson knows
My main man Ron Swanson (of Parks and Rec fame) knows all about staying put for the sake of belonging. He drops some wisdom on Leslie Knope about a guy she’s dating, but with whom she can’t quite connect.
Swanson nails it thusly: "He’s a tourist. He vacations in people’s lives, takes pictures, puts them in his scrapbook, and moves on. All he’s interested in are stories. Basically, he’s selfish. And you’re not. That’s why you don’t like him."
Tourist is a temporary designation. Community is a permanent one. The former you get by going; the latter you get by staying. (Click to tweet.)
How to be location dependent
If you, too, want to experience the deep meaning of belonging, you can. It’s easy. Pick any of the following and dive in. Soon, you’ll realize that your life and work depend on a place and you’ll never be happier:
- Fall in love
- Become friends with your neighbors
- Join a nonprofit board
- Adopt a pet
- Start a company
- Get involved at your church
- Have children
- Run for office
- Create a life you don’t need to run away from
Then, go live into this Walt Whitman quote, now and evermore:
This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.