I Thought I had Work-Life Balance. Becoming a Digital Showed me I was Wrong.
I’ve been a digital nomad for almost a year — continuously traveling the world while writing my books and screenplays. And a lot of things have surprised me.
But the thing that’s surprised me the most involves my writing.
Back in Seattle, my writing career was the second most important thing in my life (after my husband Michael). I was driven to succeed, and I was devastated when I faced any setback.
The life of a writer is complicated, and emotionally exhausting. There are a lot of great aspects: the satisfaction of expressing myself, and (especially) hearing from enthusiastic fans and readers.
But a life in the arts is very difficult too. I like to say, “I get criticized for a living.” For the most part, it’s a constant fusillade of rejection and frustration, with the occasional humiliation thrown in for good measure.
Still, before I left Seattle, writing was my life. I spent most of my days writing, and I spent most of my nights worrying about my writing. On our days off, Michael (also a writer) and I spent most of our time talking about our writing.
I had my friends and family. But honestly, everyone was so busy with their lives, and congestion is so unbelievably horrible around Seattle, that I didn’t see as much of people as I would have liked. Meeting someone for lunch on the other side of town, or even going out to a movie, usually meant sitting in traffic for at least an hour each way.
But something strange happened along the way to my becoming a digital nomad: a shift in perspective, I guess.
I still care deeply about my writing. I spend almost as much time working (though I’m probably a bit more focused and productive now that I generally work in co-working spaces, surrounded by the energy of other nomads).
And, um, unfortunately, I’m not really experiencing any less rejection and frustration (though there are a couple of really exciting things I’m hoping to announce soon!).
But here’s the thing: my life is so much richer now! In addition to my writing, there are so many other things I’m passionate about now too.
It’s starts with the people. The digital nomad community is made up of a fascinating crowd. There has to be something interesting about you if you pick up and leave your home, right?
Even better, the people are much more accessible. Living in a co-living place (lodging designed for digital nomads), or even renting a short-term apartment and working in the local co-working facilities, it feels a lot like college: you see the same people every day, and you’re constantly sharing meals together. Plus, everyone is very open to new experiences, and constantly inviting you along to wherever they’re going.
As a result, you become close to people really fast. And once you’re around other people who are passionate about different things, you start to absorb their passions.
Speaking of new experiences, there’s also much more to do here than back in Seattle. Because Michael and I are moving every two-to-three months, I’m literally always in a new place — and these are some of the most scenic regions on Earth: Spain, Malta, Italy, Eastern Europe. Who wouldn’t want to go out and explore that? Hiking and biking, boat trips and water slides, even learning a new language (and learning a few words of several others) — this year, I’ve done it all. Not to mention all the great meals I’ve had with all kinds of different cuisines.
And it’s not just that I’m having more experiences, the kinds of experiences are different too, A lot of writing involves the future: word counts, deadlines, release dates, contracts. But almost everything about being a digital nomad involves being in the present: who and what is directly around you at any given moment.
Writing also involves spending a lot of time in your head, alone. But being a digital nomad literally forces you out into the world.
Ultimately, I guess it’s a question of work/life balance. I thought I had it before, but it turns out I didn’t.
I used to think I’d die if ever had to give up my writing. That’s not really true anymore. I’d be sad, but there are now so many other great aspects to my life that I could easily carry on.
So maybe I do care about my writing less now. All I know is that where I am now is a much better place to be. And I wonder if I ever would’ve discovered this if I hadn’t left home.