Based on principle, I could hardly get over this. I found so much pride, more than freedom really, from being a successful digital nomad. I had worked my way from having no skills, learning odd jobs on the road, to being so desired by my loyal clientele, I had to pick and choose clients and charge premium rates.
At first, this whole digital nomad thing was excellent. But then again I was earning just enough to break even in South East Asia. Not enough to get by in the US or Europe. When we decided to make a move to Europe, I had to step up my game, take on a 30-40 hour schedule and increase my rates. My hard work was respected and my clients couldn’t recommend me enough. I had to decline many projects and I had the freedom to pick and choose who, what and when to work for.
All sounds like a dream. Sure looks like it. I’m traveling South East Asia for 6 months, I’m traveling the US, I’m sitting in European cafés sippin’ San pellogrino and indulging with my daily gelato curating Instagram walls but there is a downside that all the digital nomad lifestyle bloaters fail to mention. It nearly killed my relationship. I love love loved what I was doing. I couldn’t believe I was getting paid for this work. It felt more like a hobby. That’s why it consumed me.
Digital Nomad Problems
I got into this terrible routine of working from hotel beds during strange hours like 6pm to midnight. Torture for my boyfriend. My clients got used to the fact that I was nearly always online and when I did turn to some normality, checking emails just 1-2 times a day, it started to unsettle my clients.
Having the freedom to work any hour of the day with no fixed schedule can really end up as more of a prison than the 9-5. People often sell the digital nomad lifestyle as this schedule-less freedom, but in fact, all my clients wanted fixed hours of work from me. Fixed meetings, deadlines, weekly check ins and in the end, I was working 9am to 9pm and started to realize that 9-5 really is a perfect arrangement. When I found myself working 16 hour days as I juggled multiple clients, I began to ask myself, what was I hating on in the first place?
Being your own boss has its drawbacks
You represent yourself, meaning the pressure is on. If you f$&! up, you don’t get paid. You lose a client. Even worse, you can get blacklisted in different networks. There is this huge pressure that comes with this. For me, it materialized in working my a$$ off and not leaving a minute to spare.
No one pays you to organize yourself, to write emails, go to meetings, invoice, write proposals and the list goes on. You will spend a good 30% of your time as a freelancer working for free – trying to get work, negotiating work, updating your portfolio, organizing yourself, writing emails (yes, no one will pay you for this!), attending meetings and making invoices. As a freelancer, an even higher and more personal level of communication is required. That’s sort of what sets you a part from the company. This is time consuming. At first, again, it was exciting and then I realized I need to watch my time because I’m giving it out for free!
On that note, it’s up to you to pay for your health care and benefits!
Loneliness as a Freelancer
Thanks to the new popularity of freelancing, there’s been a burst in coworking spaces. So you can find a community as a freelancer or digital nomad but, you have to pay for it. Putting all the fluff of the coworking space aside, you are paying for your office space. No buts about it. If you’d rather work at the cafés that let you sit there all day on their wifi after the purchase of one coffee (also hard to find these days), then you will get accustomed to having a digital life with digital colleagues and digital friends.
You’re paying for your own benefits and office so how much do you make again?
Just pointing it out. Don’t devalue yourself and make sure you’re ready to charge premium rates and take on a full workload.
I started to ask myself, what do I really want from this digital nomad life?
Yes freedom is great. I could travel indefinitely like this. Then I got sick of traveling. That’s when I started to realize I’m doing this all this work and what I really want and need is an office, coworkers, greater purpose and stability.
Overall, life as a digital nomad may not be all they make it out to be
Being a freelancer or a digital nomad can be wonderful and everything you’ve ever wanted but it takes serious time management and self-motivation which can only be learned with time, structure, diligence and the desire to succeed. While I was making more money on paper and had the opportunity to do only the jobs that interested with me with clients I loved, my time was not well managed and this cost me my quality of life and almost my relationship!
Many of you thinking about going freestyle may be coming from office jobs already where you’ve learned these skills and you’re ready to succeed solo. I’m sure this lifestyle will give you what you need. For myself, I’m confident this is an experience I have learned from and I can go back at it once I’ve developed more self-management skills. For now, it’s the cube for me and I’ll come back to this entrepreneur digital nomad stuff when I’m a better me.