Go to school, get accepted to college, receive a degree, apply for a job, sign a lease, climb the corporate ladder, get married, have kids, become a nice old grandparent, pass on. Sound familiar? Chances are that you’re somewhere on this linear path of life. It’s our traditional way of living, us 21st-century humans.
But why is it “the path”? Have any of us really asked ourselves? Sure, it makes sense that we should earn college degrees so we can get good paying jobs and earn enough money to have fun in life. But is a fun life working 40-50 hours a week, month in and month out, in an air conditioned office, just so we can take our coveted bi-annual vacation?
I can hear you saying it: There’s no other way, dammit! Stop filling my head with ideas of grandeur and let me enjoy my commute in peace. Well, first off, if you’re reading this while driving, I appreciate your level of dedication, but bookmark your place and put down the phone! And if you’re traveling by public transit, then, by all means, continue.
I’m here to tell you that the traditional life isn’t the only way. However, it definitely is a way, and it’s the right path for many of us. Most of my good friends enjoy the “normal” corporate lifestyle. Not me, however. I’ve finally taken advantage of my location-independence and have been living in Austin for the past month. In fact, I just booked a 2-month Airbnb in Los Angels (Studio City, to be exact, holler at me if you’re out there!). I’ve essentially forgone my bi-annual vacation for a multi-month “work-cation.” It isn’t better, it isn’t worse, but it definitely isn’t traditional, and I’ll explain why.
A Transient Life
I work as a corporate consultant and small business owner. That’s how I make my money. I’ve moved over to this “nontraditional” way of earning income roughly 9 months ago, and I haven’t looked back since. Well, that’s not entirely true; recently, I did look back. My good friend out here in Austin is a traditional guy. Again, not bad or good, it’s just who he is. And I’ll be honest with you, it was a little intoxicating to hear him talk about down days at the office and his stable paychecks.
I don’t have down days, I thought to myself. My work style is such that I have to essentially kill what I eat. Now, the goal is to invest enough time on the front-end where I can realize passive income on the back end, but still, as of now, I’m swapping hours for dollars. And then something dawned on me: I can’t really take a traditional vacation. I mean, I can, but I don’t get paid for my time off.
What a bummer! At least, it was a downer initially. But then I thought more about it. Sure, I can’t take two-weeks paid vacation, but I can travel wherever I want, whenever I want. Case and point: San Francisco —> Austin —> Los Angeles —> ???. So, the nontraditional lifestyle I’m talking about, the one that people covet when they listen to all those podcasts about business and entrepreneurship, isn’t necessarily better, it’s just, well…different. And that differentiation suits some people, and it doesn’t suit others.
I’ve dubbed this way of living a “transient lifestyle.” It’s transient for many reasons. The main reason is the nomadic, location-independence, sure, but it goes deeper than that. When you adopt this lifestyle, the people you meet multiplies and your network expands, but it also loses some depth. Let me explain. When you take a corporate job and sign a one-year lease on an apartment, you’ve committed yourself to a single location. You have 12-months to find your favorite restaurants, meet your best friends, and find that special someone.
With a transient lifestyle, however, it’s different. You might sign a 2-month sublet, and while every experience is new, you might only have the opportunity to try things once and hang out with cool new people a few times, before you whisk off to another locale. So, I’ve now met a bunch of awesome people in Austin, ones who I even know well enough to crash on their couch if I need to, but are they some of my closest friends? No, not yet, at least, and some may never be.
Is it better or worse? Well, that’s my point. Neither. It just…is.
A Traditional Life
Now, let’s compare the above with a traditional life. First off, you have financial peace of mind through job security. Sure, we can debate for ages whether or not a corporate job is secure if you can be fired “at-will,” but let’s generalize here and say that a traditional job provides added security. Further, that security manifests itself into financial well-being, since you can predict with 100% accuracy how much you’ll make each month.
And second, that security goes even further and morphs itself into stability. It’s definitely a nice feeling when you know exactly where your head is going to lay at night for an entire year. No need to frantically scour Airbnb each month in search of temporary residence. And that stability allows a traditional person to form deep relationships with the people they meet in the city where they reside.
Someone who lives a traditional life can find their favorite bar, participate in their favorite activities, and date someone who lives close to them. See? The stability sounds nice. I think the feeling is even rooted in our evolutionary psychology, where we naturally long for the benefits of a steady tribe. Even me, while I truly enjoy the transient lifestyle, sometimes wish I had these life-characteristics. Sometimes.
But it’s not all roses for those traditional people. One of the biggest downfalls of a traditional lifestyle is the “bubble syndrome,” which describes the ease in which we can get stuck in repetition and forgo new and exciting experiences. That favorite bar might cause you to miss out on even better restaurant establishments. Those deep relationships may stop you from meeting other interesting people. That girlfriend or boyfriend you have, well, you get it…
The Intersection of Both Worlds
But why can’t we have both? There has to be a way where we can have the best of both worlds.
Well, I think I’ve found it, in a sense. See, I left Austin yesterday (June 3, 2016), and I’m sad to say that it wasn’t enough. One month doesn’t give you enough time to truly experience all a city has to offer. But would a year have been any better? Well, if you are a true practitioner of the location-independent, transient lifestyle, then no. A year in a single place, locked into a lease, is synonymous with indentured servitude.
So then, where’s the balance? Where’s the intersection that lets you have your cake and eat it, too?
It comes through a location-independent work style and a more established living situation. Because here’s the bottom line: We all want freedom. It’s almost as if we’d be happier living in the same place for the year if we had the option to move whenever we wanted, rather than being required to move around each month.
But, like freedom, we also want a steady routine and established relationships. So, rather than moving around constantly, how about sticking around for three months, or even six? What about if you still Airbnb-ed apartments, but you only looked for sublets in the same city, so you may live in three different locations in three consecutive months, but those locations are all within the same city.
Or, you could sign a one-year lease (gasp!), but then Airbnb it every other month and use the extra cash flow to travel.
The bottom line is to seek freedom through your work. If you can make income independently, working wherever you want, your life-options are literally endless. And then if you decide to live an “established lifestyle,” it isn’t because you were forced into a corporate paycheck, but was due to your specific design.
The key is to build a lifestyle in such a way that it’s your choice as to who you want to meet, where you want to live, and for how long. And trust me, if you can generate independent revenue, you’ll feel freer than ever, even if you’re living in your parent’s basement.