The real reasons why we became digital nomads

Our “pull”: the freedom to work from a New York rooftop while wearing totally inappropriate clothes for 38-degree heat (laundry day)

We’ve done a couple of interviews recently where we were asked the same question: can anyone become a digital nomad?

Our typically upbeat, feel good, puppies-and-rainbows answer?

Hell no.

Or rather, of course anyone can, but only if they have a damn good reason for doing it.

Because becoming a digital nomad is hard – much harder than just carrying on as you are, or permanently relocating for work, or taking a career break.

We’ve written before about how it’s easy once you’re in the swing of it, and logistically it’s actually harder to stop than it is to start, but there’s no doubt that getting started involves getting through a lot of mental, practical and social barriers.

(In one of next week’s posts, we’ll be going into detail about how to get over some of those barriers.)

So you’ve got to have a good reason to go to all that effort. And when we started reflecting on our own reasons, we realised that we both had different motivations that “pushed” us away from our old life and “pulled” us towards a new one.

Push factors, AKA “work sucks”

Mish and I both had our own “push” factors – which I’m defining as something uncomfortable or dissatisfying about your life that motivates you to make changes.

For Mish, she’d been in the same job for a few years and didn’t feel like she was going anywhere. She was the archetypal high-achieving loser, caring more about the company than it cared about her, and having all her ideas knocked back. At the same time, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do instead. She knew what work she loved doing and what she was good at, but wasn’t sure if she could actually make any money from it.

I was already running my own business, but the “push” was the desire to get into a new line of work. The music industry was shrinking, but that wasn’t my problem: the company was growing, and we had the best employees anyone could wish for. The industry just had no interest in innovating, and I wasn’t getting to use new ideas or try anything different – I felt like I was just repeating the same cycle every few months.

The “push” factors of most other digital nomads we’ve talked to have been very similar. They’re almost exclusively work-related: either being bored in a job, or not having enough autonomy, or not earning enough for a decent standard of living in their city.

Pull factors: beyond the 4-Hour Workweek

Our “pushes” may have been similar to most other nomads (and to each other), but our “pull” factors were very different.

For the majority of people we’ve spoken to, the “pull” was the typical 4-Hour Workweek lure of an easier, more autonomous life in an exotic location, and the chance to see new parts of the world.

Now that we’ve been doing this for over a year, those are the reasons that would make this lifestyle very difficult to give up. But they didn’t play into our decision at all at the start.

For Mish, the “pull” was the lure of seeing one part of the world a lot more: New York. She’d lived there for six months to do an internship after university, and loved it to the extent of tearing up every time it was shown on TV. All she wanted to do was spend more time there – as an employee if she could find a job, or freelancing if she couldn’t.

It wasn’t about a leisurely lifestyle or exotic locations for me either. I’d never had any interest in travel, and was perfectly happy living in London. It also wasn’t about working for a couple of hours in the morning then going surfing – I enjoy work more than most other activities, and freak out slightly if I get water up my nose while I’m washing my hair.

The “pull” for me was having the freedom to choose when to work and what to work on. I’ve always dabbled in lots of different projects, and wanted to be able to follow those projects wherever they took me – without letting anyone else down by not being in the office or having my focus split.

You need a pull and a push

Because breaking away from the default life scripts is such an effort, I reckon you need to be both pushed and pulled.

The dream of seeing the world and running your own business (a “pull”) is very common, but there needs to be something missing in your own life (a “push”) for you to really work towards making it a reality.

And conversely, being unhappy or unfulfilled with your present lifestyle isn’t necessarily enough either. You need to believe in an alternative – to be “pulled” by the idea of something else you could realistically do instead.

A vague feeling of dissatisfaction isn’t going to be enough. Most people are unhappy with something in their work or personal lives from time to time, but at heart they’re either pretty content as they are, or don’t have enough of a pull to get them off their backsides. Quitting to travel the world is a nice fleeting fantasy, but there needs to be something seriously nagging you for a prolonged period of time if you’re going to be prompted to make it a reality.

Those are our reasons – tell us yours

If you’re already living the digital nomad lifestyle, what was your motivation to get started? Did you have a push and a pull?

And if you want to but haven’t started yet, what’s stopping you? Do you feel like you need more of a reason, or is it just practicalities holding you back?

Let us know in the comments!

  • Nick Schneble

    I love it. I can totally see how these motivations led to you becoming nomads, and I’m really proud of how happy and life-successful you both are now!

    For Kit and me it was a bit different – we loved to travel, and we were becoming sick to death of the usual post-college monotony; graduate, get a job, get married, get a house, have kids, retire, THEN maybe travel, die.

    So for us, the “pull” was regaining control of our lives. To choose what to do each day, and where to go each month. No more rising early, returning late, and having a few short hours to eat, watch TV, rinse and repeat.

    What about the “push”? Well with Kit already freelancing, and then my company getting shut down and handing me a fat ol’ severance check, we were presented with as deafening a call-to-action as possible.

    Like the universe was screaming at us to “GET ON WITH IT” and stop pussyfooting around.

    4.5 years later, it’s still the best decision we ever could have made.