“Your time can be too much your own”, writes Oliver Burkeman in his book, Four Thousand Weeks. While this challenges the allure of freelancing, it does raise the question of what it costs to live within a personalized time construct.
But isn’t the digital nomad lifestyle Paradise Found? The vision of a serene, formerly full-time professional set free by a laptop to work on their own terms – on a beach in an exotic locale, in a cozy cafe, a We Work space, or the back of VW van. But the choice comes at a cost: “Every gain in personal control of our time entails a corresponding loss in how easy it is to coordinate time with other people”, according to Burkeman.
What is the cost of lost time synchrony?
Burkeman warns, “Having all the time in the world isn’t much use if you’re forced to experience it on your own.” Life rhythms are shaped by calendars, agendas, workweeks, and shared experiences. Operating in your own idiosyncratic timeframe can be alienating.
- Shared rituals
Burkeman cites the Swedes’ daily “Fika”- loosely described as “drinking coffee, munching sweet treats and chatting with coworkers” – as a fundamental routine in the Swedish workplace. The gatherings transcend job titles and work issues and bring everyone together each day. Elsewhere, the closest thing to the Fika might be random water cooler chats and hallway “collisions,’ or weekly Dev Drinks, but these gatherings also supply a regular dose of belonging.
- Shared Boundaries
Balance – you chased it, but did you find it? Freedom from workday constraints doesn’t guarantee protection of boundaries: Like water in a leaking vessel, work can seep through the cracks and into your cherished “me time”, finding its way from the unsynced schedules of clients. Different time zones almost guarantee this.
- Shared Purpose
Everyone seeks purpose. If you leave full-time work looking for kindred spirits, you might still be searching as you travel from one locale to another. While there are many other ways to unite around a vision – philanthropy, athletic pursuits, faith, political causes – common availability helps when pursuing a common cause. Shared purpose with clients while working on a project can feel meaningful at the time, but when you move on you realize it wasn’t true simpatico.
- Shared experiences and memories
The term Digital Nomad is misleading. Nomads are fundamentally tied to one another in their groups and work cooperatively and synchronously for the greater good. Former nomad and author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson wrote about the darker side of the untethered life, “The other strange aspect of this lifestyle is that the people who you are most connected to and relate to the most, you only see a few times a year…. But there are some friends who you never actually see.” You might sign up for this in exchange for seeing the world, but the experiences aren’t the same when solo. Manson continues, “Last year I visited 17 countries. This year I will visit 10…. but I did it all alone.” Manson ultimately abandoned the nomadic life because he, “found himself increasingly valuing comfort and forming deep relationships…”
“How much time and freedom do we really want and from what and from whom?”
Unlimited time sounds enticing. But what value is more time if you can’t share it? A nomad’s schedule can distance you from true, deeper connections which require physical presence and a coinciding schedule. Relationships are built on shared context and if there is none, what’s the point?