Yes, I work.

I’m about to take a vacation, which means that at least one person is about to write me a message that says, “Do you ever work?!”

It’s a fair point. Judging from my photo stream, one would think I spend day and night hopscotching from Europe to Asia in constant search of flowers and sunsets. But those who know me a little better know that I have a job. I work remotely for a technology firm based in New York. My hours are flexible and I have full benefits, including paid time off.

So to answer the question directly: Yes, I do work – just not at a desk. My life might look fun (and, believe me, it is), but it’s not a non-stop vacation.

 

Actually, I get a lot of questions about my lifestyle. I hardly ever mind answering them, no matter how personal or specific, because most of them come from an honest place.

But for every innocent question I seem to get at least one loaded comment. The words themselves might be similar, but the tone is not. “Aren’t you always on vacation?”; “Never mind what you do for a living, when do you even do it?”; and, my personal favorite, “You pay for this how???”

Once, when LinkedIn announced that I was having a work anniversary, a former colleague posted the comment: “So you do work…” She might have meant it as a joke, but I wasn’t laughing. In fact, I found it downright offensive for many reasons, not the least of which being that I had explained my work arrangement to this person no less than three times and didn’t think a LinkedIn comment box is an appropriate place to make a run at a fourth.

In cases like that, I actually do mind you asking.

 

When I explain my work arrangement, the nicest thing someone can say is, “Wow. You must be really good at your job.” This, by the way, is a great way to respond to anyone who describes a lifestyle that’s at least a little bit eccentric.

But the replies I get usually aren’t quite so diplomatic. They’re more along the lines of, “Wow. They let you do that?” and “I wonder what’s in it for them.”

Incredulous tone aside, I understand where people are coming from. When I was offered this opportunity, I could hardly believe it either. It was the first time in my life that I willingly contacted HR to request paperwork.

But after spending a few years on the road, I now see that there’s actually quite a bit in it for my employer. I spend my days in museums, art galleries and historical sites all over the world. I’m learning about cultures and customs, currencies and capitols. For someone who writes for a living, the inspiration and creativity I gather on these little outings are invaluable. The exposure dramatically enhances the set of experiences and knowledge from which I can draw. I’m worth far more to my employer as a person with the freedom to roam than the version who was stuck at a desk counting down the hours until I could leave the office.

 

I know what some of you are thinking – because I get this question all the time too: “Aren’t you just sitting on a beach all the time?” And the short answer is no, not all the time. A fair amount of time, maybe. More than the average person, for sure. But not all the time.

But that’s beside the point because you know what I’m doing on the beach? Reading. I’m reading The New York Times and a regional newspaper. I’m reading a magazine or two and a handful of blogs. I’m browsing Twitter and reading articles that people I respect post from sources I don’t often look at. And then there are the books. Since August, I’ve read 14, all but one of which were non-fiction. The one that wasn’t was a Nobel Prize winner about the Finnish revolution, so I’ll count even that as learning more than leisure.

Oh, that reminds me. I’m also learning Finnish. I realize that’s a skill that isn’t exactly necessary even in Finland, but learning a new language is always worth doing. It actually changes the way you think, helping you make connections between things, people and events you ordinarily wouldn’t. It keeps my brain active, much like a Sudoku, but better because I don’t have to deal with numbers.

And let’s not forget the obvious: I write for fun. I publish a post a week here on this blog and work on my book on the side. Those things have nothing to do with my actual job, but it’s ten or twelve hours of practice that I log every week on my own time that hopefully improves the skills I’m paid to have.

So what does my employer “get” out of all this? They get a better, more informed, culturally aware person. By extension, they get a better product. I can’t speak the organization, but I imagine that’s worth the aggravation of having to schedule a few conference calls in a different time zone.

 

That said, I don’t mean to imply that my methods are the only way to add value on the job. Everyone learns and grows their own way, and there’s nothing wrong with that. My travels have made me a more resourceful and independent person, but that doesn’t mean everyone needs to read six memoirs a month in Spain to get there. In fact, I’ll be the first to admit that many of my peers are gathering all kinds of valuable experience doing things I know nothing about: they’re raising children; they’re buying homes; interacting with cable providers. If all that isn’t a lesson in negotiation, patience and character building, I don’t know what is.

The issue that I have is that I don’t get the impression my experience is valued or respected in the same way simply because it looks so damn fun. And I get that impression because of how other people react to it: they belittle and trivialize my personal goals; they publicly doubt my professional integrity; they chalk my whole life up as one grand vacation despite multiple explanations to the contrary. They put “work” in quotes and roll their eyes if I even try to talk about personal problems like finding an apartment in Berlin or dealing with epic airport delays in Hong Kong.

What’s more, they don’t do that to people who are taking a more traditional path and running into obstacle of their own. Neither do I. I mean, imagine – just imagine – if I said to a stressed out friend the night before her wedding, “You think this is tough, try finding a taxi in Madagascar after dark. Oh, and by the way, how are you paying for this reception? Girl, all you ever do is reception. Must be nice!” Quite frankly, if I said any of that, I’d throw myself out.

 

As you may have gathered, this post is more for my own sanity than anything else. It’s a written comeback for all the questions I get that seem more incredulous than curious. From now on, when I get a loaded comment, I’m going to reply with a link to this page. And if, after reading all this, the person still doesn’t get it – then that’s on them. I can’t explain it any better and I won’t try again. I’m a little too busy for that.

 

 

12 Comments
  1. Perhaps–just perhaps–if you weren’t so damned cheerful about it all. Suffer a little. Whine. Show them scars and blisters instead of all that amazing photography. Limp for the lord’s sake.

    It also suits you perfectly. You have a head for languages, for people, for seeing stuff, and for extricating yourself from some god-awful messes. And humor.

    yeah, I envy you, too, but in a good way.

    • Hello – as always, thank you for your thoughtful comment. When I started this trip, I learned the hard way to keep a whining to a minimum. No one, not even my best friends, want to hear complaints about weather and cab drivers who rip me off $20. It seems a little unfair, but I see their point. I’m lucky and that outweighs a lot of the little stuff. Also, I think their larger point is that I can stand to be more positive overall, which is true. Working on it!

      anyway, thanks again for stopping by. any time you want an adventure, give me a shout. i’ll find us a nice hotel and break us into the biggest, fanciest room.

  2. Hyvaa Paivaa! That’s as much Finnish as I can remember my grandparents teaching me (minus the naughty words Grandpa taught me when Grandma wasn’t listening). I think your life is GRAND! Don’t let those other bastards get you down!! <3

  3. I experienced the same attitude when we were cruising on a sailboat. What it comes down to is that they were afraid to pursue an alternative lifestyle. They were jealous of ours…and our courage to do so.
    I soooo admire your courage! And your blog!

    • First of all, I would LOVE to live on a sailboat. So, good for you. Sounds awesome.

      Second – I think you’re correct in many cases. I’ve met a number of people who have, in so many words, said, “I didn’t even know that was an option.” It’s a good day when people who are interested in an alternative – whatever that may be, like going back to school, starting a new career or traveling for a while – realize that it doesn’t have to be a big, scary thing. Change can be good! Plan it right and it can be easy too.

      On the other hand, I think there are plenty of people who are in no way jealous of me. In fact, for a lot of people, living the way I do would be their worst nightmare. I get it: I own no property, have no family and, up until very recently, only have friendships/relationships that are entirely digital. I live out of a suitcase for heaven’s sake! I could be gone tomorrow (prior to meeting Ice Bath) and no one would even notice for days on end. To those people, I always say, “This life isn’t for everyone, but I like it.” And I honestly don’t get offended that they don’t get it. They don’t have to. But I get offended by the pity – like, that I must be running from something or just have to find someone to “save” me. They’re the people who hear what a great time I’m having and ask, “So when are you coming back?” or “You’ll get a regular job once you have kids… by the way, tick tock.” It drives me nuts that they don’t hear me when I say, “This is the best I’ve ever been,” and feel sorry for me anyway. But that’s a whole other post, I’m afraid.

      In conclusion, thanks for reading. Please take me sailing sometime… and I will promise to fall off the boat in return.

  4. I love this post and think you make a great point. People never question the actions of others when they are considered ‘conventional’. I think you were very courageous to take up this life!

    • Yes, I think this is totally true. For example, when a friend bought a home on her own, people questioned everything: could she afford it? could she manage the upkeep? if she met someone, would he like it? Most likely, none of that would ever matter if she did so as a married couple…. it would be, “Congratulations! Here’s a plant!” Sigh. Hopefully, as more people come to realize that they can live on whatever terms they want, convention will become less and less relevant. I’ll try to make some noise for all the future day job quitters out there!

      Thanks for reading :)

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