I recently celebrated my two year anniversary at my current job. I posted on Facebook how I recalled feeling disappointed when I initially accepted the job offer at the end of my career break. Not only was I going back into the same field I left, but I was taking a job whose description was almost identical to the one I quit in 2011. I had higher hopes back then. I wanted to use my career break to transition to a new, more internationally-focused career or even strike out on my own, launching my own travel business or trying my hand at travel writing, social media consulting or something else that would allow me to be location independent.
Indeed, so many of the travel blogs I read as I prepared for my career break raved about those two magic words – location independence, followed closely by two other two magic words – digital nomad. They boasted about finally “escaping the cubicle” and railed against the evils of corporate America and the grind of working 9-to-5.
That seems to be a common mantra in the travel blogging world: working 9-to-5 sucks. As I prepared to return, I was hearing that message loud and clear – I was nuts for going back to a “regular” job.
But here’s the thing – working 9-to-5 doesn’t have to suck. You don’t have to be tied into a dead-end corporate job, rotting away in a cubicle. Life doesn’t have to be a choice between an evil corporate career and freedom as a digital nomad. There is a lot of in between and the fact that you are unhappy in your current job may just mean you haven’t found the right fit yet.
I spent six fairly miserable years as a lawyer before changing careers to alumni relations and development. By the time I left that job more than four years later, I was again in a pretty sad state. But after a year on the road, I came back and, despite the fact that my current job is almost identical to the one I left in many ways, I eventually came to realize that it’s really much better. I enjoy what I do, I like the organization I work for, I like my boss and the people I work with, I am constantly challenged and learning new things, and I feel like I am making a difference. It may not be the difference I envisioned when I was job hunting at the end of my career break, but it is still satisfying to know I am having an impact.
And here’s the other thing – is being a digital nomad, allegedly “working for yourself” really that much better?
For some people, I am sure it is. But it’s not for everyone. My friend Amanda recently wrote about how much it stressed her out to try to freelance full-time as she traveled. So instead, she came home and got a part-time job that allows her to work remotely. She has the security of a regular paycheck, but can travel as she wants as well.
I seriously considered taking the leap to “work for myself” when I returned from my career break, but ultimately decided it wasn’t for me – for a multitude of reasons. First, I think the whole phrase “working for yourself” is a misnomer. You are always working for someone else. There is always someone else who is writing the check (or transferring the funds) that will pay your bills. The biggest difference with being an entrepreneur is that you have more say over who that is. You decide what clients to take and what work you want to do and how much to take on.
But you still have to pay the bills. So chances are, you’ll spend a lot of time hustling to find those people who will make it possible. And you may even find yourself taking on projects that you don’t really enjoy because you’re getting desperate and need the money. As someone who values stability and financial security, I would lose my mind if I tried to work for myself. I would hate not knowing where (and when) my next paycheck was coming from. I would hate the feeling that I constantly had to hustle to find work and I would consistently be stressed out over the idea that a day I’m not working is a day I don’t get paid.
So yeah, I love that I have 15 vacation days a year and 10 sick days and two personal days, plus a bunch of holidays and time off between Christmas and New Year’s – all days that I don’t have to work but still get paid for. I love having employer-paid health insurance and matching contributions to my retirement plan. I love having co-workers with whom I can collaborate and a boss who mentors me and challenges me to learn and become better at what I do. I love being part of an organization that does some really cool things.
And I still get to travel! My boss hired me fresh off my career break and with a trip to Nepal already planned, so she knew what she was getting into – and really, I wouldn’t have gone somewhere that wasn’t open to me using every single second of my vacation time every year. I also work my butt off the rest of the year and make sure that I am strategic about when I take my time off. In the last calendar year, I have been to Washington, DC (three times), Minnesota (twice), Mali, Burkina Faso, New York, Bulgaria, Toronto, the Grand Canyon, Los Angeles, San Diego, Atlanta and Boston. Several trips were for work, which means my flights were paid for and I could just stay a few more days, paying only for the extra hotel nights.
At the end of the day, you have to do what is right for you. But just as you shouldn’t follow a certain career path or try to climb the corporate ladder solely because your family and friends (and society!) expect you to, you shouldn’t ditch the 9-to-5 altogether either just because you read one too many blogs telling you the alternative must be better. The grass may always seem greener on the other side, but sometimes it’s better to stop and appreciate how green your own grass is.