My Experiment with Location Independence (Part 2)


In 
Part 1 of this three-post series, I introduced my first experiment with a location-independent lifestyle. I shared how remarkable today’s creator economy feels to me as a Gen X woman. And I told why the village of Corrales, New Mexico, was my spot for a month away from winter in Minnesota. For me, starting a business is about reclaiming my most valuable assets: talent, time, energy, wellness, and money. 

In the first post I asked: Did the experiment help reclaim my energy? Here in Part 2, I tackle whether the trip helped restore my sense of time. 

Did This Experiment Help Reclaim My Time?

I used to avoid road trips. “Who has the time?” I thought. But Better Half is a car guy. After living with him for nearly nine years, I’ve come to enjoy the open road. As it turned out, our drives to and from New Mexico weren’t just a means to an end; they were a favorite part of the trip. 

We chose not to rush, and I was repeatedly surprised by how expansive this felt. On the way there, we reserved three overnight stops. Because you never know what conditions you’ll encounter, our longest day was meant to take no more than ten hours. Thankfully, this happened according to plan. 

On our drive, watching the clock didn’t matter as much as appreciating the moment. Along the way we encountered the covered bridges of Madison County in Iowa, red-tailed hawks guarding the highway for miles in Kansas, and fields of wind turbines in Oklahoma. Maybe you’re a road-trip lover, and maybe you’re not. Either way, I implore you to find your own version of letting the scenery roll by, free from worry about needing to switch gears two minutes from now.

Below the clouds, wind turbines taken from the passenger window

Wind turbines were a common sight on our third day of driving from Minnesota to New Mexico.

 

Our Workspaces

Try Googling location independence, and you’ll be flooded with imagery of decadent workspaces. I guarantee you’ll find at least one beach scene that’s great for a photo shoot but questionable in its suitability for laptop use. Perhaps one day I’ll design a slide deck while shoeless, lounging on a dock, drinking a rum out of a coconut. For now, I’ll stick to my story about how Better Half and I set up our workspaces. 

The day we rolled into New Mexico, one of our first tasks was to set up shop in the home we’d rented in Corrales. Do you know that Airbnb’s search now includes a filter for dedicated office space? The house we picked, which was minutes from the family, unfortunately didn’t have any. But it did have the bedrooms we needed to set up our own. And it had strong wi-fi, a necessity for the online meetings we both hold daily.  

His “office” in the guest bedroom meant arranging a card table and task chair from my parents’ house, which we picked up the afternoon we arrived. The setup featured a monitor he’d brought from home, which he’d wrapped carefully in a blanket in the car. Yes, we carried it inside to all three of our overnight stays along the way.This effort was a pain, but he’d tell you it was worth it. 

Because I start (and end) my day later than he does, we set up my office in the primary bedroom. It was spacious and airy, and three picture windows provided plenty of light for appealing Zoom calls. Looking back, I wish I’d spent more time appreciating the view they provided, a pleasant expanse of trees.

As for my desk, we bought a folding table from a Walmart in Albuquerque. I then scored a cushy rolling chair from a local who was happy to unload it for $20 through Facebook Marketplace. (Props go to my parents, who are now storing these items for our return next year.)

Bonus! The room also had a fireplace, which felt soothing every time I clicked the remote and the flame sparked on. And it came in handy on several chilly desert mornings. Can I say that my workspace provided the breeziness of Mai Tais on the beach? Unfortunately, no. But I can say our month in New Mexico allowed me to build work around my life, and not the other way around.

Keyboard with ad hoc workstation. Laptop sitting on a basket. Large windows in the background

My workstation was humble but functional. But the tree-lined picture window and remote-controlled fireplace felt special.

Building Work Around Life, Not the Other Way Around

If you could structure your week in an ideal way, what would it look like? The first time someone asked me this question, I could hardly contemplate how to answer it. This was six years ago. She was a coach I’d hired to help me explore my next career move, in what turned out to be my final year as an educator at the museum that employed me for nearly 15 years. 

Wow, I suddenly got a flash of memory from that time: I am standing on the building’s second-floor patio. It’s my lunch break, and my voice has just crumbled into tears. Despite my desire to make effective use of this hour, I cannot hold in my pain. The waterworks start. As my coach bears witness, she nudges me to fill out the next worksheet she’s prepared. It asks me to describe my ideal day, ataks that sounded nice but also slightly frivolous.

I’ve come a long way since then. Now that I’ve been running my own business for four years, I don’t just journal about that question: I live it. First off, I’m no longer okay with the clock dominating my schedule. Instead, most days I have enough margin to respond to the rhythms of nature. 

If the sun’s out, missing it feels downright wrong. Even if it’s a work day, I’ll take a walk at least once, just to follow the light. And during our New Mexico experiment, we upped the ante. At least twice a week, we took a half-day hike. Trails near Albuquerque are abundant, so we explored nature preserves known for birding, mountain passes frequented by mountain bikers, and a dusty path adjoining the Rio Grande. 

Hiking this mountain-bike trail in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains did require the occasional quick move out of the way. But our ability to hit the trail on weekdays helped us experience less traffic. Sometimes we’d hike after working half the day. Some weeks, we took a day off.

Sunlight was a constant presence throughout this February trip, a joy that never grew old for us Minnesotans. And the fact that we CHOSE this, that we’d found a way to experience a warmer climate for five whole weeks, all while continuing to work, felt like a luxury that we appreciated deeply, start to finish.

We all have our own opportunities and our own constraints. I get that many job roles or life situations don’t allow for this kind of travel. But what I don’t understand is companies holding on to restrictions when doing so isn’t necessary.

I think back to a job I held a while back, when a supervisor turned down my request to spend a few days working remotely. My goal was to spend evenings with Better Half while he took a solo hiking trip. He’d just discovered he needed shoulder surgery, and the surgeon had made it clear this procedure would limit his activity for up to a year. 

We’re active types, so it was important to us to experience nature before the surgery. But the catch was, I was relatively new to my job. To honor it and our plans, we sought a way to make room for both: We’d travel to our destination over the weekend, so I could work my full schedule during the week. He’d go hiking solo during the day, and we’d hang out in the evening.

But in the end, he took the trip by himself. My boss wanted me in the office, despite the fact that my only tasks involved the internal team. She was an accomplished leader and I understood her desire for cohesion. But the organization’s emphasis on proximity was complicated by the fact that we didn’t all work in the same location. 

Yes, most of us officed at the corporate headquarters, but we routinely spent meetings huddled around devices that connected us to executives, who lived out of state and visited the building about once a month. Having one set of rules for leadership and another for everyone else devalues workers, which isn’t good for them or the company.

For a while now, I’ve been committed to building a work structure that allows me to take more control over my time. We Americans are known for devaluing time, but I am no longer okay with accepting this as normal. Time is one of our greatest assets. Once it’s gone, we’ll never get it back.

We Americans are known for devaluing time, but I am no longer okay with accepting this as normal. Time is one of our greatest assets. Once it’s gone, we’ll never get it back.

This leads me to another reason our New Mexico experiment was necessary: A sense of urgency to spend time with family. After two years of Zoom calls, we saw our chance to hug them in person, and we took it. I cannot tell you how good it felt to see them face to face and enjoy time unhurried, on a string of average days.

My whole adult life I’ve lived across the country from my family. Every time I’ve seen them, our time’s been compressed into a few days, usually squeezed around a holiday that sucks up significant attention. Not this time. No, during this trip, we had the luxury of space. 

We did everyday things I’ve never experienced with them: Tried takeout on a Tuesday night, collected veggie scraps for their compost bin, and watched the Olympics together. Once, we got invited to a last-minute dinner simply because my sister-in-law cooked too much spaghetti one night. Oh, the delightful normalcy of it all!

Some of my favorite days came when Better Half and I got to take excursions with family. On one occasion, we drove an hour north to the village of Jemez Springs with Mom and Dad. Nestled in the Jemez Mountains, this place is known for hosting spiritual and recreational retreats. The closest mineral hot-spring destination to Albuquerque, it provided one of the most peaceful afternoons of our whole trip.

Jemez River

Can you spot Indy enjoying the Jemez River? I took this shot not far from downtown Jemez Springs, just off the Jemez Mountain Scenic Byway.

We parked downtown and took a stroll to the Jemez River, just past the historic Bath House. We had a quick chat with a local fisherman, as the area is known for cool fly fishing spots. As we ambled down a neighborhood road, I dreamed for a moment about what it might be like to live in a mountain community like this. As was common in all the small New Mexico towns we visited, drivers waved every time they passed by. 

We didn’t have an agenda, and nobody was in a hurry. If you’re ever in the area and want to reclaim your sense of time by slowing things down, add Jemez Springs to your bucket list. And even if you’re nowhere near New Mexico right now, make sure to find your own way to be present to moments in nature near you.

And who’s important to you but hasn’t made it to the top of your list in awhile? Go make time for them. If my New Mexico experiment is an indication of how it can feel, you just may tap into some energy you may have lost, but that’s entirely yours to reclaim.

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