As a Gen X woman who started a business after hitting a glass ceiling in her 40s, I often say that entrepreneurship is a journey of reclaiming things. Today, finding success looks entirely different than it did in the first two decades of my work life. If you’re a mid-career professional, you may know the feeling: You grew up in a conventional job market that asked you to fit in and follow the rules, in exchange for relative stability.
But somewhere along the way traditional structures fell away. Slowly over time, employers and employees became less interdependent. Technology expedited access to information, transformed how we do business, and discarded gatekeepers across sectors. Then, a global pandemic came along, bringing relentless uncertainty to a world of work that was already unstable.
Who Gets to Call the Shots in Your Career?
What I’ve learned from these shifts is that nobody’s looking out for your career anymore. And while this realization was hard to stomach at first, I’ve come to welcome it as an opportunity. When you embrace the idea that you have to call the shots, you discover you get to call the shots. And as you go, you can reclaim your most valuable assets–your talent, your time, your energy, your wellness, and your money.
These things are yours to own, no matter who writes your checks. Unlike the world I grew up in, where workers relied on employers to set many of the terms, today’s professional careers are about autonomy and flexibility. If you want to thrive in today’s economy, finding your own purpose is a better source of stability than unchecked organizational loyalty. And as you navigate shifting job structures, you must take ownership of your own power.
There are many, many ways to go about these things. But in my case, entrepreneurship is the vehicle I’ve chosen. And in this blog series, I’ll explore an experiment I conducted to test the waters of my own autonomy: This past winter I gave location independence a try. I wanted to test what it was like to choose my work location, rather than having it set for me. For the month of February, my chosen location was a village outside Albuquerque called Corrales, New Mexico.
I wrote this post to share what I did and how, and to explore the question: Did this experiment help me reclaim any time, energy, or money? To kick things off, I’ll share how this got started in the first place.
We Hatch a Plan to Work in New Mexico for a Month
For me home is in Minnesota, in a suburb just east of St. Paul. If you’ve spent much time in the Midwest, you’re no stranger to long winters. Even during the best of times, winter in Minnesota is a dark affair. An annual sadness sets in as August wanes and I admit that summer’s actually ending. And last year, the familiar sense of doom was worse.
As we faced a third winter of pandemic isolation, I dreaded another season of relying on TV characters for my sense of community. If there’s a show featuring an eccentric small town that ends up welcoming the cranky (yet ultimately plucky) outsider, you can bet I’ve clung to it for winter comfort.
You don’t need me to tell you that social isolation brings health risks or that winter heightens this scenario, so I hope you can understand why I pitched an idea to my man: What if we packed the car, drove to New Mexico, and spent February there? What if we rented a house in Corrales so we could spend time with family? Mom and Dad live there, a few minutes from my brother, sister-in-law, and 8-year-old niece.
My whole adult life, I’ve never lived in the same city as my family. Whenever I see them, we cram all activity into a few days, usually shoehorning it around an already-busy holiday. So I was captivated by the idea that this time, we might stretch it out. “Hm,” I started to wonder, “What if this time we saw them for real, for weeks and not days?
Thankfully, Better Half’s employer had shifted toward remote work. So an opportunity I used to joke about taking, started to seem doable. But could we really make it happen?
Since starting my learning-strategy business in 2017, I’ve known that, technically, I could be location independent. After all, my clients have always been a mix of locals and those from other time zones. And yet: Knowing something and believing it’s really possible are two very different animals. In more than 20 years as an employee, remote work wasn’t on my radar. I’m not sure I’d even heard the term location independent until a few years ago.
How do you know something’s possible, even if you’ve never done it before? This question is fundamental to my journey of entrepreneurship. Come to think of it, that’s what location independence really means to me: Living a life of possibility, rather than allowing preset social norms dictate your decisions, large and small.
Did The Experiment Help Me Reclaim Energy?
Before this one, long trips away were unheard of for me. Even a two-week vacation was rare; I think I did it only once. So as we contemplated heading to New Mexico for a month–four whole weeks, capped off by an additional week of driving–I battled all kinds of limiting beliefs.
“Who do I think I am?” I wondered, “some fancy jerk who thinks she can rewrite the rules?” But here’s the thing: the rules of work are being rewritten anyway. Whether we like it or not, uncertainty is the new norm. Adaptability is an essential skill. From healthcare to academia to corporate, no one can thrive in today’s marketplace by relying on existing structures and norms.
And as for my fears that remote work means extravagance (and guilt), I ask you: What the heck is wrong with everyday workers assuming more control over their greatest assets? Are we to believe that things like time and talent should be fully dictated by an employer, in an age where organizational loyalty is falling away?
Our society is adapting to today’s world, the hyper-connected, global one where social movements demand equity long denied and institutions are in turmoil. We can and must see this as an opportunity to reshape our world of work. We must step away from command-and-control structures and prioritize humanity and meaning.
I realize that spending a month working remotely requires privilege and is not the same as granting employment rights to, say, a refugee who’s been forced to start over in an unfamiliar country. But there are many ways to live in unnecessary societal constraints, and I am committed to pushing the boundaries of hierarchical structures many of us once knew, but that’s changing fundamentally.
Until I can figure out what it feels like to claim a new sense of career agency, how will I ever be equipped to help others do the same? Throughout the trip, the autonomy we’d claimed for ourselves was energizing. The experiment invigorated me in ways large and small.
For example, it was particularly freeing to meet clients online and confirm that my Southwestern Zoom room served them just as well as my office back home in Minnesota. More than that, it felt good to recognize what was needed to maintain my own wellness, then take action to make it happen.
In his book Essentialism, Greg McKeown blew my mind when he asserted that overwork is a form of learned helplessness. “Isn’t working hard evidence of one’s belief in one’s importance and value?” he asked. Then continued: “Yet on closer examination we can see this compulsion to do more is a smokescreen. These people don’t have a choice in what opportunity, assignment, or challenge to take on. They believe they ‘have to do it all.’”
Too many of us spend our time on an autopilot of productivity. We believe hustle means success, and we ignore the yearnings of our soul, not to mention the needs of our body, as we push ourselves beyond our limits. As a worker who lived this pattern for years, I deeply appreciate the autonomy entrepreneurship has brought me.
The act of claiming location independence was a huge step in reclaiming the asset of my own wellbeing. More than once I felt a jolt of satisfaction that choice brings, even when doing something routine like discovering a macadamia-nut cookie at a grocery store in a new town.
Speaking of discoveries, another refreshing surprise came from an aspect of travel we’d never experienced before: Bringing our dog! If you have pets you know they’re part of the family, yet travel often means separation from them.
As it turns out, our golden retriever Indy is a champ in the car, no matter how long the drive. Wagging her tail the second she hears, “Ride? Let’s go for a ride!” We never got tired of watching her bound into the back seat, curling up immediately to settle in for whatever journey was happening at that moment.
Until this experiment, I never realized how much our past vacations brought worry to my man, whose bond with animals is particularly strong. He’s also a gadget guy, so he sets up cameras in the house when we’re gone. In the past, it was heartbreaking to watch him check the feed, only to see our previous dog Frankie waiting patiently on the mat by the front door.
Since we’d never taken a trip as long as five weeks before, traveling with our dog was never an option until now. And though we loved the idea from the start, I didn’t realize how restorative it would be, until we were on the road. And isn’t that true of life? The benefits don’t come till after we take action.
Looking back on my Location Independence experiment, I’m glad I took a chance. I’m glad I exchanged what was familiar for what could be. And if you are a mid-career professional who’s looking for ways to reclaim the energy you may have lost along the way, I wish the same for you.
Check out Part 2 of this three-part series.