There should be no room for doubt – being a digital nomad can be a very fun, enriching, and rewarding lifestyle. Continuously opening yourself up to new contexts… New experiences and challenges while seeing the world… This is the dream of many people – and the reality of many, too.
In contrast to the job market of 20 or 30 years ago, traveling the world while working remotely is a legitimate option accessible to a large number of people entering the workforce. This option has been made even more prevalent thanks to social media. Digital nomads are often sharing pics and vids of their workspace (generally consisting of a balcony view of a sunny beach, sweeping mountain range, or lush jungle). Many show the digital nomad’s feet kicked up with a cup of freshly brewed coffee next to them.
If you have recently become a digital nomad or are giving some serious thought to jumping into that way of life, you should consider all the positive aspects that come along with it. But, you shouldn’t also neglect to put some thought into some of the potential long-term disadvantages. Taking this time can help you avoid falling into the pitfalls many digital nomads didn’t see coming.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what it means to be a digital nomad. We’ll also look at the pitfalls might be out there waiting to ensnare you and the steps you can take to avoid them.
The Profile of a Digital Nomad
Any time we paint with a broad brush, we’re likely to miss the many unique and out-of-the-ordinary cases. However, it is true that generally speaking, digital nomads, tend to share many of the same personal characteristics. This is regardless of the specific job they are doing or what sector of activity they are operating in.
A digital nomad is highly likely to be:
- Intellectually curious – The digital nomad thrives on being exposed to new stimuli. They are likely to abhor sameness. They are also likely to get bored easily if not exposed to anything new after a time.
- Confident – The lifestyle of the digital nomad requires them to continuously leave their comfort zone. The digital nomad must extend trust to others more readily. This is not possible with a certain sense of trust and confidence in oneself.
- Self-motivating – Part of being a digital nomad means not having a superior looking over your shoulder, checking in on your progress (or lack thereof). This is not a problem for the digital nomad. Most don’t need prodding or motivation from an outside source. They are their own boss, and they are their own motivators.
- Creative – A digital nomad is more often than not engaged in some sort of creative activity: web design, app development, ghostwriting or copywriting. These can often be high-paying jobs that don’t require a college degree. Even in cases where their professional activity might not call for much creativity, the digital nomad, by virtue of their way of life, is good at working around difficulties, being resourceful, and finding unique solutions to unique problems.
- Not adverse to risk – The digital nomad has chosen a life far removed from familiar environments. They are frequently far removed from any familial support or another type of home-grown support network they might otherwise benefit from. The digital nomad has decided, more or less, to live with little to no safety net. The digital nomad is not reckless, but they certainly doesn’t shy away from risk.
Pitfall #1 – Lateral Movement
Typically, a digital nomad will move from country to country (or from region to region within a country) as the seasons or their whims dictate. This means that the digital nomad is continuously facing change and the challenges that come with it. They are also being continuously exposed to new environments and new stimuli. However, this is true in their daily or personal lives, but it is not always true for their professional lives.
The digital nomad typically lives off a series of temporary jobs (though not always). And because their lives are filled with change and challenges, they may run the risk of not noticing that they have been taking one similar type of temporary job after the other – without ever staying long enough with a company or client to move upwards.
The digital nomad is at high risk of accepting change even when it boils down to a lateral movement. And, they are at high risk of not noticing the negative effects of engaging in lateral movement. Another way to describe this is professional stagnation.
What can you do to avoid getting trapped by lateral movement?
It’s easy to get comfortable or complacent when you’re living the life of a digital nomad. However, comfort and complacency eventually go sour. And more often than not, by the time we notice it’s almost too late to do anything about it. To avoid falling into a routine of lateral movements, you need to take proactive measures.
Invest in yourself
Israel Cannan said it best: “Wherever you go, there you are.” But that doesn’t need to mean that you’re always the same. You could choose to improve. Take online classes. Attend conferences. Participate in webinars. You don’t necessarily need to train on how to become an astronaut, but you should always be looking for ways you can improve your professional profile. That way, you’re more likely to land a job with more responsibilities and better compensation for your next activity.
Maintain some long-lasting professional relations
Going from one position to a better position with more responsibility and better pay is most often accomplished when someone has been with the same company or client for an extended period of time. Unfortunately, this type of long-term thinking is less likely to be a priority for the digital nomad.
It’s important to be aware of the increase in opportunities that can come about when nourishing a professional relationship over many years. This is especially true if you’re working in the B2B sector. Even as you grow, renew, and your rates increase, it could be to your benefit to keep a few old clients. Loyalty doesn’t always pay off. But when it does, it only pays off for the loyal.
Pitfall #2 – Commitment Issues
While many people find the prospect of moving from country to country very exciting, there are also many people who find in that lifestyle a certain proclivity for avoiding commitment. The digital nomad doesn’t stay in the same place for long. And they often doesn’t keep the same clients or work for the same entity for long, either. This can be a red flag for many recruiters and prospective employers.
Of course, the digital nomad is not concerned by this red flag. They aren’t looking to settle down or make a long-term commitment. However, for the overwhelming majority of digital nomads, this way of life is only meant to be enjoyed for a limited amount of time. Eventually, the majority of digital nomads will look to settle down and plant roots. However, how much more difficult will it be for them when they have (or are perceived to have) commitment issues?
What can you do to avoid getting trapped by commitment issues?
Even though your resume might show many countries and many different professional activities (which could be a red flag to some recruiters or prospective employers) there should also be some evidence that you possess the ability to think long-term and follow through on your intentions. That could be the fact that you’ve maintained the same client for many years or that you undertook at least 1 long-term project and saw it through to its completion.
Pitfall #3 – Assets
The digital nomad must travel light. The digital nomad is on the go. A potential psychological side-effect of this type of lifestyle is that the digital nomad does not place as much importance on physical things as other “more traditional” workers might. The digital nomad does not get attached to physical things (they change homes frequently, for example), and this value system can translate into a failure to accumulate or build something lasting, something semi-permanent.
Too many digital nomads go from job to job, from country to country without building off a foundation. When their priorities change and they decide to return home, they find that not only have they no place to hang their hat. Some might not even have so much as a hat to hang.
How can you avoid getting trapped into neglecting to build assets?
Invest in the long run
Investing in the long run seems like it could go against the priorities and the mindset of a digital nomad. But, it doesn’t have to be this way. Whether it’s real estate or mutual funds, after the years of globetrotting have come to an end, the only way to make sure you have something to show for it besides the memories is to anticipate and prepare well in advance.
Being a Digital Nomad: The Bottom Line
Being a digital nomad can be a fun, enriching, and rewarding experience. However, amid all the excitement of a new place and new adventures, it can often be easy to neglect to plan for when your priorities invariably shift and you want to plant roots. Stay ahead of the curb and plan accordingly.