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I’ve been working as a freelance web developer for about two months now. I had no idea what I was letting myself in for and it’s been a hell of a ride.
In an attempt to make sense of it all, I humbly present to you everything I’ve learned in the last 9 weeks about four of the biggest aspects of being a digital nomad.
Ahh, yes. Freedom. ‘Tis a glorious thing. The freedom to work when you want. The freedom to work where you want. The freedom to make Skype calls and talk business whilst drinking Pina Coladas dressed in nothing but your underwear (but for the love of God, DON’T HIT THE VIDEO BUTTON).
The freedom to spend many days building a website that talks in painful detail about your love of aardvarks because you’re the great grandaddy of your business and it’s a niche with a LOT of traffic and if you say it could be a gold mine then you’re going to take that risk cause, dammit, you’re the BOSS.
The freedom to say ‘screw this, I’m going home’ at 10:30 in the morning and then spend the rest of the day riding horses at full tilt around the countryside of Argentina before hitting up an authentic Gaucho bar complete with cowboys in berets and cheap red wine (£1 for half a litre!).
The freedom to work a 10 hour day, every day for two weeks straight. The freedom to worry about how much work you have on. The freedom to worry about how little work you have on. The freedom to worry constantly about where your next job is coming from and how you’re going to be able to afford to live 6 months from now.
The freedom to deal with complaints, handle queries, research keywords, design websites, program themes, market services, chase invoices, fill in tax returns, file receipts and track expenses.
The freedom to placate partners with promises that it won’t always be like this, that the job’s nearly finished and that we can enjoy this foreign city that we’ve travelled 6,000 miles to see NEXT weekend.
Picture this: You’re at your desk. The temperature is around 30 degrees celsius. The sun is shining brightly in a clear blue sky but that’s OK because your desk is located outside under the comfortable shade of a beautiful dark wood veranda.
You hear tropical birds singing in the jungle behind you and you feel the cooling sea breeze stroke your face from off the beach in front of you. You reach over and take a sip of a refreshing fruit cocktail before returning to your work, relaxed and unhurried.
Now picture this: You’re sitting up on an uncomfortable bed in a dingy hotel room balancing a laptop precariously on your lap. Outside, it sounds like a nefarious deity is trying to flatten the city with rain alone, which would be fine if he would just turn down the heat while he did it.
The deadline is minutes away and you’re desperately trying to upload an entire website on a whisper of a dial up WiFi connection that is entirely dependent on the direction that the wind is blowing. You look up to see the largest cockroach entomology has ever seen climbing up the wall and, for a split second, you imagine how much easier your life would be if you were a bug.
For eleven of the twelve years I did web design, I never got paid for it. I did it because it allowed me to combine my love of drawing with my love of a good challenge. It was all about the love.
Now people are paying me to do it. People come up to me and they say ‘Simon, we want a website done. We like the other websites you’ve done and we want you to do one for us. We’ll give you ten million dollars to do it.’
Maybe that’s not exactly what they say, but it’s close. It’s incredible and I am entirely and forever grateful to them for the opportunity to get paid to do something I really enjoy.
But for the love of all things good and wholesome why do they want a rainbow-coloured unicorn dancing across half the page while singing Lady GaGa’s ‘Bad Romance’ on a page about bicycle rental?
Seriously now. I know it’s their money. I know I said I’d implement their amends. But please, please, please don’t make me sign my name to this.
Clients are amazing. Clients teach you how to be diplomatic and understanding. They force you to confront awkward situations head on and to resolve them maturely and with empathy.
They challenge you to push your skills in new directions and deliver more in less time than you ever thought was possible. They challenge you to make your good into your best.
They test your patience by taking weeks to send over files then blaming you when the launch is 20 minutes late. They insult your integrity by assuming you are trying to rip them off at every turn when the reality is that your current hourly rate for their job has just slipped below minimum wage. Pre tax.
They frustrate you with ridiculous requests that take days to implement despite your warnings that the technology can’t handle it, only to change their minds and revert back to the original whilst suggesting that you advised them badly and that you lacked the chops to make it work.
Is it worth it?
Is it worth all of this? Is it worth the emotional strain of mountain-peak highs and deep-ocean-trench lows? Is it worth the risk that you might not eat next month just so that you can move to a new country every few months? Is working outside next to a beach really that great? I mean it’s only sand and water.
Good grief yes.
Every beautiful, infuriating, life-affirming, awkward, stressful, overwhelming, rewarding second of it. I have never in my entire life felt so much personal growth. I have never felt so in control of my own destiny. I have never felt so engaged in the work I do, so direct is the connection between effort and reward.
And that, my friends, is entirely priceless.