I’ve had it good. Ever since I quit my job early last year, in the eyes of some, I’m livin’ la vida loca, the good life, la dolce vita – you name it. And while I am very far from complaining, I’d like to rectify this skewed view. There is always more to the picture than meets the eye.
In the past months, I’ve come across a number of examples that provide some insight into the less-visible aspects of lifestyle choices.
Family and friends
I recently watched the movie Flight. I love flying. (I love exploring familiar and foreign landscapes from the air; I’m mesmerized by the magical colors of sunrise in the air; I’m fascinated by air-traffic control and watch Casper like others watch TV; I note the pilots maneuvering of the wing flaps whenever I fly; and I’m convinced that sooner or later, I’ll learn to pilot a plane.)
But that’s not what the movie (nor its title) is about, and it’s not why it stuck with me for days. Rather, I saw it as a harrowing demonstration of what it can mean to not have stable enough of a social safety net – family and friends – to rely on.
For those who are young and single when they start freelancing, as I was, much of the risk of starting a business seems miles away. Insurance, lawyers, and hiring are swiftly dismissed as solvable problems when (and not if) success rolls up to the door.
And then a softball strikes the ground and I chase it to keep runners from heading home.
In a riveting piece in The Magazine, Robert Palmer writes about life and near-death as a freelancer, the freedom and responsibility to organize retirement and health insurance yourself, and the supreme importance of client relationships (human as well as professional) for a freelancer’s long-term wellbeing.
You show up alone, you do your thing, then you haul out your own gear… whether or not the show went wonderfully or terribly.
Dalton Caldwell compares a freelancer to a one-man band (cum manager, PR and marketing guy, logistics support, etc). It’s not always easy, but it’s what we choose to do.
“Everything is awesome”
In reaction to Aaron Swartz’s suicide, startup founder Darius “Bubs” Monsef cautioned against taking self-presentation at face value:
When we all say we’re killing it and everything is awesome. We make it that much harder for anybody to honestly say they’re having a hard time. When a founder tweets that he’s struggling to raise a round, or that he’s worried about mistakes he’s making, he might as well brand himself with the mark of the beast.
He was talking about the startup scene specifically, but in essence it’s the same mechanism at work when people only ever tell you they’re doing great, or only post their happy moments on Facebook. It helps me to consider that even if we don’t want to show it all too openly, we are all humans, we all have our problems, and we all cope in our own way.
when you have so many opportunities before you it’s easy to avoid commitment, even to a friendship.
Vagabonding through the world, moving on to yet a different country after a few weeks or months, can be exciting and can provide a rush sensation of being alive and having the whole world at your fingertips. But just like a seed that gets blown away by the wind before it takes root, you’re everywhere but at the same time in a no-mans-land in the skies, aptly put into words in a vivid CNN Travel essay.
The important difference is that we are not blown away by some uncontrollable force, but by our own choosing. For me, this past year I have been valuing my personal freedom extremely highly – freedom to choose whom to work with, on what, where, and how much. I especially embraced the geographical freedom, straying from my Frankfurt base to spend some time in Indonesia, New York, and now Stockholm, in the past months alone.
The price was – is – that some friendships have withered or lay dormant, and that I am no longer a full-fledged part of the communities I previously spent time with regularly. (After the summer, I plan to turn down the freedom knob a bit.)
Life and Design
Life, like design, is fundamentally about tradeoffs. You choose certain options, and by doing so decide against others – consciously or unconsciously. How you choose is based on your very own personal values, experience, and knowledge.
But while design is about you making opinionated choices (and thus, tradeoffs) for many many other people, life is about making choices for your life only and the people close to you. This focus lets you tailor your life to exactly what you want, stand for, are.
See the light as well as the shadows. And then, instead of conforming to a template for life that others (state, religion, culture, society, …) have thought out, tailor your life to yourself.
I’d love to hear your thoughts: firstname.lastname@example.org