Me as a remote worker, or how I became spatially independent


I’ve talked before about how the phrase “location independence” is actually two different situations that are often confused: spatial independence (being anywhere) and temporal independence (being, um, “anywhen”?)

I believe that it’s much easier to transition to spatial independence than it is to either transition to temporal independence or have both at the same time. Though I admit I may be biased, because spatial independence is what I have the most personal experience with.

Here’s my story:

The big ask

It seems like a lifetime ago, but years ago I was living in New York and very unhappy. Looking for a way out, after a long period of searching I had decided upon Portland as where I wanted to move to. (My e-book goes into a bit more detail on this.)

But there still was the issue of my job. This was in the heart of the Great Recession, and intel from Portland said that a non-barista job was as elusive as a sunny day in Spring. (Weather and jobs are still the city’s two most popular things to complain about.) I don’t consider myself a big risk-taker, and the prospect of moving to Portland with no job and no social network felt like too much of a risk. (I prefer to change one thing at a time.)

So, if I wasn’t willing to quit, and I didn’t want to stay in New York, what to do?

Being an informal, rather flat company, I asked my boss to chat one day. I explained my situation, and gingerly asked if it might be possible for me to work from thousands of miles away.

Now, I should add that I wasn’t a trailblazer in this respect. A few people in our company already were spatially independent, including some very important people. I would have good company, and this gave me more confidence in my ask.

My boss, being a southern California type, was preternaturally laid back, and therefore completely inscrutable. (He could have made a killing in poker.) I waited what felt like an interminable time for his response.

Yeah, okay.

What? Really?

The trial run

My boss elaborated. He suggested that perhaps we do a trial run, both for my sake and the company’s sake. After all, not only might they decide that the arrangement wasn’t working for them, but I might decide myself that it wasn’t what I wanted too. It was a good point, and so we hatched a plan where I would spend two months in Portland and then make a decision.

This was prescient. The trial run is especially a good idea if you’ve never done it before. Because let’s be honest, it takes a certain level of internal motivation to be able to get up and “go to work” when you don’t actually have to be in an office. Not everyone can do this successfully.

So I spent two months living in Portland, paying rent on two places at once (which stung, though I lacked the time and the know-how to rent out my room). Like Tim Ferriss suggests, I made sure to be very productive and vocal about my productivity, though I confess I didn’t really do much different except for communicate better

The summer I spent there was without a doubt the best summer I had had in years.

Then I came back and had another conversation with my boss. Happily, he held up his end of the agreement.  We set a date, and I embarked on a new chapter of my life.

The checklist

Here is what I feel like I needed in order to make my spatial independence happen:

  • I asked. Don’t say no for other people in advance. Let someone else tell you no. They may not.
  • I had a plan. Know where you want to go, and how, and when. Even if you don’t want to move somewhere else, plan for how you want your working situation to be.
  • I did a trial. Don’t jump irrevocably into a new situation until you’ve given it a try. Luckily, you usually don’t have to.
  • I had the right employment situation. There are many vocations that just don’t lend themselves to spatial independence. I would encourage you to think creatively, though, as certain jobs may have more flexibility in this realm than you might think.

One more suggestion: Don’t wait. I took an opportunity when I saw it and ran with it. The next boss who took over was much less excited about having people in random locales, so if I had waited, the whole thing might not have gotten the green light. What would my life have been like had I not been able to switch to spatial independence?

Well, for one thing, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do this.

The gratitude

I am deeply grateful to everyone who helped make this level of independence happen. Bonus gratitude to the city that I love so much that, from the very first day, welcomed me with open arms.

But enough about me. Do you have a similar story? I’d love to hear how you were able to move away from a traditional working situation.

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