Everyone who becomes location independent experiences fear from time to time. Recently, I read some excellent advice for overcoming fear and keeping it in check, which I thought I’d share.
For a while now, I’ve wanted to write a blog post about fear and becoming location independent. But I didn’t, because I wasn’t quite sure how to form the words on the page.
Ironically, I realised that I was fearful of writing about fear, because it would involve bearing my soul. Well, fear be damned! I’m writing the blog post anyway. And if dear reader, you find such bearing of souls uncomfortable… turn away now.
Let’s face it. It’s easy to see how anyone who decides to become location independent is going to encounter fear along the way. And there will be times when the doubts and fears plague you.
The very act of becoming location independent involves letting go of certain aspects of our lives that provide security.
I’m talking about the salary associated with a regular 9 to 5 job, or that warm and cosy house you call home.
It could be the friends you’ve cultivated over the years. Or the kudos, respect and let’s face it – ego licks – you get from a career that has kept you chained to a desk for years.
This is particularly true for people who are over 40, who may be leaving established careers, mortgages and family commitments.
The ‘established’ way of living is safe, dependable, and very much within our comfort zones.
Being location independent causes uncertainty
Conversely, being location independent is like a white knuckle, roller coaster ride.
There are huge ups and downs. And quite a few bits in the middle which are just really hard work.
This is all caused by the lack of certainty which comes with living the digital nomad lifestyle. The harsh truth is:
- Starting a new business? 66% of new businesses fail.
- Becoming a freelancer? Cold selling is scary and it sucks. You’d better hope you never get ill, too – because there’s no sick pay.
- Got a new remote job? Communication hiccups and strange work hours await you, my friend!
- On the other side of the world? Say goodbye to the cosy feeling of friendship you get from your hanging with your besties.
- Got a problem? Prepare to have no one to chat to about it – and for it to magnify x 1000!
How fear crept into my life this month
I recently experienced a small series of negative events. These resulted in me having a short term loss of confidence in my own plan for the year ahead.
The first thing that happened was an extended member of my family died, unexpectedly. Then, about a week and a half after that, I learned that an old friend from Bristol was about to die from bowel cancer.
Both of these events made me reflect on the death of my father, from leukaemia, in early 2019. (The one year anniversary of Dad’s death is coming up on the 15th January).
Around the same time this all happened, my Facebook personal profile was removed. This meant I couldn’t contact some friends back home, or even undertake my work as a marketer.
Check out this video for some more detail on the situation and the strange effect it had on my emotions at the time:
On the day that my Facebook profile was switched off, I was completely unable to sleep. I became convinced that if I couldn’t use Facebook, it was going to become a lot harder for me to do my freelance work. I use a lot of professional Facebook forums and I also need it to undertake clients’ social media.
I also became convinced that if I couldn’t access Facebook, I wouldn’t be able to get GenerationXit to work.
I started thinking quite dark thoughts about whether I should “go and get a normal job like everyone else”.
The next morning, my writer friend Greg Rodgers (a long time location independent entrepreneur) reached out. He kindly reminded me that “everything gets blown up and magnified when you’re on the other side of the world”.
I mused on his words for a day or two. I also thought also about a chat I’d had with another friend recently, a tech diving instructor in Utila, Honduras.
Being location independent makes you at risk of perceptual narrowing
My dive instructor friend and I had been chatting about the concept of ‘perceptual narrowing’. This is when a panicked or stressed scuba diver over-focuses on one problem, to the detriment of everything else.
The problem with perceptual narrowing is that you can make bad judgements and decisions. This is because you’re not taking the whole picture into consideration.
Take, for example, a diver who panics and bolts to the surface when they discover they’ve run out of air. In doing so, they run the risk of suffering arterial gas embolism (the ‘bends’). A better choice would be to remain calm and ask a buddy to share air.
I thought about all of this in relation to my situation, and decided not to make any rash decisions. I appealed to Facebook and explained there had been a misunderstanding. And I decided to wait until the feeling of panic passed.
A day later, my friend Pete sadly passed. And around the exact same time, my Facebook profile switched back on.
I realised that my situation had indeed become magnified due to a series of stressful events. And that I was definitely experiencing ‘perceptual narrowing’, which was affecting my judgement.
After realising what had gone on for me on a personal level, a few other ideas came to mind.
I’ve noticed that in digital nomad forums and on blogs etc, very few people actually talk about feeling fear. In particular, the fear of failure is rarely discussed.
Fear – the elephant in the room in many online digital nomad forums
It’s almost like the elephant in the room in many forums. Sure, you have ‘newbies’ post questions about what work they should try and get. And the people who respond are generally supportive and helpful.
But you rarely get people who have been location independent for some time openly discussing their fears.
Similarly in co-working spaces, it’s not really discussed at all. That’s not to say that other nomads won’t help you out, if you’re having a bad time.
But the topic of fear is not broached ‘as a thing’, in any way.
I think this is because becoming location independent involves making a bold, subconscious statement about how you to choose to live your life.
Location independence is a bold subconscious statement
The statement sounds a bit like this:
“I’m saying goodbye to conventional life – you know, the “normal”, slightly pedestrian life that everyone else has chosen. Instead, I’m doing this great new thing over here, far away from you all. See ya, everyone!”
(This applies whether you choose to leave your main job and set up a business in your campervan OR you travel to Outer Mongolia to do remote work).
This bold statement is not verbally expressed. But subconsciously, you are saying it loud and clear. And everyone else is certainly hearing it. And once you’ve said that, it’s very hard to unsay it.
And so when the shit inevitably hits the fan – which it will – it becomes very hard to talk about it. It’s difficult to be authentic and to speak about your fears as that involves losing face. It’s like an admission that your bold statement was wrong. In fact, more than wrong – deluded!
So no one speaks about it. It’s the elephant in the room.
How can we overcome fear?
I’m not an expert on overcoming fear, but I’m learning more and more about it as I continue on my journey. And the best advice I’ve read recently was from the acclaimed creativity expert and writer, Elizabeth Gilbert.
In her book, Big Magic, Ms Gilbert describes fear as like an “annoying insurance agent”.
She describes how fear will get in the way of anyone who tries to do anything creative with their life. This includes anyone who does anything which is against the ‘status quo’ – such as becoming location independent.
Fear is designed (in an evolutionary sense) to put the breaks on everything you do. Its aim is to protect you.
The problem with fear, as a ‘primitive’ emotion, is that it blows everything out of proportion. It’s not good to base decisions on fear alone, as it’s not rational.
Ms Gilbert advocates “giving fear a voice, but not letting it take the driving seat of your life”. In the book, she advises that you write a letter from fear, imaging what your fear is trying to tell you.
Give fear a voice – but don’t let it control the driving
So, for example, my fear was probably trying to tell me something this:
I’m really quite worried that you’ve chosen a fly-by-night career as a freelancer. Let’s face it, you’ve becoming deskilled by these piecemeal jobs you’re picking up.
Everyone back in the UK is laughing at you. Your former colleagues – and your daughter – think you’re a bit nuts. The longer you go on like this, the harder it will become for you to get a “real corporate career” again. No one cares about your writing, or your story. You’re not helping anyone with GenerationXit.
And if you can’t get on Facebook as a marketer, let’s face it – you’re screwed. You’re out of the picture. Isn’t it time you stopped this silly game, and went home?
Just remember – I care about you Sam!
Forever by your side,
(What a creep.)
Sometimes of course, the concerns of fear are right. But fear without evidence is generally not right. For example, I don’t need to go home as I’m making enough money to sustain myself. And my time as a corporate marketer has ended.
Elizabeth Gilbert advises that the next thing to do, after giving Fear a voice, is to write a response letter back. Here is her letter back to her Fear:
Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you’ll be joining us, because you always do. I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life, and that you take your job seriously. Apparently your job is to induce complete panic whenever I’m about to do anything interesting—and, may I say, you are superb at your job. So by all means, keep doing your job, if you feel you must. But I will also be doing my job on this road trip, which is to work hard and stay focused. And Creativity will be doing its job, which is to remain stimulating and inspiring. There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way. I recognize and respect that you are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still—your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps; you’re not allowed to suggest detours; you’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.”
Excerpt from Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear
Other tips for handling fear
I hope this post gives you food for thought. Bear in mind that overcoming fear is a bit like tackling the weeds in the garden, or the mould in the bathroom. You think you’ve got rid of it, and it creeps right back in. So, some other ideas to help you maintain your freedom from fear:
– Talk about it to trusted location independent friends – or sympathetic friends back home. A problem shared is a problem halved.
– If you can afford it, and depending on the problem – get a therapist, a coach or a mastermind. Professional support networks are invaluable.
– If you can’t afford this, network with peers who are at a similar point in the journey or are a bit further down the path. They may have other reflections, suggestions and thoughts which can help you.
– Read books about mindset, listen to blogs and podcasts.
Do you have any thoughts or reflections on how to tackle fear on your location independent journey? I’d love to hear them. The more people we get talking about this sort of thing, the better.
P.S. Would you like to get a free copy of my new eBook, Become location independent over 40? Get yours here.