I spent the last 14 months working for a company completely remotely. I had the freedom to work in a different state or a foreign country. I had the freedom to work in the cutest chic coffee shops that made for the perfect Instagram photos, or naked in my own home. No one really cared where or when I worked, as long as I did what I was supposed to do.
It was freeing and fun and everything you’d imagine a remote job being like, until it wasn’t, and I knew it was time to move on to something new.
Every person I told I was leaving was shocked.
“You have the PERFECT job, why would you leave?”
“You can work from home, why would you want to go back to work at a *real* job?”
“Wait, so you don’t like working at home? That’s my dream!”
People couldn’t even begin to wrap their heads around why I wanted to quit a job that I didn’t have to put pants on for, but that’s because no one talks about the struggles that come with it. Everyone just assumes being a digital nomad is the new ~American dream~, and once you achieve it, everything else is incredible.
Working remotely isn’t easy — at least it’s not for me.
I started my previous job while living in Australia, and I was tremendously excited about it. I landed a writing job with a company I actually was passionate about. Except I didn’t know anyone in Australia. And I wasn’t meeting anyone, because I was cooped up in the house all day, alone. Everyone else was at their physical work address, and I wasn’t.
It was a time in my life when I felt like I was truly falling apart and no one could understand the mental struggles I was facing every day. When you work remotely, you are somewhat isolated from others — your home is your office, and you have to keep your social calendar as full as possible to keep yourself from feeling like an alien. But that was nearly impossible when I had a very limited social circle.
I started falling into a mild depression because of the lack of social interaction I had. I’d cry over nothing, I’d literally count down the minutes until my roommates got home, I’d go to the handful of coffee shops that actually had free Wi-Fi, and just be appreciative to be around other humans. I even considered spending the little money I did have on an office sharing space, but realized I couldn’t afford it on the income I was making in USD while in Australia.
I would spend all day just sitting on my laptop working, because I didn’t know what else to do. It began to completely consume me.
It was time for a change.
I booked a ticket over to Southeast Asia to backpack. I was still working remotely full-time, so you can imagine the challenges that came with this. They were a lot different than the ones I faced in Australia, though.
The challenges in SEA were more self-inflicted. It was taking a Tuesday off because I made friends who wanted to go to an elephant sanctuary, or skipping a trip to a temple with the new friends I just made because I knew I needed to sit down and accomplish my to-do list before I could have fun. The social interaction that I was lacking was definitely there, along with a wide-open world of opportunity to bail every day on work if I wanted, because hardly anyone around me worked, so everyone always wanted to play.
I had to hold myself accountable day in and day out to get my work done, even if that meant doing it on the weekends. It meant going to the beach for a couple hours in the early morning, then heading back in before lunch to work the rest of the day. The face-to-face interaction I was lacking in Australia wasn’t an issue, but the other distractions were huge, giving me new obstacles to overcome.
I eventually flew back home and moved in with my parents, because I spent all my money while traveling, as you do. I left Australia with –$2.25 in my bank account, which they graciously waved for me when I closed it.
The work-from-home life back in my hometown was by far the easiest it’s even been for me. I had friends, I had familiar places to go work, and I had minimal stresses and struggles. It was easy — too easy. So I left, again.
This time when I saved up just enough money I moved across the country to Denver, Colorado. I forced myself out of my comfort zone, because at home I wasn’t growing, and I wasn’t challenging myself at all. I knew I needed a change, and I’ve always been a mountain person.
And, when I got here, the same sense of isolation I felt in Australia came flooding back. There were weeks I felt like I didn’t talk to an actual human in person for days; I was just left alone with my own thoughts and words. It was starting all over again. My mental health was on the decline and I couldn’t stop it, no matter how many strangers I said “hi” to. I was lacking that social life and it started to have a crippling effect on my work.
I felt the same sense of isolation, being alone, falling apart, and desperately needing that social interaction I wasn’t getting. It became battles with myself in my head, and I knew I couldn’t continue this life anymore, no matter how much I wanted to. I knew something had to give. I knew as much as I loved my job, I had to let it go and do something better for myself mentally — and it’s working.
The dream isn’t always what it seems to be. At least not for me.
Image via Unsplash