I Crave Change

I recently tweeted the mantra below as part of a writing workshop I participated in.


Good for the mind. Food for the soul. A positive thing.

But change can be a fearsome beast in the wrong hands, easier to hide from instead of facing front on. Easier to stick with what you know, not what you should be doing.

I used to be something of a change embracer.

Over the past decade, I changed location, house, even my passport. It's not always been smooth sailing, often emotionally fraught, generally riddled with unknowns. On balance though, change has been a good thing and key to the process of moving forward.

I've found one aspect of my life difficult to change.

My working life.

Photo credit: Bits of Truth

Fix it when it's broke

I've been an office worker my entire adult working life. I've been in government for ten years, in a blue chip corporation prior to that. In both sectors, I've worked in traditional office jobs, devoid of flexibility and misaligned with my outlook on life.

Both roles have been a means to an end, a way to pay the bills while I worked on the other aspects of my life abroad - family, lifestyle, our home.

In the past twelve months, I've reached something of a tipping point. A craving to change this final piece of the puzzle. When a job leaves you feeling like a square peg being bashed into a round hole, it's time to fix it.

But how to do it?

Change isn't easy

Change doesn't happen overnight - you have to work at it, chip away at the edges, shape and mould it until it feels right. Even so, I still wonder why it's taken me this long to change such a major part of my life.

Fear of the unknown? Uncertainty about what comes next? Indecision and procrastination?

Or maybe all of the above.

I advocate the need to live life differently and I blog, write and share about living the dream, but I haven't entirely practiced what I preach. I still work the 9-5 grind and I yearn for the day when I no longer sit in the early morning carnage otherwise known as peak hour traffic. In my experience, you can tweak and fiddle with your life here and there but, if the working day isn't right, then the total experience doesn't quite add up.

In part, I blame this blog. It's opened up a can of worms.

It's reignited my passion for writing. It's shown me that when I write, I feel alive. Motivated. Fulfilled. Content.

Not only this, but it feels right.

Writing doesn't pay the bills. Not yet. It's a passion that may one day become something more. As the primary earner in our family, it isn't enough. It's an indulgence and a good habit but it isn't a full-time job.

So what to do about that day job?

Aiming for location independence

Something I heard recently that piqued my curiosity was location independence or the ability to work from wherever you want, whenever you want and in a number of fields.

But is it realistic or just another new fad?

It seems that location independent roles are an entirely flexible way of working but they only suit certain careers or job choices. If you want to work from your log cabin in Northern Ontario, you can. Booking cheap holidays to Rhodes and planning to work from the beach? No problem.

Location independence is a fresh take on the way jobs are defined and offer complete freedom and independence. But are these roles only useful for travellers or freelancers hoping to earn a minimal wage if they're lucky?

Is it realistic in this day and age, with the financial and physical constraints that come with daily life, to work independently and forge a meaningful and sustainable career?

Increasingly, with expats like myself, we look to find new ways to increase and share the time we spend with family and friends in the countries that we live in and have loved. The ability to work between the UK and Australia is a case in point. Six months here, six months there. It sounds like the ultimate flexible working arrangement... or is it?

So I put it to you.

Have you worked independently of any particular location? Have you worked the 9-5 office job and sought out such a change? If so, how did you do it and what did you do? Is location independence a realistic goal?

Or do you simply crave change in your life and is fear of change or the unknown stopping you?

Please do leave your thoughts below.

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Katie Gunston said... Add Reply

I thought 6 months in Canada and 6 months in Australia would be the ultimate answer to our constant international moves (we seem to be averaging an international move every 2-3 years - when someone gets sufficiently homesick). Then a met a lady who was doing just that (6 months in the US/6 months in Australia). She said it's great that you get to spend time with both families. But she said the trouble is that, no matter where you are, you're never "home". I have other friends who are moving regularly like we are, and other friends who take a year's leave from their jobs to live in their home country every five years.

But I agree, being able to work from any location would be ideal! Until the kids are in school I guess.

I have the opposite situation - I think I crave stability, then when things become stable I feel bored and antsy. I'm learning that I must like a challenge - and I think travel and moving become a way of life.

Judy Rickatson said... Add Reply

But are you yearning to move around? It sounds to me more like you just
want to be independent which may make you location independent, but not
necessarily. Have you been following Anastasia Ashman and Tara
Agacayak's new venture Global Niche? That's more about being able to
work globally without having to move around, unless you want to. The
problem is that working for yourself means you have to say goodbye to a
predictable income and I think that's what most of us are hooked on.

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Hi Katie, thanks for sharing those experiences. School would certainly be a factor - maybe extended vacations are the way to go. Be it independence from a country location and/or independence from a specific office location, either would be interesting to explore. I think I also like a challenge :)

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Not necessarily, Judy, although that increased flexibility is no bad thing. Probably more locally independent, and the location part (in terms of country) would be a bonus, however that might look - my sense is that it's always a freelance or entrepreneur-type gig. I am aware of Global Niche through others but hadn't explored further - and I also think that the predictable income versus the unpredictable self-employed gig is the challenge. Interesting to see what others think...

Maria said... Add Reply

I live in Canada and work for a European company. Staff meetings are held via Skype and work is shared through Google docs. A couple of times I've had to take calls at 3:00 a.m. or 11:30 p.m. but it hasn't really been a problem. I love not having to commute, spend time in an office, or wear anything that isn't made of fleece. But working from home is isolating and all those dirty dishes make it hard to concentrate sometimes. I keep an eye on what the euro's doing these days. As with everything else in life, location independency involves a bunch of trade-offs. Still, I get to do what I love, for decent money, wearing cozy fleece all day long. I'll take it.

Carrie Sanderson said... Add Reply

Russell, I know exactly where you are coming from. I used to work in a 9-to-5 (or till late!) job, but then I became ill due to stress, which forced me to make a change. I had no other option but to change. It was terrifying though. Whilst I was recovering and figuring out what I really wanted to do, I took a contract job that paid well. I hired a life coach and I discovered I wanted to work in health/fitness/wellbeing and that's when I went back to 'school' and became a personal trainer and sports massage therapist. When I qualified I went freelance - very scary indeed. But I believed in myself and my choices, and I had fully recovered from my dis-ease (a telling sign I was on the right track). Since then I have studied and learnt more to increase my offering and skills. It hasn't been easy, and at times I've had to take on part time work as well, but I have managed to get part time work that fitted around me instead of the other way round. It's a challenge for sure, but I wouldn't have it any other way now. I am currently in a transition period (again), but I think more and more people are having 'portfolio' lives/careers these days, and it works when you get the balance right. All I would advise is to trust yourself, because you do know best. Good luck :)

Dawn Better Life said... Add Reply

Oh, Russell, this post really resonated with me for so many reasons. First, "In part, I blame this blog. It's opened up a can of worms. " - that's just plain funny! More significantly, "it feels right." I think you know. You know you want to write. Now it's just a matter of how. I DO believe it is realistic. Keep taking steps and, most of all, be OPEN. Pay attention to even the smallest things that cross your path. You never know... I embraced change in a big way when I quit my law job (more like 5am to 9pm instead of 9 to 5!) and moved the Bahamas. But it didn't happen in one fell swoop. It was more that I knew I needed to make changes, but wasn't sure what or how, and started to let go of trying to figure it all out and just see where I was led. Leaving my professional identity and paycheck security behind was scary. But I took the leap of faith, and it was a great decision for me. Although my home is in one place, I suppose I fit a bit into "location independent" because, as an expat, most of my freelance writing is U.S.-directed, although I live on a delicious piece of paradise elsewhere. You have family responsibilities, which I did not, but I trust you'll find your way. Go-getter personalities will always rise to the top! (And if your first change doesn't work out, you can change again!) Best wishes and I can't wait to hear how it unfolds for you.

Anastasia said... Add Reply

I hear you, Russell.

Thanks for mentioning GlobalNiche.net, Judy, and thanks Russell, for inviting me to comment and share a little about my work on this topic.

You're right, location independence is a very attractive concept. I started following the lifestyle design and location independent movements a few years back, because they were pioneering a solution to a problem I'd long had as a serial expat/repat/person who moves a lot and has what I call multiple cultural personalities. How to bridge all those worlds, how to be myself and live a life that feels right even if/when I have no support around me to do that.

Ultimately, solving this problem has become my work. I pinpointed that location independence works best for people like me by allowing us to remain where we are and yet live a life unlimited by that. We're here for lots of reasons. Kids's school. Close to family. Some choice we made in the past that we're not ready to dissolve today. Lots of reasons. But just because we're here and it's not the ideal place for us to pursue our dreams doesn't mean we have to defer our dreams. We've got a lot of tools available to us today that help us hurdle limitations like geography and time zone and culture.

Anyway, that's a bit of why Tara and are focusing on helping people live better where they are. How? By reshaping our opportunities with the social web & mobile tech. We created an empowerment program called SUM-it UP (http://bit.ly/SUM-itUP) which takes you through the process we've developed based on a combined 25 years of expatriatism, and our professional backgrounds in culture, media, info tech and psychology. Sound like quite a stew? Yeah, creating your global niche is about using everything you've already got. (If anyone's interested, to join us, tweet to me at @globalniche and I'll give you a discount code to get you into the program for half price.)

I am rooting for you, Russell, and everyone else who wants to do what they love no matter where they are.

Michelle Garrett said... Add Reply

Susanna Perkins writes a lot about portable careers which may interest you if you haven't already seen her work. Think about other skills or interests (besides just writing) and how you could fill or create niche markets--even if you need to get more training first. It is definitely possible to escape the 9-5!! For me it was not so much fear of change but lack of confidence that kept me in one place. Once I overcame that I was brave enough to make the changes I needed to in order to create the life I wanted to start living! Oh, and focus and patience are also needed!

Amanda van Mulligen said... Add Reply

I relate to the idea of square peg, round hole. Some people are just not made for a 9-5, office politics way of life. And I am certainly one of them. After a complete burnout this became obvious - and after some soul searching it was the reason I quit corporate life and started writing instead. I needed to feel passionate about what was taking up most of my day and realising that you need something else in life to feel satisfied is the first step for sure. Making it happen is something else. Without my partner the income side of it would have been a show stopper. Follow your passion - even if it means taking small steps at a time!

Cathy said... Add Reply

We've made plenty of changes in our life Russell. We left the safe 9-5 jobs in 2006 and moved to Italy to become self employed. We did it for our kids to be bi-lingual and we were successful. Then the economic crisis happened and we have moved to England to take the next step and ironically we will probably both end up rejoining the career treadmill. It was a big sacrifice. I'm had to embrace change. Change is still difficult to handle, our last change was the best decision we made.

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

That's a very interesting story, Cathy, and I am envious that you made such a move in order for your children to become bilingual. It's a personal goal of mine. Here's a post I recently wrote on bilingualism - http://www.insearchofalifelessordinary.com/2012/10/raising-my-bilingual-baby.html

When you say the last change was the best, do you mean the move to England? And why? Curious to know more. Thanks again for sharing.

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Hi Amanda, I think I sit squarely in the 'not made for a 9-5 role' camp but find myself permanently residing in the opposite camp. Unfortunately, I haven't found that freelancing pays the bills adequately enough. As you say, small steps hopefully lead to something but putting your passion first is a must.

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

I know Susanna and hopefully she'll jump on here and add her opinion as I know she reads this blog from time to time. If you had to describe your niche, what would it consist of? How did you make the break from the 9-5 and what did you break into? Would love to know more detail!

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Okay, now you need to share the name of the company and the opportunities there so I can also sign up ;-) Staff meetings over Skype? Excellent. I hear that working from home is isolating and folks seem to recommend joining a local business group of like-minded people that maybe meets once a week. I bet your house has never been so clean! And fleeces? Heaven... ;-)

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Carrie, I do appreciate you sharing your story here. Means a lot to me and hopefully the readers. It's an inspiring tale and I hope the current transition period is more positive for you now you know what you know from before. It does seem that 'portfolio' lives/careers are more abundant, especially amongst the expat community. I will come back to your advice and remember it - trusting yourself is important. Sometimes that gut feeling is worth sticking with. Would love to know more about your 'next steps'...

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Thanks Dawn. Great advice. It's a cliche but I have some irons in the fire and this could be a year of positive change. I also have one very important and major life goal which is well under way. I hope to share more about that as the year progresses. My family responsibilities are probably my greatest concern - it really isn't realistic to just walk away from the day job and start lolling around with my MacBook in one hand, thinking cap in the other. My partner also needs my financial support so, in all reality, I will have to keep doing what I'm doing for now with maybe a few tweaks and minor changes here and there to keep me on the path to my ultimate goal. I do enjoy reading about experiences such as yours, especially in such great locations - do feel free to keep me updated on it all! :)

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Great to hear from you, Anastasia, and thanks for sharing more information on your own experience and the work you do as part of Global Niche - http://bit.ly/SUM-itUP - including that fabulous discount offer. Well worth looking into and I'm sure I'll be in touch.

Fran said... Add Reply

I love this post, the one that resonates with me since I started writing your blog. I too work in an office and feel i don't fit. I too write a blog which makes me feel alive.
But office work? Maybe over the years i've just accepted the job as a means to an end. But emigrating and turning 40 last year was my tipping point.
I need to work out what to do, but a career change is top of my agenda. Good luck with what you decide.

Cathy said... Add Reply

Hi Russell, I discovered your blog with your bilingual post. Yes I do mean the move to England was a really good decision (the best considering our personal circumstances). We had achieved what we wanted in Italy (bilingual children) and it was time to move on.

bizjourno said... Add Reply

I'm afraid that I have gone in the opposite direction. I had location independence (to a degree) as a freelance writer for ten years. But the isolation (intellectual more than physical) and the fact that my husband, friends, kids are are a tight 9-7 schedule meant that I could not really enjoy it. I've gone back to a large corporation, with offices all around the world - ones that I can travel to and meet people. It solves so many things at once - I now have intellectual stimulation and social contact, I can travel (on someone else's dime), I have prospects. I can even transfer within the company to other countries. So next time I am homesick for London or Paris I can book a trip. Or a new job.

Susanna Perkins said... Add Reply

Great post, Russell, and wonderful thoughtful comments so far.

Yes, it's possible to develop a location-independent or portable career. Different people find different routes to that end. I think writing and photography are the two work choices that come immediately to mind because they are extremely portable, but there are lots of other things you can do from anywhere and everywhere with decent internet. I have friend here in Panama who builds websites for a company in Europe, for example.Someone else I know has actually found a way to support himself doing remote work through oDesk, though that's not usually a profitable way to go.

I've spent about half my working life as an employee and half as a self-employed person, bouncing back and forth several times. Temperamentally I'm more suited to working for myself, but it is very isolating.

If you're not sure what you want to do, hiring a coach can be very helpful, and save you lots of time and aggravation. It sounds as though one of your criteria is creating something gradually and not leaving your full-time paycheck until you're ready. It's doable, but will take some extra planning and commitment.

Lastly, whatever you decide, your wife will be an important part of the process. It's hard for spouses and other family to respect your working time if your work takes place in the home. They assume you're free to run errands, do laundry, watch the baby, etc. My husband used to stroll into my office and start a conversation. It took months of my asking him, "if I were at someone else's office doing a job, would you call me to talk about this?" before he was able to respect my work boundaries. And they HAVE to be on board with the financial uncertainties once that "regular" paycheck goes away. . .

Sounds like you've got some tough, exciting choices ahead!

DrieCulturen said... Add Reply

What a great post and I read it at just the right time. Growing up abroad as a third culture kid: change was the name of the game. As a kid I had to deal with change to survive, and so I did. Now as an adult I crave change and I still fear change. I work a 9-5 job and write a blog too. When I started my blog there was a time that I would get up in the morning just to be able to write a blog in the evening. I felt alive, it connected to my passion and now I want to find more time to write. I'm still in my 9-5 job though I am at a point of change but I dream of location independence working. It would fit so well with my TCK heart. It's nice to read the comments, I'm open for suggestions and tips too!

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Hi and thanks for commenting. I'd hazard a guess that there are a few of us like-minded souls out there, crying out for change but not sure how/where to take the first step. Hopefully, some of the comments here are giving you some food for thought? It sounds like it can be done slowly but surely. I have some ideas but may seek further guidance. What about yourself? Can you see how you might transition towards more independence?

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Thanks for sharing. Have you found you've given things up by being back in the office? That, for me, is the clincher.

After 15-odd years of being office-bound, I want to reduce the commute, the restriction, the fact I'm away from family for 10-12 hours per day, and the daily need to be on my best behaviour and make interesting conversation with my office neighbours.

I suppose that once the children grow up and join in on the 9-5 schedule, it could become isolating and it sounds like you made the best decision for your own sanity. Having worked for large corporations, I can relate to the benefits. I think I'd happily settle for a mix - some days in the office, some days at home. Sanity is saved and flexibility ensured... perhaps.

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Good for you. It's always nice when the way ahead becomes clear and the choice obvious. Makes things a little easier when moving on.

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Thought it might, Fran. Like me, you emigrate to a place like Australia and a city like Sydney to change things, live the dream, mix it all up... and then you find yourself stuck in the same grind that you did before.

It doesn't have to be that way, I honestly believe this. If it feels wrong in your gut, it is. Time to change. Let me know what you decide to do and I'll do likewise.

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Thanks, Susanna. Really useful, insightful tips. Appreciate you sharing them here based on your own experiences. I've been reading your blog for a while and recognise much of what you've gone through yourself. It's great to have some of the key aspects to consider outlined here and I will keep you posted on my choices and endeavours. Keep enjoying Panama! :)

Life in Norway said... Add Reply

Russell, I am shocked! I have been a casual reader for ages and had always assumed you were a freelance writer. You certainly have the capability.

I've written an expat blog for two years, and right now I am transitioning from full-time employment to a freelance life. It's somewhat easier for me as I don't have kids or anyone to provide for, but it's still a massive risk. But with modern freelancing, there are so many things you can do to reduce that risk.

As a freelance writer with web skills, you can sell advertising on your blog, sell your services as a content writer, create expat community websites, curate content, work with local businesses, and much more. I have been doing ALL of those things while in full-time employment (god knows how) and I am excited at the prospect of having more time to develop the most promising ones into a full-time career.

If you fancy a chat sometime just get in touch, I'd love to share my story and chat about some of the options you have.

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Hi David, great to hear from you. I do freelance on the side but it's never been more than that really. Just a bit of a casual fling. Thanks for the vote of confidence - much appreciated!

I think 2013 will be the year that I start to move away from the traditional role into one that suits my lifestyle and my family. Writing professionally and full-time is one potential option and it's pleasing to hear when it works for others in a similar situation.

Would love to chat. I'm on mail@russellvjward.com if you want to send me an email. Cheers :)

Susanna Perkins said... Add Reply

Thanks, Russell. I'll look forward to hearing more from you about change in general and change in work-style.

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Absolutely. Cheers, Susanna.

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