Living the life of a globally working professional and a wanderlust kid taught me one thing and that is that the only constant in the world is change. Change is never finished. Change enables growth and in order to succeed, you must know how to deal with it. Basically you must adapt to win!
With that in mind i’d like to share some of the lessons I have learned from living my life in airports, several continents, business cultures, communicating in different languages, and the never-ending chase for a working Internet connection.
1) Home Is …..Where You Unpack Your Suitcases…
Because I can’t always be where my heart is, I make it easy for myself to feel warm and homey by celebrating my arrival. I unpack, organize my belongings and arrange them nicely in my new environment. It’s practically a ritual for me. It’s like stamping my “flag” in a new territory and marking it as my new home (even though it most likely isn’t permanent).
I get out my workout gear, fold my tops and dresses, throw out old plane tickets, put away foreign currencies, and line up my shoes in some corner. Having my stuff sorted like I really “live” there makes me feel like I “fit in” better. It also allows me to experience what’s REALLY going on around me.
2) Grocery Shopping Is The Ultimate Culture Guide
Grocery Shopping in local or super markets is one of the best ways I “understand” culture in each new location I go to because I get to observe what they eat, how they advertise and interact.
For me, it’s fun to be brave and try something new…. It makes me happy when I find the shampoo I use in my passport country at a grocery store in a foreign country or when I unexpectedly stumble across the German Gingerbread in Malaysia or the Colombian spice I normally use in Singapore –ah just like home!
How do you recognize a global kid? They are constantly juggling with math. It could be calculating exchange rates to know if something is too expensive or much cheaper than it is in another country or figuring out what time difference is so you can call a loved one and wish him or her a happy birthday.
Being up to date with about 4 to 5 currency exchange rates has become routine to me. I also don’t have an urge to spend my last coins before leaving a country, because I know I will be back soon.
I also know my passport number(s) and expiration days without having to check them every time when I am going through customs or booking yet another flight.
The downside of working with a team or clients across time zones though is that I have become comfortable with having flexible sleeping hours and it’s not uncommon for me to have Skype calls at 2 a.m.
….But I know that I get the cheapest flights on Wednesdays!
4) You’re Neither Here Nor There
A global nomad stays mentally connected around the world and knows what’s going on in the countries they visit. I pay attention to when there are elections while simultaneously thinking of which countries have the warmest or coldest seasons.
5) Working in “Co-offices” or Co-working Spaces Isn’t Really Work
That’s one of the romantic notions of the global nomad lifestyle. Earning dollars while sipping on your café latte.
Nice isn´t it?
I thought so too.
Reality is that this is only ok if your work doesn’t require a lot of brain activity.
Outside noises aren’t really helpful when you’re focusing on your business plan and other calculations. Wi-Fi bandwidth in cafés are shared with all visitors and can drop off at any time. Unreliably.
Also, if you are trying to call clients, it’s hard to explain the crowd of kindergarten kids shouting for ice cream in the background to them.
Of course Cafés and Co-working spaces are a great opportunity to network, meet others of your kind and is from time to time a great possibility to change the lonesome home office setting for a couple of hours – for the easy tasks but you have to find the right balance of flexibility and professionalism.
6) High-level of Professionalism And Discipline Is Needed
Living and working as a global nomad means being in an environment which is unpredictable and requires daily improvisation. Routines are hard to build up when every day seems to be different and new. It’s hard to stick to them especially at the beginning due to a lot of distractions, completely miscalculating how long some things can take in different countries and the tendency to get lost and “MIA” (Missing in action).
You’ll quickly be aware that you can’t allow yourself to get lost often. Otherwise, you’ll have to find a cozy bridge to sleep under or just use an emergency ticket to go back home.
Being self-disciplined in your working routines is key to success and sustainability.
Being highly professional is of maximum importance when working with global teams and clients because you need to stick to your client’s working hours. You will need to be available for them and your co-workers in the offices wherever must be able to reach you at any time.
In a nutshell: Do amazing work and meet deadlines otherwise expect the nomad experience to come to an end sooner than you can say “coconut”, because no one will want to work with you. Game over.
Mobile workers need to create this self-discipline in a changing environment where job and private life flow together.
Additionally global nomads are more than used to hearing comments like “come on you just sit in the pool all day”, “you don´t have to work much anyways”, “you call that working?”
Even though this is far from the truth, this makes us work even harder to prove them wrong.
7) The Real Meaning of Cross Cultural Skills Is Made Evident To You
Growing up and working between the continents increases your cross-cultural skills.
A globalized life is a never-ending university. Over time you get your Bachelors in Observation and eventually your Masters in Adaptation.
Cross-cultural skills can be hard concepts to grasp. I quickly learned that there is no such thing as a universal truth. People live different lives, which lead to different perceptions and world views. Cultural skills mean being able to tolerate the different truths, understanding the individual perspectives, the symbolic meanings behind those and communication styles. For example, never forgetting to ask “how are you”? in Colombia or remembering not to show your feet in Indonesia.
Basically being able to “do it like the Romans”.
There are so many nuances between cultures.
The “We” and “I” cultures between east and west;
The “maybe” vs. “yes or no” ones.
One example is Germany. Germany is a very individualistic culture: If you plan to meet someone, you can’t just bring a handful of other friends without making sure that´s ok with that person. Germans spend more individual “quality” time together and see it as disrespectful to the other person to bring the new friends you just met at the kiosk along.
Latin America has more of a “We” culture and you can usually bring whoever fits in your car along.
You cook for double the amount of people expected and parties can include anyone from neighbor to your cousin’s grandpa.
In Asia business cards are handed with both hands with a bow and decisions go a long way up and down the hierarchy. In Colombia subtle over-politeness in communication is a key ingredient to success in meetings. Also the CEO’s kids and dogs might sit in on the meeting too.
In Germany, asking how someone is might be a line too much to read in an email and you better not use the full 45 minutes in your 45 minute lunch meeting.
France is the opposite. My longest business lunch meeting was for 2 and half hours.
8) You Use Social Media To Master Relationships Over Distance
Nomadic lifestyle inevitably means two things:
A lot of Goodbyes
and a lot of Hellos
It can be sometimes an emotional roller coaster so you master the art of making new friends and you become brilliant at mastering detachment (or self preservation).
When the world is your office, you become really good at keeping deep relationships and you are able to keep bonds with special people alive and real no matter where you are.
You do this by being digitally connected via social media whether it’s through Skype, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and various other social media outlets. Keeping these bonds over distance allows you to keep in touch with their daily life and lets them participate in yours.
The positive side of the coin is that there is always someone to talk when you can’t sleep.
9) You Have A Love/Hate Relationship With Airports
I think as a nomad and a human being with wanderlust, you naturally love airports more than you hate them. Nomads spend a considerable amount of time in immigration lines and in between the gates. At some point they feel more homey to you than ever expected and you power through them as if they are an extension of your living room.
So why do we love airports?
It means a new adventure is about to start! I’m going somewhere new or going back to a place or someone I love. Airports are one of the most exciting places where incredible stories happen. You get to observe and guess where people from and where they are going, see people leaving and reuniting with loved ones.
Airports are location of amazing stories happening and sometimes the person in the neighbor seat could be your future new host in Tokyo or you get invited to a fashion show in Medellin as was the case with me.
Why do we hate it?
Chances are you are probably leaving some special people behind and that you won’t be back soon.
Also saying goodbye to your bags at the drop off feels like a gamble and you are praying silently to be reunited at your destination with your bags in tact. Also, the coffee is mostly not worth the 8 dollars you spend on them.