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Do Digital Nomads Have a Purpose?

Updated: Aug 31

Who Rules Your Life?

Podcasting with the people who live their purpose

https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/who-rules-your-life/id1527796605


Hosts: Dina Newman and Tine Bieber


Guests:


Thomas Thomison, based in Dallas, Texas and the citizen of the world. Entrepreneur, co-founder of HolacracyOne, and one of the pioneers of self organisation at work. Tom is a founding member and partner of Encode, the company which supports self organisation and the future of work. Tom's personal purpose is to develop "decentralised living", the concept he explains in the podcast.





Laura Lichter is a digital nomad and freelance digital consultant at Deskless. Laura explains how and why she came to the conclusion that travelling is her life purpose, and how she came to be working from Iran for a while.


Background: here's more about E-Estonia, the scheme which supports the business model of "digital nomads".


https://e-estonia.com


Transcript of the conversation with Thomas Thomison and Laura Lichter, recorded in the middle of the lockdown, across four time zones.



Laura:

These days, you know that you don't need the traditional office anymore. You just need a stable internet connection. And that's it. You're good to go. 


Tom:


And for me, I'm an experimentalist. As an entrepreneur, I try things, I see what works and what doesn't. And I model based on what works for me. And I kind of repeat that. So for me, I've eased into this whole notion of digital nomad. In fact, it's actually an evolution of virtual work. So I don't even consider myself a nomad per se. I consider myself working globally and virtually.


Dina:


Welcome to Who Rules Your Life, podcasting with the people who live their purpose. 


I'm Dina Newman, I am a journalist, I live in London, UK. With my co-host Tine Bieber we are asking what does it a purpose led life look like? We know it helps us to develop resilience during an economic downturn, such as now. It helps us to cope with change. While jobs come and go, we can carry on doing our work. How do we live our life purpose? It all comes down to the choices we make in life. That’s what we call “to rule our life”. So in our first episode, we discussed the first important step: can you, and should you, walk away from a comfortable job if it doesn't fit your life purpose anymore? Today we are ready to discuss the next step. So many millennials in the developed world are super keen to travel, and not just for a holiday - but as a lifestyle, hence the concept of a “digital nomad”. The recent pandemic has obviously slowed them down, and they are literally itching to get back on the road. This itch is a bit of a mystery to me, and when it comes to millennials - I am always learning from my co-host, Tine Bieber.  She's a millennial, she happens to have a lofty purpose to unify the world, which involves a fair amount of travelling - and she seems to be making a living out of it too! Tine, Tine, what's your secret? That sounds like the holy grail? 

Tine:


That's right, but it's actually very easy. You just need to follow your heart and your intuition, right. 

Dina:


Well, that's your typical millennial approach.

Tine:


That's right, the lost generation, you know that. But I would like to actually introduce you to two very wonderful people today who can maybe also tell you a little bit more about it, how to do it and how to live it. So, I'm excited to introduce Tom and Laura to you today who both live a rather, I would say, probably unconventional life. And let me start with Laura, Laura Lichter. A full time digital nomad that turned down a very attractive job offer actually three years ago, to leave everything behind in Germany and to travel the world with her boyfriend. So today, the two are actually on their way from Vietnam to Germany. Travelling solely by land, and working as digital marketing consultants. Right now, Laura and her boyfriend are locked in Iran and do... like locked down in Iran during the COVID-19 crisis. And yeah, but today Laura is here and pleased to have you, Laura. 

Laura:

Yeah. I'm very excited to be here. This is my very first podcast experience. And I find it very interesting to have to be here with four people from four different time zones, I’m very interested in beliefs, or passions, motivations, why we choose this kind of lifestyle. 

Tine: 

And I'm also happy to introduce Tom Thomison to you , and Tom actually considers himself a purpose agent, which he actually does for living, Dina.. 

Dina:

A purpose agent for a living? Right, I really want to know more about that.

Tine: 


It's gonna be a very interesting conversation today's so yeah, Tom actually brings the expression of digital nomad to a completely different level. And for Tom decentralised living is a lifestyle. And Tom is currently locked down in Dallas, Texas. 

Tom: 

I am,  yes. 

Tine: 

And, yeah, also here today. Welcome, Tom. 

Dina: 

So as you may have guessed from Tine's introduction today, we're talking about “digital nomads”, which basically means... I mean, it sounds glamorous, right? what it means as far as I'm concerned, these are people who work remotely while continuously travelling. Sounds great. But how is this a purpose rather than a whim? Is it just a fantasy about life that is all fun, fun, fun - and for the photos to look great on Istagram? So I really need to be persuaded today. 


And Tine, thank you very much for connecting us across four time zones. Of course COVID-19 is a terrible thing, but it's thanks to this lockdown that we managed to pin these two down because otherwise they're constantly travelling,  try catch them!


Tine:

I'm really excited because this topic happens to be also a part of my life. And I'm in particular also interested in how do you run a business while doing this right but what Laura and Henrik are doing, and Tom claims to have a complete decentralised lifestyle, and I'm really curious about that topic, and might get some inspiration from it. So yes, let's get it going. 



Dina:

So to be honest with you until today, I've always thought that work is work, and then when you have time off, you go travelling. I just think until you've earned your right to travel through hard work, I think it's a little bit self-indulgent. Laura, let's start with you. Because I can see you on zoom. You have a bright, vibrant yellow background behind you which looks gorgeous. And we know that you are joining us from Iran, which is quite extraordinary. I mean of all places for a digital nomad, Iran is not the one that strikes me as full of opportunities. How did you adapt?

Laura:

Yeah. Funny story. So two years ago, my partner and I had the idea to travel overland from Vietnam to Germany. And our time schedule was completely off. And at some point, we spent seven months in India, we ended up being in Pakistan. And then we finally crossed the border to Iran, one day before they shut down the borders because of COVID-19. At this point, we thought we were so lucky! We made it just in time. And little did we know that basically, all neighbours of Iran shut their borders indefinitely. At some point we decided to keep a low profile, kind of settle here in Iran and wait and see how the situation evolves. And like you said, Iran is not necessarily the dream destination of a digital nomad. There are so many obstacles for somebody who works remotely, given the sanctions, given the economic situation of the country. And it really like we always say, Iran forces you to be creative because you really have to kind of find work around solutions to things that are usually a given, that we take for granted. But I'm very happy with the situation that we have kind of set up for us. We had a lot of help from locals, and we kind of set up our office here. For the time being.

Dina:

Extraordinary! What do you actually do? I mean, I know you're a digital nomad. What do you do? How on earth do you make a living?

Laura:

Yeah, no. So my partner and I, before we started travelling, we actually started a company in Estonia. I'm not sure if you're familiar with the concept of E residency, but we became E residents of Estonia. We founded a company that allows us to work remotely anywhere in the world as a European entity, and basically what we do right now is that we have an online marketing agency. And we basically do different projects for different clients around the world, whether it's Germany, Thailand, webshop design, website design, search engine optimization, Google ads, search engine advertising, so there are a lot of different options, online marketing tools or tactics that we do for clients remotely. Because these days, you know that you don't need the traditional office anymore. You just need a stable internet connection. And that's it. You're good to go. 

Dina:

Right, so Home is where the Wi-Fi is?

Laura:

Exactly.

Dina:

Tom, what about you? You told us you you're in Texas at the moment, and how are you feeling, not travelling for two, three months now? Tough?

Tom: 

You know, it is quite a shock, actually. I am very accustomed to working remotely. So I've been at this long enough. I have a few decades under my belt, business wise, as an entrepreneur starting several businesses, and kind of seeing the whole movement where everybody would go to the office, of course, I mean, who would think of not going to the office to work? And then there was this notion of being able to take, you know, Friday off or work from home, flex working, right? And then there was the hotel working kind of thing. And then there was the: Can you do your work virtually? kind of thing. And so, I've been through and then there was the frequent business traveller kind of thing. So I've experienced all of those. And for me, I'm an experimentalist. As an entrepreneur, I try things, I see what works and what doesn't. And I model based on what works for me. And I kind of repeat that. So for me, I've eased into this whole notion of digital nomad. In fact, it's actually an evolution of virtual work. So I don't even consider myself a nomad per se. I consider myself working globally and virtually. So I work from wherever I find myself... 

Dina: 

This is, this is mind boggling enough already. Thank you. 

Tine: 

Dina was like: What??

Dina:

But add to that confusion, you also call yourself a purpose agent. What kind of job description is that? 

Tom: 

Yeah, well, again, not a made up term, but from my felt experience of living into how I work. So I started out as an entrepreneur and I founded a few companies and then I did the whole climb the corporate ladder kind of thing. As a boss, executive, the C suite stuff, the chief everything officer, the chief executive officer, and then the management consultant, right, and then climbing, the partnership ladders and all of that kind of stuff. And things just begin to shift, where the work was no longer tied to a position, a job description. And this really came to life when I launched Holacracy, one back in 2007, diving full on deep into the self organisation movement. So self organisation is a different way to think about your work. And this is what led to purpose. So in self organisation, everything hangs on purpose. Purpose is the new boss, you might say. And so my work is about purpose. My work serves purpose, and I am not an employee. I have not been an employee for about a decade and a half. I'm an independent agent. Not a freelancer, not a digital nomad, but an independent agent of purpose because I serve a lot of purposes. 

Tine: 

Dina, are you okay? Are you fine? 

Tom: 

So, these are not made up terms that sound kind of cool, these come from a first person lived experience of how I show up and make a living.

Dina:

And so, how do you…. forgive me for coming back to the basics again, how to actually make a living? Who pays you to be a purpose agent?  

Tom: 

So the enterprises that I contribute my time and my talent and my energy towards, compensate me for that energy, that time that know how, that wisdom. And I have launched many companies now who have their own unique purposes, very concretely one of them is to upgrade legal and capital structures and upgrade employment structures so that it's easier for all of us to work this way if we choose to. And the company before that, concretely, was to upgrade and replace one power system that we're really all accustomed to, management hierarchy, replace that with something else. So concretely a new set of rules to coordinate effort to get work done. And people pay for that, because it provides operational efficiency. It gives you employee engagement, where you don't have it before, and many, many other things that are of value. 

Dina

Can I be honest with you, Tom? So my impression at this stage is either it's very, very, very clever, or it's very, very, very mad.

Tom: 

Well, two sides of the same coin, right? So an entrepreneur is always a little mad, and hopefully somewhat clever from time to time.

Dina: 

Tine? 

Tine:

Well, yeah, I have a question actually to Laura. And because, you know, I know Laura from our bachelor studies and Laura was very much about, you know, accomplishments were important, right, like to also get the best grades. I would say Laura was our star student actually. And then I was on social media three years ago, and I saw... Okay, Laura, you know, decided to leave everything behind and to travel the world and to be a digital nomad. So I was like, okay, Jesus, what happened with Laura? So what happened? What was the triggering point that you made this decision?

Laura:

Yeah, I asked myself this question a lot of times, and a lot of people asked us questions many times. Yeah, you're right. Like, I know that I used to define myself a lot through my academic accomplishments and my professional milestones, and I had a very, very clear path that I followed, really until 2017. I mean, there are a couple of events that just came together that kind of pushed me over the edge to actually take the step. So 2017 was my graduation year of my master's degree. And I was sitting in Stockholm, writing on my master thesis. And by that time I had kind of starting to read the Bible of digital nomads, I call it... Everyone knows him probably, Tim Ferriss, The Four Hour Work Week. 

Dina: 

Can you give the name of the book again, please? Because some some people yeah, it's not…

Laura: 

Some people may not. It's Tim Ferriss, The Four Hour Work Week. And I believe every digital nomad probably read this book at some point in their lives. And so this book was kind of bringing up thoughts and I believe this was kind of the beginning of this whole questioning and reflecting upon my purpose. And then, in April 2017, I was in Stockholm, I was on my way to the shopping street, I was looking for a present for my mother. And that day, there was a terrorist attack and there was a guy hijacking a truck driving into the shopping street. And I was on my way to this very same shopping street. And I mean, this was kind of the moment where I really sat down with myself and said, Okay, I really have to reflect on my choices and what really... What is my purpose in life? Like, if I die today? Can I say that I lived to the fullest? Am I happy with my choices? And that was the moment when I started to reflect on my choices. And yes, I always, since 2012 I had that passion for travelling, so I suddenly knew that I didn’t want to have only vacation, I wanted to make it my life, I wanted to make it part of my life, full time. So basically, after months of discussions with my partner, we finally decided to actually take this step because we knew in this digital age that there are so many opportunities out there to make a living online, and it's just a perceived risk that we have in our society that tells us not to take the step. 

Dina: 

Well, I mean, if you're working online, I get it, say you move from Germany to France or to somewhere else with good internet connection, but Iran for God's sake! So when I mean, do you have stable internet for a start? 

Laura: 

And so surprisingly, yes, Iran is surprisingly well connected these days. But I think overall, it's 21st century and you find proper internet everywhere, like I understand and I know where you are coming from to say that you could just move to a different country, and that should be sufficient, but it was more lke this urge, this curiosity about different cultures, and kind of continuously exploring new cultures, maybe that are even not conventional and not on everyone’s typical bucket list. Places like Pakistan, India, Iran, these are places that have taught me so much... cultures or countries that have suffered from a lot of stereotypes and a lot of negative media that made it even more interesting for me to to go there and see it for myself. Because I think a lot of people would say, Wow, you're so privileged like the way you talk, just go off traveling. I know that this is very privileged and I'm not an Iranian, I'm not a Syrian refugee, I know that. So traveling everyday makes me more grateful, more appreciative of what I have, what we have a German citizens, or let’s say Western citizens, because there are so many people in this world who do not have this freedom…

Tom:

And I really resonate with Laura's comments about understanding other cultures is the only way to begin to understand your own. At least for me. 

Dina: 

The thoughts that you gave us previously, Tom, have been perculating through my mind and I have been mulling them over. What is decentralised living? What on earth is this?


Tom:


This isn’t just a whimsical kind of, I want to identify with this clever new thing. It's a whole shifting of a lifestyle. Which is part of my purpose, how I understand my work in the world, is to model how to work differently, make a living differently, super important to be sustainable, and then live differently, culturally, relationships, social systems that support that too. And the “differently” part is decentralised, less command and control, less fused to one particular thing. Free to choose lots of things that inspire you lots of things to contribute to. Have lots of work relationships, lots of opportunity to earn a living through various income streams, and lots of opportunity to have relationships with people all over the planet, with a whole wide range of intimacy. How do you do that, in a decentralised, not centralised way? So this is the motto for me is to live into that experiment. And it started with the work again, very classic, very conventional business guy, entrepreneur, manager, executive and experience all the pains of conventional organisational systems, enough pain that caused me to be ready to surrender my whole idea of command and control centralised structures to get work done. And this led me on my whole self-organisation journey, right? So decentralised living is kind of the theme. 

Dina:

So what I'm thinking now, talking to you two, I'm beginning to realise that everything your parents taught you once upon a time is probably obsolete by now, for you, must have moved on hugely from what your mom and dad taught you once. But because we asked this question to everybody on this podcast, what are the three things that you can think of that your parents taught you once upon a time that were useful at the time but do not apply anymore?


Laura? 

Laura:

Yeah. I like to replace parents with society. And yeah, I think there are three important things that I realised for myself that have changed a lot over the years. First, definitely the assumption to play it safe and to avoid risks. So it has always been this idea that you opt for being an employee rather than being an employer, you would rather opt for a safe job that brings in a steady income and that can help to secure your retirement, rather than pursuing a dream and starting your own business. And starting your own business has always been associated with a high risk and uncertainty, and it's not worth taking the risk. So this has changed a lot over the years, I think. 


Secondly, what I have observed is a shift in, instead of symbols, so I think there has been a movement from money affluence towards time affluence, so maybe back in the days, you know you you should have an expensive car, a large television, a big house, but these days it's more about having the time for experiences or maybe the money for experiences and time for your interests and hobbies, or taking a long term vacation.


So I think this has changed a lot. And then lastly, the third.

I think it's the assumption that travel is merely a short term vacation, a break from your regular life and and not a long term lifestyle concept. Yeah. So I think these three points were also personally very relevant to me. 

Dina:

Right. And what about you, Tom? Do you remember anything your parents told you?

Tom:

Well, yeah, I do try to stay in a very present moment, state and not carry through things that no longer work very well to serve very well. So I have forgotten a lot for sure. But my parents are still alive. I still have a great relationship with them and hang out. They're here in Dallas. So for them, that value of once you commit to something, you are in, you've committed, it's a long term kind of thing. And there's huge value in that, again, not a push against. But what I have learned is, it's better to be an authentic commitment over time, renegotiate, to much better, than to live to something you made a commitment you made 20 years ago, when the world has changed around you. And you're actually worse off for staying true to that commitment. Similar to Laura, on the risk taking. So I think just generationally shifted for my parents of  being much more risk averse, although they did experiment a bit, even with the family system and take some calculated risks, but I'm kind of on the further end of that spectrum.

Dina:

Right.

Tine:

What a surprise!

Tom:

Yeah, yeah. One of the mantras growing up with my mother in particular, is stay safe. Be careful. It's that fear notion. And all well intended for sure, of course. But for me, it's like, Where's the adventure? Where's the risk? And so that's quite a bit different. My risk profile is quite a bit different than how I was raised. So those are some things that come to mind. 

Dina:

Well, thank you for sharing all these things. I have to... Yeah, that's probably will take me some time to digest.

Tine;

I thought so too, when I saw your face, Dina.

Dina:

I have to say that to my own surprise, I'm finding the idea of decentralised living very attractive, it is extremely surprising. Look, I was brought up in the communist system where everything was extremely centralised. That's the whole point of communism. Everything is super centralised. And I guess what I've been doing all my life in my modest way, was kind of very, very cautiously very, very carefully decentralising bit by bit, and particularly resonating with Tom's idea. Tom's lesson that commitments are important, but it doesn't mean you need to stick to them through thick and thin forever, and never ever change because life does change, your energies shift. You may be not able to carry on with this commitment, but you might be able to take on another one. So an intelligent approach to commitments is probably a good thing. As I'm saying this I'm slightly scared myself, actually. Thank you for sharing your insights.

Tine:

Amazing. Yeah. What what I'm taking away today I'm really inspired by both of you and I mean, I met you, Laura during the studies and I can relate to a lot of things from like, what what we learned in our culture in Germany, and being like, you know, you have to kind of like follow certain, certain things. And yet just going the step and travelling the world going also as, as a woman through like travelling through countries that are rather

unconventional to travel through, and, and seeing that and how you deal with it. And I find this very beautiful. I love to travel the world, I love to work from different places. And I also really feel home in different places around the globe. So thank you guys so much for today. I loved it. 

Dina: 


Laura Lichter and Tom Thomison, showing how travelling can be a life purpose. By the way, I wouldn’t advise working in Iran as a digital nomad. Laura and her boyfriend have now left the country.  I am still not entirely sure what Tom’s work is. But you know, I have spent some time online now, with people discussing their life purpose, and it’s often not what I expect it to be, not what I relate to, it’s not what I would do… but that’s not the point. It’s their purpose, not mine. Personally, I am not convinced that travelling continuously is affordable or even practical for most people, or whether it’s good for the environment, actually... And what does resonate with me, is that both Laura and Tom are willing to experiment with their life, take risks, think outside the box. And that to me is part of ruling your life. Would you agree? 


So some people have already started sharing their stories with us, on our website, who-rules-your-life.com. Please email us with your life stories and your comments. Whorulesyourlife at yahoo.com. Download, subscribe and rate wherever you find this podcast - only genuine ratings and reviews, please! Stay true to yourself, and let’s keep exploring our life purpose together. 


And that's it from this episode of Who Rules your Life, podcasting with the people who live their purpose. Many thanks to our guests, Laura Lichter and Tom Thomison. It's goodbye from us Dina Newman and Tine Bieber. Until next week.



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