Nomadic Work / Life Balance Problem Solving
By Sarah Grubb
As an avid travelling event production person, I have learned some valuable skills over the years. I have learned how to pack. I can’t do it without packing cells from Muji, and I must start packing a few days ahead of time to get myself to cull down enough of my items. I have also learned that some things are just worth it to buy when I get there.
I have also learned how to not get too attached to any particular place.
This is hard especially when you are in a place for a while. Working with locals can make this tricky, however, I found over the years that by surrounding myself with the other nomadic production folk, the place itself only ever felt like a temporary spot to lay my (hard) hat down.
I also learned how to keep in contact with family regardless of time zone. It was usually via Skype, but never did I miss a birthday, a father/mother’s day or any other holiday when I was away.
When I tell people about how many countries I have been in, the shows I worked on, what my responsibilities were each time, they can’t believe it. To the outsider, I was some kind of travelling superstar with a magical life of working, drinking, meeting famous people and so on. I lived a life of fancy hotels, spa days, long brunches and even longer high-end post-gig holidays at remote resorts with houses on poles in the ocean.
In all honesty, for a while, I relished in all of this. It really was magical. I couldn’t wait to hop on the next plane to the next destination. I loved having no ties, sending things back to my storage unit as required and having limited contact with pretty much all my friends except the people I was with at the time.
But eventually, all of this caught up to me. I was always having to line up another job because I literally had nowhere to go when the gig ended. I didn’t own any property. I only paid rent on the storage unit.
I had a few friends who I occasionally crashed with, but that got old. I spent a fair bit of money on some Airbnb options and even did some international house sitting for a while. It was in those downtimes that I started to feel like something needed to change. The only regular support network were the people I had just left behind in some random country. Plus I had no idea when I would see any of them again. I felt out of place with my family. I felt out of place with my non-travelling friends.
So, I started a quest to do things differently.
I had tried this a few years prior without success so I knew I needed to achieve a few things to make it stick. After losing my grandmother and my brother having his first baby, I wanted to move closer to the family. I decided after living in Australia and overseas for over 15 years, it was time to move back to the US. It didn’t matter where, but I knew I wanted to be able to do the following things:
1. Buy a house
2. Afford to live on the salary I was getting and not default on my mortgage
3. Be close enough to family without living down the street from them
4. Have a relatively interesting job utilizing the skills I learned whilst on the big travelling life
5. Have a great boss to ensure I want to go to the likely not as interesting job
6. Still travel for work somehow
7. Ensure that I didn’t get stuck with a crap amount of vacation/holiday pay
8. Set myself up enough to qualify for the mortgage and to meet enough professional contacts in the US to potentially allow me to work freelance again
I had lots of interviews and looked in all corners of the country. I ended up with several job offers and had to weigh up all the options. Each job had pretty much all of these going for them, but I settled on one in particular. It was in a colder place, which I was hoping to avoid and on the east coast, which I also was hoping to avoid. But it made the most sense.
The west coast is way too expensive, however, much closer to Australia. My new boss is amazing. I live in a big city that happens to be an airline hub so I can fly just about anywhere direct (this is a big deal in the US which I hadn’t really considered when I first started searching). I travel quite a lot in the colder months to mostly warmer places which are a nice trade-off. I am also getting to see places in the US which I have never been. I even managed to buy a house within one year of moving here.
I have now started to get all of my things out of Australian storage and sent over. I have tons of photos on the wall from all of my travel. I have already had lots of visitors. I actually have met and become friends with neighbours and others outside of work. I have even hosted all of my immediately family minus one of my brothers at the new place as well. (This other brother will come next summer.)
I have a few things to still work on in terms of really making this all feel like a true home, but after being away on a job, it is so lovely to come to my real home.
I have no idea what the future holds, but I am very content knowing there is a place for me to be. I will probably be a bit of a drop-in center for the travelers from my previous life as well.
But for now, there is nothing better than making myself a Nespresso with my US version of the machine, sitting on my very discounted West Elm sectional and streaming the shit out of some good Netflix or Hulu series on a rainy (or let’s face it snowy) Sunday afternoon…maybe followed up with regular time-zone chats with my family.
I am sure I will return to the freelance world eventually, but having accomplished this quite large life change and loving it, I would recommend it to any others who are feeling a bit gloomy and lost at times.