Why Living “On Your Own Terms” Is Still BS For Many Women…

Why Living “On Your Own Terms” Is Still BS For Many Women…

We live in an age of opportunity. It’s never been easier to live life on your own terms. The only barrier to doing what you want is you

We are awash with positive rhetoric about how we can take more control of our lives, have more freedom and create the lives we want. And yet, somehow things still aren’t quite as easy as that for women, as the data from a recent study on the gender wage gap in the location independent/digital nomad community shows.

Spoiler alert: The gender wage gap is still frighteningly real, even in a supposedly progressive a community as the digital nomad one.

So why aren’t we, as women, leveraging the power of the online world to equalise our earning power and do more of what we want?

Is It Us And Not Them?

It’s easy to blame it on society – on the patriarchy and long-time suppression of women and equal rights – and I’m coming round to that, but we can’t shift the blame entirely…

We have a responsibility to ourselves, to our daughters, to our granddaughters and those who come after us to use ALL of what we have access to now to further our own rights and change the long-held paradigms of our world (and we’ve never had better access to powerful resources than we have today).

The concept of location independence was – in my mind – fundamentally founded upon one core value: Freedom.

To me, freedom means the ability to do what I want, when I want, with whom I want and where I want – and I have spent the past 13+ years consciously and intentionally working towards this, fortunate to live at a time when it’s possible.

There have been a few interesting curveballs along the way – not least of all the unexpected arrival of my first child in 2009. It was this experience that began to reveal some unexpected and shocking-to-me patterns that I, perhaps naively, assumed had changed…

Despite the feminist rhetoric of my generation of women – that we are equal members of society, that our contribution to our community is equally valued, that we have equal opportunities career-wise  – when I look around me, the picture that I see is starkly different.

We are still the primary homemakers, with often sole responsibility for keeping the household ship running smoothly. We are still the parent with primary responsibility for parenting, the often-silent guiding force behind ensuring every member of the family is in the right place at the right time, with everything they need. And that’s sometimes on top of working or building/running our own businesses too.

The numbers prove that we are still not earning equally – is it any wonder when we have (take?) all of this on our plates too?

My own personal experience is very different. My ex-husband and I share the parenting responsibility EQUALLY. We each financially support ourselves, we have the children for half the days/nights each week with his parents helping out at weekends, and we discuss what’s going on for the children, what they need and address it, individually and together. We have both stepped up in our own different ways, as single parents.

I am fortunate – and even typing that is, to me, a measure of quite how far we’ve still got to go – in that he doesn’t see this as unusual, that he doesn’t think it ‘should’ be different or that I, as the woman and mother, should be the primary caregiver with his contribution limited solely to every other weekend and some financial support…

“Wow, lucky you. You seem to have so much child-free time these days.”

What is the most surprising (disappointing) to me is that this is frequently uttered by other mothers and women who remark on the life I’ve consciously (co)created as if they couldn’t have it too, or with an undercurrent of judgment and negativity.

Surely if other women and fellow mothers comment about how much child-free time my partner and I have, as if somehow we’re not doing our rightful duties as mothers, what chance do we have that men will ever adopt the mindset that dividing ALL the parenting/household responsibilities 50/50 is the way things should be? (Why the hell shouldn’t they be?)

Who said that fathers don’t need to share 50% of the parenting role? Why and when did it become ok for their responsibilities to start and end with a purely financial contribution and the odd evening or weekend of fun time with their children?

Letting Go…

Part of it is an expectation from others – men of all ages and older women/generations in the family especially – that we, the mothers and the women, are the be all and end all to our children and the more ‘natural’ homemakers. That we’re the ones who need to ultimately be there and have primary responsibility for the wellbeing of our children (and our partners, for that matter). But it’s not the whole story, by any means.

“It takes a village to raise a child.”

Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost the sense of this village, we’ve lost the sense of community and the acknowledgement that – for the good of our children – it takes more than a sole parent to raise them; we’ve forgotten that a multitude of influences can be valuable and that no, we don’t always know best.

But it’s our ego, our inability to let go of this and the sense that for many women their children are all they have – and without them, who are they? – that keeps us holding the reins so tightly.

And why would we let go of that responsibility and hand over the reins to another adult who may, initially, appear disinterested, incapable and unwilling to step up to the role?

I have experienced this first-hand with my partner. It has taken a LOT of work to get to the stage where the father of her children now has his children every weekend (“Every weekend? Wow, you’re so lucky”).

But it’s not luck… it’s taken hours and hours of empowering him to step up to be their parent. From weekly emails sharing what’s going on for the kids, what they need and what he needs to do to better meet their needs, to numerous text messages directly addressing and challenging existing patterns.

And it’s also taken the letting go of control from my partner’s side to let him step up; to let her children go to a parent who, for the better part of 8 years, hadn’t parented his own children and didn’t initially have a clue how to start. It’s taken a leap of faith to let go and trust that the children aren’t her be all and end all, and that she does indeed have other things in her life that are worth prioritising.

And the upside for men in this rather different scenario?

Deeper, richer and more authentic relationships with their own children rather than the ‘fun Daddy’ weekends where real life only begins when Mummy’s back in charge again. The confidence to know they can parent their own children in their own way and it be good enough, even if it is different from how Mummy does it. The ability to feel and display their emotions fully, rather than deny they exist and have to tuck them back inside.

It’s the opportunity to be the most feminist role model possible for their daughters and their sons, and be the more authentic, whole human they are versus a sculpted version of themselves that society deems ‘masculine’ enough.

And our children? How does this current societal status quo impact them?

The current model is NOT the model I want for my children. I want them to have the implicit belief that everything between men and women begins from a position of equality when it comes to parenting, contributing financially, running a household and playing a valuable role in society.

I want them to have the power to choose what kind of balance works for them in their own relationships, without societal pressures and expectations to the contrary. If my daughter chooses to be a full time parent, good for her. If my son chooses that too, good for him. Choice is the key, not conforming to social norms and expectations of the roles they – we all – are expected to play.

For if we perpetuate the status quo and always have to begin from a place of inequality, out of balance already – practically and in our beliefs – then it’s an uphill battle to ever move the needle in a different direction.

Stepping Up…

Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. We wallow in a lack of self-confidence and self-worth and despite what to others may appear as success, we’re wallowing in doubt and self loathing, questioning whether we’re of any value at all. And we worry that surely, some day soon, someone’s going to find out that we’re the massive fraud we feel like.

As mothers, we question our value beyond motherhood. As women, we frequently find ourselves wanting while operating in a man’s world – despite it being an unfair comparison, using a scale that will never be skewed in our favour.

So we ‘man up’ and play them at their own game, becoming a ball-busting, ball-breaking, kind of scary version of ourselves just to appear to be levelling the playing field.

But are we really levelling the playing field? Aren’t we just showing that we can play their game if we choose to, that we can have masculine qualities when we need to, but that fundamentally, this is still the way things are done?

We are complicit in upholding a system that values masculine power and that devalues, denies and fails to boldly define, claim and value feminine power. When we, as women, want to be powerful, too often we do it in a masculine form.

How about owning our feminine qualities, empowering ourselves to use them, and recognising that they (we) too have equal value in the world? If we don’t value them (ourselves), why on earth should we expect others to?

But It’s Not (Just) Us, It’s Them…

The constant devaluing of feminine qualities – the nurturing, passive, receptive, emotional qualities typically associated with ‘weakness’ and never strength – devalues us as women.

How many of these do you still use? Man up. Have some balls. Stop being so girly. Stop being a sissy. Who wears the trousers? Boys will be boys. Stop getting your knickers in a twist…

How did we let the conversation and languaging get so screwed up around feminine qualities?

We need more conversations and far more action around what it means to stand in our feminine power; around what being strong and feminine actually looks like in real life, and we need to change how we all talk about it.

I experience the feminine power from and with my partner; her softer approach to my more aggressive confrontation; the yielding, the warmth, the nurturing. It never feels weak. It feels strong, it feels like being held and in a very different way from the active, aggressive, dominant energy of the masculine. And I value it.

I see and experience how powerful this can be not just in my personal life but in my career too. I see role models in the form of strong, feminine women – JK Rowling, Elizabeth Gilbert, Brené Brown, Emma Watson, Taylor Swift, to name a few – who show us that there is power in huge vulnerability; that there’s no shame and only strength in making and owning our errors; that sometimes yielding, caring and nurturing gets the job done 100x more effectively than anything else.

If we are to change anything, it’s got to come from us and them…yep, it’s not just about us owning, embracing and valuing our feminine qualities, it’s about men doing this too.

It’s about them facing up to and then dismantling the devastating impact of toxic masculinity; to redefine what they want masculinity to mean to them, without the pressures and expectations of society currently. It’s about acknowledging, owning and expressing their emotions when they want to without fearing they’ll be deemed weak or ‘girly’. It’s about showing vulnerability, showing fear, not knowing everything and not having to be strong and show strength in the face of, well, everything.

If we are to change the current status quo, we need men to embrace their feminine too. Whether they have daughters or not, the idea that their mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers and female friends suffer just because they’re women needs to be enough to jolt them into action.

So our challenge is this: How do we ALL, in our daily lives, begin or continue to redefine, value and express our feminine power?

Enter location independence…

How on earth does location independence help with any – maybe all – of this?

On a practical level, we come all the way back round to freedom. The power of location independence is exactly this: Freedom. Not just freedom to live and work from wherever you want, but the freedom to create your life – your career, your days – the way you want to. Fortunately for us we live in a time where it’s become more possible to…

  • Use the resources and tools readily available online to step up, (re)educate ourselves, skill up, and carve out a career path that works for us and our families, however ‘off track’ it may appear to others still stuck in the more traditional paradigms.
  • Build a work schedule that allows more freedom – unconstrained by career opportunities previously limited by geography and the old paradigms of presenteeism, fixed locations, and glass ceilings – by embracing remote working, entrepreneurialism and portfolio careers.
  • Find other women who are intent on changing the status quo; and rebuilding the ‘villages’ that no longer exist around us.

In doing this, we step up into a position where it’s possible, paradoxically, to gain more control so we can start to let go of the need to be the sole parent or the captain of the household ship – because we create other things in our lives that matter to us just as much.

If we’re smart, we can embrace these non-traditional online channels to enhance our own potential, in a way that plays to feminine powers, not detracts from them…

Example: The remote worker needs excellent intuition and communication skills to detect the nuances of what’s going on in a team, from afar, when face-to-face time is limited. Many of the women I know have highly tuned intuition and the ability to sense and read the emotions and feelings of folk they interact with from behind a screen, thousands of miles away, in a way that I’ve rarely experienced in a more male-dominated environment.

The fact that we can learn almost anything online for very little investment (and often free). The fact that we have access to cheap tools to run or own businesses that were previously too costly to consider. The fact we can find jobs and opportunities to earn an income online. The fact that we can join supportive communities who can lead the way and show us what’s possible. The fact that we can do ALL of this online from anywhere in the world or without ever having to leave home is truly powerful.

And from this base of power, we can create the freedom to renegotiate the balance of responsibilities (in parenting, daily household life, longer term plans, and more), and renegotiate all aspects of our lives, on our terms. If we choose to.

It’s not just about your location, it’s about claiming your place in the world, on every level. Are you ready for it?

The Founding Circle Meet

The Founding Circle Meet

Coming from their respective corners of the world – Sunderland (UK), Stroud (UK), Mataró (Spain) and Wolfe Island (Canada) – I hosted the members of the Founding Circle, all Circle Leaders in their area, for 24 hours.

In essence, we created the experience of what a Circle is and how it’s likely to work – deep, honest, raw conversations and connections between people who’ve either only ever met online or had never met before, online or off. This is how it happened…

When Lea Met Jenn

When Lea Met Jenn

There aren’t many people who’d hop on a ferry, several trains and a plane to fly across the ocean on a whim. But Jenn is one of those people and in May 2018 – after a decade of online friendship – we finally met in person in my hometown in the UK.

We’ve worked together on Location Independent projects previously – she was the editor of this blog when it had multiple authors, she wrote the Location Independent ebook on travelling with babies and children, and she’s been an ardent supporter both of this venture and of me and my family over the years. This is the story of when we finally met in person…

Going Remote: Is Remote Working All Good?

Going Remote: Is Remote Working All Good?

It is no secret that the world of work is changing; I’ve read a couple of things recently that have reminded me of the shifts in the way we’re working and add fuel to the fire that many of our educational systems just aren’t keeping up with these shifts. The evidence is already mounting…

  • There are far fewer jobs for life – no more starting a job at 18 or 21 and retiring from the same company (or even industry) at 60 or 65.
  • Contract work is on the rise – even in formerly ‘stable’ careers and industries – with permanent positions fewer and farther between.
  • AI and technology have the potential to replace hundreds of job types in the very near future.

It means that we and the generations after us are going to have to…

  • Be far more adept at managing our own career paths, actively seeking out new opportunities rather than working our way steadily along and up already well-carved paths.
  • Understand that making career moves will likely involve going upwards and sideways in order to sustain career longevity and keep our skills and experience relevant.
  • Cultivate and improve skills such as brand building (of our own personal brands), networking (but possibly of a very different kind than many are used to), and marketing (of ourselves and our achievements/projects/businesses) that we’ve never really had to think about much before.

But it is not all bad. Alongside the seemingly dwindling opportunities, there are also greater opportunities we have access to that we’ve never had before, thanks largely to the rise in remote work and the increasing number of companies pursuing this route, because it’s not only possible but now also necessary.

While on the surface remote work might seem like the ideal answer, for many it comes with its challenges too. As someone who has essentially worked from home for the past 10+ years I agree that…

  • Working in one’s tracksuit trousers day in and day out is awesome.
  • Not having to sit in commuter traffic improves my emotional and physical health.
  • Not having to deal with office colleagues I don’t connect well with hugely improves my mental health.
  • Having the flexibility to do household chores in between periods of work is a plus.

But, there are downsides too and challenges that I believe will need to be acknowledged, addressed and ideally overcome if this is going to be an increasingly common working option for more of us…

What about the extroverts?

As an introvert, I can think of nothing worse than having to traipse into an office every day, surrounded by people! But extroverts – those who find being around others energising and not draining – come alive when (physically) around other people.

Sitting at home, alone, does not cut it for those who need social interaction to thrive – professionally and personally. Sitting on Zoom or Slack can meet some of that need, but once you switch the laptop off you’re still usually home alone with no-one for company, not even a water cooler to go hang out around. Co-working spaces are a great antidote to this and yet there’s still an element of alone-ness. How do we overcome this for those who feed from the energy of being around others?

What about the creative sparks?

There’s nothing like physically sitting around a table while shuffling things around on the table in front of you to generate creative sparks that seem to come from nowhere. Digital tools don’t invoke quite the same response that the physicality of touching paper, books, etc. does – it’s like not being able to replicate the physical sensation – of touch, smell etc. – you get from reading an actual book versus reading on a Kindle.

It’s usually much harder to create in a vacuum and while remote team meetings/brainstorming, co-working spaces and the like have their place, how are we going to replicate those moments of creative sparks that come from connecting physically with people, with places and with things?

What about human touch?

You can’t physically reach through your screen to give someone a comforting touch on the arm or put an arm around their shoulder if they need it. Sometimes a human touch is all that’s needed, when words just don’t cut it.

What about constraints and boundaries?

While the freedom that working from home provides is alluring, it also requires discipline and focus. The separation of leaving one’s house and going to work provides natural boundaries and structure for those who struggle with self motivation.

When you work remotely – especially if your hours are flexible or you work for yourself – it can be helpful and necessary to put some artificial constraints in place to re-create those boundaries and give your time some kind of structure and form.

What about the spontaneous, impromptu moments of connection?

Let’s imagine you head off for a toilet break and find Sarah from another project having a cry in the toilets, when you walk in. That’s a spontaneous, impromptu opportunity to connect with someone more deeply, on a human level that just isn’t replicable when you work remotely. This possibility for an unexpected, impromptu, spontaneous moment of connection just can’t be replicated on Slack or Zoom, or can it?

What about intuition and body language?

For those of us who rely heavily on intuition, ‘sense’ and reading peoples’ body language as important prompts and pointers in our interactions with others, working remotely can be extra challenging.

While I do most of my coaching online, I find my sessions much easier to lead when I’m in person. I can read and respond to a person’s body language far more accurately when they’re sitting in front of me, and it’s far harder for them to hide what’s really going on for them from me when they’re not behind a screen!

You can’t always see the slumped shoulders of a colleague who’s having a bad day nor the uncomfortable fidgeting of someone who’s struggling to focus that day. It’s harder to sense the mood and the energy of a person when you’re both behind your respective screens. How can we better read people when we’re so physically remote?

What about being fully and properly seen?

When you work remotely it is much easier to hide – both yourself and the parts of you you don’t want to be seen – behind your screen. It can be easier to hide the bad days, the struggles, the depressive states and all the ‘flaws’ you don’t like about yourself.

And yet, in our quest for greater and deeper connection it’s these ‘flaws’, this shadow side of ourselves, which reveal the most and around which we can often find the deepest points of connection. Hiding behind our screens, showing only the instagram-worthy aspects of our life is doing us all a disservice.

How do we make sure we’re fully and wholly seen, when we’re connecting primarily from behind our screens, day in day out?

The world of work is changing fast – remote work is, I believe, only going to increase. I am a HUGE fan of remote work. I am also a huge fan of what makes us human – no matter how painful this can sometimes be to acknowledge and face, personally.

I think we have some fantastic opportunities opening up because of the changes we face but we also have some challenges to be mindful of which threaten our already fractured, disconnected society.

How are we going to overcome these challenges to connect more deeply, show up fully and be seen, when we’re likely to be working behind our computer screens, all day every day with fewer and fewer opportunities to physically connect? (Answers on a postcard from somewhere suitably…remote!).

How Do You Know You Belong?

How Do You Know You Belong?

Unlike many digital nomads, we didn’t become nomadic because we wanted to be, we kept moving because we were searching for a place to call home. Of course, we never found one and ended up 3+ years later right back where we started in the UK ?

With each new location, we attempted to be smarter about where we’d try next – what did we like about somewhere? What didn’t we like about it? What was missing? What were the most important criteria for us to choose the next place?

But fast forward 10+ countries and 3+ years later and we were still none the wiser and nowhere nearer to finding anywhere we wanted to call home. So why did we fail?

Because at the time, we didn’t really know what we were searching for.  In hindsight, what we were looking for as we travelled round the globe was that sense of ‘home’, that feeling of belonging – not just of fitting in – but of truly belonging…a place where we could just be.

So how do you know you belong? Being born in Hong Kong, of Filippino origin, adopted by British parents and moving to England when I was 4, I don’t personally know and so I come at it from the opposite direction…

How do you know you don’t belong?

Here’s how I know…

You feel like an outsider, an interloper, an intruder. You’re someone who never gets the ‘in’ jokes or who will never really be on the inside. You have a tendency to ‘flit not fit’, that is you flit between social groups – whether online or off – never quite fully committing to one but flitting in and out of several, making connections at a surface level but never going much deeper than this (though truthfully that depth is what you’re really looking for).

You feel like you can’t be yourself. You feel like you have to be someone you’re not, and change who you are depending upon whom you’re with. Or that you have to hide parts of yourself or tone yourself down (or up) to be accepted or liked. You feel like the real you isn’t good enough to be accepted, to be liked, to be loved…to belong.

You can’t see yourself reflected back to you in the people you surround yourself with*. In social groups when you’re with people you feel a sense of belonging with, it’s likely that you see elements of yourself reflected back to you in them…common core values, shared world views, similar life experiences and that spark that lets you know you’re with your right people. When this is missing, you’ll often feel that familiar sense of unease, of not fitting in, of not belonging.

* There’s a concept I’ve learned about since exploring my adoption called ‘mirroring’. It’s the sense you have of simply belonging to your birth family because you see yourself mirrored in the people around you – with similar features, mannerisms or personality traits. It’s how you know you belong – albeit this is usually an unconscious knowing. As an adoptee, you don’t have this – you don’t have that innate sense of belonging because the faces and people you see around you are different; they’re not mirrors or reflections of where/who you’ve come from. 

So how do you know you belong?

When we were nomadic, we had to work really, really hard to meet new people. As introverts, it was a challenge to force ourselves out of our comfort zone to meet new folk – fellow travellers and locals alike.

And no matter how much integration we achieved, nor how much we lived like a local or how many fellow nomads/travellers we met, we never felt like we truly belonged. And as I explore this theme at a very personal level, here’s what I know now about belonging…

  • It doesn’t come from just being in a certain village/town/city/country; in fact it’s rarely about the location at all.
  • Some of it comes from a sense of other people, though this is only part of the equation and if you’re looking for belonging in/to other people…you’re not going to find it.
  • It comes from a clear sense of self; as Brené Brown discovered, true belonging is about belonging to yourself first and foremost.

True belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are. It requires us to be who we are” – Brené Brown

True belonging is not about fitting in. It’s not about searching for that one place on earth that feels like home. It’s not about moulding or changing yourself to suit others’ needs or perceptions of you. It’s not about finding your tribe, at home or abroad.

I’m learning to be location independent right here at home in the UK. I’m learning to grow some roots instead of constantly uprooting myself. I’m learning to be me, wherever I am, alone and with others.

Belonging is about being you, no changes required. And many of us can find that, wherever on earth we are. No travel required.