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“Say No”: My Digital Nomad Mantra

“Say Yes!”

It’s the “Eat Pray Love”-esque mantra sworn by among those setting off on grand, one-in-a-lifetime experiences as a way to move beyond comfort zones and establish a culture of risk-taking. It was a common theme among my Remote Year colleagues that I recently joined with on this yearlong trip around the world, and it might as well be the collective name for nearly every “digital nomad” blog that I’ve read across the internet in recent months.

“Say yes” to a night out with strangers you just met! They could become your new best friends.

“Say yes” to to that suspiciously colored meat at your breakfast buffet. It could become your new favorite food!

“Say yes” to going home with that boy you just drunkenly met at the club. He could be the Uruguayan husband you’ve always been looking for!

With all due respect to the stubbornly optimistic digital nomad brethren that have come before me, that’s not a particularly sustainable mantra when you throw on concrete commitments: a demanding job, bills to pay, contracts to fulfill.

That’s why I’m going to embrace the contrarian perspective and adopt my own mantra: “say no.”

What does that mean? It’s the act of “saying no” to a dinner invite and night out drinking because I have a pressing work deadline to plug away on. It’s the thought process of realizing that a weekend afternoon at a local cafe to catch-up on personal emails and pen my latest reflective blog post is a more productive use of my time than going to a soccer game. It’s the explicit act of prioritizing balance and weighing how each experience and each additional commitment that I take on factors into what I’ve already taken on.

Don’t get me wrong, I fit in an afternoon of wine tasting and a night out clubbing this weekend. But I also “said no” to a late-night rave on the beach on Friday, a tour and picnic in Montevideo’s food market this morning, and a weekend retreat to Cabo Polonio on Saturday, the famous Uruguayan remote coastal village. Fear of missing out, or “FOMO,” has become a very normal thing for Millennials to contend with in an era of being so closely tethered to social media, but it is amplified to an extraordinary degree while traveling. One has to be explicit in weighing the pro’s and con’s of each opportunity instead of just embracing what feels good ‘in the moment.’

To that point, this lifestyle does not lend itself well to those incapable or unwilling of taking a step back when needed. It’s only taken me three weeks of living in and working remotely from Montevideo to see that a culture of endless opportunities can easily set one on an accelerated path to burn-out. My personal time in the evenings and weekends, just like my work time during the day, has become sacred ground. While I’ve always aimed to have Sundays be a time to reflect on the previous week and chart out the path for the next week, the fast-paced nature of my new life only serves to underscore the importance of this reflection.

The mantra of “say yes” is an infectious concept and does, indeed, serve as a great guiding light for turning over the rock on experiences that we’ve become accustomed to shying away from. But it’s also a recipe for disaster if embraced in the pure form that so many seemingly aspire to, as if “Eat Pray Love” is a model that can be perfectly applied to the life of anyone willing to mindlessly chant its self-affirming mantra back to themselves in the mirror each morning.

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I’m not striving for perfection from this year of travel; any attempt to do so will undoubtedly be met with failure. However, it is incumbent on me to take the needed time to build out a sustainable balance between embracing the fun, new and exciting alongside “saying no” as a means to focus on my current commitments and responsibilities. I have an amazing job that is providing me with the means to be on this trip, and several side-projects that are opening exciting doors for my future professional aspirations.

What a shame it would be if I lost sight of all that.

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