Life’s cultural script is straightforward, right?
- learn to be nice to others
- apply yourself in school
- go to university, college or some sort of technical training
- get a job
- find a partner
- get married
- work hard in your career
- save money
- buy a house
- have kids
- work until you’re 65+
Depending on what country you grow up in, the demographic you are in and who your parents are, this script may look different to you, but I’d wager regardless of where you were raised, there’s some sort of prescribed script that has been passed down to you.
And while it’s not uncommon for people to deviate from this script – by choosing not having kids, retiring at 55, or building a business instead of a career, traditionally most people followed most of their life’s script.
But with the rise of the digital nomads, widespread entrepreneurship, remote work and financial independence, more and more are going to discover the unique challenges associated with their newfound freedom.
Why the Cultural Script Was Important
In many of our parents’ lives, and without question for their parents’ generation, cultural scripts were important.
There were fewer options in most aspects of their life.
Different education philosophies may have existed, but they weren’t a possibility for most people. Intelligence was (and for the most part, still is) ranked from A to F.
Travel was difficult and expensive, so most accepted their local situation at face value and made the most of it.
Self-education was, at best, possible at a library, nothing like the access to information on the internet today.
It wasn’t uncommon to get a job straight out of school, and to work there until the day they retired.
The hangover of this emphasis on a successful career is still important today, bringing money, respect and power.
These 3 things are especially important if you are a male with the deeply ingrained responsibility to be a “provider”, as they allow you to attract a high-quality partner, and provide them security and a good life.
The Problem with Cultural Scripts
Life scripts that had predictable, good outcomes seemed miserable. “Work this job for 20 years.” “Go to law school and be a lawyer.”
Outside of “what might be right for you, isn’t right for me”, our cultural scripts are also very dated.
Though they get updated to somewhat suit the times, culture in general doesn’t like change, so these scripts are slow to adapt.
Staying with a single employer for your whole life, nowadays, is a brilliant way to not only earn peanuts, but also avoid challenge and stagnate your personal development.
Buying a house in your early 20’s, while markets are at all time highs is a rock-solid way to lock yourself into employment for the next 30 years, where you may be less inclined to pursue dream scenarios such as living abroad, starting your own business or becoming a professional musician.
Where the cultural script becomes more problematic is when everyone else in your life is following that same script.
Try telling all of your friends who have kids that “having kids isn’t for me” and they’ll tell you why you’re wrong and you should join their club. Your choice in not having kids can make them feel insecure about their choice to do so.
The same goes for buying a house, getting married, drinking, believing in religion and my personal favourite, diet! Challenge anyone on the above and be prepared for a world of irrational arguments.
Why These Scripts Are Facing Change
The hunger among many younger people for rules, or at least guidelines, is greater today for good reason. In the West at least, millennials are living through a unique historical situation. They are, I believe, the first generation to have been so thoroughly taught two seemingly contradictory ideas about morality, simultaneously—at their schools, colleges and universities, by many in my own generation. This contradiction has left them at times disoriented and uncertain, without guidance and, more tragically, deprived of riches they don’t even know exist.
– Dr. Norman Doidge, from the Foreword of Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life
The world is changing faster than many of us realise. Frontier and developing countries are rapidly producing reliable, high quality workers, meaning developed countries are struggling to compete.
This brings all sorts of questions around mandatory education, college and university. Imagine spending $25,000 and 4 years on a university degree, and not being able to land a job after finishing, let alone a well paying one. It’s more common than you might think. Westerners are expensive, and generally, not as productive as those from abroad.
Full-time employment is becoming less and less interesting for business owners. Why employ someone full-time, when that person can abuse sick leave, requires you to pay payroll taxes and so on when they can contract the work for an affordable hourly rate without the risk?
The internet is allowing people to live in completely different countries to where they work. Being paid a high British salary while living in affordable Portugal is now becoming a viable model for how to live one’s life.
Robotics are advancing fast. If you attach things to other things for a living, unless it’s very difficult to automate this or they are bespoke products, it’s not unlikely you’ll be replaced by machines in future.
The same goes for any job that can be automated and doesn’t require a personal touch.
Even gender roles in society, which have already changed greatly with women going to work, continue to change further as more and more countries adopt same sex marriage.
All of these changes bring our norms into question. What once worked well, might not work in future.
It’s the opinion of many that:
- standard education is becoming less and less relevant
- outside of a few key industries, university is a waste of money/time
- there’s never been a riskier time to be a knowledge worker
- there’s never been a worse time to be a production line worker
- there’s never been a better time to start a business
- physically relocating to a country where your industry is thriving is a great idea
- working to 65, then travel for your most tired years of your life is “doing it wrong”
- there will be no pension/social security when our generation retires, so building your own freedom fund is the best way to secure your future
This can mostly be summarised by the growing interest in digital nomadism, location independence, early retirement, perpetual traveller lifestyle, and lifestyle business movement. Though they all tackle different things, as a general rule there’s a growing interest in:
- freedom of time
- freedom of location
- personal challenge, on our own terms
- putting our lifestyle first
- freedom to work on what we care about
- looking at countries as service providers, picking and choosing the services that best fit our needs
Challenges in Changing Your Script
Any time you try and break free from the script to create your new normal, you’ll experience others challenging these decisions, even when you’re making the choice solely for yourself and have no judgement whatsoever on the script they are following.
So while it may feel so very right to quit your secure, well paying job in search of a life more rewarding, your childhood friends and family might not feel the same way.
While this can absolutely be overcome, it doesn’t tackle what many (including myself) have experienced to be a greater challenge: one’s self.
You can know something is better for you than what is written in your script, but it can still be tough to go with the better option.
Your days on the production line might be numbered, but starting a business can feel risky.
Starting a company in a country that makes it a lot easier to do business can feel wrong.
Deciding to live in two countries at the same time can feel unrealistic.
Investing so you can retire early, rather than buying a house to live in can feel like a bad decision.
Choosing to put your lifestyle first and only work 4 hours a day can feel selfish, especially if you are doing well financially.
I regularly tell people that living in Andorra feels like cheating! Life can feel too good here sometimes.
We can know that these feelings are unfounded and illogical, but it doesn’t make them any less challenging, and for some people, debilitating.
From what I have both experienced in myself and seen in others, things tend to fall apart more before they get put back together, especially for those living abroad.
Questions Without Answers
When you live in a different country to where you were born, maybe have a business of your own which may or may not have steady income, travel regularly and spend money in multiple currencies, your life choices are much less prescribed. There is no script.
- Are your taxes in order? In which countries? Am I officially a non-resident for tax purposes at home?
- Should you keep investing into your 401k or superannuation from abroad?
- Where do you make new friends? Is it worth pursuing friendships that may only last a few weeks?
- Should you invest? How much of your net worth? In what countries? Currencies? Industries?
- Where do you bank? In what countries? Currencies? Rewards programs?
- Does your partner want to relocate to where you call home? Will they be eligible to do this? If not, what will happen to your relationship?
- Should you have a child? Where will they be a citizen? Who will take care of them if you die?
- How will you educate your child? How will this impact their future if you move country?
- Where is your company incorporated? Could you operate it from a country that is easier to do business in or is more affordable from a tax point of view?
- Should you buy a house where you live? Should you buy a house elsewhere?
- In which country/countries do you need a will? Do you need to keep records of the passwords for my income generating internet assets? How do you keep them safe, but easy to pass on to the beneficiaries of your estate?
- Is it worth buying a blender if you’re only going to be in this country for 3 months?
- Do you keep a home full time in the place where you spend most of your time? What if you’re planning to leave for 6 months?
- Do you have health coverage? Where? Will your travel insurance cover you for major things like cancer or heart surgery?
Deviate from your cultural script far enough and you’ll discover there are some fairly high-quality problems that will work their way into your life.
Creating a new script makes for exciting, but challenging living. When there’s no one to tell you how it’s done, and you don’t know how to do it, how do you figure out what to do?
While you may be able to use parts of your previous script and scripts from other countries and cultures to help you answer these questions, ultimately it’s time to begin writing your own.
Writing Your Own Life’s Script
If you’re here looking for a script to the “location independent, financially independent, entrepreneur playboy lifestyle”, I hate to break it to you but I don’t have it.
What I have personally found, is the only solution to unanswered questions in your life script is to get out there and pursue what you believe in, do what you think will work, speak to people who are better than you and embrace the mistakes you will make along the way.
While it may appear to be easier to follow the script laid out to you by an expert that has done it all, the reality is their path is different to yours, and you’ll have to adapt it to your needs anyway.
As hard as it may be, try to follow your intuition, follow what you believe is the best path and work through the challenges as they come. You might be amazed as to how many problems you can work through in a couple of years, and your future self will be grateful you did!