No office, no boss, no boundaries -- rise of the nomadic rich
It’s 12:20 p.m. and I’m 19 stories high in a Bangkok hotel, settling down to the start of what was meant to be an 11 a.m. conference.
I nurse a Singha beer and look around at a motley bunch of co-attendees: mostly single men in their twenties and thirties, wearing flip-flops or Converse sneakers, blazers or tank tops.
One would never guess this was a conference for Internet entrepreneurs and business owners from around the world, most of whom earn an annual income well into six figures.
I’m one of them, and to many, I'm living the dream -- no boss, no permanent office, disposable cash and the freedom to move and work wherever I please.
I'm part of a new breed of location-independent entrepreneurs, what Timothy Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, has dubbed the “New Rich.”
We have few commitments, a freedom of choice most can only dream about. Our life is a traveler’s dream.
Last year, I saw the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China and Machu Picchu in a span of three months. I hiked a volcano and a glacier 2,000 miles apart within seven days of each other. I visited 17 countries, and will visit another 10 this year.
It’s possible because I have chosen, like many others, to remove myself from the grid to live nomadically.
The idea is to use the Internet to scale and automate businesses quickly, and then leverage my location-independence to create a greater wealth of experiences through travel and adventure rather than accrue material possessions.
Where the "New Rich" hang out
For a group of people spread all over the planet, the New Rich actually run into each other a lot. We’re highly networked online and we all have a penchant for the same handful of locations.
Asia is ground zero for many start-up entrepreneurs due to the low cost-of-living and high quality of life: Chiang Mai and Bangkok in Thailand, Saigon in Vietnam, Bali in Indonesia, Cebu in the Philippines are hot spots. Recently, Medellin in Colombia has become popular.
Then there are the entrepreneurs bent on cashing in on emerging markets -- places like Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Beijing and Kiev. Conferences and meet-ups are organized in places like Las Vegas, Berlin, Tokyo, Miami and Bangkok.
The price of this freedom is a social life that can be bizarre, and often lonely.
The line between business networking and friendship is a blurry one -- the handful of people on the planet who can relate to my lifestyle are also possible joint-venture partners and/or clients.
Conversation and support is therefore always a confusion of intentions.
The other strange aspect of this lifestyle is that the people I'm most connected to are those I see infrequently. I see my best friend maybe once, sometimes twice a year.
Then there are the friends you never actually see.
Sitting at the table with me in Bangkok is Jay. I attended one of Jay’s webinars a few months ago and hosted him on one of my site’s podcasts. He briefly lived in Bali with a friend of mine.
Despite “knowing” Jay for six-plus months and strategizing about our businesses regularly, I've never met him in-person until today.
Also with us is Tom -- a top-dollar online business consultant who lives in the Philippines and is now mentoring one of my good friends back home in Boston.
Tom and I and half a dozen other entrepreneurs are members of a group that hold weekly hour-long calls to discuss our businesses and our lives.
The price of freedom: loneliness
Despite speaking to Tom weekly for the better part of a year, often discussing personal matters, this is the first time I've met him in the flesh.
Yet this feels normal now.
It doesn’t occur to any of us that none of us actually know each other. We run in the same private forums and are members of the same email lists.
We’ve cut our teeth building our businesses while living in the same half dozen places around the world.
Yet we don’t know each other. There’s a simmering loneliness beneath the surface.
One successful entrepreneur, in a rare moment of vulnerability, recently wrote that he burst into tears in a small suburb in Japan watching families ride their bikes together in a park.
It struck him that this simple, mundane pleasure was something he'd never know.
Back in the conference room in Bangkok, empty agreements to meet up and hang out are made.
A pair who will be in Barcelona around the same time agree to email each other; a sub-group mulls over meeting in Berlin in spring.
For a group of people who all fight the silent battle of isolation, we sure are fickle with each other. But when you have so many opportunities before you it’s easy to avoid commitment, even to a friendship.
As I sip and sulk, it occurs to me that the New Rich, for all of our impressive values, are just as guilty of materialism as the old rich. It just takes a different form.
Instead of an addiction to status and possessions, we're addicted to experience and novelty.
The end result is the same. Our relationships, our connections to what’s important, suffer.
For the first time in three years of non-stop travel, I wish for a home.