After I finished grad school, I spent the summer in Denver, working remotely for a company in Massachusetts. I kept East Coast hours, working 7 AM – 3 PM MDT. The early end to my work day and the long hours of sunlight meant I had plenty of time to explore Colorado. I didn’t want to overly pester the one person I knew in the area, so I set out on my own most afternoons.
It was one of the fullest and most enjoyable summers of my life. I hiked parks, toured theaters, bicycled cities, explored museums, played frisbee, discovered arcades, danced contras, and more. A relative in Colorado Springs told me that I saw more of Colorado in two months than she had in twenty years.
When I returned to Boston that fall, I was eager to reconnect with my fellow recent graduates. I invited one of them to see the new Brad Pitt movie Moneyball with me. While we sat in the theater watching the trailers, I asked her if she’d seen any of our mutual friends over the summer.
“How could I, Ken?” she asked. “You’re our social coordinator, and you were gone!”
She meant it as a joke, but my shoulders slumped when I recognized the truth of what she was saying. I love sharing my adventures with friends, which makes me the instigator: I’m the one discovering activities, coordinating schedules, buying tickets, and arranging carpools. The end result is well worth it, but as my theatergoing friend implied, this emotional labor is rarely reciprocated.
The hardest thing about being a digital nomad is that I don’t have easy access to the support network I spent four decades building; I miss my friends terribly. But that disconnect also frees me to enjoy myself like I did that summer in Denver, enjoying the freedom and flexibility of self-dates. And since my energy level is high, I can fit as many such dates into one day as I can, without worrying if anyone else can keep up.
I thought this was just another day until my friend Susan pointed out how atypical it was for most people.
When I want to be alone, there are still ways to remain connected. When I do want to share an adventure, and the world is not self-isolating, there are plenty of ways to meet people in my journeys.
But by inserting geographic distance between me and my closest friends, I’ve reclaimed the energy to explore being by myself.
If you could do anything, what would you do with the time you normally spend with friends? Let me know in the comments!
(Estes Park photo by Andy Molloy)