Location, Location, Location
Some thoughts on the importance of "where you are".
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In sociology, the third place refers to the social surroundings that are separate from the two usual social environments of home ("first place") and the workplace ("second place").
Third places have historically been churches, cafes, libraries, bars, parks, gyms, and any other places that you could exchange handshakes, hugs, and daps that transition to hugs accompanied by a happy-to-see-you "What's up dude!" with others.
These third places provide public outlets away from work and home where folks can congregate to tell stories and exchange laughs. They facilitate serendipitous encounters between future romantic couples, business partners, and lifelong friends. They represent both the comfort of routine and the excitement of the unknown.
For thousands of years, from forums and bathhouses in the Roman Empire to speakeasies in the Prohibition-era United States, third places formed the cornerstones of our communities.
And then Covid-19 happened.
Covid (at least temporarily) killed both second and third places. Depending on where you lived, you dealt with a year of business closures, travel restrictions, and a million Zoom calls from your living room table. The local watering holes went dry, church doors closed, and everyone operated in their own weird little digital bubbles.
However, as we entered a post-pandemic world, society experienced a paradigm shift. While businesses reopened and travel restrictions were lifted, no one really wanted to return to the office. And no one had to return to the office. Workers had a lot of leverage, workers had grown accustomed to working from home, and workers had no intentions of switching out their sweatpants for slacks.
"Work-from-home" quickly became "work-from-anywhere" as travel restrictions were lifted while remote work stuck around. A new generation of digital nomads took to the roads and the skies, booking month-long Airbnbs to "work" from places that had previously only been dream destinations.
Travel, which had once been relegated to weekend trips, 2-4 weeks of paid vacation, and the rare break between jobs, could now be an ever-present part of the white collar worker's life.
Want to visit friends in Denver for a few days? Bring your laptop and fly out for a week. Lake trip with friends, but you're out of vacation days? Ensure that the lake house has wifi, and do your thing.
While the "digital nomad" lifestyle has existed on the fringes of the internet for the last ~20 years, the work-from-home revolution now made this a possibility for the broader labor force.
When I still had my old gig as a financial analyst, I visited friends in DC, NYC, and Pittsburgh for weeks at a time without taking any notable vacation days. While I was traveling last year, I encountered dozens of folks who had taken their work-from-home global.
I met one of my now best friends, Mike Slavei, at a hostel in Lagos, Portugal last summer. He was working remotely for Standard & Poor's, and he was living in an Airbnb in Lisbon. Perry, one of my hostel roommates in Budapest, was hopping all over Eastern Europe working weird hours for a west coast tech company. The dude would take Zoom calls in the corner of the lobby at 10 PM before hitting the pub crawl with us immediately afterwards. Buenos Aires was a dream destination for US-based remote workers thanks to its favorable time zone and cheap cost of living.
Anyone with a passport and a wifi connection could work from anywhere on the planet. How wild is that?
And you would think, finally free from both the Covid restrictions of 2020 and the shackles of cubicles and traffic that were previously the norm, most workers, especially those without school-aged children, would take full-advantage of the global opportunities offered by the normalization of work-from-home.
I certainly thought about it. There was a time, around February of this year, where I was thinking, "Man, I could really do this travel lifestyle for a few years."
I had no dependents, no responsibilities. Cheap flight to Australia? Why not go kick it with some kangaroos for a few months. Weather is getting cold in the US? Head to Colombia or Peru for a while. Want to see 20 countries in three months? The Eurail pass is enticing.
And this idea of nonstop adventure, of never "settling down", of turning every second of every day into its own little adventure, is seductive. And frankly, it *could* be a reality for anyone that works remote.
But the vagabonding lifestyle comes with a cost: you are sacrificing a sense of community for a sense of adventure.
Don't get me wrong, there are few joys greater than exchanging stories over drinks with strangers in a foreign land, and few experiences are sweeter than the moment that a fellow traveler becomes a lifelong friend.
But these joys quickly grow tedious when life becomes a Groundhog Day of exchanging shallow introductions week after week, city after city. A perpetual state of hellos and goodbyes. It's the friendship equivalent of relying on an incessant cycle of one night stands for the entirety of one's romantic relationships. The volume may be high, but the depth is nonexistent.
For me (and for many other people), the response to a year of Covid-living was to get out and see the world. After having our freedoms and ability to travel stripped away, the only logical decision was to pursue that which had been taken from us to the fullest extent.
But it wasn't *just* the right to travel abroad that we missed. It was the right to congregate 10 minutes from our homes too. What we missed was the presence of "third places."
Since moving to New York, I have realized just how important a good community is.
From a professional standpoint, New York has allowed me to meet dozens of interesting folks across the fields of finance and media. Yeah, remote work and Zoom calls are great, but you can't replace the chemistry built by actually hanging out with others in person. From a personal standpoint, I have exchanged making new friends every week with building stronger friendships.
And it's not just the international vagabonds who grow tired of travel for travel's sake. There is a reason that, despite their ability to live and work from anywhere in the US, and despite the lower cost of living in smaller towns, most remote workers remain in their cities.
The reason is that community matters.
The "idea" of permanent remote work is intoxicating. The ability to work from anywhere at anytime is certainly a plus. But we are social creatures who long to be part of a tribe, and if the pandemic showed us anything, it was just how important one's tribe really is.
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