I’m sitting cross-legged on the floor of my office in Austin, TX, wedged between a bolster and a hard place. It’s a customer’s personal Pilates studio.
The night before, I was holed up in my Chicago office, curled up on a futon in a brownstone owned by couple who had seen the DVD my movie about cycling 2,400 miles along Route 66 last year. They invited me to come stay in their home.
The night before that, I was in my groovy Manhattan office, using the south-east corner of my host’s gargantuan Design Within Reach desk overlooking the ornamental stove.
I lease ‘offices’ like this all over the country. They’re located wherever I’m invited to lay my bicycle helmet and plug in my 12″ Powerbook.
The rent I pay for 15 minutes upwards of use is usually my cheery company, or a healthy diet if they can stand my wholemealier-than-thou cooking.
A wi-fi connection is the only mandatory, but my Crackberry often bridges the gaps when there isn’t the luxury of a wanton linksys loitering in the ‘hood.
I called it my Galacrossamerica Transcontinental Telecommute.
Before accepting the position with Bike Friday, I’d managed to travel the world for 7 years as a vagabond, living in 4 countries while popping in and out of professional and no-collar jobs in order to fund such a nomadic existence. I’d turned down high paying jobs in advertising to experience complicated operations research positions like waitressing (I was fired after three weeks, but came away with some valuable dents in my ego).
After motion became a static routine, I started thinking, is there a way I can maintain this adventurous life, yet hold down a full time professional job with all the relative kudos, career path and stability that comes with it? It would be nice to know with certainty where my next meal is coming from …
Welcome to my 24/7 seamless worklife – note the absence of the ‘/’.
Within a few weeks of swapping my bicycle saddle for a swivel chair in ‘merica I started getting antsy. Wondering if there was a better contribution I could make than saying ‘and how would you like to pay for that?’ To hang onto my livelihood, but see more of the country, get closer to customers, know them, carouse with them, report from where they live their daily lives – within the confines of a modest fixed salary.
A modest salary rules out staying in expensive an impersonal hotels. In the well-meaning bicycle industry, almost everyone except Lance needs some alternative shtick to buy their organic booty from WholePaycheck Market. (BTW, it always amazes me how hotels flourish that ‘your home away from home’ card – hotels prosper in societies like ours because of ‘mi casa es mi casa’).
I realized there was only one way to achieve this change of duty statement: work 24/7, and never take vacations.
How to do this and not wind up on substance abuse?
First, one must simplify.
The separation between friend and client had to go.
Having two of any one thing, like two personas, one for work and one for ‘home’, is way too hard to manage.
So I made my clients my friends, and vice versa.
This is fairly easy – just make sure that whatever comes out of your mouth is authentic and honest and you’ll find no difference between how friends and clients interact with you.
If you don’t find that easy, go do the Landmark Forum or some other brainwashing course – as someone once told me, ‘my brain’s got so much s*** on it needs a bit of a wash.’ Nothing like a dose of pop therapy now and then to remind you to be a human being, not a human doing. Especially when people tell me, ‘In America, we pay money to do courses on how to be honest.’
Managing two ‘homes’ is also too hard.
On a limited budget you can’t be paying for an empty room a frequent flyer trip away, and the place where you are currently loitering.
So I made my permanent address the company offices in Eugene, Oregon, and stashed some stuff in the attic and at a tolerant friend’s house.
Occasionally some loyalty card vendor will run a check and tell me my address is not a home address, as if you can’t be ‘home’ on the long and potholed road. So much for putting Kerouac on a plinth.
I was prepared to lavish the modest rent money I’d saved on my hosts, so as not to leave a ‘hole’. This is the difference between homestaying and freeloading, an important distinction. Time and energy, however, I now had in vast quantities to lavish on people, places, opportunities.
When I let people know of my intention I was surprised by a generous first round of offers. Most said ‘we don’t need your money, just come’, which helps to keep me on the road. I’ve since been ‘adopted’ at all levels – from being a surrogate daughter for weeks at a time in several homes, to looking like becoming an unwelcome third wheel of a bicycle at others. The latter situation begs awareness rather than cautiousness, knowing when to graciously pedal onwards. My manifesto has been carefully worded to try and avoid the latter happening, but I welcome whatever life throws at me, as I always take something useful away.
What can I offer?
By being this close to people living their lives, I can see how our customers really operate. Did I say customers? Friends. I can accompany them in their lives, see how they use our product, encourage, record and share their experiences. I am an consummate networker just by virtue of being out in the world, not in a glazed tower on the 42nd floor looking out at how the other 1% live. I’m can be one of the 99%, parked anywhere between the gutter and a 5 bedroom summer home in the Hamptons (and what a trip that was, thank you Hilge). I am deeply interested in how people deal with the millions of little decisions in their lives, punctuated by the occasional big decision.
As an impartial listener of joys and woes, I can apply lessons from that listening to my own life and the lives of others, if requested. I can be a catalyst for change at the 1:1 level, leaving the mass messaging approach to those more comfortable – and expert – at the mass marketing level. Confidentiality? As you wish. This life has helped me understand, and be understood, like and be liked, love and be loved, in a way that transcends the usual confines of traditional work and personal relationships. My customers – friends – might buy another one of our bicycles, or get their friends on one, but that’s not the point. It’s not about the product. The product is just a dot in a bigger arena, that called living large.
I once joked on my blog that I’ve taken marketing to the nth degree, where no textbook or marketing course dares to go. That I’ll know I’ve gone too far when someone writes me into their will. Someone responded with, “Lynette, I’m writing you into my will.” I think they’re leaving me their bicycle bell. Cool!
But why the hell would anyone want do what I do?
You probably wouldn’t. I don’t advocate this as a way of life, though if some of us could go part of the way, life – at least your working life – might feel a little different. I am a woman in her forties who lives paycheck to oh, every second paycheck if I’m not extravagant, with no ties, so I am available to simply be available to people.
My counterpart on this Work/Life blog is a father with a family, and will resonate with the majority who have a partner and/or kids. I hope I can resonate with an acutely ignored segment of the population – families of one. Google tells me there’s 86 million of us and even a website monitoring our work-life concerns.
I’ll be reporting from the road, somewhere between a wild campsite and the jacuzzi in a Trump Tower (it happens).
Thank you for reading my introductory post. I look forward to cyber-homestaying with you in my 24/7 work life.