Prague Lawblog: 262.3 Things I Learned In My First Month On Remote Year
Month 1 of Remote Year Darién in Prague is over, and I turned 25, which means I now know everything about remote work, travel and the meaning of life. And I can fit it all in a listicle.
It all started when I received a friend’s WhatsApp message of a picture of puke in my apartment’s elevator, the morning after my birthday celebration. Nine days into our year-long trip. “Thanks for the gift!”
I had no idea what it meant, but I also remembered nothing after midnight.
Remote Year assigns everyone a task: Do something nice for the person whose birthday follows yours.
1) In a group of 75 individuals, someone will be good at everything.
We have videographers, artists, comedians, entrepreneurs, writers, actors, dancers, golfers, and people who used to be able to fart with their armpit, but are washed-up scrubs (me).
When I arrived at our gorgeous Prague coworking space’s garden, a beautiful portrait of my ugly face was waiting for me (courtesy of Susan, hired by Jacqueline and Stacey), as were 20 people belting “Happy Birthday.”
I generally like a birthday burger and beer with parents or friends, some nice Facebook messages, and minimal attention.
A smile sprouted. Attention? Eh, why not?
When I was a kid, I went to one Boy Scouts meeting, and they told me to build some shit I didn’t want to build, so I cried to Daddy and called Boy Scouts dumb and never returned.
I think they teach you knots. This must be why I tie my shoelaces like a 7-year old, with bunny-ears.
When I went to college, I considered joining a frat, but hated the generalizations.
“Oh, you’re in AEPi? You must be a nice Jew! “Oh, you’re in Phi Psi? You must have lots of sex but be a douche!” “Oh, you’re in ‘Shady’ (AD) Phi? Why do you roofie girls?”
Tennis became my main sport, because it was individual. I hated how groups took on personalities and gave standardized orders to unique individuals.
Don’t tell me to be an identical cog, dickspindle. Anyone who tells me I can’t write dickspindle on the Internet should realize he’s a pubequeef.
I became a nonconformist observer, drifting, never attaching to group identities. I had solved life.
My senior year as an Economics major at Michigan, all I got were emails from banks. “Apply for our entry-level Financial Analyst job, and maybe you’ll get it!” Everyone who had been “lucky” enough to get one said they disliked it.
They were “lucky” to make $60k and live in NYC for $1,500 a month, save seven dollars a year, and have eight hours of free time a week on Saturdays to get drunk and forget the other 160 hours.
That was all doing well in school my whole life had gotten me?
So I rebelled and worked remotely as a sportswriter and editor, then freelancer. I lived at home, saved up, vomited my savings in NYC, moved to cheap Prague, then Boston.
The backdrops were different, but my life was the same.
Get up, walk to café alone, read, write, walk to other café, still alone, read, write, work out, still alone, go home, read, write, dick around, still alone, try to find people to hang out, fail; occasional, mediocre dating app dates; wait ’til the weekend, go to a bar with a couple friends, have a decent time.
Without busywork to do, check-in calls or nonsense meetings, an uber-productive day is ~6 hours of “work.” That includes reading books.
My friends were too busy or tired to hang out during the week, even most Friday nights. In NYC, Prague, Boston, equally.
It wasn’t a bad life, just humdrum. Was this really how real world social life was?
Fuck the real world.
When I heard about Remote Year, it wasn’t the 12 cities/10 countries in a year that got me. I had visited ~15 the prior year with a nice, $350/month apartment home-base in Prague. I knew $2,000 a month was a ripoff if travel was all you got.
But when you travel alone, the people you meet are passers-by. You can’t form real relationships.
$2,000 a month to meet people who foster personal and professional enrichment, and come with you, as good friends, when you move? That’s an investment.
People of all ages, professions, interests, cultures.
2) Paying to be part of an enriching community is a worthwhile investment.
The common threads are mentalities (open-mindedness, adventurousness, friendliness), not interests or personalities. It’s not your standard group.
Groucho Marx said “I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.”
I do want to belong to a group whose only common thread is being physically unable to join other groups, because they’re constantly moving.
3) Most groups stifle individuality. A group of diverse nonconformists magnifies everyone’s individuality.
Everyone complements and energizes each other.
That’s what I love about Remote Year.
My friend Jonny, from my previous year in Prague, had my towel from a trip we took. We were supposed to meet the day before I left for Belgrade, so he could give it to me. Maybe we’d get food after.
We met and went for food and reminisced and laughed for an hour. We hugged and I walked away, realizing I wouldn’t see one of my best friends, indefinitely, and I teared up.
Then I realized he forgot to give me the towel. I laughed.
I didn’t give a shit about the towel. I was glad I got an extra hour with him.
Fortunately, Prague is the only city I have existing friends in. I won’t miss my new friends, because they’re coming with me.
4) I won’t miss the cities — the monthly changes in architecture, language, food, workspaces, culture. Those are just changing backdrops, with the constant foreground of remote work and a supportive, inspiring community.
5) A month isn’t very long, especially when you’re working daily. We don’t immerse. We get a taste.
But that’s good enough for me. The main course, the community, comes with me.
Prague the first time was just like NYC or Boston; just cheaper with different scenery. Write, walk, write, walk, boredom, alone, out on weekends, repeat.
The second time, it was different.
Wake up tired/hungover, walk to workspace, say hi to ~50 people, read, write with people around, think about working out, wanna eat lunch?, skip working out, think about working out, wanna eat dinner?, I’ll work out tomorrow, think about reading, writing and sleeping, wanna go out?, go out, pass out at 2 or 3 or 6 or even 9:30am that one time.
Constant stimulus, with 75 eager people and a way to communicate to everyone (Slack channels for different activities).
More everything, exponentially. Good and bad. More good food, more unhealthiness, more fun, more sleepiness, etc.
You suggest a restaurant, a party, a trip, a tennis match — and 10 minutes later you have 10 people joining. At home, I’d ping 10 people to just do anything, and nine times out of 10, I’d get no one.
Always something to do, always a big group, always fun, always out too late. Five times a week, on average. I need to get to know everyone! I have to go out! Wait, are you the tech guy, or the designer, or the …
When I was flying solo, I was constantly understimulated. I could say yes to everything, because there weren’t many things.
With Remote Year, I was being struck with fun opportunities multiple times, daily, and it was fun.
6) But it caused a funcussion.
When I was flying solo, I never drank during weekdays, and rarely on weeknights. I realized it was a slippery slope, so I created that rule. I don’t keep beer in the house, even though I love beer.
On my birthday, one of my lunch companions kindly insisted, “Have a beer; it’s your birthday!”
Constantly understimulated, my instinct when presented with fun is: Why not? It was my catchphrase in Prague: Proč ne?
After, I whipped out my laptop to write. “Why are you working? It’s your birthday!”
I didn’t have any deadlines. I texted an old Prague friend. “Beer?”
After-lunch-beer turned into dinner beers and tartare with another group, which turned into after-dinner-beer-garden beers with another group, because, damn, 75 people is a lot of people, and they all wanted to be nice for my birthday.
So much attention. Old Prague friends heard me say “I’m not that drunk,” which turned into three free shots of my favorite christmas-flavored spirit, Becherovka.
Nobody would let me pay a single Czech crown.
I remember the final shot, embarrassing public dancing and slurring in front of new friends, a flash of vomit, and now it’s Noon the next day and this FUNCUSSION is pounding, I feel like shit.
Then I got the vomit text.
I must have been the one who puked in the elevator.
7) There’s a happy medium between understimulated loner and overstimulated member of hectic community.
All of a sudden, I’m not the only one who has energy after a day of work. With so many people, there’s someone up late, up early, working late, working early, partying, working out, doing things fun and work and healthy and unhealthy and party at all times of day and night, daily.
8) It’s a group of people who have ideas and commit to things and follow through and have a growth mindset.
I don’t want to be a loner anymore, but I want the intentionality I used to have.
I probably had a beer like 75% of the days we were in Prague. Usually closer to six beers. I was functioning fine, sure, but that’s not sustainable. No mas.
A Remote Year friend had the perfect analogy: It’s like a game of double-dutch. It’s constantly twirling, tempting you to step in.
The first month, I jumped right in and never left, hopping and hopping and it was so fun but so exhausting, and I have work to do and a liver to cleanse.
Back home, there was no double-dutch, so I was relaxed but bored.
I need to sit back and step in when I want to, then leave and recharge.
I asked a Remote Year staff member for her best piece of advice: “Take solo trips to recharge from the group.” Yes. And I’d extend that to solo and small-group days and nights, regularly.
I used to not like being controlled by environments, so I removed myself from them. But this environment is fun and inspiring and invigorating and healthy, in moderation.
The goal is to live outside of the environment, but step into the game of double-dutch regularly, for energy. But as soon as I’m worn down, step out and get some water and rest.
9) To use and shape the environment, not be controlled by it.
11) Going out of your comfort zone is a constant up-and-down bike ride — you don’t realize it, but you’re guaranteed to end up higher than when you start.
Unless you don’t stop and reflect. Otherwise you’ll take the past of least resistance, because humans are lazy. And get sucked in by the downslopes. Reflection breeds good, intentional decisions.
That’s why I wrote this stupid post.
Remote Year is a stimulus that will lift you up, if you examine all the stimuli and pick more of the good ones.
13) Remote Year a reservoir to drink from, but it can also be an ocean that sweeps you up.
I’m thirsty. I don’t need to surf.
Prague was so easy. Everywhere was going to be easy. They’re just backdrops!
I took out 20,000 dinar from the ATM when I arrived in Belgrade. $20, my math said.
My nice Lebanese dinner, plus fancy juice drink, cost $10.
I plopped ten 1,000 dinar bills on the table. “What the fuck are you doing?” My friend asked. I did the very simple math. “HOLY SHIT, I TOOK OUT $2,000!”
I was tired from traveling. “It’s $200, dude.”
Fuck, that was still a lot!
Weird cultural embarrassment is a daily occurrence while traveling. How do I open this door? Push, pull? Which way to turn the apartment key? Yogurt, or sour cream? Do I pay upfront? Do I tip? How do I make food substitutions? What if dinosaurs could talk?
17) EVERYONE IS STARING AT ME AND KNOWS I’M A DUMB AMERICAN.
I can’t figure out janky Serbian Uber (Car:Go). The guy was on my street and I wandered for 15 minutes and couldn’t find him and had to cancel and get a new car. I was 30 minutes late for a birthday dinner.
Wait, that $200 will last all month. Things are so cheap.
My next Car:Go driver was so nice he helped me find the elusive restaurant, gave me his card and city recommendations.
My apartment is further from the center than anyone, and I’ve had to walk home alone at 3am twice, for 40 minutes.
It’s a beautiful, safe walk. I love to walk.
In Hungary, prices are in forint, abbreviated ft.
We passed a buffet. The sign said BUFFET: 2,750 ft.
“That must be the world’s tallest buffet!” my friend quipped.
37) The little things never stop. But you adjust to their pervasiveness quickly, and they go from frustrating to funny. They’re a constant part of the fun.
The travel is cool, but it’s not revolutionary. The community is.
More work is becoming remote, but it’s lonely. Remote workers need a community of people who have time for fun and growth. They don’t need to travel, but travel is possible and stimulating and cool.
I still don’t really know anyone. Even when you get beyond small-talk, you just see a piece of a lifetime jigsaw puzzle. It’s overwhelming. But exciting.
We’re 1/12th through. There will be ups and downs and this will all change. I’m already realizing life in Belgrade, while great, takes more of an adjustment than Prague. I’m eager for South America.
Check the Instagrams. It’s all beautiful buildings and sunsets and food and drinks and singing.
All regular occurrences.
So is making calls at 9pm, working all day, and night for some. Of course, nobody shows the bad stuff.
I’ve talked to a few people who briefly complained about a late work call, then caught themselves. “What’s the alternative?”
49) I’ve maybe heard two negative sentences in a month of talking to 70+ people.
For me, adjusting to #DigitalNomad-ism was easy. I’ve been working remotely for three years. You experiment, fail a bit, iterate, make a routine, update when necessary. Block off time, figure out your focus triggers, plan, reflect.
But not getting a FUNCUSSION? I’ll need another month or two to build my helmet.
I have no idea what the happy medium is.
159) Moving places every month doesn’t impact my productivity or happiness.
Being around 74 energetic people makes me happier and busier, but when I don’t rein it in, the hangover ruins everything.
That’s on me to figure out.
262.3) Stop being tired and/or hungover.
I wrote this two days ago, so I was gonna go to bed reasonably early last night. I wound up at an all-night party in a parking lot until 4:30am and now I’m tired.
It’s Saturday. I don’t regret it.
I haven’t found the happy medium yet.