The art of balancing work, life and travel as a digital nomad

There are two truths you need to know about me:

  1. I cannot cycle.
  2. I’m a night owl.

I’ve been in Eugene, Oregon for over two months now and given the timezone differences between Oregon and Interlaken (where my company’s headquarters are), I’ve had to get up a lot earlier than I’m used to. This is what I wish my days look like:

6am – Get-up, meditate, have coffee, have breakfast

6.30am – 9am – Meetings with HQ

9am – 12pm – Work

12pm – 1pm – Lunch

1pm – 3pm – Work

3pm onwards – Free time

10am – Bed

But because I’m a night owl, the first week I spent trying to follow the schedule above was a struggle. I struggled to wake up at 6. My meetings were shit because I was half asleep and couldn’t concentrate. I regularly went off tangent like a senile person when proposing or commenting on ideas. I struggled to stay awake during the day because I was exhausted from the lack of sleep. I stayed up late because I wasn’t productive during the day. I was grumpy because I was tired, and I was angry and anxious because I wasn’t producing my best work.

After breaking down in tears one afternoon, cold sores breaking out on my lips and my acne flaring up, I decided – fuck it.

I was never a morning person and tormenting myself into becoming one was driving me nuts, making me resent people in Interlaken for organising meetings at such god-awful hours (it’s not their fault, really) and taking it out on people close to me. Especially the cheerful, chirpy ones. Ugh.

I started waking up just in time for my meetings, mostly 15 minutes before which was enough for me brush my teeth, do a few jumping jacks and make coffee. Who cares if I had my meetings in my pyjamas? The cameras were off!

I’d have my morning meetings and depending on how I felt, I’d either go back to bed or stay awake. If I felt tired in the day, I stopped beating myself up for it and just took a nap.

If work couldn’t be done in 8 hours, too bad. There’s always tomorrow.

I made sure to eat and have snacks around.

I made myself nice drinks or went out to Townshend’s Teahouse for Lavender Bubble Tea (my new found love).

I took breaks and went for walks with my sister and her friends.

I made plans for road trips on the weekends.

A couple of months ago, I was down in the dumps and admitting how shitty I felt was like lifting a burden off my chest. Three weeks later, I was back there again. I spent a good 15 minutes crying on a bench one evening, part of me feeling like absolute horse shit and the other half of my wondering what’s wrong.

Today, I know that functioning on little sleep was what’s wrong. 

Looking at the first draft of this post, I can’t believe how upset I was, all because I wanted to become this morning person who has her shit together and meditates and is full of energy. I’ve never been that person, ever. I don’t know what possessed me to become one now.

On the outside, travelling and working full-time seems like a dream but as someone who voluntarily works late into the night because I’m “in the zone”, balance can seem like an alternate reality that doesn’t exist.

Somewhere in between weekend road trips, working and crying, my sister, her friend Jeff and I found time to head to a nearby parking lot with her overweight bike. I got some wobbly time on that two-wheeled gizmo.

It was my fourth time on a bike in the last 2 years, which is more than I’ve done in my entire life. With the help of at least two people, I can more or less cycle straight. I don’t know how to start, stop or turn so don’t even try explaining bicycle gears to me, it genuinely means nothing to me at this point in my life.

Since none of us had ever taught an adult how to cycle, we quickly looked up a YouTube tutorial on “How to teach an adult to cycle”. It told me to adjust the bike such that my short legs could still touch the floor and I could use my feet to push myself forward and find my balance.

In no time, I began sweating and giggling. I looked stupid and the situation was funny. In between Sash and Jeff taking turns to cheer me on Oh my god you’re doing a great job! and So much progress!, while whispering to each other Oh my god she’s hopeless and We’re gonna be here forever, I found 4 seconds of actually balancing on the bike… before losing it and jumping/falling off the bike.

That night, my arms hurt from dragging/carrying/holding up the bike so it wouldn’t fall on me, my crotch hurt because the bike was too tall and it was difficult to do what the British lady on YouTube told me to do, my legs were wobbly and I found a bruise on the inside of my thigh.

(The last time I tried cycling I ended up with a tennis-ball-sized bruise on my calf.)

It’s been two weeks since I was on a bicycle and two weeks since I’ve majorly fucked up at work or was reduced to a sobbing mess. Though thinking about it now makes me tear up a little.

Today, I’m feeling a little better, a little more “balanced” as some might say. But I don’t want to jinx it. I don’t want to make bold claims about how I’ve solved everything and my life is perfect again.

Instead, I’ve learnt that this life I have is uniquely mine and only I will know what balance feels like and what feels right for me. (Kinda like cycling, except the part where everyone has figured it out and don’t you pretend you’ve got your shit figured out, Angela). I’ve learnt that it requires a lot more discipline than I anticipated, which is something I can most definitely work on.

To stay sane, I will also need to carve out more creative time to sing to Disney songs, to play with makeup, to conjure up curry recipes or to write. Maybe a walk in the park or a dip in the river too.

The biggest lesson learnt is this: I need to give my best to enjoy the ride. If that means getting a giant bruise on my leg every now and then, it’s worth it for those 4 seconds of blissful balance.