Why Location Independence, Passive Income, and Entrepreneurship Won’t Solve Any of Your Problems

by Alexander Heyne · 12 comments

If you think living anywhere and being your own boss / badass entrepreneur will solve most of your problems, you’re in for a rude awakening.

You see, at the start I was like everyone else.

I read the 4 Hour Work Week, I started blogging, I got obsessed with location independence. I thought “how sick would it to be to live in a new country every few years, learn some languages, do whatever the hell I want.”  (Side note: I’m still doing the move to a couple countries thing: Current = China, then ==> Spain )

I thought it’d be a panacea. I figured I was tired of the jobs I was working, I wanted to get out, and what better thing than to work and travel, right?

Wrong.

In fact, there are big problems with being location independent.  One of the biggest ones being this:

“If you’re already a lost 20 something and your business permits you to live anywhere (and you don’t have a home base) you’re just going to get more lost.”

I can tell you that honest-to-God from experience.

In the past few years I’ve been living all over the world.  Yeah it’s sweet, except for the part where I tell people I have zero long-term friends, only a few really close friends (who almost never live in the same country as me), and I’m constantly plagued by the feeling of never feeling at home anywhere.

Seriously — if you’re already lost in life, think about this.

Unless you’ve got some home base (probably your parents’ place or where you got your first job), traveling the world indefinitely is really gonna screw you up in the head.

One of my closest friends is the son of a very wealthy businessman who travels all over the world weekly. He has places in multiple countries, drives an R8 (jealous…..), is divorced (so he can basically do whatever), and loves to party.

After a couple years of doing the work he was doing, bouncing all over and occasionally staying at one of his other pads, he started getting this ghostly whirlwind feeling where he couldn’t figure out where the hell he was supposed to be.

He had everything materially, but he was lost.

So he sought out the help of a psychiatrist, and here’s what he was told: “Set some roots.”

It’s like in business: if everyone is your audience, no one is.

In long-term travel and moving, if you can live anywhere, nowhere feels like home — unless you set roots.

So, the first problem with location independent businesses/working is that unless you have an anchor, a home base, some roots, it’s easy to find yourself getting lost.

I’m here to propose that you probably don’t want location independence, passive income, and being an entrepreneur like you think you do.

Instead, you want three specific experiences constantly present in your life, which may or may not come  through those three qualities just mentioned, which are: freedom, [meaningful] work not minimal work and perceived control/excitement. 

Freedom: I’m FREEEEEE! Now what?

I think that the bottom line for most of us is that we want F R E E D O M.

We want freedom from location (location independence) so that we can live in spain, mexico, the united states, china, hawaii, the philippines.

I want to be able to take vacations wherever we want, whenever we want.

I want to be able to get up at 8 am to work, or 11 am if I stayed out later than usual the night before.

I want to be able to take a siesta from 2-5 pm during the summer, wake up, go to a nice outdoor cafe in Paris or Barcelona or New York (wherever I’m living), and then do business through my computer while drinking an espresso.

It’s all possible. And freedom is what most of us crave through entrepreneurship and location independence.

But you need to ask yourself if location independence really solves the freedom problem.

Maybe you can live anywhere because your computer is your office, but if you’re working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, you’re pretty much bogged down wherever you are. You don’t even have a bloody chance at “freedom.”

You need to zoom out and play a bigger game – ask yourself why until it hurts. Why do I want freedom, what am I going to do with the freedom, and are there any other ways to enjoy the same freedom?

Freedom like anything else is just a tool — money buys freedom, but you only live a worthwhile existence by how you use that freedom and newfound time.

Work: Why working 4 hours a week really sucks

“A man without a job is a man without a purpose”

There’s only one problem with working 4 hours a week (assuming you took the title literally).

What the hell do you do with the rest of the time?

Work – whether you do it 4 hours a week or 40 hours a week – is rarely enjoyable unless the work is fulfilling and speaks to some core desire within you.

The emphasis should not be on your work, it’s quality or quantity, but should be on that one aspect I just mentioned: if it feels meaningful.

Does it feel like what you do 8 hours a day is freaking worth it?

If it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter how many hours you work, you’re just going to constantly ask yourself what the hell you are doing with your life.

The essence of this problem is that many of us have separated earning money from meaning. We’ve put them into two different categories.

Earn money.

Do what’s meaningful.

9-5 earn money.

5-9 do what’s meaningful.

9-5 slave

5-9 enjoy

What I’m trying to say is that you shouldn’t focus on what you don’t want about work – the location, the amount of work, or the position you’re in.

Focus on what you do want:  work that feels like you fully utilize your skills, you’re constantly challenged, you have fun, and you think is worthwhile.

Michael Ellsberg talked a lot about the truth of passive income (especially the split between meaning & work) in a recent Forbes article:

Regarding people who make basic micro-businesses they don’t care about for passive income:

Yet none of these people I’ve talked to who have this temporarily successful lifestyle seem very happy. They actually seem kind of restless and lost. I’ve had conversations with several of them to help them determine “what the purpose of their life is” now that they have some amount of money coming in from some little passive venture they don’t even care about that much. It all feels empty to them.

This is the basic mistake they’ve made: they’ve fallen prey to the belief that money and meaning are two totally separate things. They’ve chosen to make their money from something that feels completely meaningless to them (some business they care so little about, they just can’t wait to get away from it and minimize their involvement as much as possible), which they hope will buy them the freedom to do something they actually care about.

From a Forbes article:  “The Top 4 Reasons Why Passive Income is a Dangerous Fantasy.”

Passive income or not.

4 hours or 40 a week.

Location independent or not.

Let *meaning* drive your work motivation.

Control/Excitement: So what do you actually want?

Young people hate the question: “What do you want to do with your life?” as much as Tim Ferriss hates the “So, what do you do for a living?” question.

Why?

I mean, obviously if we knew the answer we wouldn’t get pissed off at the question, right? And I think that perfectly sums out why we hate it so much: most of us have absolutely no idea what to do.

We’re are supposed to find a career, pursue our dreams, travel, go to grad school, fall in love, have our head straight, have a 10 year plan, and be leaders of our generation.

I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot to keep track of.

In other words, it’s easy to get sidetracked.

So what do young people actually want from life?

I think the reason why entrepreneurship has become so attractive to youth these days is that (aside from working jobs we hate) we really like the idea of the freedom and adventure associated with doing something on our own.

It’s pretty sweet in theory – start a business about anything, make all the shots, and potentially be much wealthier than working for someone else.

Our love of entrepreneurship also ironically comes down to one word: control.

Control (or rather, perceived control) is what gives life structure, predictability, safety, and comfort.

And of course it’s hard to feel in control if life is constantly giving you novel situations and things you potentially don’t want.

So what do we want?

Work

What do 20 somethings want from work?

Statistics from Michigan State Research:

So we want interesting work. Not surprising. Seeing as most of us end up doing horrendously boring work that is about as useful as a poo-flavored lollipop.

What if we asked more generally: what is an ideal job for a 20 something, versus a job from hell.

Ideal job

  • Doing something that matters
  • Makes you feel good
  • Still leaves free time to do other things
  • Potentially involves traveling
  • Skills feel used, you feel is worthwhile
  • Pays well with potential for promotions, etc.
  • Freedom
Job From Hell
  • The same.. thing.. every.. goddamn.. day..
  • Requires no skill
  • Worthless, pointless, nothing to learn
  • Work you could care less about
  • Paying just enough money that you are too afraid to quit
  • Bitched at by other people / hovering she-bitch boss

Life

Even just a google search of “What do young people want?” comes up with results as varied as the following:

  • Shortcuts to fame and money
  • Leisure
  • Popularity
  • Success with little or no work
  • An easy life
  • Newness, excitement
  • Differentiating oneself, finding a job, leaving home
  • Truth
  • A Career
  • New experiences
  • Change
  • Figuring out self-identity
  • Differentiation – to feel different and special
  • High achievement – elite athlete, a movie star, CEO

The problem is that once many of us hit the real world we become disillusioned.

Becoming disillusioned is what happens when you say to yourself: “This is not what I expected. Now what do I do?”

That’s what happens when you realize that being an elite athlete, a movie star, or CEO actually takes work. A lot of work. And the path isn’t even remotely straight.

That’s the point where we lose perceived control and think “Shit, what now?”

————————-

Well, what do we want?

Do we want fame?

Do we want money?

Do we want to work our 4 hour work weeks?

Do we want to be able to live and work anywhere?

Do we want excitement?

Do we want to experience the world?

Do we want to establish ourselves in a career?

Do we want to know the plan for the next 20 years of our life?

Leaving aside generic human wants for a moment, what is time-specific and unique about us?

Many of us young people don’t have families, so we have freedom to move and drop it all and go.

Many of us want to experiment and experience a lot before we are “stuck” into our career or raise a family.

And many of us just want straight-up adventure.

In a nutshell I propose we have 2 big desires: we want two things. Meaning and adventure. It’s like Viktor Frankl and Tim Ferriss had a love child. 

Whether that’s career options or travel options or adrenaline-rush options – we want variety – but we want it to feel worthwhile and exciting.

That’s why the “What’s your ten-year plan”  question mortifies us. Hell if I know! If I feel like it, I’ll quit my job and move to new zealand and go sky diving tomorrow.

I think meaning and adventure are pretty much the reasons why the #1 response I get when I ask people my age: “So if you could do anything and had millions in the bank, what would you do?” starts with “ummmm” and ends in “travel the world.”

Swear to god. Quote me on this: go into a bar full of corporate 20 somethings and ask them. “Travel” shows up in >90% of the responses.

But do young people actually want just travel? I mean, travel is great. But I think travel represents something else – it represents a period of time where life is fresh, an adventure, there are things to learn, challenges, dangers, variety, excitement.

I propose we – this new lost generation - want 3 main things from life, whether or not we know it, which are emotional experiences rather than situations or specific circumstances.

The 3 qualities of optimal circumstance

So next time you think “location independence” will make you feel free, ask yourself what you want the freedom for. Do you really need to be able to live anywhere to do those things?

You want freedom, not location independence.

Next time you think 4 hours of work a week will solve your work problem, ask yourself how bad your work sucks. Does it feel meaningful like what you’re doing is worthwhile? If not, how can you fix that? Does less really fix the problem or does it just make it less obvious?

You want meaningful work and feeling like your time has mattered, not a 4 hour work week.

Next time you think being your own boss working on the projects you choose will solve the other half of your “I-hate-my-work” work problem, ask yourself if that’s true.

You want control and a life / work situation full of adventure, not necessarily being the boss and running the show.

Choose your own adventure

Once upon a time I thought that sitting outside a nice cafe doing work in Barcelona one week, Paris another, and New York still another would solve some of my hatred for work and the jobs I’ve worked.

It’d be fun, adventurous, happy, conversation-worthy, epic, and overall the exact opposite of how work is for most of us. It’d be worthwhile.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it may not solve all of my problems, and the same may be true for you.

Just because you want freedom doesn’t mean you need to be location independent.

Just because you want less of work you hate doesn’t mean to need to work your 4 hour work week.

And just because you’re tired of slavin’ for the man and doing suck-ass work doesn’t mean you need to become the boss and do it all yourself.

You just need to sit down one day and instead of asking yourself “What does my ideal day go like?” ask yourself this:

What does my ideal day feel like?  

“Success is doing what you want to do, when you want, where you want, with whom you want, as much as you want.”

~ Tony Robbins

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah May 14, 2012 at 10:28 pm

Amen – love that you ended with the ideal day exercise. That was one of the crucial ones for me in figuring out “what next” (also known as the journey from from wanting “location independence” to figuring out what I actually want.)

I think freedom (for me!) definitely involves not only freedom to move around, but also freedom to work/live in a more organic way. I don’t mind most of the work I do at my 9-5… it sometimes satisfies the conditions of being meaningful, and some of it is actually quite interesting… but being forced to do it Monday through Friday between the hours of 9 and 5 day after day after day is particularly odious. It doesn’t take any account of cycles or rhythms and it absolutely beats creativity over the head with a blunt ax. (side note: Amber Rae had a great post recently about letting your body dictate your day.)

Anyway, just my two cents. Thanks for some great food for thought!

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afheyne May 16, 2012 at 11:05 pm

Sarah –

Yeah I totally agree! For awhile I thought location independence was the shit and a total cure-all, and even though I’m still going that route (mostly for travel/language learning reasons), I have a clearer idea of what I actually want from it.

Like you said, making your own hours is one of the better reasons to have your own biz/work from the internet.

How has your experiment with creativity been going? I remember we had this discussion on trying to write when you were only inspired, but sometimes that doesn’t come as often as you need it to. Any updates and experiments on that?

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Sarah May 17, 2012 at 9:22 am

Hmm.. somewhat. I’m starting to notice that unless I’m just completely exhausted and overwhelmed, I pretty much want to be writing 24/7… so the interesting thing is that chaining myself to a chair at a specific time starts to look not so much like a torture device and more like a really hot date. Have I actually managed to do this? No, but I’m definitely planning some interesting experiments when I get to Taos. It’s nice because I’ll have a lot of time to try different ways of working – I’m currently in the process of crafting the experiments. I will definitely keep you posted!

Brasilicana May 15, 2012 at 7:33 am

Alex, this is brilliant!

I think a lot of people don’t have a clear “reason why” – the bigger goal behind their passive/online income efforts. They they want the tool but they don’t know what they want to use it for. It’s harder for these people to be successful in generating their income/freedom/whatever because they don’t have a strong driving force behind it.

Although I’m technically location-independent, I’m “planted” in Brazil for the near future. Not as nice as it sounds when you have to work a lot, though :-/
Currently I’m in the quandary of:
Job #1 – Pays well, but I don’t find it meaningful. Location-independent.
Job #2 – Meaningful, but pays crap (which makes me like it less). Not location-independent.
Side hustle – Meaningful, but not making money… yet.

Trying to decide if I should quit Job 2 and ramp up my hours at Job 1 until I get the side hustle off the ground…

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Steve Rice May 15, 2012 at 7:55 pm

LOVED this post, my friend! So well-thought out and executed.

The quality of our lives often lies in the quality of the questions we ask ourselves. The one you ask at the end is right-on! “What do you want your ideal day to *feel* like?”

Great stuff! (off to share!)

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Yusef August 18, 2013 at 7:21 pm

This post is dead on and I shared on facebook. It makes so much sense when you look at it from how you want your job and life to feel. For me, the description of meaningful and exciting and with feelings of personal growth ect. I think this is the difference between how I had always pictured a “9 to 5″, which is awful, and a job that would feel more like a video game. Like a really good RPG. Yes I have many other passions like music and art, but my job doesn’t necessarily have to be those. There are many other experiences to be had that will also make me feel very alive. Way more alive than what I image traveling aimlessly would be like.

Great post!

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Alexander Heyne August 19, 2013 at 4:26 pm

Thanks Yusef!

Yeah, honestly I did the whole long term travel thing and it made me feel just as listless as if I were sitting at home – but with new scenery. I think it’s important to think what you as an individual really want, and then go for it.

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Michael Rooney April 6, 2014 at 2:19 am

Hey there, thanks for writing this (and other) really thoughtful and deeply introspective posts! I wanted to share two observations from my own experience as a part-time traveling freelancer.

First, I think your points that location independence and a four hour workweek, etc, won’t magically solve your problems are valid, but I also simultaneously think working towards them is useful so you can *realize that*. People like us who have had plenty of time to experiment and reflect can see more clearly that the answer isn’t rearranging external circumstances, and instead internal ones, but that’s an important realization to arrive at and I think it is important to discover for oneself. That’s really hard to do working 40 hours a week without enough time to even get what you thought would make you happy and realize it wasn’t that simple.

I also would totally disagree with the “you can’t separate money from meaning” philosophy (does that imply money *is* meaning? gross ;) and that you’ll be unhappy doing a small amount of work you don’t find meaningful. I’d argue it is dramatically easier to find meaningful and impactful *volunteer* opportunities, and that having passive income or a 4-8 workweek that you do just to “pay the bills” so you can spend 30+ hours volunteering is a fantastically beneficial and satisfying way to live. I’d propose that a lot of people fail at this because they want to reduce their 40h WW because they don’t find it meaningful, but never find something meaningful to fill that new time with. Maybe you’ll find an awesome company that will pay for a great cause or something you are really into, but again, I think you can find even better causes (the organizations that can’t afford to pay because they aren’t profiting are perhaps the ones that need help the most) and do more meaningful things when you aren’t trying to extract money from them. Imagine for example the difference between trying to scrape by as a yoga teacher versus working ~8 hours a week as a freelancer and teaching *free* yoga classes in parks. Which one is going to touch and inspire people more? Just some thoughts :)

I think you could just as validly flip this post’s title around: “Why Location Independence, Passive Income, and Entrepreneurship Will Help You Gain Insight And Take the Next Steps to True Happiness”.

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Alexander Heyne April 8, 2014 at 5:52 pm

“People like us who have had plenty of time to experiment and reflect can see more clearly that the answer isn’t rearranging external circumstances, and instead internal ones, but that’s an important realization to arrive at and I think it is important to discover for oneself. That’s really hard to do working 40 hours a week without enough time to even get what you thought would make you happy and realize it wasn’t that simple.”

Great point! No disagreement there.

“I’d argue it is dramatically easier to find meaningful and impactful *volunteer* opportunities, and that having passive income or a 4-8 workweek that you do just to “pay the bills” so you can spend 30+ hours volunteering is a fantastically beneficial and satisfying way to live”

Totally! And I think you’re spot on when you said people often free up time and are like “what now?” That can drive some people insane. At the end of the day, we all have to learn for ourselves – and that rarely comes via thinking, and instead comes via direct experience.

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Joann June 11, 2014 at 9:31 pm

I love this post!
These past few days I find myself thinking deeply if I really wanted a location independent life. I mean, yeah I love to travel but I also crave for the comfort of a home, my roots. Someone once told me that traveling frequently can burn you out so it’s really, really important to have a homebase.

In the hype of location independence, many people (including me) are disillusioned that it’s the panacea that we’ve been looking for. But then, it’s really not.

Looking forward fore more of this post :)

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Alexander Heyne June 13, 2014 at 11:04 am

Definitely wasn’t for me Joann :-). honestly, I like working, but only on something I care about. So for me it was more about finding meaningful work than traveling 180 days a year. Now I live a little of both – work on stuff I love, and I think I like traveling about 6 weeks a year.

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