In our last FIGT focus blog on careers, member Doreen Cumberford shares the various perspectives gained from decades of working abroad.
By Doreen Cumberford
The last two years have revealed fast-moving trends in the field of global careers. Covid-19 has transformed our globe in so many ways and careers have become more portable, flexible and transferable. Careers also deliver a combination of hindsight, foresight and insight.
The globally mobile lifestyle offers so much variety, novelty and complexity that this challenges our old ideas and mindset that a person needs to have a consistently focused decades long career. Careers are transforming as fast as or faster than humans. Modern careers are required to span geography, decades, and cultures. Yet institutions, governments and missions rely on stable personnel to deliver consistent productivity along the way. Technology has created a career revolution. When a two-career family or partnership is involved, the level of complexity grows exponentially.
There is a story where someone asks a wise man, “Tell me sir, in which field could I make a great career?”, to which he answered,
“Be a great human being. There is a lot of opportunity in that area and very little competition.”
While life always serves up opportunities to be better human beings, is it possible that this could be the purpose for a career also?
More of us are becoming digitally and geographically mobile throughout all stages of life. Remote work has never been this popular and people who have been shackled to a desk for decades are now waking up to the novelty, freedom, and possibilities of international travel paired with work. There used to be niches previously populated by diplomatic and mission services, corporate expats, NGOs, military etc. who had no choice of location. The job and the country was dictated by the institution, now more jobs and locations are selected by the individual.
After University in Glasgow, Scotland I was actively looking for a career that would also give me the benefits of surfing the globe and joined the British Diplomatic Service. Four decades, eight countries and four continents later I achieved that, just not in the way I had anticipated. It took leaping from government to corporate to entrepreneurship and cobbling together skills and passions along the way.
I was pretty sure my career had died when I moved to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1992. As a first-time mother and trailing spouse, I loved staying home for a season but a few short years later I was ready for more self-expression in the form of a career.
More humans are now discovering geographical freedom in a way we have never witnessed before. This is disrupting the way we have thought about work and occupations in general. There are basically two questions we can ask regarding careers.
Where can my career take me?
Where can I take my career?
More and more people are asking the second question “where can I take my career?”.
In the US alone there are 10.9 million people who would describe themselves as digital nomads. This is an increase of 49% since 2019, just a few short months ago! While the majority are Millennials ranging from between 25 and 40 years of age, the average age of a digital nomad in 2021 is 32 years old.
There was also a substantial rise in Baby Boomers (aged 57-75 years old) who chose to become what I call “Slowmads”, nomads traveling slowly. These are seniors many are former expats (like me), who simply decline the option to be rooted to only one place. Many are still vibrant, capable and have not given up their curiosity and love of learning to retire to a rocking chair.
In many cases Boomers have extended their careers by simply transforming their skillset, mindset, and attention to freelance and consulting work. To that they have added a decision to live overseas again either part or full time. They are combining what they fondly call side-hustles with their previous corporate skills and making unlikely contributions designed to connect the globe and while making their unique difference. It is frequently inspiring to listen to their stories and get an inkling into their wisdom.
Yesterday I chatted to one of these “Slowmads”. He is currently in Mexico for six months awaiting changes in the Vietnamese visa system that will permit him to return to Vietnam for the following six months. With time, talent, and resources on his hands he is using his corporate experience to build an initiative specifically for mural artists. His vision, is to provide a clearing house for artists across the globe with opportunities for them to travel, take their portable skills and offer services in other countries.
While the world seems shut down from many perspectives, if we look carefully there is massive activity and surprising social migration. From marketing teams to magicians, doctors to data-base experts, people are discarding their desks and making geographical leaps into our lane, the global transition lane.
While many new digital nomads are choosing this overseas lifestyle to improve work/life balance, or seek adventure, the outcome is always predictable, there will be much to learn and reflect on. This transforms into insight.
As Families in Global Transition we stand at the threshold of welcoming a new community of fellow travelers who live in transition. We can open the tent flap, invite people in and share all the decades of wisdom, reflection and experience that reside within our hearts and minds.
But what are the greatest gifts here? I believe they are a combination of the elements that our careers have deposited along the road. Perhaps the real question should be, how are our careers leading us to become better human beings?
Insight frequently arrives in the form of reflection. As we have traversed the globe, we have either packed our careers and taken them with us, or we have gone where the career led. Many of us have done both and now share, shine, and shore up the value of all the life lessons that are built into a global lifestyle.
Perhaps hindsight, foresight and insight are in fact what makes the world, and our careers go around. Let’s use our globalness for good.