A digital nomad life is not just for Millennials

Middle aged man on beach

The big news last month, that frankly came as a bit of a surprise, and reverberated around the media, was Trump’s victory UK columnist Lucy Kellaway’s revelation that she was to step away from a successful 31-year career with the FT to launch an educational social enterprise, Now Teach, and become a maths teacher.

This is good news for education (and the economy) which needs a common sense approach, but bad news for those of us who enjoy seeing Lucy rip apart corporate twaddle every Monday in her column.

But there is more.

With her announcement, Lucy issued an invitation to other middle-aged professionals to leave the city and retrain as teachers through the Now Teach programme. Already there is strong interest, confirming that Millennials aren’t the only demographic group seeking purpose in their career (I’d love to know where the marketing people get their insights from).

Earlier in the year, she commented on the absence of older workers in the office in her article In search of the missing office minority – the over-fifties, saying:

This elimination of the vast rump of fiftysomethings from London’s office spaces is at odds with what is supposed to be happening, which is that people are working longer, not just to a normal retirement age but beyond.

In part this is age discrimination. Younger professionals might look aghast at such a claim, but the fact is ageism is an issue (but much less spoken about compared to other forms of discrimination) in developed economies, and it’s alarming to think a shelf life can be so short these days. The world of work has never looked so broken.

But the middle-aged are also pursuing an alternative to salaried employment to prolong their working life, enabled by technology, as BizNews.com noted in their article
Answering Lucy Kellaway: Here’s why over-50s are fleeing salary slavery.

The more experienced among us are increasingly realising skills that built up in corporate service are highly sought in our new connected age. So they have, quite rationally, opted Skype. Slack and other connectable technology as an alternative to the grind of commuting. And rejected the notion of working hours and income determined by faceless committees, preferring the flexibility of offering their skills to the whole world.

This will be welcomed by many of us approaching middle-age; frazzled, but with impressive networks and highly adept at using technology, even if it does mean using email over Snapchat. We are not digital natives, but we began our careers with digital, and when the corporate Grim Reaper comes wielding their scythe a decade from now, we will be ready.

And what an afterlife it promises to be.

Through using tools like Skype, or more likely VR in a few years, the over-fifties (ousted or otherwise) among us can work or stay connected from a variety of locations worldwide – assuming there’s a stable Internet connection (I am tapping this out from a ferry to Cheung Chau island) – without the politics and commute we all know and love.

Who wouldn’t want to give Bali or Thailand a shot, injecting midlife with meaning and a moped (it appealed to Julia Robert’s character in Eat, Pray, Love), with the kids maybe at university or whatever disrupts higher education? Perhaps up-and-coming Myanmar will be the place to be.

Or perhaps the opposite will be true: Balinese and Thais relocating to the Americas or Europe, in what would be a surprise digital nomad reverse trend.

What is certain is that the thirtysomethings and fortysomethings presently in employment should be planning now for a life outside of the traditional office environment. Perhaps we should be forgetting the corner office, and aim instead for a corner of the world (and economy) that delivers a more sustainable lifestyle aligned to our interests and values.

Millennials move abroad for purpose and prospects, confirms HSBC Expat Explorer Survey

Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto

HSBC has announced its 2016 Expat Explorer Survey findings. The report is HSBC’s 9th and focuses this year on “Achieving ambitions abroad.”

Singapore and New Zealand were again first and second best destinations overall for expats, respectively, pursued by new top five entrants Canada, Czech Republic and Switzerland. Sweden, Bahrain and Germany meanwhile saw a decline compared to the year before, while managing to stay in the top 10 (Bahrain slipped from a lofty 4th in the 2015 survey):

  1. Singapore
  2. New Zealand
  3. Canada
  4. Czech Republic
  5. Switzerland
  6. Norway
  7. Austria
  8. Sweden
  9. Bahrain
  10. Germany

The report (PDF downloadable here) represented the views of 26,871 expats in 190 countries. In their foreword, HSBC explains this year’s theme:

This year’s findings suggest that whatever you are seeking in life, whether it is finding more fulfilment in your career, immersing yourself in a new culture, buying a property or getting access to better education for your children, expat life can help you reach that goal.

One such goal for many is meaning or fulfilment. The report says that just under a quarter (22%) of Millennials aged 18-34 move abroad to find purpose in their career, ahead of Generation X (14%) and Boomers (7%). Furthermore, 43% of Millennials are most likely to move abroad to pursue a new challenge, as opposed to 38% of Generation X and 30% of Boomers.

Interestingly, the report reveals that Japan (22%), Taiwan (22%) and the UAE (20%) are the three destinations with the highest proportions of expats overall who moved to find purpose. Japan recently featured strongly in Monocle’s 2016 Quality of Life survey, with Toyko, Kyoto and Fukuoka all in the top ten.

But it’s not just purpose that drives Millennials. Old-fashioned ambition appeals as strong as ever, with 37% saying they embraced expat life to improve job prospects. This is ahead of Generation X (25%) expats and just 12% of Boomers.

Most Millennials planning to leave their city, says Youthfulcities

Aircraft wing tip

Speaking with young friends in Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai and London, it’s apparent to me that Millennials in advanced economies across the globe share the same concern – and I’m not referring to finding elusive Pokemon Go characters. In short, the cost of living is too high, they are fed up, and they are anxious to get out. Hongkongers ask me what it’s like to live in London; young people in London meanwhile look for an exit of their own.

This was confirmed recently in a survey by Youthfulcities, an organisation helping cities understand and engage Millennials. The Urban Millennial Survey, now in its third year, found that 58% of Millennials say they will leave their city in the next decade because of affordability concerns, limited employment opportunities and safety. Furthermore, only 17% of Millennials feel that their city governments are listening to them.

The survey gauged the opinions of 15,000 young people aged 15-34 (are 15 years olds “Millennials”? Anyway…) in 34 cities worldwide, and described the demographic shift of young people voting with their feet as a “global phenomenon”:

From the perspective of Millennials, there are no negative consequences to their increasing mobility. It opens up more opportunities, experiences, learning and self-development. Youth may leave for short-term opportunities like post secondary education, short term jobs or travel and then return to their cities. They may be tempted to leave for good.

It’s a fascinating read, and an important one. Young people are our present and our future, yet the current reality is not pretty for many. Based on experience, I would suggest the following to Millennials: leave. Pack your bags, and get out!

There can be no negative consequences. See and experience the world, and do it now. Make connections across the globe and embrace different cultures. Join the digital nomads tribe, and live life on the cheap selling what you know best, from social media consulting to teaching English or something new and wondrous. It might not be easy (it most likely won’t be), but it would make more sense than grinding it out in a city whose interests lie elsewhere. Why stay?