Mariza is the founder of ‘Digital Nomads LIVE!”, an online forum for female digital nomads to come together online and share their experiences and discuss lifestyle topics. Last month, over 100 women and over 25 guests speakers participated and spoke for over 12 hours about relationships, travel, wellness, and more. Since starting as a digital nomad, Mariza has lived in Chiang Mai and Barcelona, and currently resides in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Check out our conversation below.
What life experiences initiated your interest in travel?
I got divorced in 2009 and had job I wasn’t fulfilled with. I had finished my MBA and climbed the corporate the ladder at Prudential for a while as a financial director for 10 years. And I had a very cliche “Eat, Pray, Love” moment. I watched that stupid movie and suddenly decided to go to Europe for three months. When I came back, I decided to move to Brazil. I’ve been living abroad ever since.
How did you become interested in “digital nomadism” or “location independent” work?
When I lived as an expat in Brazil, I had no idea what location independence was. But after having some horrible experiences at work, Brazil had started to wear on me. There were so many other places I wanted to see and I really wanted the flexibility to travel more.
I stumbled on some people doing the digital nomad thing online, but at first it seemed like a scam, like “What do you mean you’re working in Thailand on your laptop? There’s no way that’s true.” But I took a chance and started learning all about the lifestyle. I’ve been doing it now for 18 months.
Where did you get the idea to start Digital Nomad LIVE?
I realized that digital nomads needed to get better about creating community for the lifestyle. People have a hard time making friends. They are really good at finding communities for their businesses, but those communities focus on creating profit; they were capitalist communities, to put it bluntly. But I felt we still needed to create communities focused on values, like people back home have with hobbies or with church.
And, in digital nomadism, work and values don’t always overlap. I’ve been a part of several business communities where we have lot of professional things in common, but in terms of life values, I’ve realized we don’t. When you dig deeper like that, there’s little else holding you together.
There’s no Oprah show for digital nomads. There’s little advice that applies to our way of life. So I thought “How do we still have that girl talk? How do we hear those stories?” I think these “virtual lifestyle communities”, like the one I’ve created, are the next step that’s evolving. I wanted to create a forum where digital nomads could share stories and get them recorded, so that people feel less alone.
What are some the lifestyle issues that you’ve heard through speaking with female digital nomads?
One of the things I hear often from women is that with this kind of work, it becomes a little harder to relate to the people who you love. We’re changing everyday and evolving, but meanwhile your friends back home may look kind of static. With this lifestyle, so much happens to me from week to week, and then when I call people back home, they’re like “Same shit. Different day.” It’s nice to have a group of people who understand what that constant change feels like.
Conversations with loved ones are also tough: when are you coming back home? Isn’t family important to you? Don’t you love us? When are you going to have a family?
It also, obviously, helps to commiserate on travel struggles: why didn’t you like that place? What were the landlord issues you had there? How was it making friends with locals? Those kinds of conversations are needed too.
What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions about digital nomads?
I think people underestimate what the pace of travel feels like. You can’t be productive if you’re constantly traveling two weeks here, two weeks there. People think “I’ll just need a day to get over the jet lag and then I’ll be fine.” But it usually takes a week to settle in. We started out only spending two weeks in each place and now we’ve extended that to around two or three months.
How has digital nomadism changed your perspective on the world around you?
I think this movement has a lot to do with global citizenship and borderless travel that allows people to roam the earth freely. It has taken away from my nationalism. It made me realize that my identity is not tied to a physical location or even my citizenship. I think that is something that’s slowly starting to evolve with many people.
That idea of going “borderless” is not what politicians in the U.S. have encouraged lately.
No, not at all. I think the previous generation is holding on to this idea of borders and strong nationalism simply because their identity is so ingrained in those physical things: where you were born, where you went to school, who your football team was. But through more people in this generation adopting this kind of traveling work and lifestyle, I think they have begun realizing those things are more and more arbitrary.
What do you love most about this kind of work?
The freedom. Whatever reason I may want freedom for–whether it’s travel, or learning new languages, or just having the time to read, time to go for walks, time for pursuing hobbies, time for pursuing self improvement, time to see new cultures–I love that I have that as a part of my life now.
And I love that I can have so much freedom on so much less money! At 30, I was making six figures, but the infrastructure my life required cost me nearly everything I made. I was in a rat race: the nine-to-five (which is really the nine-to-seven) work day that ends every night with a frozen dinner in front of the television, and I ended each year with little money and no freedom. My lifestyle now is far better.
What do you consider your biggest success from your work and life in these last two years?
That I’ve done this for 18 months, and it was completely not what I expected, and I’m still here motivated to keep at it. The point of this kind of work is to deal with uncertainty. Things are changing so quickly in this line of work that you can’t have a five year plan. You can’t predict what the internet is going to look like in five years, so I can’t have any idea what my business is going to end up becoming. There’s few things you can measure ahead of time. `That’s a hard thing for people to let go of.
There’s so much pressure in our society to reach a certain outcome, certain goal, certain income level. But I think the biggest change with this kind of work is that you can’t have these conventional view of success. I want to be able to measure myself and my goals, but instead of asking “what do I want my life to look like in five years?”, I want to ask “What do I want my life to look like NOW? And how do I continue that?” That’s what I’m focused on now.
For more on Mariza’s work, check out http://digitalnomadslive.com/