In the remote work community, you hear a lot about people quitting their full-time jobs to “escape” to a more independent lifestyle. Or negotiating flexible, remote arrangements with their company. I also quit my full-time job to work remotely, but I don’t view this new career as an escape. It’s not “better” than my previous full-time roles at startups and tech companies. With each passing day, I know I’m missing out on amazing opportunities.
Working remotely is not better than the traditional career.
It’s just different. It happens to suit me better at this point in my life.
Each of my jobs since my junior year of college have been dream jobs. I know this isn’t the norm. I’m incredibly grateful. I absolutely loved working at Facebook, starting a media company with Randi Zuckerberg, and my Chief of Staff role at my most recent startup. They each pushed me past what I thought was my limit several times. They gave me some of the most challenging times of my life, which were critical inflection points in my growth. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to learn from smart and passionate colleagues.
Facebook showed me what it feels like to pour my heart into my career. I was often the first on my team to show up in the morning. I stayed late for impromptu hackathons, collaborating on projects with engineers. My mind would race throughout the night with ideas. I was hungry to make an impact, and I got to taste what that felt like. Adrenaline. That experience set a high bar for the rest of my career.
It helped define what I look for in a great job.
To me, what matters most in a career are people, impact, and personal growth.
There’s something very special about working toward a common goal with your team. Those grueling days where you work late into the night together. Feeling awed by your colleagues and constantly taking mental notes to learn from them. When you’re physically part of a team, you get to see how inspiring peers and accomplished leaders work, interact, and live. You support each other, and they become some of your closest friends.
You lead and mentor others. And you feel a surge of pride when they start believing in – and operating from – the highest potential you’ve seen in them all along. You have opportunities to experience yourself as a leader, executor, sponge, team player, or friend – daily. Some days, you get to be all of those things.
With your finger on the pulse of a company, you slowly craft and strengthen the culture from the ground up. Contributing to the growth of a living and breathing company is a challenging, artistic, and rewarding experience.
You can create all of this as a flexible worker, but it takes a bit more work. With the rise of remote work and breakdown of the traditional office, we lose some of these professional and social structures. If you’re fairly autonomous, you might not have access to as many mentors – or be able to grow as a leader yourself. You have to go out of your way to create social collisions with other entrepreneurs.
How to create a fulfilling remote career:
- Proactively build your own mentor network. Today, you don’t need to physically be part of a company, or go to grad school, to build your professional network. You can curate your own relationships. Reach out to people you want to learn from on LinkedIn. Get introduced by friends. Share your life passions and values. Collaborate on projects and give them something of value. And a small percentage will lean in to you.
- Work with clients who treat you like a valuable part of their team. In this new age of work, specialized consultants can be as valuable as full-time employees. Find clients who value your insights, trust you as they would an employee, and treat you like a partner. I work so closely with one of my clients, he told me that he trusts me as he would a cofounder. For certain types of consulting, that’s the kind of relationship you want to build.
- Choose companies that align with the impact you want to have on the world. One of my favorite things about joining a company full-time is adopting their mission as my own. Work with companies that contribute to your personal mission. Adopt their vision and let it fuel you. You want to care deeply about the work you do and the long-term success of your clients – whether you’re with them for the long haul or not. As a freelancer, you can build a portfolio of meaningful jobs. You have the freedom to work on a variety of causes and industries you care about.
- Expand cross-functional thinking across all your clients. If you have multiple clients, you’ll be exposed to companies of different sizes and a variety of leadership styles. You’ll see different tools, business models, and strategies – and quickly learn what works and what doesn’t. If you enjoy thinking cross-functionally within a company, you can now apply that strategic lens to your entire portfolio of clients. You’ll start recognizing patterns earlier. Parallel track your learnings and apply them wherever useful to help your clients. (Of course, only do this with learnings that are not confidential.)
- Take personal growth into your own hands. When working remotely, you probably won’t have the same access to conferences, courses, or a professional development budget (my favorite perk at my previous startup). Not to mention those spontaneous conversations and dinners with colleagues. Instead, you need to do it yourself. Find the best coworking spaces in your city and attend their events. Offer to host a workshop. Attend startup events hosted by VC’s and accelerators. Or join a coliving retreat like Nomad House. Stay relevant through podcasts, books, and blogs.
As a flexible worker, it’s up to you to create the ideal lifestyle and culture. “Culture” is no longer about a single company – it’s your engagement with the portfolio of clients and leaders you work with. And you can build a great culture by aligning yourself with the right values, missions, and people. It’s up to you to bring the best of the traditional “9 to 5” (…or “8 to 11”) into your new career.
I’ve learned you can negotiate most rules of life. There’s a lot of gray area to play with. Your flexible, remote career will be as fulfilling as you make it.