The Oxford English dictionary begins the definition for community as “a group of people living in the same place,” and continues with variations on that theme of place:
- a particular area of place considered with its inhabitants
- a body of nations or states
- the people of a distinct country
But when countries and places constantly change, a different sense of community forms, a community based on common interests, reinforced by mutual values, and strengthened by shared experiences.
Remote Year currently has seven cohorts — called communities in RY parlance — currently scattered around the globe. Each community is identified by a name, established by Remote Year staff before the cohort’s participants are even accepted into the program. My community, the sixth to launch, is known as Ikigai, a Japanese term for the concept of “a reason for being.” Websites that delve into explaining ikigai often include a Venn diagram like this:
Searching for My Ikigai
The concept of ikigai is a perfect conceit for this year of adventure, exploration and growth. I find it personally symbolic as I weigh my options for where my career path could wind in the coming months and years. I started down the freelance/self-employed route almost a year ago, thinking it was a temporary stop on a path toward finding the next right full-time employer. To my surprise, I have found that I love it. I have connected with clients I enjoy, I can structure my days as I wish, and the pace complements my love of travel.
Using the Venn diagram above as inspiration, I feel the four circles in my life are beginning to intersect. In the coming months, I want to continue attracting bigger projects that excite me, broaden my network of clients and boost my design chops, especially in the realm of type design and infographics. I love that the moniker for my Remote Year community is a useful reminder and a tool for keeping those goals top of mind for me and for our group as a whole.
My Crew of Ikiguys and Gals
Our community has really embraced our Ikigai-dentity. We have carved the word in wood on a park bench in Bulgaria, sprayed it on the John Lennon wall in Prague, written it in sand on the beaches of Portugal, and made a feeble attempt at using our bodies to spell out a life-sized rendition of IKIgAI on the sand dunes of Morocco (photographic evidence above. I’m the bottom curl of the “g,” and I have no clue why that was the only letter we decided to make lowercase). We use the term to talk about our career and life goals, to joke about weekend social plans, and have of course developed a hashtag to slap on our Instagram posts: #ikigaiordie. Kudos to Hilary W. for coining that phrase during our second weekend back in Portugal. A couple of us were recapping a fun weekend side trip to Porto, reliving the highlights of about 40 of us exploring a new city together when Hilary said something along the lines of, “I love how much fun we all have together. I think our group really is the greatest. Ikigai or die, yo.” (I may have added the “yo” for embellishment.) From then on, the phrase stuck. It’s the sign-off for group emails, the battle cry yelled out when zip-lining through the Croatian mountains, and the toast we make when cheers’ing.
Before starting Remote Year, 75 people sounded like an overwhelming amount of fellow travelers for my taste. I shy away from big bus-style travel and prefer groups that leave a smaller wake when navigating foreign cities together. A group of 75 people sounded like it could be loud, obnoxious, insensitive, inflexible and most of all: a potential cesspool for drama. But a group is different from a community. In reality, sure, we’re a little loud, but I’ve found Ikigai to be welcoming, supportive, hilarious, open and downright fun to be around. Of course, there’s still a little drama, but it’s fairly minor, and usually blows over pretty quickly. It helps that each month our living arrangements change, our workspace setup is different, and these variable changes result in slight shifts in social circles, giving us the opportunities to get to know more people.
As the months have progressed, our numbers have dropped a little. A few folks have left the group completely, or have taken breaks away for a month or two at a time. Their reasons vary: job opportunities or challenges, a love interest, health concerns, family needs, visa requirements, etc. Remote Year accounts for a certain number of participants to drop, but our group lasted the longest — three months — before anyone left the program. While we mourn a little every time someone from our crew departs for adventures elsewhere, those of us who remain draw a little closer. Meanwhile, almost all of those friends who have left have made plans to meet back up with us at some point during our 6 months in South America. That’s a testament to the bonds forged within our community. Sure, I could travel abroad by myself for cheaper than Remote Year’s $27K/year price tag, but the value of the friendships I have made in Ikigai, and the connections I have made through the RY network at large enrich my experience in the moment, and will continue to do so for years to come. I wouldn’t have it any other way. And now I’m off to find some Ikiguys and gals for some tapas and sangria in our home for this month: Valencia, Spain.