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“I am fortunate to have enough money not to have to worry about the necessities of life. Beyond that, I try to think about money as little as possible.”  -Michael Sandel

Are we consumers or are we community members? Let’s put this false dichotomy to rest: We’re both. Here’s how it works: We pay a fee to a company (Remote Year) as consumers to provide us with a platform for a particular lifestyle, in which we travel as a community. I don’t know all the intricacies behind precisely how that fee creates the platform I experience each month, nor do I think I am entitled to. Why? Because I specifically pay to not worry about it. That’s sort of the point of Remote Year isn’t it?

“We take the hassle out of traveling the world while working.” –> Not quite their tagline, but you get the gist.

I’m not going to spend a minute/hour/day/week/month/year with a group of incredible people (RY staff and remotes themselves) and then turn around to run some fucking regression analysis on how I could’ve done it in a more cost-effective manner. I refuse to live that way. I will not second-guess the monetary value of every life experience. I believe it reduces the value, ironically, of those intangible moments in life. I say that as someone who is not great with money, yet feels quite rich in life experiences. Let’s grab a coffee and I’ll tell you all about them 🙂

We keep asking Remote Year (a company)–again ironically–to answer this question for us, when, to a large extent, it lives in our own hearts. And while I think we’re the “products” (pun intended) of our surroundings, largely, this doesn’t mean that we don’t have agency in this context. I mentioned Michael Sandel in a previous post and I think he gets to the heart of the matter:

“Over the past three decades, we’ve lived through a quiet revolution. We’ve drifted almost without realizing it from having a market economy, to becoming a market society. A market society is a place where almost everything is up for sale. It’s a way of life, in which market thinking and market values begin to dominate every aspect of life.” – Michael Sandel

Sandel goes on to say in his TED Talk that this sort of thinking is dangerous because it “sharpens the sting of inequality and its social and civic consequence.” I agree. He also mentions how social goods (education, personal relationships, healthcare, community relations, etc.) are negatively impacted when market thinking creeps into their function and being.

How do I measure (in monetary terms) an incredible writers’ retreat where people share their most vulnerable selves in the Serbian countryside with newfound friends? How do I quantify what I’ve learned from our volunteer projects at refugee shelters, animal refuges, and food justice nonprofits across Europe and North Africa? How do I run a cost-benefit analysis on lifelong relationships with a global cast of characters that broaden and deepen my perspective on the world, myself, and others? When you’re calculating each line item alongside accommodations, workspace, wifi, staff, transportation, and everything else…throw in a few lines for each of these intangibles and let me know what you come up with. I dare you.

Straddle the line

As with anything in life, you have to place your bets. And you can’t always look back and recalculate the cost efficiency of everything. You have to balance your obligations as a citizen, a family member, a consumer, a voter, a human. It’s not easy. And I don’t have all the answers on how to do that well. But I certainly believe that we shouldn’t look to companies to answer that question for us. We should answer it ourselves, in conversation with each other. And as Sandel reflects, the line between all of those various roles keeps shifting, which makes it even harder to find balance.

But we have to try.

And at some point we have to draw a line in the sand and say what we’re going to quantify in dollars and cents versus where we place our bets on transformational experiences in a community, even if, like most experiences, we paid to get here.