Story 24

Is waiting for Friday the only way to keep going?

Hi! I’m Lavinia, the human behind this issue of Upstairs. I’ve spent the last 10+ years helping entrepreneurs, leaders, remote workers, and startup teams build purposeful, innovative, sustainable organizations, careers, and lifestyles. I’ve lived in eight countries across four continents and traveled to 30+ others.


The by-product of building a career

London, 2010. I’m looking at the 300+ year-old walls of my office in Charterhouse Square, in the heart of the City of London, at the gorgeous fresca on the ceiling, and at the 1h+ grueling commute that is waiting for me at the start and end of each day from/to Richmond, on the other side of the metropolis.

While finishing my Master’s degree, I’m working in Business Development & PR for a clinic and medical research center.

I’m tired. Really tired. I had a soggy sandwich for lunch, and I’m hungry. This isn’t all an uncommon story when you’re building a career in any of the world’s megacities.

I ponder on the future and work.

I’m in one of the most fabulous cities in the world, living a life of abundance (of opportunities, of possibilities), and yet I can’t see myself being in this “world” for too long. The world of long commutes, of non-stop hustling, of no work-life balance that you’re expected to be ok with for years before you “prove yourself,” the theoretically decent salary that still leaves you with too much month left at the end of your money (because everything is prohibitively expensive), the endless meetings, reports, the work-about-work, the massive burn-outs that seem to follow years of doing that, and are, again, accepted as a by-product of building a career.

All I can think of is: “This can’t be the only way.”

People first and people-centered

Fast forward to 2021. For the past ten years, I’ve worked remotely in different shapes and forms and in unconventional ways (as a freelancer, a partner, an employee, an entrepreneur, a contractor).

For the better part of this last decade, I’ve lived in Bali for parts of the year and traveled as a digital nomad or location-independent entrepreneur for the rest. I arrived here after a four-year stint in Baku, Azerbaijan, where I expanded and brought to market leadership in the Eurasian region an event management and creative agency headquartered in Dubai and Macedonia.

I first moved to Bali to help my current business partner with a project aimed at startup founders for (maybe) a year. It felt like a good, productive “break” from the corporate-heavy environment I had been immersed in before, even if I had extensive freedom and autonomy in my role. 

Over the last three years, I’ve built a digital and physical coworking and innovation hub. The four floors building we rebuilt to house this project used to be a clothing factory, a glorified sweatshop, really, and I’m so excited to have managed to give it a second life as a center for entrepreneurship, digital transformation, and impact-making. 

And last year, I founded the Remote Skills Academy, which provides Indonesians with an opportunity to learn how to work remotely and connect with others on the same journey.

All the push back did not matter

Why is it so important to be able to work remotely, you might ask?

For me, remote work has always been a superpower. The superpower of organizing your work around your life rather than the other way around. Of accessing opportunities on the other side of the world, rather than limiting yourself to a 20 km radius around where you live. Of not needing to relocate for work. Of using the ~500h I used to spend commuting every year on learning, development & doing things I love instead. Of being able to access the job market, even if, let’s say, you’re disabled or a parent who doesn’t want to be absent 10-12h/day.

And now, enter the pandemic, remote work has become a necessity. It has simply made the difference between having and no longer having a job. More so than anywhere else, in Bali, where most people used to work in the tourism sector.

Over the years, these are some of the things I’ve been told:

“To be successful, you have to work from an office – and try to always be the last to leave.”
“Forget work-life balance.”
“You don’t look like an entrepreneur/someone in tech” (female? petite? Eastern European?).
“There is no such thing as a people-first company. Companies are always profit-first.”
“You can’t build a company while on the go; location independence is a fad.”

Has it mattered?

Hardly.

I am and do all those things.

Productivity needs a new definition

I believe work is something people will do even when everything is automated, taken care of by algorithms, AIs, and robots, and countries pay out Universal Base Income to all their citizens. Because we humans have an innate need for meaning, for purpose, for expressing ourselves, and often that takes the shape of what we call work.

But work (or the way we traditionally thought of it) is broken. To name but a few aspects pointing to that:

  • Modern offices tend to be distraction-central; urgent requests make it impossible to focus on your priorities.
  • You need to “look busy” and fill those 8 hours to justify your salary – as if we’re still all working in factories, back in the ’60s. Instead of counting the time, we should make the time count.
  • So much about office work is meta-work, work about work. Meetings, status updates, planning, reports. There’s very little time left for actual work.
  • There’s a need for middle managers, whose job is simply to “parent” office workers and fill their days with chunks of meta-work. Otherwise, workers aren’t engaged, intrinsically motivated to do the work. So we have to bring in the stick and carrots.

So I wanted to live and work in an environment where:

  • Work & play don’t come in contradiction to each other.
  • People or profit isn’t a choice you have to make. 
  • You can work from wherever you want, whenever you want.
  • You can be anyone you want to be, irrespective of where you come from and who you are.

Over the last year, while the pandemic has unraveled, many have discovered (sometimes the hard, painful way) that these new ways of working actually… work. That, for example, you can be as productive from home (in some cases too productive, as several studies have already shown).

We’ve got a long way to go, though.

But day by day, block by block, bit by bit, there’s a profound transformation happening in the business and lifestyle arena, shaping the way people work and live. It started a long time ago but has sped up tremendously in the last year. At its core, there’s technology enabling a better balance between work and the rest of our lives and the growing appetite for meaning and being part of something bigger than yourself (and money).

Productivity isn’t about getting more and more done, about turning into a machine. It’s about getting the right things done at work, so you can have plenty of time and headspace for all the other essential bits in your life.

I, along with others like me, am passionate about the future of work. When we design more purposeful businesses and lifestyles, we shape a more positive, balanced, sustainable reality.

And I’m, personally, really excited about it.


To enjoying Mondays,
—Lavinia

Contributors of this story: Lavinia Iosub wrote this story, Oana Filip provided feedback and edited it, Andrei Ungurianu put it all together, George Olaru designed it, Răzvan Onofrei was in charge with the development, Shayna Pitch took the photo. Thank you!

Lavinia Iosub
A question by Lavinia, the author of this story:
What would make work more enjoyable, engaging, fulfilling, something you want to show up for?

Conversations 6 comments

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Amy Hardingsays:
Relevant commenter background or experience:Self employed since COVID; advocate for kicking the 9-5 enslavement mindset

Such an insightful piece!  I LOVE that we’re seeing more and more pushback against the 9-5, ‘work only happens in an office’ BS that we’ve all been indoctrinated into for decades. I’m in the US and it’s especially tragic that our leaders (Corp and govt) refuse to address our fat, sick, sleep deprived, pill addicted population. This is not divorced from our working conditions; our sick cultural programming around work is making us literally physically ill and costing taxpayers billions $$$.  Anyway, forgive my rant and thank you for the compelling reading!  I look forward to this email every week 🙂 

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Lavinia Iosub
Lavinia Iosubsays:
Relevant commenter background or experience:I'm this article's author

Thanks so much for replying, Amy! I agree, there’s a direct and strong connection between professional expectations, the endless parade of what I call ‘hustle porn’ on any and all platforms (media or otherwise), and the quality of life as well as most health conditions that plague modern societies. Most of us aren’t dying of ailments inflicted by bacteria and viruses (even Covid19) anymore, like back in the day, but of lifestyle-generated diseases. I could go on about this for a while (and really didn’t mind your ‘rant’). That’s why it’s important to push back & shape a different reality (which is also why I loved your headline).

Have a great rest of the week!

Holy crap. Lavinia, Oana. You’ve done it. A #winner of an article here and it spins around a real person, real story with engine still running. Congratulations. Happy to have links to know more of the adventures and thinking, planning of Lavinia. One contact in North Macedonia now, aiming for more, presently invested in Japan.

Kind regards, Duncan

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Lavinia Iosub
Lavinia Iosubsays:
Relevant commenter background or experience:I'm this article's author

Thanks so much for the reply, Duncan! So glad you enjoyed the article. Happy to connect here, more on what I do with Livit here. Have a fantastic week!

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Sim Filipsays:
Relevant commenter background or experience:I believe we can humanize work, together

Hi, Lavinia.Your article stuck with me and I wanted to thank you for sharing it with us the Sunday it was published but life and mostly meta-work got in the way – so here I am with a comment one month later, kind of validating what you wrote about how work is broken. :DAnd I’m one of the lucky few in Iași who works in a small company trying to organize work around life: we work flexible hours and don’t think this should always happen from our office, we sometimes refuse clients we don’t like as people over profit and so on. (A work environment I realized I want in the first months of my first full-time job ten years ago and found 4-5 years ago). But it’s not enough. Because we don’t work alone in our happy bubble, we work with people who most of the time don’t share our view on the matter, interfering with our process of designing a purposeful business. So, what would make my work more enjoyable and fulfilling would be that more people embrace the transformation and start reshaping what we call work. And this is where your article comes in to help, the more we talk and read about it we make the future of work our present. Hope I made some sense and we can read more of your ideas about work reimagined. 

Lavinia Iosub
Lavinia Iosubsays:
Relevant commenter background or experience:I'm the author of this article

Hi Sim, thanks so much for sharing, really appreciate your reply! Congrats on working for a company that understands happiness and balance at work is better for the people, for the business, and for the planet 🙂 And you’re absolutely right, no matter what we do internally, we still work with suppliers, partners, clients who might have different ideas about these things. The pandemic is shifting people’s perspectives though (here‘s a great article by Esther Perel on this exact topic) and we have to keep talking about these things until “work reinvented” becomes normalized, as you say. Have a fantastic Friday :)P.S. Happy to connect via LinkedIn where I often write or share on this topic.

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