We Evolved for Free-Range Living
Most of us Americans are born, live, and die in a cage given to us by our culture, our parents, our country. We go to school, maybe move away for college, and settle down. 74% of Americans don’t even own a valid passport. They’re “happy” in their cage.
I’ve written about free-range professionals before. I still firmly believe this is the key to achieving your maximum potential in our chronically busy world — but there’s more to it than just your work.
I left the United States (after a 2-year stint in San Juan, Puerto Rico) and moved to Budapest, Hungary to pursue world citizenship. I don’t hate America; I just don’t like living in it, working for it or supporting it financially. But that’s for another time . . .
Countries are not one-size fits all.
It’s not that America doesn’t have tremendous lifestyle benefits; it’s that there are greener pastures for every person. Countries are not one-size fits all.
Completely unexpectedly during a long layover, I discovered Budapest. My 10-hour layover turned into a 6 week stay. I didn’t want to go back (I was reluctantly dragged back by my boyfriend). So in April 2019 after careful planning, I decided to leave the US behind and move to Budapest permanently.
Free-range living is about curating yourself and your environment to achieve maximum focus and success
Why? Because free-range living is about curating yourself and your environment to achieve maximum focus and success. We are all endowed with an intellectual, physical, emotional, and social disposition. We do not all thrive in the same environments. It’s why some people love working in an open office floor plan and others are looking around for the noose. Somehow along the way in our sprint to corporate efficiency, we’ve forgotten who we are: sentient animals. No more, no less.
Take a Siberian tiger out of its habitat and what happens? Kidnap an orca from the wild, name her Shamu, and confine her to a tiny tank and what ensues? She goes from being the ocean’s apex predator with astonishingly complex social hunting techniques to a floating bathtub toy, devoid of creativity, drive, and opportunity for flourishing. Films like Blackfish confront our complacency and severe hypocritical ethics regarding zoos. We are outraged and demand change (and rightly so). And yet, our self-inflicted myopathy blinds us to our own captivity.
Our self-inflicted myopathy blinds us to our own captivity.
We are the most creative, intelligent, and powerful animals in the solar system (possibly even galaxy). We evolved to live in a nomadic, intellectually challenging yet leisure-supporting environment. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors had plenty of time to think, create, play, and socialize in an egalitarian society when they weren’t fighting off wild animals and searching for food. It is difficult to know the feelings, struggles, and overall contentment of our foraging ancestors, but based on recent research (see the excellent Sapiens by Harari), it is safe to presume our brains are still most adapted and fine-tuned for (and perhaps even happiest in) the hunter-gatherer lifestyle — not the modern zoo we have created for ourselves.
Free-range living is in our DNA. It’s what millions of years of evolution have optimized us for. The average hunter-gatherer in the modern world (yes they still exist) only works 30 to 45 hours per week. And they have entire days off. Theirs is a life balanced between challenging pursuit, intellectual reflection, tight-knit social activities, and plain leisure. As much as we may resist the “notion (especially as entrepreneurs and highly motivated professionals), we are still hunter-gatherers by design.
Until you untether yourself from a desk and office, you will never be able to live freely again.
So how do we begin living as free animals once again? I’ve already spoken of how to quit your job and start working free-range. That’s step #1. Until you untether yourself from a desk and office, you will never be able to live freely again. Cubicles, fluorescent lighting, schedules designed by someone else, meetings, and commuting do not exist for your success — they exist for the success of the corporation. Once you achieve this first step towards freedom, the next milestone is finding your range.
I’m a member of the lucky sperm club. I discovered back in October 2018 that my great-great-grandmother was born in Veszprem, Hungary. I can acquire simplified naturalization and become a Hungarian citizen by learning enough of the language to pass an interview. This grants me the freedom to live in Hungary and become a member of the EU.
Not all of us are this lucky. But a first step is discovering if you are. Many countries offer simplified naturalization based upon your ancestry, such as Italy, Ireland, Germany, Israel, Poland, Spain, etc. Why does this matter? Because as an American citizen, you are only allowed to travel visa-free in the EU and many other countries for 90 days every 180 days. That means after 90 days, you have to return home or go to another country.
Many Digital Nomads take advantage of this and travel from country to country every few weeks. This is their way of ranging. In a sense, they are a modified form of the hunter-gatherer. However, they are missing one crucial aspect of what we have evolved for: community. When you hop from country to country every few weeks, relationships are almost impossible to maintain and deepen. This is alleviated somewhat with Slack communities and co-working spaces. But many Digital Nomads remain single and excluded from a real, in-person community. While some cannot imagine ever settling down in one place, many find a “home” when the novelty wears off or they fall in love.
The better and more sustainable path to achieving a modern hunter-gatherer lifestyle is seeking out the city and country that feels like it was made for you
I believe the better and more sustainable path to achieving a modern hunter-gatherer lifestyle is seeking out the city and country that feels like it was made for you and settling down for years at a time. Americans ignorantly believe that moving to a different state or coast is a tremendous cultural and professional leap. And maybe even the “adventurous” ones escape to Canada.
But your cage is your own creation. No one locked you into it. You don’t have to live and die in it. The world is so much bigger than the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave (hardly applicable anymore).
Remove distractions and focus my time, money, and energy on worthy pursuits with worthy people
For me, for now, my range is Budapest. Why? The reasons are numerous, but ultimately it allows me to remove distractions and focus my time, money, and energy on worthy pursuits with worthy people. Success to me is focusing all your time on what you are best at and what matters most to you. It is not supporting the visions and dreams of a corporation, a country, or even your family. It’s about pursuit of potential and removing anything that takes away from that.
Forget the American concept of vacationing once or twice a year to the “Top 10 places to visit in 2019”
For you, Budapest may be another cage but Mexico City would be a creative wonderland. The only way to find out is to start traveling intentionally. Forget the American concept of vacationing once or twice a year to the “Top 10 places to visit in 2019”. It’s bullshit tourism that doesn’t line up with reality and already ruined by annoying visitors who are squeezing every drop of authenticity out for their entertainment. Instead, just start watching YouTube videos of Digital Nomads who have stayed in different cities for extended periods of time. Sure, they are biased, but they’ll help you get a feel for what daily life is really like behind the postcard and IG filtered social media posts.
But why does all this matter? What’s the point? What if you’re happy where you already are? Well, this life isn’t for everyone. I mainly speak to those who are already in pursuit of their own careers and professions independent from the mainstream. Men and women who build their own businesses, freelance or are in a professional services industry. People who already understand that happiness and success come from carving your own path. Not building someone else’s paradise.
But for those who do curate their own life, free-range living will blow your mind. You will experience a freedom of thought and creativity in the midst of opportunities you never imagined possible back in your cage. Finding your range will bring a level of motivation you’ve been missing and an empowerment to focus on what matters most in your life without modern-day distraction. It’s the next step in taking full advantage of modern technological advancements while also returning to the lifestyle we evolved for.
Would you rather be Shamu or the apex predator of the seas? The decision is yours.