Derek Sivers

Entrepreneur, programmer, avid student of life. I make useful things, and share what I learn.

You don't have to be local

You can focus your time locally or globally.

But if you over-commit yourself locally, you under-commit yourself globally, and vice-versa.

If you’re local, then you’re probably social, doing a lot of things in-person, and being a part of your community. But this means you’ll have less time to focus on creating things for the world.

If you’re global, then you want to focus on creating things that can reach out through distribution to the whole world. But this means you’ll have less time to be part of your local community.

Neither is right or wrong, but you need to be aware of the choices you’re making.

For me, the reason I’m writing this, is a personal announcement that I’ve tried both ways, felt the difference, and made my choice.

Some background:

I lived in Woodstock, New York for 3 years. While in my little house in the woods, I started CD Baby and Hostbaby, and connected with thousands of people. I was traveling a lot, so all my social time was on the road, and my friends were in New York City and Boston. I never met anyone in Woodstock. I just lived there, but didn’t socialize there. All my attention was focused out to the world, and it was very effective.

Then I lived in Portland, Oregon for 3 years. I worked every waking hour, growing CD Baby and Hostbaby. It was incredibly productive. Still traveling a lot to conferences, I made some dear and deep friends worldwide, but I never hung out in Portland. It was just my place to work and sleep. My attention was still focused outward.

Then two years ago, when I moved to Singapore, I decided to get very involved in my local community. I volunteered my time to all the universities, hacker groups, entrepreneur mentor sessions, and government departments. I had an open door, said yes to every request, met with over 400 people one-on-one, and went to every conference and get-together. I spent most of the last two years just talking with people. And I really got to know the Singapore community.

But something never felt right. After a day of talking, I was often exhausted and unfulfilled. It was usually one-sided, answering questions, giving advice. Two hours spent being useful to one person who wants to “pick my brain” is two hours I’d rather spend making something that could be useful to the whole world (including that one person).

Then people around the world email to ask why I’ve been so silent. No new articles? No progress on my companies? Nothing?

So there’s the trade-off. By being so local-focused, I’m not being as useful as I was when I was making things online.

So I’m finally admitting : I’m not local.

I hope I was useful to the Singapore community these past two years, but it was at the expense of everyone else.

I moved around so much that I’m not from anywhere. I feel equally connected to London, Los Angeles, New York, New Zealand, Singapore, San Francisco, Iceland, and India. I care about people in all of those places. They’re all equally home. Just because I live in one now, doesn’t mean I should ignore the others.

To me, the emphasis on local stuff never felt right. When I was in Woodstock and Portland, people would ask what I was doing to promote the local music scene there. I’d argue that I shouldn’t favor Woodstock or Portland any more than Wellington or Prague.

But that’s just me.

Some people feel a strong separation between inside and outside. If you’re a part of their family, neighborhood, church, school, or a friend-of-a-friend, then you’re an insider. Everyone else is an outsider. They say, “The reason you go to university is for the connections you’ll have for life.” In business, they give preferential treatment to their inside circle. (This is cronyism.)

Other people feel no separation. You’re treated equally, no matter where you’re from or who you know. There are no outsiders. If extra-strong bonds are made, it’s based on who you are now - not where you came from or where you’ve been.

One will feel more natural to you. Like your tendency to be an introvert vs extrovert, or conservative vs liberal, these base world-views will shape your preferences for being local-focused or global-focused.

Each industry has their own version of this decision.

If you want to make vegetarian food, you can make a great local vegetarian restaurant, or a widely distributed line of vegetarian meals.

If you’re a musician, you can do 100 gigs or write and record 100 songs.

Etc. Different focus. Different approach.

Both are necessary. Neither is right or wrong, but you need to be aware that you can choose the local/global balance that feels best to you, no matter the norms.

For me, for now, I’m going to stop doing all these in-person meetings, and turn my attention back to writing, programming, and recording things that can benefit anyone anywhere.


(Note: I updated this article 5 days after posting, to be clearer that I'm not against in-person contact - just this local-focused in-person one-sided volunteering of my time.)

http://www.flickr.com/photos/planetcam/6227872212/
(Photo of Iceland house by Erik-Jan Vens.)