Derek Sivers

from the book “”:

You don’t have to be local


You can focus your time locally or globally.

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 have less time to focus on creating things for the world.

If you’re global, you focus on creating things that can reach the whole world. But this means you 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.

My example:

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. 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. 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.

A few 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, communities, 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 event. I spent most of the those 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 could have spent making something that could be useful to the whole world (including that one person).

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

So there’s the trade-off. When I’m local-focused, I’m not being as useful to the world 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 during those years, but it was at the expense of everyone else.

I have moved around so much that I’m not from anywhere. I feel equally connected to Los Angeles, London, Lisbon, New York, Portland, New Zealand, and Singapore. 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 insiders and outsiders. 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 called 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. For example, if you’re a musician, you can focus locally by doing a hundred local gigs, or focus globally by recording and distributing a hundred songs.

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.
(Photo of Iceland house by Erik-Jan Vens.)