My guest today is information architect Lis Hubert. Over the past year, Lis has been living and working around the world as what some folks call a “digital nomad.” In this show, we talk about how she’s using this time to structure her best life.Listen to the full conversation
Jorge: All right, Lis, welcome to the show.
Lis: Thanks for having me. It’s good to finally catch up again and just to be here.
Jorge: Why don’t you tell us about yourself?
Lis: Sure. So, my name is Lis. I am a… Gosh. Who am I? What am I? I’m conscious not to always lead with my profession because I feel like we’re so much more than that.
But professionally, I’m an information architecture, digital strategy, customer experience person, which basically means I help people solve problems in how they think about things and how they take complex ideas and make them a reality, whether that’s creating websites or apps or processes or whatever.
Outside of that I am a writer, blogger, adventurer. I’ve just started labeling myself an adventurer. I’m a location-independent digital [worker?]. I don’t have any home base or permanent address. I travel the world and house-sit and pet-sit along the way and work as I go.
Jorge: So you used the phrase location-independent and that’s part of the reason why we’re talking. Recently — at least it seems like it’s been recent to me — you’ve started this thing called the Lis project. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Lis: Yeah, definitely. So the Lis Experiment project… It started, I say accidentally, but I’m sure with there was some purpose and intention there, but I was living and working in Manhattan and I was doing my customer experience information architectures work and I basically was done with living in Manhattan and through a series of steps I came to live in the Columbia River Gorge in rural Washington State. And through some more series of steps that led me to spending six months on Maui, living on Maui in Hawaii for six months. And as I was there all of my client work was still in the United States. It was either in Chicago or New York or somewhere. Utah. You name it. And I kind of was like, “wait a minute. I’m living in paradise and working my normal hours doing my normal stuff like… What? I might not have to live anywhere.” And so I came to this realization that I was already a remote — or I think the term, the trendy term is “digital nomad” — I was already a remote worker basically and I was already location independent, meaning I wasn’t dependent on a location to to to make a living, and I didn’t need a location to to raise kids or bring a family up or anything like that.
So. After that, I started coming up with, “Okay, what am I trying to do in picking locations? What am I trying to do with being location independent?” And as I started to really dive into that it was, “I’m trying to architect my best life. I want to be the best person I can be, and I want to take the and I’m one of the best life I can have, and I’m going to take all of the knowledge that I acquire along the way and create a life that gives me the most purpose.”
So the Liz experiment really started I guess when I was born, but it really started within the last year when I decided to go off, leave my last permanent location, become truly location independent and I travel about I switched locations. About every either five days to three weeks and I pick up information along the way and I integrate it in my life.
And I see what happens and then I report back on it on my blog and my YouTube channel.
Jorge: Well, it’s fascinating. Five days to three weeks seems very very frequent. Have you developed patterns to to to pick the next place where you’re going to
Lis: in the beginning in the beginning when I first started out it really be it really was about where the places that I want to see.
And then as I started to develop patterns as I traveled as I started to see this constant check in of like, okay, what works about this place? What makes me happy, what doesn’t, where am I being helpful? Where can I work? Well, where can I be social all those things? I started the patterns I’ve started to develop have been probably now like a year later in the but in the beginning.
It was really just a shot in the dark of like well, let me try that. Excellent seems cool. So now the patterns are okay. I need to be in a place for at least three weeks without to work to properly work and create and all that sort of thing. I need to be around people that are like-minded or not.
Depending on what I want from the from a different experience. So I have started to put together patterns recently, but that took me a while to come to because I feel like I was in that research phase for a long time of trying out different things.
Jorge: You said that you have to be in a place at least three weeks for you to be able to work. I’m assuming that most of your work happens on something like a laptop, right?
Lis: Yeah, but when you as you just repeated that I was like, you know, I think this is important most of my professional work happens on a laptop. Yeah, but I think a lot of the work that I do is on myself happens as well, you know, like whatever that is, whatever that’s you know, I want to work on. I don’t know how I see the world or something like that.
So I think any of the work whether it’s personal professional I need to be in a one place for a while because if not, I’m going to be distracted but professionally yeah, most of my most of my work is on the laptop and over Zoom like we’re talking right now and all of that fun stuff.
Jorge: Okay, that’s fascinating. So there’s this distinction between professional work that I’m guessing is what sustains you financially but then there’s this other level of work which is the… I don’t have to call it like the focus of the Lis Experiment proper, which has to do with the structuring of your life. And that is the one that you were referring to specifically when you mentioned the pattern, is that right?
Lis: I think so. Yeah. Yeah, and it because I think with my professional work, I’m lucky enough to be in a have been in my profession for a long enough time that I had figured most of the patterns of how to be effective and productive out and especially doing that remotely so. The patterns that I was most recently referring to the happened most recently were definitely the balance of that life work with the with the professional work and then extending the life work because I can always be learning at work.
I’m not I’m not about to say that but I have figured out projects and clients to a large extent I think.
Jorge: You’ve mentioned Washington State and Maui and I saw one of your YouTube videos where you were vlogging from Portugal. What other places have have you been living in?
Lis: I left Washington state in the U.S. last June and I basically road tripped to the West Coast down to L.A. for a while. And then I also lived up and down the East Coast of the States for a while. So those were kind of the short-term, in-the-beginning, trying out everything, kind of gathering all the pieces of information to organize. And then I lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Charlotte, North Carolina, Oakland, Tucson, Arizona — all over the Southwest, basically — and then I was in Denmark, Hungary, Switzerland, and Portugal, most recently. So it’s been a wide range. It’s very random, but yet not.
Jorge: It sounds like you’ve started going international fairly recently. Also, these are places where English is not the native language, and I’m really curious to know how you’ve dealt with all this stuff because these seem like major changes, no?
Lis: You know, I’m kind of having a moment which is going to be like funny to say, but I’m having a moment where I almost want to like cry for you recognizing that. And in a good way.
It’s like, yeah, it’s a lot right? But I think, you know, my goal was always to live or to explore internationally. Even not just Europe, but I would love to go back to South America and and Central America and other parts of the world, but Europe was my first stop in that. Being in our profession, I have a little bit of a network over there. So I kind of felt like “okay, I if something happens, I know people at least” kind of thing. So I guess when I picked those places, and especially places where English is the first language, I’m always I always have a foundation of an exit or a fail-safe.
Jorge: You’re living out a fantasy that I think a lot of people have had at some point. You know, “what if I could just see the world.” I’m sure that there are that there are challenges that come with that as well, and I’m wondering about things that you’ve encountered as you move around the world that may have been more challenging than if you had stayed put.
Lis: What you just described in that question was is I think the greatest metaphor / Learning lesson / you know piece of data for all of this, you know. That I am lucky enough credibly and I’m incredibly grateful for it my opportunities that I can live out this fantasy because it’s my fantasy, right? Or I wouldn’t be living it. But then when you get the reality of that there’s some really real moments and within the fantasy that bring you bring you back into yourself and test you. So and I think this is with anybody in anybody’s life by the way, and that’s why I called it a great metaphor, because I think there’s the idea of what could be that’s got like the future state, but that future state needs to go through a present moment awareness to become actualized and then once it happens, it’s not what you imagined. Right? So what I mean by that like I get to travel anywhere I want. Mostly. You know, for the most part, I have incredible freedom. I’m making a living doing work I enjoy. I’m meeting friends along the way. But as an example right now, I’m on my friends property in the Columbia River Gorge. It’s beautiful here. I’m taking care of chickens and bees and dogs and cats and I’m working and it’s this beautiful moment. But I’m completely alone. Right? And I’m completely isolated. I could I could drive into town and I can and I have and meet up with friends. But how do I talk to them about the journey I’ve been on?
And then you have to deal with the reality of that when it doesn’t match the fantasy you had. So the realities for me are loneliness, isolation — even when I’m with people I’m still isolated because I’m doing something so wildly different. Then you get to the everyday work stuff. Like I’m in Portugal for a month and I want to vacation but I’m working, right? I’m looking out my window at the beach in Cascais, but I’m like, “ahh, damn client meeting!” I think those are the types of there’s the big life challenges of like, this wasn’t exactly what I thought it should be or it’s not fulfilling me. And then there are the everyday like, I have to still to work; I’ve work to do or that didn’t come across right when I was trying to say in Portuguese or those sorts of moments, I think.
Jorge: Do you see the path that you’re on… do you see this as something that could become your permanent lifestyle?
Lis: I hope it’s not my permanent lifestyle. I really do because it’s exhausting.
It’s amazing and I look forward to seeing many more places, but you’re an IA, many of the people who probably have seen the show have the similar thought patterns if they are not self- identified as organizing people, they probably get what I’m about to say, but it doesn’t take one long to see the patterns of life. And you start to realize that changing location doesn’t always change your life. In fact, it will probably never change your life. It will just distract you from your life. Right? And so the once I started to realize that and learn that lesson, which is… And I still love traveling and I still love meeting people, but that’s not the actual experiment.
The experiment is me basically unearthing my own inner knowing and learning from others and becoming who I want to be. And I think at this point that traveling is becoming superfluous to the experiment. But I do see myself doing it for at least a year or two more.
The other part of this I should mention, by the way, is the concrete reason I’m doing this, which is I lived in Manhattan for nine years. I worked my tail off and didn’t have a lot of money to show for it. Living on the road and not paying rent and house-sitting for free and working while I’m doing it is saving me a lot of money. Right? And so there was that real piece of it too. And so that is something I want to continue for a while as well so that when I eventually do find a place I want to settle — or several; I don’t see myself settling in one place, by the way, I think it’s gonna be like two or three places — I’ll have the funds to make that a reality.
Jorge: Being mindful of this idea that there is the work at the Lis Experiment level and then there is the work that is actually giving you the funds that you’re that are allowing you to do this. I’m wondering about very practical things like the changes in time zones and the fact that if you’re working with someone for a lengthier amount of time and you switch time zones several times during that period… I’m wondering about how you’re managing with that sort of logistical stuff that comes with moving around.
Lis: Yeah, and at the same time my business partner Diana Sonis and I are building up our practice and she’s in Los Angeles. And so she’s in one location. So my my work with her is also like the time zone stuff is changing. But I think what I’ve done so far with that is just adapt to their time zone. So usually the clients time zone. And meaning like so their workday doesn’t change but mine will adapt to it and I’ll make myself available during their work hours and that was something so far has worked because I haven’t gone… Like the furthest that I’ve been is Hungary, and I think that’s 6 hours from New York. And that’s not terrible. But usually I just I try to make it that’s the, I guess the experience part of it or whatever, where the client isn’t affected, you know .
Jorge: I’m hearing you describe the experiment and it sounds to me like the combination of two books. I’m just going to mention them and see if they elicit any reaction.
Lis: I’m excited.
Jorge: One is Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Work Week, which advocates… And I read it a long time ago, I may be misremembering this, but as I recall, it advocates setting up your revenue-generating stuff in such a way that it allows you the freedom to do the sort of thing that you’re doing.
Jorge: And I remember him writing about spending some time in Argentina taking Tango lessons or whatever. So that’s one book and I don’t know if you’re familiar with that one.
Lis: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
Jorge: The other one is Walden.
Lis: Oh my God, this is like.. This is crazy. Sorry. Continue your description of Walden.
Jorge: Well, I mean, it’s a book about somebody’s very conscious extraction from the… I don’t know if to call it “normal,” but the course that most people follow, which is to stay put, and extracting themselves off to live a more intentional life, where they structure their world in such a way that they can come to some kind of understanding of who they really are.
Lis: Right and my exclamation was like, your association with both those books just blew my mind because it’s… I mean, it’s just so 100% dead-on. And I think you know, I read Tim’s book and what I appreciated about his perspective is much like the I think the Basecamp/37signals folks and the kind of getting effective about your time, I guess. It’s like taking all the informational parts of your life — your income stream, your family, your whatever, whatever — and aligning them in such a way to give you the most leisure time, right? That’s like 4-Hour Work Week in a very short, Lis Hubert description.
Then you have Walden. Because what that 4-Hour Work Week Lis Hubert description leaves you with is emptiness. Empty time, right? And then how do you fill your time? Maybe you fill it with Tango lessons and sitting on a beach, but how long can you do that? I mean I lived on Maui for six months and I was like, get me off this island after six months, you know? Beautiful place, beautiful people, but I’m bored.
There’s something else still not full in me, in Lis. So what is that? I have to go find that. And I think that’s the Walden piece of it. It’s like, he went out he went to Walden Pond to go Inward and to understand himself, right? So I think the hope that I have, which now I’m going to have to do a whole blog post on this Jorge, and I’m gonna have to credit our conversation, which is mirroring like, what do you do now that you’ve you’ve architected your life, your external life, in such a way that you have nothing but time, but your internal life hasn’t caught up. You have to match them up, right?
Jorge: You mentioned the blog posts and I want to delve on that as well. Because part of the experiment is also documenting, not just your itinerant residencies in all these places but also the growth that is happening and this process of alignment, of internal alignment, and you’re doing that through both blog posts and YouTube videos.
Lis: Yeah, you know, I started blogging when I first got into information architecture and I was talking about industry stuff and I just always loved writing and I love that recording process. And so when I was thinking about, when I moved to Washington, I had a Blog where I started to record like what was it like just moving to the middle of a state I’d never been in, and living there. And then when I was thinking about and starting the Lis Experiment I was like, “wow, I think this is a big deal.” At the very least for me it’s a big deal, and I want to be able to look back on it and see see what it was. I’m actually just starting to realize now that it’s, other people could learn from it. It was more like I want to put my thoughts out there and I want to be very raw and real and say things that people don’t normally say because without that information, it’s all a facade.
It’s like I’ll get back to the emptiness. Not that I’m empty, you know — and I’m not saying there’s anything wrong being empty — but I think there’s a lot of that in the world of just trying, you know, external validation, social media, “look how great I am sitting by the pool.” All those things. And I didn’t want that.
I wanted to say what is life? What makes up a great life? And so I started the Lis Experiment blog and as I was doing that — this is how a lot of things actually happen on my journey, so I’ll just go there — a friend of mine was like, “you know what Lis, it’s time to start your channel.” And I’m like, what are you talking about? And she was like, “Your channel. You need to start recording yourself.” And I’m like, “that was weird,” and I’m like, “Okay. Well, maybe she’s got a point there.” And so anyway, that’s sort of steam rolled into this Liz experiment YouTube channel where I do these weekly updates about what I’ve learned and what I’ve experienced and what I’m working on and in the hopes of hearing how other people are doing it as well.
Jorge: You described the experiment as an attempt to architect your best life. And you’ve been doing it for a year now, is that right?
Lis: That’s right, just over a year .
Jorge: So have any structures started to emerge that point to ways of architecting your best life?
Lis: Yeah. Definitely. I think on the day-to-day level I’ve always been a person who… I need like a morning and evening routine. And I need them to kind of anchor me into the day. So that those types of everyday structures, I always kind of had, but I’ve noticed that over the year I’ve solidified them.
So like in the morning, I’m doing yoga every single day, of some sort. I make myself a big breakfast every day. It’s like funny thing everybody’s like, “you have a big breakfast!” Like man, “I like breakfast, okay?” So I’m going to have breakfast, you know. So those sorts of structures that define a day for me. And then I think the other patterns are structures I’ve noticed are the biggest one lately is the meeting and saying goodbye to people. And I say that in the sense of like, I have some really intense moments with strangers on the road or strangers or like people who I pet sit for. People I’ve never met, let’s put it that way. And I noticed I’m now getting into the place of a structure of like, meeting them and defining my boundary of how much energy of myself, like how much of myself I want to and I bring to each each moment. I guess I’m starting to get a structure around seeing the moment for what it is or the interaction for what it is and how we can both mutually benefit and and then being able to determine who I how I persist in that moment.
I’m definitely getting structures around my work and life balance, especially now as we’re getting ramping up on our work and putting structures into like, when there’s a travel day, I’m probably not going to work. And so how do I balance that so that it’s fair for my business partner? And how do we how do we balance our client load and overall. Because I think there’s this idea of work-life balance, which I’ve never really wanted in a sense of, it’s all it’s all life. And sometimes you’re working and sometimes you’re not, but it’s all your life. So I think I’m starting to get patterns around, or starting to put structures around that, in order to fill facilitate an integration of work in life as opposed to like trying to create different worlds. Like a work world in a life world. To me, it’s too much. It’s too much brain power needed to do that.
Can I ask you a question, Jorge?
Jorge: Of course.
Lis: Are there any types of structures that you’d be interested in me talkingabout? What other types of structures might I have that I don’t know?
Jorge: I think that we become inured to things like the rhythms of life. Take something basic, like the flow of a “workweek”, right? Where you have these five days where you’re expected to be doing work and then you have these two days we call the weekend, which are rest. And you know, there are songs like “Everybody’s Working for the Weekend” or whatever. And there’s this expectation that this rhythm is the one that you will abide by and that’s the norm, right?
Lis: Yeah. Yeah.
Jorge: And for me, I can tell you over the past year and a half where I’ve transitioned to working as an independent consultant, as opposed to being part of a company, I have morefreedom overr things like my schedule. And I’ve kind of intentionally blurred the constructs like the weekend.
Jorge: I do a tremendous amount of work in the weekend and conversely I do things that other people do in the weekends, like go grocery shopping, I try to do that in the week.
Jorge: So that’s the sort of thing that I would expect that something like the experiment that you’re conducting would help bring to the surface, right? Like many of these things are artificial constructs that we abide by because that’s somehow the norm that’s expected of us.
Lis: Yeah, I love those examples. Like I was thinking about the other day, I’m back in the Columbia River Gorge and one of the things I love to do and I lived here was hike and I was going to do a hike on the weekend. And then I’m like, “Wait a minute. I don’t want to do that. Why don’t I go during the week when I know it’s more calm and not everybody’s on the trail and like why don’t I why don’t I switch this up?” So I’m still in experimenting mode, but I’m definitely trying out. I’m trying to push the boundaries of the structures much more in the ways that you’re saying is it’s dead-on.
Jorge: It strikes me that we are very fortunate and that we are in a position of a certain degree of privilege to have this much control over our schedules. And I want to acknowledge that this is not a privilege that everyone has the luxury of undertaking.
Lis: You know, I’m really glad that you’re acknowledging that. If I can talk a bit more about that, because it’s something I think about a lot and I try to be careful about how I tell my story, I think. So for example, I told the story on the blog. Today, I released a blog post and and I had a really great comment in response to that in which the reader commented about the decision that I was toying with was one that someone of medium to high income could toy with. Right? And I thought about that and I was like man, am I being insensitive by my just writing my experience? And I don’t think this is what you were saying by the way, but I think I’m glad you bring up that comment because I think it’s an important one. Because it’s true. Like not everybody starts at the same level playing field. I’m incredibly lucky to be on the playing field that I’m on and I have to acknowledge that. And I hope that by working to architect my best self, I become even better equipped to help those who don’t have the same privileges. Or not help them if they don’t want to help, that’s fine. You know, I don’t want to pretend to be some sort of Messiah or something. But I hope that I basically contribute to a better world through that . That’s how I started to try and — I don’t know — integrate that knowledge, I guess. I don’t know if that makes any sense, by the way.
Jorge: No, it does and I’m so happy to hear that. And that seems to me like a great place to wrap up the conversation. So where can folks follow up with you, Lis?
Lis: Yes, so they can find me at Elizabeth Hubert.com. That’s Elizabeth with an S, not a Z. And then there’s my site with the Lis Experiment. Lis is L I S by the way, the Lis experiment. And then they can also find me on my YouTube channel on the Lis Experiment. And for those wise guys out there, I know what they say. They’re like, “how will I ever know where you are?” It’s on the website, where I’m going to be. So no excuses.
Jorge: Fantastic. I’ll include links to all of those things in the show notes.
Lis: Thanks so much Jorge.
Jorge: So, thank you so much to you for for being here and best wishes on wherever your travels take you next.
Lis: Thanks. I hope they take me to see my good friend Jorge sometime soon.
Jorge: Lee let’s hope so. All right, thank you Lis.
Lis: Thanks for having me.