Sir!… Whadda you do?

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The author recounts their experience at immigration control in Dallas Fort Worth airport and the challenge of explaining their unconventional job as a digital nomad. Despite working online and helping people quit their jobs and create a living online, they resort to more traditional job descriptions when questioned by immigration officers.
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Sir!… Whadda you do?

I’d flown into Dallas Fort Worth airport many times but this was different.
For the last six months, I'd waited anxiously for an overpriced passport sticker to establish that I could remain in the United States indefinitely.
As an official ‘Alien’ my final task was to legally enter the ‘Land of the Free’ and start my Green Card process.
The awkward shuffle towards the ‘yellow line’, repeatedly thumbing through your passport while clutching precious ‘documentation’ under one arm and playing footsie with your carry-on.
This liminal experience, curated by sadistic mass transport architects, is reserved for those arriving at immigration control; fresh off an international red-eye flight.
I hoped a swift scan of my visa and the deafening thud of the officer’s stamp block would have alleviated my anxiety… but there was one final guardian to defeat.
With ten steps to go, as the exit doors opened and a backdraft of fresh coffee, echoey chatter and sensory overload poured into my escape hatch. I clocked him…
Enter, stage right - Andre the Giant… homeland security guard
‘Sir!…’ he bellowed, with an accompanying hand gesture.
Whaada you do?’
In all fairness, this was a valid inquiry.
My passport was as colorful as a kids Disney pass, littered with stamps from 50 countries and multi-month visas spread over three continents.
With seven years of, seemingly aimless, international travel as a ‘Digital Nomad’ under my belt, this wasn’t the first time I’d encountered this question.
By this point, it felt more like an Improv stage than an interrogation, and at previous gigs I’d tried all the classics just for fun;
‘I’m a Trustafarian’ ― surprisingly never raised any eyebrows.
‘I’m retired’ ― raised many eyebrows given my age at the time.
‘I’m remote’ ― eyebrows got scrunched, HARD!
But… this wasn’t 2021. Back in 2014, remote work just wasn’t in the lexicon of airport staff or many workplaces for that matter. And despite existing this way for so long, the ambiguity of what I did and how I did it was always met with confusion.
Traditional job descriptions have their hierarchical titles; even modern gig-workers have buzz phrases like: ‘I’m an Uber driver’ and ‘I freelance on Upwork’. This makes it easy for others to understand what they do. But for the truly autonomous, sometimes the toughest part of the ‘job’ is articulating the nuances of how we spend the time between getting up in the morning and going to bed at night.
And this time was different.
I needed a smooth entry to gain permanent status.
My honesty got the best of me. I decided to be frank and blurted out my dirty little secret...
’I work online.’
Sadly this still wasn’t going to cut it. His facial expression said enough and I feared he wanted blood.
But, instead of the verbal torture TWA staff are trained for, he pressed for more details with the softness of a friend grabbing a beer after work.
So I told him my story…
‘Maaan, I gotta get me out of this job, I wanna do what y’all do!'
And if it hadn’t been for the 5 am adrenaline-fueled fear of being denied entry to my new homeland, I’d have stuck around and helped him.
You see that’s what I really do…
I help people quit their jobs,
I help people find their ‘thing’
I help people create a living online.
But that’s not what you tell the good people at airport immigration.
I tell them I ‘do’ branding, copywriting, web design and digital marketing, but maybe it’s time I start revealing what I really do.
‘I guide people through transitional phases on their journey to becoming free-range independent citizens of the internet’

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