Benje Patterson – ‘set your own boundaries’

I was recently interview by Sue Fea for Lakes Weekly Bulletin about the life I have carved out as Arrowtown’s resident economist. The article is republished below.

Arrowtown-based economist Benje Patterson has been working remotely from Arrowtown for six years now – long before it was fashionable, and the young father of three wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Ironically, I now travel a lot less than I originally did, which is awesome,” says Benje, 35.

The shift online during the past two-and-a-half years, due to Covid, has changed the face of how we do business permanently and for Benje that’s for the better. “I used to travel 50 to 70 times a year. Now I travel between 10 and 20 times a year.”

Prior to the move south, Benje was an economist in Wellington for six years, fresh from post graduate studies at the University of Freiburg, Germany.

Working for Infometrics in Wellington gave him a really strong grounding in macroeconomics. “That gave me a really broad background structure in economics. I learned about big business, government, trade and international trends, everything that makes up the industry,” he says.

However, Benje felt he was disconnected from the coalface – “the real people, doing real things every day. It felt impractical.”

During his time at Infometrics, Benje started getting into more regional economics, focusing on smaller areas. “We developed software solutions for economic agencies, councils and government.” Through this he was engaging with clients, teaching them how to use the information. “It brought economics alive for me. People used it to make real decisions.”

Living permanently in Queenstown had always been a life goal for Benje, who grew up in Invercargill. “Early on in my career I realised the big city was not for me. I loved the mountains.” Initially in 2016 he worked remotely from the Wakatipu for Infometrics, heading up its regional arm. “They were quite pioneering doing that back then and it worked well professionally for me.”

Eventually Benje found life had become somewhat “geographically divided”. “My focus was split socially and professionally. My work focus was on Wellington, but I felt emotionally disconnected.”

So he set up shop himself in Arrowtown, working closely with clients.

“The irony is I now do a lot more work around the country from here, as well as being geographically closer to clients,” says Benje. “Head office was no longer an aspect of my day so for the last three-and-a-half years I’ve been doing my own thing.”

Now a father of three, spending more time with his family have definitely been a factor in Benje’s decision to work remotely. “I respect big cities and they’ll always play a big role for me professionally, but I get my kicks out of heading into the hills. I feel cooped in otherwise”.

For Benje it’s the flexibility of his remote work lifestyle that’s the biggest appeal. “However, that can be a false friend so you’ve got to be careful that work doesn’t encroach on life. You’ve got to create your own boundaries,” he says. Remote work allows him that flexibility to pick up the kids, or, if the snow’s good, head up the mountain. “You’ve got to be careful though that you’re not always working weekends, or finding yourself constantly checking emails.

“My motto was always, ‘Never say no’, as if you do word gets around that you’re too busy and people begin to tell your story for you. Now I’m careful though to communicate clearly with clients and to ring fence and block off time in advance, either to work solidly on a project, or just have free leisure time.”