I’m Zoe, a 42-year-old divorced woman, that decided (yet again) to redesign my life, so I could spend more time doing the things that make me happy. I’ve been very privileged to have traveled and lived all over the world, through both planned and unplanned lifestyle redesigns. I hope some of these stories will inspire you and serve as a reminder to me, that when one door closes, a much bigger one often opens.
Change can be frightening, but it’s necessary to move to the next level and on to other things. The next level is not always financial growth, in fact finding your peace, your joy and what you love is often not at the end of the money rainbow I have discovered to my dismay in the last couple of years.
We know what makes us happy deep down
Deep down I think we all know what makes us happy, fires us up and what makes getting up and out of bed in the morning worthwhile. The hustle and bustle of life, pressure from family, friends, society pushing you to conform or partners who want to mold you to their ideal model, and before you know it, what you want can easily get forgotten. Your dreams and desires get buried underneath, and all of a sudden you are living your life by someone else’s rules.
I truly believe that there is an extremely negative impact on your health and well-being if you don’t live by your values and are not working towards a dream. Sometimes they sit there quietly, sometimes not, simmering resentment, bitterness and angst flowing below the surface and coming up as negativity, perhaps depression or just a life felt bitterly unfulfilled. This blog is a reminder to me and I hope you, what happens when you don’t do what your heart desires and what happens when you do.
Working out my desires and acting on them
My deep down desire is to travel. Slow travel, nomadic travel, exotic travel, where I can integrate with the community, study their behaviors, society, culture and look at our differences and where we are the same. I favor exploration, through unplanned adventure and by eating the local food, learning the customs and by chatting and more chatting. I love love love the jungle and tropical weather. Getting off the plane and feeling the humid warm air, hearing the birds chirp and seeing the palms and lush green forests make me immediately feel at home. But I don’t want to stay forever and ever, I want to keep moving, albeit slowly, discovering as I go on to the next place.
I’m massively curious, love learning and I really like meeting new people, and I really intensely dislike cold dreary weather. If you think that my dream life sounds like a fairy tale or a holiday and I should give it up now, then I would say dream bigger, because it is a possibility, because I created it!
I absolutely believe that it’s possible, as long as you research, plan and create it. Take responsibility and know it won’t get handed to you on a plate. In fact, I am convinced that the group of people that make up the virtual nomadic tribes that flow around the world, working, living and learning will form part of our future global elite. This kind of nomadic subsistence, enriches you with an unparalleled skill-set, that you just can’t acquire working 9-5 in your office and watching Netflix at home in the evenings. You can’t even read it in management books, you have to LIVE IT.
What’s my latest lifestyle Redesign?
If you think I woke up at 40 one morning, decided I wanted to travel, quit my job and am now in Bali working on this blog to try and make me money, you would be wrong. You got the Bali bit right, but I did not quit and start working on a pipedream. I’ve done that before, and it was pretty tough. Of course, it all worked out in the end, but it was a struggle and was very stressful. Unless you have plenty of cash in the bank or a lot of transferable skills, I don’t advise jacking it all in and expecting to make money off the internet, it’s really not as easy as it sounds.
The way that I did it was to transition my work so that I can work from almost anywhere. I looked at all the elements of the work that I offer my clients and considered what could be done remotely and what not, and then set about how I could make it work. In all honesty, there is not a huge difference between how I work now and how I did in London, but the difference is happiness, and that is the most key of all.
Where my travel bug came from?
Sometimes I wonder where my love of travel comes from. My mum has always told me that we have a nomadic cowboy in our family a few generations back, that used to drive cattle across the prairie and I must have got it from him. As romantic as that sounds, I think it’s probably closer to home. I traveled a lot as a kid. My parents love the sun, so a couple of times a year we would head out to a sunny spot in Europe to lap it up. Our summers abroad seemed to get longer and longer and sometimes we’d be 6 weeks in Spain at a time.
So when I decided at 17 that I was moving abroad, I guess they were neither surprised nor terribly worried. I decided on Germany, more for matters of practically and my future prospects than anything else. I had wasted enough time learning German in school with distinctly unencouraging teachers and not being able to string a worthwhile sentence together. My plan was to go there myself and learn it in situ.
My first Lifestyle Redesign at 18
At 18 I became an Au-pair in Germany, it was both horrific and wonderful. My first English / German family were downright bizarre with parenting tactics to match. After they threw me out on the street after I refused to look after their two very badly behaved children alone, while they went to Turkey for two weeks, I picked myself and my belongings up and found a wonderful German family for the rest of my gap year. Of course, it was stressful, but it taught me how to get up, dust myself off and try again.
From there I applied to study European Languages and Business in Leeds, chosen so I could guarantee a life of work and travel. At least across Europe if not the world, so I thought. The course was really tough, as we had three full courses in one. Two Languages and Business, so we practically spent a full working week in university, but I loved it and made some wonderful friends, that I still have today.
Spurred on by an older Au-pair friend in Germany who had told me to say yes to anything resembling work experience that came my way at uni, I found myself volunteering on my first day. The head of the students union ambled up to me and said I looked like the kind of girl that would be great at events. And so I said yes to the position of Student Union events manager (unpaid). I really had no idea of the magnitude of work (a hell of a lot), that I had to raise funds directly from thousands of students to put on events (unbelievably difficult), manage all the unbelievable cronyism, nepotism etc that was rife with previous suppliers & locations (I cut them all off, there was uproar), and lastly deal with being called back after I had actually made a tidy profit & the bank account had been cleaned out ! I had an alibi as I was in Amsterdam. Nevertheless, I was pretty mad at the accusation, and the fact that I had busted a gut all year, and for this to be the final thank you. I never did find out what happened to the slippery-fingered (paid) Students Union exec!
Designing my first job
My second year went by uneventfully, but my third at uni was the placement that I knew I had to have. I had spent year two being incredibly nice to the deciding teacher, which I admit was pretty manipulative, but I really really really wanted to go to Berlin and work for Siemens. I know that it would set me up really well for my future. I achieved my goal and ended up working at Siemens for a year on placement, writing my dissertation for them in German, which they actually paid me for and learning how to speak German Business lingo and more importantly how Germans work.
I actually went back after I graduated and worked another 2 years for them.I met some truly amazing people there. There were so many inspirational women that were doing incredible things.I soaked up their way of working and basically copied. They were strong, direct, outspoken when needed to be and they were not massively interested in the hierarchy. The goal was always to get the job done, productively. So there were no pointless meetings, no wasted niceties in long excessive emails. They were incredibly kind to me and I will never forget that. I don’t think my work practice has changed much since then, just that I work double the hours!
Time to move on – Another Redesign – Exotic Travel
After a few years working for them, I just got bored. I had been promoted to marketing manager, was paid really well and was happy there, but the lure of exotic travel was just too much. I had to see the world and on my own time. Not through rushed business meetings in and out. So I quit. I was 23, but I did have a plan.
I went to Barcelona for a month and learned how to teach English. Back then, this was the best way of working & traveling. So after a grueling month of grammar and rather hysterically teaching through mime (you are not supposed to use their language), and I hate teaching with books so it was perfect, I had my qualification and I was fit to work.
My destination was Ecuador, inspired by a previous co-worker. I was desperate to go to South America, and she persuaded me, that it was the safest country for solo women ( if you are careful).
She was completely correct. When I think back to Ecuador it brings a tear to my eye. I really did so many amazing things there. I wish I had written a journal, as there was a lot of incredible stories that I would love to relive. I worked a few hours in the week n and I kept my weekends free for adventuring.
Every Friday night I would get on some rickety old bus with the friends I had made, filled with ridiculously bright Catholic paintings & posts of various saints and travel to some destination overnight. It was not unusual to be passed a chicken or child to hold and more than once I slept on the floor. We stopped a ridiculous amount of times for food which was normally some kind of rice, plantain, and chicken, served up in polystyrene, which promptly got thrown out of the window when they had finished. Unsurprisingly many of the roads were litter lined, which for reasons I could not fathom, no one seemed to care about back then.
Most of the trips I took were in the Andes, so that means the driver was taking these tiny roads along the sides of the mountains. I had to train myself to look out and not down, as the drops were thousands of feet. And at least once an hour there was some horrific maneuvering as another bus or a truck filled with coca leaves was trying to pass.
There was always a discussion with whether the police were around or if it was safe to pass. At that time the Americans were swarming all over South America and taking out the poppy fields in Columbia (not that far away) and so the local police were being mindful I guess and clamping down. I could not really work out if it was some complicated mafia informant kind of thing or if the bus drivers were just being helpful.
Coupled with the tiny and often impassable roads, these long trips some being 8 -10 hours were almost always overnight and to stay awake the drivers, played salsa at full volume all night. No one seemed to have a problem sleeping with this racket but me. More than once I asked to turn it down, but I got screams from the bus, telling me, that ~it’s not safe, he must stay awake” in Spanish of course.
I never did learn to sleep on those buses, but I did not give up my weekend trips either, I reasoned that adventure, was more fun than sleep. I asked passengers a few times if they ever crashed and the reply was always.”Only when the driver is drunk”. Otherwise, it’s fine. They said to always check the driver was not drunk before you got on, make sure you smell him. Sounds funny now, but it was hairy at times, very hairy.
From the spot in Quito, where I worked, I went to literally every town or place of interest on the map and some not. Sometimes you would get out of the bus and there was nothing more than a tiny oil town, the hostel quoted in the Lonely Planet was already shut so your options were to sleep on the street or a brothel, but the nearby jungle was always amazing. The beauty of adventure, you take the rough with the smooth sometimes.
After I lived in Quito for 8 months it was time to go home, so I planned on a leaving adventure. My boyfriend at the time came over from Germany and ( he was German) and we traveled around Peru, Bolivia and the Galapagos. We literally did all the major excursions there was to do at the time, taking in all the cities too. Many people rave about Macchu Pichu, but after the 5 day walk, where I managed to get food poisoning, and balanced on the back of a tiny Sherpa, I arrived bitterly disappointed.
For me, the really deep jungle trip we took in Peru in the heart of the Amazon, was way better. Firstly it was so hard and expensive to get passes, that there were barely any other tourists and secondly the wildlife and dense dense jungle was incredible. We saw many many jaguars, monkeys and sloths and thousands of macaws. I look back on those jungle trips as one of the favorite things I’ve ever done.
Bolivia was next up and La Paz, I loved. Although it was huge and busy, it had so many beautiful and majestic buildings, that I fell in love with it. The photo opportunity of the trip went to the Sala de Uyuni. Back then it was not really that well known and still largely unheard of outside of South America. It was otherworldly.
Lifestyle Redesign – Spain
After that trip, I came back to Europe and decided that I was moving to Spain. I had no job or real plan, I just knew that I needed to build on my Spanish and make it good enough so that I could use it for work. I found a place to live and set about finding work. Weeks went by and I was really struggling. I hit a real low when I had to go buy Aldi face cream, that to me was my lowest point back then. I look back at that and laugh now, but at least it spurred me into action and I got a job, working for BSI and calculating cargo space on boats. It was massively complicated, and I really had no clue what I was doing.
To this day I have no idea why I got the job and kept it as they had to recalculate everything I did. They were a really funny bunch though and we spent most of the time laughing, with my colleagues them teaching me really awful Spanish swear words.
Sadly one night when I was coming home after my birthday I got violently mugged outside my front door. A couple of guys jumped me, tried to break my neck and smashed my head on the pavement. Luckily a neighbor took me to the hospital and the police station, where I was told that I was very very lucky and that normally they stab you, so for some reason, I was saved. I was left with a neck injury and of course anxiety. I had to change my job as I could not look down as my neck hurt so badly, so I changed back to teaching English and taught at a couple of banks.
Lifestyle Redesign – Vietnam
After about a year in Spain, I had the opportunity to go to Vietnam for a year with my partner. I did not want to teach English anymore, so I applied to work for Saignon Children’s charity as a volunteer, and spent the year fundraising for them.
It was actually a very entertaining role even though I was only selling Christmas cards & t-shirts ( designed together by Saatchi & Saatchi no less). I used to get these surprising meetings with really senior execs in big companies like Coca-Cola, and Mckinsey to show off my charity wares. That was my first instance of selling, and pretty much everyone bought something, so I had an extremely easy intro. Much, later on, I realized that selling is more about dealing with rejection well, than actually pitching your products.
I was living in beautiful serviced apartments right by the river. It was such a contrast, living this incredibly spoiled existence and then working at the charity in the week, helping kids who could not afford to pay for school. I actually grew to really dislike expats and their spoilt demanding behavior and so found myself spending more and more time with the locals.
One of the reasons I ended splitting up with my partner at the time, as I did not want to hang out with the expats and the “girlfriends” aka sex workers that many of these guys rent for the duration of their projects. I found the whole thing very difficult and as a woman, I was expected to hang out with these women, while the guys talk shop. I have very little interest in clothes or make-up so there are only so many topics you can cover when you can’t talk about the past or the future as these women are rented for the moment. It’s terribly sad, and it really bugs me each time I come to Asia.
Lifestyle Redesign – Travel to get over the heartache
So we split up. I was devastated, to put it mildly, but deep down I knew I had forced it, as I did not want to travel with someone and be their “accessory. I really wanted to carve out my own life and live by my rules and create my own success.
I traveled around the world alone for almost 6 months, stopping for extended periods of time in countries that really tickled my fancy. Thailand and Fiji being the highlights. Fiji was supposed to be just a week, but the diving there captivated me so much, that I ended up prolonging it and basically going diving with the local school every day. It was a wonderful trip and it really helped heal part of the heartache.
I landed back home in Cardiff, with no job, single (having split up with my long-term boyfriend) and penniless and in my late 20’s. I had a degree, years of marketing experience for a big company, international experience and I spoke 3 languages fluently. And guess what, no one would hire me.
I had never worked in a UK office, so even with all that I was considered useless, or that’s how I felt. I ended up going to work in a call center, which I hated, but the experience turned out to be invaluable later on in life. Then I worked at an investment bank doing admin ( which I hated with all my soul), and finally, I found a marketing job. Took 6 months.
I found a company that needed my German skills, and I worked for years doing B2B and B2C marketing and channel management across Europe, Russia and the Middle East in London. My job was to launch consumer electronics products on and off-line B2B and B2C. I learned a hell of a lot and that’s where I became enthralled with digital marketing.
We had a really cool IT team and I used to go to lunch with them every day and they would teach me all the pioneering stuff, and then I’d test it out. I lasted 5 years, then I got made redundant, which was the best thing that could have happened to me in hindsight. It was a glamorous lifestyle at times, as I got to travel and I had marketing budgets so there was a lot of entertaining, but the office was pretty toxic and unhealthy.
Unplanned Lifestyle Redesign – Redundancy
I was pretty well prepared for being made redundant. I had insurance and money in the bank and a lodger. So my outgoings were not that huge. However getting a job back then was no laughing matter. The economy had tanked and people weren’t hiring, and I was dead set on using my language skills. I applied for jobs day after day after day, becoming more and more despondent and depressed and thinking I was getting nowhere and would be left on the scrap heap.
My aunt took pity on me and offered me a trip to Nigeria, taking my cousins to visit their Dad. I did not want to go as I was scared that taking one minute away from my 12 hour day of staring at the laptop and sending loads of applications was going to be awful and I’d arrive back in a worse state than before, with still no job. Of course, while I was in Lagos and chilling out the job offers started flooding in. A great reminder to me back then and now, that pushing and pushing does not always lead the way. Sometimes the universe provides.
Life Redesign that fell on my lap – Charity
The job that fell on my lap, was working for a charity, Sense. It was a charity for the deaf-blind, adults and children, called Sense. They were looking for someone who came from the business sector to head up their acquisition channels. I was massively interested in doing the direct response TV advertising ( and that’s where my call center experience came in very very handy).
I loved that job, even though I commuted 2 hours each way. And I loved my boss, who was not only brilliant at her job but who had this marvelous skill of bringing out the best in people. It’s very rare to have that, and I do sometimes wonder if I should have stayed there longer, but I was looking for a faster pace and so out of the sky dropped an offer for a consultancy… Well, it dropped out of the sky and then chased me and chased me until I said yes.
Life Redesign – The one that chased me – Consulting
So I got sucked into working at a consultancy, advising consumer electronics brands on how to improve their strategy, solve their problems and how to launch their products into retail. I probably learned more in this job than any other (on the job), but it was brutal. The hours were long and tough, the company had a very strange way of managing you and they worked you to the bone.
It was suggested on several occasions by several people including doctors that I quit (as I got written off more than once for extreme stress), as the pressure was too much, but I stayed for 3 years. How and why I did that to myself I will never know, but I knew it would set me up with skills for life, so I weathered it, not well, but I did.
Lifestyle Redesign – My own business
Then I got the offer of working with one of my clients that I had worked with at the consulting agency and to take on the role of leading their European and Middle Eastern Product Launches and account managing the distribution and retailers day to day. I said I’ll do it, but I want to launch my own company, as that gives me greater flexibility, so I did. And I can’t tell you how hard it was. Setting up on your own working out all the stuff you need to do to be a business, accounting, paperwork, oh and doing the work on top. Nightmare.
A couple of years into it working at home, on my own in central London in my own office and I started to get depressed. I was working crazy hours, getting constantly rejected by retailers ( normal) and just feeling like a total robot. I felt like the ME was being sucked out of me. I had never felt less creative or joyful ever. During that stage, my dad got very sick and passed away, which was the straw that broke the camels back.
I felt like my life was over, I fell into a deep dark depression, which took me a long time and medication to get out of and forcing myself to be around people. Some of my friends pushed me into working at a co-working space, and that is where I started to feel better. You can read my full article on how coworking changed my life here.
It helped me a lot, alongside medication, and getting rid of toxicity. It also inspired me, along with the research that I had done many years before, to start looking into Digital Nomading. Working while traveling on the move.
My Nomadic Redesign
Right now I’m in Bali on month 4 of being a nomad, a place I researched and set my sights on a while back. I visioned being here, which I will write about in more depth in another post, but I am here, doing the same role I was doing in London nomadically, from the co-working spaces and coffee shops of Bali.
Packing up to leave was tough, really tough, as you can read about in my London resident to nomad in 60 days. My first month I really struggled with the location and actually the transition more than I thought I would. I won’t go into great depth here, as I wrote another lengthy post about my first month as a digital nomad and how to survive it. Needless to say my first location, I did not love. Gran Canaria was not my place, but I did meet some truly amazing people, who will pop up again later in the story.
As you can read in the post I arrived back depressed, and down and wondering what the hell I had done. I ended up back at my mum’s house and spent two weeks detoxing, walking and running in the mountains and focusing on a serious amount of new product launches.
After that very nourishing break, I went back to London to stay at friends for a couple of weeks while she was out of town and hang out with her daughter. After about a week, Natasha ( the daughter) came home one night and said she had all but booked a holiday in Bali, that she needed to go there for rest and rejuvenation and to find her path. The holiday was for 20 days. I said okay I trust you, as I know what you like, so book me a ticket. I did not even really listen to her plan, all I heard was Bali, and I was in. She ( Bali) had been calling me for years. It sounds strange, but I feel “signs” deep down that I need to go somewhere, and so that’s kind of how I decide.
So that’s what we did, we had an idyllic holiday in Bali, which again I will write about in more detail. I had already added on an extra month to stay here so when she left, which was 3 weeks ago, I said an emotional bye bye, fully prepared to see her in another month. I had even booked an AirBandB in London and started organizing meetings.
Until I changed my mind……
Stay tuned for the next part of the story, where I redesign my Life yet again….
P.s That image is me impersonating Mary Poppins – taken by Ian Pickstock @Huckletree Coworking London