How My Year Abroad During The Pandemic Reignited Creativity And Purpose

Nazaré, Portugal (photo credit: S. Givens)

“I met a lot of people in Europe. I even encountered myself. ”
— James Baldwin

The devastating impact of the pandemic changed everything and everyone globally. At its peak, many of us began prioritizing in a way that we had never done before — assessing carefully what really mattered in our lives. My reality check took place after a purge at my tech job, when I accepted a severance package. What followed became the catalyst for me finally stepping out of my comfort zone and beginning a new and exciting chapter. I took a chance and upended my comfortable life in the Bay area and landed in Croatia in the fall of 2020.

Suddenly, I was taking chances I wouldn’t have taken before. I was a digital nomad carefully navigating my way through Covid-19 restrictions and lock downs while traveling through Europe. My adventure in a suitcase lasted for another 10 months. It was an exciting time, filled with exploration and quiet times for reflection. The dampening effect of Covid-19 would dictate what both natives and tourists could have access to. Wherever I went, I immersed myself in the local culture while simultaneously laying low and absorbing the vibrations of everyday life.

Berlin, Germany

I found time and space to look deeply inward and to reflect on my life and career. What initially seemed like an existential crisis became a way to learn what was important to me. Being far way from home provided a safe space and the freedom to release the things that were no longer serving me.

Digital Nomading
“Work from anywhere” became my mantra during the pandemic. I fully embraced it by nomading my way through five countries within a year’s time.

When I travel, I find myself inspired and the world takes on a fresh perspective. I took photos and videos, particularly capturing street posters in native languages, as well as rogue street art and graffiti. Rogue art really captures the true personality and language of a city. During long walks in these foreign spaces, the process of defining my own mission began to take shape.

I wanted to gain both clarity and intention in what I do. I pondered
questions like: What do I stand for (or against)? And, what do I truly value? And, how will I recapture a sense of purpose and meaning?

After a few weeks of travel, I was ready to get back to work. I approached it with vigor and intention. I reconnected with friends, former colleagues, and mentors for ideas, feedback, and for potential work. I secured a couple of solid projects right away with a few nascent startups in need of high-level strategy
and prototyping.

I also worked on what would become an extensive report that highlighted the impact of the pandemic on black girls with the team at the Chicago-based non-profit, A Long Walk Home. This project in particular invigorated my sense of service.

Overall, my time away from the U.S. was a much needed respite from the mundane routine and the rut that I found myself slogging through daily.
My only wish was I that I had done this sooner rather than waiting for a
global catastrophe to happen.

A Return to the States
I returned to the Bay area after a year with a renewed perspective.
My action list includes the following:

1: Turning good work into great work. In fact, do great work by identifying and pursuing truly meaningful projects. Find collaborators and allies that share the same values and purpose in their work.

2: Give back. I am committed to do work that impacts people of color and marginalized communities. I stand proudly behind these projects and will continue to pursue more of them.

3: Ruthlessly prioritize. Compensation is important. I feel empowered to say no to clients and projects that are not aligned with my value or values.

4: Manage expectations. Celebrate the wins and learn lessons from the losses.

5: Travel, travel, travel. Do more of this to ignite imagination and discovery.

I am, of course, not able to control the many variables that this world has in store for us this year. I remain optimistic that I can at least steer through the unknowns with an open mind and heart. I hope you can as well.




Designer / Educator / Visual Artist

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Connie Harvey

Connie Harvey

Designer / Educator / Visual Artist

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