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Female Disruptors: Kat Smith of A Way Abroad On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

“Nothing changes if nothing changes.” It’s as simple as that. If you don’t take any initiative to create change, nothing new will come. This has helped me grow and scale my business. There are times I get into the rhythm of doing the same thing every day but without seeing any growth. Instead of getting frustrated with this like I did when I first started out, I think about what small alternation I can make that will spark an even bigger change. This isn’t just with business but also in my personal life as well. If you want something different, you have to do something different.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kat Smith.

Kat is the founder of A Way Abroad, the ultimate resource for women dreaming of a life abroad. After moving overseas in 2013, she’s lived in 4 continents and in a long list of countries, all while working in different industries. She started A Way Abroad to show women how many amazing opportunities there are out there to build a life outside of their home country.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Although I didn’t move abroad until 2013, the story really starts in 2008 when I took my first solo trip overseas to Guatemala. To be honest, I had zero desire to go to Guatemala. As an 18 year old who had just graduated high school, I wanted to start university in August, not take the semester off to study Spanish. It’s hard for me to even recognize that person now but at the time, this plan to go abroad was orchestrated by my parents. I finally caved to their plan and started packing while listening to Rosetta Stone CDs about a week before my flight.

Long story short, that trip to Guatemala changed my life. The plan was for me to stay one month but I changed my flight twice in order to stay for three. I came home and started University in January but after that I had one simple goal: get abroad after graduation.

And that’s what I did. Exactly one month after I graduated, I was on a plane to Ecuador with the Peace Corps.

It took me 6 years and multiple jobs in a handful of countries until I finally started A Way Abroad but without those experiences, I never would have been able to build the community I have today.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

As a person from the southern US, I was raised to believe that you go to university, meet the person you’ll marry, settle down in the suburbs, raise a few kids, and maybe, if you want some spending money, you could get a small job, while your partner works to support the family.

Those societal norms didn’t click with me.

As a girl, I was taught to fit inside a box. This box was usually as a wife, mother, or homemaker or I was told to go all in on my career, but I couldn’t have both. I either needed to focus solely on my looks and master the art of makeup or I needed to study hard so I could have smarts instead.

It wasn’t as if someone sat me down one day and told me those were my options but the media and conversations around me made it pretty clear.

So I left.

And no, I don’t mean I threw a fit because I couldn’t get what I wanted so I stormed out. I mean, I left to build a life that was my own, without societal norms telling me who I should or shouldn’t be. I wanted to try out different countries, languages, job industries, and even hobbies.

We’re typically not told we can be a lot of different people in one life but I disagree.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

My very first time abroad, I was 18 and by myself in Guatemala. I was a ball of nerves, especially when I realized how high school Spanish really did not prepare me for this adventure at all. I was set up to live with a host family and the moment I arrived, the matriarch of the family took me to my room. As I dropped my bag in my new bedroom, she just started talking. And I mean, talking non-stop for about 15 minutes. I was so overwhelmed by the newness of the country, amazed by my shower with electric wires jutting out the head, and of course, the language. The Spanish rolling out of her mouth and my poor ears not catching more than a word or two.

So when she finally stopped talking, did I try to explain to her that I didn’t understand even a bit? No. I was far too uncomfortable and nervous to admit defeat in my first hour abroad. So, I nodded and said, “si.”

We left it at that and nothing came of it until about 2 weeks later when I was kicked out of the house for disobeying the rules.

Yikes.

I was taking Spanish lessons at a small school at the time and they had to explain to me the situation. Apparently the matriarch had kindly explained all the rules to me when I arrived, I had agreed to them, and then went on to break them all. I apparently had a curfew, I had rules about friends coming to my room, and I was supposed to keep them more in the loop with my daily adventures.

I learned the hard way not to just agree to things to make it easier in the moment (don’t worry, I didn’t go homeless. The school helped me find another nearby family). I learned that although it can be tough, mental draining, and time consuming to admit when you don’t understand something, it might save you some hassle in the long run.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

Although not an official mentor, my husband has been my biggest supporter since day one. Along with designing and building my site, he’s made me two brands (a year in, we rebranded to A Way Abroad) and taught me how to use design software to up my game on social media.

Apart from the tangible things, he’s believed in me on days where I feel like I’ve hit a wall. All entrepreneurs know, it’s an uphill battle, full of dead ends, trial and error and confronting imposter syndrome more likely than we’d like to admit. He’s sat with me for countless hours as I’ve talked through ideas, sales pitches, and mental blocks.

He’s been there to remind me I’m capable, distract me when I need a break, and give me that extra push to keep going when I’m not sure I can.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

If you want to be disruptive, you need to do so because you genuinely believe in what you’re doing and you’re ready to take any consequences that come along the way.

Being disruptive to simply create chaos or to feel cool isn’t beneficial to anyone, especially not to yourself. While being disruptive to break outdated status quo, do what you know is right or stand up for what you believe in, that’s the amazing kind of disruptive.

An example is wearing two left shoes. Sure, it’s against the norm and “disruptive” but who is benefiting from this? You surely aren’t and it’s also not helping anyone else around you. It’s less productive for your daily life and you’ll end up with a killer cramp in your foot.

But the woman who made wearing tennis shoes with dresses normal? That’s the disruptive thing we need more of. She told women you can be feminine while still being comfortable. She threw out the idea that heels go with dresses and tennis shoes go with athletic wear and instead we can get out of the stereotypical box of fashion norms and do both at the same time.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

“Nothing changes if nothing changes.” It’s as simple as that. If you don’t take any initiative to create change, nothing new will come. This has helped me grow and scale my business. There are times I get into the rhythm of doing the same thing every day but without seeing any growth. Instead of getting frustrated with this like I did when I first started out, I think about what small alternation I can make that will spark an even bigger change. This isn’t just with business but also in my personal life as well. If you want something different, you have to do something different.

“It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.” This is actually something my mom constantly told me. Although not stereotypical parental advice, it’s exactly right. We typically spend so much time waiting for others to give us the green light and when they don’t, we either do it anyway causing a strain in a relationship or we put our dreams on pause for someone else. If you want to do something, do it. For me this meant staying abroad after my Peace Corps service was finished. My friends and family back home assumed I would move back to the US once my contract in Ecuador was over. Instead of asking them for their opinions, knowing they wanted me to come home, and sacrificing my happiness, knowing I wanted to stay abroad, I went ahead and planned my next international move and filled them in once the plan was finalized. They weren’t thrilled but were more supportive knowing the plan was already in motion and not something they could easily stop.

But that brings me to my next one…

“Be Kind.” While I fully believe that everyone has the potential to take control of their happiness and experience life the way they want to, be kind along the way. You don’t live in this world by yourself so never stomp on others just to get what you want.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

So far with my Mentorship Program, I’ve helped +25 women from around the world achieve their goals of living abroad. While I feel so thankful to be a part of each and every one of their journeys, I aim to help even more women.

I’m working on a lot of big plans for A Way Abroad to grow the community and get the women better connected with each other. Soon, I’ll be launching workshops and group programs, along with continuing to grow my 1:1 Mentorship Program.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Last night I was reading The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and a line really stuck with me, “You wonder what it must be like to be a man, to be so confident that the final say is yours.” While the story was based in the 1960s, I still think a lot of this rings true. As women, we have come a long way in fighting for equal rights but in a lot of ways, men still have the “final say” whether it’s in the boardroom, office, at home, or even just something posted on social media.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

Books continue to impact my outlook on life but not one in particular. I don’t read too many self-help or business related books but instead I love getting engrossed in fiction, especially historical fiction. While these books might not directly impact my business, they have given me the opportunity to put myself in a lot of different shoes. This has given me more patience and empathy while moving and living in so many different countries.

I also enjoy listening to podcasts in the same genre. A recent one that has been impactful in my personal life is “Vietnamese Boat People.” Since I currently live in Vietnam, this podcast has given me greater insight and understanding into Vietnam’s history and also more empathy towards refugees in general. I highly recommend anyone, with ties to Vietnam or not, give it a listen.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

The movement I am most interested in getting started is seeing each other as collaborators or supporters, instead of competition, especially women in business. There’s enough room for all of us to succeed without stepping on others along the way.

A Way Abroad is built on collaboration with females in my same industry, meaning women living outside of their home countries. Many of them have personal blogs or businesses that could be seen as “competition” to my own. My focus though is to lift them up and share their stories, on social media and on my website. Usually when I do this, people are surprised by my “kindness” in sharing about them. What I’m doing shouldn’t be anything special, it should be the norm.

It’s time we lift each other up, instead of tearing each other down.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If you don’t like where you are, move. You are not a tree.” This is by far the most important words of advice I’ve read. This has become a personal mantra and one that I’ve built my lifestyle on.

The first time I saw this quote, I felt seen. So often had I been the “odd one out” in my lifestyle choices and was constantly doubting why I wanted to continue to move and feeling worn down with the need to explain myself to people.

This quote flipped a switch in my brain. I realized I wasn’t alone in my desire to move and try out living in new places. It also gave me a quick and easy way to express how I felt to others.

So many people stay put somewhere (a job, a relationship, a certain city, etc) because that’s what they’ve been given or what they currently have. Just because you’re there now, doesn’t mean you have to stay there.

Humans have feet for a reason and it’s up to us to go where we feel alive.

How can our readers follow you online?

Check out A Way Abroad- @awayabroad on Instagram and www.findawayabroad.com

Follow my personal page- @katinando on Instagram

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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