From Stocks to Siberia: The Offbeat Road from Finance to Digital Nomad …
Life in the banking world was predictable but good, at least it was for the next ten years, until I started to feel an itch.
It’s a Sunday. Or so I think. The last few days having begun blurring into one. 12 hour driving stints with nothing other than trees, the odd truck and the long road ahead for company.
Fuelled by Snickers and sugary soft drinks, my co-driver and I are rattling through deepest Siberia, having started across the water from the Chinese border, we’re traversing Outer Mongolia; and currently I’m being dressed from head to toe by villagers in the traditional garb of their 250 year-old settlement. Why? That’s a question I’m asked a lot. We’re on a press trip, there’s been countless over the years, but there’ll doubtful be one capable of rivalling the oddness of this.
Allow me to start at the beginning, though, to explain how a former financial advisor was invited to take part in this crazy week-long trip with her husband (co-driver) and a handful of journalists and car dealership owners. I co-run We Heart, an online magazine with some 200,000 monthly readers.
Writing about art, design, lifestyle and travel, we get to travel plenty; and generally have a ton of fun in the process. But that’s my current life, and I was going to start at the beginning …
I never quite made it to university. Opting for a year out and instead of travelling or partying, I applied for a six month position in a building society. It wasn’t the career I’d planned, however there wasn’t much call for my childhood dream job of dolphin trainer in the Welsh coastal town I grew up in. Plus, the title of customer advisor really appealed to me; as a natural talker, I assumed it would be all chatter and looking good behind a smart desk. Those six months flew by, I was offered a permanent position — which I accepted — my first accidental career had seduced me, and over the next three years I racked up mortgage adviser and branch manager as official titles. I left to join a ‘rather large’ banking corporation shortly after, trained as a pensions and investment adviser, and enjoyed perks such as staying at The Ritz, a top-of-the-range Mercedes, and healthy bonuses.
Life in the banking world was predictable but good, at least it was for the next ten years, until I started to feel an itch. That itch anyone in a corporate environment will be familiar with: why am I making money for somebody else? Why do I have to work such rigid hours? Why do I have to ask for time off (to sometimes be told no)? And the biggie: what is it all for? Once these sneaky little thoughts found their way into my consciousness, I couldn’t shake them; and over a very short period of time, they got louder and louder.
It wasn’t helping that at this time my husband had left his job at a design agency and launched a successful blog; picking up a top award in its infancy and garnering international recognition. We Heart had afforded him the luxury of working his own hours (admittedly there were lots), travelling far and wide, and keeping all of whatever he earned. Wanting a piece of this ‘good life’, the first of many long chats began. Could we work together? Could we rely on this magazine to pay the mortgage and bills? Did we have the balls to take the plunge?
After spending three weeks travelling around the west coast of the United States, we decided yes. Our big, round, and shiny balls were going to do this; and so I handed in my notice. It felt amazing, and three months later came day one of my second accidental career: our current life.
We set about transforming We Heart into a serious business, doing everything from writing to editing, contacting brands and advertisers, and growing its readership. As all you freelancers, entrepreneurs, start-ups, digital nomads [insert your preferred title here] know, working for yourself is hard bloody work. The hours are relentless, endless (why are there only 24 in one day?) and ‘disconnecting’ becomes a thing of the past. There are blood, sweat and tears. It can be lonely too, especially if you’re working from your dining room table and home office as we were doing at that time; my days consisting of talking on the phone to people I’d never met and members of the We Heart team via email or messenger. That said, the last thing I wanted was to was return to ‘employment’ and besides, we were being invited on a whole host of trips — ranging from travelling first class to New York (not me), sipping champagne on super-yachts with super-models in Monaco (again not me), taking art tours in Philadelphia and Miami (meeeee), and boarding the first of four flights that, in 20 hours time, would have us touching down in Siberia on what remains the most bizarre, un-luxurious, yet most captivating experience to date.
The excessive travelling was opening our eyes and a new itch was being felt. Britain and the home office was boring us, we wanted to be around creativity and like-minded souls, and we wanted to see blue skies and much less rain. We looked into the possibility of renting out our home, and within three months we were landlords; had packed our lives into boxes (which, more than three years later, still reside in my in-laws’ garage); booked flights; packed three ridiculously large suitcases; and hotfooted it to Melbourne.
This, I guess, is where our ‘digitally nomadic’ lives truly begin. Renting a 25th-floor apartment in the CBD with views over the city and onto the beach at St Kilda, we worked from a desk at Foolscap Studio (a cross-disciplinary design practice), made new friends, and enjoyed every minute of our new environment. After our 90-day visas expired we headed back to the UK, excited to see family and friends, and, excited about getting our next destination sorted.
A month later we packed up our travelling office and were USA bound: one month in New York and two in Miami. (Where the hot and humid weather, and the draw of South Beach, hampered productivity — this lifestyle is all about learning valuable lessons, right?)
All of which leads me to today, scribing my story from a co-working space in Barcelona. We’ve been here two-and-a-half years, made great new friends; learned a new language; joined a community of people who understand what we do and why we do it (hello Flylancers!); watched Barcelona continue its cultural evolution, rich in start-ups and people who thrive on difference; and I get to see those longed-for blue skies pretty much every single day.
Is Barcelona home now? Maybe. Maybe not. I can feel something, it could be the beginning of another gnawing itch — Bali’s co-working scene and paradisiacal countryside piquing my interest — but who really knows? That is the beauty of Flylancing: whims can quickly become realities, urges can be acted upon post-haste, you can be ‘meeting’ a Buryat Buddhist lama who died in 1927 or marvelling at a 25ft sculpture of Vladimir Lenin’s head quicker than you can say ‘Blagoveshchensk’.
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