This week I celebrate my 31st birthday and one entire year of traveling full-time. I am writing this from a plane somewhere over Mexico, on my way to Peru to climb Machu Picchu with my sister.
When I set out to run my business while traveling the world exactly one year ago, I had no freaking clue what I was in for and if I had I probably would not have done it.
People often ask how I got here. What made me decide to quit my life and travel full-time? I’m sure they are expecting an Instagram worthy answer to this that can be neatly tied in a bow. But the reality is it did not begin as a glorious, purposeful triumph; it began rather mundanely and messily. It began, in the most millennial of ways, of out FOMO (fear of missing out).
Two years ago, after my 29th birthday came and went and people started saying, The Big 30 is next, I thought “Oh, fuck.”
I can’t just let a milestone birthday like that come and go. I am heading into another decade. Have my 20’s been what I wanted? Is this where I wanted to be at 30? So many questions and so few answers.
I agonized over this for months. All in all things were going quite well for me in my 29th year. I had just gotten a great promotion at work, I was making good money and was finally where I wanted to be in my entertainment career. I finally bought myself the habenero orange Prius I had wanted for years. I paid off some debt. I had a great apartment that I shared with my sister. We brunched on the weekends and I spent Friday nights drinking organic wine and tipsy impulse ordering home goods on Amazon. Things were pretty swell.
Except they weren’t.
It is very hard to describe the feeling of being unhappy with getting what you thought you wanted.
I spent 10 years struggling to get here. I lived in a shed in a friend’s backyard (yes, really), I wrote a check for groceries that I knew would bounce, I moved back in with my parents twice. I survived an abusive relationship. I did every possible odd job in Los Angeles to make ends meet. I worked my ass off and, finally, I had made it.
So what was wrong?
I was working 18 hour days. I wasn’t sleeping. I went to bed thinking about work and I woke up already stressed about missed deadlines. I brunched with one eye on my inbox. I gave up exercise. I started buying random, pretty things I did not need in order to feel like I was “enjoying” the fruits of my labor.
I stopped being creative. I worked a job as a creative producer where I was meant to invent fun, out of the box ideas every day. It became rote and forced.
I looked at the people in entertainment that were 10 years ahead of me in their careers. If all went according to plan, in 10 years that would be my life. They were not living a life I wanted to live.
Once I realized this I thought “Oh, shit.”
I am not living the life I am meant to be living. I have just put so much time and effort into my career and I want to throw it all away. What am I going to do?
I once got some really good advice. The advice was:
“It doesn’t matter how much effort you’ve put into something, that’s not a good enough reason to keep it. If it isn’t good enough, throw it away and start over. And keep starting over until you know it’s as good as it can be.”
This is good advice. Scary, but good.
So I needed to start over. In my 29th year of life I was going to figure out a new career and a new lifestyle.
A lifestyle were I could have mornings to myself to read, enjoy a cup of coffee and do some yoga.
A lifestyle where I could work when I wanted where I wanted. Doing work that impacted and changed lives.
A lifestyle where I could work with other women and create empowerment within them and their own businesses.
A lifestyle where I could breathe.
When was the last time I felt like I could breathe?
I thought back. When *was* the last time I felt like I could breathe? I had to think all the way back to twelve years ago when I was 18 and I traveled to China for a month-long volunteer trip after which I announced to my bewildered parents that I was, in fact, not coming home.
So I traveled by train through China when I was supposed to be in high school. I met lots of weird, interesting people living weird, interesting lives. I ran out of money. I camped alone on a beach. I rode on a motorcycle with a guy in a coonskin cap he made himself. I learned to slaughter chickens for food. I was told I would never find a husband because of how ugly (but structurally sound!) my homemade dumplings were.
I lived. I breathed. I experienced chaos and I was hooked.
Then I came home, went to college, got a job, did all the things.
Now here we are, 12 years later and I’ve spent the first year of my thirties starting over by creating an online business and moving to Bali, Indonesia.
And this year has been a fucking roller coast and a half.
On day two of my new life as a world travelling online business owner I crashed my motor scooter in Bali and a stranger picked me up from the side of the road and brought me to the hospital where I had my leg stitched back together.
Then there were bed bugs. Monsoons. Smashing a locked safe to bits that held my laptop hostage. Some sort of still unidentified tropical illness that was so bad I wrote a “If you’re reading this I’m already dead” letter to my family.
The disillusionment of hating Bali, a place I thought was the answer for me. The delightful discovery of Singapore and the warmth of shared experiences with new friends.
I reconnected with people I haven’t spoken to in years. Some of them visited me on the other side of the world. I learned how to check an ATM to see if it’s been rigged to steal your card info. I learned that most strangers around the world will go out of their way to help you.
I worked 15 hour days and had client calls at 3am because of the time difference. I hired a team and trusted my business coach and ate food so spicy I had nightmares for a week.
On my last day in Bali, I went on a joy ride through the rice paddy fields and thought back to months before when I cried during my scooter lessons while my infiinately patient instructor pushed me around the parking lot with the scooter not even running (lol).
I learned how fucking strong I am.
I drove across the US with my grandmother and learned about how when she was my age women couldn’t have their own credit cards.
I had a month where I made no money at all and thought I was going to have to close my business.
I had a month where I made more money in 30 days than I used to make in a year.
Growth doesn’t even begin to describe the transformation that has taken place in just one year. It was in many ways the hardest year of my life. Most of the time, I found myself alone in foreign countries where I knew no one and didn’t speak the language. I posted pictures on Instagram of exotic places and carefully cultivated outfits on the same days that I had explosive diarrhea and suffered from crippling anxiety and loneliness.
I moved to Lisbon, Portugal where I learned how to let life be easy. I let go of perfection. Another level of leadership and being became available to me. In just a few months I made friends that I feel like I’ve known a lifetime. I said yes to sketchy ass experiences that my mom would freak out about if she knew (sorry, mom!) I kissed a boy I just met in the middle of the night on the beach. I accidentally ordered a ham sandwich in my terrible Portuguese and my vegetarian ass ate it anyway.
In Japan I went to a theme park alone and had the best time. In Spain I accidentally participated in a protest for Catalonian independence. In Singapore I contempleted how much freedom I was willing to give up in exchange for safety and security. In Greece I balanced precariously on the side of a cliff in the most fabulous dress I’ve ever worn while a hundred Chinese tourists snapped photos of me.
While all of this was going on, I was creating, growing and scaling two businesses. I went from serving all of my clients myself, working sometimes all day and all night to hiring a team and tripling my client capacity.
I became a business mentor for women, teaching them how to start and grow their own online businesses. I mentored in one of the top business coaching programs in the world. I evolved, I grew, I held space for those around me and space for myself to embody the person I’ve become.
Some days I still cry on the floor cuz I feel like a child who woke up and put on their parents clothes for take your kid to work day. Other days I speak with my accountant about investing in real estate in Portugal.
Some days I am tired and just want to be able to buy plants and candles for a home that I don’t have. Other days I scroll through my “bucket list” Pinterest board and long to travel to every place in the world all at once.
If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s about balance. It’s about letting go and trusting that everything is for you.
My sister asked me on my 31st birthday, what is the most important lesson I have learned so far in my life.
Here it is. Maybe some of you already know this, probably most of you do. But to me it is a revelation, and if just one other person needs to hear this then it is worth saying. The most important lesson I have learned is that it doesn’t matter about being right. The person that is right does not win. When dealing with people, whether it’s clients, partners, friends, or anyone – being right rarely gets you what you want. It doesn’t bring people closer together, it doesn’t foster connection and it doesn’t teach you anything you didn’t already know.
Being wrong is where the juicy lessons live. Where the vulnerability and connection and pain and love are simmering. Being wrong is how you learn and grow and navigate all the crazy shit that is happening around you. Being wrong is freeing.
Maybe it’s crazy that it took 31 years for me to learn that. But better late than never.
And that’s how I feel going into my second year of my thirties, two businesses under my belt and confidently traveling full time – better late than never.
I have no idea what this year will bring. I have some hopes, some fears and a little voice whispering in my ear to remain unattached to outcomes and expectations. But I do know that I am as ready as I’m ever going to be for what’s to come. So far we all have a 100% survival rate for the shit we’ve been through, so bring it the fuck on and let’s do this 2019.
Sending you all the light and love and wishing you the audacity to cultivate joy in this coming year. I’m rooting for you always.
Xo – Mel
ps. If you want to learn how to turn your side hustle in your full-time biz like I did this past two years, enrollment for the March session of The Spark Your Business Academy is now open. Curious to learn more? Click here 🙂