Whoop, whoop - this month, I am celebrating the 3rd anniversary of running my own business.
I feel very blessed for the opportunity of following my heart, exploring new ways of working and sharing this journey with you.
How the journey started…
When I started in 2019, I had no idea that I would live in Portugal and work location-independent 3 years later. All I had back then was this longing for more freedom in how much, when, where and with whom I work with and how I wanted to live.
Around my 30th birthday, (quarter-life breakthrough!?) I realized that I had outlived my nice, conformist vita, where everything focused on reaching the next level. This meant everything from high school, Bachelor and Master degree, corporate job and marriage. So I decided to get divorced, quit my apartment and my job all in 4 months.
I used this tumultuous time to make changes, I used to be super afraid of.
The process of self discovery takes time. Around 2016, I started changing my routines, for example learning and practicing meditation. I listened to podcasts on personal development, which was a brand new thing back then. I started to invest into further education and I had a coaching session with Laura Seiler, now a known speaker and author, when she started her journey as a coach in Berlin. I met interesting people who already lived and worked in different ways, and my mind started to open up.
You may think working and living in a different way is not possible for you. Look out for “Expanders”, a term coined by Lacy Phillips. These are people who already live what you are aspiring to. Instead of envying their relationships, business success or freedom, see them as an invitation to grow into those aspects of yourself that you have yet to integrate.
During my coaching certification, which I started in 2018, I couldn’t avoid facing my truth, needs and values anymore.
If you face, speak and embody your truth once, you cannot go back or undo this realization.
After a long time of creating more awareness, I was seeing clearly and was able to act on it. I wanted to get away from small town life, travel and share the transformational power of coaching that I had experienced myself with others.
Use “life quakes” (like earthquakes) to get to know yourself better. Face setbacks, failures, and your uncomfortable emotions. Get help! Discover what you value in life and move toward what is true for you to live an authentic work life.
The first year of being self-employed: the nomad experience
I told myself that being self-employed was a trial. If I were to fail or not enjoy it, I would go back to employment. I had a website already set up and my first contract as a facilitator with my former company, so I knew I would have money coming in.
Now, looking back, I am grateful that I was traveling so much in 2019. Indonesia, Thailand, Russia, USA, China, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Netherlands and probably more. I did not stand still. I didn’t have a fixed apartment.
I coached everyone who was not fast enough to say no, and collected 200 hours of coaching hours. I then got requests to give workshops for international organizations through LinkedIn and my facilitator network.
My first year was all about learning how to manage my finances, how to build a business and how marketing works.
Soon, I realized that the unlearning of old thinking patterns, working on inner blockages and creating a new mind and believe-set was key for my new path.
It seems very overwhelming, but like everything in life you will figure things out. There's Google, the help of your network, mentors and like minded groups. I went to conferences like the DNX, Digital Nomad Festival in Berlin to meet different people who would expand my horizons and show me it's possible.
Surprise, surprise! Things did not always go as planned. I broke my mobile phone in Lisbon, and as a nomad you are basically running your business with your phone. I lost two suitcases whilst traveling, I did not have a clear strategy and invested in stupid things that didn't work out …
Give yourself the permission to experiment. Everyone starts small. Don’t get stuck because you compare yourself to other successful business owners. Trust that like everything in life, you will figure it out. Be ok with being a beginner, asking for help, making less or really painful mistakes.
Your inner work is as important as learning business skills, maybe even more important!
When life gives you lemons
I was exhausted at the beginning of 2020. Like the previous year, I had no idea what my year would look like. The calendar was empty. I had ongoing coaching clients, but not many. When Europe went into the first lockdown, I was in my last face-to-face workshop with UNICEF with over 50 people from all over East Asia (a dream come true!). Last minute, I made it back to Germany to live with my mum. I had to give up my non-permanent apartment in Spain at that time.
Instead of living la vida loca, I ended up living 4 months in my mum’s house while the world was going kuku. This was challenging for our relationship. In 2020, I also had my official divorce date after 10 years of marriage and spending all my 20s with my ex-husband.
All my face-to-face workshops got postponed (and eventually canceled).
My wonderful network of facilitators worldwide came to my help. I was able to completely pivot to online courses and workshops with corporate clients worldwide.
Like many, I used these unprecedented times to become comfortable with online collaboration and communication tools. I experimented with social media for my business for the first time.
Indeed, colleagues with a steady job might have had more financial security. But some of them were really behind in adapting to the new ways of working and coming up with new solutions.
You cannot think everything through and plan every single step of your journey. Life and our world are so unpredictable. Being self-employed or running your own business means you will have to learn and unlearn all the time.
You have to adapt and start again, which also makes it a very enriching journey. You can end up innovating and learning at double the speed, as you cannot stay in your comfort zone.
Portugal is calling: creating a new home
After the first lockdown, I moved to the Algarve in Portugal, as it had very few Covid cases and restrictions back then. I lived in Brazil many years ago and speak Portuguese, so I have been feeling a strong pull towards Portugal for some time. As there was still very low tourism, it seemed like the perfect place to spend the summer.
Another adventure began. This time, I had the urge to be more settled and to arrive fully in this place very quickly. The classical digital nomad lifestyle is not for me. I found moving from place to place, without a home base, physically and more emotionally exhausting.
I immediately felt at home and in my element in Portugal. Even though we had several Covid waves and lockdowns, I met very interesting people and made deep connections.
Now, more and more location-independent workers are coming here thanks to the amazing weather and coast line. I am working from my apartment, which is 5 Min from the beach. Life here is simpler and the people are very easy going. In Germany it feels like there is constant hysteria, paranoia and fear. But the Portuguese feel more stoic and resilient in dealing with change.
A big game changer for me after having lived in so many hotels, Airbnbs, etc. was to have my own office space. To be location independent, you need stable WiFi, an undisturbed environment and good equipment, like a second screen.
Also being able to have stable routines. Good infrastructure like going to a yoga studio, working with a personal trainer was so important for me, for my physical and mental health.
You don’t know what it's like to work and live abroad until you try it! Instead of moving around all the time, having a “home base” from where you can work and travel helps to feel settled. You can maintain healthy routines and relationships, and create an optimal work environment.
Avoiding the hamster wheel trap
In 2021, I became more visible, writing and sharing myself and my ideas in a newsletter, blog and on social media. A big step for me.
I also facilitated many online development programs, like leadership courses for DHL, UNAIDS and UNICEF.
While I enjoy the variety of my work, it was easy for me to channel all my energy into the business. Thereby, I created a hamster wheel of always being on, working and performing. I was so focused on growing and doing more, that I created a lot of pressure for myself.
At this point, I started working with an amazing coach again. I learned more about how to confront my struggles and balance my feminine and masculine energy, how to set boundaries, and so much more.
Running your own business means taking full responsibility. There is no place to hide. You take yourself everywhere - your inner state is also reflected in your work.
All aspects of you that you struggle with in other areas of your life will come up in your business. For example: self worth, taking care of your needs and setting healthy boundaries.
This is wonderful news, because you can’t separate private and business life anymore. It requires ongoing inner work. When you realize that everything is connected, the work you do to get to know yourself better or in your private relationships, will also translate into the work with your clients and partners.
I hope these parts of my journey give you a heartfelt insight into the lessons I have learned. My wish is to inspire you to continue your own journey of self discovery. To radically own who you are, what is important to you and to translate this into all aspects of your life.
Let me know if you find it valuable and share your thoughts and questions with me.
2022 is a good time to break with old patterns of how we are supposed to work and live. To expand your mind to what is possible. I encourage you to fully embrace who you are and give yourself the permission to try out new paths. Especially if they seem scary and impossible.
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