This is the story of one woman’s journey to take control of her life, her mind, her body and her spirit. It’s my story, just one of millions of women seeking a path, and begins with me quitting my job and running away to Bali like some kind of hippie gobshite. It became quite an adventure into my own self, and as I work through such classics as imposter syndrome, self-loathing, my insecurities and my disconnection with my own body, I wanted to write it down – firstly, to give myself the chance to make sense of it all. And secondly, on the basis that sharing isn’t just caring, but the most powerful way for women to find connection, comfort and courage. Thank you for joining me.
So yes, I quit my job and ran away to Bali like an Eat Pray Cliché. It really wasn’t an easy decision – who in their right mind would walk away from a stable, well-paid, ‘creative’ job in the perennial sunshine of Dubai? But it wasn’t working for me, and I sought the help of life coach Dina Bsharat to make sense of it all. Yes, poor little rich white girl needs to come to terms with her privilege, boo. But even within the first session, I had gained clarity on what I needed to do, and why I had come to her – to gather the balls to make some serious changes to my life. I absolutely, 100% recommend life coaching – for anyone struggling with a decision or a situation – maybe it’s work related, a relationship, a move or any kind of transition. There’s a stigma around it, one I felt too – how pathetic to need ‘help’ with life, when you’re blessed with so many opportunities and supportive people. But life coaches, unlike those wonderful friends and sisters and cousins, are trained to ask the questions that need asking, to hone in on what’s really going on, and to provide the tools to take control and move forward. I heard it explained rather eloquently by German life coach Niv Nobacht: 10 or 20 years ago, our paths were more structured, we studied in one thing to become a professional in it, worked, retired and died (jk but true). Now, in the digital revolution, we have access to so much knowledge and an entirely new set of career paths that are constantly evolving with technology; we’re empowered in so many new ways. And it’s baffling. So seeking help in navigating all this to make the best choices is just common sense.
I realised that the grip of Dubai’s ‘golden handcuffs’ had become suffocating, and a conversation with business coach Anna Roberts sowed a seed – she encourages any woman to leave the corporate world as ‘it’s not built for us’. Why was I exerting all my creative energy into making other people more rich? Why was I sitting behind a desk all day when it just wasn’t where I wanted to be? What I really craved, I realise now, was time. Serious time, just for me – to see the family I miss so much, to learn new things, to do yoga and think, to try out different roles, and to figure out what really fuels my fire. And to think about how, if it really is possible, to make some money on my own terms.
And so to Bali, which felt like the only way to escape my situation with something vaguely like a plan. Bali had the tropical greenery I craved after the beigeness of Dubai, tons of yoga, all kinds of weird and whacky spiritual healers, wall-to-wall life coaches, diving, surfing, volcanoes… this was my place! I found a company called Unsettled that offers month-long co-working retreats in different locations around the world. It wasn’t cheap, and I could have found my own accommodation on a much lower budget – but then what? Unsettled offered a semi-structured programme bringing together people from around the world to live and explore together, attend workshops, with time and space to work, and an ethos of remaining mindful of the experience to get the most from it. Yes, there was a real danger I could be stuck with a bunch of twats for a month, but the ‘no assholes’ condition on the website was reassuring. The testimonials and social media were very impressive too. Against the guilt (for spending my own money? Why, guilt?!) and apprehension that it was some kind of cringe-fest for suckers, I spent the money.
After a whirlwind of finishing work, holidaying in South Africa with 16 friends, then alone, then saying goodbye to Dubai and some of the best people I know, I arrived in Bali to a blur of new faces (were these my people? I didn’t know yet), hugs, Bintangs, chitchat and unpacking. All I knew about Ubud was that it was the epicentre of the hippy-dippy wellness world, and that it was jungle-y (yay). At Villa Kakul, our home for the month, rooms were set around a swimming pool and lush greenery, the staff were welcoming and that laid-back tropical vibe was palpable – it felt good. At orientation the following day, we found our bearings and got to know each other – the Unsettled way. We were asked to close our eyes and forget the travel and whatever else and ‘Take a deep breath… because you’re breathing in Bali’. These words, spoken in the gravelly accented tones of our gorgeous Greek Experience Leader, Areti, have stuck with me in a way that reminds me to be present. We were then asked to stand in two lines facing each other and just… hold eye contact. Weird! But I lucked out with the wonderful Tamika, a sassy Californian. Turns out we both have a lazy eye, and ended up in fits of giggles, and I knew I’d connected with a special soul.
It turned out that we were a group of 17 women (plus the three female Unsettled staff) and one, rather overwhelmed, man. A dearth of eye candy, but this was an interesting dynamic. As the first week of Unsettled Bali May unfolded, we discovered most of us were in some sort of transition – a broken relationship, a big move, the end of a job. And we were from all over the world – Costa Rica, Bolivia, Latvia, the US, Colombia, Bulgaria, South Africa, the UK, Dubai, Mexico, Brazil. A welcome dinner at the breathtaking Sayan House, and our first Lunch & Learn workshop at our co-working space Outpost, brought us together as a bunch of rather exhausted women searching for balance, clarity and connection.