Inhale for 1, 2, 3; exhale for 1, 2, 3. Again, inhale…
I was attempting to meditate as I sat in my hotel room in the Pink City of Jaipur, India. I tried to refocus my mind but the sounds of the traffic and insistent honking were enough to rattle my concentration. The sounds of the chaos outside my bedroom window felt like they were a mirror to my tumultuous thoughts.
My mind was going 100 miles a minute, mostly because I was in shock and at the height of my constant companion – anxiety.
As I sat on the bed and listened to the traffic, I found myself contemplating my life choices and what the next step in my future should be. To better understand the path that led me to this current state, I'll give you a brief summary…
The Big Decision to Follow Your Dream
Approximately two years prior, I was a standard, corporate drone.
I woke up in time to be at my desk by eight, sat in my cubicle, stared at the same three partitions, and went home at five only to do it all again the next day.
I remember the day, same as all the others, when I was “multitasking” on a conference call, aka perusing Pinterest! When I found the term “digital nomad.”
I looked it up and found the definition as someone who can work anywhere in the world, as long as they have Wi-Fi and a computer. Wow, that sounds interesting! Imagine not having to sit in this boring cube every day. I could work from anywhere in the world. Something inside me clicked.
The next eight months, I completely devoted myself to pursuing this lifestyle as a digital nomad. When I wasn’t working or sleeping, I was teaching myself skills that I could do from anywhere in the world. I studied how to build websites, do affiliate marketing, and search engine optimization (SEO).
On top of that, I was downsizing my entire life. I was getting rid of clothes, furniture, everything! My goal was to only have what I could fit into my 40L backpack, you can call it minimalism if you want, but at the time, it was just another step towards closer to my dream of traveling the world.
At first it was hard to start getting rid of things. My favorite cocktail dress, that would never be suitable for backpacking. Or, the painting I had bought while touring the pyramids of Giza in Egypt. The hardest thing to part with was my cat, King Henry. Fortunately, my sister was kind enough to welcome my fat cat with open arms.
The process of downsizing started to get easier though. As each item left my apartment it was almost a relief, kind of like a cleanse. I was beginning to free myself from all the material items that were dragging me down.
On March 21st, 2016, I quit my job and boarded a one-way flight to Dublin and I didn’t look back.
I spent the next year and a half traveling the world and building my business.
I would travel to wherever I wanted, when I wanted. Most of the time the thing that decided my next destination was where I could find the cheapest flight (once I found a $7 flight to Copenhagen the next day). No adventure was out of my reach.
Here are just a few of the things I did:
- Hiked through the Scottish Highlands while listening to Scottish folklore
- Attended Oktoberfest in Munich wearing a dirndl.
- Celebrated Holi Festival in India
- Rode a camel through the Arabian desert
- Stayed in a 15th century Tudor home in Salisbury, UK
- Saw Lake Bled in Slovenia
- Bathed in the public baths in Budapest
- Relaxed in the Blue Lagoon in Iceland
- Saw the Book of Kells in Dublin
- Sat on the Princess Diana bench in front of the Taj Mahal
I built a few websites of my own that were turning a profit and had picked up a handful of clients to help sustain my travels. I wasn’t making as much as I was at my corporate job, but I was doing exactly what I wanted.
I went to over 20 countries and learned new things about the world and myself.
I became a completely independent person and gained confidence in myself that I hadn’t known before.
Nothing is more empowering than recognizing what your dream is and learning how to fulfill it by yourself.
Back to the Hot Mess Express
Remember that anxiety-ridden woman sitting on her hotel bed in India?
Let’s go back to her.
This life as a digital nomad sounds amazing, right?
How could she be unhappy!?
The problem was that the road was beginning to wear on me. This lifestyle may seem like a continuous vacation, but in reality it’s hard work! Always trying to find your way and figure out your next step, navigationally and emotionally, is exhausting. On top of that, I was building a brand new web development business.
To be honest, I wasn’t doing a good job of managing my business. I was lacking focus, which isn’t really a surprise. When you have the Taj Mahal or the Sheikh Zayed Mosque beckoning you to go outside and explore, of course it’s hard to focus!
This combination of stressors was too much for me to handle. The straw that broke the camel’s back was finding out that my grandmother had passed away. I was close to a nervous breakdown and I knew my only option was to go back to Iowa and get my head on straight.
I needed to surround myself with stability, be with my family to grieve, and sort out what I wanted to do next.
The Digital Nomad Back in Iowa
Since I’m technically “homeless”, I went to the next closest place – my childhood home in Iowa. My parents welcomed me with open arms and I spent the next few months grieving and trying to determine what my next move was.
What was I going to do next? In my mind I had two options:
I could return to the corporate world. I missed the stability of a steady paycheck and benefits (like health insurance). It would be nice to be “normal” again, but would I really be happy? This was the life I had worked so hard to leave, how could I return after having a big bite of freedom?
Keep on truckin’. I could continue down the path of uncertainty and the unknown. After all, this was the dream that I had worked SO hard to accomplish, but still I wasn’t happy. Did I have what it takes to continue?
It’s Decision Knocking Time
My savings were drained. Not having a direction was making my depression and anxiety even worse. I could hardly get out of bed in the morning, because I felt utterly and completely lost.
For the first time, I had to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask myself – “Colleen, what do you want to do with your life?”
Every morning, I would ask myself this question.
Every morning, I felt this voice deep down saying – “don’t give up.”
I thought, “Maybe this is the point when most entrepreneurs give up. Maybe, just maybe, if I keep pushing for just a bit longer I’ll find success.”
One morning, I was doing the usual ‘struggle to get out of bed bit,’ when I happened upon an entrepreneurial Ted Talk. Through my depression and anxiety, I had a moment of clarity.
Right now, my business was just freelancing, picking up odd jobs, but what I was lacking was focus. I needed to have a purpose with my business, which would help others solve a problem they were facing.
With this new found insight, I began networking with local businesses. I asked them the issues they were experiencing with their business websites and what would make their lives easier, which is how I found my differentiator and my business purpose.
My depression and anxiety began to subside over the next few months and my business quickly grew.
My client base continued to expand, but I still wanted to travel. Instead of passing through for a week or two, I’d stay in a city for a few months. This allowed me to maintain my focus while still pursuing my passions. Currently I’m sitting on a balcony in my rented apartment in Berlin, preparing for a conference call with a new potential client – the best of both worlds.
Tips for Overcoming Anxiety When Following Your Dream
Anxiety rears it’s ugly face differently for every person.
When I’m in the battle zone, here are a few combat moves that I find helpful:
- Create stability in your life – Even when I’m in three different time zones over the course of a month, I try to wake up at 9am every morning and eat lunch at noon everyday. I find that creating a routine helps me feel more stable.
- Take time for yourself – I’ve found the yoga and meditating do wonders for my mental state. I set an alarm clock on my phone that goes off three times a day. This reminds me to take three minutes for my mental state.
- Identify goals to work towards – When I have a plan, or am working towards something, I find that I am much more focused. If my life is chaotic and haphazard, then I see my anxiety start to creep back in.
- Keep with you an item of comfort – When I’m on the road, I have very limited space to pack unnecessary items. I always leave space for one item of comfort. For me, it’s my luxurious eye mask with a small bottle of lavender oil. If I have a good night’s sleep, I can move mountains!
- Listen to your body – Now, I’m able to do a quick body scan and gauge my level of mental health. If I start to get headaches or tight muscles in my neck and shoulders, I know that I’m pushing myself too hard. By giving myself little health checks, I can prevent myself from getting to the point I was in India.
A Powerful Realization
I’ve realized that…
Working towards a goal, isn’t always enough. You need to understand the reason why you’re pursuing it!
In the beginning, my goal was just to travel and have a cool lifestyle. I think if I had started my path as a way to feel more confident about myself and build a business that I’m proud of, I would have had more direction.
It’s important to remember that as you're working towards a dream or a goal, it’s likely you’ll change, which means your goals will change as well!
This doesn’t mean you’re giving up or abandoning something, it means that you’re following your instincts!
Battling anxiety and depression is no easy feat for anyone, especially when you’re following your dream and trying to find your path (and/or travelling like me!).
Just remember that even if the hike is long and lonely, there is a beautiful view at the top of the summit.