Leaving it all behind for life in Africa
A year into my first job after university, I left on a three-week vacation to Morocco and Spain. I had time to explore, read and reflect which had been absent in a fully scheduled lifestyle.
University had been full of new courses, new people and new activities. A year had passed and I had learned a lot. But I had entered a comfortable cycle. 3 weeks after returning from my vacation I had a meeting with my boss, I told him that I had outgrown my position in the small company and would be looking elsewhere.
He thanked me for my input and said he’d be happy to keep me on for a few months while I finished a project and searched the job market. After experiences in the start up and small business markets I felt I was going to have to take the corporate plunge and enter a company's sales training program looking for experience that would help me one day lead to running my own company. Or should I form a team and take another stab at the start up world?
All hours outside work were devoted to trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, talking to people inside corporations, writing business plans and coffee meetings. A few events changed my path, my roommate Scott was moving out May 1 to conduct research in Uganda.
I had a few months to find a new job and a new roommate. Then I went to hear Kyle MacDonald, my boss’s son speak about his “One Red Paperclip” adventure which involved him trading up from a paperclip to a house in Saskatchewan.
After we chatted about how I was looking for something new and always loved traveling, he encouraged me to follow my dreams and figure life out upon my return. A week later I was in a Starbucks overlooking Kits beach pitching a business model which involved customizable daily deal aggregator to friends that were running their own companies.
They asked: are you passionate about the industry; will you wake up at 5 a.m. knowing that you need to solve several problems to keep the business going forward? My answer was no.
So what was I passionate about? Travel, sustainable business and emerging markets but could I really quit my job to travel? A week later I developed the concept of 1YearEntrepreneur, traveling the world while learning about renewable energy first hand in emerging markets. I decided at least I would return with new experiences and it might lead me to my dream job, it was worth leaving my ‘safe’ lifestyle.
Days later Scott and I sat down, pulled out two cold beers and our laptops to purchase our tickets to Uganda, my first ‘one-way’ ticket. My trip would focus around three words ‘Business Travel Innovation’.
While my friends were entering their last years in Med school, and graduating law school, I was leaving my ‘adult’ life behind. I would learn more from the world while vagabonding at my own pace. My teachers have been the works of Easterly and Machieavelli reading in four-dollar-a-night ‘hotel’ rooms in remote areas and villagers speaking different languages but communicating with our eyes. Was it scary to go from a ‘normal’ life, to not knowing when I’d see my next paycheck? Yes.
For the first couple months I was overwhelmed by the endless possibilities. Was I traveling the ‘right’ part of the world? I could board a flight and be anywhere. It took me almost two months to slow down, and realize I have my whole life to see the world.
There is no point in rushing from continent to continent, visiting countries for a day or two like they are part of a checklist. I wanted to experience my travels and learn the different cultures of each country.
Vagabonding has been a unique experience, setting my itinerary days in advance and spending as much or as little time as I feel like in a new destination has been liberating. Since leaving Canada in early May, I have volunteered for 1 month teaching business plan writing in Nairobi’s biggest slum, Kibera and am in the process of wrapping up a two month internship with a solar company in Northern Tanzania. Interesting projects have allowed me to escape the travel circuit, slow down, and meet new people. Living out of a backpack for 6 months has taught me how little you need to enjoy life both physically and financially.
Over the next few months, I plan on writing about the African business landscape, social entrepreneurship and renewable energy. I don’t know where my adventure will take me but I’m sure I’ll make the most of it and share a few stories, interviews and articles with my readers.