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About Me

About Me

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Hi, I’m Elaina and I want to help you live life on your terms, find a career you love, and travel as often as you want. 

 

I’ve lived, worked, and traveled to more than 60 countries, including some pretty off-the-beaten path destinations like Mongolia, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Paraguay. I’ve also lived out of a suitcase as a full-time nomad for the past 4.5 years, ever since leaving my management consulting gig in New York back in 2013 when I landed an international role at a media company that sent me all over the world to work. You can read my full story here

 

What makes my story unique is that I’ve traveled AND built a professional career, working for companies like IBM and Uber over the years. I’ve also spent long stretches of time freelancing and traveling adventurously through South America, Asia, and Africa. I’m currently freelance writing, coaching professionals through career transitions, and working on a few small business ideas while splitting my time between Berlin, the US, and India. 

 

I write about self-development, digital nomadism, charting unconventional life paths, finding REAL jobs overseas, pursuing long-term travel, and living more purposefully in a fast-paced, confusing world. There’s simply no one-size-fits-all model for creating a life you love. I’m not a full-time digital nomad and I’m not a full-time corporate professional: I’ve done things a bit differently and I think it’s feasible for more people to live “off the beaten path” this way. I hope my blog lets you see that it’s both possible and practical.  

 

I started this blog because I want to help you find an exciting career, travel the world, break the norms, and develop yourself both personally and professionally. Read on or get in touch to set up a 1:1 session with me: elaina@lifebefore30.com.

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Ethiopia’s Unexpected Lessons

Posted on May 15th, 2014

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Ethiopia, the cradle of human civilization and one of the so-called capitals of Africa, is a country plagued by unjust stereotypes, most often viewed as merely an impoverished and aid-dependent nation. Even the name Ethiopia has become virtually synonymous with poverty and starvation in the international arena.

 

However, touch down in Addis Ababa and you will learn the other side of the story.

 

Ethiopia is the second largest consumer market in Africa with approximately 90 million people and home to the third largest diplomatic population on Earth after New York and Geneva. The country is a virtual gold mine of business opportunity for any entrepreneur with an inkling for adventure and healthy appetite for risk. Its capital is one giant construction site in the middle of deliberate overhaul by Chinese, Indian, and European investors. Every forward-thinker wants a piece of Ethiopia’s potential – its cafes and hotel lobbies full of anxious start-up geeks, eager freelance journalists, and hungry venture capitalists.

 

Maybe more than anywhere else before, I fell in love with Ethiopia in a uniquely toxic way, surprised and delighted at every turn. Descending into the countryside left me breathless each time, our 4×4 hurtling over half-completed roads, meandering through colorful fruit markets, dodging ramshackle donkey carts and massive herds of cows, passing over undulating mountain ranges and racing across green coffee plantations. The children danced at our windows for birr, the local shoulder-shimmying tunes blaring out of the sunroof. With the warm East African breeze in my face and thousands of years of history racing past me, I would close my eyes and pinch myself that I had the chance to see this all with my own two eyes.

 

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Ethiopia made me feel at home in a place that could not be any further from my upstate New York roots. And it taught me a handful of lessons I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

 

Foster a healthy sense of skepticism. The first thing Ethiopia has taught me is to be keenly aware of where my perceptions and stereotypes originate from and what forces are driving them. Before I went into meetings in Addis, I often printed out the Africa homepages of BBC, CNN, and Al Jazeera to show the day’s headlines to leaders of Ethiopian companies who I am about to pitch. It’s really effective at pissing them off because the media’s portrayal of the continent looks absolutely ridiculous to everyone sitting with their feet firmly planted on African soil. Skyscrapers, modern apartment complexes, shopping malls, finished roads, and concrete just don’t “sell” or support aid-heavy development agendas. The world appeals to the sensational and our understanding of reality, especially in the developing world, suffers as a result. Why has the memory of the Ethiopian famine persisted two decades later?

 

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 The real streets of Addis Ababa 

 

Fight the ambition-fueled inferiority complex. I’ve learned that becoming more “successful” does not necessarily make me feel any more sure of myself. In fact it seems to have the opposite effect. Personally, interviewing the CEOs of the biggest companies in a given country all day long really gnaws away at my self-esteem. My peer groups in the countries I travel to are also nauseatingly impressive – everything from the 25-year old self-made CEOs to the children of African trading empires and government officials. Ambitious personalities tend to feel inferior no matter what we accomplish and I notice that I have become even more critical and ruthless in my drive for self-improvement as I compare myself in my new surroundings. But the constant comparison and self-criticism is toxic. When will I be enough? When will I be able to accept and savor my own success? I don’t have the answers but now I realize how important these questions are.

 

Make personal safety an anthem – at home and abroad. After years of adventure travel and living on the edge, “safety first” has finally become my motto as I mature into a sensible adult. Being a well-seasoned traveler has exposed me to gut-wrenching horror stories, many experienced by close and trusted friends of mine. My goal is to continue traveling as long as possible and I can’t do that if I crash in a minibus traveling at breakneck speeds or if I am stabbed on the streets of an unassuming Ethiopian town at night. I tell my drivers to take their time, I find an escort home at night, I call taxis I trust, I watch how I dress, I drink within reason, and I always have a functioning local mobile on hand. Even my Ethiopian friends live by this mantra and I take their attention to safety seriously. Ethiopia is generally safe and peaceful, but I know that it only takes one unstable stranger to change my life.

 

Actively engage with everyone around you. I could not have dreamed up a more ideal lifestyle for 24-year-old-me than the one I have now, but let’s be honest, beaming down from a 747 into a new country every 3-4 months does in fact wreak havoc on me emotionally and physically. What has been key to my happiness in this perpetual instability has been learning to pry open the new people I encounter and learn all about them, regardless of the calendar days I know we have together. The result is that I have cultivated more rewarding relationships in the past 9 months traveling from Lagos to Ulaanbaatar to Addis Ababa than I have previously in my “settled” life. I have made the most unlikely and interesting friendships because I was intensely open to them. I stopped judging. I stopped thinking how hard it is to make friends when you’re an adult. I just dove into the people around me, heart first.

 

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Always be proud of where you come from. After countless beer-guzzling conversations around the world that have ended in more than just poking fun at the United States, I finally felt like giving up on defending my country. I felt victimized by stereotypes and trying to change people’s minds was exhausting. My rising temper over the issue left me wanting to bury my head in the sand and wave a Canadian flag, shutting out any future conversations that made me the ambassador for America wherever I was. It took meeting my Somali friend here in Addis to change my mind. He is extremely proud to be from Somalia and well-versed in the controversial topics surrounding his homeland. His example (and how well he rolls with the pirate jokes) made me realize that we all have a nationality and it is our duty to represent it by being educated about the issues and good-natured in the discussions.

 

Educate yourself about Africa. I recommend turning to academia and reliable sources to learn about where this continent has been and where it will go in the future. Or better yet, cancel that trip to Paris and re-route yourself to Nairobi or Accra. Many people have done just that – and they never went home. If it wasn’t for my job forcibly sending me to Nigeria and Ethiopia during the past year, I would not have been able to fathom how much opportunity exists by directly engaging with the African markets and re-educating ourselves about what we think we know about these countries.

 

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My experiences in Addis Ababa have energized me to see the world as a network of problems to be solved. I met local entrepreneurs who raised $150 million from scratch to start 3 companies, others that sell technology to improve crop yields, turn animal hides into finished leather goods for export, or broker Ethiopian coffee to European or Asian buyers. There’s even a guy making millions just selling safety boots and flashlights to construction companies. The smallest ideas here can generate an enormous amount of money and help the local economy to prosper.

 

I feel both humbled and privileged to have been able to sink my teeth into Ethiopia – to meet its business and government leaders, to travel its roads, to enjoy its cuisine, to learn some of its languages, and, most importantly, to embrace its people. I know that Addis Ababa has changed the course of my life in ways I am unable to articulate at 24, sitting anxiously on the heels of my life, wondering what and where is next. But I rest assured my plans will never the same.

 

Thank you, Ethiopia.

 

And a big thank you to each and every person I met during my stay here. It’s been unforgettable.

 

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About Me

About Me

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Hi, I’m Elaina and I want to help you live life on your terms, find a career you love, and travel as often as you want. 

 

I’ve lived, worked, and traveled to more than 60 countries, including some pretty off-the-beaten path destinations like Mongolia, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Paraguay. I’ve also lived out of a suitcase as a full-time nomad for the past 4.5 years, ever since leaving my management consulting gig in New York back in 2013 when I landed an international role at a media company that sent me all over the world to work. You can read my full story here

 

What makes my story unique is that I’ve traveled AND built a professional career, working for companies like IBM and Uber over the years. I’ve also spent long stretches of time freelancing and traveling adventurously through South America, Asia, and Africa. I’m currently freelance writing, coaching professionals through career transitions, and working on a few small business ideas while splitting my time between Berlin, the US, and India. 

 

I write about self-development, digital nomadism, charting unconventional life paths, finding REAL jobs overseas, pursuing long-term travel, and living more purposefully in a fast-paced, confusing world. There’s simply no one-size-fits-all model for creating a life you love. I’m not a full-time digital nomad and I’m not a full-time corporate professional: I’ve done things a bit differently and I think it’s feasible for more people to live “off the beaten path” this way. I hope my blog lets you see that it’s both possible and practical.  

 

I started this blog because I want to help you find an exciting career, travel the world, break the norms, and develop yourself both personally and professionally. Read on or get in touch to set up a 1:1 session with me: elaina@lifebefore30.com.

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Five years ago, I changed my whole life in 30 days. I scored the job of my dreams, quit my job in New York, sold everything I owned, moved to West Africa, and never looked back. Read about it here.

 

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Currently in: Malawi

 

 

Previously in: Berlin

 

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What’s Hot

Recent Posts

Coaching

Coaching

Step into my office!

 

Five years ago, I changed my whole life in 30 days. I scored the job of my dreams, quit my job in New York, sold everything I owned, moved to West Africa, and never looked back. Read about it here.

 

Now I use Office Hours to help my clients do the same.

 

Do you want to travel but are scared to quit your job?

Do you want to find a job overseas but don’t know where to start?

Do you wake up in the morning dreading what’s ahead?

Read more

Like Me on Facebook

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