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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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The Power of Alone Time: My Experience Crafting My Own 4-Week Retreat and Why I Think You Should Do the Same

Posted on June 1st, 2015

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Image source: Times Union

 

At one point, my couch had the shape of my body permanently pressed into it, half a dozen tea cups laid around the living room in various stages of being drunk, and pens, notebooks, and pillows were strewn about the house.

 

It was like an excerpt from my own nutty professor movie.

 

And it was bliss.

 

Welcome to my story of retreat: 4 consecutive weeks dedicated to quiet, exploration, health, and equal parts self-maintenance and self-improvement. I hope this sets the scene.

 

The idea came about when my two closest friends were suddenly expatriated from Doha and with 8 weeks left to go on my assignment in Qatar, I couldn’t muster up one ounce of remaining energy to make new friends, go to dinners, attend this or that event, or socialize in any capacity. Work had sent me to live in 7 countries in a period of 2 years and, as you can imagine, I was tired. But I first I had a job to finish.

 

Beyond a broken social life, I also realized I felt broken on another level. Here I was running a blog about maximizing careers, finding personal and professional fulfillment, traveling the world, and embracing life. But truthfully, at that moment, I was lost. I felt deeply unmotivated, apathetic about everything, and even unable to get out of bed some days. Without the distraction of “going out” and seeing friends, something that was keeping my ship afloat came loose and I began to sink.

 

Down, down, down I went.

 

Let’s be real, this is all totally normal. EVERYONE has days, weeks, and even months like this. In my case, I didn’t fight it. I believe feelings are meant to be felt, and if we’re in tune with ourselves, we can embrace them as indicators that guide us into our next steps. I’m grateful whenever I feel a period of “gray” coming on. It means my body is acutely in tune with the world and alerting me to the fact that I need to re-group and re-orient myself immediately.

 

So I down there at the bottom of my feelings, I entered into a one-month period of self-declared “retreat.” I became a recluse of Qatari society, and very happily so. I stopped going out on weekends and evenings and in the place of happy hours and socializing with clients and going on all-day boat parties and drinking late into the night, I found solitude.

 

It was a huge relief.

 

Here’s a side note: Anyone who knows me knows I am very social. Like a typical twenty-something, I love to “go out” wherever I am in the world to drink and dance and meet and greet and see and be seen and take weekend trips and drive across countries and take lots of pictures and talk on my phone and connect with everyone and make plans… and totally and thoroughly wear myself out. And I had been doing this non-stop for more than eight years.

 

As you can imagine or probably have experienced yourself, I was feeling emotionally and physically bankrupt. I needed quiet.

 

Thus I decided that my retreat time (every weekend and every evening for 4 weeks) would be dedicated to “self-education,” filling myself up with new ideas, words of great authors and leaders, books dedicated to big topics, and thoughts on important questions I had never found time to answer for myself. I made list of books I had been meaning to read for practically my whole life, downloaded all of them to my Kindle, turned my phone off, and sank into a world of intellectual and spiritual self-nourishment. I downloaded documentaries and watched at least one per day, devouring new information and delighting myself with new insights.

 

I bought moleskines dedicated to different topics I was covering (history, climate change, personal development, religion, nutrition, business, and international economics) and took furious notes. I would stop for long periods of journaling and write multiple blog posts each day that reflected my mental digestion of this huge influx of inspiration.

 

During this period, I found something I knew I desperately needed but didn’t know just how much I would love: silence. I tapped my intuition, chipped away parts of the hard stone that had grown to protect my heart as I navigated young adulthood, and acknowledged my deepest places of doubt and fear and self-pity. I documented my dreams, sat staring into space for as long as I liked, and paid attention to all my voices, trying to sort out which ones came from my ego, which ones from my heart. It was like learning a new language. These voices had been ignored for a long time and it was going to take patience to be able to understand them again. I heard voices of confusion, angst, and punishment, and coached them into whisperers of patience, love, and understanding.

 

During one especially intense weekend, I selected Gandhi’s autobiography to guide me. Not only did his life of purpose, humility, and generosity inspire me, but I also latched onto his concepts of “reforms” and “experiments.” Accompanied by deep research into the fields of industrial agriculture and big pharmaceuticals, I decided to completely reform my diet, something Gandhi practiced throughout his entire life, gave up alcohol and coffee (more on this in other posts), and began exercising for the first time in my life. The result was a new sense of clarity, wholeness, and calmness. What had started as a retreat to nourish my mind also nourished my body, and I saw that I was finally beginning to understand that intimate connection.

 

But something really surprised me during this period of retreat. Despite feeling better physically and emotionally than virtually ever before, I became very protective of myself. I was learning so much, so fast, and I didn’t feel up to sharing it with others yet. I blew off Skype calls with friends back home, turned down dinner and party invitations, and ignored personal emails for weeks on end. I thought I was being a coward and silently punished myself for shying away from social experiences that could further grow and challenge myself. Then I found this passage in The Work We Were Born to Do by Nick Williams:

 

“When we are on the early steps of reclaiming our true selves, we can feel very vulnerable, like a sapling just rising from the Earth. We may need to fence it off for protection, but as our sense of self gets stronger, we flourish and can remove the fences and quit hiding. Then in time we become a strong tree able to offer protection and sustenance to others.”

 

This was such a wave of relief for me. It was like I could officially give myself permission to spend time alone working on myself, and I no longer felt guilty for (temporarily) becoming a recluse. I needed time to control the inputs I was receiving from the external environment and translate them back into my internal environment. It was a process I needed to be in control of, and I wanted to be deliberate about it.

 

And so my period of retreat carried on, continuing to reward me with tons of fresh ideas. I planned big (and small) changes for my life, made new reading lists, considered new professional paths, contemplated other paths of higher education, created new travel plans, and, most importantly, let my mind wander to places that had never even been on the map.

 

Dear friends and readers, after this experience, I cannot stress enough the importance of retreat and self-education. It has cemented in me a very strong belief that we all have to make time for study in our adult lives and give ourselves periods of meaningful intellectual observation and quiet observance, of ourselves and the outside world. This is why I did not just read deeply and watch acclaimed documentaries during my retreat, but I wrote. I took notes. I studied the ideas. I reflected. This was not pure leisure, this was a dedicated period of learning with the objective of bettering and improving myself. And the funny part? I didn’t have to go anywhere. I didn’t need an instructor, a secluded island, a plane ticket to India, or a room full of other burned out victims of modernity to relate to. I just needed time with my own heart.

 

And the insights I gained during this reflection period will follow me for the rest of my life, all thanks to the fact that I decided to press the pause button, slap a big “work in progress” sign on my forehead, and exercise my freedom to “un-busy” myself while I picked up the pieces of who I had become over the past 25 years and formed a new, better, stronger arrangement.

 

It was the best thing I have EVER done for myself.

 

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About Me

About Me

IMG_5937

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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Previously in: Berlin

 

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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

 

img_6015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Like Me On Facebook

Follow me on twitter

Follow me on twitter

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Elaina on Instagram