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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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What I Learned About Life, Work, and Activism From a Burmese Punk Entrepreneur

Posted on July 25th, 2016

If you lived under one of the most notoriously totalitarian regimes on the planet, you’d probably just want to blend in, go about your business, and fly well under the government’s watchful radar. But that’s precisely what the 27-year old lead singer of a politically-charged Burmese punk band meets grassroots charity doesn’t do. 
 
Kyaw Kyaw and I met by chance during my recent travels through Myanmar. We’d been set up by a friend of a friend and I was promised a quirky city tour and a few beers. Little did I know I was hanging out with a well-recognized Burmese activist who’s made international headlines and narrowly escaped imprisonment for his politics, activism, and philanthropy. 
 
As we snaked our way through downtown Yangon, which often feels more like a sprawling, free-for-all marketplace than a capital city, my new friend’s audacious red mohawk and leather jacket visibly parted the sea of singlets and traditional longyis donned by his Burmese counterparts, brazen tattoos playing peek-a-boo between layers of black clothing. 
 
yangon
The streets of Yangon, photo my own
 
Although the studded boots and piercings are a fierce statement for someone living in a deeply traditional society, it’s not his rebellious fashion that’s causing a stir these days, it’s the enterprising avenues his provocative voice has found: establishing the Burmese chapter of the “Food Not Bombs” movement that distributes free food to the poor, bringing his band Rebel Riot to political protests, selling anti-capitalism apparel, visiting neglected communities, and speaking out against religious radicalism.  
 
To Kyaw Kyaw and his gang, punk is about much more than just style; it’s about filling the role their notoriously authoritarian government simply can’t. 
 
Punks playing with children in poor areas of Yangon
Punks engaging with communities outside of Yangon
 
Although Myanmar transitioned to a more tolerant civilian government in 2010, the country is still known worldwide for its countless violations of human rights and frequent bouts of civil unrest. The US State Department estimates that 150,000 political refugees are now living across the border in Thailand, and another 70,000 have resettled in the United States since 2005. 
 
Prior to the November 2010 general elections, which ended almost 50 years of international isolation due to military rule, groups of five or more people were not even allowed to gather on the street, and punks themselves were forced underground. Censorship has since been relaxed, but the boundaries of these expanded freedoms are still unclear — no one can be certain when a song, t-shirt, or Facebook post may land its creator in jail.
 
In spite of this historical backdrop, which makes it difficult for the average Burmese citizen to feel empowered enough to make a difference, Kyaw Kyaw and his friends decided to take their concern about poverty and displacement in Yangon into their own hands. 
 
“We always say we want to change the system, but we should really change ourselves first,” Kyaw Kyaw explained to me over plates of tea leaf salad and outrageously spicy fish curry. “There are so many poor people who are getting pushed out of their homes as big companies come to Yangon. The cost of homes and land here has increased by 60% in the last two years and the homeless population keeps growing. So we asked, what can we do for them? We needed to do something.”
 
Kyaw Kyaw, like all of us, knows it’s easy to feel powerless and isolated in the face of large, systematic problems. He also knows that the best remedy is to surround himself with a team who’s ready to put down their glasses, raise their voices, and address an immediate need in their own community
 
The biggest part of his success story is that instead of doing the easy thing, complaining, he did the hard thing, and rallied together people who were prepared to turn pain points into opportunity. As the story goes, he and his friends decided that instead of talking politics and drinking beer every night, which made them feel frustrated and powerless, they would pool their drinking money and cook for the homeless people in downtown Yangon instead.
 
Over the years, this small initiative evolved into the Burmese chapter of the US-based “Food Not Bombs” movement protesting war and poverty, which now distributes free food every Monday night and feeds an estimated 400 people per month. 
 
Punks give food to poor and homeless in Yangon (1)
Punk activists bringing a homeless woman food in downtown Yangon
 
Kyaw Kyaw, unsurprisingly, has been an entrepreneur since birth. As a child, he created storybooks and charged his friends money to read them, or captured frogs and fish and sold them in his own front-yard marketplace. Nowadays he designs t-shirts and politically-charged punk memorabilia to make a living while he pursues music and charitable activities.
 
His shop, located directly across from the central police station, sells items that say things like, “'Resist, D.I.Y do it yourself or die, no masters, no gods.” To him, entrepreneurship provides the autonomy to generate a reasonable level of income while focusing the majority of his energy on the change he wants to make in the world. Money, possessions, and power are secondary — it’s the impact of his work, whether it be income-generating or not, that’s sacred.
 
If you ask him if he’s scared of being such a vocal activist in a country infamous for censorship, civil unrest, and imprisonment of community leaders, he’ll tell you he actually uses fear to point him in the direction of further action. To him, if it’s something no one else dares to do, it clearly must be done. 
 
“Now it’s not as dangerous as before, the major problem is the economic system. Before this, politics created problems. 50 years of a despotic regime broke our economy and increased the financial disparity between the rich and the poor. Now there’s more freedom for people to do any kind of business, but the poor people still can’t do anything. Right now we don’t have much of a problem from the military, we mostly fight against the economic changes.”
 
Rebel Riot performing at political protest March 2015 Source The Irrawaddy
Kyaw Kyaw (left) and his band performing at a political demonstration in Yangon
 
No doubt, such an unrelenting focus on one’s purpose requires a beloved instrument. For Kyaw Kyaw and Rebel Riot members, it’s music. Some of the band’s lyrics read, "No fear! No indecision! Rage against the system of the oppressors!" and they regularly appear at public gatherings, playing songs on the subject of dictatorship, religious intolerance, and economic inequality.
 
Music itself is a powerful outlet for these punks to resist mainstream thought and voice their concerns about economic injustice. From the first time he heard punk music, Kyaw Kyaw says, he understood that it could be used as an instrument to fight for change in society.
 
The depth of their courage is incomprehensible to anyone who understands the risk they take in speaking out, even under a ostensibly more tolerant regime. 
 
As we parted ways on the corner of Yangon’s busiest thoroughfare, locals gawking at the blonde American girl hugging a spiky, red-haired Burmese renegade, his final words summarized the inspiration he was largely oblivious to providing: “I know I can’t change the world, or Myanmar, or even this city, but at least I can influence those around me.”  
 
If a tiny group of punk rockers in one of the most historically oppressive countries on the planet can pool their kyats to feed the neediest people in their community, then all of us can take greater risks, form stronger teams, and feel empowered to tackle more meaningful gaps in our society and economy. We can use entrepreneurship to renew our focus on our life’s work, not on just what will simply earn the most money or make us a CEO by 30.
 
We’re already so powerful, important, and capable of change — we just have to recognize the full spectrum of opportunity in our own lives and communities. 
 
   Rebel Riot playing music to raise money for homeless_1
 
To find out more about Rebel Riot’s humanitarian and activism efforts, follow them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/?ref=tn_tnmn

 

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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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What’s Hot

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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

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