Interview – Nadja Bester

1: Please introduce yourselves and your family and where you are from?

I’m Nadja, single mother to my 12yo son, Alexander. We’re from Durban, South Africa.

2: What made you take the leap into leaving your home country and when?

I worked as an executive at the head office of a listed multinational company, which meant crazy long hours and exorbitant amounts of stress.

I’d been a work-from-home for most of my son’s life in order to be as involved in his daily activities as possible. (We’ve unschooled for most of his life, so there was a lot going on I would’ve missed out on had I not been there.) But there’s always that balance between having enough free time and making enough money, and as a single parent there were periods when that was a fine line to straddle.

So I accepted a corporate job, figuring I’d do it for a few years before going back to running a business from home again.

Thing is, what started off as a means to an end – cashing a high-end paycheck to build up a nest egg – soon became a seemingly inescapable trap. I was heading for burnout, constantly reheating the same batch of midnight oil – and then some – trying to balance work, parenting, life, and self-care. I hardly saw my son save for morning drop-offs and afternoon pickups to and from school. By the time I got home at night, the result of endless conference calls with my team spread across the globe, he’d be fast asleep. He saw his nanny more than he did me.

I had to miss a school concert because I was on a business trip abroad. That crushed me. I started off doing this “for him”. But the months flew past in a daze and one year threatened to turn into ten as soon as I looked away. I could see only how this was working against him, to the detriment of our relationship, and a spiraling into a work-life imbalance that I simply couldn’t sustain.

One weekend, we were at an unschooling unconference in another city, and we were once again immersed in the lifestyle freedom we’d had, pre-exec job. Free to live life on our terms, designing our lives based on who we are and what we want from our existence. Doing it according to the system’s specifications, like we had been over the course of the nearly two years I’d been sucked into the Big Bad Corporate Machine, was sheer lunacy.

Gears were turning inside my head. I didn’t know what they were straight away, but things were shifting big time. I could tell. The discrepancy of having sacrificed lifestyle freedom for the sake of gaining financial freedom was gnawing at me, and I felt like I couldn’t look myself in the eye anymore. Why was I throwing us in front of a bus when we didn’t *need* a big house, a fancy car, a bottomless bank account? The price we were paying for all these trappings was simply not worth it.

Tuesday morning (I’d taken leave that Monday so we could explore the city before flying back home) I got to my office and switched on my computer, gearing myself for the flood of emails awaiting me since I dared to go 4 days without tending to it. Before my mailbox had even loaded, it happened. Just like that. Click!

“I’m quitting. We’re going traveling,” I told myself. Out loud, which – together with the unexpectedness of it all – initially, irrationally, made me think someone else had said it. Then realized it was me. I couldn’t argue. Vocal Me had the only logical out I could think of. I didn’t even ask what her plan was. I just said “Let’s do it!”.

And, true to my word, two months later we were off, sitting on a plane headed for Hong Kong. That was nearly two years ago.

People often ask me if it was a difficult decision to make. The impossible decision, I always answer, would’ve been to stay. That was insanity. What we have now, is life.

3: Are you digital nomads, worldschoolers or have you settled in a new country?

We’re worldschooling digital nomads semi-settled in a new country.

As the breadwinner, I am a digital nomad, i.e. I earn an income through work I do online. I’m not beholden to a certain location: I can be anywhere on earth (with a wifi connection, which isn’t always as easy as you might think!) and make money using only my computer. A few years ago, this sounded fantastical to me. Now, it’s as commonplace as any work style has ever been. It’s become my new normal. Since remote work is steadily on the rise, expect to see more of us year after year.

Through my example, my son is exposed to this style of work, so I can just assume that this will broader his horizons as far as future career options are concerned. It’s worlds apart from begging his mom to please go home with him after school so they can swim in the pool together, play a game, go to the movies. Anything. You know, just spend some *time* together.

Alexander is a worldschooler, but by all accounts so am I. In the process of unschooling him, I’ve been steadily deschooling myself for many years: Examining, questioning the validity of, and rewriting long-held beliefs and perceptions that, most of the time, were imposed on me by society and never mine to begin with.

As a worldschoolers, I am learning about the world as much as he is. We’re both learning how to survive in different countries with languages, cultures, customs, and belief systems that are very different from our own.

Not as tourists that are in and out, the way we used to be back when we traveled on holiday.

As travelers …nomads… people who make the world their home, one destination at a time. We’re learning that we’re humans first, global citizens of one big, beautiful planet, and demographic labels second.

These days, we spend quite a lot of our time in India, which we’re using as a base from which to continue our travels. We were going at lightning speed when we first started traveling, zipping from one country to the next, so we’re really appreciating this slower form of travel. It’s a lot more mindful, peaceful, and paced … things Alexander started craving after a period of going from place to place too fast.

4: The big question, how do you sustain yourselves financially?

To be honest, when we left, I had no idea what would come of the journey, financially. I had savings and I knew we had time till it ran out. I had confidence knowing I have a wealth of marketable skills, and so I trusted that when we needed cash, it’d be possible to make it. I didn’t realize what a flourishing money paradise the online world was until months after we’d already been traveling. At first, I was working as an environmental marketing consultant, taking on consulting jobs in the locations we traveled to.

As if by happenstance, a friend recommended me for a journalist position, and I entered the strange but fascinating world of blockchain. Since then, I’ve been an editor, an advisor, a speaker, and a business owner in the blockchain and cryptocurrency space.

An entire new career in an entirely new industry … all created, as if out of thin air, long after I left the safety and comfort of what I knew. After I dared took a great big leap into the unknown, trusting that the safety net is there. It just doesn’t look how I *think* it does.

5: Do you have any blogs, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest or other social media we can follow you on? ( please share links)

I blog at www.easternheartwesternmind.com. You can also connect with me on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/nadjabester).
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EHWMLiving/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/easternheartwesternmind/
Pinterest: https://za.pinterest.com/EasternHeartWesternMind/

5: Looking back, what are the best tips you can give other families wanting to do the same?

Prepare to rebuild your belief system from the ground up. The world is not what you think it is, and neither is life. It’s far friendlier than society or the media will ever let on. Step outside of your comfort zone and see the magic unfold right before your very eyes. You’re never too old to be constantly amazed and delighted, and your children are never too young to start.

6: How different is your life now and what are the most positive results you can share with us?

My office is once again next to my son’s (he runs an in-game business – it’s complicated economics very few of us parents can understand, myself included). It’s been this way before, before my dark foray into the abyss that is the corporate world (though I don’t think he had such an entrepreneurial spirit back then). Only, this time, our office space can be on a tropical island one week, the foothills of a snowy mountain the next. Truly location independent.

It’s not the freedom to change locations, however, that makes our life special. It’s that we are at home anywhere in the world. We’re the captains of our own ship, steering our rudders wherever we wish to go: Geographically, but also mentally. Emotionally. We life live instead of letting it live us.

As a human, I love this. As a parent, I love it a million times more. No greater gift could I ever hope to give my son than to hand him his destiny and say, “Here. Make of it what you wish.”

7: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers to inspire them to take the leap?

Years ago, as a young girl, I read the following quote:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”*

I envisioned myself throwing caution to the wind and setting sail, course set in the direction of my dreams. At the time, those dreams (whatever they may have been), seemed wonderfully whimsical and far-off.

Today, having done it, a living example to my son that we’re the authors of our own story, I can safely assure you that it’s not nearly as hard as you imagine it to be. Not at all as impossible as it feels. Step 1 will always be the most difficult. It’s a built-in design mechanism tailor-made to fit every (ad)venture. As Nike says, and I’m sure the Greek goddess of victory agrees, Just do it. What begins as a free-fall will soon turn into the soar of a lifetime.

* Erroneously attributed to Mark Twain, but if you’re like me in having grown up thinking he said that, let’s just keep at it!

Nadja Bester Thailand