This is the true story of my long and painful transition from burnout corporate employee to freelancer and globe trotting digital nomad & lifestyle entrepreneur.
Grab a snack, kids, it's a long one.
I started my corporate career in what you might describe as a “dream job.” I worked for a global sportswear company doing fun & creative work, with people I loved.
It was amazing.
And then, slowly, it wasn’t.
It became a nightmare. I was working sixty to eighty hours a week. I’d come home most days to microwave a meal, binge Netflix, and drink or cry (or both!) myself to sleep.
I knew there was more to life, but I didn’t have the energy for it.
I kept thinking something would change. The new CEO would fix things, a different project would help… but it never did.
I found myself bitter and angry most of the time, which isn’t who I am at my core.
I realized I was responsible for changing my life – only me – and it was a choice to continue to suffer in a job I hated, waiting for my circumstances to change.
I quit that job without a plan in 2008.
I didn’t have savings, or know what was coming next.
I don’t come from money, had a lot of student debt and no safety net.
But I knew if I stayed in that job, I would end up killing myself in some manner or another.
I took piecemeal work to survive, and a series of corporate jobs that weren’t ideal but paid the bills and padded the resume.
I started to breathe a little, and to see brief flashes of a life worth living.
Nothing felt clear, but I took time to explore and recover, while I earned my master’s degree in business.
I still thought I’d be working in the corporate world forever, and I wanted to understand what was going on in in these companies.
When I graduated, my plan was to move to Silicon Valley.
I had a vision of a future where I’d take a job at a start-up, work for a few years, and ultimately became a project manager at Apple before doing my own thing.
I was gonna be the next Guy Kawasaki.
It was awesome.
So I did it. I got a job in the Valley, and moved down. And, guess what?
It was worse than anything I thought could have been true about the Valley.
Everything you’ve seen on HBO’s Silicon Valley is accurate.
The start-up I worked for was in a crappy office park with no character, sandwiched between a tire store and a Walgreens.
But the parking lot was full of Maseratis and Ferraris.
The work wasn’t much better.
We spent all of our time focusing on competitors and preparing for the next board meeting, and no time thinking about our users or audiences.
I felt like we were serving no one, and really just treading water.
I hated it, and I started drinking myself to sleep every night.
But there was a silver lining…
I got to try my hand at entrepreneurship and working in a startup, and I loved it.
I’ve always been a huge learner.
I love to read, be hands-on, try new things; I loved getting my hands dirty in a million different parts of the company.
I liked seeing what worked and what didn’t and testing everything.
Even though I was languishing in that shitty Mountain View office park, I’d found something I loved.
Eventually, I quit.
Again, I didn’t have a set plan, but I knew I could start freelancing.
It was hard.
I struggled a lot, flailing for piecemeal work, and didn’t know who I was targeting.
I didn’t think about my work as a viable business, but as a mix of short-term projects that would pay the bills.
I was stressed out all the damn time, and I didn’t have good coping mechanisms at the time.
I smoked and drank and ate and binged, because I didn’t know better ways to manage my stress.
Whether it’s alcohol, drugs, food, online shopping, or something else, we can all fall into the trap of unhealthy coping mechanisms.
To be effective as an entrepreneur, we have to quit these. I learned that the hard way.
During a particularly challenging period I realized my problem with alcohol was beyond poor coping and I made the decision to quit behavior that didn’t serve me.
I found the resources I needed to quit drinking, started focusing on self-care and stopped shaming myself.
My entire world changed with that decision.
By making changes to what I put in my body, how I lived my life and how I treated myself physically, I started to recover from burnout… and, more importantly, I started to return to being a happy human being.
I started to feel healthier and more vibrant, and was kinder to my body and mind.
I had more energy to pour into my business and into my life.
In retrospect, it might seem quick to sum up these changes, but they.were.so.hard.
During this time, I dug myself into a financial hole.
I had to short-sell my home and move into my friend’s basement.
It was brutal, and it’s taken a long time to get out of the deep financial hole I dug.
But through it all, I learned.
I got closer to who I wanted to work with and, more importantly, who I didn’t want to work with.
Along the way, I took a full-time job to start getting myself out of my financial hole.
I liked the project and the people; it was good work, a dream job by many other people’s standards.
I was – and still am – passionate about the project, and it was a crucial stepping stone to where I am now, but it just wasn’t it.
In 2014 I took I life changing trip to Bali and Cambodia.
It was a vacation from that last dream job, which was taking over my life, and starting to kill my spirit again.
During the 1,000 hour flight to Siem Reap, I read The 4-Hour Work Week and, for the first time, it clicked in my head that there was a whole other way to live.
There was no reason I needed to be in a cubicle, or an office at all, and no reason to work 40-hours a week, every single week, for the rest of my life.
I saw possibilities I hadn’t seen before, and an entire world opened for me.
So often, we’re taught to settle for mediocrity: get a decent job, work hard, be a decent person, and get rewarded with your mediocre retirement plan.
All of a sudden, it wasn’t enough.
I was done settling.
On the same trip, I visited Angkor Wat.
It was around 4,000 degrees outside, and the air was liquid it was so humid, so I had the temple to myself, save for a handful of tourists and monks.
I climbed to the top of the sacred temple and came to a window that looked out into blue skies, lush jungle and the quiet sounds of nature.
As I approached the window, I burst into tears as waves of joy washed over me.
I was overcome with an intense wave of peace, love and belonging. I felt whole. Connected.
I still get chills thinking about it.
I decided then and there to change my life, again.
I decided I would travel more and inspire others – to live their passion, to lead happier lives, to stop living to work, to question the status quo…
I wanted to inspire people to feel happy, healthy, and fulfilled.
To know they were enough, just as they were.
These weren’t dreams. They were decisions.
I wasn’t concerned with “how” – I knew I’d get there – I just had to start.
To manifest these decisions, I made more big changes in my life.
I got really clear on how I was spending my time, money and energy.
I began cutting out things that weren’t important.
I started taking care of my body and getting medical treatment for what would later be diagnosed as an endocrine disorder.
I had to make massive changes, again, and it was so hard.
But it was these moments – the revelations in my travel, my committed decisions, and my making tradeoffs as an entrepreneur – that have landed me where I am, living a life I deeply love.
Every choice we make as entrepreneurs have impact on our lives and livelihood.
The right choices matter. And nearly everything in life is a choice.
So often, I talk to people who claim to want to make a change in their lives but fail repeatedly.
It’s not because they don’t want it.
It’s not because they can’t do it.
It's not because they don't deserve it.
9 times out of 10, it’s because they cannot or will not PRIORITZE themselves or their goals.
We have to decide to stop doing the things that hurt us and make better decisions.
For me, I had to give up shopping as a hobby and weekly trips to Target.
I had to budget funds to pay debt and save for travel.
I had to cut out gluten and reduce my sugar and take supplements and go to meetings and physical therapy and acupuncture and learn to meditate.
I had to question all of the things I knew to be true.
I was living in Portland, Oregon where you can literally go weeks without seeing the sun and I was pretty over it, so I got permission from my then boss to work remotely and spend winter in the South.
I started blogging again and created the foundation for what’s now my coaching business, though I didn’t know it at the time.
Then, after two months in Charleston and Savannah, I found myself crying all the way home – through the entire five hour flight – and knew something was wrong.
It was crazy to move across country and so I fought the idea for a year, tried to come up with alternate plans that were rational.
Then I visited Savannah again and felt home.
So I moved across country by myself.
It was one of the best decisions I ever made, even if I only stayed a year.
That was the year I learned to trust my gut and follow my heart over all other input.
And was a catalyst for quitting that last dream job and making new decisions.
The last time I jumped back into consulting, I made better decisions.
I had to.
I’d just moved across country and bought a home in Savannah, Georgia (where I didn’t know anyone).
I couldn’t fail.
This was pivotal for me, and where things really started to click into place.
My life got exponentially better.
Looking back at my last few years working that corporate “dream job,” my default mode had been panic.
I awoke each morning with fear, dread, and deep unhappiness.
It was exhausting.
Burnout – emotional and physical – had taken a huge toll on my well being.
In the years following my quitting, I strove for better and better.
Finally, I’m here, living a life that brings me joy, and fills me with gratitude.
Now when I wake up, I’m excited and greet the day with questions like: “What do I get to do today?” or “Who do I get to help?”
I’ve built my life around the right choices for me, so I’m full of energy to use to serve others.
I’ve since left Savannah to travel, and even sold my house to support my latest business venture and travels.
I’ve pivoted my business to focus on coaching and education over consulting, so I can serve more people.
I’m building a business where I get to work with my type of people: entrepreneurial, creative, and non-traditional.
I’ve found my tribe, one where “that’s just how it’s always been done” is never the answer.
But the biggest change is that I’ve nearly eliminated fear from my life.
Fear of what “might” happen, fear of judgement from others, fear that others’ actions can invalidate my worth, fear that I’m “less than,” fear that someone won’t like me, fear of dying alone and being eaten by cats…
Okay, that one still pops up occasionally, but hey – progress not perfection. ;)
In practice, this has meant cutting negative people out of my life, and prioritizing myself.
And I’m okay with all of these things because I feel aligned with my heart.
Heart leads head.
In this new life, there is more positivity, and there aren’t many big deals anymore.
There are occasionally big deals in life, of course, but I almost never choose to suffer anymore.
Instead of focusing on fear, I focus on the positive or the productive.
I frame the world as a place where people are good, and I live better for it.
When terrorists attacked Barcelona’s Las Ramblas in August 2017 – an area I walked by multiple times every day that week – it could have been easy to fixate on the one cruel person who inflicted so much suffering.
To focus on the cruelty of the world we live in.
Instead of doing so, I found it better to follow Mr. Rogers’ advice and “look for the helpers.”
I focused my energy on the 1,000’s of people who showed up to help, to support, to radiate goodness.
When we look at the world this way, it’s brimming with kindness, not one to inhabit in fear.
I wake up happy most days.
Even days that are hard, I’m able to find the good. To make a little progress.
These days, I typically don’t work more than 30 hours a week.
I work with my body clock, not an arbitrary 9-to-5.
I focus on maximizing what I’m good at, and I look for help where I’m not.
As I follow the path the universe lays out before me, I’m rewarded with incredible experiences and opportunities to build my tribe.
I run into fellow travelers who guide my along my journey, and I help them along with theirs.
This is my life now, and I’ve designed it in a way that works for me.
Scary things may come my way, but I’m equipped with gratitude, heart, tribe, and passion.
What more could a girl ask for?
Everything I do is with the intention of supporting other people in their desire to change their life or business.
I get to serve others and watch them grow.
And it’s simply amazing.
- Kate Bagoy
If you're ready to say YES to you, and your dream of becoming a freelancer... of working when you want, where you want, with who you want... I'd love to be your guide.
Share this page with family or friends who need to be inspired, or leave me a comment with your burnout story. You are not alone.