This month’s Fearless Fridays interview is with Sarah Williams. I stumbled across her in the She Podcasts group on Facebook, where I also recognised her from the Yes Tribe. Small world, with people living out big dreams!
After working in finance for eight years, Sarah quit her city job and spent 18 months travelling the world, climbing Kilimanjaro, backpacking around South America and doing a ski season, and using that time to help her decide on what she wanted to do with her life. She set up Tough Girl Challenges as a way of motivating and inspiring women and girls and she’s also the host of the Tough Girl Podcast, where she interviews inspirational female explorers, adventurers, athletes and everyday women who have overcome great challenges.
In the interview, Sarah shares how much she loves the freedom of how she can live her life now, as well as sharing some of the challenges. It’s quite a change to go from a ‘conventionally successful’ job in the city to forging your own path, and you’ll often find yourself up against some pretty strong doubts and judgements from certain people around you. She found incredible support in the online space and, despite the challenges, her advice to you is to “just start!” Read on for Sarah’s story or watch the full interview below.
Leaving a corporate job behind to follow your passion: From promoting investments to promoting strong female role models
Sarah Williams is the founder of the Tough Girl Challenged Podcast, dedicated to inspiring and motivating women and girls to get fit, active, travel, explore, have big adventures and generally live life to the fullest. An adventurer and endurance athlete, Sarah left a career in banking in London to complete several personal challenges including running the Marathon de Sables, walking the Appalachian Trail and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Sarah is now back at university and facing mountains of a different sort with her degree in Women and Gender Studies, whilst running the Tough Girl Challenges blog and podcast driven by her vision to see an increase in the number of female role models in the media.
1) At what moment did you decide it was time for a change?
It was very gradual. I’m a very positive person but it was a case of little things here and there. Week after week, it was becoming harder and harder to find faith, happiness, motivation and drive for what I was doing.
I was in a very fortunate position. I did have savings and I didn’t have any liabilities, so I could go and leave. I headed off to Kilimanjaro to go climb the mountain, which was amazing. I also spent time with family in Australia.
However, I do wish I had started Tough Girl Challenges when I was still doing my working job so that I could receive a regular income to build up the side hustle and learn everything I needed to learn about social media, editing and being an entrepreneur.
2) What was the biggest challenge you faced in making the change?
The big challenge for me is the financial side of things: it’s trying to make money from something I’m really, really passionate about. I moved back home with my parents and suddenly I’m a 36-year-old woman thinking “Am I doing the right thing?”
That’s still a struggle. I have these great days where I get nominated for an award, or I have the chance to share my story, and then there are really low days where you’re just sitting at a computer for 16 hours a day doing social media, trying to promote your podcast and your story, trying to get sponsorship and speaking gigs. It’s so hard.
I’m not complaining about it because it’s my choice and I’d 100% rather be doing this. I think a lot of people look at my life or look through Instagram and think “Oh, Sarah’s at the gym again,” or, “She’s out walking the Appalachian Trail,” or, “Oh, she’s doing X, Y, and Z” – but people don’t really get to see behind the scenes. That’s been quite tough.
It’s also adjusting your mindset about status. Working in finance in the city, or working for a big global corporation, people ask you “What do you do?” and you say, “Oh, I’m doing X for this bank.” There was a lot of ego involved. Then you have that stripped away and it becomes “Oh, I’m a blogger, I’m a podcaster…” You get very different reactions from some individuals. Some people are incredibly supportive but other people aren’t.
With my family and friends, I struggled with the suggestions of “Why don’t you get this job? You’d be so good at doing this,” whilst trying to explain that, “Actually, I’m really trying to make this work. I know it doesn’t look like I’m doing much, but this is my passion, this is my dream.”
There have definitely been hard times. Explaining to friends and family, trying to make money, living at home with the parents… My parents are amazing by the way! I’m actually quite lucky and very spoiled, but it is still a challenge.
3) Where did you get the support you needed to make it happen?
Online, which has been amazing. I’ve got my own Facebook group called the Tough Girl Tribe, which is incredible. I think a lot of women sometimes feel isolated when they say, “I want to go and run across the Sahara Desert,” or “I want to do this challenge,” and they may not have friends and family around to support them. It was great to connect other like-minded individuals.
I also became a member of She Podcasts, an incredible Facebook group for other female podcasters to be able to ask those questions which you think are stupid questions (and probably are stupid questions). But sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know, and you need to ask, “What’s the hosting place? How do I get my RSS feed? And how do I link it in?”
I’m also part of a mastermind as well. I connected with three other women last year and we talk once a month. Everybody’s in a similar position or in a similar industry and able to share best practice and share their knowledge and experience and just get advice and tips.
But I definitely think it’s not the same as in real life. I think that’s one thing I’ve struggled with: I feel I’m losing my social skills because I’m so happy about what I’m doing. I just sit in my bedroom and work all day and go to the gym, I’m not having daily interactions or daily banter. Yes, I get it on Twitter and social media, but it’s not the same as physically talking to people.
4) What’s the best part of your lifestyle today?
It’s the freedom. It’s the freedom of choice that I can just do what I want to do when I want to do it. Last year, I headed off to the Appalachian Trail to do this big walking challenge – but my business was still running. I had pre-loaded all my podcasts and blog posts and I had a small team of amazing women who helped with my social media while I was away. I spent three months walking through the Appalachian Mountains in America and it was incredible. I think the freedom is amazing.
I think it’s having a choice too; I know all the hard work I put in now is going to bring rewards. And I love the fact I don’t have to work to a schedule.
Also, I don’t actually interact with people I don’t like now. I know that sounds really weird, but you know sometimes, in business environments, you’ve got to be sort of nice to everyone, and be professional. Sometimes you just don’t like them as a person and you think, “I find your attitude negative” or “You’re not my cup of tea.” Whereas now, 9 times out of 10, with everybody I speak to, it’s not about competition but about collaboration. It’s about working together and being supportive. It’s just a completely different dynamic, which is amazing. There are so many benefits.
5) What one piece of advice would you give to someone who is considering making a big career or lifestyle change?
Say to yourself, “No more waiting. Just start.” I really want to ram that down people’s throats! Just please start. Whether it’s that you want to start training for a 5K, or you want to get fit or healthy or go to the gym, find a new job or a new relationship – whatever it is, you just have to start. The first step is, unfortunately, the hardest, but then you build momentum and things start rolling and happening. You suddenly think, “Whoa, why didn’t I start this earlier?”
To keep up to date with Sarah and her latest challenge, as well as find inspiration for your own adventures, visit ToughGirlChallenges.com. You can find more information on the Tough Girl Tribe and listen to Sarah’s inspiring podcast here. Well worth checking out!