I’m happy to share with you this month’s Fearless Fridays interview, which is with Andy McLean. I met Andy on the Exploring Mindset trip on the Mississippi last autumn, and since then we’ve caught up a few times, our meet-ups always involving thought-provoking discussions. This past weekend I took part in a 24-hour paddle to fundraise for the Quapaw Canoe Company over in Clarksdale, and it was Andy who made it all happen together with Chris, another member of the Mississippi team.
I wanted to interview Andy about his experience of leaving his job, spending time in Bali, and then returning to full-time employment. Andy has given a lot of serious thought to his own transition, as well as to the experiences of the other people he has met along the way.
Perhaps the core message of Andy’s interview, and of his journey over the last two years, is that quitting your job can be harder than you realise. It involves significant changes, not just leaving behind a familiar work environment but often also leaving friends and family, giving up your home, getting rid of your belongings… To come out successfully at the other end, it’s important that you have solid reasons for making these changes. Why are you quitting your job and, I think more importantly, what are you escaping to? Having a clear purpose, along with finding the support you need – whether from your friends and family or from a structured programme, or working with a personal coach – will help you to navigate the twists and turns that lie ahead.
My own experience of leaving my full-time job and building a different kind of business model for myself has been overwhelmingly positive and I’ve worked with many others who have had a similar experience but, as Andy says in his interview, it’s not for everyone. In my case, I’ve done a lot of research, a lot of reading and a lot of thinking. I’m also incredibly independent and self-sufficient, and I work very well alone; that being said, I’ve made sure to surround myself with positive people who share my values, who will cheer me on and encourage me when I need it. Joining an event at Escape the City or a group like the Yes Tribe will ensure that you’re meeting the kinds of people who ‘get’ it, and who will support you and your new choices.
Read on to get Andy’s answers to the usual questions, or watch the full interview in the video below. Unfortunately something strange happened to the sound, with the microphone picking up the background noise of the coffee shop and my own voice much more than Andy’s; I apologise to Andy for these technical difficulties and to you the audience, as Andy is great on camera! I do still encourage you to watch the video, as there are a lot more insights from Andy than what I’ve captured in the answers below.
Leaving a corporate job behind to follow your passion: From full-time employment to Bali and back
Andy McLean, originally from New Zealand, has lived in the UK since 2005. For most of that time, he was working in a South African company called Investec. In 2013 he took a sabbatical, which he spent in Indonesia, and this gave him the idea that a ‘different way’ existed. A year later, he resigned from his job – a difficult decision, as he really liked both the company and his boss. Having spent the last couple of years ‘exploring’, he has now returned to full-time employment as Head of Innovation at a design agency.
1) At what moment did you decide it was time for a change?
After I came back from the sabbatical, I was put on a project that involved trialling a new way of working, exploring startups and innovation. I was based at a co-working space in Bermondsey Street, where I suddenly had complete control of my time: I could work whenever I wanted. I actually quite liked the routine of getting up and starting to work in the morning, but the rest of the day was flexible. If I wanted to exercise at 2pm I could, there were no meetings getting in the way… so all those things that you get accustomed to and that stop you and tire you out just didn’t exist anymore. That probably started a bit of a process in my mind. Plus, in this co-working space, there was a crowd from Entrepreneur First: these guys were computer science graduates from Cambridge, directly into starting businesses before they went to corporates. I started to think that there were all these other possibilities, which you just don’t see when you’re inside a big corporation.
So I’d say it was subtle more than any kind of magic moment. Because of the sabbatical, I’d always known in the back of mind that Bali was there, I’d seen people living there and setting up businesses. Also, my mum was unwell at the time and I didn’t want to ask work for some time off, so I thought: I’m just going to go for it. In the end, it was a fast decision, it happened really quickly.
2) What was the biggest challenge you faced in making the change?
It was completely unplanned. I didn’t do any preparation! Compared to, say, an adventure, where you’re going to cycle around Britain, for example, you just need a bike and a tent… but to uproot your life that you’ve lived for ten years, it’s just gone, just like that. It wasn’t very well planned, and, ultimately, that’s what caught me out.
Looking back, I should have done some sort of transition course, where you have a bit more support and structure. My approach was very different: “I’ll just have a good look around and see what comes up.” But you’re moving into a whole different world out there, where you have to be so self-reliant. Most people out in Bali are solo marketers one way or another, whether they’re a coach, have an eCommerce business, or whatever it might be; basically they’re working on their own. I’ve never really done that before, and never really wanted to. I came from being a collaborative, project-based guy to suddenly having to start my own business: that was a big hurdle that I never really overcame.
3) Where did you get the support you needed to make it happen?
Once I was in Bali, the support came from the Balinese. They are some of the most flexible people you’ll come across – if you say you want to meet someone, they’ll meet you that day.
A little later on, I joined TribeWanted, with a whole different type of support.
4) What’s the best part of your lifestyle today?
Without any doubt it’s been getting to meet some really tremendous people. I don’t feel like it was a year of great achievement, I think it was a year of great exploration: I tried a heap of different things. I think the payoff would be falling into a crowd of great people, who came at different points: TribeWanted, the Escape to the Woods festival, Mississippi… It was a chance to meet lots of people who you just feel good around. It makes you think hard about who you really are, and who you want to be with.
Another thing has been developing a very strong attachment to one place: Bali. I think I’ve done ten flights in and out of Bali in the last two years.
I also had some really ‘authentic’ experiences, by which I mean times when I really, really, enjoyed myself. So Mississippi, as an example, was brilliant! I loved that feeling of waking up at six in the morning on the side of a river, bouncing out of bed and going down to the fire and making a cup of tea. There was something so lovely about it: so simple, and so pure.
After a while, though, I realised that I couldn’t figure out how I was going to live on a tropical island! I think everyone who has the chance to consider it probably should give it a go; but it’s not for everyone. I can think of some of my friends in TribeWanted, who loved their time in Bali but knew they’d want to be back in London. For me, it was more about needing some consistency in what I’m doing. So I headed back to London, embracing the new thinking that I’d been coming up with, but being more realistic. I’ve taken a job with a design agency, a totally different subject matter and types of people, just out of the city. I can wear what I want to work, the hours are much more erratic, they’re up and down… it’s not a machine-type situation. So far, so good!
The big lesson is that adventure doesn’t have to be Monday to Friday, or Monday to Sunday, or whatever – there are different ways of having that. I’ve realised that I used to be very lazy, because in the past other things were more important: studying, for example, and I was massively into football. I’m hardly watching any football now, I’m much more interested in going ‘exploring’, if that’s the right word, and I want to do more of that – and that’s totally doable, even alongside a full-time job. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.
5) What one piece of advice would you give to someone who is considering making a big career or lifestyle change?
Have a purpose to what you’re doing. What I mean is: why are you actually escaping? If you’ve got a really good reason, then you’ll be absolutely fine. Most people will have a tremendous amount of success at achieving their goals with the right kind of plan or purpose. The first time I was in Indonesia, I realised that I was just travelling for the sake of travelling – compared to the Mississippi trip, where the purpose was to be in a small group of people who were there for the same reason, to connect in really interesting ways and spend time in an amazing environment.
Also, do some research. There are so many places you can go, co-working communities around the world: you have a lot of options. Don’t just be lured in by what other people are saying.
Have you made big changes in your life and want to inspire others to do the same? Get in touch to share your story!