Natalie Sisson: The Surprising Truth About Freedom (Full Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of Natalie Sisson on The Surprising Truth About Freedom at TEDxRoyalTunbridgeWells conference. She is Chief Adventurer of The Suitcase Entrepreneur.

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Natalie Sisson – Chief Adventurer of The Suitcase Entrepreneur

Imagine waking up tomorrow with no monetary constraints, no limitations at all actually, and the freedom to choose your perfect day. Close your eyes if you wish. And imagine where in the world would you wake up? How would you spend your time? Who would you spend it with? What would your day look like, smell like, sound like and feel like?

You can open your eyes. Now I have asked this question to literally hundreds of people over the years. And guess what? 99% of them can’t even answer it. They have never actually thought about or imagined their perfect day, let alone how to describe it in detail.

Now why is this? Well, I believe it’s because somewhere along the way we stopped chasing our dreams, we stopped imagining what our perfect life would look like. And we started handing over the reins to society who told us what to do and how to live. And I was one of those people for a while, I’d given up on my freedom. And now I wanted it back.

So what is the definition of freedom, you may ask? Well, according to the Oxford Dictionary, it is the power or right to act, speak or think as one once. Now these days I’ve become a little bit obsessed with freedom and for the last six years, I have been living out of my suitcase traveling to 69 countries around the world and essentially figuring out and experimenting how to live and work from anywhere. And I finally found the perfect freedom business model that allows me to do this.

I believe freedom is a right, not a privilege. And so today I’d like to share the three stages of freedom that I have discovered on my journey so that you can apply it to your life.

Stage 1 is to free your mind from the conventional ways of living. So it is actually about eight years ago to this very day and I’m in London, England. To the outside world, I look like I have it all together. I worked my way up the corporate ladder to end up in a senior management position, loads of pay, lots of responsibility, a whole team under me. And yet, I’m not happy. In fact, something on the inside of me is dying a little. And I realize that I’ve given away my freedom. Somebody else is telling me when to wake up in the morning, what to do, how to act, how to feel. And I realize in this moment this is obviously not what I want.

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I watch co-workers coming to work each day, checking in and checking out like robots. They’re not even present, they’re missing out on the most important moments of their life. We all are. And then it hit me one day when I was on my daily commute to work, on the tube, in complete silence, squished in like a siding with thousands of others, no eye contact. I know a lot of you know this feeling. And I realized that I am wasting 45 minutes a day commuting to and from work. I’m giving up 15.6 days in a year to dedicate myself to being a sardine. I mean, isn’t it ridiculous?

And when you look at the 9-to-5 rat race, it’s totally inefficient. We go to work every day from 9 to 5 in shops, post offices, dentists, banks. They all open just as we’re going to work and they close right about the time that we’re leaving work, which means we want to get anything done we have to go out in the lunch hour or after work with everybody else and queue up to do it. This is just totally inefficient. And if this is a race, nobody is going to win it.

Now I ask myself: how did I get to this place? How did I get to a place where I worked myself into a job I thought I wanted, to earn money to buy things I didn’t need, to work for somebody else on their terms and to have zero impact on the world. Can I have a show of hands in here if anybody else has ever felt like this or currently feels like this? Right, heap of you! Now you’re not actually alone.

In a recent global study of 120,000 participants, a staggering 48% of people stated that they were unhappy in their jobs. 48%! So I figure at this point, if that’s you, you have two options. One: quit, escape now. Two: make the most of what you have. Can you ask for flexible working hours so that you can turn up to work earlier, leave a little later, and miss that dreaded commute? Or could you have some work from home days where it’s been proven you will be more productive and efficient.

Now I can guarantee you which option I took here, I had just received a promotion, I had received a raise and I bought a house in London. And so I did what any other sane person would do. I handed in my notice. I sold off everything I owned. I packed up what was left into a suitcase and I booked a one-way flight to Vancouver, Canada to play World Championship Ultimate Frisbee which I love and to live the dreams.

Stage 2 is to do work you love that supports your ideal lifestyle. So here I am. I’ve landed in Vancouver, Canada and I realized one very important thing. I am now, in fact, homeless, jobless and I have no freaking idea what I’m going to do. Luckily, I met my business partner at a networking event, and we co-founded a technology company called FundRazr.

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Now the next 18 months were a complete roller coaster ride of startup world. I loved the pace, I loved the challenge, I loved using all my experience and knowledge drawn from the corporate world and applied it to this business. What I didn’t love was that we were working really long hours. We were drinking too much bad coffee, and I certainly wasn’t getting to play enough ultimate Frisbee. And I realized I’ve built myself another job. Except this one has 10 times the responsibility, way less freedom and way less flexibility.

About this time I had a chat, an honest chat with my business partner. And he said, “Natalie, I know the blog that you’ve been writing. Perhaps you should go off and turn it into a business since you’re so passionate about it”. And I was like great idea.

So a few months later, we parted amicably. This was around April 2010 and I realized I have a blog and no way of getting paid. So for the next six months, I hassled like crazy and until I was down to the last $17 in my bank account, which is not a nice feeling at all, I finally found a paying client. And then I went on to actually set up three social media workshops. And to the outside world once again it looked like I had it going on. I mean I could afford my rent, I had clients lining up and I had a good reputation around town. But I knew at this point I needed to take a risk if I wanted to live the life that I really wanted to live and have the right business, which was one that allowed me location-independence and freedom.

So I packed up my stuff, got over the risks and booked a one-way flight to Buenos Aries, Argentina to dance tango, to learn Spanish and to eat as many bananas as I possibly could. And at first, I thought I had taken control. It was exhilarating and then I soon realized that I had once again built myself less freedom. The business was the dictator of my life. I was stressed out, I didn’t have much money and the very thing that I’ve gone to Argentina to do I wasn’t able to.

And I realized as I kept traveling from country to country that when I was working on my business, I felt guilty for not being a tourist and exploring the country that I come to visit. And when I was off being a tourist, I felt guilty that I wasn’t working on my business. And in this moment of grace, I realized this isn’t freedom. I’m working harder than ever all by myself and even though I love what I’m doing, I am NOT making this happen. I am going to burn out. I’m going to end up resenting what I actually started out to do in the first place.