By Lily Lawes, Unsettled Bali Alumni 2018
So I quit my job in media and ran away to Bali like an Eat Pray Cliché.
It really wasn’t an easy decision – because who in their right mind would walk away from a stable, well-paid, ‘creative’ job in the perennial sunshine of Dubai? But it wasn’t working for me, and I realised that the grip of Dubai’s ‘golden handcuffs’ had become suffocating. Prior to this decision, a conversation with a business coach sowed a seed in me – she encouraged any woman to leave the corporate world as ‘it’s not built for us’... and that made me wonder, why was I exerting all my creative energy into making other people more rich? Why was I sitting behind a desk all day when it wasn’t where I wanted to be?
What I really craved, I realise now, was time. Simple time, just for me – to see the family I miss so much, to learn new things, to do yoga, to think, to try out different roles, and to figure out what really fuels my fire. I needed time to know if it was really possible for me to make some money on my own terms.
After the beigeness of Dubai, I craved the tropical greenery Bali had to offer. The yoga studio on every corner called my name; all kinds of weird and wacky spiritual healers offered sage sticks; wall-to-wall life coaches; the diving, surfing, and snorkeling aplenty; and the active volcanoes… this was my place!
When I found Unsettled’s 30-day coworking retreat in Bali… I considered the expense. I could have found my own accommodation on a budget, but then what?
Unsettled offered a semi-structured programme bringing together people from around the world to live and explore together, attend workshops, with time and space to work, and an ethos of remaining mindful and get the most from the experience. Yes, there was a real danger I could be stuck with a bunch of losers for a month, but the ‘no asshole’ condition on the website was reassuring. And as I did more research, the testimonials and social media were very impressive too. Against the guilt (for spending my own money? Why, guilt?!) and apprehension that it was some kind of cringe-fest for suckers, I spent the money and booked my spot for Unsettled Bali.
After wrapping up work and saying my goodbyes to some of the best people I knew in Dubai, I arrived in Bali to a blur of new faces (were these my people? I didn’t know yet), hugs, Bintangs, friendly conversations, and unpacking. All I knew about Ubud was that it was the epicentre of the hippy-dippy wellness world, and that it was a jungle.
At orientation the following day, we found our bearings and got to know each other – the Unsettled way. We were asked to close our eyes and forget the travel and whatever else and the narrative of the morning was: “Take a deep breath… because you’re breathing in Bali”. These words, spoken in the gravelly accented tones of our gorgeous Greek Experience Leader, Areti, have stuck with me in a way that reminds me to be present, no matter where in the world I am.
Getting (un)settled in Ubud, getting to know new people, and getting out and about in the jungles and rice paddies of Bali felt great. Ubud Yoga Centre had a sign that said: ‘You are exactly where you need to be’, and seeing this in those first few days, it really felt true.
Having spent a good few months gripped with anxiety, fear and guilt about completely pulling the rug from under my comfortable life, I was beginning to feel more at peace with my decision, and that I really was in the place, the situation, and in the company I needed to be in. I also felt in control – I was the first in the group to rent a scooter, jump on it and get myself moving. I was eating healthy smoothie bowls and vegan meals, and I discovered Yoga Barn, a beautiful studio complex draped in lush trees offering hundreds of classes a week. In one of my first classes there, a monkey climbed up into the rafters and started throwing things at unsuspecting yogis until it was shooed out.
I certainly was not in Kansas anymore!
It turned out that we were a group of 17 women (plus the three female Unsettled staff) and one, rather overwhelmed, man. A dearth of eye candy, but this was an interesting dynamic. We discovered most of us were in some sort of transition – a broken relationship, a big move, the end of a job. And we were from all over the world – Costa Rica, Bolivia, Latvia, the US, Colombia, Bulgaria, South Africa, the UK, UAE, Mexico, and Brazil. Some people were working full time, but when not on skype calls with their teams, they spent every spare moment chasing waterfalls and visiting temples. Others were relishing in downtime and the Balinese sunshine.
A few day on… and life had settled into a sort of a rhythm. From our first adventure, which included riding pillion on a convoy of scooters out to the stunning rice paddies, to seeing each other everyday at breakfast, we felt like like was our own little family. We’d make plans to pop to a yoga class, a vegan café or a sound healing session (because, Ubud!), and we had regular workshops on finding our Ikigai and the Cycle of Life. Finding a tribe and connecting so quickly and comfortably with new people was a revelation for me.
Ultimately though, my month living Unsettled took me out of my comfort zone and set me on a path I couldn’t have imagined. I ended up staying in Bali for several more weeks after my experience to participate in an incredibly awakening yoga immersion -- something I would have never had the courage to do before.
And today, several months on, I’m still living ‘Unsettled’; I’ve started working on own creative projects, and I’m now working flexibly and remotely as a freelance writer. I’m considering directions I wouldn’t have even thought were possible, except now, I have a brand new support network around the world cheering me on...