#SWAAYthenarrative

How I Built My Business While Traveling The World As A Digital Nomad

6 Min Read
Career

I had it all planned out. After a year of hard work at my first job after college, a New York City-based public relations agency, I could finally unlock my two weeks' vacation time. Cleverly, or so I thought, I would book a vacation over Fourth of July to eliminate a few workdays, allowing for a substantial almost two weeks of travel time! Giddy with excitement, I emailed my boss requesting the time off, outlining that this schedule would require me to use only seven of my fourteen vacation days.

I patted myself on the back for being so cunning.

My boss must have laughed out loud, replying to let me know of the company's policy stating employees can only be out of the office for five consecutive business days, thereby shattering my plans of frolicking through Switzerland and Malta for two weeks. As an avid traveler, I was seriously pissed off. Smoke fumed from my ears as I realized this was common practice for many businesses. How could I truly experience a new country with such little time? My dreams of exploring Bali, Australia, India, and other far-flung locations, now seemed way out of reach. Adult life was looking bleak.

I left that agency for another one a few months later and this is when I became introduced to a term that would change my life — "digital nomad." It was 2016 and working remotely was becoming a trend. Graphic designers, writers, social media marketers, and other online entrepreneurs were taking their work with them as they trotted around the globe, sipping cocktails out of coconuts while laying on the beach answering emails on their phones.

I wanted in. NOW. I already had an online job, sitting behind a computer all day. I knew I could live this lifestyle and the thought of achieving it completely consumed me. I was a girl on a mission to do something that no one around me could even conceive of. All I needed was a few clients.

Now, that part was daunting, but it wasn't going to hold me back. I made a list of the brands I wanted to work with and started connecting with them on LinkedIn. After countless emails and an in-person meeting, I landed a dream client — a winery that paid me six months upfront and signed a year-long contract! I was still employed at that point, so I took the opportunity to save all the money I received from my new client as well as a little bit from each paycheck.

Eventually, I was feeling financially secure enough to quit my job, leave my apartment, friends and family behind and booked a one-way ticket to Nicaragua. No big deal.

I left New York on October 2nd, 2017. As fate would have it, I met my long-term boyfriend three days into this journey, but I will save that story for another time.

Breaking the news to my family and friends was nerve-wracking. How do you tell people that at 25 years old you were quitting your corporate job and embarking on a yearlong digital nomad journey with no solid plans? My mother asked if I could just do it for a month and not quit my job. No mom, it doesn't work that way. It wasn't just my career she was concerned for. I knew she was also nervous that I was throwing away my chance at finding love. Why would I leave NYC? Surely this is the place to find a suitor. Somehow, I was able to abate her fears. Once they saw how determined I was, both of my parents were pretty supportive. My friends were sad but also excited for me to go on such a life-changing adventure. Everyone, myself included, thought I would be back in a year once I got this out of my system.

Flash forward to now, almost three years later, and I am still living nomadically with a successful PR business and a loving relationship.

For the first few months of my newfound nomad life I was traipsing through Central America. I lived and worked in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Costa Rica. Then I met up with my boyfriend and we explored Saint Martin, Curacao, and Aruba before I jetted off to Bali, my dream digital nomad locale. After spending enough time frolicking through the jungle, enjoying lush beaches and fueling my avocado toast addiction, I headed to Australia with my mom. Then I moved to Kauai, Hawaii to live with my boyfriend. We spent about a year living in Hawaii, divided between Kauai and Maui, before leaving our stunning home for a campervan in New Zealand.

I spent my fair share of time working in cafés and hostels with questionable Wi-Fi, but a campervan would be the ultimate test if I could keep my business afloat regardless of where I was. I made it clear to my partner that I would need days where I spent hours dedicated to work, either in a café or at a camp park without feeling guilty.

There were mornings when I rolled out of the van at 5 am for conference calls with clients located across the globe. It was rough, but doing so proved that I was (and still am) able to adapt to any time zone. It is my decision to live this way and my clients don't need to worry about scheduling calls that fit wherever I happen to be in the world. That is my responsibility.

From New Zealand, we moved to Australia on working holiday visas, where we lived and worked on a tiny island resort off the Great Barrier Reef, Heron Island. This was by far one of the best experiences of my life, and it helped me grow as an entrepreneur. I was now juggling my PR business and working part-time as a bartender in the resort. I didn't need the extra income, but I did want to live on the private island and being a staff member was the only way to do so. I became meticulous with my time, balancing work, the beach, gym, and scuba diving as often as possible. The Gmail scheduling tool became a lifesaver. I tripled my income during these six months, and I proved to myself and my clients that I can be successful no matter what time zone I am working in. Yes, it is harder and requires more personal sacrifices (missing out on a party because I have a client call at 11 pm), but it can be done.

Now, I am back in the states waiting out COVID-19. I am working with corporate leaders, many of whom are in the healthcare industry, so thankfully, business is going well. Despite any ups and downs, I can still achieve great success for my clients in national media outlets, whether I'm hunkered down stateside for a pandemic or living it up on the other side of the world. I even recently reached a major entrepreneurship milestone — hiring my first employee to accommodate my growing business.

Sorry, NYC, I don't think I am ever coming back.

5 Min Read
People

Judge Tanya Acker On Overcoming Racial Barriers And Her Rise To The Top


You may recognize Judge, Tanya Acker, from her political and legal commentary on different networks and shows like Good Morning America, The Talk, Wendy Williams, CNN Reports or The Insider. Acker is more than an experienced commentator. She is also a Judge on the fifth season of Emmy nominated CBS show, Hot Bench.

The show, created by Judge Judy, is a new take on the court genre. Alongside Acker, are two other judges: Patricia DiMango and Michael Corriero. Together the three-panel judges take viewers inside the courtroom and into their chambers. “I feel like my responsibility on the show is, to be honest, fair, [and] to try and give people a just and equitable result," Acker says. She is accomplished, honest and especially passionate about her career. In fact, Acker likes the fact that she is able to help people solve problems. “I think that efficient ways of solving disputes are really at the core of modern life.

“We are a very diverse community [with] different values, backgrounds [and] beliefs. It's inevitable that we're going to find ourselves in some conflicts. I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.

Acker's career has been built around key moments and professional experiences in her life. Particularly, her time working right after college impacted the type of legal work she takes on now.

Shaping Her Career

Acker didn't foresee doing this kind of work on television when she was in college at either Howard University or Yale Law. “I was really open in college about what would happen next," Acker comments. “In fact, I deliberately chose a major (English) that wouldn't lock me into anything [because] I wanted to keep all of my options open." Her inevitable success on the show and throughout her career is an example of that. In fact, after graduating from Yale, Acker served as a judicial law clerk to Judge Dorothy Nelson who sits on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

It was not only her first job out of law school but also one of the formative experiences of her professional life. “[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law," she exclaims. “She delivers it all with a lot of love." Judge Nelson is still on the bench and is continuing to work through her Foundation: The Western Justice Center in Pasadena, California, where Acker serves on the board. The foundation helps people seeking alternative ways of resolving their disputes instead of going to court.

"I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.

“It was important to her to try and create platforms for people to resolve conflict outside of court because court takes a long time," Acker explains. “I'm proud to be a part of that work and to sit on that board."

After her clerkship, she was awarded a Bristow Fellowship and continued building her career. Outside of the fellowship, Acker's legal work incorporated a broad variety of matters from civil litigation, constitutional cases, business counseling, and advising. One of her most memorable moments was representing a group of homeless people against the city. “They were being fought for vagrancy and our defense was, they had no place to go," she shares.

As part of her pro bono work, Acker was awarded the ACLU's First Amendment Award for her success with the case. Though, she has a hard time choosing from one of many memorable moments on Hot Bench. Acker does share a few of the things that matter to her. “Our show is really drawn from a cross-section of courtrooms across America and the chance to engage with such a diverse group of people really means a lot to me," she discusses.

How Did Acker Become A Judge?

In addition to Judge Nelson, Judge Judy is certainly among her top professional influences. “I think it's incredible [and] I feel very lucky that my professional career has been bookended by these incredible judges," she acclaims. “I've really learned a lot from Judy about this job, doing this kind of job on television." Before Acker was selected for Hot Bench, she hadn't been a judge. It was Judge Judy who recommended that she get some experience. Acker briefly comments on her first experience as a temporary judge on a volunteer basis in traffic court. “I was happy to be able to have the chance to kind of get a feel for it before we started doing the show," she comments. “Judy is a wonderful, kind, generous person [and] she's taught me quite a lot. I feel lucky."

Judge Acker in white pantsuit with her dog. Photo Courtesy of Annie Shak.

Acker's Time Away From Home

Outside of Hot Bench, Acker took recent trips to Haiti and Alabama. They were memorable and meaningful.

Haiti, in particular, was the first trip she excitedly talks about. She did some work there in an orphanage as part of LOVE Takes Root, an organization that is driven to help children around the world whether it's basic aid or education. “Haiti has a special place in my heart," she began. “As a person who's descended from enslaved people, I have a lot of honor and reverence for a country that threw off the shackles of slavery."

She was intrigued by the history of Haiti. Especially regarding the communities, corrupt government and natural disasters. “They really had to endure a lot, but I tell you this when I was there, I saw people who were more elegant, dignified, gracious and generous as any group of people I've ever met anywhere in the world," she goes on. “I think it left me with was a strong sense of how you can be graceful and elegant under fire." Acker is optimistic about the country's overall growth and success.

“[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law."

“There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," Acker says. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving."

Her other trip was different in more ways than one. She traveled there for the first time with her mother as part of a get out to vote effort, that Alabama's First black House Minority Leader, Anthony Daniels was organizing. “It was incredible to take that trip with her [and] I've got to tell you, the South of today is not the South of my mother's upbringing," she explains. Originally from Mississippi, Acker's mother hasn't been back in the South since 1952. “Every place has a ways to go, but it was a really exciting trip [and] it was nice for me to connect with that part of the country and that part of my history."

Overcoming Racial Barriers

As a black woman, Acker has certainly faced challenges based on her race and gender. But it doesn't define who she is or what she can accomplish. “There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," she says. “There's no sort of barrier that someone would attempt to impose upon me that they didn't attempt to impose on my mother, grandmother or great-grandmother." In a space where disparity is sometimes apparent, she recognizes that there is no barrier someone would try to impose on her that they didn't attempt to impose on her mother or grandmothers. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving," Acker states. The conversation continues truthfully and seriously. Acker shares what it can be like for black women, specifically. “I think we're underestimated and we can be disrespected, whereas other folks are allowed the freedom to enjoy a full range of emotions and feelings," she articulates.

At times black women are often restricted from expressing themselves. “If someone wants to make an assumption or jump to a conclusion about me because of my race or gender, that's on them, but their assumptions aren't going to define me," Acker declares. “If something makes me angry or happy I will express that and if someone wants to caricature me, that's their pigeonholing; that's not my problem." A lifelong lesson she learned and shared is to not let other people define who you are. It is one of three bits of wisdom.

Three Pieces Of Advice From Judge Acker

The Power Of Self-awareness

“It's really important that you have a really firm sense of what you want to do and be, and how you're moving in the world because when people try to sway you, judge you or steer you off course you've got to have some basis for getting back on track."

Know Your Support System

“Have a strong community of people who you trust, love and who love you," she advises. “But also learn to love and trust yourself because sometimes it's your own voice that can provide you the most comfort or solace in something."

Learn From Your Experiences

“Trust yourself. Take care of yourself. Don't be too hard on yourself. Be honest with yourself.

“There are times when it's not enough to say this is who I am. Take it or leave it. Sometimes we've got things that we need to work on, change or improve upon," she concludes.

Acker stands out not only because of her accomplishments, but the way she views certain aspects of her life. These days, she's comfortable accepting what makes her different. “I think there's a time when you're younger when conformity feels comfortable, [but] I'm comfortable these days not conforming," she laughs. She enjoys being a decision maker and helping people work through it on Hot Bench.

This article was originally published May 15, 2019.