The last week in Cape Town was just as busy and fulfilling as the previous ones. It started out with another trip to the wine regions of Stellenbosch and Franschook, a few catch ups and sample coaching sessions with contacts I made the weeks before, and it ended with a lovely lunch and afternoon at Camps Bay and sunset at Signal Hill. We had a beautiful wrap to the four weeks in Cape Town and safely got to Marrakech by Sunday evening.
Overall the month in Cape Town was phenomenal. The natural beauty of the city and surroundings is truly unparalleled - from the mountains, to the beaches, to the wine regions, to the small surfer towns, and the windy roads with stunning views - it's amazing how so much beauty can be bundled in such close proximity. There are very few cities I can think of that comes close to that. Underneath all that beauty however, lies a city that I felt is still quite racially divided from the apartheid. That results in anger and resentment which lead to the crime and unrest that we could feel almost at all times. I always felt a bit uncomfortable and unsafe when I was walking on the streets of central business district (CBD) where we lived and worked. At night that got heightened to the next level. We were told never to walk outside when it's dark and take an Uber even when it's 3 blocks. I broke the rules a couple of times and all these times felt a bit uncomfortable and probably was lucky that nothing happened. In the previous Remote Year group there was a group who walked home from a bar at night and a few people ended up in the hospital. In our group, nothing bad like that happened but we did have someone's phone stolen from her backpack and someone's debit card snatched from her hand in broad daylight with lots of people watching.
Despite these safety issues, it was still a fantastic month filled with meeting new people, gaining new experiences, and seeing new places. It was the first month of living this work and travel life, and also the first month of not having a 9-6 job with a steady paycheck. Considering how many "firsts" there were, I think I did pretty well :)
Monday, 26th March: The last week in Cape Town started out amazingly. We went wine tasting again! Susanna organized a 2-night, 3-day trip to Stellenbosch as part of the research for her travel business so I decided to tag along for at least a day, along with Susan who stayed the whole time. Since I can't do the Kravis Ting push-up and pull-up workout with the rest of the group, I ran to the Sea Point Promenade Outdoor Gym and did the workout early in the morning by myself before we left. The driver this time was our previous driver, Anele's friend, who was also very nice. We went to three wineries during the day, starting with Babylonstoren, which is a winery, restaurant and hotel. We had a coffee and light breakfast in the beautiful outdoor garden, then went on to wine tasting.
Next stop was Delaire Graff. The view was absolutely stunning and the winery was the fanciest I had ever seen, it reminded me of Tiffany's and the Taj Hotel in Mumbai. We had a fabulous wine tasting and great conversations while nibbling on delicious olives and smoke salmon.
The last stop for wine tasting was Spier. The winery was about to be closed but the hostess was nice enough to still give us some wine tasting - for free! After that we checked into the Airbnb in the Stellenbosch town. I was debating very hard whether or not to stay for the night. My dilemma was whether I would have good enough WiFi for my many coaching calls the next day. In the end I decided to stay after testing the WiFi and thought even if it didn't work well enough after my first call I can still jump into an Uber and get back to Cape Town for the subsequent calls. Once we got settled into the apartment and got some groceries from Food Lovers (which is my favorite grocery store chain in Cape Town due to close proximity to the apartment and great selection of ready made food and salad bar) downstairs, we headed out to dinner. We went to a place that is walking distance from the apartment, Decameron, an Italian restaurant with a great menu. The Zuppetta di Pesce (seafood stew) I had was absolutely delicious - one of the best I have had.
Tuesday, 27th March: The night of sleep on the couch in the Airbnb was actually really comfortable. I woke up at 6:30am to get ready for a coaching call at 7. I did it on the balcony as I didn't want to disturb Susan and Susanna, and it worked out great. It was a cool, crisp morning, and I had a nice view of the mountains. I felt so grateful that I was able to do a job that I love while being in a location that I choose.
The two of them went out in the late morning to go wine tasting while I stayed in the apartment to do three more coaching sessions and one Co-Active webinar as part of my training. Once I was done by 3:30pm I took an Uber to meet them in the town of Franschook. We walked around a bit, went into a few stores, and I got my share of wine tasting by stopping by a restaurant, Bovine, that also served wine tasting :)
We then had some amazing French food at French Connection. I had the Kingklip, which is a South African white fish, Susanna had the Tuna, and Susan had the Beef stroganoff. Everything was delicious. We also had glasses of Pinotage which is an indigenous red grape variety from South Africa that is a cross between Pinot noir and Cinsaut. For many years, Pinotage had a bad reputation but in the last 20 years, techniques for making this wine have improved tremendously and there are many great Pinotages now. In fact, it is one of my favorite wines because its bold and dark fruit flavors, smokiness, good structure and complexity, with just the right amount of tannin, which makes it easy to drink at the same time. To me it tastes like a slightly lighter version of Malbec and a smokier, bolder, less sweet, and more structured version of Shiraz. It's been great to have been able to enjoy many great Pinotages on this trip.
It was such an amazing day. I felt this was the epitome of what Remote Year is for me: being able to be fully dedicated to a job I love while being in a place that I want to be, doing things I want to do. Once work is over, enjoying life with good friends, good wine, and good food. This is bringing me back to a scene from almost 4 years ago, in a small town in Southern France having driven back from 10 days of vacation in Italy, which I will reflect on more at the end.
Wednesday, 28th March: Today I had non-stop calls and meetings from 8am until 5pm. All were extremely meaningful and fruitful. The first was the second individual supervision session where my supervisor and I listened to a recording of one of my coaching sessions. I remember thinking I did pretty well when I was in the session but when I listened to my own recording I realized that when I thought I was using my intuition to articulate what's going on I was insisting too much on my views and not asking a question back to the client about what he thinks. Furthermore, in Co-Active there is a cornerstone for "forward the action and deepen the learning", I was only forwarding the action in this case and not deepening the learning. I also didn't bottom line my questions as much as I should have. It was such a great learning opportunity for me to listen to my own recording and to get the feedback from my supervisor. I'm proud of myself for being detached from the ego and being able to objectively evaluate my skills and to be able to see what I did well and didn't do so well and learn and improve from it.
I then had a very productive discussion with a Co-Active colleague Richard to plan on a podcast. I'm so thrilled and grateful that he suggested to collaborate on women leadership and women empowerment. It's a topic I've been very passionate about for over a year and it is what I will do my dissertation on. It's so great to have him be interested in it and want to do a podcast or webinar with me on it. After today's discussion I feel we are going somewhere and we even pinned down a date for the potential first session which is 25th April.
The next meeting was also very exciting. It was with a contact I made at the Future Females event. We met up in this very cool office space on Kloof street, and even though we didn't agree that it was going to be a coaching session it turned into one. She is a super strong, driven, and brilliant woman and I felt she is exactly the kind of client I want to coach. She had very inspiriting goals and I would be thrilled to get a chance to help her achieve them. I left the meeting feeling very positive and very hopeful to get the opportunity to work with her in the future.
When I got back to my apartment I had the Nature of Psychological Inquiry III class where I had to briefly present my idea for my dissertation. I'm still not 100% sure about my topic but I know it will be around women empowerment and women leadership. My professor gave me many good ideas and angles that I can go from, and the more I'm immersed in the Remote Year community the more I think it might be a great idea to do a topic involving the Remote Year Ohana women's community, especially since we have 75% women in our group. I've been told the numbers are not as unbalanced in other groups, but still it is a statistic that has intrigued me, especially since it is almost the opposite of what I have seen at leadership level in the corporate world and in business school.
The next call was the fourth certification pod call where we discussed Balance coaching. I was really glad to get the opportunity to refresh the balance formula, which is a way to help clients look at a situation that they are stuck in from multiple perspectives so that they can choose a resonant perspective and create action plans to move forward in their resonant choice. The session reminded me of the benefits of the balance coaching formula, which I learned during training but didn't always use it in its entirety, because sometimes I wondered whether my clients would find it beneficial. Having seen it done again in a demo by the pod leader, an experienced Co-Active coach, it gave me more confidence that it can add a lot of value to a client when it is done well.
The last coaching session of the day was also great. It was with a regular client that I have worked with for about 4-5 months. A big part of the session was about acknowledging and celebrating how much she has grown in the last few months, as well as where she will go from here. I felt so satisfied to witness her growth and to know that I played a small part in it. It is especially in moments like this that I feel all the work I do is so worth it. I was also amazed at how quickly my client has grown in a short 5 months. Of course she had done a lot work before starting coaching with me but I believe the coaching accelerated the growth. This again confirmed my belief that coaching works, especially on individuals who are motivated, open-minded, and willing to put in the work.
Thursday, 29th March: I woke up early to go for a run but for some reason was really tired and did a super slow one, and was only able to get to the V&A waterfront. I did get to a spot with a beautiful view, did some stretching, and this made getting out in the morning all worth it.
I then met the growth tribe to talk about results from the survey we sent out last week and the plan for the "connect" and "grow" event in Marrakech next month. We decided to discuss among ourselves again in the next days to work out the details of what we want to do in the two workshops. I then had a call for Millennium Leadership and we came to a good place where all of us were convinced about what the leadership program is all about, who the target audience is, and why they would want to attend.
Later in the afternoon I met up with someone I met at the Meetup event last week at a coffee place close to the apartment, Yours Truly. Cape Town has a strong coffee culture with lots of independent coffee shops. It wasn't until I got to Marrakech and saw a Starbucks that I realized I hadn't seen a single one in Cape Town. We had a really good chat about leaving the corporate world and working for ourselves. He said he did that six years ago and has never looked back, whereas all his friends are still in the corporate world and don't want to do anything different.
(Later reflections): I can totally relate with that. That was me not long ago. It is definitely not easy to take that leap when all you know is one way, and having that steady paycheck appears to be the most important thing in the world. It just dawned on me that it is human nature, in Maslow's hierarchy of needs, I believe that paycheck symbolizes the bottom most layers which are food /shelter and safety/ security. Without these everything else, love, esteem, and definitely self-actualization can go out the window. Even for myself, I had to make sure I had enough money in my investment account before I could take the leap. I created a big spreadsheet a few years ago after I read Tony Robbins's book MONEY Master the Game that shows me how much I would have at each age until I'm 100+ with various scenarios of positive or negative savings per year and compounding rate of investment return.
To my pleasant surprise, I realized I was able to retire sooner than I thought or I could go a few years without income and still be fine. That was the first time I personally experienced the power of compounding. Previously I had only read about in books such as Rich Dad, Poor Dad and Cashflow Quadrants, which I still feel very lucky to have gotten exposed to early in life, which enabled me to put theory into practice right away and open up a Vanguard account once I had my first job. As a coach, I don't give advice or even opinion on most things, but investing in low-expense-ratio-index-funds and contributing to them on a regular basis is something I would advise anyone to do as early as possible. I don't believe money makes people happy but I do believe money gives people the foundation and mind space to focus on things that do make them happy and fulfilled.
Connecting it to Maslow's hierarchy of needs was an aha moment for me. I realized why money is such a sensitive topic and why many people say they are driven by money. Because it enables us to fulfill the most basic of our needs - physiological (food, shelter) and safety / security - the bottom-most levels in the hierarchy. Once these needs are met, the upper-level needs - love, esteem, and self-actualization - are much more difficult to fulfill with money. That doesn't mean people won't try, such as trying to buy love and friendships with money or esteem and status with money. That said, even though I don't believe money can buy level 3, 4 and 5 needs I do believe money can buy to a great extent level 1 and 2 needs. Therefore, it is no wonder that when we don't have money or when we perceive we might not have money in the future, we will do everything we can to make sure we have money and our other needs can take a backseat, even if only temporarily.
In my personal experience, I needed to get to a certain number in my investment account to feel secure enough to leave the corporate job. But once I reached that number I still had a hard time leaving, no matter how often I looked at that spreadsheet. That was no longer the real threat to my basic needs that was stopping me, in fact there was never a real threat to my level 1 and 2 needs, but rather a perceived one. Our minds can play some very interesting tricks on us. In fact, our mind cannot distinguish between a real threat and a perceived one - both will trigger a fear reaction that puts us in the fight, flight or freeze mode. We also have saboteurs, or voices of self-limiting beliefs, that tell us things that turns low probability events into sure things, or makes trivial consequences into catastrophes, or asks what if this, what if that. In my case they were saying things like "If you quit this job, you might never find another one as good as this ever again." "It's not that easy to make money with coaching, what if you never make enough and you will always have to dig into your savings? That money will be gone before you know it and you might end up moving in with your parents." "What if you won't like this Remote Year thing? Then you have to move back without a job, without an apartment, your life will be way worse than if you had never left."
Is there a probability of any of these happening? Of course. Just like there is a probability of pretty much anything happening in this world. But realistically speaking, the probability of any of my saboteur predictions turning into reality is pretty low; however, when saboteurs are speaking they sure make it sound like the probability is 100%. That was where coaching came in and allowed me confront these saboteurs and quiet them down, and bring out my true powerful self, the Wonder Woman, to take charge. That's when I realized that anything is possible in this world. There is a possibility that if I take a risk things could go bad and I could feel miserable. But I have done enough work and have enough skills and mindset to deal with things when they do go bad. And at the same time, there is a possibility that things will turn out great as well, and if I don't try I will never know. Also coaching helped me to connect with my values and life purpose. My most important values are learning/growth, love/connection, and fun. So I asked myself what can I do to honor those values the most? And of course, just with everything, there is always a bit of luck involved. I missed my flight from London to Singapore and that's what made me decide to come to Remote Year at the time that I did. Maybe more on that another time :)
During the coffee chat, I tried to check whether the friend wants coaching and he said very clearly that he doesn't, or at least not right now, and that he would be a nightmare of a client because he would question everything. To which I totally agreed that I can't and won't convince someone that they need coaching. It has to be a realization and desire that comes from them.
After coffee I did a bit of work in the co-working space then went for a sample session with someone I met at one of the professional events. We went to the members lounge of this beautiful restaurant / bar, the Stack, set in a gorgeous building within a charming little garden. We chatted a bit and had a really good coaching session where I did a discovery session using wheel of life and values. He had a very interesting life story and I feel even if he doesn't end up becoming a client, it would still be good to keep in touch.
Friday, 30th March: I thought about doing the Skeleton Gorge this morning, which is a different hiking route up to Table Mountain than the route we did last week. But it was very rainy so I didn’t go. Instead Samantha and I went to the Kravis Ting workout by ourselves in the rain which made me feel that we did the real thing. Maybe that’s why my arms feel a bit more sore this time :) I’m quite proud of myself for keeping up with this workout for the whole 4 weeks we were in Cape Town, twice a week of 10 sets of different types of push-ups, 15 reps each set, and 10 sets of different types of assisted pull-ups, 5-6 reps each set, plus 150 reps of different types of abs. I definitely feel stronger when I do push-ups; even though I still can’t do a pull-up on my own, hopefully I’m progressing towards one eventually.
Before the workout I thought I would spend the day doing my blog, but after it I felt more social and had remembered that Susanna wanted to go to a nice restaurant for lunch. So I messaged her and turned out that restaurant (Chefs Warehouse) is not open for Easter Friday but she and Susan are going to Cod Father, another restaurant on her list of restaurants to check out. I’m so glad I went with them because it turned out to be a wonderful afternoon. The restaurant is in Camps Bay, a waterfront area I hadn't been to yet, and it is in a beautiful setting with big windows overlooking the water and the mountains. All the seafood is caught on the day and customers go to the counter and select the pieces that they want. There is a sushi bar as well. We did a combination of sushi and grilled seafood, and had margaritas and wine. Everything was delicious and I couldn't have asked for a better way to end our time in Cape Town.
After lunch, we walked around the beach. The rain had cleared up and it turned out to be a gorgeous sunny afternoon.
Lots of seaweed on the beach!
There is a strip along the beach that had a lot nice cafes and restaurants so we had some ice cream at Gelato Mania and Susanna and I had a drink next door at Zenzero while Susan got a massage. It was so nice to sit out in the sun, enjoying the conversation and doing some people watching.
After a wonderful afternoon at Camps Bay we went to Signal Hill to watch the last sunset. It was also beautiful and a fantastic way to end our experience in Cape Town.
The city is just as beautiful in the dark as during the day.
Later that evening I dedicated it to packing. Having brought so much stuff it was quite an event and spilled over into the next morning.
Saturday, 31st March: Today is officially the last day in Cape Town. I don’t know how time flew by so quickly. The first week seemed quite long, probably because we did so much, but after that time seemed to have just disappeared. I finished packing in the morning which was not an easy task. I thought packing to come here was a big effort since I had to decide what to pack but this time I already knew what to pack and it was still not easy, because the challenge was deciding what goes into which luggage. I had to take out 7kgs from my big suitcase into the small one so each is at most 23kgs. I threw out a few things and was really grateful to be able to give a few things to Jill and in the end somehow I managed. This made me decide I will definitely ship back some stuff when we are in Marrakech, because I don't need so many things that I brought and they are just an unnecessary burden. Plus from next month onwards we are only allowed one 23kg check-in bag, so that will force me to be more selective, which will be very good for me. Many of the things that I thought was going to be so important really turned out not to be. And I also realized that I really don't need all that much even if I'm traveling for a whole year.
We checked out of the apartment 10:30am then went for brunch at Truth Coffee again. After that I did some work at Motherland Coffee, my favorite coffee place in Cape Town, and by 2pm we all got our bags from the apartment and loaded it on the bus to the airport.
Even though we are already the smallest group in Remote Year and many people took a side trip to Egypt, it was still quite an event to gather everyone on the bus and go through the airport together. I don’t know how the groups with 75 people do it. We got to the airport and everyone’s luggage was fine (my big one was just 1kg over), and nobody got charged for extra weight. After check in some of us went to the priority pass lounge for a bit, it was unexpectedly very nice and food was really good.
The first leg from Cape Town to Dubai was shorter and less painful than I expected. Even though it was over 9 hours, it didn't seem that long probably because I slept a bit. After a short transit in Dubai we went on our second leg, Dubai to Casablanca, which was also pretty comfortable. A movie I watched on the second leg that I really liked was The Shape of Water. When I first saw the preview I thought it would be too heavy, but after talking to Susanna and she said she like it I gave it a chance and it pleasantly surprised me. It is such a beautiful and romantic love story with fantastic acting.
Sunday, 1st April: After a 9.5-hour flight from Cape Town to Dubai and a 8.5-hour flight from Dubai, we arrived in Casablanca, Morocco a little after 12 noon. Getting all of our bags and getting out of the airport took a while as expected with over 20 people. In the end we all got on the bus and the bus ride actually exceeded my expectation. It was a big coach, they gave us water and chocolate biscuits, the seats were comfortable and driving through the country side was beautiful. I had driven through Morocco 10 years ago during the first break at INSEAD. We spent a lot of time in the car driving through the country from Marrakech to Agadir to the dessert and back to Marrakech. But I remember the country being quite hilly with a lot of red rocks and this time it has been mostly lush greenery, which is also stunning. Having my own seat I was able to do some blogging and reflection, which felt really nice.
We got to our apartment in Marrakeh, Residence Babylone, at around 6pm. We all have 2-bedrooms this time and my roommate for the month is Katelyn. The apartment is very big, with a big living room, a big Moroccan style couch, and two good-sized bedrooms. There are two toilets but we have to share a shower, which at first I was surprised by, but I'm sure we can manage. Once we unpacked, many people met up to check out the mall next door, Menara Mall, and get dinner. Katelyn, Jill and I went to get some groceries at Carrefour in the mall and went back to the apartment to get some sleep.
It feels like the first month in the first city of Remote Year passed by just like that. At the same time so much has happened. Cape Town was one of the cities I was the most excited about, and it certainly did not disappoint. Some of the most memorable moments for me were:
Another most memorable moment was this week Tuesday when I was taking all my coaching calls from the Airbnb in Stellenbosch. It was one of those moments when it truly dawned on me what an amazing life I have right now and how grateful I am for it. It reminded me of a scene almost four years ago that I still remember vividly. I was sitting at the lunch table in a small town in Southern France having just driven from a 10-day holiday in Umbria, Italy. It was the last day of our trip and I remember looking at the beautiful views, enjoying the delicious food and wine, and yet I started crying. I was sad because I didn't want to go back to work and didn't want this trip to end. When I went back to Singapore I remember seriously thinking about taking a year off to travel, but I didn't take any action, partly because I did like many aspects of my job and partly because of fear (which I talked about in the reflection earlier in this blog). Another year passed by, I took action by starting a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D) degree, which satisfied my passion for learning and growth (now upon reflection that is one of the main reasons I like traveling), and that fulfilled me for another couple of years. During this time I was fortunate enough to be sent to a Women Leadership Program with Syngenta which gave me opportunity to become aware and passionate about women leadership and women empowerment, as well as gave me the privilege to work with a coach for three sessions. Even though it was not enough, the experience firmly planted the seed of possibility of coaching as a profession, so when I was exposed to Co-Active Coaching during one of my Psy.D classes in July 2017 in California I jumped on the opportunity to get the full training when I returned to Singapore.
Looking at where my life is now, I can trace it back to that moment in the small village in Southern France, and now I don't even remember the name of it. What I'm learning is...so many things:
All change starts with a desire.
All desires are possible.
Just because you don't see how they are possible yet doesn't mean they are not. It could just mean that you don't have the skills or are not in the state to make them possible yet.
Be open to new experiences and learning opportunities because those are the times when you could be exposed to something to make your dreams a reality.
In my case it took me almost four years to live the life-style I wanted. Actually it's not exactly what I wanted, but better! I thought I had to choose between work and travel - if I wanted to travel full time I had to give up work. Now I get to do both, which I love equally. And I even get to do a third thing I love, which is meeting and establishing deep connections with amazing people. If I tried to rush taking a gap year four years ago I'm not sure what would have happened. Maybe it would have been equally amazing. But I probably wouldn't have started studying Psy.D, I wouldn't have worked the three more years in Syngenta and might not be in the financial position that I am in today, I probably wouldn't have gone to that Women Leadership Program, and I probably wouldn't be doing coaching and might not have found a job that I CAN do from anywhere. So I'd like to think that whatever happened is how it's meant to happen. Now I believe that when you send an intention to the universe, the universe will answer back. It might not always give you exactly what you asked for, it might give you better than what you asked for, but you have to be ready to receive it. So if you don't receive it, it might not be that the universe didn't give, but that you were simply not ready. So be patient :)