Why Being Unsettled Is The New Settled

By Sonal Kotecha, Bali alumni, June 2017.

When I say ‘settled’, I don’t mean in the context of a relationship. This is not another boy-bashing article describing the problems around dating in the Age of Tinder (that can be saved for the next article). The use of the term ‘Unsettled’ is two-fold. Firstly, it is used in the context of a lifestyle choice.

Once upon a time, convention was rewarded. Sticking to one profession and staying rooted in your hometown was considered a reflection of one’s personal stability and arguably even one’s mindset. But times are changing.

We have entered into a shift that is gaining momentum. We all know about the increasing number of freelancers, less homeownership and that professional promiscuity is accepted and encouraged. Life experiences and flexibility have become a currency in their own right. A currency that a relatively new species of human-being called the ‘Digital Nomad’ uses to trade in. 

There is a rise in companies who have recognized these trends, and have made it their sole purpose to facilitate and maximize these experiences for the Digital Nomad; which conveniently brings me to the second reason for the use of the term ‘Unsettled’.

In this case, it’s used as a noun .  Unsettled is the name of an organization that curates one-month co-working and co-living retreats around the world ; an experience that I was fortunate enough to participate in earlier this year, and in beautiful Bali. The trip was taken during a transitionary time period on a personal level, and the island itself is well-known for having an energy and infrastructure that lends itself well to a modern-day nomadic experience.

Now, there are obviously some industries that lend themselves more to this lifestyle choice - but again, that is a subject in its own right, and debating over them here would digress from the purpose of this article. My purpose here is simply to document the main, non-industry specific takeaways that I got from taking a step away from convention, and into an ‘Unsettled’ life.

Bali group during a workshop in June 2017

Bali group during a workshop in June 2017

This article is not a promotion.

The only intention I have from writing it is to offer insight into the lessons I learnt from the experience, in the hope that it may encourage anyone who may be considering doing something similar to take that leap of faith. These are the main takeaways from my taster of a less-explored but increasingly accepted lifestyle.

We have more things in common than we have differences

In our group of 30 people, 15 different nationalities and industries were represented. Even in such a varied group of individuals, when you strip back the layers on the surface that make us all ‘unique’, you find that no matter where you’re from or what you do, our fears and our desires are universal. We all want and need empowering and supportive relationships  -  be it from our friends, family or partners. We also all wish for good health (whether we practice a healthy lifestyle or not is a different matter) and crave a regular dose of adventure and exploration. And finally, we all require financial stability/freedom - all realised through passion, not obligation, as well as a way of satisfying our need to give back to a wider cause or community.

Unexpect The Expected

Before I had even boarded the flight, I’d written down in excitement, all of the things that I wanted to do whilst I was on my trip. I made myself a clear list of personal and professional goals backed with great intention : from books to read, articles to write and elements of my business to prepare. But, just like they’d warned us at the beginning ,  the time flew by, and each day presented itself with new opportunities, from trekking through jungles wading through deep murky waters, to attending workshops hosted by other deeply passionate people on a similar journey. Now I’m a big of fan setting goals ,  big and small, and I’m pretty sure that I get a little shot of dopamine when I tick off even the most mundane activities on my to-do lists.

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Yet during this trip, I learnt there is also an equal value to letting go, and allowing the universe to present you with unforeseen opportunities, because while they may not have been what I planned, that were exactly what I needed.

We all have a ‘healing agent’

For me, certain music is healing… so is punching someone within a controlled environment. For others, it may be cycling, baking or good old fashioned meditation. Your healing agent is more just than a hobby, it’s your thing… the thing which sends you into a flow state and changes your perception of time. If you’ve not found it yet , experiment until you do. And once you do, break the pattern of the ever-present excuses why it can’t be practiced today. Studies have shown the benefits are cumulative, not temporary, and that there is a positive correlation between practicing your thing and overall happiness levels, self-motivation and general achievement.

Say NO to FOMO

While FOMO has served me well in the past, and encouraged me to live in a ‘say yes then work out how later’ fashion, it can also cloud your appreciation for the present moment. I think the main takeaway here is in awareness. Taking a moment to decide which course of action would lead to the greater good, and enjoying whichever one it is to the fullest.

Minimise and Prioritise

Not long before my trip, I was in a bookstore when a book called “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” caught my eye. I chuckled when I read the title, because those who know me well, know that I love a little life-changing magic, and how fondly I recollect the moments that eventually unravelled into being what my friends and I now call an ‘LCM’. Unbeknown to me at the time, that moment in the bookstore was an LCM unraveling, because very shortly after buying a copy of the book for a friend, I came across the advert for Unsettled on Instagram, and after doing around 30 minutes of research, I sent off my application.

Little did I know, I’d be applying the principles of that same book to my life a few weeks later. After getting a place on the June program in Bali, I had only a few weeks to wrap up my life in preparation. I was leaving for a total of three months, so I had to rent out my apartment, meaning that I needed to be very strategic about emptying my place, as well as pack for the trip.

The author of the book, Marie Kondo — a home-organizing guru, asks her clients if each possession in their home essentially sparks joy (‘tokimeku’) as a way of deciding what is kept and what is discarded. I was forced quite ritualistically into a situation where I had to use this principle in order to be decisive over what is a necessity and what is a nice-to-have. It worked, and not only did my bag feel lighter, so did my mind.

Travelling alone does not equal lonely!

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Far from it, in fact every time I have travelled alone ,  the overriding feeling was that of liberation. To be a second-generation Indian female, I know I’m doing things that my own parents, never mind grandparents would have deemed impossible. Every time I’ve travelled alone, I’ve come back with at least one strong friendship, and funny memories of the awkward moments of how those friendships were formed… and each time I thank the universe for taking me so far out of my comfort zone, because I know that some of the best experiences probably would not have happened had I not been alone.

Evolution over Revolution

It’s 2017 and most (not all, but most) ideas that people are working on, have been done to a certain extent before. This has been somewhat of a personal roadblock for me before. In my industry, you can come up with design that you are proud of and deem as unique ,  only to find something astonishingly similar the next day on Pinterest! Even when it came to writing this post ,  I worried more about people brushing it off as being another cliché article, from a chick who watched Eat Pray Love and then went to Bali to ride bicycles and seek spiritual enlightenment from a palm reader.

Now I’m not saying I didn’t ride bicycles or visit a palm reader, but I hope those who’ve made it this far, understand that this trip could have been anywhere, and that the purpose and takeaways I got from it ran a little deeper than that.

Embrace living or representing more than one home town

Like many second generation Asians in the UK, I’m Indian by race, British by nationality and come from parents who were born and raised in East Africa. I’ve spent the last 8 years in the Middle East, surrounded by a massive expat / global citizen population, and have lost count of the number of times I’ve heard people say ‘I guess I don’t really have a home…”

Now I know it doesn’t help to be living long-term in a place that doesn’t offer citizenship, but instead of being confused about where to call home, embrace the confusion faced when answering the inevitable question “So, where you from?”

Personally, I have always loved having a multi-layered ‘Mille-Fueille’ composition has allowed me to connect with so many cultures on a meaningful level, and I think that’s truly the way the world is heading.

I would like to dedicate this article to the wonderful team at Unsettled for providing me with the experience that sparked all of the thoughts that brought me here…

This post was first published on Sonal’s Medium Page.