By: Megs Rutigliano, Former Associate Director at Burning Man Project, Current Lead Content Curator for Global Eclipse Patagonia Gathering, Burning Man Cultural Ambassador and Founder of Globally Curated
Last February, I stumbled upon the invitation to participate in Unsettled’s Lifestyle Incubator during one of my many, many visits to the drool-worthy, FOMO-inducing, Unsettled website where I’d go to fantasize about spending time with a bunch of other “digital nomads” for a spell in Costa Rica, Tokyo, Medellin, or Bali (just to name a few experiences on offer).
I’d often lament that the Unsettled in-person adventures never seemed to sync up with my hectic work life and travel schedule. When I read the invitation, explaining that the experience would “challenge me to find clarity on what’s next” I felt the Unsettled team was speaking directly to me.
For the past year or so, I’d been contemplating taking a leave, essentially resigning, from a long-held role with a prestigious, international nonprofit where I was successful and celebrated….but reaching a point of total burnout.
While I derived great satisfaction from my work and forward-momentum, I had been doing so at the cost of my own well-being, and I was fraying at the edges.
Even though I knew on a gut-level that a change was necessary for me, I couldn’t quite imagine what stepping out of my organization would actually feel like. Would I get depressed? Anxious? Would I regret it? Would I miss going to the office? My job had provided me with a great deal of structure and rigor, and I didn’t want to feel like I was stepping into the void.
The invite to the Lifestyle Incubator, it turns out, was just the push I needed. I tendered my resignation, signed up for the 4-week virtual journey, and had something to look forward to that might help me “find clarity on what’s next”. Beyond being optimistic that the virtual retreat would challenge me to address the big, scary “what now?” questions that come along with taking a big leap, I also was hopeful that the schedule of the virtual retreat itself (including a Slack environment, reading materials, course work, 2 live sessions per week, virtual office hours, etc.) would provide some structure to my days and make the transition from full-time employment to being my own boss and a freelancer a lot less abrupt.
One of 30 participants from around the world in March and April, I spent a whole month “sheltering in place” in my San Francisco flat and making new connections, learning more about myself and my own desires, and making a few real-deal friends.
As I reflect back on the experience, I can confidently say it had a tremendous impact on me and at a very pivotal, poignant and transitional moment in my life.
For me, the Lifestyle Incubator delivered on the two main things I was hoping to get out of it: A chance to address the big questions and a sense of structure.
But, what I could never have really anticipated was that it would provide me with a new sense of belonging during the greatest moment of global upheaval I’ve experienced in my life, the COVID-19 pandemic.
In between reading New York Times articles, hearing stories of toilet paper hoarders and obeying my shelter-in-place orders as the gravity of the situation started really landing with me, I had Zoom meetings to look forward to with my retreat mates, creative questions to address, and an actual sense that I was making new friends across the world, even during an international crisis.
The Virtual Retreat conversations focused on self-reflection and my own personal growth and evolution became a much-needed antidote, a retreat, if you will, to the news of events being canceled, people being laid off, and my friends and family grappling with a rapidly changing reality. I had a new community of fellow Unsettlers to commiserate with, and a schedule of virtual meetings that didn’t have to do with the coronavirus.
Now that we’re into May 2020, many of us are finding ourselves accepting Zoom calls and livestreams as a substitute for real-life connection and contact but for me and probably many others, that was not the case back in March.
Being a total extrovert, I’ve never really bought-in to online dating platforms, “meetups” or other virtual experiences being a viable stand in for in person connection. But, what really surprised me about my time in the Lifestyle Incubator amidst this COVID-19 crisis was how deeply connected I began to feel with my fellow participants and the organizers. After willingly experimenting with connecting through virtual coffee hangouts and friend-dating, I now stand corrected and actually do feel like I made some real friends, even though I made them online.
The most unexpectedly amazing new friendship I have from the Virtual Retreat is with a woman living in Kuala Lumpur who is a mother and engineer. Though we have different cultural contexts and lifestyles, we discovered during one of the Zoom breakout sessions of the Lifestyle Incubator that we both had just taken a leave from our long-held and coveted roles in our companies to take a new journey involving self-reflection and a renewed sense of independence.
During the final week of the Lifestyle Incubator, as we completed our final assignments together, we wound up providing important support for one another. I can honestly say our friendship is a gift. We helped one another find more strength and sturdiness amidst the chaos and complexity of a global crisis AND career transitions and I look forward to seeing what happens next for her and know she cares about what will happen next for me.
The Lifestyle Incubator facilitators more than delivered on their promise to challenge me “to find clarity on what’s next”. I felt supported in taking a huge leap in my career, found comfort and a much-needed retreat during the evolving COVID-19 pandemic, and I’ve made new friends and feel part of a new community. I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll get to participate in my first Unsettled experience in Medellin, Colombia in September. Even if we’re all still at home, I have a new place to learn and grow, in a virtual environment, populated by wonderful facilitators and participants, with whom I can lean in, rather than run from, the feeling of being in transition and settle in to be Unsettled.