Why I Traded My Lipstick and Pinstripe Suit to Live on an IslandKate Byars | August 11, 2016
In 2004 I retired my lipstick and executive career to live on an island. I was thirty-four years old. I had been working since the age of eleven and quite frankly, I was tired. I was also curious. Curious about all the people who made their living leading kayak tours and whitewater adventures whilst I swam from corporate meeting to corporate meeting in a pinstripe suit. Curious about the wealthy folks who flew around in private jets from one vacation home to the next, while I racked up frequent flier miles pushing my TravelPro Platinum Rolling Garment Bag all over Asia and Europe. And curious to know if a simpler life, one that had nothing to do with the American Dream, would be more satisfying than the life I was living.
It’s never too late to be who you might have been.
I sold my 3,000 square foot home. I put my furniture up for sale on eBay. I gave away my classic, black Chanel winter coat and all the rest of my belongings. Except for a leather club chair I purchased when I was first promoted to Vice President of International Marketing at the tender age of thirty. I liked that chair. It was worn in all the right places. It smelled of high-end leather. It was a trophy for a big achievement at a young age. I wasn’t completely ready to let go. The club chair went into storage along with personal effects and mementos.
I bought seven mix-and-match, two-piece bathing suits from J.Crew. I was determined that my biggest decision each day would be what color bikini to wear.
I had recently learned to scuba dive and a few friends urged me to become a dive instructor. In the frigid 40-degree waters of a Texas lake, I earned my dive instructor credentials a few months before I departed for the Caribbean. I had possibly 100 dives. I had no idea what I was doing.
In March 2004 I spent my first night on Tortola, BVIs sleeping in a tiny bunk aboard a wooden yacht; a temporary space that the local dive shop lent me until I could find a roommate. The next day I would help tourists load kayaks onto their boats and lead dive tours underwater. I was now living, and working, in the British Virgin Islands. I barely slept that first night.
What I realize now, and didn’t realize then, is that I was choosing a path that few feared to tread.
There are lots of people who become dive instructors and work in the dive industry; and there are lots of folks who live on beautiful islands. However, leaving behind a hard-earned world of comfort and a skyrocketing career was absolutely abnormal.
Back home in Dallas I had a personal driver who picked me up for each business trip and drove me to the airport. I had a housekeeper, who took care of my home, especially when I was away. The yard guy kept my landscape looking great and the poop patrol scooped up my pooch’s nuggets. I even had a personal shopper at Nordstorm’s and another one at Neiman Marcus. For a simple girl raised with Midwestern values in a normal, upper-middle class home, this was impressive stuff. I was incredibly fortunate.
So why did I quit? And what was I looking for? Was I burnt out; disillusioned; depressed? I don’t think so. What I do know is that I felt pretty damn fine striding down the dock in my brand new Reef flip flops; getting my tan on 1,000 miles from home.
What I didn’t know is that my life in the islands would not simply be an escape from reality. Instead, I would face challenges and fears that rocked my very sense of self and forever change my life.
As the dawn broke on that first morning in the British Virgin Islands, I could only smile in anticipation at the journey I was about to take. A new world of possibilities lie in front of me and while there was no way for me to fully appreciate the changes that were about to occur, I was certainly excited and knew I was in the exact right place I needed to be…[to be continued].
Part II of the story: What Island Life Was Really Like
Part III of the story: How I Went from Corporate VP to Island Girl to Cave Diver
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It’s my passion to create change. I’ve always found that disrupting the status quo leads to an amazing life where nothing is impossible.