BY: LAURA ROJAS
Marianne Cantwell, as you may know is the liberated world traveler behind Free Range Humans– a project dedicated to helping people escape their unsatisfying careers for a more unshackling lifestyle. The idea of free-ranging is exactly what it sounds, to stop the convention that economic self-sustainability means living the workday like a factory farm chicken. Marianne believes that having a career and a full fridge is not married to being trapped in a cubicle under the stare of harsh white fluorescent light.
Currently stationed in the UK, Marianne carries her work and her life in her backpack, settling in a place, until she is seduced by a new adventure. Then she hops on a plane, starts fresh in a foreign land, repeat.
The author of a best-selling book on the subject, Marianne is a seasoned expert in the art of doing what you love.
PZ- Think back to when you were 20 or younger. Had following a self-directed career path ever entered your mind?
MC- Not at all. When I was 20, I was doing a degree in English and Film and never really thought about careers. I never really considered what I’d do next. I think I assumed I’d go into academia, and so to me that’s all I thought of. I never thought of entering the working world- the business world- until after I graduated.
PZ- So, what do you think was the most difficult part of your transition into free-ranging when you did decide it was what you wanted to do?
MC- Well, I actually tried to go free-range twice. The first time I didn’t really know what I was doing, so I quit a job I’d been in for a few years. I was in my mid twenties at that point. I think the first issue was that I didn’t have much of a clue about what it took to get clients or what it meant to establish yourself, and so while I picked up a bit of freelance work, I ended up going into another job after that. I think that was the first thing.
But when I quit that other job, when I decided, “no, I really want to take this seriously”, I think it was a lot smoother at that point. I’d say the biggest barrier is the stuff that you think you know. The biggest barrier for me was assuming that I knew things I didn’t really know about. Things shifted when I started being more open to input than I had been before. I think in the working world, you’re not encouraged to say you don’t know something, whereas if you’re doing something new you have to say you don’t know something. You have to say, “you know what, actually I don’t really understand this part of how it’s meant to work.”
I think the biggest challenge was actually changing that sort of career-cage mindset from being, “I have to pretend to know everything”, to being a free-range mindset which is more like, “I’m allowed to ask for advice. I’m allowed to ask for help.” That was a big shift.
PZ- What do you think is the most beneficial thing you’ve learnt in your experiences as a free-ranger, and how are you teaching that to others?
MC- Actually, my book opens with a Steve Jobs quote, the one where he says that the biggest thing you can learn is that the rules in the world are made up by people no smarter than you. And when you realize you can mould it, that changes your life. I think that’s exactly the biggest thing I learnt. We start out in the world when we’re in our 20s, and you think that the world is made up of people who develop these rules and processes for excellent reasons, and they can’t possibly be tweaked because they’ve always been there. But what I’ve learned is that the things we take for granted around us, the way that the world works, is usually very recent. Often it’s just happened by default- it wasn’t a planning committee of the smartest people in the world that made a list of how to be, it just happened. And once you realize this, it’s like, “oh, well why can’t I do things differently? What if that wasn’t the default?” Some people stay with that all their lives, they never crack this.
That’s actually a lot of what I teach people, too. You can learn a lot about self-employment and business, but until you get that mindset of allowing yourself to make up your own rules, you’ll stay stuck. I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned, and that’s what I try to help people remember. Rules are made up by people no smarter than you.
PZ- From all the people you’ve helped out and all the stories that you’ve heard, what do you think is the biggest common factor that holds people back from living life on their own terms?
MC- I think –this might be a bit of a complex one- I think it’s that people use the word “reality” in a very misleading way. People always seem to say things like, “well I’d love to travel the world or work better hours, or I’d love to do that thing that I love, but it’s not realistic.” I’d say it’s that people don’t question what realistic actually means for them. That’s a very emotive term, to say something is not realistic. When you say, “it’s not realistic, I have a family, I have a mortgage”, then you immediately score up an emotion. But when you actually analyze what realistic means, it changes everything. Realistic to someone might mean, “I need to make this much a month, because I’ll be moving to a cheaper country. How can I break that down?”, and suddenly your options open up. So I think people don’t really interrogate the word realistic, and they assume it means impossible, when what it usually means is that most people you know don’t do it, therefore you don’t understand how it will relate to you and the answer isn’t immediately clear. Instead, I want you to work out the answer, find out how to make it work, and find people that did it too. When you can do that, you can turn it around a lot.
PZ- So I assume that usually ties together with the whole monetary aspect of it, too. What do you usually tell people who really want to do the free-range thing but are just terrified of not being able to make money from it?
MC- Yeah, it’s a big part isn’t it? That’s the whole reason people have jobs- so they can make money. What I normally do is ask someone who says they need to make money what that means to them.
What does that mean for you? How quickly do you need to make money? What happens if you don’t? We do this so that we can understand the lay of the land for them.
Let’s say someone needs to start earning money within three months to pay their rent, and they need $1,000. Okay, now the question isn’t, “can I make a thousand dollars in my business?”, the question is, “if I had to make $1,000, what different projects and what experience could I draw on to make that happen?”
I like getting people to break down the amounts of money they need to make, because making a full salary is actually really daunting. The reality is that when most people start out self-employed, they make money from a few different sources. Usually they’ve been employed before, which I know might not be the case for going from student to self-employed. If they have been employed before, freelancing in a field that they’ve been in, or offering some part-time work in that field is really great.
So you can go from $1,000 or $2,000 to half of that, and then ask yourself, “how many different projects could I do to make up the rest?”. That’s what I like to get people thinking about. How much do you need? How could you break that down?
I always get them to look at two tracks- one of them is the now and one of them is the future. That way, they don’t get caught up in the big mistake of going ,“I need to work out how I’m going to earn a consistent income with these hours and do it from Day 1,” because you don’t do it from Day 1. You do something else from Day 1 and you work it out in the future.
I made my first self-employed money from freelancing in a field I’d been in, from a cupcake business I’d started, and from career coaching people who wanted to get jobs, oddly enough. That changed into my blog. I started writing my blog as a side project. Most people who make money from a blog didn’t have their blogs as their main business, they usually start as a side project. I wouldn’t recommend anyone to try to make money from a blog from the beginning. Look at ProBlogger, for example. It’s one of the biggest blogs in the world on blogging. Darren Rowse wrote that on the side of his digital photography book.
PZ- From what I gather, you believe in the fact that you’re never too old and it’s never too late to change your mind about what you want to do and how you want to live your life. Are there any particular success stories of people who changed their lives and became a lot happier when they were already halfway into a career they weren’t satisfied with?
MC- So many people! There are just so many people who I know have done that sort of thing.
I think a big one people get a lot is thinking it’s impossible to change if you have kids, for example. There’s someone I worked with who was living in Canada, married with two kids, had a career and everything, and they’d been thinking they wanted to move to a warm, tropical location. So she and her husband both transitioned into online businesses. She got into translating and he did something online as well. They both made the commitment to figure out how they were going to do that, so they moved and started transferring the work that they were doing and figuring out how they could do more of it online. They started some other side projects, and they worked out how much they needed to make every month in their new location which was lower than what they’d needed before. They got rid of their stuff in Canada. They weren’t living off a chunk of savings or anything, but they moved their family and now live on the coast in Costa Rica. She writes a book now called The Family Freedom Project.
That’s a great example because people sometimes think the more established you are, the harder it gets. But I know people who are really young and come to me saying, “maybe I need more life experience before I do this”, but also people older who say, “I wish I’d done it when I was young.” So I just don’t think there’s a specific right time, or a magic moment. You really just have to decide, I think, when you’re going to commit to something and then do it.
PZ- Where is the most beautiful place you’ve worked out of?
MC- Definitely in Mauritius- a very tiny island near Madagascar. A lot of my family is from Mauritius, so I try to go there as much as possible to spend time with them. I stay with one of my great aunts- she’s in her 80s, she lives on the beach and she swims every day.
The most beautiful place I’ve stayed has been a studio I was renting for less than it would cost to share an apartment in a western city. I had my own studio for about the same price as that, on the water, and it was amazing. People think it’s a luxury destination- they don’t realize there’s another side to the island. I spent a month there this year, just waking up and going for a swim every morning.
PZ- What are your travel plans for the next little while? Where are you going to be?
MC- Well, I’m leaving in early November to New York, and then I’m going to Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and possibly Peru. After that, I’ll be landing in Australia just in time for Christmas! I’ll be house-sitting near Byron Bay.