🥝#21: How I overcame depression, learned to trust myself and grew as an indiepreneur
If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it's not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That's why it's your path.
― Joseph Campbell
The past five years have been transformative as I transitioned from a full-time employee to an independent contractor and solo founder.
During a podcast interview with Pieter Levels, we highlighted the disparity in representation among male and female indiepreneur. In light of this imbalance, we emphasised the importance of having a role model or referencing other people’s stories on our journey of making and building.
As a female indiepreneur, I recognise the scarcity of female-led stories in this space and wish to share my experiences and insights to inspire and support others on their own path of creating.
Unlike many tech-savvy indiepreneurs, I was trained in marketing and communications. My journey began as a part-time journalist in New Zealand, where I later accepted a full-time role as a social media specialist with a large corporation. I then transitioned to the finance industry, focusing on content creation, public relations, and community management.
Being a non-native English speaker living in an English-speaking country, I pushed myself to put in extreme working hours (12-14 hours a day) to prove myself and navigate the corporate world. This led to financial rewards and peer validation, which further fueled my desire for external recognition.
However, this drive for validation ultimately led to a cycle of addiction, in which I constantly strive for external validation without being aware of it.
After two years of a workaholic lifestyle, my body gave me a warning in the form of severe eczema. My doctor warned me that if I didn't stop working constantly and take rest, it could be fatal.
I was frightened and quit my job immediately. I took a gap year, travelling around the U.S. and China, and used my savings to indulge in material pleasures. However, these temporary comforts did not bring me any long-term fulfilment. After six months of travelling and trying to enjoy life without any real work, I ran out of money and fell into depression.
While staying with my parents, my former manager contacted me with a job offer at a prestigious bank. I accepted it immediately and saw it as a lifeline in my struggles. But returning to a corporate environment did not save me. I was grateful for the opportunity, but it ultimately led to further struggles, as I turned to alcohol and partying to find happiness and began to have panic attacks.
It was then that I discovered the works of Tim Ferriss (The 4-Hour Workweek) and James Altucher (Podcast), which inspired me to tap into my creativity and start my side hustles.
I discovered my true passion for writing and art at a young age, but societal expectations led me to push these interests aside. Despite my love for creative pursuits such as singing, drawing, writing, dancing, and calligraphy (I even went as far as publishing my first novel in primary school), I felt pressure to pursue a more conventional career path.
At the age of 30, I finally understood that the traditional career path I had followed was not fulfilling and that my true passion lies in my artistic pursuits. This realisation was difficult, but it ultimately led me to embrace my true calling and follow my bliss.
Once I recognised the importance of embracing my creative side, I began to channel my energy into building a newsletter and podcast in 2018. This replaced my previous habits of partying and drinking. Through my writing, I shared my experiences as a Chinese international student living abroad and offered career advice based on my experiences. As I dedicated myself to doing what I truly loved, the results were clear: my followers and subscribers grew steadily over time.
Encouraged by these early successes, I started a content consultancy business to help founders and independent workers. Many of my business-owner friends and networks noticed how I used original content to gain exposure and build an engaged community. They often asked me for tips on how to do the same, and I realised that this could be a viable way to make a living.
Eventually, I earned enough money from my startup and side hustles to leave my corporate job.
In 2019, I moved from New Zealand to the United Kingdom to begin a new phase in my life. My plan was to secure clients in London, work during the week, and spend my weekends watching Premier League matches or travelling around Europe. However, half a year into my new life, the pandemic changed everything.
I was stranded in a foreign country, alone, and without a stable source of income. I lacked financial or emotional support during the pandemic and felt anxious and worried. The only positive aspect was that my side hustle grew quickly as more people stayed home and had more time to read my newsletter and listen to my podcast.
Despite the challenges, the lockdown turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It gave me time to reflect on myself: I started keeping morning journals, walked 10,000 steps daily, learned new skills like coding and design and published a Chinese memoir and an English novel during the pandemic.
After residing in England for over two years, my desire for adventure prompted me to set out on the road again and explore new destinations. Portugal stood out as an ideal choice, as it is widely considered a popular destination for digital nomads, where I met many like-minded creators and builders.
2023 marks the fifth year of my content creation career. Here are the results at a glance:
150,000+ followers on Weibo (Chinese Twitter)
10,000+ subscribers on WeChat
1,300+ people subscribed to my English newsletter Chiwi Journal after 20 issues
My community CY Circle has almost 100 paid customers
Reflecting on my journey, I may not have reached the financial success of some of my peers, but I am content with my progress and appreciate the journey.
Three important lessons I have learned include:
1. When in doubt, listen to your body. It's smarter than you.
In my annual letter to readers in 2021, I suggested an interview on Whole-Body Intelligence (shout out to my online mentor Tom Morgan’s recommendation). As Philip Shepherd, an expert in embodiment and author, states:
"In many cultures, the centre of thinking is experienced in the body, which has a borderless affinity with the world around it. It is attuning to the world in every moment". Thanks to my body's 'friendly' reminder, I realised I had to quit my corporate job and pursue my path as a content creator.
Another famous example is George Soros and his back pain. His back hurt when his portfolio was positioned poorly because "bodily sensation is a key indicator of unconscious dissonance; of when your intellect is missing something important from the outside world".
While the importance of mental health among founders is often discussed, the significance of body intelligence is less addressed. As creators and innovators, we rely on our decision-making abilities to provide valuable services and products to those in need. In a world filled with noise and abundant information, it is crucial to tune into our physical sensations (or gut feeling) and develop the ability to understand and act on them.
2. Have a self-faith, be laser-focused & persistent
I had the pleasure of interviewing David Senra, the host of my favourite podcast, Founders. In the interview, he highlighted three key traits found in the biographies of over 200 founders: self-belief, perseverance, and focus.
There is no such thing as smooth sailing in life. For someone who moves countries and changes careers every couple of years, I could speak non-stop about all my difficulties and setbacks. However, I understand I couldn't become who I am today without everything I experienced and everyone I’ve met.
Therefore, I maintain a strong sense of self-faith, trusting in the journey and knowing that as long as I continue to pursue my passions, such as writing, creative projects, and connecting with others, I will be able to navigate life with a peaceful mind, good health and positive relationships.
As Naval suggests, find something that feels like play to you but looks like work to others. Willpower alone may not take you far, but your inner drive and motivations will guide your journey.
The Chinese word for luck — 运气 (yun qi) — translates to conveying one's energy or spirit. As someone who has studied Eastern philosophy from a young age, I believe that luck comes to those who know how to harness their energy and spirit effectively. This requires laser focus and consistent, dedicated effort to utilise that focused energy towards your work.
3. The only journey is the one within. Cultivate your own path
Trusting our intuition and pursuing our passions can often be met with resistance from our logical left brain, which craves certainty. Society often leads us to believe that following a conventional path will lead to fulfilment, but what truly brings satisfaction varies for each individual.
We can become trapped in the desire to mimic others and are easily distracted by the lifestyles and paths of others, particularly on social media. In order to truly feel secure, we must let go of the life we think we should have and embrace the one that is truly meant for us. As Joseph Campbell said,
“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”
As the number of entrepreneurs and independent workers increases, more and more individuals are choosing to leave traditional paths and pursue their true passions. The key challenge is whether we dare to pursue our interests, venture into the unknown, and create our own unique path.
I’m on this road and hope to see you around :)
Are you ready for the opportunity of a lifetime?
Introducing the O'Shaughnessy Fellowship from O'Shaughnessy Ventures - a one-year program for driven individuals who want to create something amazing! Whether it's a piece of art, music, a startup, software, deep scientific research, journalism, a documentary, or even a sculpture, the sky's the limit for your project.
And with $100,000 in funding and access to our network of successful founders, investors, and experts, we'll support you every step as you bring your project to life.
Take advantage of this fantastic opportunity and create your own path - apply now for the O'Shaughnessy Fellowship!
Chiwi Journal is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
great post! amazing what can emerge if you just keep going
Thank you for sharing your story Camellia! Very inspiring! The quote from Joseph Campbell is like 暮鼓晨鐘 for me