You could say that you are on a “career adventure” instead of a career path. Welcome to “Choose Your Own Adventure”! Our “career adventure” interview series charts the joys & challenges, and many different directions our career adventures can take us. Anything from career changes, working remotely, freelancing, contracting, self-employment, starting your own business, working on your own projects alongside your day job, having a side hustle or a portfolio career – all depending on what choices we make, what steps we choose to take, what opportunities or challenges that come our way in the most unlikely of places that help you to choose your own adventure.
Sophia Cheng tells us her career adventures as a long time traveller and communicator and now activist. She went travelling for a year from London to New York the long way round after graduating in Psychology & Cognitive Neuroscience. Her travels took her north to Siberia and east to Papua New Guinea and beyond.
Thank you, Sophia, for sharing your career adventures with us! Read on about how her career adventures sent her moving towards a more ethical lifestyle and turning towards activism with fervour after reading the UN’s climate report in October 2018.
1. Tell us about yourself
I’m Sophia, communications professional turned newbie activist. Office worker turned business owner. Rule follower to rule breaker. Long-term traveller who returned back home.
2. What are you working on now?
The climate and ecological crises are the issue of my generation. Since reading Jem Bendall’s Deep Adaptation paper (downloaded over 200 000 times now) and digesting the IPCC report in October 2018 I’ve changed nearly every aspect of my life. One big aspect is ‘career’. I hit a few realisations:
- What happens in the next 10 years is crucial if we’re to change the course we’re on
- My most important work might not be my paid work
So, I’m dedicating the next decade of my life to the climate crisis. For over a year I have been actively ‘downshifting’, a term being used in the degrowth movement which means “to change a financially rewarding but stressful career or lifestyle for a less pressured and less highly paid but more fulfilling one.”
My aim is to do paid work Monday – Wednesday supporting organisations with their communications. I work on a social justice storytelling project, If Not Us Then Who?, amplifying indigenous voices. On top of that, I’ve also taken on a small corporate client allowing me the financial stability (for now🤞🏼) to not need any more paid work.
I’ve been giving climate presentations and workshops in Quaker Meeting Houses, community halls and schools. I’ve been using my words to try and reach people on my blog, using my body at protests. And I’ve rationalised that this is not the time to play small, which is why I’m finally bringing ideas I’ve had for a long time into fruition.
I’ve just launched EcoMentor a 1-2-1 service for folks seeking a helping hand as they find their place in the green movement. (I’m nerves and excitement in equal measure)
3. Could you tell us about how your career adventure(s) started, about what experiences, challenges or opportunities you came across over the years that led you to choose your own adventure? Where has your career adventure taken you in the past leading you to where you are now?
I headed off travelling as soon as my full-time education finished, one week after my graduation. That was over 11 years ago.
When I look back now, it planted many seeds that have borne fruit over the years to follow. Seeing palm oil plantations first-hand in Papua New Guinea meant I sought out jobs tackling this issue. The first environmental job I landed was a jump into the deep end and was to pull me back into the sector years later. I put my travels behind me for a few years, throwing myself into the London lifestyle and corporate work. I learnt key skills here, the importance and value of good management, internal communications and good processes.
By 2014 I was getting itchy feet, exploring corporate secondments. Then, almost out of the blue, I was offered a 12-month contract with lots of travel included. I hesitated before my corporate manager reminded me, “Isn’t this what you’ve always wanted?”
I set up my own business, With Many Roots and eventually took it on the road as a nomad in October 2015. Since then I have travelled to Lima, Jakarta, New York, Paris, Bonn, Santa Monica and Managua for work. And visited Sapa, New Orleans, Medellin, Ljubljana, Tallinn, Madrid, Granada, Yogyakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Zagreb, Stockholm, Copenhagen and beyond in between.
In December 2018 (after reading those science papers I mentioned earlier 🖕 and eventually realised I had to do more) I stopped long-haul nomading, exploring the UK instead. In June 2019 I started an 18-month minimum no flying ban as part of FlightFree2020. (I have never gone 18 months without flying!) At the start of this year, I am challenging myself to go no-where for 3 months which means I will be committing to the same one place for 12-months.
4. What past projects or anything that you have worked on spark joy for you when you look back at what you have worked on?
I do like bringing things to life, anything from organising the biggest student run festival in the UK back in 2007 to running a series of events for our indigenous partners around climate change conferences. Big sparks of joy – but also totally exhausting.
These days, I get a soaring feeling from finding creative and meaningful ways to talk about the climate crisis. From holding minutes of silence giving permission to allow eco-grief to sink in, or my 1-2-1 workshops with my EcoMentees. I’ve also had a go at standup comedy!
5. How do you choose what to work on?
For years I don’t think I was that intentional about the jobs I ended up in, it was more a case of being pleased someone would take me, then itchy feet would have me casting my net wide once more. Now I am trying to be more intentional, it helps having worked out my values: connection and making a difference. It acts as a great filter, what to say no to and what to explore on gut instinct.
6. What advice, practical or otherwise, would you give to someone looking to start a career adventure similar to your own?
Anyone starting their career now is operating in a different world to the one where I started out. I see things firmly through a climate/ecological crisis lens and increasingly through a climate justice lens.
I invite you to consider;
- What are your values? (Here’s my go to sheet for reference)
- Where is your line? We all have to stand for something – on what issue, and at what position do things need to get to for us to stand up and act? How long will we hide behind our privilege?
- What does your life look like, in light of the climate and ecological crisis?
Tackling the climate crisis will need all manner of skills, expertise and creativity. It’s time to reframe what’s really important.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun at the same time. I have met some truly amazing people this last year and boy have we laughed.
Seek out your community.
7. Could you describe your day-to-day at “the office(s)”?
A good day includes some exercise first thing and a healthy breakfast. I try and be work-ready for 9/9.30am, I host online co-working sessions so I get to meet women around the world from the comfort of my current home.
I like to take a break at 11 and enjoy a filter coffee, slowly. I usually have a few work calls and will struggle to focus on bigger tasks.
Towards the end of the week I’m usually less rigid. I try and connect with someone new each week but increasingly I’m turning down the odd social invitations to work on my writing and projects. Procrastination and self-doubt have been my friend for too long.
A few times a month I’ll have a workshop or presentation to run so I’ll be prepping for that. I try and fit in some time for reading each day.
8. Where do you feel you work best and thrive the most?
I thought I laughed in the face of routine. But alas, it rules me. Without it I procrastinate, I dally; with it I make time to focus on my health, wellbeing and structure my working hours so I can give myself some time off.
I like a balance of time at my desk or alone and time with people. A few days at a community-centred co-working space and then a few homely days. I like to seek out libraries as well, especially old ones with lots of history. I feel more intelligent just being there!
9. What inspires and drives you every day?
The urgency of the climate crisis. Honestly. It has helped put things in stark perspective, I used to get consumed by the small stuff, over worry about a typo in an email or sweat over missing self-made deadlines. Now, I can usually take a deep breath and move on.
I’m excited about what opportunities a Green New Deal will bring. And I’m poised to be as useful as I can.
10. What advice would you give to your younger self, knowing what you know now?
Try not to spend so much of your energy fitting in, you have your own shape and your own opinions that are valid. You have something original to add to the conversation. Be kind to yourself and get on with your true work.
Feel free to contact us at Project Anywhere if you have any questions about any of our career adventure stories. Come back soon to read more career adventures! Contact us here if you’d like to be featured here to share your own career adventures story or if you would like to write a guest blog for Project Anywhere.