Day in and day out for four years, Elatia Abate, AB ’99, MBA ’08, interviewed people who were going through the motions. As a senior human resources executive in the corporate world, she met with candidates applying for a position, but whom she suspected weren’t actually interested in the job.
It’s a problem that cuts across industries: a survey conducted of 17,000 American workers in 19 industries by the nonprofit groups Mental Health America and the Faas Foundation found that 71 percent of respondents didn’t like their jobs. Their passions—and, as Abate would come to realize, her passions—lay elsewhere.
“I was tired of meeting people who were fabulous but not interested in the work they were doing,” said Abate, quietly admitting out loud that she wasn’t interested in her work either.
So she did what many people dream of doing but few people actually do: she jumped ship. Abate launched her own freelance executive coaching business. Then, in January 2017, she hit the road, embarking on a year of remote work to get a firsthand perspective on the changing nature of today’s economy. She packed her entire life into a storage unit, with the exception of a carry-on bag and a suitcase, and set off.
“I wanted an uncertain dynamic, strengthening the muscle of thriving in the unknown,” Abate said. She pointed to one of her personal mottos: “Between a known that isn’t working very well, and an unknown with some potential, you always have to go toward the unknown."
She didn’t know where she’d sleep each night or what she’d do the next day, which very quickly taught Abate how to be empathetic to those who are similarly uncertain about their futures because of changing technology.
It also taught her how to deal with adversity and juggle many moving pieces simultaneously—and how to thrive while doing it—especially on day 47 of her trip. Just after getting off the plane in Miami and stepping up to the rental car counter, she realized that she had lost her wallet.
“My stomach sank, and my heart started pounding,” she said. But it was then that she realized something that would be key to her journey—and to her life. “I can be captive to this, but no amount of wishing or hoping is going to make that wallet appear,” Abate said to herself. “Or, I can do something.”
She reached out to a friend who lived in Miami, and took an Uber to his house before canceling her credit cards. Abate borrowed money from her friend, and was able to continue on the next day to the South by Southwest festival in Austin, where her new cards were delivered.
And it was a journey. Abate started ticking off the number of locales she visited, but stopped counting at a certain point: Santa Monica, California; West Palm Beach, Florida; San Francisco; Vancouver, Canada; Chicago; London; Utah . . . the list went on and on.
“Lots of times I forgot where I was. I’d have to remind myself: ‘I’m in this city. It’s this day of the week. This is where I’m going next,’” said Abate, who often told her clients that she was stationed in one spot, as she learned quickly that they were hesitant to offer her work if they knew she was constantly traveling.
Abate was determined to travel around the globe, consulting and sharing her ideas about creating a successful, passionate career. The issue for most of us, Abate said, is that we’re taught to think about careers in these terms: What do I know how to do, what do I have experience doing, and what can I logically do with this? Then we gather a few more years of experience and continue doing the same thing.
“The problem is that if we evolve or make any decisions that aren’t aligned with our purpose, we’re stacking bad decisions on top of bad decisions,” Abate said. “Instead think: What motivates me? What do I want to do in the world? What do I want to have? How do I want to use my life? Align your skills and resources behind that.”
The future, she said, is corporate and entrepreneurial. “This is the most exciting time in the history of humanity,” said Abate, who finished her yearlong trip and will now settle down in New York so she can continue to build solutions and provide consulting services on the future of work and education for everyone from government officials to CEOs.
She credits her Booth education with helping her think critically and creatively throughout her journey and beyond. “Even if I don’t know the answer to something, I can pool resources and figure out the way to get to the answer.”
—By Danielle Braff