How Taking Risks Has Led Me to a Life of Freedom and Happiness (Valérie Can Interview)

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This post is brought to you by Valérie’s essential travel tech accessory: an iPhone, Powerbank, and Gigabit Wireless Router.

This is the latest interview in a series featuring digital nomads talking about their lives and lessons (click here if you want to be interviewed). The goal is to help demystify the process of making money online, wandering the world, and living an unconventional life!

Valérie recognized that her best memories were ones abroad or those that involved taking risks so she redesigned her life to incorporate more of those. We love her life’s emphasis on freedom!

Thank you for sharing your story with Freedom Is Everything, Valérie!

Introduce yourself! 🙂 Who are you? What do you do for work? And what is your nomadic story?

I am a Strategic Designer and focus on developing digital business models, shaping new products, creating added value services for different customer segments, advising on co-creation and methodology training for interdisciplinary collaboration in service design projects. I have 10+ years of different experience in innovation and project management, venture building, customer experience, and cultural change. 

I am passionate about discovering challenges and opportunities by continually trying out and learning new things to pass on my knowledge to others. Inspiring and empowering people to try to exceed their limits – that’s what drives me every day.

I grew up in Switzerland with a French mum and a Turkish dad; three different languages (Turkish, French, and German, but ended up knowing only German properly); and two different religions (Muslim and Catholic). I could hardly say which nationality I feel most connected to. I only know that because of my multiculti background, I possess an open mindset since I was a young girl.

I am interested in different cultural characters, which has led me to start traveling and building friendships with entirely different people. I think this was actually the foundation and the first step into this lifestyle.

Officially I started with digital nomading for almost two years. Right now, I live in Bangkok. Why Bangkok? A good friend of mine got the opportunity to work on a project in Bangkok. We are now friends for almost 20 years, and I used to accompany him in all his projects abroad so far, so it was clear to me that I would join him here as well.

Valerie Can profile

What inspired you to start nomading? And how has nomading changed your perspective on life?

There are a couple of different aspects that inspired and led me to start nomading:

When I look back at my past, I always remember the fun times with friends and loved ones, usually somewhere abroad, where we tried and experienced some crazy new things. These are the moments when I took risks and went on adventures. In short, traveling is fun and keeps me discovering new things and staying open-minded, which is one of my sources of inspiration.

But it’s not only the fun moments. It’s also the moments when I took professional or financial risks or pushed myself to the next level, out of my comfort zone, and just felt free. And that leads me to the next driver: freedom. I have a very strong desire for freedom. For me, it means organizing my day after my inner clock. To do work that I enjoy. To be who I am and to be independent of time and place.

Valerie can with her backpack on the road

At some times, I felt kind of lost with my life direction. Ever felt like this? I didn’t feel aligned with my calling. I always knew I wanted to start my own business, but I didn’t know how and what. So I set out and searched for the right direction. For a long time, I was guided by what people say you should do. “You should work for a bank, “I was told. “You also need a bachelor’s degree, “they said. “Better work for established Swiss companies because this looks good on your CV, “I was advised.

All this was certainly not wrong, and I learned a lot, but I felt trapped in a pattern that does not correspond to my inner drivers. Don’t get me wrong, I am still not all-knowing and still at the beginning of my journey. But after the first big step into the life as a digital nomad, I feel like I’m on the right path for the first time. How did I notice that, you might ask? Well, this path is anything but the easiest, if not the most challenging way I could take. But I have a reason to get up every morning and something that motivates and drives me every single day. 

The Japanese concept called “Ikigai” has helped me a lot in knowing this. Long before Bojan, my current business partner, and I decided to start with Raqoon, we wanted to make sure that we both had the same values and vision and, above all, that we had similar aspirations. We then decided to practice this Japanese concept and were coaching each other to clearly define our “reason for being” and use it as a compass for the future. I would recommend this concept to everyone. It has opened my eyes, cleared my mind, created some clarity, and finally motivated and confirmed me to nomading. 

Please tell us your detailed story of how you got into your line of work and how you turned it into a remote career.

I always knew that I would set up my own business one day and live abroad. I just didn’t know how. I took many small steps and tested them before I took the big step into digital nomading.

First, I started living abroad for a few months and worked there locally. This helped me quickly find my way around in new countries and get a feeling for being away from home. Then I moved more and more into professional fields where I was not bound to opening hours and could work flexibly and independently of time and place. At the same time, I continued my education in business administration, international entrepreneurship, and individual technologies and built up my knowledge.

What was still missing? Knowing how to start a company and a network of people who can support you on this path. I had the opportunity to build up an internal innovation management and an external independent subsidiary (an Innovation lab) in my previous position. I was also able to build up a broad network. After that, I felt that the time had come for my first attempt as a digital nomad. However, due to covid, I could not live abroad all the time, so I kept coming back for a few months before moving to the next city.

By the way, if you are running a business with one or more partners and you want to commit to a common form of remote working, I would recommend the Remote Working Manifesto from GitLab as a foundation: https://about.gitlab.com/company/culture/all-remote/guide/

What are the 2-3 favorite places where you’ve lived/traveled to and why?

Vancouver. This city has an insane amount of outdoor activities. Hiking, downhill biking, swimming in the ocean (watch out, it’s cold!), surfing, snowboarding, camping, and more. I love the mix between the beach and mountains. This makes every adventurer’s heart beat faster. Vancouver is also very international, and the people are very laid back and friendly – pretty relaxed vibes for a big city. The only downside is that the costs are very high and the weather is relatively cool – not warm enough for me as a southerner 😉

Valerie Can in Vancouver

Quito. Basically, I love South America – the culture, the people, the food, lovely work locations, the music, the landscapes, the beaches, just the whole atmosphere. I don’t need to mention the popular travel destinations like Colombia or Peru. However, I would definitely like to highlight Ecuador. Compared to other South American countries, Ecuador is relatively small and less traveled. As a digital nomad, Quito is ideal to live and work. You have many work locations and cafes to work in, and in your free time, you can easily explore the country and its diversity.

Quito is very centrally located in the country, so you can quickly and easily go surfing on the beach, climb in the rainforest, trekking in the Andes and volcanoes, or visit other towns. And not to forget the beautiful Galapagos Islands, which are not to be missed (bad internet though, so I would just enjoy a short timeout without working ;-)). In Ecuador, especially in the big cities, you have to be aware that you can’t walk around everywhere with your smartphone and laptop without worrying thieves, but that’s the case almost everywhere in South America. You’ll learn to deal with that. 

Valerie Can in Quito

Bangkok. This city is a natural source of inspiration for me. As I am looking for new technologies and business models, I am excited about how new technologies are used here (even if they are not that strict with data privacy). I was pleasantly surprised by how much you can experience here in Bangkok. I never had to leave Bangkok, and after three months, I could probably still explore new places. Many places are open until late or even 24/7. So this allows you to organize your day/night however you want. Also, the people here are very funny, friendly and super helpful. I also felt safe here at all times.

Valerie Can in Bangkok

What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about nomading?

I think what many people misunderstand is that nomading does not mean that you are on vacation. Digital nomading is anything other than only scratching your belly, relaxing at the beach, and going to yoga! You need a lot of self-discipline to keep working, delivering results to your clients, and sticking to deadlines. Also, you need to clearly separate and maintain a balance between free time and work. Because depending on the situation, you don’t always have the same financial security, and the following income is still uncertain.

Then you have to be able to weigh up what activities you can afford. Not only that but also when you go through difficult phases in business, you have to learn to switch off. Otherwise, you won’t be able to enjoy all the beautiful places to the fullest. I sometimes catch myself worrying about the future too much rather than enjoy the now. It helps when you take a breath and list worse-case scenarios and think about a plan b if a worse-case happens. Sometimes the situation is not as bad as you think it is. And you just need to detach your focus for a while to something completely different. Get a break and keep doing it the next day with a fresh mind. Otherwise, you will regret not enjoying all aspects of your journey to the fullest.

Also, you need to know why you’re doing that and tell yourself every day. Because no one is going to kick your ass to move on but you! Ensure that you really want to go this path and have the energy to motivate yourself every day.

Working on the beach is not as relaxed as it always looks in the photos. It’s too hot to work concentrated at the beach. The internet connection is most of the time weak. The sun shines on the screen so that you can’t see anything. And with wet fingers, touchscreen obviously doesn’t work! So inform yourself in advance of suitable co-working spaces or cafes with good internet. What I have to admit, though, it’s cool when you can go surfing and relaxing at the beach after work. 😉

Don’t overdo it with too many activities and packing your calendar too tightly. As I said, you are not on vacation and have plenty of time since you live there longer than only one or two weeks. In the beginning, I sometimes stressed myself out because I wanted to experience as much of the place as possible. But that gets exhausting over time.

It helps me when I tell myself that this is my new home with all its daily routines. I have my working hours and free time just like I had at home. In the meantime, it is super easy for me to quickly find my way around in new environments and to feel at home. I no longer make a distinction between my hometown and all the other cities in which I live. It’s also crucial to allow yourself to take a day to relax from time to time. You don’t have to do an activity marathon every day – just relax.

Valerie on a beach swing

If you need inspiration or want to know how much living expenses you have to expect or want to meet other digital nomads, I would recommend nomadlist.com; it helped me prepare and connect with other digital nomads.

And finally, the most vital thing: The most common reason we don’t reach our dreams is because we block ourselves with our fear. Digital nomading is not a path we learn at school (until now). Therefore, this path is still very uncommon. And what we don’t know makes us scared. Jump over your shadow and try it out. If you don’t like it, you can always go back!

What is unique about the way you travel, and what advice do you have for someone who wants to travel with a similar style?

I have been in a relationship for over five years. Since I want to realize my financial independence dream and have a fulfilling relationship, I had to find a compromise. So I have negotiated a deal with my partner: We see each other at least every 2-3 months, either he comes to me, or I come back. Also, we keep the shared apartment in Switzerland, and I pay (to be fair) half of the rent to not put a financial burden on him. The good part is, I always have a home where I can go back at any time. However, this alternative is connected with high fixed costs, which puts an additional financial burden on me.

Valerie Can and her partner

Everything has its price. In the future, we plan to live together for a while abroad; we just have not yet found the right way and moment because my boyfriend is still firmly tied to his current workplace in Switzerland.

What does a day in your work life look like? Paint a picture for us 🙂

I am an absolute early bird, which means I usually wake up between 5:30-6:30 am (usually without an alarm clock). Then I start with a 30-minute yoga session and practice my handstand at the end, or I enjoy the silence in the morning and meditate, depending on my mood. Afterward, I start with breakfast and go through my Feedly board and check for new technologies, trends, or other upcoming news.

After that, I plan my day and see what’s coming up. I also like to change locations, so I plan my day and manage my time efficiently to avoid wasting too much time. Most of the time, I work alone somewhere and meet once a week with friends in a coffee shop or co-working space. I hold my meetings via calls or video calls.

I meet my business partner Bojan in our virtual office daily for 1-2 hours to coordinate and line up tasks or work on projects together. After that, we work separately. Most of the time, we work asynchronously because of the time difference. We are very pleased with this working model, so we are more efficient and can rotate tasks without problems. 

Valerie Can and her business partner on a Zoom call

Each day is a working day for me; there is no weekend. It might sound kind of sad at the first moment, but it’s not! On some days I work the whole day and on others only a few hours. I don’t force myself to be free on weekends; I prefer to work in my personal prime times and taking breaks when I need them, no matter which day. 

When I need a break, I go for a walk and explore the area to get fresh thoughts. In the evenings, I try to unwind as much as possible with sports, meet my loved ones, or just watch a series. From when to when I usually work, I couldn’t say. Sometimes I work until late in the evening and sometimes only half a day.

Depending on the time zone I live in, I also have meetings until late at night, but that’s part of the game. After a while, however, I always find my rhythm. Honestly, I like this model and enjoy the freedom and flexibility I can gain from it.

For someone interested in getting into your field of work, what’s the best advice that you would give?

I don’t want to bore you with the classic education options or universities. That’s why I’m going directly to the learning resources that I currently use. 

These are learning platforms where you can really acquire a lot of knowledge. In addition, they are affordable options, and you can organize the learning blocks very flexible:

I also like the so-called “Micromasters” offered, for example, by universities like HEC Paris.

Books that I would recommend:

  • “Start with why “and “Find your why “from Simon Sinek (I would also recommend his speeches)
  • “The Company of One “from Paul Jarvis

 * I would recommend ready the short versions on Blinkist, and if you want to dive deeper into the topic, I would go for the whole book.

I love listening to podcasts while traveling, commuting, or while cooking. my favorites are:

  • “The GaryVee Audio Experience “from Gary Vaynerchuk
  • “Hack the Entrepreneur “from Jon Nastor

What digital tools do you use for your work?

  • Apple Apps like Notes, iCal, Pages, Keynote, and Numbers
  • Social Media: Hootsuite, Flick
  • Content Creation, Illustration, Video/Foto editing: Canva, Infinity, veed.io, finalcut
  • Writing: Grammarly, Deepl
  • Highly Secure Communication: Wire
  • Collaboration and meeting: Miro and Whereby
  • Security: 1password, bitdefender
  • Catch up with news, new technologie, and trends: feedly

If you only had a few minutes to live, what are the most important life lessons you would share with the world?

Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose and don’t wait too long for “the right moment. ” Listen to your gut feeling and go for it!

Valerie and friends on the great wall of china

What do you travel with that you couldn’t imagine traveling without?

  • iPhone → to navigate with Google Maps, to communicate and keep in touch with friends and others, taking photos and videos
  • Laptop → obviously for work. 
  • Powerbank
  • Gigabit Wireless Router for Security-savvy Travelers
  • VPN → https://protonvpn.com
  • Revolut →   https://www.revolut.com/
  • Music (Spotify) and headphones
  • Nasal spray and eye drops → because everything dries out due to the air conditioner in the plane, on public transport, malls, etc. -.-

What is your philosophy on being happy and/or finding meaning/purpose in life? And any recommended resources for people navigating this journey?

I have researched and dived deep into various concepts such as “Ikigai” or “The Harada Method “and developed a coaching package as a side-business. I could already help a couple of people around the world.

If you want to know more, check this out —> www.vyve.me or just text me and let’s have a chat. I always love to talk about this kind of topics 🙂

How can people learn more about you and your work?

All about Valérie as a digital nomad

IG: @val_theraqoon

All about Valérie as a business person 

Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/in/valeriecan

All about my company Raqoon

Website: www.raqoon.co

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/company/raqoon

IG: @weareraqoon

FB: @weareraqoon

Twitter: @weareraqoon

 

Lauren Allain
Lauren is a freelance journalist from Seattle. She travels the globe in search of the best grocery stores, bouldering gyms, and snorkeling locations. Her mission at Freedom Is Everything is to help others make the transition into location-independent lifestyles.