"Your life is happening now. Don't let it slip away by living according to everyone else's priorities but your own." [Interview 11 - Jalisa]
The more interviews I do, the more excited I get, and this one with Jalisa is no exception.
Jalisa Whitley's path centers joy and authenticity in all things. She's focused on 'getting free, changing the face of philanthropy, and frequently collecting passport stamps while working remotely from around the world.' I'm sure you'll come away with a high dose of inspiration and practical tips you can implement today after reading what Jalisa has to share.
Jalisa and I have been friends on Twitter for a while, and I'm so thankful we finally got to meet in person (at our favorite DC teahouse) while I was Stateside for the holidays last year. She's such a light!
I learned that Jalisa works remotely through her boutique consulting company Unbound Impact, that advances marginalized communities to the center of conversations about community change in nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. She currently works with two main clients -- one being the United Way of the National Capital Area, launching a partnership that builds 27 mentoring organizations in DC, Maryland and Northern Virginia through training, technical assistance and networking. She also works with the National Collaborative for Health Equity on three projects focused on advancing health equity nationally.
Though her clients are based in DC, she still travels often. She's a true digital nomad, and as long as she has wifi -- and is willing to struggle through the time difference -- she can work from wherever. "Last year, I spent a little more than five months abroad traveling around Europe in the Czech Republic, Italy, Greece, France and the UK as well as Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. Since then I've been more focused on domestic travel, but over the next three months I'll be traveling to Colombia, Haiti, and Singapore."
In this interview, Jalisa shares pure gold on how she gets the utmost fulfillment from life, how she was able to work remotely with her previous job, how she optimizes her work-life-travel balance, and one classic remote work mistake she made early on that other aspiring freedom-seekers can learn from. Read every word below!
KW: What's the single most important mindset shift that allowed you to make a living by tapping into your passion for philanthropy?
JW: The most important mindset shift for me was believing in abundance and the power of intention. I truly believe that there is more joy, more life, more freedom, more wealth in the universe than we can imagine. I believe that when you're authentic and your intentions are pure, the universe conspires on your behalf. The universe can and will provide you the resources you need to achieve your dreams if you set clear intentions and take the first step. But that mindset shift didn't happen all at once.
The seed was planted for the possibility of living a location-independent lifestyle grounded in community work by the various things I was listening to (such as the Tim Ferriss podcast episode on time wealth) and reading things like the Alchemist where Paulo Coehlo writes “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
For me, being young, black and philanthropic is a big part of my identity. It's important for me to demonstrate that everyone has something to give - whether it be finances, services, time, or testimony. So it's been critical for me to align my work (both paid and unpaid) with giving back. Whether that is demonstrated through being a member of giving circles where you pool funds together for communities of color like Black Benefactors, or providing my professional skills to advance equity for marginalized populations like I do in my consulting work with UnboundImpact.
What's the most challenging aspect of traveling so frequently as an entrepreneur?
The most challenging aspect is always finding balance and synergy between the various aspects of my life. I deeply care about the work that I do, so it's important to me that I'm delivering high-quality work to all my clients. That often requires lots of hours and conversations. So although I may not have a traditional 9-5 schedule, it's normal for me to be working up to 12 hour days with late nights. So a challenge for me is finding the balance between my work time and time for self-care and reflection, which is what travel is for me.
What's one mistake you made along your journey that someone with similar aspirations can learn from?
One mistake I made early on was underestimating how difficult time changes would be and how technology will show out and embarrass you from time to time.
When I was living in Thailand I was 12 hours ahead of the U.S., so my work day started at 9 p.m. each night. Once I had an important conference call and I was using Google Voice for the call and there was a bug in the system and it kept dropping calls. I was so embarrassed! I would highly recommend doing test runs with all forms of technology an hour or two before meetings to make sure everything is in working order and have your backup communications plan in place in advance. Now I have Google Voice, Skype and always work from places with strong wifi networks.
What's your most valuable tip you'd offer to other independent consultants to find their ideal clients?
Finding clients has been pretty easy for me so far and I think that's because I've built good relationships. The majority of my projects have been through recommendation from mentors or past employers.
I found one of my current projects on Idealist by searching "remote consultant" and it's been an amazing experience. So one tip there would be to nurture the relationships you have now. If you're in a 9-5 job, gain all the expertise you can in your current position. Excel at your job and show your worth. This may provide a future opportunity for you to leverage that into future client work or at the very least a great recommendation for future client work.
When I was working as an Education Manager at a large nonprofit, I was able to propose making part of my job remote when I moved abroad in 2016. In my written proposal, I let them know exactly what technology I had that could make a remote position feasible, outlined the parts of my job that were already being done online or over the phone, outlined the benefits and cost savings to the organization, and I included a trial period in the proposal that allowed them to opt-out if it didn't work in the first 90 days. Thankfully, they're still a partner I work with a year and a half later.
One valuable tip I'd also offer when working with clients is to be very clear about your scope of work and expectations. The scoping process by far is the most important part of the work and will save you lots of headaches on the back end. Getting clear about what your exact deliverables are (and the cost of changing or adding deliverables), when projects are expected to be in, who will need to weigh in on important decisions, how often clients want updates, and how they best communicate (be by phone, email, or otherwise) is crucial!
What does an ideal balance between work, travel, and play look like to you?
When I find it I'll let you know! lol. In theory, balance to me would be when work, travel, and play are more integrated and there's not a need to take a vacation from my work life because it is affirming and meaningful. I think I'm getting closer to that by being really clear about situations that make me feel whole and those that make me feel scattered and stressed, and re-balancing (or eliminating) when there's too much of the latter.
What that looks like on a week-to-week basis is scheduling time for what I call "reflective practice" each week when I just sit and meditate. I also block off at least one day every two weeks when I'm not working and it's purely for play (or sleep). Additionally, I give myself the flexibility and freedom to travel and don't feel guilty about it. When I'm traveling I block off particular days or times of day when I work and spend the rest of the time exploring without interruption and let myself truly be disconnected. You'll always feel like there's more you can do and that there are millions of fires to attend to. But the reality is that most things sort themselves out without your interference or can wait a few hours.
You can check off everything on your to-do list and there will always still be more to do the next day. Your life is happening now. Take agency over that and make sure that it reflects how you want to feel, how you want to interact, how you want to be in the world, and what you want to achieve. Don't let it slip away living it according to everyone else's priorities but your own.