How to Design Your Own Career & Travel With Purpose / Tori Hogan
Welcome to the Chockalife podcast. Today I have Tori Hogan, and she has had an interesting and varied life, which goes a lot with the Chockalife philosophy. She’s worked as an aide worker, a volunteer in international situations, a researcher, an author, a filmmaker, and she’s traveled around the world, been on all the continents, and likes to really travel with purpose. Welcome, Tori.
Tori: Thank you so much. Glad to be here.
Why don’t you tell me a little bit about how you got started with your travels overseas, because you’ve been a long time traveler, and then it’s morphed into a bunch of other things.
Tori: Yeah, that’s right. When people hear how many places I’ve been, they always ask, “Oh, so your parents were travelers, right?” Actually that wasn’t the case at all. I didn’t grow up in a family that traveled. My dad was in the Air Force, but we only moved every four years, and only in the US, so I didn’t really have that.
When I was in preschool I would come in to class every day and the first thing I would do is trace the map of the world. It was like my obsessive thing. I just loved tracing the map of the world. I think I could write the word Antarctica before I could properly write my full name.
I was fascinated by the world. I think it’s important to clue into those early signs of what really lights you up, and that for me was it. I was really curious about other cultures, and people, and places, and I wanted to see all of these places.
When I was I think eleven I had this wonderful opportunity to go with my sixth grade teacher to Russia, which was kind of a weird first country. She was from Armenia, and had spent a lot of time in Russia. It just opened my eyes that there are people that spoke different languages, and ate different foods, and everything was different. It was pretty much a done deal at that point that that was going to be something that would be a big part of my life.
I just become creative. I found ways throughout high school to get to different parts of the world. I designed my own internship in Oxford. Later figured out my own volunteer work in Togo, before that was really a thing that was done. Now it’s very easy to find volunteer opportunities abroad, but back then it really wasn’t the case.
Then I studied abroad in Uganda, traveled all throughout college in different ways, either volunteering, or doing research, or, again, designing my own internships abroad. Yeah, the whole of my twenties were really spent almost entirely overseas, and it’s become a huge part of who I am.
What’s interesting is it doesn’t seem like you ever just … You didn’t do that big backpack trip where you’re going from pub to pub. You started off with some pretty heady stuff. There was the Russia thing, but then later on your summer internships as a teenager in the U.K. and Togo. Tell me a little bit about what those entailed, and how you designed them and made them happen.
Tori: Sure. I’m just not the type of person that can do meaningless travel. I’ve tried it very rarely, and it doesn’t work so well for me, because it doesn’t feel authentic. I don’t see the purpose in going that far away to do what I could do at home. I would much rather be interacting with local people, and really have a unique and inspired experience.
For me, going to Oxford, nobody told me that I couldn’t do it. I didn’t realize that it was such a big deal at sixteen. I was kind of a super nerd at the time, and I was already doing genetics research at sixteen at the National Institutes of Health. I thought it would be really cool to do that somewhere else, so I wrote letters to all these doctors at Oxford, begging them to let me come for the summer to be an intern, and there was just all these personalized letters sent to all these doctors. Most of them didn’t reply. Some replied no. One, out of all of these letters, wrote back and said, “Sure. You can come. No problem. I just got a grant. I’ll help you out.”
I get off the bus in Oxford, and her jaw drops, because I told her that I was a student with X experience. I didn’t mention which kind of student.
Here comes a sixteen year old kid, right?
Tori: She thought I was a graduate student. Yeah, so I had to prove myself in the lab that summer, and it was just an incredible experience. She really allowed me to blossom in my science research at the time.
A similar thing happened in Togo, where I reached out to some ambassadors, along with my dear friend in high school. We just made the opportunity happen. It didn’t exist. We had to create it ourselves.
That’s one of the things that I really encourage is don’t be afraid to contact people. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. People are flattered when you actually think of them, and you want to work with them, but that was something different. I think now there are all these designer travel experiences for teenagers, and I love that teenagers are going overseas, but I, also, worry a little bit that they’re not doing anything … They’re still in this box sort of whenever they go somewhere, and they’re on a big trip. Something like what you did is just mind blowing, and will open up so many more opportunities.
I would encourage that still, just to look at things out there, and try to work with anyone. I mean it can be done.
Tori: Absolutely. I found that my best experiences were not the canned sign-up and go on X trip, but it really was this self-created, “This is my curiosity. How do I make it happen,” type of trip that really meant the most to me.
For younger listeners who are interested in doing that sort of thing, I do think it’s incredibly important to know yourself well enough by that time to know what you’re capable of, because I don’t want to encourage students who don’t really feel like they have the level of maturity in order to really handle those kind of situations abroad.
You do have to have a very high level of trust, particularly with your parents, when you’re that young. They would encourage you to go to another country, because they know you’re not going to do anything stupid.
Tori: I never did anything to ruin the trust that I had gained in my parents.
What do you think set you apart that made you feel, and your parents feel, that you were ready to do something like this?
Tori: They gave me an enormous amount of independence from an early age, and I kept noticing that the more I used that wisely the more I got. I had fabulous parents, and I think they knew how to manage a curious kid like me.
Precocious kid (laughs)
Tori: Yeah. They, of course, would stand back and hold their breath, and hope that it all went well, but I never did anything to break that trust. I think that’s really important.
I meet a lot of young people today who said, “Oh, I wish I could do what you do, but my parents would never let me.” I think, “That’s when it’s time for a really serious conversation and a heart-to-heart about what are your fears? What are my fears? What do I think I’m capable of? What do you think I’m not capable of.” Ultimately, parents just want you to be happy and safe, and if you can prove that that’s capable and quite doable within your idea of wherever you want to go, whatever you want to do, there are ways to make that happen.
Yeah. I would, also, say probably if you have parents that may be didn’t have trust at first, is to take baby steps and show them that you are capable and trustworthy on something a little closer to home. I think there is such a difference between how you experience things obviously when you’re a teenager, as opposed to your twenties, thirties, and beyond. When you are still so formative, I mean they are going to have just a gigantic impact on the rest of your life. They obviously did, because you went onto college, and went to school in the states, and then you went to graduate school in Cairo?
Tori: Yeah, that’s right. I had a huge shift at school, as I already said, I was doing all this science research, and was getting a lot of acclaim for all this genetics work that I was doing at a young age, but my heart knew that something wasn’t right, that I might not want to actually spent my whole life pipetting in a lab.
I had this … you just never know how life is going to hand you that next thing, and I had to take a literature class in the midst of all my science classes, and the one that fit into my schedule was called Modern Arabic Literature and Culture, and I didn’t really know anything about the Arab world at the time, but it fit into my schedule, and I had heard good things about the teacher, so I thought, “Why not?”
September 11 happened while we were in that class, so this class about the Arab world was suddenly on super drive thinking about the perceptions of the Middle East, and what was it really like. One day this girl said jokingly, “Why don’t we take a field trip there, and see it for ourselves?” We’re all like, “Yeah, right. We’re not going to go to the Middle East.”
Yeah. Nobody was going to Egypt right after 9/11. I had friends that were working there, and they were taken out… yeah.
Tori: The teacher said, “I think that’s a great idea. Let’s go.” We got the money from the administration, and all nine of us went to Lebanon actually for spring break that year. It was an eye opening experience. I just remember being in the refugee camp. I was doing research in a refugee camp over that period, and I got to spend the night in the camp one night by choice. This woman had invited me to stay, and all my friends went back to the hotel, and I stayed. It was the night that changed everything for me, because I just remember listening to the sounds of the camp, and having that realization that these people don’t go home. They’ve been there for almost fifty years, actually now over fifty years, and they don’t go home.
There was just this injustice that I was feeling, and this fact of, “I’m so lucky. I have this ticket out of here anytime I want to go. I have this American passport that protects me.” It just didn’t seem fair. That was the change. I came back from that, called my parents and said, “Hey, guess what? I’m not going to be a doctor after all. I changed my mind. I’m going to be a humanitarian aid worker.” In their style, they supported that as well, and said, “Good luck.”
That was the transition point for me in college, and you just need to go with the gut instincts. I never looked back. Never wondered if medicine was actually the right path, because it just didn’t feel right in my gut.
Also, doesn’t that bring up that I think you need to be open. Sometimes things will come into your life, and you will ignore them, or you won’t give them enough regard to figure out if they speak to you, because we are presented with a lot of opportunities that we don’t even realize. You have to be ready to jump on them and say, “Yeah. Let’s see what it’s all about.”
Tori: It’s scary to jump track when you’ve invested so much of your time in one thing. I was six years into research, and already did almost all of my pre-med requirements, and suddenly I changed majors, and organic chemistry became an elective on my schedule, and you’re just thinking, “What am I doing? I’ve already invested so much of my life in this.”
But you have a lot more life to live, and I know a lot of my friends who were in the pre-med program with me and thought, “I don’t love it, but I’ll stick it out,” and some of them are doctors now. Some of them aren’t. Some of them are in major debt and wish they weren’t. It’s a tough call.
That is the other thing, too, though is it’s really never too late, unless you’ve lost your health, to explore something new, and to forget about sunk costs. You have to go with what you believe in. Myself, yeah, I changed my major my last year of college, so I understand that completely. You do. You will get people questioning you, and thank goodness you did have the support of your parents, because oftentimes those who love you the most will hold you back the most as well. It’s important to listen to your gut, and really … because in college how much do you really, truly know yourself? These things evolve anyway, even after college and beyond, so that’s really a wonderful lesson for people to think about.
Tori: Yeah. I think you’re right. At twenty-two even, you’re so just at the beginning stage of learning who are you, and what you want, and what’s important. I encourage all twenty-somethings to not even think about graduate school until twenty-five, because you need those first few years to really sort it out before you commit yourself to a path that might put you in debt.
Right. Have a little life experience. Go out there and particularly travel or do something like that, and go way out of your element, because only then when you’re truly tested does your true self come out. It can be good, bad, ugly, whatever it is, you’ll know what it is.
It’s interesting, because you did go into humanitarian aid. You had field experience with Save the Children in Kenya and Somalia, and something really unique happened to change your vision again with that. You want to talk about that?
Tori: Yeah. It was a series of transition points in my life that were pretty close together in that I thought I was sure I wanted to be a humanitarian aid worker. It seemed like the right thing to do, as a way that I could deal with that injustice that I had seen in Lebanon.
I created my own internship. At that time Save the Children didn’t have formalized internships at all, so I just got in touch with the right person and said, “Look, I want to be abroad this summer with you guys. I will pay my way to get there. What can you do,” and one of their great directors there set up an opportunity with the regional manager in East Africa doing child protection work.
Here I was at twenty years old being sent to a refugee camp to do research on some of the most horrible things you can imagine, like rape, and abuse, and child labor, and things like that. These were really serious topics that I was covering.
Fortunately, I was with a consultant, but she wasn’t much better at this stuff than I was, as a young untrained researcher.
I had some trepidation as I saw the way that we were operating in the field, the way that normal NGOs were doing their work, and one day I was interviewing a classroom full of refuge boys in one of the refugee camps, and I said, “All right, guys. Tell me what are the problems here? What are you dealing with?” They were telling me what I expected to hear. Just formal answers. I knew that I wasn’t getting to the meat of what was going on. I gave them this look like, “All right. Cut the crap. Tell me what’s going on.”
There was this silence for a while, kind of eerie silence. Finally, this kid in the back sat up and said, “A lot of aid workers come and go, and nothing ever changes. If the aid was actually effective, we wouldn’t still be living like this. Do you really think you have the answers to our problems?”
It was the moment of obligation for me. It was the moment of truth. It hit me so hard. The normal reaction would be like, “Well, you don’t understand. I know what you need.” I paused, and I’m so glad that I did, because I had the ability to collect myself and say, “Tell me more.” Because I suddenly realized in that moment that as an aid worker I very well could be part of their problem. That we didn’t have the answers necessarily. We weren’t giving them effective solutions. They had been lingering in this camp for twenty years. Nothing had changed.
Yeah. That was the wakeup call for me. In a short period of time, I went from wanting to save the world to realizing that the mechanisms that were attempting to save the world were completely flawed, and I needed to do something about that.
Just an aside here, what’s interesting is because of your age probably, being so young, twenty years old, he probably had the ability to get up and speak to someone who is around his age, and that is interesting. You might not have had that experience if you’d done that at a later age, and gone in front of those people. Did you share this with the NGO, or did you serve out the rest of your time, and then have it percolate in your head about how this was going to change your life, and what you were going to do next?
Tori: No. I definitely shared it. I’m not very good at keeping my mouth shut. I not only shared it with the people in East Africa, but, also, came home and wrote a pretty scathing memo to the head administration of Save the Children, and got no response. They were like, “Thank you. We’ve heard it before. We’re not interested.”
That was for me the nail in the coffin thing. All right. This is the problem, that we can’t sweep this kind of stuff under the rug when it’s clear that the people we’re trying to serve are not being properly served by this aid.
I saw a lot of waste, and abuse, and I saw a lot of misallocations of funds, things like that.
It’s interesting, because I have a segment on my website for people who want to work with the UN and some of these big NGOs. I can see both sides of it, because I agree. It’s funny, because the friends that I have that work in the field, they do tell me of those issues, and then as well, of some of the face to face things that they’ve been able to do. It’s probably a little bit like … In some aid organizations that’s the only way you could go in there. You couldn’t go into that refugee camp on your own.
It just brings up the interesting conundrum of there are the face to face things that happen that do good, and then there’s the giant octopus that is useless.
That kind of brings me to your next thing, which is you decided that you were going to make a film about what was going on with international aid and how it can be more effective. How did you come up with this idea?
Tori: I came back from Africa. I had not only worked for Save the Children, but then studied abroad in Uganda, and I really thought at that point that the best thing I could do for the developing world was stay out of it. I felt they didn’t need me. I wasn’t offering anything for them. They really had the solutions to their own problems. I didn’t feel like they needed some other well-intentioned white lady hanging out trying to do good.
I started working exclusively in the US, and for the final two years of my college, I only worked in the US with resettled refugees in North Carolina.
Then there was this urge in me saying, “Maybe there’s something I could do.” I had the great fortune to be selected as a Fulbright Scholar, and that’s what took me to Egypt the year after I graduated from my undergrad. The Fulbright is great. I highly recommend everyone apply, because it’s so wonderful to go into a country with a really clear understanding that you’re not there to help. You’re there to research, and to learn more about the people and their country. It’s a more, in my opinion, effective way to go about learning and exploring.
More like an observer that’s allowing them to tell you what they need, rather than going there and telling them what they need.
Tori: Yeah, exactly. I think in general in travel you really do need to go in as a learner more than a helper. Yes. I had that great opportunity to study under one of the pioneering aid critics, Barbara Harrell-Bond, and she gave me the green flag to say it’s all right to question this. At that time, it was very, very taboo to talk about aid not working. It’s hard to believe that today, because everyone can talk about it now, but back then it was really, really not acceptable.
We’ve had some huge public failures, like with the Red Cross and things like that, that brought out what’s going on in some of those places. Yeah.
Tori: I think Haiti was the thing that really sealed the deal on being allowed to speak negatively about aid, because that was just a debacle.
Yeah. Back then in 2005 it wasn’t okay. I decided I wanted to explore this more. I wanted to show people what was really going on, and I thought I would write a book about it, and thought, “How do I make a lot of money in a short period of time, so I can go around the world for a year.” I didn’t want to sell out for a few years and do consulting or something, because so many of my friends who went down that road never got out. Once you start getting the big paycheck, and really make money, it’s very hard to then derail and go and do something else.
It’s a gilded trap.
Tori: Yeah. I thought of a different solution, which was becoming a nanny, a live-in nanny. I didn’t have any expenses that year, and I could just pocket the salary that I made, while, also, doing something I love, which is being around kids. It worked even better for me, because the children I was watching were school-age, and so while they were in school I was working for free with the International Rescue Committee with refugee children downtown.
I still was getting a lot of professional development during that year, even though my paying job was not the one related to my actual professional interest. It worked out great. It was really wonderful.
I had the money to go around the world, and as I was planning the trip, and wanting to make it purposeful, I thought maybe I’ll write a book, and I had a few inspirations that came along the way that said, “No, it should be a film.” Yeah.
You had not been a filmmaker before?
Tori: No. I had no experience in it. I was literally reading the manual of the camera on my way to Tonga, which was my first stop. Yeah. I’m a big believer in fake it until you make it, and figure it out as you go. That’s how that happened.
I went alone. I highly recommend young women try that, because there’s no better way to not only meet remarkable people, because you’re a lot less intimidating when you’re just one person, as when you’re in a group or two people.
Tori: People are less likely to come up to you and be helpful, or curious.
I feel like you’re almost safer traveling as a woman alone around the world, than you are in some of our cities. It’s an odd little … I don’t know.
Tori: True. People have the wrong conception of the dangers out there. I am in much more danger in certain places here than I am anywhere else I’ve been in the world.
Yeah. I went around the world for a year, ten countries. I had a camera in a backpack, and I figured it out. I met with over sixty organizations. Really fascinating people, and really dug into what was working and what wasn’t.
These were all small NGOs? How did you choose who you were going to interview, and how did you get yourself in there, because they know that you’re going to be a skeptic?
Tori: Yes. It would be even harder now that I’ve made a name for myself.
Tori: Yeah, confidence goes a long way. Basically … It was the whole gamut of aid organizations, from the very, very tiny grassroots organizations to USAID and everything in between.
I guess the way to explain it is if there’s something in it for the other party, they’re generally going to be more excited to do it. For me, the coming in with the camera, and letting them know that I would share the footage with them, things like that, they were more willing to say, “Okay. That could be worth our time.”
It’s amazing what an entrée a camera is. People want to be on film.
Tori: It’s true. It makes you seem a little bit more serious when you come in with a professional camera and you have your stuff already set up, even if you don’t know how to use it.
One point about fake it until you make it is that first night of my whole trip, I arrived in Bogota, Columbia, and I was so nervous I was going to lose that camera my first night. It was going to get stolen from the hostel or something. I’m very carefully putting it away in the hostel, and this young Australian man saw me doing this, and started to talking to me. It’s like, “Do you know how to use that?” It must have looked like a foreign object in my hands, and I was like, “Well, actually no, not really.” He was like, “I’m a filmmaker. Do you want me to show you?” That night he sat down with me, and showed me everything that I needed to know about filmmaking. We ended up hanging out the whole month together, and it was great.
You never know who will come into your life to show you the ropes when you most need it. I always feel that when you’re on the right path, the right people come to help you out.
Yeah. Talk about serendipity. Also, I think it’s just being open, open, open. Open yourself. It could be you could have been really scared and nervous about having that camera, and you didn’t want to anyone to know … You’d be like, “Oh, no. It’s no big deal, this camera,” but you opened yourself up to him, and he could help you.
Tori: Yeah. Honestly goes so far. I just an …
It’s okay to be vulnerable, or wrong, or whatever.
Tori: Yeah, absolutely. It was a fascinating year. The way that the connections worked out, I knew the start and end date of every country, because I was having some pretty crazy flights that I needed to arrange, but the in-between was kind of up in the air, and that made it really fun. It still felt spontaneous, even though I knew what day I was leaving.
About half of the contacts had been figured out ahead of time, and then the best ones, the other half, were the ones that occurred serendipitously. Meeting somebody at the bus stop or something like that. It was like, “Oh, you can come to my village.” I was like, “Okay. Cool.”
Also, that’s kind of a small world. That whole NGO world is tiny.
Tori: Yeah. It’s easy to get connected once you meet one, and they know all the others.
This film, you shot it, and then you just edited it yourself. Did you …
Tori: No, no, no. Definitely not.
What happened with that?
Tori: I shot all of it myself, a hundred and ninety-seven hours of footage. I came back with all of that, and I started the fundraising. It was hard. I had to make a trailer, and bootstrap, and I came really close to being out of money, self-funding the film, and just by incredible fortune, this wonderful funder came out of the blue at the exact right moment that I needed, and funded the entire post-direction of the film.
I was able to hire an editor to do the edits. I could never have figured out the editing. It’s so complicated.
It’s super important to have a good editor. Yeah. They make the story.
Tori: They really do. Yeah. That’s how it worked out. I was really fortunate.
Then you moved on to the next thing, right? You made your film, and some people would think, “Now she’s a filmmaker,” but no, that’s not really what happened with you. Was that when you went to the Arctic and Antarctica as a photographer?
Tori: Yeah. Just looking at the progression of what I’ve done in my life, there’s a bit that doesn’t show up on a resume, which is what happened in between those two projects. That’s that my dad passed away. I was twenty-five years old, and he went in for surgery, and he didn’t make it. It was a huge shock to my family, and it was just a blow to me. At the time I was actually in graduate school at Harvard, and came back, and he died three days before Christmas. I came back from Christmas break just feeling like this place that I had dreamed of going my whole life was just not doing it for me. Thinking, “What are we all here for? You could die. My dad just died.”
Yeah. It makes it real.
Tori: Yeah. I just started to double check what is all this success about? What am I striving for? What really matters?
I think I just needed a reset. I needed to get out of all the striving that I had been in, and just do something a little different. I became a polar photographer in the Arctic and Antarctica. This was an absolute fake it until you make it story, and it’s one of my favorites. I had gone to Antarctica as a tourist on my trip around the world, my original one when I was doing my film series, because I dreamed of getting to all seven continents before the age of twenty-five.
Here I am at twenty-four, going to Antarctica as a passenger. It cost me three thousand dollars. I had to work a little extra for that.
Yeah. That’s expensive.
Tori: It is expensive but it’s the cheapest you can do it for.
We had a photographer on board our ship, and I thought, “Gosh, how do I get her job? That’s the best job.” I wanted that job.
I applied for the job, but there was just one little problem. I actually am not a photographer. I didn’t even own a camera, but I submitted a portfolio on this little point and shoot camera that I taken. The photos were beautiful. They really were, but they were on this tiny little point and shoot. I begged the company for a year. Just pleaded with them. “Please, I really want to do this. Please let me do it.”
They called me out of the blue, probably a year later, and said, “Hey, we just had somebody cancel for the Arctic. Can you go?” I thought, “Yes.” I hang up the phone, and I thought, “Oh, crap. I don’t own a camera.” I figured it all out. I shot most of that first trip on automatic, and figured out what the camera was doing. Had to buy the fancy camera and everything, but I ended up getting hired for eleven voyages, and spent a good year and a half or so as a polar photographer.
That is a great story, because that’s another one of just go for it, what do you have to lose? What if you get found out, what’s the worst thing? You’re humiliated. Maybe you get fired, whatever. You’ve given it a go.
I do have to ask, because while you’re talking about this stuff, I’m thinking have you ever been found out? Have you ever gotten yourself in a situation where you were like, “Uh-oh.”
Tori: Not really actually. I confessed to the guy who had hired me as a polar photographer at the end of my contract, that when he had hired me I had no experience. He was like, “Wow, you really fooled me.”
Now I get hired professionally as a freelance photographer, and it was really his taking a chance on me then that turned me into a real photographer.
No, I haven’t gotten found out too often. I always worried about that. It’s usually just that very, very initial period that feels like you’re really faking it, or you’re learning a new skill, but you pick it up so quickly when you throw yourself into it.
When I was going around the world making a film series, I wasn’t feeling very comfortable with the filmmaking a month in. After having some great teachers by my side. You pick it up fast when you have no other option but to learn it.
Yeah. That’s the thing. The shame of being found out, you are going to work as hard as you can to make yourself an expert as soon as you can.
Tori: Yeah. I recommend this for people who are interested in learning a language as well. Don’t take classes here in the US. Just fly to the country and live with a family, and if you want to eat, you’re going to learn how to speak the language.
Tori: That’s really the way that I learned Spanish. It’s the best way to do it.
It’s funny. It reminds me of someone else I interviewed, who was in the Peace Corps … Not in the Peace Corps. She worked for a medical humanitarian organization. Her first job was in Cambodia, and she ate I think it was chicken and rice three meals a day for a month, until she figured out how to speak. You do. It will happen.
Just for people that are listening, if they want to design their own job, do you have a methodology to this? What would you recommend to people?
Tori: I absolutely do. The first is to dream big. I think a lot of people only look around at what their friends are doing, or what is available when they do a quick search online, and think that’s all that there is out there.
I always went the sky’s the limit, and then it can go down from there. You’d be amazed at how many people say, “Yes,” when you go for the very top.
Definitely dream big, and set your sights high.
The second is to be creative. You have to be a little bit confident in just approaching people, but you, also, have to be creative in the way that you ask, and the way that you craft your story about why you think it’s a good idea for you to have this opportunity, and what you can give back to them, kind of how it’s going to be a win win.
Particularly when you’re young and trying to create your own opportunities, you really need to convince the people that you’re hoping to get hired by that you’re not going to be a burden on them. That is when it really is important to convince them that you are trustworthy and responsible, and you’re not going to go there and just be partying the whole time, or whatever. They need to have some faith that they’re not going to have to be babysitting you if you’re going out particularly in an international experience, and creating your own internship or your own job.
It’s really important that you can hold your own, and say, “Look, I’m a trustworthy person. I am not going to be a burden in any way.”
Also, I know this stinks, but it’s the way that is. Don’t expect to get paid for the first few times. That’s why I would often have side gigs, like I babysat a lot as a kid, and then would use that to travel, so that I could do unpaid internships, because usually you do have to pay your dues and get the field experience before you’re going to be hired for the real paying jobs. Be prepared to not assume that the money’s going to come from the person that’s hiring you, or the volunteer position, because it’s usually not the case the first few times around.
Right. Yeah. It just made me think of, “Do what you love, then the money will follow.” Well, not always.
That makes me think a little bit about financing. Just bootstrap, do whatever you can, and find unique ways to save the money. You don’t want to be caught unprepared financially either.
Tori: That’s right. There have been so many ways that I’ve been able to fund my travels, not only in saving up and doing it myself, but, also, in finding out every single grant opportunity that’s out there. I can’t tell you how many amazing grants I’ve had.
The other thing is people think that grad school is so expensive. It’s impossible to get a scholarship. It’s really not, but what got me my scholarship … I had a full ride to Harvard, and what got me that full ride was not because my GREs were the number one, but it was because I had a story to tell. I actually did my fellowship interview in a village in Laos, because I was traveling around the world making this film series.
If you’re living an interesting life, you’re much more likely to be open to these scholarship opportunities later on when you want to go and do graduate degrees and things like that.
That’s a very interesting point, because so much of everything now is … There are all these prescribed steps to how to become the best candidate for this or that, but it’s not true. People do love an interesting story. They want someone who has hung it out there on a limb. They know that you are going to do whatever it takes to fulfill whatever they’re giving you. That’s a huge thing.
What about keeping the faith? Your motivation, or what would you give as advice to someone who it seems so daunting. If you look at your whole life, you’re like, “Oh, how did you do that?” If you talk about it, it was steps, it’s steps that got you through these things, and enabled you to do these things.
Tori: Yeah. I did it in steps. I remember a distinct moment when I was in Oxford at sixteen of having this aha moment of saying, “We have a choice in life. You can either be ordinary or extraordinary.” I felt like having an extraordinary life, doing things differently, and I was willing to take the risk. I was willing to fail. I was willing to fall in love and then have it not work. I really felt that the benefits outweighed the costs.
I keep reminding myself almost every day that we only have one go at this life. How are you going to spend those days? What are you going to do? Who do you want to surround yourself with? What kind of meaning are you going to bring to the world?
I don’t necessarily recommend that everybody do it the way I did. I kind of went hardcore in my twenties. I wrote a book by thirty, and made a film series, and had all these degrees, and stuff. That was maybe a little more intense than it needed to be, but it was fabulous, too.
Now, in my thirties, I’m really feeling the slowdown a little bit, of wanting to be in one place and cultivate close friendships with people in my community, and to nurture my relationship with the love of my life, and take time for all of that.
I say go do the incredible crazy travels in your twenties. Do them later in life, too. I’m so inspired by older women who are renewing themselves and doing some of these great adventures in retirement.
Yeah. You only have one chance at this, so choose wisely.
I love that. That’s a great way to end. Thank you so much, Tori, and I can’t wait to find out what your next adventure will be. I’m sure it will be amazing.
Tori: Yeah. I think so. Thanks so much.