My final job in education helped me realize that systems designed to encourage competition and intellectual conformity too often convince even the most brilliant and compassionate people that they aren’t good enough.
On Earth Day—April 22, 2019—my partner Leandre Deryckere and I will embark on a worldwide adventure for the environment.
We will travel the world using only fossil fuel-free vehicles—bicycles, sailboats, canoes, and our feet—for a minimum of eight years to connect with people and organizations across the planet who are taking positive actions for the environment. We’ll work side-by-side with them, learn their histories and hopes for the future, and share their inspirational stories.
We are Team Limitless.
The ultimate goal of Limitless is to get as many people as possible to say, “If that person can do work to heal the environment, so can I.” We want to bring awareness that it only takes a few small changes to create a better future for our kids, nieces, nephews, and all generations to come.
Working on the Limitless project is only possible because I left traditional work behind, embraced the freedom of freelancing, and let my old life fall away. With the gift of your attention, it is my joy to share the journey that brought me to co-found Limitless and the actions that Limitless has already enacted for the earth.
It all started two years ago when I was forced to wake up.
On November 16, 2016, I was on my way to work, stopped in rush hour traffic on the highway in San Francisco, California. I felt an urge to look into my rearview mirror and saw a large truck coming in fast behind me. Too fast. As my heart nearly beat out of my chest, I knew I was going to get hit.
The force of the collision sent my tiny Smart car hurtling into the car in front of me. Fortunately, it was a low-speed hit, and the airbags didn’t even deploy. My very first thought when I realized that I wasn’t physically unharmed was, “I’m just glad I don’t have to go to work today.”
I didn’t always dread going to work. In fact, when I began working as a sexuality educator in 2004, I was sure this occupation was what I was put on the earth to do. Unfortunately, teaching a subject both wildly misunderstood and irrationally feared crumbled that certainty over the years.
The joy I felt when students would connect with their inner selves was consistently overshadowed by my work being undervalued and considered of secondary importance to academic learning. I taught sex education to both adults and teens, and I felt it was important to teach teens all the topics my adult learners told me they wished they had learned in high school. Unfortunately, this work was often brought to a standstill when administrators refused to let me teach certain crucial subjects to high school students, particularly about sexual pleasure.
Then, ten years into my career, I landed my “dream job.” It was a wellness coordinator position at a high school befitting my two higher degrees in sexuality and my thousands of hours of work experience. It was a well-paying job with incredible benefits, passionate coworkers, brilliant students, a seemingly progressive administration, and oodles of money. I thought I could do my best work, and I would finally be happy as an educator again, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Although it would take months after my resignation to fully articulate this, my final job in education helped me realize that systems designed to encourage competition and intellectual conformity too often convince even the most brilliant and compassionate people that they aren’t good enough.
Trying to create a wellness program in a system like this was an impossible task that I subconsciously knew I was destined to lose. For almost the entirety of my time employed at this school, I had constant pain in my left shoulder and the left side of my neck. Toward the end of my time in this role, stress halted my periods for seven months.
I ignored the physical symptoms of my discontent. I told myself, “This is your dream. You’ve made it. Just stick it out. Adjust. Things will get better.” I had to get hit by a truck to finally hear what my body had been trying to tell me.
In the weeks after the accident, my perception that I had to be an educator changed. As I started to imagine different futures, I realized that as a person with no partner, no children, no property, no car, no debt (except for student loans), and perhaps soon, no career, I was completely unattached. Through this new lense of freedom, I realized that I was a perfect candidate to rise to a new cause—that of environmental repair. Because if not me, then who?
I turned to the internet to do some research. On this 1990s-style, text-only website listing free volunteer opportunities in South America, I clicked just one link. It took me to a farm in the lakes district of Chilean Patagonia whose central philosophy was human reintegration with nature.
It looked beautiful, and, figuring I had nothing to lose other than time, I applied to volunteer at the beginning of January. A few days later I interviewed, was accepted, and found myself with a hard to decision to make.
Do I stay in my life, or do I leave everything behind?
With this question running through my mind, I was scheduled to attend a conference that all my coworkers assured me would re-energize me for the new year. Using a strategy for behavior change from the book Switch: How to Change when Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath, I set up an action trigger to help me make my decision: If I reconnected to education at this conference, I would stay for the rest of the school year. If I didn’t, I would leave education behind.
A few days after returning from the conference, and one month after my car accident, I resigned. I prepared the school for my departure, booked a three-month trip to Chile, and made my way to the Farm.
During my time on the Farm, my shoulder and neck pain disappeared, my period came back, I met Leandre, and I decided I would leave my career as a sexuality educator in my past.
When I met Leandre, he was working as the lead volunteer of construction. I joined his team and over the next six weeks, we discovered that we complemented each other perfectly. Together, we moved projects forward efficiently, successfully, and with ridiculous amounts of fun and joy.
Somewhere during that six weeks, I also delivered a pleasure physiology presentation in front of the smoldering ruins of an impressively sized bonfire on the shores of the lake. When I spoke the last word of the presentation, I knew it would be my final project as a sexuality educator. Emotionally in retirement after that night, I realized that I wasn’t pressed to transition to a new career, so I canceled my return flight back to the States and started living a new life.
My new life was the complete antithesis of my previous one. It started on the path of surrender and non-striving. Instead of aggressively creating and chasing goals, I spent 18 months listening to my own instincts, surrendering to myself and the world around me, and allowing signs on my path to guide my way forward.
Four major takeaways from this time would set the foundation for my capacity to build Limitless:
A year after quitting, I got a freelance writing job. For the first time in my adult life, I had control over how much I worked, when I worked, and where I worked. In working only enough to survive, I stopped defining my value by my salary. I started to use my abundance of free time to deepen my connections. While poor in money, my depth of connection made me feel rich beyond measure.
Due to the lottery of my birth, I have the privilege of being a highly educated woman who can exercise her choice to not be a mother or a wife. I can move freely around the world, and many people speak my language. Despite choosing to earn below the poverty line in the U.S., I still commanded a yearly salary in the top 7 percent worldwide.
The scale of consumerism that is a hallmark of the American way of life is responsible for a great deal of global ecosystem destruction. Although my people are not alone in committing the widespread destruction of the only home we all have, our lives and lifestyles make us star players in this dismal arena.
My most enduring memories and my happiest moments during my travels and at home were spent in service to others and when I was giving back to the communities and individuals who shared their lives with me and helped me broaden my perspective.
As my experiences on the path of surrender and non-striving shaped a new outlook on my place in the world, I would stay deeply emotionally connected to Leandre. More than a year after our last in-person meeting, we agreed to reunite in his homeland in the South of France.
Recently back from five years traveling freely around the world, Leandre was building a next-level world tour. Just four days into my visit, I found myself bathed in a flurry of his ideas for where he was going to go and how he was going to get there.
His energy and commitment were clear, but his message was blurry. I offered my skills in vision planning to help him bring his dream into greater clarity. In helping turn his vision into words, I realized our beliefs and our dreams for the future were in alignment. We both wanted to travel the world, connect with nature, and use our skills to inspire people to act on behalf of the earth.
We share the belief that the possibilities are limitless for what we can do to heal the earth. We are convinced that every human on earth can take a small step to better the environment—one that fits into the life they’re already living. Many small steps, when combined, are the way to create significant and systemic changes.
We know that we, the people, have the power—and the responsibility—to walk away from a path of ecological destruction and onto a path of enacting behaviors and choices that will sustain life for future generations.
While working together, Leandre asked me to join him on more parts of the trip and by our third day of working together, he asked me to help him build the entire project. After taking a night to sleep on it, I said yes. I knew in my bones that Limitless was the project I had been waiting for.
Since that fateful moment, I’ve found myself deeply grateful that remote work gave me the flexibility to stay in France for several months to build a solid foundation for the Limitless project with Leandre. I feel so incredibly lucky that because of my flexible work, I can dedicate myself fully to acting for the environment.
Team Limitless started our earth-saving actions with a river cleanup on World Cleanup Day with our premier community partner Association Partons du Bon Pied. Each month since founding Limitless, at least one of us has joined Partons du Bon Pied in the massive effort required to keep the Herault River free of bulky trash. In partnering with them, we publicize their events, participate, and bring new people with us each month in solidarity of working for a better earth.
We’ve also brought eco-responsibility into all aspects of Limitless. The domain name Limitless.Eco is an example. I’m proud to say that after hours of research, our online presence is built entirely with the help of ethical companies who operate with some measure of environmental sustainability in mind.
For the past four months, we’ve also hunted for ethical, eco-responsible adventure sports companies. Putting eco-responsible actions at the center of our work has led us to say no to a lot of very good brands, including a tempting offer to test bicycle prototypes for a multinational company during our travels.
When we found out this company wanted to clear cut forests to make sports and shopping complexes, we couldn’t justify representing a business that partakes in environmental destruction. Instead of taking the free bikes, we chose to build bamboo bikes using our own hands and money with Bamboo Bicycle Club instead.
Taking action for Limitless has also inspired me to take action in my own life as well. Since we started building Limitless, I’ve almost completely eliminated meat and dairy from my diet. When I buy food, I try to buy local, in season, organic, and waste-free. I walk, ride my bike, and take public transportation as often as I can. I track my carbon impact for greater clarity on how I can balance it out. I use harvested shower water to flush my toilet. I rarely waste food. The list of my actions grows larger each week.
After leaving France and going back to California, I’ve stayed committed to this path. I’ve helped plant more than 70 urban trees with Trees for Oakland and have spent hours keeping San Bruno Mountain’s ecosystem healthy by removing invasive species with the SSF Weed Warriors.
I’m also using my skills as an educator and my growing environmental awareness to develop a process for one-on-one consultations to help people identify how they can bring more ecological responsibility into the lives they’re already living. Each step is small, and small steps are how significant changes happen.
As I look out on the road ahead, I have almost no idea what it’s going to bring. However, I do know that the more earth-saving actions I take, the more I can connect with people and show them that the time to act is now. The responsibility belongs to each and every one of us.
The more I connect with people taking action, the more hopeful I become for our collective future. The more hopeful I become for our collective future, the deeper I commit to this path.
Two years after taking my first huge leap into the unknown by leaving my life behind, I find myself standing at the edge of yet another precipice. Even though I can’t predict what will happen, I can’t wait to jump.
For those of you who have made it here, thank you! I hope that my story inspires you to take a leap—into entrepreneurship, remote work, volunteerism, or something that scares you. I also hope that some of you will join Team Limitless on our journey because we can’t do this alone. For this project to work, we need your support.
If you’d like to get updates on our travels, gain inspiration for steps you can take to live in greater harmony with the earth, and receive information about organizations doing inspiring work, please sign up for our email list.
We look forward to connecting with you!