I turned down a $250,000 job offer and moved to St. Barts to start a new life. I'm much happier since prioritizing my well-being over money.
- Tara Nolan is a global advertising exec who struggled to align her career with her personal goals.
- She attached her self-worth to her job and felt underwhelmed, despite having a successful career.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Tara Nolan, a 38-year-old former global marketing executive from Brooklyn, New York, about declining an executive role to pursue life and entrepreneurship abroad. It's been edited for length and clarity.
I was exposed to many cultures from a young age. My mom worked for NBC Olympics, so she traveled the world and came home with souvenirs and stories. I'm very independent and have been traveling alone since I was 16.
My first job out of college was for the London-based communications firm WPP in media planning, and it was a great place to start, but I wasn't making a lot of money and had always wanted to study international business and earn my MBA. When the 2008 recession hit, it felt like the right time, so I enrolled in a one-year program at St. John's University in Rome.
I stayed in Rome for 3½ years. I continued to travel while climbing up in my career, but I faced a turning point when the pandemic hit. I fell in love with St. Barts while visiting a friend, and I turned down a $250,000-a-year job offer to move there permanently. Here's what led me there.
After a few years in Italy, I was unfulfilled and still hadn't found myself personally or professionally
In my mid-20s, I traveled through Italy, Ibiza, and Spain, went to beach clubs, and sailed around on beautiful boats with my Italian boyfriend. We even created a yacht-charter platform as we watched Airbnb start to grow. This was my first entrepreneurial experience, and my ex still owns and runs the business.
But ultimately, I wasn't growing in Italy, and I didn't feel inspired. I moved back to the US in 2012 and began working for PHD Media in business development and marketing until 2015. I was then recruited to support a merger between Lowen Partners and Mullen, two companies owned by IPG.
In that role, I met some of the best creative talent I've ever worked with. I was introduced to global and sustainable-development goals, and I wanted to do more in that space. During that period, I started attaching my self-worth to the job.
Then I got laid off in 2017. This happened the same week my grandma passed away, and then I lost my apartment. My life was a mess. I moved back in with my parents but didn't want to start looking for work immediately because I was turned off by the advertising industry and what had just happened to me.
Although I had wanted to be in advertising since 2006, the cutthroat nature of the industry created a conflict that was difficult to process emotionally and financially. When working for companies, it always felt like being a part of a family that was committed to one mission. Separation from the companies I worked for felt harsh.
I decided to use my savings to travel rather than jumping into a new job and began posting about it on social media. I saw a huge lack of content around sustainability, especially as it pertained to travel. During the same time, the United Nations declared 2017 the Year of Sustainable Travel. I knew I was on to something, and I established a strong connection between my personal brand and sustainability.
After a year and a half of traveling, I knew I needed to find a real job
I moved out of my parents' house and into a ground-floor apartment in Brooklyn, and I went to work for another Omnicom agency doing business development, but I really missed the global side. We were sent to work from home when the pandemic hit. Around my third month of working from home, a friend invited me to St. Barts, a place I'd never been.
It was May 2020, and the protests following George Floyd's murder were right outside my window. It was both scary and liberating to see the number of people on the streets rallying and protesting. A police van was set on fire on my street just feet away from my apartment.
I remember walking to a French market around the corner to buy an avocado, but it was all boarded up. I was alone, miserable, and scared. I left my apartment, moved my things back in with my parents again, and decided to take my friend up on their invitation.
When I got to St. Barts, everything changed
It's a very small community, and you run into people all the time. Sometimes in New York, I didn't see my best friends for up to four months.
Being surrounded by and living with people who were in the same flow as me made me feel more connected to myself and others. Finding my tribe felt magical. It brought me joy and happiness that is hard to describe.
My visit turned into an extended stay that inspired me to move there. I came back to the States in May 2021 to visit my parents, but I was still drawn to the island and found myself uncommitted to moving back to New York.
I returned to the island at the beginning of last year and got my own place. One month before moving, I received a job offer for more than $250,000 from a Big Four consulting firm, but it required me to work in the US, and St. Barts is a Caribbean island that's an overseas collective of France.
I declined the offer and decided to officially move to the island that had inspired me to pursue my own business.
I felt free and empowered
I started to prioritize my life and well-being over income. Even though I couldn't be certain what would happen if I declined the job, trusting myself to succeed as an entrepreneur felt right. If I didn't, I would've wondered my whole life if denying myself the opportunity was my biggest mistake — or what might have been. Giving myself space and patience to allow things to blossom has been extremely rewarding.
I'm now using my expertise and experience in sustainability, wine, and wellness to pursue my entrepreneurial dreams under my own name while I work on building a new brand and company.
The work I'm doing right now is a blend of marketing, strategy, PR, social, experiential, and tech. I'm leading these efforts for various clients and sometimes use the support of a global team I've built from connections I've made throughout my career. So far, I've matched my pre-pandemic earnings from my time as a VP in the corporate world.
This is just the beginning. If you've ever had a longing to live somewhere and you don't give yourself that chance, it's a real shame. Our lives are not all about work. There was something calling me, and I had to explore it. I didn't want to wake up one day and realize I'd cheated myself.
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