For years, Stephanie Conway worked in marketing for agencies representing brands like Samsung, Audi and T-Mobile. On the surface, this #girlboss had it all: financial stability, an enviable Instagram feed, glamorous party invites. But eventually, the sleepless nights caught up with her and she was burned out. So at the age of 28, she quit her stable career and decided to swap her desk for a beach and her tea-drinking coworkers for barefoot cohorts.
Now, this digital nomad is using Bali as a home base and traveling around Southeast Asia, with an Instagram feed that shouts #travelgoals. She has created a virtual assistant studio called Symphony VA, helping businesses and entrepreneurs gain back valuable time by outsourcing marketing and administration tasks. The goal? “So they can get back to doing what they do best,” says Conway, who is doing the same with her own life.
Here, Conway tells how she quit the 9 to 5 and reinvented not only her career, but her life.
Criss-Crossing the Pond: I grew up in the U.K., then at 18 got accepted into a university in Los Angeles. After graduation, I loved the weather and lifestyle so much that I forged a career in brand marketing and events. I spent several years working in L.A. and living my best life. But a death in the family brought me back to the U.K. I managed to secure a marketing job within the first week of coming home, but after living in constant sunshine, the British winter weather slowed me down. I woke up in darkness to go to work, then came home as the sun was setting. I felt like a vampire.
Why Not Me? Through my job, I worked on campaigns with top influencers, securing brand partnership deals, helping them make a ton of money to travel and be fabulous. I was constantly watching social feeds filled with beautiful digital nomads living their best lives on beaches while I was stuck in an office with unflattering fluorescent lighting, wasting away. I constantly thought to myself: “Why can’t I be where they are?”
Daydreams: Whenever I’d have a bad day at work, I’d fantasize about taking off to Bali. Eventually, living in constant darkness pushed me over the edge. So I began to learn how to translate my marketing skill set to working freelance for small businesses and entrepreneurs. This would enable me to live a laptop lifestyle and travel anywhere I desired.
Taking the Plunge: I knew that people would try to talk me out of it, so I didn’t tell anyone I’d quit until I booked my one-way ticket to Bali. From the outside looking in, I worried that what I was doing might seem crazy and irrational. I was the most nervous to tell my mum, but she’d witnessed the burnout happening and knew I wasn’t happy.
My Motivation: I moved to Asia because I wanted to be free. I wanted to wake up every day in the sunshine. I wanted to live life on my own terms in a community of supportive friends from all over the world. I wanted to swim in the ocean, try to surf and dive deeper with all aspects of my life. When you let go of societal boundaries, there’s more room for you to be who you are meant to be.
My Travels: Since setting up my company, I have made my way around different countries within Southeast Asia. My personal favorite is the Indonesian archipelago for the pristine beaches and ease of access to fresh coconuts. Plus there’s such a low cost of living, which has allowed me the time and space to grow my company authentically and organically.
Finding Community: Traveling around Southeast Asia has taught me a lot about other cultures, and I’m constantly overwhelmed by the hospitality and kindness of the local people that I meet here. There’s such a beautiful sense of community that I’ve never experienced before. I’ve started weekly #girlboss meet-ups to help fellow digital nomads set goals, hold one another accountable and make new friends.
Risk Taking: When you leave something that’s as stable as a regular paycheck, you take a risk. It’s scary, but you need to have faith in yourself and your ability to build your brand. I’ve also learned to be patient, as I’ve realized that it takes hard work to create a brand while trying to live off my passions of traveling and marketing.
The Appeal of Travel: Travel feels like magic. You never know where it will take you. This magic has sent me to amazing places around the world, and it’s addictive. But anyone who’s hooked on the same magic will tell you: When your body can’t travel, your mind wanders. You can’t belong in one place forever — your heart simply won’t let you.
Diving In: One of my favorite things in the world is to go diving. But much like entrepreneurship, in the beginning, I didn’t know what I was doing. I had a panic attack the first time I went down. I was terrified at the concept of trusting the equipment on my back to keep me alive, much like I was terrified to trust myself and believe that I could start my own business. But Chris, my scuba dad, forced me to stay underwater until I felt a sense of calmness and serenity like nothing I had ever felt before. I was then able to see the tropical fish swim by, get side-eyed by some massive turtles and even spot a few black tip sharks. Through diving, I learned that you’ve got to push through and persevere to get anything that’s worth having in life.
On Failure and Success: Most importantly, I’ve learned that I don’t have to follow in anyone else’s footsteps to consider myself successful. It’s better to try and fail than to spend your life wondering “what if?” Our successes and failures are all part of the rich tapestry of life.