How a London project manager transformed into a happy surfer in Portugal

Two years ago Adam Bromby had a successful corporate career in London. But the career isn’t everything and he felt that his life was missing something more substantial. Having traveled across Africa, Europe, Southeast Asia and Middle East, he found the life he was longing for in Portugal. Huge life changes don’t have to be done at once at a stressing pace and Adam is an inspirational  example that your new, happier life can be established gradually.

Can you introduce yourself?

I’m Adam and I’m 35 from Yorkshire in England. I graduated with a degree in Psychology but that career wasn’t for me. I had some time out, studied for a Masters degree in commercial construction (big change in direction) and spent the last decade working in the construction industry as a Project Manager.

The job took me around the world and taught me a lot about management but I never really fitted into the corporate culture. The role was stressful, it didn’t excite me and I became more and more unfulfilled with every year of work. I’d always wanted to have the freedom of self-employment but I didn’t know what I would do.

What was the point when you realized you wanted something else from your life?

It was a classic (early) mid-life moment. I looked around me at work colleagues and saw a glimpse of my future; working for the big man, getting told off for not hitting targets, endless dull paperwork and other people’s problems to sort out. It was depressing and I knew I had to escape. I just didn’t know how or what I would do instead.

I found that going to work every day and doing something I didn’t want to be doing was very draining. I’d would quite often come home at night and flop in front of the TV with a ready meal before going to bed. I knew my physical and mental health was declining because of it and my number one goal after quitting was to take care of myself with good food and exercise.

I’m amazed by how simple changes in lifestyle have benefited my body and given me so much more energy. I’m in a much better position now to pursue the business and other goals in my life.

I think everyone has a vision of the way they would like life to pan out. If what you’re doing at the moment isn’t going to help you reach that goal then you’re wasting your time and need to find a different path.

How did you manage to change your lifestyle from typical corporate to a more relaxed one?

In mid-2014 I became involved in an organisation called Escape the City in London and launched a small business called DriftFish. The time I spent with the Escape community helped my confidence massively, I met many people that were trying to do things differently from the conventional career path and I gained the courage to leave and try a different route.

Can you elaborate what the Escape the City initiative stands for?

So for those that don’t know Escape the City, based in London, it is an amazing community that helps people find more meaningful work, whether that be through finding a new direction or starting a business. I was lucky enough to get involved in Escape the Cities early days and became a “founding tribe member”.

Places like Escape and Surf Office are a great way to improve your peer group, which is essential for one’s own personal growth. As the saying goes, “you are the average of the 5 people that you spend your most time with”.

At Escape I was surrounded by inspirational people who were driven and determined. The energy in the building was contagious. We had accountability groups where each week we had to briefly discuss what we had achieved that week and what our goals were for the next week. This is a great thing set up with a friend or group as it helps keep you focused and motivated.

What challenges did you face in your transition from an established office job to being on your own far from homeland?

I’ve lived, worked and travelled around the world a fair bit in the past so I think I adapt quite quickly. Getting involved in hubs like the Surf Office can really make you feel settled quite quickly.

Language barriers and red tape makes getting things done quite painful sometimes but I can see my life gaining more momentum in the direction I want it to go so in general it’s been a very positive move.

I’m part of small, close family, so being away from home can be hard. I have a Skype chat with my Nan every week and my parents can get to Portugal almost as quick as they could get to London so it’s not that bad.

What brought you to Portugal?

I’m passionate about surfing and after I had quit an opportunity came up to work in a surf camp in Portugal. I saw it as an opportunity to learn about a whole different industry and I took it.

Portugal is relatively cheap, so it’s perfect if you’re trying to live on a budget as many freelancers and entrepreneurs are. I pay around 500 Euros a month, all-inclusive for a furnished 2 bed village house, 1 minute walk from the beach. Lisbon is well connected and there is a thriving entrepreneur community making it a really great place to be right now.

How does your life in Algarve differ from your old one in London? What does your typical day look like now?

I’m one of those people who like early mornings so I start the day around 6 with a light run or hike along the coast. I mentally list out things that I’m grateful for, things that I want in life and do some incantations. Check out Tony Robbins’ hour of power, it’s a bit crazy but I swear by it.

Breakfast is normally a fruit smoothie and porridge. Then it’s down to some work for the day. I usually work from home and keep myself company with a podcast. In the evenings I’ll try to surf or go for some yoga or a swim in the ocean.

The big difference compared to London is the time in nature and amount of recreation time I get. I definitely don’t miss that soul destroying ride on the underground.

Is there anything you miss from London?

I miss Escape the City, I love buzz and inspiration that you get from being around people who are striving to create and build their own businesses and I can’t wait for the Surf Office in Lisbon to open. There is a real sense of community and people are really willing to help you succeed. I also miss my surf buddies but they do come out to stay and it’s great to be able to share some Algarve waves with them. From time to time I do miss the city that I once called home. But it's easy to get back over there, and I do regularly head back to see family and friends. I tend to stay with friends or in Mayfair hotels and enjoy my fleeting visits, but must admit I would never move back there for good.

Speaking about surfing, you organized a London based surf club in the past. Any plans to build a new one in Portugal?

The London Surfers meet up group is a community surfers in London, it’s been going for about 7 years. When I started surfing the group wasn’t very active so I started helping to organise events. It’s now grown to 2,600 members. It surely has to be the biggest group of landlocked surfers in the world!

We have regular social events, movie nights, talks and of course surf trips in the UK and overseas. I’ve seen how the group helps people make new friends and discover a new passion so it’s been very rewarding to lead the group.

I’ve just started The Lisbon Surfers meetup group, it has 1 member so far, me. Both groups are open to anyone and it’s free to get involved.

What advice can you give to those who think about quitting their corporate job and dream of a fresh start somewhere else just like you did?

If you find yourself a bit lost like I was I think the most important piece of advice is just to start something/anything and view it as a fun experiment. Like any new skill, you will develop through trial and error and you’ll discover what drives you and where your strengths and weaknesses lie. Your new venture will open up new doors for you and create other opportunities to take life in a different direction.

It’s easy to talk yourself out of doing anything by catastrophising the outcome, “it will never make any money”, “it will be too hard to sell” etc. There is a danger then that you will just not start anything ever.

You should have a passion for whatever your thing is as you will need to live, eat and breathe it. It should never be just about the money as that’s only going to lead to un-fulfilment. You don’t have to quit your job and invest all of your life savings into your next venture. Start small to test an idea, even if you can’t see a way to monetize it, that can develop later. Perhaps you could start a blog or social group that is relevant to your area of interest. Or create a landing page for your product / service to see if it generates any inquiries.

Have you had any fears on your journey so far?

One of my biggest fears that I had to get over was financial security. In terms I’ve gone back about 15 years in terms of earnings but I’m more grateful for what I have and I get by with a nice, simple life. I’m a lot happier and I’ll probably live 15 years longer too!

I think you have to appreciate that making a big life change isn’t going to happen overnight, but as long as you’re taking action towards your goals on a regular basis, then I think you just have to have some faith that things will work out.

Googling something, making a call, reading a book, signing up to course, watching a Youtube video, attending a meetup or conference are all examples of small steps that can help and lead to big changes.

Is there anything in your career and life that you would do differently?

I would have quit sooner, I really lost interest in my career and my only goal was collecting the pay cheques. It’s easy to fall into a trap of “I’ll just do two more years” or “I’ll quit when I have $X” or “I’ll do it when I retire”. It wasn’t good for me, my employers, clients and colleagues.

We tend to shy away from anything that has the potential of going wrong and embarrassing us. I had a huge fear of failure, negative thoughts just whirled around my head like “people might laugh behind my back”, “I’ll look stupid” and “I’ll have to go back to construction with my tail between my legs”.

I had to learn to embrace the fear and to put myself out there and be seen for all my strengths and flaws. The truth is when you start to be authentic to yourself and go for what you really want you’ll attract those around you that see your potential, share your vision and will help you get there. I had a total mindset shift and I now just see failure as an opportunity to learn. I wished I had developed this ability to stick my neck out earlier.

What about your future plans? Are you planning to settle down in Portugal indefinitely or do you have another destination already in mind?

As a project manager your whole purpose is to plan ahead, think about what could happen and try to control it. Right now I’m enjoying taking a break from worrying about the future. That’s not to say I don’t have any plans, I have a few ideas, but at the moment I’m just observing how things work and looking for opportunities. I’d love to meet some other entrepreneurs here and see what we can create. I do love Portugal and I can see myself staying here and hopefully starting some other businesses.

I still have an interest in popular psychology, hopefully one day I can use my experience to help others make positive changes in their lives.

By the way, do you speak Portuguese? How hard is it compared to English? :)

I think Portuguese is a hard language for English people to learn, pronunciation is very different so words don’t sound like they look on paper. I’m learning though as it will be very important if I see myself in business here in the future. I found a cool app called AnkiDroid that provides flash cards for learning various subjects including languages. Tim Ferris has some useful hacks too for those wanting to develop language skills.

Earlier you mentioned DriftFish, an online apparel shop for ocean lovers you set up. How did the idea for this kind of business spring up?

I read a book called Start Something that Matters by Blake Mycoskie, the creator of Tom’s Shoes and was attracted to the idea of running a business that gave back in some way. DriftFish is aimed at water lovers and it made sense that they would enjoy helping to protect the world that they love to play in. DriftFish T-shirts are organic cotton and printed with water based inks, which means less chemicals finding their way into the marine world. Our manufacturers are certified Fair Wear so our ethical standards are maintained through the entire supply chain.

DriftFish promises to donate 10% of its profits to marine conservation. Have you always loved ocean so much that you wanted to protect it or is it something you developed after moving to Portugal?

I’ve always loved being around water and I think every water sports enthusiast becomes an environmentalist to a certain extent. Trash and sewage are obviously bad news for those who love being by the water but wider issues such as over fishing, global warming and pollution are resulting in changes to the ocean and the environment that could be a grave threat to all of life on Earth. A healthy ocean supplies the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink. If the ocean isn't healthy, neither are we.  I have a Facebook and Twitter page and try to post articles that can help educate people about the issues that our oceans, their inhabitants and humans face.

Can you recall when and how did you start surfing?

Yes, it was only 3 years ago when I was 32. I took a weekend to Newquay (UK) in February with a minibus load of other beginners. I remember there was ice on the beach and we didn’t get hoods to wear but I was hooked immediately. After that, every holiday became a surf holiday and I did the 6-hour drive from London to Cornwall for weekends on a regular basis and use to stop over in hotels similar to the Atlantic Hotel right on the coast. I still consider myself a beginner. I think surfing can teach you a lot about patience and persistence which are important lessons for any entrepreneur. It’s also a great way to just be present in nature and can really help you reset and get ready for the next challenge.

And the obvious question - what are your favorite surfing spots in Portugal? :)

I like to longboard so Arrifana is a great spot but get there early or late to avoid the crowds ;-)

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