How to feel the fear and do it anyway with Nadja Freeman
At FloLab we share an affinity with people who wake up one day and realise that they want their life to go in a different direction. Often it’s really uncomfortable circumstances which push us to do so and it can be a scary route. But for those who push through and seize those opportunities, while listening to that little voice that whispers ‘go for it’, it always pays off in the long run. Nadja Freeman is one of those people.
For Part Three of our "Friends of FloLab" series, in collaboration with photographer Tara Shupe, Emma had a chat with one of our very first community members, Nadja. Starting out in a successful diplomacy career but with a growing passion for music and creativity, she has transformed her life and is now thriving as a freelancer and living her passion as lead singer in the band, Alcuna Wilds. It isn't always easy but it’s certainly happier. Thank you for inspiring us to follow our passion Nadja!
Where are you from and how did you come to be living in the Hague?
So I'm originally from the UK, but I've lived in lots of different places in the world with my family and then later through my own career. We lived in Hong Kong for the first five years of my life, and then we were in Germany. After that, we moved to the UK, where I did all my education. After University I actually lived in the Hague for a few months for an internship, and then got a place on the Diplomatic Fast Stream programme, so I was with the British Foreign Office for a few years who also posted me to different places. So I've always had the travel bug from my family and for generations, my family have been expats or travellers. It's in my blood.
I came to the Hague as an extension of my career in international relations and diplomacy. There are a lot of international organisations here and originally I came and worked for a couple of the big international courts. I then had a bit of a major life reset and moved off in a very different direction.
How long have you been here?
I think it's coming up to nine years! It's almost the longest I've ever lived anywhere, which is a bit scary as I have very ‘itchy feet’ and but I do really like it here.
What do you like about living in the Hague?
It's a really special place. I think we’re really lucky to have all the infrastructure, events and distractions of a city, but next to a thriving seaside resort. Ok yes, it’s the North Sea! But it has a great holiday atmosphere in the summer, and even when the weather is harsher, it can be dramatic and stunning. You can get a good job, and there are all these opportunities, but you're also next to so much nature. As with anything else, there are times when I absolutely love being here and there are times when I can't stand it! I think in general it's a very easy place to live, especially here in the Hague, it's amazing that you have a major city right next to the beach.
I also love that in Holland you can cycle everywhere, which is really liberating but also means you're exposed to the outdoors so much more. It can be amazing but with all the wind and rain that can come from living by the North Sea, it can be very draining. But you can feel a bit like a hero when you've battled through a major rainstorm and you're like ‘aaargh’ as you’re soaked to the skin but also ‘yessss’ because you’ve made it. It’s kind of exhilarating!
So you used to work in international relations and diplomacy and then you changed. Can I ask why the change and what do you do now?
I enjoyed the intellectual challenge of what I was doing and the travel but I felt a bit trapped and I wasn't very happy. I look back at that kind of work and I still find it really interesting and I wouldn't rule it out forever, but I've always been very creative and I’d stifled that side of myself for a long time. I think that was part of the reason I was unhappy. The longer I was here, the more people I was meeting in the music field and I started writing and performing music with different bands and it kind of reawoke that part of me. I'd done a few things along the way, like even when I was living in the Philippines, I worked with some local DJs and producers which was fun.
Everything came to a head for me when I suffered from a period of depression. It was a rough time and even now I find it hard thinking and talking about it. I was really ill but I’m extremely lucky that I have a really close and loving family who helped me and supported me as I recovered. That really threw me off what I thought was my trajectory, and that seemed like a big disaster at the time. Looking back now, actually, it sort of woke me up and forced me to realise I wasn’t on the right path. I was then able to reassess my situation, and it opened so many doors to trying so many new things.
How are you now?
I'm much happier now. I still don't think I've got it all figured out but I knew I wanted to have the freedom to pursue music. Obviously, music is not a lucrative career unless you are one of the Lady Gagas or Rihannas of this world so I started to freelance, working on projects here and there built on skills and experiences I’d gathered along the way.
Initially I was asked to work on the Rotterdam Youth Olympic bid, and then worked for various NGOs and businesses mainly as a consultant or as a copywriter, writing grant applications, promotional materials and that sort of thing and because through the Foreign Office writing is drilled into you, it was something I was good at it. Since then I’ve worked with all sorts of companies, from major fashion brands and international foundations to local start-ups and creative entrepreneurs.
In parallel, I also started to do a lot of voiceover work recording ads, corporate films and some drama. I also presented and interviewed bands for an online production music company and even did some video-making myself filming bands on tour across Europe! So this kind of patchwork career started to emerge and I started my own company. I just loved the variety and I loved the freedom of being able to say yes to things, and just doing them basically! I love to learn new skills and dive down different paths. Even with the band, I get to be creative beyond writing music as I do a lot of our artwork so that’s also been a whole new creative learning curve for me!
I really love the freedom that freelancing gives me. No day is the same, and as long as it fits in with my other commitments, I can be open and say yes to anything that comes along. But it can sometimes be quite extreme with this kind of project-based freelancing. Sometimes you’re working all hours of the day and night to make deadlines, and others you're kind of sitting at home going 'uh oh. What now?'!
How important is it for you to be creative?
I feel the most alive when I'm involved in lots of different things and I'm meeting people. It doesn't always have to be creative but I do really like creative work.
I just think that all human beings are creative in some way or the other, and even the people who say they are not creative at all, I think there is some kind of creativity everywhere and you need to feed that somehow. Whether that's your job, a hobby, your career, the way you dress or arrange your house, or the way you solve problems, whatever it is - it's there somewhere.
That's what I find a bit sad when people say 'oh I'm not creative' and I think 'you are, you just don't know how to label it’. Or you're not giving yourself enough credit for what you do. Unless you're trapped in something and you're completely miserable, or you're so depressed that you can't do anything, but that's a whole different scenario.
So the theme of the photographs was to capture you in the environment you feel most comfortable and where you get your work done. What is it you love about your work environment?
Tara did such an amazing job! I look at them and think 'wow, it looks like something from a magazine'.
I'm really lucky as I live with my partner in a lovely house which has lots of light and all these little corners and pockets I can work in. I can get distracted at first but once I settle down I can work solidly for hours. I have a tiny desk in my room which is one of the places I can work solidly all day and just feel like 'ah ha I’ve unlocked the secret - this is the most productive place ever'. But then the next day I can’t settle there at all and the magic is gone! So it's nice that I do have a handful of little corners around the house that I can go and work in.
When I have to really, really focus, I need to let myself roam around the house a bit to find the right spot that’s going to work for me that day! Sometimes when I'm majorly procrastinating I'll do that thing about breaking something down into really small steps and then I'll say 'you know what? This is not working sitting at my desk or at the kitchen table or whatever, I'm going to take my laptop and I'm going to sit down on the couch or even the floor or wherever it is, and just send those two emails or write those first lines. That doesn't feel as daunting and keeps my restless brain a little bit occupied then suddenly I’m caught up with all my work!
I really wanted to make the house a bit of an oasis so I've filled the space with lots of plants. This is really important here as the winters can be long, dark and grey. I read about ‘Shinrin-yoku’, the Japanese concept of ‘forest-bathing’ or ‘forest therapy’, where if you go into a forest and you see the green it can literally lower your blood pressure and be relaxing and rejuvenating. And it makes sense, you know sometimes when I've sat here and I'm looking at my little jumble of plants, and I don't know if it's psychosomatic or real, but I feel better. It's like bringing the outside in, especially when you can't go outside, it's really nice.
What attracted you to the FloLab community?
So I think one of the major downsides of working from home is being very isolated. Because I have to travel a lot for work and for the band, it can mean that I'm on my own a lot and sometimes that's great but sometimes it's really not. It can get lonely and I think I wanted to find a nice community where I can meet nice people with similar work rhythms and the same type of struggles.
When I first read about Flolab, the way you guys described it, being about wellness and coworking I thought 'oh this really resonates with me and some of the experiences I've had'. And I liked the idea of having to be somewhere once a week when the rest of my week is always so varied. It just sounded like a really nice idea and I'm glad I did because I really look forward to the meetups now.
How has being part of that community impacted your life?
It's been fantastic, I mean transformative really. It's just really nice to meet a new group of people going through similar experiences, sharing in both successes and failures. I love that people can say 'ugh. I'm really having a really rough week, this is going wrong, I didn’t handle this well, or I had a big success this week and I’m on a high'! And people really care, I get the feeling that people are really genuine. We all celebrate and commiserate together and there’s a lot of compassion in the group.
I knew it for sure when you guys said you would come to my show in the Paard here in the Hague, and you did! It was amazing to see all your faces smiling up at me from the audience. I'm not good at patting myself on the back but it’s really powerful when people put their time and money where their mouth is to support each other in what they're doing. It's so encouraging.
And I find it inspiring what people are getting up to. Like you and Snezhana setting up FloLab, you've worked really hard but now its a reality! You've had obstacles and then you've pushed through, you’ve been overwhelmed but you've got on with it and there have been the joys and we all get to share in that. It's nice to share in everyone's journeys and realize that no matter how well or how badly it's going, you've all been there in some way and you all understand.
What advice would you give to a person who is reading this, perhaps they’re in a situation where they aren't fulfilled in their job, they'd like to do something else, they're not happy in their life and they're toying with the idea of doing something else like you have. What advice would you give them?
I think it really depends on what you want to do. There are some things, businesses, for example, what you have done with FloLab, where you need to go in with both feet and say 'this is what I'm going to do and I need to put everything into it and give it a go'.
Then there are other things where maybe you need to develop skills or a network or that sort of thing first before you take a leap. And there's no harm in developing those things alongside what you're currently doing (as long as it’s not affecting your work and as long as you're not breaking any rules!). Go and do a course or volunteer for a startup that you like in that field, or find your own version of an internship (which doesn't involve you being completely exploited!). Often I've seen a name somewhere and I've thought 'I'm just going to bite the bullet and contact that person because I think that'll be interesting’. Almost every paid project I've done, the opportunity has come up because I've worked with someone else and by word of mouth they've recommended me.
I know it's a massive cliche but feel the fear and do it anyway. I don't always practice what I preach but there's always going to be this little voice in your head telling you it's too scary and it won't work. I think one good thing about me is that if I've seen an opportunity, I've always just grabbed it with both hands. And whether that was moving to a different country or contacting someone to do presenting or whatever it was - I just did it. And sometimes I look back and I think 'I can't believe I actually sent that email' or 'I can't believe I could do that', 'I can't believe I just packed everything up and moved there' and, again, it's another total cliche but I definitely only really, with a few tiny exceptions, regret the things that I didn't do and not the things I did do. Because things always work out somehow. Even if it's been a total disaster, there is always something to take out and learn from it. At the very least you can get up, laugh at yourself, dust yourself off and get back on it!
If you’re looking to use Nadja’s creative skills in some way you can contact her via LinkedIn.
Or if you would like to find out more about Nadja's band, check out Alcuna Wilds.