Cupcakes and Yoga in the Tropics: Inspiration for Quitting the 9-5

26 Nov

There aren’t many people who decide to quit a reliable job with a software company and move to the Dominican Republic to volunteer, sell cakes and teach yoga.

That’s exactly what my good friend and ex-colleague Alicia Harman did. For those thinking they can’t stop working for someone else and pursue their own dreams, here’s a story from a woman (who everyone said was bonkers) finding happiness her own way. I interrupted Alicia’s baking and downward dogs to ask her about her experiences starting life on her own terms.

Lorna: So I know you like cakes, and I know you like Yoga. How did you manage to create a life that combines both in the tropics, with no “real job” intruding on it all?

Alicia: I’ve wanted a café or a bakery for a long time. I considered culinary school, yoga school, and graduate school a number of times. However, the opportunities never presented themselves in the right way for me. Despite that, I always believed that I would eventually be able to combine my various interests and talents to create a working life worth living. I didn’t know what form this life would take, and I certainly wasn’t able to put it on a timeline.

As for how I got here, the “real job” came first. It gave me the professional experience and confidence, along with the financial stability, to pursue this dream. However, the real job also gave me insight into the corporate environment and my place in it. In short, I do not belong there! I knew I had to get out. The actual moment of clarity and inspiration came after a friend recommended a website called Free Range Humans. I stumbled across a volunteer position, took some savings and money out of my retirement fund (!) and ran for the border. Luckily, I did not have financial or familial obligations preventing me from leaving a “good” job and the country all in the same month.

Now, here I am, having invested quite a bit of the money I had left into the business opportunity I had always wanted. I’ve opened a little café/bakery; I’m offering some yoga to the community (in a place where yoga is virtually unheard of but very much needed); I’m living my dream to learn Spanish; and, of course, to dance a lot of bachata, salsa and meringue!

Lorna: What triggered your decision to move to the Dominican Republic? You had been working away at a desk job and doing well…

Alicia: The Dominican Republic is where the opportunity took me. I would have gone elsewhere had the same opportunity existed in another part of Latin America or Europe. However, I was ready to go when I left. I had been ready for a long time. I could no longer suppress the feeling of dread I woke up with daily. I felt sick, tense, bored, tired, and could not keep my eyes open from 2:00-3:00 pm every day, even after sleeping all night. This is how stress kills us little by little. I knew I couldn’t keep it up if I wanted to live happily.

Lorna: What does your average day look like?

Alicia: While I do have a typical day, the day never looks the same twice. Here’s the general gist:

6:30-7:30 am: Wake up, walk on the boardwalk (called the Malecon here) or do some yoga and have breakfast

8:00 am: Open the shop

8:00 am to 1:00 pm: Baking / serving customers

12:30-1:00 pm: Lunch

2:00m pm – 6:00 pm: Serving customers

Throughout the day: I listen to music, network online, work on advertising and keep up with friends on Facebook between any other activities.

If it’s a weekend night, I often go out dancing with friends, or at least go out for a walk on La Puntilla, where you can hear music louder than anyone would ever dare play in the US, and drink Brugal rum made within two miles of mi casa. If it’s not a party night, the ocean is the center of attention, with the beautiful waves and cool breezes making the hot day to come tomorrow seem bearable.

Lorna: How reliable is the internet there, and what does a monthly high-speed connection cost? Can a writer live and work there easily?

Alicia: Internet is fairly reliable if you live in the city. However, the electricity is inclined to cut out occasionally, and takes your router out with it. Also, I think the cables are prone to getting soggy! After a heavy rain, the internet is usually spotty and/or slow.

With Claro (a local provider), it costs $1700 RD (Dominican Pesos), or about $45USD per month, and includes a wireless router, a cable connection if you’re so inclined, and several hundred free minutes of long distance to the US, Canada, and Europe. They even bring you a phone! It’s a pretty good deal, considering how much internet and telephones are in the US.

Anyone wanting to work remotely would have no problem doing so. In fact, I know of a woman who just arrived from New York, a writer, who is doing just that.

Lorna: Your business is just in its early days…what’s your plan for growing it?

Alicia: My plan is to hoof it. How exciting to want to do whatever it takes, by the way! I am going to advertise in a local expatriate weekly magazine, and in local businesses, network with expats, and encourage the locals to come by. I’m offering a discount to local businesspeople in the bakery, and one free yoga class to everyone. Thereafter, I charge $100 pesos per 1 hour class, and $300 pesos for a 1.5 hour private class. I’m still committed to serving the non-profit organization, Project Esperanza, which is the reason that I came here. 25% of my business’ profits go to Project Esperanza, and in return I use their building for the bakery and yoga space. I don’t pay rent or utilities.

Hanging out with friends

Finally, I’m working with a certified yoga teacher from the US to do some community yoga in Muñoz, a poor, country community outside of Puerto Plata. I feel very strongly that giving back, even a little bit, is what allows me to live this somewhat outside the box life.

Lorna: You didn’t blog much while you were in the US. Why do you enjoy blogging so much from the DR?

First and foremost, I enjoy being able to have the time and energy to write! Also, the creative stimulation here is incredible, so I feel I have a lot to write about. Emotions are intense and raw and often surprising; the smells and sights are new and in your face. As soon as I arrived, I started really thinking again, as my brain sought to classify and understand each new experience. I feel like a creative being again after many years of feeling stunted. I’ve also experienced a lot of powerful emotions while here, some quite frankly, have been really frightening. All of the things that I was able to suppress in the US are coming to a head here. I’m afraid, nervous, happy, overjoyed, powerful, powerless, enraged, and very much alive (for what seems like it’s the first time in my adult life).

Lorna: What have you learned about yourself from making this move?

Alicia: At the risk of patting myself on the back too much, I would say that I feel like an adventurous spirit. I’ve also learned that I’m getting better at trusting my instincts. I knew it was right to come here, when many people were encouraging me not to go. I feel like it was the right decision without a doubt. Am I expecting happiness always? No, I think that’s clear from my blog posts, and is certainly clear to me daily. Happiness, like suffering, comes and goes. Here, I take each day one at a time, sometimes enjoying, sometimes struggling. Underlying all of my experiences here, though, there is a sense of gratitude for the freedom I feel, as well as an overall attitude of acceptance with joy. This prevents me from blaming anyone else for any crappy day that crops up. That’s new!

What have I learned about myself from this? You should have butterflies in your stomach sometimes. You should feel content other times. You should live well and stop the hellish cycle of working until you pass out from stress.

Lorna: What’s the cost of living in the DR?

Alicia: Like many other places in the world, if you have money, you can live very well. However, for those who don’t have much, it’s an

Tire burning to protest high electrcity charges

expensive place. Rent is generally pretty cheap in comparison to most US cities. You can find a 1 bedroom apartment in the city for about $200 to $250 USD per month. Electricity, if it’s not included in the rent, can be somewhat outrageous or very cheap, depending on what zone you live in and how the power company is feeling about overcharging you that month. It will be $100 or less each month unless you have a mansion with air conditioning. I’ve even heard of it being as low as $10 per month for someone with very limited usuage. Gasoline is VERY expensive, at $6.50 per gallon. Food is also expensive unless you buy strictly local from the neighborhood mom and pop stores, called colmados. If you want something that you would have been able to buy inexpensively in the US, such as a coffee maker, or a toaster oven, forget it. You will pay two to three times as much here. I paid $10 for a whisk one time. Ouch.

Lorna: What do you love and hate about the DR?

Alicia: I love the life I live here. I hate the fact that it gets so hot that I swear I’m having early hot flashes on a daily basis. I’m also regularly disgusted and saddened by the relationships between locals (Haitians and Dominicans) and foreigners. There’s a lot of exploitation and abuse in both directions. Foreigners use locals for sex and near-slave labor. Locals use foreigners for money and a means to get off the island. These relationships are based solely on physical need. That never does anyone any good, I think; to have relationships built around money and sex. Add to the mix the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases on the island and you have a very sad situation. However, it is the reality here, and has made me appreciate the opportunities I have as an American woman.

Lorna: What advice do you give to other people who want to do something this crazy?

Alicia: Always follow your instincts. Life always pulls us where we’re meant to be, and we have a sense of that direction inside of us somewhere. In terms of logistics, I would say just be careful. Wherever you go in the world, there’s usually danger, but being in a new place in a new culture makes you vulnerable to what you don’t know. Having always been very stubborn, and instilled with a false sense of my own security, I came here thinking that the danger I’d heard about had nothing to do with me. After several close calls, including an attempted mugging in broad daylight, and a close friend being robbed and stabbed in the leg five minutes from my house, I am much more careful. I listen to trustworthy people, and I stay informed about the politics and societal changes happening on the island. Find good people where you go, do your research, and then do not assume that you are safe from danger. But do it if you can. There is something lovely and crazy that your heart is yearning to do. If you value what is a very short life, if you value the example you’re going to set for your children, you might want to make the most of each moment, however you have to do it.

You can follow Alicia and her adventures in the DR here.


5 Responses to “Cupcakes and Yoga in the Tropics: Inspiration for Quitting the 9-5”

  1. kiperoo November 27, 2011 at 2:47 am #

    Great interview! So glad to see others following their dreams. Anything is possible!

  2. literatiwriting November 28, 2011 at 12:00 am #

    Thanks! Yes, definitely an inspiration!

  3. Laura November 28, 2011 at 10:39 am #

    Alicia’s story brings a tear to my eye. What a wonderful thing she has done. Thanks for the wonderful interview. Looking forward to your next post!

  4. literatiwriting November 28, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    Thanks Laura – yes, she has done a pretty amazing thing – super proud of her!


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