Many of us have daydreamed about packing our bags, waving goodbye to our carefully mapped out lives and setting off on a journey of self-discovery. Some naysayers might think such an adventure is the preserve of the young, but gap years are becoming increasingly common for adults, often giving travellers a whole new lease on life.
Megan Douglas, 51, walked away from a successful career as a fashion designer in favour of a three-year quest to find herself in India. While there, she also found inspiration for her next career move. Here is her story:
My entrepreneurial streak revealed itself early. At 18 I had my first business – a clothing store in Auckland called Obscure Desire, and previous to that, I’d modelled in Japan, where I’d made great money.
I was enjoying some success locally, but like most young people, I had itchy feet and wanted to experience the world, so I moved to London, where my Megan Douglas label took off and was soon stocked in stores such as Harrods and Whistles.
What followed were seven years of endless grind – long days filled with styling pop stars, designing my collections and what felt like one ongoing business meeting. I was only 27, but I was exhausted.
I was happy I’d achieved so many of my goals at such a young age, but I felt like something was missing. Add to the mix the rise of Margaret Thatcher, and serious accounting problems where clients weren’t paying their bills, and I knew I had to get out. I wound down the business without much thought as to what I’d do next, which in itself was liberating.
I had been filling in whatever spare time I could find with yoga, navel gazing and reading books written by wise men, and began to feel a strong pull to go to India.
In the end, the temptation was too great – I put everything into storage, certain I’d return in a few months’ time.
I never went back.
Going to India was the big change I needed, because even though it was where I thought I should be, my arrival was still a huge shock to the system for someone who’d led a relatively privileged life.
I remember how confronting it all was. Seeing the way people were living made me feel guilty about how I’d been living my life to date and my lack of awareness that humanity was so much more than my sheltered life had been.
I spent some time living with a friend in her family home in Delhi, but when I found my feet, I decided to extend my trip to three years and do my best to find myself in a real Eat Pray Love kind of way. Not that it was all glamorous – I had my share of Delhi belly moments, and during this period my diet was poor and I became quite thin.
Fortunately, I had some great friends around to help boost my morale if I ever got too low; I was never lonely.
Once I made the decision to make India home, I really let loose.
I spent time in Goa, which at the time was the Mecca of alternative lifestyles. We would have big parties on the beach and paint ourselves in crazy colours, and when it all got a bit much, I’d either go to stay at an ashram or travel to the Himalayas for a couple of months at a time, which fast became my favourite spot for its restorative power. I would rent a house with some girlfriends and we’d furnish it with a bed on the floor, a sheet, a pillow, a couple of saucepans and a broom.
Of course, this isn’t to say that I didn’t have any material attachments. I knew I had to make some money, so I happened on the idea of having organic T-shirts manufactured in Delhi, which I could fly over to Japan to sell before coming back again.
I don’t know how long I could have continued like that – probably a lot longer had I not gone to a party one night and broken my leg falling down a hole no one could see in the pitch black.
I ended up coming back to New Zealand to have surgery.
During my time working on the T-shirts in India, I had become interested in organic cotton and natural materials, and an idea was beginning to form for a new business venture.I took four years out and did a Bachelor of Science before opening a naturopathy clinic in Auckland, focusing on the toxicity that comes through the chemicals we put on our skin.
It became clear to me that we needed more natural products on the market, and the idea for World Organics worldorganics.co.nz was born.
World Organics is about providing consumers with natural, certified organic beauty products that work in harmony with the body and my personal belief that we should be kinder on the planet and to one another. We work with the community who oversee our extract farms in India and local consultants who sell the product.
I’m all about supporting the global community and bringing together the best of both the East and West to create a powerful partnership and bring forth positive change in the world.
Today the business is doing well and I’m proud of what I have achieved, but my time in India means I’m probably less attached to outcomes than I used to be.
I have seen things come and go, enjoyed successes, endured failures. But the biggest lesson I have learned is this: success has nothing to do with material possessions or outcomes, and everything to do with how you choose to direct your energy, vision and passion.”
As told to Dilvin Yasa