Lost Girl of the Week: Barbara Weibel

Lost Girl of the Week — By on February 2, 2011 at 8:27 am

This week’s Lost Girl, Barbara Weibel, like many others, realized that a high-power career in the corporate world was sucking her soul dry. But when sickness made her take a look at her life, she decided it was time to pursue her real passion for travel. She has since proven it’s never too late to become a Lost Girl. You can follow Barbara’s travels on her blog, Hole In The Donut Cultural Travel.

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Like the Lost Girls, I looked up from my life one day and realized I was completely and utterly lost. The difference, in my case, was that by the time I abandoned my soul-sucking career I was no longer a girl. It took me 35 years to admit that I hated my life.

Throughout my career I’d suffered bouts of burnout brought on by long hours, stress, and abhorrent corporate politics. Each time, I would quit my job, vowing to never again put myself in another such situation. Yet somehow, I always landed in another high-stress environment and the process would begin anew. Despite feeling more disconnected and hopeless each day, I seemed incapable of breaking the vicious cycle.

I worried what others would think if I pursued my dream of being a travel writer and photographer. My Midwestern work ethic demanded loyalty and stoicism; society dictated that I work hard to ensure a comfortable retirement. Certainly, my parents wouldn’t approve and in all likelihood most of my friends would think me irresponsible. Trapped and miserable, I obsessed over the questions: Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” as I dragged myself to work each day.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, my health began to deteriorate. By the time doctors finally diagnosed my Lyme disease five years later, I could barely crawl between my bed and the bathroom. From my sickbed I examined my life and realized that all my values were in the wrong place. Fearful that I might die without ever visiting all the places I longed to see, I vowed to quit my job and pursue my true passions if I recovered. A year later, at the age of 54, I closed up my house, slapped on a backpack, and headed off on a six-month round-the-world trip.

Like other career-breakers, I started a blog before leaving so that friends and family could travel with me vicariously, naming it Hole In The Donut, a reference to the way I’d felt in my corporate persona – solid on the outside but empty on the inside. Over the next six months I wrote about my spiritual transition as I tramped through 15 countries and five continents. Although I’d never considered earning a living by blogging, by the time I returned to the States more than 1200 people were reading each month and I was hooked on blogging. I rented a small apartment in Florida and continued traveling around the U.S. for the next three years, writing about my experiences in a highly personal, narrative style.

Travel blogging was just beginning to emerge in those early years, and the most popular blogs were consumer sites that focused on industry news, travel tips and advice, or “top ten” and “best of” articles designed to rank highly in the search engines. Time and again, other successful bloggers advised that I would need to write the same type of content if I expected to be successful; travel blogs that featured first-person narrative articles simply did not rank highly in Google. Once again I was presented with the choice between making money and doing what would make me happy. This time I chose more wisely, opting to be true to my writing, and by the following year travelogue blogs were on the rise.

In late 2009 I gave up my apartment and hit the road full-time. At the same time my travels began to slow down. Gone were the days of visiting 15 countries in six months. Instead, I began staying weeks in a single location, immersing in and writing about the local cultures I visited. Four years later, Hole In The Donut Cultural Travel has become one of the top independent travel blogs in the world. These days I travel at least ten months each year, discovering the world one culture at a time. Although opting for the life of a digital nomad meant giving up my home and most material possessions, I’ve never been happier. Today, I know that winning approval from others is no substitute for being true to myself. Today, I live in the state of amazing grace so aptly described in the song of the same name: “I once was lost but now am found.”

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    3 Comments

  • Kim says:

    This is incredibly inspiring Barbara! I too am from the Midwest, and moving to NYC has only confused my perception of a successful career. I come from a family of unions, pensions, retirement plans, and being a freelance writer just doesn’t make sense to anybody but myself. Luckily I stumbled upon this passion/hobby at a relatively young age, so hopefully by the time I need a break from the corporate world I’ll have somewhat of a following to make the transition into traveling and writing full time as painless as possible; financially speaking. It’s hard getting started though, and building such a successful network outside of a day job, but I’m convinced that it will happen when the time is right.

    Thanks so much for sharing your story, and I wish you the best of luck in your future travels! It’s great to see women who truly take their happiness into their own hands and live a life worth living!

  • Dave and Deb says:

    Beautiful and inspiring. Having just met up with Barbara in Bangkok we can vouch that Barbara is just as inspiring and down to earth in person as she is in her blog. It is wonderful to meet a person that is so giving and willing to share and help others. Her passion and commitment is contagious her love for humanity and the plight of others is moving. Thanks for featuring a great Blogger.