Freedom is: Living in NZ… Working in Europe

October 5th, 2016

Photo Source: (David Maciejewski and Tommy Ferraz)

There we were, sitting in their lovely home by the sea. Nestled amongst some of the world’s most pristine beaches and forests in a region known for its warm weather throughout the year. Corinne and Nick live here and run their tour business in Holland from home.

I met Corinne and Nick through my dog walking job where I get the privilege of walking their lovely dogs. It’s been great getting to know them over the last few months and seeing how hard work can lead good people to freedom and happiness. This is their story of how some of their choices and actions got them to where they are now. It’s a story of passion, persistence and near-death experiences. At their request, it has been transcribed below rather than posting audio (abridged in places for ease of reading).

Corinne: “Hi, I’m Corinne and I’m originally from Holland”

Nick: “And I’m Nick. I was born in the United States in the mid-seventies and have been gone for close to forty years. Thirty-seven years in Holland before coming here to New Zealand about seven years ago.”

Me: “Could you please let us know a bit about your business?”

Nick: “It’s a travel company. They originally referred to it as an incoming tour operator…. We arranged programmes for people that were coming from other countries, coming into the Netherlands and Belgium and we would arrange programmes for them.
We started off doing what they call special interest programmes and we’d work a lot for non-profit organisations. So that’s something like the National Geographic Society, or the Smithsonian, different museums…. In the United States, the government doesn’t fund a lot of those organisations, so they raise their money by sponsoring tours. They’ll send a curator along, or a botanist if it’s from a botanic garden or something like that. They come to us and ask us to tailor-make a programme for them.
It actually has two sides to it. That side concentrates on the special interest tours and then we have another branch of it that does a lot of work with river cruises in Europe and that’s primarily what Corinne does.”

Corinne: “Which means that when a ship sails through Holland and Belgium, they offer excursions for the people that are on-board or certain shows that they want to have on-board and that’s what we arrange. So we hire guides and motor coaches and canal cruise boats and groups that are going to perform.”

Me: “Ok. So, I see you as successful people who have created your lifestyle very consciously. And perhaps you see it differently. But I was just wondering if you could take a couple of minutes to describe how you see your lifestyle.”

Corinne: “It mostly came about by trial and error, didn’t it? [Nick agrees] And persistence. When we were running the business together in Europe, we had ups and downs. I mean huge ups and huge downs. Especially because we were working a lot with the American market. And if you had a terrorist attack somewhere in the world or a plane that came down, suddenly we would be almost out of business, for a year. Because we work on our programs almost a year in advance. So if something like that happened, the whole business would kind of fall apart and we would be wondering what to do next.
I think we are now at a point where we have evened all that out, so it’s much more stable. We’re less affected by those kind of things. That has come about because we have moved away from just working in one particular area… by me going into the cruise area as well. And at one certain time, even that we weren’t sure about, so on top of that, we both decided we were going to go and do something else outside of the business just as a back-up plan.
What was the other thing?”

Nick: “And being willing to go outside of your comfort zone. [Corinne agrees]”

Me: “So that is how you managed to get there. What do you see your lifestyle as now?”

Corinne: “We have periods of the year where we start at maybe eight o’clock and not being done until eight or nine in the evening, especially when it is high season in our business. Then, we have to work through seven days a week, ten hours. But we always know that is only for a certain period of time and we know when that will end. [Nick agrees] But that’s part of the choice of how we live…. Once we get through that, it sort of slows down and that’s when you see us sitting outside, having coffees in the morning [laughs all around].”

Me: “I do. It looks good.”

Nick: “I think something that we do and have done is always chosen to work in something that we love and that we wanna do. [Corinne agrees] We’ve never gone and done work just to earn money and get by. It’s always been trying to figure out a way that we can do something that we really like doing and get paid for it.
It’s cost a lot of time and a lot of effort and a lot of ups and downs, but we’ve been very persistent with it and we’ve been doing since 1981. So we’ve been able to build up connections and knowing people and just the experience of doing that. So now we’re at a time of things falling into place and it allows us to do the things we wanna do…
We’ve more or less got the technical aspects of how we can run the business down… and because it is very seasonal. We have a lot of time where we’re very busy… but for the most part it’s stuff that’s pretty exciting and then, outside of that, we’re just making proposals and preparing for the next round… And it gives us the opportunity to live here and look like we’re not doing anything. [laughs all around] But we actually are. [more laughs]”

Me: “Was there a defining moment where you decided to follow a career path that created your own lifestyle consciously?

Corinne: “I think for both of us, we never really consciously chose to go into this direction. It’s not something we got our education for. For me in any case, it just kind of happened and I enjoyed it and I continued doing it. You [Nick] had more or less the same thing. You were travelling through Europe and you ended up helping some people running the business and you enjoyed it….
It’s basically because we both like what we do and we can work together quite well. But there definitely has been one defining moment that changed our perspective. Which was when I ended up in the hospital just from one moment to the next. I had to be operated on urgently and they told you [Nick] to say goodbye…. I think after that things changed even more…. It really put our priorities straight.”

Nick: “That was always a point we could use as a reference point…. When things were going not so good, we thought “It could be worse” and it also gave us an opportunity to say “Well, let’s do it. Why not?” [Corinne agrees]
We had visited friends in New Zealand quite often. At one point, we were sitting on the Kapiti Coast in a little restaurant, right on the beach, looking down over Kapiti Island and we said “It’d be nice some time to maybe move here…. and then when the time came that I was 56 and that was the cut-off point being able to immigrate into New Zealand, we said “Ok, let’s do this. Why not?”
It’s one of those things that we’d laugh and say “If youd known everything that that would entail, would we have done it?”

Corinne: “You’re better not to know everything.” [all laugh]

Me: “Are there any key challenges that you faced along the way? And how did you go about overcoming them?”

Nick: “In 2008 with the economic crisis, with the work that we were originally doing, we would work twelve to fifteen months in advance and people can cancel up to three months before the tour goes and then the gulf war would break out in January and our trips were all scheduled in April and May and they were cancelled. So you’d lose a year’s worth of preparation. So we’d do all that preparation and we wouldn’t charge for that.

Me: “ And I suppose there’s a flip side to that, in that you are so advanced in your preparations and you can see that people aren’t making the bookings and…”

Both: “Yes”

Nick: “We’d watch all of that. But with that, we’ve tried never to get ourselves into any financial commitments in the future… We do a lot of work from home and a lot of things to keep our running costs down. So that gives us flexibility to adapt to those situations… Not taking on future commitments or renting out office space…”

Corinne: “Or buying a house, for that matter. It took us forever before we decided to actually buy a house.”

Nick: “Something else happened: a war or terrorist attack or something. We decided we’ll continue with this, but is there anything else you’ve ever wanted to do?… and we’d go to study for it. So we’d always have a back-up… so we could always earn money in a different way. So Corinne did a course to become a Private Investigator”

Me: “Really?! Nice.” [Nick and I laugh. Corinne nods]

Nick: “And I went in more to the Physiotherapy and Osteopathy and that type of work”

Me: “Cool”

Nick: “So we could always fall back on that.”

Corinne: Once of the risks we were running is that we were both involved in the same business. If anything happened, we would both be with our backs against the wall. So we’ve learned to always have a back-up plan. To have a way out….
It took the pressure off us to have to perform in our travel business. As a result of that, we think it relaxed everything and suddenly we got all that business coming in. It was a little bit unexpected.”

Me: “Do you think maybe you began to project a different energy in your communications.”

Corinne: “Yes. We were trying too hard and now we’re much more relaxed about it. And we’re thinking “If you don’t choose us, see if you can get it better anywhere else”. And it has happened that clients decided they were gonna go to another operator and try them because they probably offer a better price and then the year after that, they came back to us. That’s because we’re just so chilled about it and we do think we’re good at what we’re doing.

Nick: “We’re a lot more flexible about how we operate after that.”

Corinne: “And not having commitments helped… Not having a house. Not having children, for that matter…. We were much more flexible to move and go away and do this and that. We never wanted to get ourselves tied down.

Me: “If you were to start again knowing what you know now, is there anything you think you would have done differently?”

Together: “No”

Nick: “That’s always been our philosophy, is that it’s all a learning process… We’d always try to learn something from it and take that with us, going forward… It’s the whole journey that’s what it’s about.

Corinne: “I don’t know if that’s what we would think had things not gone the way we wanted them to go, but at this point, no… It really is a lot about timing: the right thing at the right time.”

Me: “Is there any advice you’d give to someone like me who’s consciously trying to take the reins of their life?”

Nick: “A couple of things. The first is probably easier to say than to do, it’s to not be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. And if you have something in mind, picture just what you want and just work towards that. We were lucky because what we were doing is what we enjoyed. Just keeping true to that and not getting bogged down and settling for something less.”

Corinne: “That’s what I think: Don’t sell yourself short. Go for what you have in mind and don’t settle for less.”

Nick: “A lot of people will say “Why do you wanna do that?” or “Are you sure you wanna do that?”… We had a very comfortable life in Holland and people said “Why do you wanna leave this?!”… “

Me: “We can do better.”

Corinne: “No. It’s not about doing better…”

Nick: “It’s the idea of what do you want out of life… We could stay here and live a comfortable life, but your gonna start ‘rusting’. There’s still more to do.”

Me: “Well that’s all I’ve got. Did you have anything you wanted to add?”

Both: “No”

Me: “Well, thank you very much for having me over to your house and giving the interview.”

The take-home points for me were that they followed what they love and they persevere. There was a running theme of just pushing through the tough bits and keeping perspective. They kept pushing for their dreams even when they were living a ‘pretty good’ life. “Don’t settle for less” were words they both expressed. They knew they could have their dreams if they kept at it. They were very clear that they see the whole journey as a learning curve. They acknowledge highlights and lowlights and recognise that both will pass.

Actually, I stumbled across a quote a couple of days after which sums up this interview very concisely:

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
– Henry David Thoreau

This interview is the first of a series celebrating regular people’s success in consciously creating their lifestyle. In this series, I don’t define success specifically in terms of status, money or title. Instead, I am looking for people who have created freedom to enjoy the lives they seek in whatever terms are important to them. Keep checking in to share in other interesting stories as they become available.


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