Madison – What Comes Next

Posted on Feb 20, 2013

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For these women, a severe life setback was the catalyst that set them free. Sophie Miura reports

It was 9pm on a Thursday night, and Zoe Watson found herself in a familiar scenario: working tirelessly on budgets and presentations in the office while a searing migraine tore through her head and fuzzed out her thoughts.

Zoe was, by all measures, a complete success. She was in her early 30s and had just been promoted to a high-powered position as a sales executive at one of Australia’s leading radio networks. To those around her, she was nothing short of dedicated, savvy and hardworking.

But while she was at the peak of her career, her personal life – and her health – had hit a low. In reality, she was at her breaking point. “I finally had the job of my dreams,” she recalls. “It felt like I’d been working hard my whole life to get to that point… but something was wrong.”

Indeed, something was wrong. Two years prior, Zoe had been in a car accident that would provoke those crippling headaches and left her feeling constantly run-down, to the point where she eventually moved to the same street as the radio station’s office so she could head home when a migraine struck. Her social life also took a hit, and she found herself feeling increasingly isolated.

At the time of the crash, which involved a collision with a P-plate driver, Zoe says “it didn’t impact me too much – it just seemed more like an inconvenience than anything else.” She returned to work four days after the accident and she kept plugging along dutifully, even despite the fatigue, the whiplash, the migraines and the stress. Eventually, though, she realised something important: “I couldn’t keep going the way I was. Before then, I’d never taken a second to realise how crazy my schedule was. Because I kept getting promotions, I thought it meant I was doing the right thing.” The problem? “I didn’t stop to think about whether I wanted to be living that way.”

After nine gruelling months in what had once seemed like her dream job, Zoe spoke up. “I told my boss I either needed to resign or take a holiday.” He wasn’t ready to let her go completely, instead instructing her to leave the office, pack her bags and get on the first available plane. Zoe says, “I had a week to sort myself out.”

A quick Google search for beach holidays that didn’t involve family packages or honeymoon deals left her with few options, which got her thinking: “I can’t be the only one looking for this!” Eventually, she found a secluded spot at Bali’s Lembongan Island and realised that the Indonesian province was the perfect place for solo female travellers like herself, the kind that offers a safe and relaxing haven for tired mums and busy female execs alike. Before long, she was ready to get back to work – only this time she was determined to start her own business, a female-only retreat that would serve women just like herself. “Once I made the decision to quit my job it was like a huge weight had lifted,” she says. Within two weeks, she had drafted a business plan and was already at work on a website. Three months later she had resigned from her job and sourced a villa in Bali.

Zoe now runs Bliss Sanctuary for Women, in Canggu, Bali. Since opening its carved wooden doors in 2010, the spa has attracted thousands of travellers. “More women are open to the idea of heading on holidays alone – like I was. I wanted Bliss to be a haven for them.”

“Sometimes it takes something like an accident to jolt us,” Zoe says. “But you shouldn’t have to reach breaking point to take control… If we’re still doing the same thing in our 40s as we were in our 20s, we’ve got to stop and ask ourselves: what’s my idea of success now?” Once you come up with your answer, she says, there’s only one thing left to do: “Make that happen.”


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