My Global Career: Vanessa Shaw

Want to relaunch yourself into a global career but aren’t sure what your options are? My new series about global career journeys is perfect for you!

Today I’m talking with Vanessa Shaw, an entrepeneur currently living in Madrid, Spain. Vanessa and I connected online a few years ago and then met in person at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication. You may remember Vanessa from last year’s Living Your Ideal Global Life Summit. You can watch her #GlobalLife2014 Case Study here. Enjoy!


Vanessa, how would you describe your “global career path?”photo1

Well, first off, I wouldn’t call it a path!  I set out to be an “interculturalist” before I really understood what that meant. I had a vague sense of what I wanted, but the details had not sorted themselves out, so it took quite a bit of searching.

In the last 7 years I have moved from NYC-Portland-Lima, Peru-San Francisco-Mexico – and now, Madrid, Spain. Being multipassionate, I had to try out a lot of things before I could rule out what didn’t work, and find what did.

Simply put, I think this Ralph Waldo Emmerson quote explains it best:



How did you figure out the right global career path for you?

In university I studied social movements and community organizing, and I was driven to help make a positive impact in the world.  My travels inspired me to work with an international volunteer organization – Cross-Cultural Solutions (highly recommend! Great ethically responsible programs).

As part of my role I helped prepare people from around the world for short term posts as volunteers in countries like Guatemala, Peru, Morocco, Thailand.  It combined my passions for travel, learning about cultures and also volunteer service.  During this time I attended a workshop at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication. It was there that I discovered the field of cross-cultural trainings, global leadership coaching and intercultural communication.

Instantly, I knew that this was the community for me.  The conversations I had with the others were inspiring.  My mind was blown away by the possibilities that a career in the intercultural training field would offer me, and that I could make a meaningful contribution to the world.

After this short 3 day course, I quit my job in New York, applied to graduate school, and moved back to the west coast.  And thus, the journey began!


What steps have you taken to move along your chosen path?

There are 3 key ways that really propelled me on my path…

1) Talking to people 1-on-1

I have interviewed and chatted with hundreds of people.  If they were living in a way that appealed to me, working in a way I could see myself enjoying, — I asked how they got there, and how could I as well.

2) Attending Events, Trainings, and Conferences

Events are important to connect with people in the field, and have conversations like I just mentioned above. The numerous conferences and dozens of short courses that have I taken gave me lots of answers of what to continue pursuing and when to turn in a new direction.

3) Bold Moves and Risk Taking

I quit my job in NYC and moved to Oregon to start grad school. After 3 months I realized that it was the wrong program for me.  I dropped out, got a teaching certificate and made arrangements to move to Perú.  After months of preparing, a series of serendipitous events redirected me from booking a flight to Lima and instead to signing a lease in San Francisco.

I jumped on an out-of-the-blue job opportunity and joined an incubator program for high-growth technology startups.  My horizons exploded and I discovered a new interest of mine – social media, startups and entrepreneurship.   The company went bankrupt and I was laid off, so I hopped a plane to México and then eventually to Spain where I’m based now.

It’s been a wild ride, with many tough decisions, and lots of risks.  But, I followed my gut and that has never proven me wrong.


What challenges have you encountered along the way? How did you overcome them?

I never put all my eggs in one basket.  I kept focused on what I was going after, yet was also receptive to what unexpected opportunities would present themselves.  A few major lessons along the way:

Invest in my well-being

No matter how much you crunch your budget – your emotional and physical well-being must be the ultimate priority.  The personal growth workshops, retreats and training helped develop my skills to know and trust myself, and keep me grounded in tumultuous times.  Yoga, personal trainer and meditation retreats are also recommended.

Thinking in terms of intentions instead of concrete plans

Have some basic “guidelines” and “boundaries” to keep focused, but be flexible and forgiving.  Let me repeat that – be flexible and forgiving.

And most importantly…

Get comfortable with imperfect

I took jobs that weren’t “quite perfect…” but they were a stepping stone to getting a bit closer.  Many times I had to roll with what comes my way, knowing that its part of a bigger journey I’m on.  Speaking of imperfection – you are going to screw up, fail and feel like a loser.

At one point, I kept on asking “Why is this so hard? Why isn’t this working? What’s wrong with me that I’m not successful yet and others are?”  I realized these self-defeating thoughts were the core of my frustrations, not the actual reality of what was happening.  I turned those thoughts into “I’m growing so much, I’m going to be successful, soon. And I’ve learned so much along the way!”

Vanessa, what tips do you have for others who are forging their global career path?

Three words:

Faith: have faith in yourself – your abilities, your skills and the journey

Confidence: have a good foundation with yourself and keep this as a paramount priority.  There’s nothing glamorous about self-sacrifice.  Be ready to say no, especially when it’s difficult.

Laugh: when the shit really hits the fan, be sure to laugh about it. Taking risks is scary, and also really freaking funny.  Think about all the great “TOTAL FAIL” stories you are accumulating.

Next Steps:

Listen to my podcast interview with Vanessa (it’s #9 Re-Entry: A Taboo Subject?)

Read the previous My Global Career interview with Amanda.

Tell your global career story! Get in touch – I’d love to talk with you.