How a global couchsurfing experiment helped this nomad become a storytelling coach with Celinne da Costa
Meet Celinne Da Costa, a digital nomad, published author, and avid traveller (60 countries and counting). The moniker that suits her best, however, is “storyteller”. Welcome to “Life by design”. This Discovery Sessions interview series probes prominent voices for their life design, entrepreneurship, and travel ideas to inspire readers just like you.
Disillusioned by her 9-9 job in advertising, she set off on an experiment to circumnavigate the globe using her social network. The challenge was that she had to be personally connected to everyone who hosted her – friends, friends of friends and/ or people she met on the road.
She would eventually spend less than nine thousand dollars over a year of travel that included meeting meditating monks in Mandalay and discussing philosophy in a Javanese puppet shop.
The incredible humans she met let her into their homes, fed, nurtured, advised and encouraged her. Forbes got wind of her inspiring story and the rest is history.
Today, she’s turned her passions into a successful business. Celinne da Costa helps entrepreneurs build their personal brands and master the art of storytelling to be able to connect deeper with their audiences and create captivating brands that sell. Read on for her interview from beautiful Bali on travel and all things life design.
Photo Courtesy of Celinne Da Costa
Rosie Bell: For those who may not know you, where are you from?
Celinne Da Costa: I’m originally from Rome, Italy. That’s where I was born and raised. I’m also half Brazilian and spent a lot of time living in the United States.
RB: You’ve spoken quite publicly about your former life climbing the corporate ladder in New York and the disenchantment you felt there; what has the reaction been from your former employer and colleagues, if any?
CD: I still keep in touch with many old colleagues; most of them are people who kind of felt the same way while I was there. Many have followed along with my work and supported me.
There was only really one person that expressed disapproval and basically asked me how dare I talk about our industry and our work in such a manner. For the most part, I’ve had incredibly positive feedback from people thanking me for expressing myself and also for calling out the truth.
ON YOUR LIFE DESIGN & COACHING BUSINESS
RB: You show your clients how to overcome blockages and change their mindset in order to attain their dreams, to stop living life by accident and start living by intention; talk us through life design and some of the misconceptions around it.
CD: A lot of people are just generally confused about what life design is. If you think of your life as a chess game, it’s going from a place where you’re just one of the pieces succumbing to external circumstances or whatever comes at you, to becoming a player.
It’s where you start to shift pieces around in your life and by design, create what it is that you want to see in how you’re living your life.
Many become victims of their story, victims of their circumstances. They just allow life to happen to them. They think, “I’d like to have this, have that, travel more” etc but “I have mouths to feed” or “I have a job”.
Life design is thinking about how you can actually design the sort of lifestyle you want, and actually, take the steps you need to get closer and closer to matching your internal story with the external story that you want to create.
The sort of work that I do with my clients is to help them essentially take a step back and think, what is my story? What is my truth? What is my authentic expression and how does that actually need to come out into in the physical world that I live in?
For instance, if your core values include flexibility and connection and you’re sitting behind a desk all day working, then the way that you would design your life is to essentially find ways to create more space for yourself to actually be who you are and get what you want. That might look like asking your boss if you can work remotely for example. It might look like changing jobs or quitting everything.
Life design is really about understanding what sort of life you need to lead that aligns with your internal story and then going about taking steps to actually create that in your life.
RB: What would you say is the most common hindrance getting in the way of people finding success for themselves?
CD: Allowing fear to be an obstacle. When looking for success, when going after what you want and actually pushing yourself, you are going to face fear, that’s inevitable.
The second people know what is it they want, they come up with all these reasons why they can’t have it or reasons why it’s going to be hard. What happens is that people essentially give in to their excuses and the reasons why they “can’t” and actually allow that fear to take over.
What I wish they’d understand is that you can be scared and pursue courageous acts. You can have both; they’re not mutually exclusive and when you actually developed this attitude, no fear is too big and you can be scared but also do what you want.
When you completely let that thought sink in, that’s where the magic happens because you’ll find that you look for ways to create solutions where there previously were none.
In my case, I have an absolutely zero excuses policy for myself. For every single excuse that I come up with, I have to actually face it and break it apart and the answer will either be a solution or it’ll be crystal clear that I genuinely don’t want it, which is better than just like making up some random excuse. It’s being honest with yourself basically.
Photo Courtesy of Celinne Da Costa on Forbes.com
RB: Why is personal branding important?
CD: We live in a very fast-paced, digitally-driven, automation-obsessed society and essentially what’s happening right now is that human connection is becoming the new premium. Personal branding is important because we’re just inundated by a sea of content where everything essentially blends into another.
We’re just overloaded with information, so the only thing that’s really differentiating us right now is us. It’s our personalities. Think about when people are applying for jobs.
If a company is looking for a certain skill set, they’re going to hire someone with those desired skills and they’re going to pay someone a certain amount for those skills. When you have a personal brand, it raises your perceived worth because a company isn’t just hiring you for your skill-set, they’re hiring you for that plus you and your particular edge and angle.
Personal branding is really important to differentiate yourself in the market as well as to raise your perceived value. You can charge higher prices. You can stand out in a way that no one else can.
You can offer services or products that no one else could and if somebody tried to copy you they wouldn’t be able to pull it off because it’s your stamp. Your personal brand is your imprint in an overcrowded world of information.
Photo Courtesy of Celinne Da Costa on Forbes.com
RB: Could you please share with Discovery Sessions’ readers one of the best life hacks or nuggets of wisdom you’ve picked up along the way?
CD: I would say don’t wait. Don’t wait to follow your dreams and to do what you really want. I see a lot of people just putting off their desires and their dreams. Putting them off for months, days, years but the only time we really have is now and the future doesn’t actually exist not to mention that when you have the energy, the feeling of “oh my gosh I need to do this now” that’s your creative energy. If you just let that go you don’t know when you’ll get it back.
I think the most amazing things that happened in my life happened because I really followed my intuition and I didn’t give myself excuses to not to do what I really wanted to.
Of course, there’s a difference between not waiting and being impulsive in a way that’s detrimental and that’s the difference you need to learn. That’s a skill that can be acquired.
It’s knowing when is your heart is really speaking to you, when you’re connected to your intuition and something bigger versus when you’re just being impulsive because of your ego or because you want something now.
You won’t find out where that line is until you start actually going after what you want and taking responsibility for the consequences.
I would say my biggest life hack is don’t wait. Get rid of any excuses and then ask yourself “is coming from a place of love or is this coming from a place of fear?”
Your body won’t lie about that so whenever you’re about to make a decision, ask yourself why you’re procrastinating. Is it because you’re afraid or because this is something you genuinely want to do so it’s scary. They have completely different feelings.
RB: On Instagram, you share stunning imagery, uplifting messaging and very frank revelations about your personal life; from struggling with depression to the amount of money you make, and sometimes even working too hard. Do you ever feel vulnerable sharing certain details about yourself? Have you experienced any negativity or even trolling?
CD: I’m indeed very open online about my personal life, what I’m feeling and what I’m doing. Honestly, that’s something that I do for myself more than anything. It’s my own way of liberating myself. Have I experienced trolling? Absolutely.
Whenever you’re out there expressing your truth there are always going to be people who are uncomfortable with that because they’re hiding from their truth and they don’t like when you come out. It’s actually not as bad as you would think. It really happens so occasionally that I hardly notice it.
There’s a lot of positivity in the community that I’ve created. Everything I’ve done on my social channels is with the intention of creating a community where we can all fully express ourselves and be courageous and own our story.
I think people feel that and they appreciate when I share because it almost gives them permission to do it as well. It creates a space for them to show up fully and be their true selves and react to what it is that I have to say and some of the things are shocking.
I don’t create for other people; I create for me to be somebody who is living in their truth every day and expressing themselves in whatever way that helps. There really is truth to the saying “the truth will set you free” because that’s what it’s done for me.
How someone reacts to what I have to say isn’t my problem, it’s theirs because they’re reacting to something inside of them that’s bothering them about something I said. As long as I’m not expressing judgments or hurting other people intentionally with the things I say, it’s all just me expressing my existence, and what’s wrong with that?
Photo by Derek Simpson Photography
ON CAREER & LOCATION INDEPENDENCE
RB: Penning articles for renowned publishers like Forbes is a dream come true for many writers, what’s been your career highlight so far?
CD: Being invited to speak at a mastermind of a very well known influencer and business coach to a group of 30 incredibly successful businesswomen women about storytelling and the importance of creating content from the heart that sells. I remember being so nervous to present to these women and getting on the stage and actually speaking from my heart and really talking about storytelling and branding and the importance of creating a brand that changes lives.
I remember feeling these women completely captivated and even one woman at the end came up to me and she was crying and said that because of my presentation she understood something about herself and her business that’s taken her years to figure out.
What that did for me is it really just crystallised the importance of work that I’m doing and the impact of the coaching when it comes to storytelling and branding, and empowering people who already have a lot of power inside of themselves.
Helping them unleash that power, that is my role; to really help entrepreneurs step into their full power and be able to tell their story to the world in a way that changes the world.
Standing there I felt a little bit self-conscious and inferior but then thought, I am one of these people. I am just like them and I can help them very much. It was a big highlight to see the impact my work has on people, both short term and long term.
Photo by Riccardo Orizio Photography
RB: “The Art of Being Human: The Nomad’s Oasis” was your first published book followed by “If Hearts Could Talk”, do you have any tips on publishing and marketing a book for all the budding authors out there?
CD: Well, the first tip is to write. When you want to write a book, you have to actually write it. With self-publishing, it’s about being able to be very organised. I would also recommend outsourcing where you can.
In my case, I knew nothing about Amazon or the graphic design so I just focused on my writing and then made sure that the professionals handled the publishing part.
Right now I’m working on a memoir that I want to pitch the traditional publishers. Unfortunately, I don’t have really good tips because I’m still figuring it out, I haven’t mastered the art of self-publishing yet. It’s really complicated and exciting but the number thing is that you have to get up every day and write and you have to let the book become what it needs to be.
RB: Today, you live and work from wherever you choose to be; in your opinion, what are the pros and cons of the digital nomad life?
CD: The pros of being a digital nomad are that you can follow your heart, avoid winter (if you so wish), and essentially you can be where you want to be. Based on your life stage and your experience, you can actually tailor your surroundings to match and enhance the sort of life you want, which I think is the greatest gift of being a digital nomad.
For me personally, it’s being able to see my family and my loved ones whenever, wherever I want. Essentially, location is no longer a thing that holds me back from doing what I really want to do. It used to and now it does not anymore.
Another pro is the incredible people that you meet all over the world. I’ve made friends from everywhere that I normally wouldn’t have been able to meet if I wasn’t a digital nomad and they’ve enriched my life so much.
I’ve definitely become more open-minded, made more friends and I’m more creative with my work. I have the freedom I’ve always wanted and that’s a really big pro for me.
On the flip side, it is exhausting. It can be really tiring to not have a base. Sometimes I just wish I had one place to come home to, one closet to come home to.
I think us human beings were designed to have roots and when we don’t have those roots sometimes it makes it difficult sometimes to focus. It makes it difficult to have the stability to build from. I find it difficult for example, to have long-term relationships and really deepened friendships. You have to basically work harder for stability.
I do think it’s possible to have stability as a digital nomad, you just have to work harder and more actively for it as opposed to if you just live somewhere, it’s something you take for granted.
Photo by Riccardo Orizio Photography
RB: The perks are somewhat obvious, but what are some of the perils of being your own boss?
CD: The fact that you’re responsible for everything (especially if you’re a perfectionist like me) can be really overwhelming. If I don’t have ideas, if I’m not creating, nothing moves.
I am my brand, I am my boss and I am other people’s boss as I have a small team and they look to me to basically steer the ship forward.
Sometimes it can be really tiring to always have to be on. That’s why I’m experimenting with passive income streams and trying to find ways to make my business run itself because it can really pull at you energetically.
You never really take a break from it. You never really vacation from your passions so even if I tried to take a break, I’m mentally still there so it’s really difficult to disconnect.
RB: Have you ever joined a co-working or co-living retreat?
CD: I have, but I’m actually quite picky about those. You really need to be cautious of the energy that you surround yourself with to basically make sure that the mentors and people who are running it have very similar goals and that you actually look up to what they’re doing because what you’re essentially doing is immersing yourself in a bubble of energy of a specific cut of people.
So, you better make sure that the people that you’re going to be surrounding yourself with for x amount of time are people who you really want to learn from, and who share your values and essentially share the work that you want to create and your vision.
RB: You’ve been everywhere from Bali to Bolivia, Lisbon to Lima; what’s your favourite travel destination to date and why?
CD: I’ve been asked this so many times and it’s the worst question for me because I don’t have a favourite. It’s like asking me what my favourite food is. It would totally depend on if we were talking about sweet or savoury. It depends on my mood.
I have places that I think are the most beautiful. There are places I think I was happiest. There are places that have taught me the most. I can’t boil it down to my favourite place.
RB: You hit the road in 2016, how do you think travel has changed since then?
CD: When I left in 2016 there were already a lot of digital nomads and people who were quitting their jobs to travel the world. I was really at the peak of that. I would say that in the past three years it’s been even more over-saturated.
More and more people are starting to view travelling full time and being a nomad as the norm as opposed to a crazy thing all the kids are doing these days. I think in the next few years we’re going to see a really interesting shift in how we define being a digital nomad because it’s getting more normalised.
Another interesting change is the impact Instagram has had. We’re living in an era now where everything is being hyper-documented. All these beautiful places like the Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu and Christ the Redeemer, they really are worth seeing but it’s almost like we’ve documented them so much to the point that it makes us desensitised as to why these places were famous and sought out, to begin with.
Even I have experienced this myself, going to places and thinking, what are the pictures I need to take? What are the pictures I’ve seen taken of this place? How can I take the better picture? How can I make sure I’m documenting this beautifully and in the best possible way? And that actually detracts from the experience which is what you’re seeing and WHY it’s magical, WHY it’s special.
How many of us are actually bothering to learn the history and the context and dig deeper anymore because all we’re thinking about are the pictures? By the time we get there, it’s almost like we’ve already seen it because we’ve seen so many pictures.
I do love photography and there’s nothing wrong with documenting and taking beautiful pictures (I do it too), but I’ve had to train myself to “unsee” the pictures and put the things I’ve already seen aside so that I can actually view these sights with fresh eyes and perspective and an open mind.
Photo by Nick Bauer-Levey Photography
RB: What advice would you give to someone that’s never travelled before?
CD: I would say start by setting an intention for what you want the trip to be. There are so many different reasons why you might be travelling.
It could be to find yourself, to enjoy yourself with a partner, to find new places, to try new food. Before you set off, think about the intention that you have for the trip and just stay really open-minded.
Travel is by nature unexpected and it WILL throw curveballs at you and that’s the magic of it.
You can’t really predict what’s going to happen all the time so instead of trying to make sure everything goes according to plan, just take a step back, set an intention and allow the experience to happen to you and for you.