Quitter to Winner

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

INTERVIEW: Briefcase to Backpack's Michaela Potter

Briefcase to Backpack co-founder Michaela Potter talks about her mini-career breaks over the last 15 years.

How did Backpack to Briefcase begin?

Here’s a synopsis. Briefcase to Backpack began when Michael Bontempi and I decided to leave our jobs at the same time. We capitalized on the opportunity to hit the road. I was a seasoned backpacker, so I was used to traveling for extended periods of time. But after 14 years in corporate America, this was a huge step for Michael.

During the same period, Sherry Ott was well into her own 16-month journey half way around the world. She also had grown tired of her corporate career and a fast-paced life in New York. She decided to leaver her job, box up her life and hit the road.

In 2008 we all returned to NYC. Each one of us gained new perspectives on life. We also shared the same thought: How could we inspire others to take a cultural career break and gain insightful lessons on life.

Sherry gained a following from her travel blogging. We knew that there was a similar group of people wishing they could also take a break from their Blackberry. And thus began Briefcase to Backpack.

Tell us more about your career breaks. You’ve taken more than one, no?

I’ve incorporated several mini-career breaks into my ‘career’ over the past 15 years. It all stemmed from having backpacked through Europe and studying abroad during college. After I returned from my junior fall semester abroad, I knew that I wanted to incorporate extended travel throughout my life.

My next big trip was about eight months after I graduated from college. Rather than worry about a ‘career’, I got a job in my field to gain some experience, but also to make money so I could travel to Australia and New Zealand for six months. That set the stage for my future career breaks. Here’s an excerpt from journal entry from my first trip. [Gap Year to Career Breaker: http://briefcasetobackpack.com/2010/06/gap-year-to-career-breaker/]

When was your first “official” career break?

The first one came in 2001 after working for five years at the Starlight Children’s Foundation in NYC as the Event & Marketing Manager. Originally I was to spend three months in Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia but my departure was delayed due to the fact I was flying out of Newark Airport on September 11th. Needless to say, I spent the next month sleeping on my couch (I had sublet my room) and volunteering for the Salvation Army (I had left my job) before finally leaving. I wrote more about my experience here. [Reflecting on Nepal: http://briefcasetobackpack.com/2010/07/photo-friday-nepal-mandala/]

What did you do when you returned?

I transitioned into a video production career, which actually stemmed from my time at Starlight. Part of my role was overseeing Starlight’s fund raising videos. I worked closely with the corporate facility that sponsored them. As I enjoyed the production process immensely, I jumped at the chance to join the company when a position was offered. During the next five years I worked in all areas of video and event production, even becoming the in-house editor – a skill I learned on the job.

I was starting to get antsy after five years with the production company. I was ready to move on. I decided that I wanted to return to the non-profit world, but before doing so, I spent the summer volunteering outside of Cusco, Peru with the organization – Peru’s Challenge. I wrote about that experience here. [http://briefcasetobackpack.com/2009/02/peru-cusco/]

That particular career break experience then led me to my next job, which was with a similar international volunteer organization. I was inspired to help others prepare for volunteering abroad and loved using my personal experiences to help guide them through the process.

And that leads us back full circle to how B2B started.

Yes, my most recent career break is what inspired Briefcase to Backpack. My boyfriend (now husband) was frustrated with his corporate job. He had been with the company for many years and was ready to move on. He’s a great example of a “Quitter to Winner”. Rather than look for a job while he stayed in his current one, he decided to leave. That’s when I jumped at the opportunity to suggest we go backpacking first, and he was up for it. We wrote a testimonial about that experience here. [Testimonial: Michael & Michaela - http://briefcasetobackpack.com/2008/12/testimonial-michaela-michael/]

Read more about Michaela’s story here:


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