From prison psychologist to construction project manager to aspiring entrepreneur and a happy surfer working in the Algarve, Adam Bromby is someone who’s constant improvement, learning and creation is inspiring.
When Adam started a surf meet-up group in London there was no notion that three years later he would be living in Portugal, working in the surf industry and starting his own water sports clothing brand. By going out and doing something because it was fun and he enjoyed it, by following his bliss and surrounding himself with like-minded people he now spends his days out of the rat race and by the sea.
I spoke to Adam back in October 2015, just seven months after quitting his job in London to find out more about his advice to others who are looking to find their career path.
To listen to the full interview, click on the audio link below.
So Adam, what fills your days at the moment?
Right now I’m working as a reservations manager for a surf camp in the Algarve in Portugal. People come to stay with us and learn to surf and it’s my job to help people arrange their holidays and get people out here. So that’s my day job. I also started a small clothing brand called Driftfish which is an ethical water sports clothing brand, and that’s my 5pm-9am if you like.
Can you talk me through the career highlights and lowlights which have got you to be in Portugal today.
I’ve had a varied career path. I graduated university in 2001 with a degree in psychology and actually tried my hand as a prison psychologist for a while, which not a lot of people know. I was really interested, and still am, in the idea of helping other people and that’s the reason I went down the psychology route originally. Working in a prison is very difficult for someone who is 20-21 years old, with all these serious criminals. It was a pretty tough career and at that age I wasn’t cut out for that emotionally. For someone like me who really values freedom, working in a prison every day really wasn’t a very good fit! I just didn’t like being inside (excuse the pun!). So that career didn’t really work out that well for me!
I took a little bit of time out and came back at the age of 23 and was feeling a bit old and that I needed to do something with my life and make my parents proud, get some letters after my name etc! So I went back to university and I did a Masters degree in Construction. So a complete change of direction there! And that’s been the last 10 years really. I’ve been working as a construction project manager, a career that’s taken me all around the world and taught me a lot about management. There has been some good points and bad points but the last couple of years of me working in that field was characterised by me feeling that it really wasn’t what I wanted to be doing anymore. I just wasn’t fulfilled. I was going in everyday and I really started to hate it towards the end.
Look at the people who are like five to ten years ahead of you in your career and think do I really want to be like these people.
I was looking at my colleagues, and with no disrespect to these guys, they were some lovely people, but I looked at my future there and I thought God in five years time I could be promoted to a Director and be making £100,000 a year, but in reality it means I’m dealing with endless dull paperwork, I’ve got Chief Execs yelling at me because I’m not meeting targets, I’ve got to deal with other peoples problems when other people mess up and I’ve got to go out and sort those out. Nothing was appealing about that career whatsoever. I just knew I had to get out and go and do something completely different. I never really knew what that was and always kind of struggled with that.
Were you seeking something different when the current surf job came up or did it find you?
I run a meet-up surf group in London, which is my connection to surfing, called The London Surfers. So I was doing my day job which kind of sucked but then in the evening I was going to do London Surfers stuff and this was where I got my fulfilment. There was no financial reward in it for me but I was organising drinks and social events and surf trips and we have weekly yoga sessions and things like that. I was doing a day job which I hated but I was doing something else which I really loved and that was how I got my balance. And that was how I got into the whole kind of surf industry.
While I was still working and doing the surf meet-up, I also joined Escape the City and decided I’d launch a small t-shirt brand. It was mainly going to be marketed to sell a few t-shirts to London Surfers. And at the time of Escape the City I guess I grew in more confidence and started to see more people who were just doing things differently. So I thought, screw it, I’m not happy, I’m going to go and take some time out. I’m going to maybe sell a few t-shirts, do something completely different and get some headspace and see what happens.
And so I quit! And after I quit the opportunity to come and work at the surf camp in Portugal came up, and that’s how I’ve ended up here. I just thought, why not! It’s a completely different opportunity to go and learn about something completely different, so why not take it.
What do you love about the life you live or the work you do currently?
I probably shouldn’t say this, but previously I had to go to work everyday and deal with clients who I just didn’t like. Now I obviously work in the tourism industry and I’m meeting tens of different people every single day. I get to talk to lots of different people who have all this shared common interest, we’re all here to do some surfing. I’m surrounded every day by some really interesting people who I can talk to and learn about their lives who are coming from all over the world.
So that’s been enlightening, to surround yourself with people you actually like!
The role gives me the flexibility so I can go and do other things which are important to me. So I can start the day with a morning yoga session along with all the clients and then go to work. Although it’s not an easy job and can be quite stressful at times, at the end of the day I finish at five o’clock generally and can spend time out in nature. Coming back to the freedom thing, they’re things that I really value.
What do you think the biggest achievement to date has been?
The realisation that there is no one career. As a graduate you think, I really need to take this job because this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life. And I guess a lot of this comes from knowing yourself and going and doing what you want to do, but I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ve gone from being a prison psychologist to a construction worker to a t-shirt seller to a surfer camp manager. And maybe the next thing will be that I’ll repair washing machines! I have no idea what the next 10 years will hold but that to me is much more exciting than knowing that I’m going to be working in an office for the next 40 years of my career.
I’m quite obsessed with personal development so I try to be a better person today than I was yesterday and that’s kind of my rule.
I’m a big believer in small, sustainable changes that over the weeks and months and the years just add up and create big life change. Someone once said that happiness comes from progress and I think if you can see that you are making progress in different areas of your life then you are a much happier person. So the achievements for me, particularly in the last couple of years are the mind shifts I’ve had. It’s developing confidence, developing my courage just to go actually “you know what, I don’t want to be doing this with my life” and going and doing something completely different. It’s overcoming that fear you have of failure that it’s all going to go wrong, that your parents are going to be disappointed in you and your friends are all going to laugh at you. It’s overcoming those insecurity fears and getting out into the world and doing what you want to do and doing what makes you happy and those have been the greatest achievements.
Having made this change in the past year, what’s the feeling been from family and friends?
My parents come from a different generation so I think initially my Dad’s reaction was kind of like, what about your pension. But they’ve always been super supportive in anything that I’ve wanted to do and ultimately your parents want to see you happy, so they have been right behind it.
I think my story of having that corporate life and quitting and going to do something else resonates with a lot of people. I know that people are always super supportive and when they see the stuff that I’m doing out here, I’m getting really positive messages and really positive feedback. A few of my closer peers have also gone and made some big changes in their life as well so it’s nice to think you have been a small part of that in some way.
So when time gets tough, who do you turn to for support?
I’m lucky to be a part of the Escape the City community so any sort of business moments or moments of “what the hell am I doing with my life” that community tends to be really great at jumping to the rescue and I’ve got a lot of people there that I’m really grateful to who have just dedicated a lot of their time and experience to helping me do stuff. They’re a great community in addition to friends and family.
That’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve got out of all of this. If you want to change your life the quickest way is to change your peer group. Go and surround yourself with people you want to be like. It’s the old saying you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. If you want to be an entrepreneur, go and sit around with entrepreneurs. If you want to sail around the world then go and spend your time with sailors.
Just surrounding myself with people that are doing some cool and inspirational stuff is just very inspirational as well.
Accountability is something that a lot of us got out of the Escape journey. When you say to people “I am going to do this” and you don’t follow up on that, you feel like a bit of an arse actually! There is a lot of merit in going up to all your friends and family and saying “you know what, I’m going to do this…”. And it is actually quite good motivation to make you follow up and go and do it!
So what’s next for Adam?
I’m very much a beginner entrepreneur. I’m on that journey of learning and experimenting and finding my own way. I’m on that journey of constant self improvement and still to a certain extent figuring out what is important to me and what I want to do. So the goal is always to be movingforward in that sense.
I’m going to Bali in January 2016 to take part in TribeWanted which is a group of people coming together who are looking to create some cool stuff, whether that be their own business ideas they want to work on but also to help other people. It’s very much a community thing to help each other achieve their own goals. So I’m looking forward to that in January.
I’m looking at taking Driftfish into more of an online general retail store – so an eco surf shop if you like. One of the benefits of taking time out and doing something completely different is that you get to experience a completely new industry so for me, now working in the travel industry, I’ve got some great insights and ideas around tourism. I’m particularly interested in health and adventure tourism so there’s maybe some areas there I’d like to explore in the next year or so.
I’d love to meet more people in Portugal! If anyone is listening or reading that is around in Portugal and fancies meeting up for a coffee and coming up with some grand ideas …..
And how is your Portuguese going?
Not going as well as it should be! I’ve got friends coming out next week and I’ve asked them to bring me some flash cards so I can start getting serious about learning some Portuguese. I do plan on spending most of the next few years here, so it is important for me to pick up some Portuguese. I think it helps you integrate better.
And finally, what’s the piece of career advice you would give a younger version of you?
There is lots really! It comes back to knowing yourself and building a career that allows you to live the life you want that is going to make you happy. It’s not doing something because your mates are doing it or your parents are doing it or your neighbours are doing it. It’s going and getting exactly what you want. Work is going to take up a huge part of your life, especially if you have a notion to run your own business, so in that respect it is just so important to do something that you are really passionate about and that you really can spend a huge portion of your life doing.
Don’t be afraid to try lots of different things and experiment with lots of different things. Nothing is really permanent and you can always change your mind and do something else later on.
Just surround yourself with people who can help you get there. There are lots of meet-ups, lots of access to people who are doing things similar to you or even if it’s just reading books or blogs or YouTube videos of people who are into the same things as you, that can really help be a good support network.
The most important thing is just to take action!
Just start something – anything and just see how it goes and experiment. I follow a guy called Gary Vaynerchuk who said something recently – ideas are shit and execution is everything. That’s just going and trying to do stuff.
You and I have a mutual friend who is a great example of this. At the time when selfie sticks were coming into fashion, they were really big in Asia and Korea and she decided to bring a few selfie sticks into the UK and try to sell them. She went out into the streets and using her selfie stick and talking to people and showing people and letting them have a go. Then people would say where do I get this from and she’d say well it just so happens that I have some! She didn’t grow a selfie stick empire, she didn’t become selfie-stick billionaire but think of all the things she learned by doing that. She learned about sales, she learned about persuasion. It’s a very brave thing to do. It’s great for confidence. She learned about buying and selling things. And even if she learned that she hated selling things or she’s crap at selling things, that’s still a result. It’s not a failure, it’s a result to learn that you don’t like something and you can move on and try something else. So I think she really is a great example of just going out and trying something and just seeing how it went without a view of whether it was going to become a massive business and make her lots of money. It was just an experiment that helped her develop.
When I started the surf meet up group there was no notion that I’d end up three years later living in the Algarve and working in the surf industry and starting my own little water sports clothing brand. There was no idea of that. I just went out and did something because it was fun and because I enjoyed it.
A lot of people struggle because they don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing. They’ve heard the idea of going and following their passion but they don’t know what that is, so they don’t do anything. That’s the worst thing you can do! The answer lies in just getting to know yourself, focusing on what excites you, going out into the world and finding what makes you buzz and then going after that.
To find out more about Adam’s water sports clothing brand check out Driftfish