The advice I would give my 26 year-old self

Leah Kertesz
7 min readSep 25, 2018


“woman standing at the top of building” by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash

“There’s no way to know what makes one thing happen and not another. What leads to what. What destroys what. What causes what to flourish or die or take another course.” ― Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

The year of 2008 will be remembered as the year the global financial crisis ricocheted fault lines across the world due, in part, to the US subprime mortgage market and back in Australia, the ripple effect started to reverberate. I was working in a Marketing Manager role in Sydney, making close to 6 figures, but starting to also feel the squeeze of macro pressures inside the microcosm of my job scope. At the age of 26 I was working in Sydney, had a nice apartment in a blue ribbon neighborhood, drove a European car and was responsible for managing a team of 4 staff. I had always dreamed of climbing the career ladder and being a power woman in a power suit. In my 20s, with my limited view of success, I seemingly, on all superficial accounts, was living my best life. However, scratch a little beneath the surface and you would have seen a tired, stressed, sick 26 year-old trying to keep up with the mountainous expectations built up in my head. Whilst my job provided me with a salary to be able to buy whatever material things I wanted, I felt limited and caged in my Sydney surroundings.

Half way through 2008 my Dad called me from his business trip in Hong Kong. I was cooking dinner and reluctant to pick up the phone, “Hi Dad”, I answered feeling un-amused and disturbed.

Sounding a mix of excited and intoxicated my Father replied “Oh hi Leah”. He was shouting into the phone competing with the background noise of busying chatter and honking cars. I could almost taste and smell the steamed dumplings, humid smog and feverish night time energy. My Dad, always and forever the businessman only ever spoke in deal terms. There was a reason for his call.

“So Leah, I’ve invested in a new business in Bangkok. We’re taking it all over Asia. Do you think you have what it takes to manage the brand, the marketing and sales? This will be in Thailand. Either we hire a local or you can do it. Do you think you can do it? We’ll need you in Bangkok.”


The words spurted out my mouth, “Dad, are you drunk?”. I was dubious.

“Leah, you don’t understand, this is going to be huge. It’s never been done before. You’ll have a chance to really get your hands involved. But we need you in Bangkok. That’s where the office will be. Think about it.” And the phone disconnected.

I went to sleep thinking about what my life would be like working in a completely foreign city. I had always dreamed to be working internationally. I had got myself out of Adelaide. I had a good job in Sydney. I was making money and working hard. Did it matter that this opportunity was coming from my Dad? Should I seriously consider it?

I woke up at 6.00am with an over-thinking hangover and dull headached that needed a strong coffee. I put on my power suit and pretended to adult the vision of success I so badly wanted to portray. I armoured myself for another day of office back-stabbing, presentations and proposals in order to save my department from budget and staffing cuts.

I parked in my designated ‘managers’ car park and entered the basement elevator, riding up to the 6th floor. The elevator doors opened and I held my breathe. I could smell the fear of redundancies in the office. The Sales Manager that sat next to me hated me because I was half his age, a young woman, and his boss. I couldn’t stop thinking about the possibility of waking up everyday in the warmth of Thailand. What new opportunities would it offer me? What could I learn about working in another culture, different to my own? What stepping-stone could it provide to other markets?

At a cross-roads, I decided to email my respected mentors and ask around for expert advice. In the following week I set up lunch and coffee dates with business people who had worked internationally to gather their knowledge of international relocation. I asked them what it was like from a cultural perspective? How did they adapt? What was the number one piece of advice they could give me when considering an international move? If I stayed in Sydney and moved jobs, where should my next move be? What sideways role could I make to expedite job growth?

I then went home and compiled a list of pros and cons.

Despite all these questions and other people’s input, I kept hearing an internal whisper that said “GO”. First it was small and quiet, but grew louder day-by-day. Most people thought I was crazy. Their answers typically went like this: “Think of your career” they told me, and “What’s on offer in Bangkok?” and “Isn’t that where all the dirty old men go?” All these responses were geared towards mitigating my risk. How could a tall Australian girl in her 20s possibly think of moving to exotic South East Asia, and…. gulp… ALONE. It would surely be career suicide. What could Bangkok possibly offer me that would be better than in Sydney?

It had been 3 weeks since Dad’s phone call in the kitchen, along with lots of talk, deliberations and sleepless nights, and here I was again looking over my list. Pros. Cons. Considerations. Things to organize if I was to leave. I woke up one work morning and suited up for work again. This time I struted into the office and gave notice, resigning from my job. I sold my furniture. Sold my European car. Moved out of the blue ribbon Sydney apartment and packed 2 suitcases. I bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok. Within 4 weeks I was gone, having landed in Bangkok.

In hindsight now, I was completely unprepared for what was to happen next. I may have thought I knew, but upon arrival to Suvanarburhmi Airport, I knew less than ever. I was to shed my Australian-ness, forget the way I knew routine to be, and become completely open and vulnerable to adaptation. I was shit scared. This was the real University of Life. I had become an undergraduate student again.

If someone had told me back then, in 2008, that I would end up living in the Kingdom of Thailand for 3 years, survive multiple bomb attacks, a military coup, a skydiving accident, drug arrests, several bouts of food poisoning and countless hangovers (I could have qualified for a cameo role in the movie The Hangover), then I probably would have never left the lovely, leafy, beachy, sanitised City of Sydney.

But hindsight only comes later… much later. What I am most grateful for is how Bangkok re-routed my path and re-booted me. 10 years later I still don’t have a 6-figure job, I don’t own a car and I moved back to my home town of Adelaide. But what I gained was more than invaluable, can’t be measured or added to a resume. This experience changed the trajectory of my life. I learnt Thai language, I made incredible friends, I started my own business, I learnt valuable entrepreneurial skills, I learnt what to do when business goes wrong, I made mistakes, I learnt from my mistakes, I learnt about life, I learnt empathy, I learnt about Buddhism, I learnt to let go, I learnt about intercultural communication, I learnt how to solve problems, I learnt about how to get the best out of Thai people, I learnt how to earn respect and how to trust my instincts. After Bangkok, I then went on to live in New York, so that experience served me well as a great global stepping stone.

“You can’t ever know or predict the outcome of any experience. You can’t mitigate your future pain.”

Sometimes I feel the pangs of my 26 year-old self. To wonder what would have happened if I had not been brave, if I had not jumped ship. But the 36 year old I am today knows better. I would tell my 26 year-old self not to overthink anything. You can’t ever know or predict the outcome of any experience. You can’t mitigate your future pain. There is no failure, there is only learning. So don’t overthink because yes you will fail and yes you will learn. Don’t ask people’s advice. Don’t make lists (unless they are packing lists). Just GO. GO because it’s a roar inside your heart, and a whisper in your head. DON’T go because of what you ‘think’ you will gain. DON’T go because of your ‘career’, go in spite of it. DON’T go because of your family or friends or mentors tell you to or if they think it’s a good or bad idea. GO because it’s your journey that you are walking, not theirs. GO because life is rich and you are worthy of that richness. But mostly, just GO and DON’T worry, you’ll be fine.



Leah Kertesz

Loudmouth, entrepreneur, traveller, writer, reader. Flexing my writer’s brain one story at a time. #liveloud E: