Here's How a Digital Brand Strategist Became an Unplugged Activist at 35
You spent your 20s working toward building your dream career, but now that you’re in your 30s, what do you do when you’ve, well, changed your mind? Or maybe you never quite figured it out and you’re now ready to commit to something you’re passionate about, whether it’s a job, a city, or just a new way of life. To celebrate the career changes that can come at any age, we’re debuting a new series called Second Life. Each month, we’ll hear from women who got over their doubts and fears and made the biggest changes of their lives.
Two years ago, this editor participated in something she never thought she would: a digital detox. The tech-free retreat was the launch of Folk Rebellion, and it was led by the organisation's founder, Jess Davis. At the Wi-Fi–free B&B, iPhones and laptops were collected, and instead guests were given disposable cameras to ensure that we had a chance to be present and connect IRL. Though it was only for two days—and so much fun—it was also a challenge.
Since then, Davis has led off-the-grid retreats to Sayulita, Mexico; the Adirondack Mountains; and the northern lights for up to eight days at a time to encourage people to be more mindful of the technology they use and to "unplug from the drug." Croatia, Greece, Patagonia, and Costa Rica are up next. (Sign us up!) Though it seems counter-intuitive, Davis has also created an online community of over 50,000 through email and social media to inspire separation from screens and adventuring outdoors.
These days, Davis is busy writing a book (title TBD), giving wellness talks for Lululemon, and leading workshops at Wanderlust in North Lake Tahoe on how to reset, slow down, and manage technology, this wasn't always the case. That's right: The woman whose out-of-office reply occasionally reads "I will be offline today. I will get back to you tomorrow!" built her previous career as a digital brand strategist.
So how—and why—does someone do a career 180 after being recognised for their work on the Forbes "40 Under 40"? Ahead, she shares everything from the vacation that caused her to quit her job to the affirmation she repeats daily (which we'll definitely be borrowing from).
Always listen to your gut, it's never steered you wrong.
MYDOMAINE: What was your job as a brand strategist like before starting Folk Rebellion?
JESS DAVIS: When I began my career in marketing, I was sending faxes instead of emails! But Facebook came, and for me, it was just another way to spread word-of-mouth marketing. My background in writing made this an easy transition for me, and before I knew it, I was face-first into a full-blown digital career. I was teaching "viral marketing" at local universities, creating private groups on social media, and selling out events online.
MD: You were recognised on the Forbes "40 Under 40" list for this, correct?
JD: It was for helping grow a brand from U.S. $2 million in sales to $100 million in sales in two years. I worked on videos that garnered over 30 million views and skyrocketed brands; I hired celebrities, bloggers, and influencers before there was even a term for it.
MD: When did you launch Folk Rebellion?
JD: I started Folk Rebellion quite suddenly, but a quick review of my GoDaddy purchases show that I have been playing with this idea for about eight years.
MD: What was the spark?
JD: The long and the short of it is that I was the stereotypical plugged-in New Yorker wearing "busy" like a badge of honour. I now consider myself a recovering digital strategist. My career had taken off, and after winning awards and gaining more clients, which I was communicating on behalf of digitally, I started to get really sick in my head. My brain was struggling. Memory, attention, fog, disassociation, and creativity were all lacking. I knew something was wrong, but I didn't know what it was, and neither did my doctors.
MD: When/how did you realise the cause?
JD: It wasn't until a family imposed digital detox on a vacation in Hawaii that I began to feel better. On day eight a light bulb went off. I was well again, and the only difference was my presence, lack of technology, and slower pace. When I returned to work, I quit that Monday.
MD: Do you think you would have become an "unplugged" activist had you not been a digital brand strategist?
JD: I guess there is always a possibility, but I believe Folk Rebellion came to be because of my own experience with the digital world. I had no idea that this big and busy career was teaching me the skill set needed to story tell and create communities at the same time it was burning me out.
When I had my son in 2011, four years after the iPhone was created, I was already able to see the effects of addicted adults. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like for my son. I guess I had to have the burnout, the info, the view from the proverbial "inside" of the tech industry, and a mama bear's desire to protect her son.
MD: What's your ultimate goal with/for Folk Rebellion?
JD: To change the way we think of our digital technology and the relationship we have with it. As everything grows exponentially faster than we can handle, I want to inspire a new generation of people to question everything again.
These technologies are addicting and are replacing things that truly matter in our lives like connection (the way it was originally intended) to one's self, their communities, and nature. I know it's a lofty goal, but it's working, and I am up for the challenge.
Tactically speaking, my ultimate goal is to get my book published and open up a physical space where it's a full-time tech-free zone where we can run workshops, create a safe space for people to gather and connect away from screens, and encourage the return to analog.
MD: What's an affirmation you live by?
JD: "I am resilient when others are not. Kindness, happiness, and accepting change are choices that help your creative energy. Always listen to your gut; it's never steered you wrong. And don't be scared; this is your path."
Are you ready to take the leap and start your own business? What's holding you back? Share your thoughts with us below.