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Opinion

Why (and how) an Adelaide family moved to the other side of the world in a global pandemic

Opinion

It seemed like an impossible undertaking, but Adelaide marketer and entrepreneur Andrew Montesi and his family successfully transplanted their lives to the United States last year – in the midst of the global pandemic. Here he explains how, why and what he learned about risk-taking.

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In September 2020 I sold up, packed up and moved my young family to the other side of the world at the height of the global pandemic.

We left the relative safety of South Australia for California as the second wave of COVID-19 was spiking and unrest was peaking around the US election.

I still can’t believe we did it. It was pure faith, risk and craziness.

So having now had time to catch my breath, I thought I’d share the story and what I’ve learned so far.

Where the journey began

Before I explain what happened, let me turn back the clock to the start of 2020. My wife, Hannah, had dreamed of doing some study at a school in Northern California, and when I left a full-time role to focus on my own company, I had the capacity to work from anywhere and help her make that dream a reality. I was also confident that business opportunities would open up for me, too, but above all else, we believed it would accelerate the personal and spiritual growth of our kids (eight and six years old). This move would be in the best interests of the family, as a whole.

With a new business and wobbly cashflow, the finances didn’t really stack up at that point. But we had faith that it would come together, so we quietly made the commitment to make the move.

Then the global pandemic hit. The entire world, quite literally, shut down. The circumstances appeared as impossible as it gets.

Making the commitment

Hannah and I reviewed the situation. We decided that if we could get out of the country, we’d go. So we proceeded with the plan.

So, one step at a time, we chipped away at the task at hand. Every time we started to plan too far ahead we’d become overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, so we pulled back and just focused on what was in front of us.

I won’t break down all the tasks and every single mountain we had to climb, but the biggest summit to overcome was visas. We completed the pile of paperwork but it would all come down to successfully passing an in-person visa appointment at the US consulate. With no consulate in Adelaide, we booked an appointment in Melbourne. Then COVID spiked in Victoria, the borders slammed shut and our appointment was cancelled. So we tried to move our appointment to Perth. Western Australia refused to let us in. We then looked to Sydney: the next available appointment wasn’t until December — too late.

At this point, we thought the dream was over. Then we read on a forum that under some circumstances people could apply for an emergency visa appointment. We did, and were accepted. Four days later we landed in Sydney and quickly had our visas approved. We then booked flights to California for just two and a half week’s time (United was the only airline flying from Australia to California). With one-way tickets, we were approved to leave the country.

But the drama didn’t end there; in fact, it was far from over. We landed back home in Adelaide for two weeks of quarantine, madly packing up the house and preparing to for the big move. I started to get nerve pain around my head and face, which worsened quickly. A quick chat with the doctor revealed that I had shingles. A nasty bump on the road (and my forehead!).

So I was packing up, selling up, working from home and managing significant pain, all while still in quarantine.

A new life

At the end of quarantine, we had just four days of freedom to say goodbye to family, pack our suitcases (eight large suitcases and four carry-on!) and get to the airport.

I dragged all of our bags around the empty airports of Adelaide, Sydney and San Francisco, before making the three-hour drive to our new, but empty, home in Redding.

As we began our new life, I am so grateful for the community that rallied around us. People I didn’t even know were on hand to help us as we bought up furniture on Facebook Marketplace and quickly made the house a home.

Hannah started her study, the kids slotted into school and I got to work. We were able to take a breath and begin to settle.

But then Hannah came down with a fever. COVID spiked at her school, and she tested positive with mild symptoms.

If you dig deeper, below the doom and gloom, there are many stories of people who have made bold, courageous moves against the flow and thrived.

I got a test (my fourth in a month) along with the kids, which came back positive. Thankfully we did not have any symptoms, apart from some fatigue.

After another two weeks of quarantine and, to be honest, plenty of frustration as we dealt with the virus, the rules and our commitments, we were free again.

Today, we’re loving life in California. And we haven’t wasted a moment, enjoying the incredible mountains and parks surrounding our home in Redding, while also spending time in San Francisco (a three-hour drive from home) and LA (nine hours drive).

We are so glad we made the move; we have no regrets and we look forward to what’s next. Most importantly, I am proud of my family and particularly amazed by the resilience of my kids.

But I know this is just the beginning, and the foundations are set for what comes next.

So, what have I learned so far?

Purpose is the priority

Our purpose was clear. We weren’t just moving for a holiday, sea change or a job, there was a higher calling and I believe it will change the course of my family’s future.

And purpose trumps circumstances and fear every time. I believe that when you’re operating according to your purpose, based on a heart decision, no circumstances can stand in the way — even a global pandemic.

Our story also proves that when you’re in alignment with your purpose in life, you can overcome anything. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be challenges, but there is a supernatural grace and ability to overcome.

Unity is key

If Hannah and I weren’t completely unified in our purpose and plans, there is no way we could’ve pulled this off. Because we were of one mind, doubt and fear were not able to get a foothold.

Montesi and his mountain bike – his best US purchase.

Mindset matters

When we made the commitment to move, we meant it. We believed it was what we were meant to do. And because of that, we made a conscious effort to ‘protect’ our minds by focusing on what we could control while refusing to meditate on doubt, fear and how difficult our goal was.

It is ok to be uncomfortable

We naturally want to fight discomfort. If things are hard, something within us says “this can’t be good for us”. But we’ve learned that there is incredible growth and opportunity on the other side of what makes us feel uncomfortable.

It’s ok to not have a plan

Being strategically minded, everything in me wanted to ‘work out’ how we were going to pull this off. In most circumstances, having a clear strategy is crucial. But this story was about surrender — yielding to the process, biting off one small piece at a time and trusting that we would get to our destination. This prevented a great deal of stress, worry and overthinking the enormity of the goal.

Get nimble

When I left my full-time job at the end of 2019, I didn’t have laser-like focus and clarity on the next phase of business — I just knew I needed to get lean and agile.

I run my agency and work from my laptop with a mobile phone — there’s nothing else to it. I work closely with trusted contractors instead of hiring employees, and I focus on serving my current clients well and building strong relationships and partnerships, instead of constantly chasing new shiny things that may distract and drain my resources.

Personally, we sold just about everything apart from our property in Adelaide, and that was a refreshing process. We realised we were not attached to anything. So much of what we were carrying wasn’t necessary or important. I also freed myself of the ‘dead debt’ of a car loan (I won’t be making that mistake again).

Practically and psychologically, we now have the full freedom to move and adapt to whatever circumstances we find ourselves in.

Manzanita Lake, Lassen National Park

Keep it quiet

When we landed in California, many people were blindsided. We’d kept our plans relatively quiet, apart from conversations with family and a few close friends.

When you go for something so ambitious, and apparently crazy, you have to protect your heart by not letting everyone in. This is our purpose, and our story. No-one else’s. Not everyone will understand or agree with what we’re doing (and some still don’t), and that’s ok.

But sharing a dream with anyone and everyone opens the door to opinions that sit outside of your purpose, that have the potential plant seeds of doubt and fear, and this was a risk that I did not want to take.

That said, sharing with the right people has the opposite effect. When things got tough, we had supportive friends who were not just encouraging, but championed us along the way. Even my clients, many who I’d built trust with over a number of years, fully embraced what we were doing.

Don’t take an old system into a new season

When we landed, I found settling in harder than the rest of the family. I was used to a clear way of doing things — get the train into the office, work 8–10 hours uninterrupted, get home, see the kids, home duties, a bit of chill out time, bed. And repeat.

All that got turned on its head in California. With one car I was dropping the kids and Hannah at school, picking them up at different times and locations, while trying to ‘do what I’ve always done’ from a work perspective.

I was irritable, frustrated and felt like I wasn’t working enough. Then it dawned on me. I was a work addict going cold turkey.

I was also trying to apply an old system in a new season. I had to reset and find my new normal.

What does this look like? In short, right now, I start every day with school drop off then spend an hour in the gym or on the mountain bike. I get a few hours of quiet work in at home or in a co-working space, then pick up the crew from school. Because of the timezones, afternoons and early evenings are mostly spent in meetings with clients in Australia. Then there’s dinner and bedtime routines for the kids, sometimes followed by another hour of work if needed.

My days look very different, but I have never had more balance and my family has never seen more of me. The key has been to embrace the change, instead of fighting it.

San Francisco

Operate from a new ‘risk foundation’

While I’m proud of what we’ve done as a family in 2020, we are not going to camp here, settle down and play it safe — this sets a new ‘risk foundation’ from which we will take on more challenges and ambitious goals.

Times of testing stretch you in every way not just so you can get through what’s in front of you, but to build faith and strength for the future.

This is particularly crucial for my kids. Through this process, they haven’t known fear or limitation despite what’s being going on around them, and it is my hope that this will become apart of how they go on to live their lives.

Dream

When I posted on social media that we’d moved to America, the response was really interesting. I received many messages from people I hadn’t spoken to in years who were inspired by what we’d done and had many questions — “Why?” “HOW?”

I understand the reaction. On the ground, America is just as divided as you see in the news – if not worse. Everyone has picked a side, and there is no middle ground. You can feel the tension, and the future is uncertain – even after President Biden’s inauguration. It is hard to fathom when you’re used to the stability, balance and (mostly) reasonable discourse that is our ‘normal’ in Australia, especially in Adelaide.

So it isn’t surprising that through 2020 many dreams and aspirations have been paused while people waited out the pandemic. Whether that be a vaccine, or times that are more safe and stable, now is not the time to be doing anything other than protecting what you’ve got.

But, at least for some, I hope our story created an awakening that you don’t have to wait. If there’s something stirring, a big purpose and a plan, you have full permission to dream and go after it — even if it seems crazy.

I know we haven’t been the only ones. If you dig deeper, below the doom and gloom, there are many stories of people who have made bold, courageous moves against the flow and thrived.

And I expect to see even more of it in 2021. I’m still (maybe naively) optimistic about the US, and what’s ahead for all of us who have done it tough over the last year. History shows that great disruption and pressure creates an environment for innovation and opportunity and I hope to be part of what emerges from the ashes.

Editor’s note: The US visa system is complex and highly structured. Readers should seek their own immigration and tax advice if planning a similar move.

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