Bird is all about personal journeys. That’s why we’re stoked that our co-founder Magdalena Wielopolski, after living in both NYC and LA, is now embarking on a trek across the world. It’s a new chapter for both of us, because we’ll be featuring the amazing women she meets along the way. To kick things off, we spoke to Magda about what the past has taught her and what the future holds.
So this interview is a bit different, because it’s about choosing to leave a city rather than move there. Tell us about your travels!
Yes! After living in LA for just over two years, I’ve decided to spend the next three to four months exploring Australia, Southeast Asia, and a bit of Europe. I’ll be continuing to interview women for Bird during my travels—think of it as “Bird on the road!” My boyfriend, Kyle, is also joining me to work together on a new video documentary, Speak Your Language. As we go, we’ll be trying to figure out where to call “home” next!
Ultimately, it was my choice to leave LA but I would not have left so soon if I hadn’t been laid off from my job! I’m an Australian citizen, so the thought of going through the whole visa process and finding another US employer to sponsor me sounded like a nightmare. I decided to seize the opportunity to do something new.
Were you sad to leave LA?
There were so many emotions. I was loving the city so far—I just bought my first apartment, started dating Kyle, and felt like things were lining up. But, I felt really burned out at work. I had been working as a senior art director for a company that I had been with for over four years, two of those years in New York. I was at a plateau, not knowing if I wanted to move up the ranks or change careers altogether. Although I had seen a lot of people come and go at the company over the years, I was starting to feel like more people were going while I was the one still there.
One day, I walked into my apartment and thought, “I think it’s time to leave.” I had started fantasizing about moving back to London, where I had lived in my early 20s. I called my parents that night and told them that in one year’s time I would take a break from working to travel and maybe move back to London. Even though I had just bought the apartment, they were very supportive of me.
The next day at work, we got news that the office was closing down and half of us, including me, were getting laid off. It was a total shock! In the middle of the confusion and disbelief, I had a sense of relief. This was my chance to take the break I had been yearning for. If I hadn’t been forced out of my job, I would’ve found it harder to justify leaving such a comfortable position.
Sounds like you packed up and left pretty suddenly! What was that like?
It was very surreal and stressful. The day after I got laid off, I called my real-estate agent to tell her I needed to sell my place just two months after I had moved in!. Since I was in the US on a work visa that was tied to my job, I had two months to either get another job or leave the country. It was a week before Christmas, which was a tough time to sell, but I had to do it as quickly as possible. I was so focused that I didn’t have time to really comprehend what was happening in my life, being laid off and leaving the country I had spent my whole life trying to get to.
When I was on the plane flying to Sydney, I had this moment of thinking, “I don’t live in LA anymore! What just happened? Where am I going?” I also felt really hurt that I was so disposable to my company, after I had put so much hard work into it. I realized I never wanted to feel like a cog in a wheel again.
Have any challenges popped up on your trip that you didn’t expect?
Just because you’re traveling to exotic places, it doesn’t mean they’re always going to be nice, or fun, or friendly. There’s this perception that because you’re traveling, you’re “living the dream.” But there are also down days, or days you get ripped off, or days you miss being on the couch watching Netflix. Traveling is exhausting, especially when you’re doing it for months on end. The flip side is that you’re constantly learning things, pushing yourself, adapting, getting out of your comfort zone. You grow so much in such a small amount of time, which makes the discomfort so worth it.
Where does your project, Speak Your Language, fit into this journey?
When we first started dating, Kyle and I had a similar idea to create a videos series of people answering powerful questions about life. When we decided to go traveling, that idea evolved into Speak Your Language, a multimedia project that aims to show how we find meaning in our lives and how we impact one another interpersonally and globally. The project gave our travels a sense of purpose and would force us to get to know people along the way.
Can you describe Speak Your Language for someone who knows nothing about it?
Speak Your Language asks individuals from different backgrounds to talk about the big issues in life: love, family, culture, and humanity. The idea is to see where we all align on these issues and where we diverge and why. The hope is to share a wide variety of stories and demonstrate the impact we have on each other. Whether someone lives next door or on the other side of the world, we all have a role in what goes on.
How are you funding your endeavor, both the project and the travel?
We both had a bit of savings to take with us, plus I had some cash to contribute after selling my apartment. We’ve also set up a GoFundMe page for the documentary to raise some extra help.
How will you choose the people you want to feature?
There are a few inspiring people we already know, so we’ll be reaching out to them along the way. The rest of the people we plan on meeting on our travels. We’re making sure to spend a bit more time in areas, so that we can make connections and invite people to participate. We have already met a few people in Bali that we’ve interviewed—we can already see the diversity in their answers, which is really exciting.
To get a broad range of people, we take into consideration things like age, gender, whether they’re expats or locals, economic background, education. Ultimately, we’ll interview whoever actually wants to talk to us! But we’re hoping we can break down some barriers and get people who might not usually open up in this way.
What’s it like convincing strangers to answer questions on camera?
So far it’s been great! We’ve been surprised by how positive people are about it and how honest they have been in their answers.
Sometimes you get hit by someone’s energy, and you just know they’re going to have good stories or opinions. Other times we’ve been really impressed by what someone is accomplishing in their life, and we want to learn more about them. When we feel strongly about someone, we take the time to chat with them a bit so that they get to know our story. I think sharing something about ourselves makes people more comfortable.
A desire to hear other people’s stories inspired you to launch Bird four years ago. How does Speak Your Language build upon that original desire?
Bird is very much about the individual journey, the unique challenges and triumphs each person faces. Speak Your Language takes it one step further by comparing people’s journeys and approaches to life. So, it’s very much about taking a global look into people’s lives.
Will you still continue to interview women for Bird?
Yes, definitely! Bird is something I absolutely love doing; it allows me to speak to people that I might never meet otherwise. It is a passion of mine and something I could see myself doing forever. Even if the format never changed, just the process of doing the interviews and meeting people is something that brings so much joy and insight into my life.
Why do you feel that sharing the experiences or insights of other people is so vital?
We are in a very interesting juncture in history, a place where technology is rapidly changing the world around us, faster than we’ve ever seen before. It’s really hard to see what the future holds for us because of advancements in areas like data, communications, medicine, the auto industry, and space exploration. As exciting as these things are, it’s important to not forget our basic human needs. Things like community and relationships are integral to those needs; we can’t forget that we’re all connected.
By sharing people’s experiences, we help to educate ourselves to make smarter choices for the greater good and create a future that is sustainable, peaceful, and thriving.
Have you always searched for those big “life answers”?
I have always been curious about life, the “meaning” behind it—why we’re here, who people are, and what’s beyond our planet. I think it came from growing up between two cultures and feeling like I didn’t belong to either one. I grew up with a culture rooted in my Polish family background, combined with the multicultural melting pot that is Australia.
I’m blown away by the paths people take to create better lives for themselves and their families, whether that’s escaping communist Poland to land in Australia, or leaving Vietnam to create a future in the United States. People are amazing, horrible, impressive, kind, and awful. How are we all these things?
One of the reasons I love Bird is that I get the chance to hear all these stories. All the different ways people live their lives, how they make money, what’s important to them, where do they find meaning. It reminds me that there isn’t one way to live your life and you don’t have to feel bad if it doesn’t look like someone else’s. It also shows me how much can change in one lifetime, how much luck is involved, how much hard work is involved, how many unique experiences we all go through. Everyone’s story is different. We all have something to bring to this world and we can learn so much from each other.
In the four years since your first Bird interview, what would you say you’ve learned?
So much! But two things really stand out to me: patience and listening. It’s important to allow people the space to talk and share. We like to call our interviews “conversations,” because they’re less formal and it allows us to express ourselves, too. But you need to know when to listen and when to speak. There’s a fine balance, and when someone is shy or nervous, you have to be careful how you approach them.
After your trip is finished, do you know what you’ll do next?
We are planning to end up in Europe for a while, but I don’t know where exactly. I have an EU passport but Kyle is American, so we’ll have to figure out visas and all of those “fun” logistics. Dealing with all that can be stressful, but it’s just a matter of going through the steps. For the first time in a really long time, I’m not sure what the next year will bring!
Work-wise, I want to take this opportunity to change my career. I’ve been thinking a lot about life coaching, so I will be looking into courses to get my certification. I worked with a life coach during my time in LA who really helped me transform in ways I couldn’t have done on my own. I love the idea of motivating people toward a specific goal, or supporting them just to improve their lives. There are so many areas you can specialize in as a life coach, and I’m curious to learn more about them. I plan on supporting myself through design work, with the goal of moving into life coaching within the next few years.
You’re making a midlife career change just like so many of the Birds you’ve interviewed!
Yes! I don’t think I’ll ever lose the desire to be creative. But I really want to do something that impacts people more directly. Each new step builds on your knowledge and experience. Nothing is lost but so much can be gained by trying new things.
Thanks to my work in the design and advertising industries, I’ve learned a lot about people relationships, from working with clients and managing teams to dealing with the work environment itself, and I think these skills will be critical in my work as a life coach.
I think the experience of moving around and living in different cultures will also help me a lot when working with people. I’ve had to learn to be very observant. When you move somewhere new, you have to watch what’s going on around you, pick up subtle cultural cues, the language, understand the process of going to the bank or ordering a drink in a bar or catching public transport. These skills are so important.
In addition, I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of people from all kinds of backgrounds with all kinds of stories. There are few things that surprise me about people! Being non-judgemental is critical when you’re trying to help someone.
Will you ever move back to a major city like LA or New York?
Yes! I love the energy of big cities and couldn’t see myself being far from one. I’d love to come back to LA in a few years and “do it right.” Kyle and I both see a future there and it’s something we’ll be keeping in mind as we move forward.
What’s the best piece of advice you could give?
Move! Whether it’s to a new city or to the other side of the globe, moving is such an invaluable experience. You can always go back. But living in a new culture expands you more than you can imagine. You’ll face and overcome challenges you’ve never dreamed of, you’ll meet incredible people, maybe even learn a new language. There’s nothing like landing in a completely new world without a safety net. Very few people travel more than 100 miles from where they were born. So go and explore this incredible world and find where you fit in.
Follow Magdalena's travels on Instagram @sweetbeanandthegreen