Name: Isabelle Rizo
Nationality: Papers say American. Born Germany. Really Romanian.
Current Location: Chicago, IL, USA
Next Destination: Paris, France
Behind the Postcards is an interviews series I'm doing with nomadic souls from around the world sharing their story from going from "normal" to nomad. I met Isabelle Rizo over a delicious Middle Eastern dinner in Chicago with fellow digital nomad Moataz Ahmed who introduced us. She's been featured in Entrepreneur Magazine and my favorite podcast Zero to Travel. We talk storytelling, Parisian life, and a whole lot more! (She's also a client of Nomad and Camera – photos taken in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood.)
N+C: Salut Isabelle! Thanks for doing the interview. Can you share with readers who you are?
IR: Hello, I'm Isabelle and I'm a singularity storyteller, consultant, and artist. My website is isabellerizo.com. I started my entrepreneurial journey in 2008 and was a part time digital nomad for quite some time after that.
N+C: To start, what was your first solo trip and why that location?
IR: China – I was talking to a dear friend one evening and late in the night we discussed co-creating The Global Education Partnership, an opportunity for cross cultural learning and teaching in Southeast Asia. I was also heavily involved with the UnCollege movement and AERO – decided to skip the traditional 4 year college. So that led me to getting my TESOL certificate. I was doing freelance film and video gigs at the time and I ended up making a documentary about my experience.
N+C: You have your own business in which you are a singularity storyteller. The very first thing that visitors will read on your website is “you are only as interesting as the stories you tell”. What is the Isabelle Rizo story?
IR: I had to make one up — politically, nationally, spiritually, physically. I think that's what I learned growing up. Parents fled communist Romania, I was born in Germany but not given citizenship, and then we arrived in the US. I grew up not speaking English, being a baby political refugee that would have to go to court to get papers to stay in the US. Spiritually, the Romanian Orthodox tradition was cultural as much as it was spiritual, my father a skeptical atheist and my mother orthodox. Settling in Chicago, I grew up with Hispanic, Puerto Rican, African and other immigrant kids. I never really fit in with the other American white kids. They just didn't understand how I view the world.
I moved schools a lot so I always had an opportunity to start fresh and reinvent myself. I loved school and learning. I loved making new friends and maybe just maybe making a deep connection with someone that gets it. The Romanian community that we ended up being supported by when we first got to the States was a Pentecostal community – very fringe Christian where mystical and loud experiences with God were normal.
It didn't feel normal to me. It felt like Jesus camp and I had all of these questions about why God would do this and that and express himself in some ways and not others.
There were 2 nervous breakdowns sprinkled in the middle there where culturally I did not know who I was, spiritually I did not know what I identified with, and after a while school just became this race to the top of the IVY League and the best grades you could get, high honor roles. I honestly did not care, I was there to learn. School was never a problem for me, I would get great grades but I was not motivated by this race to the top. Race to the top of what?
Luckily those nervous breakdowns happened when I was young so I had time for introspection, a lot of reading, and a lot of personal development. I picked up Chris Guillebeau's book The Art of Non-Conformity and decided the only thing I was clear on was traveling and helping people. After I traveled to China, around North America, France, Germany, and Romania... I realized I did what I wanted to do. So my next chapter came through storytelling and connecting. It's what I always had been doing.
N+C: The Art of Non-Conformity is fantastic! Glad you mentioned it. What inspired you to work independently helping to coach and market brands rather than working full time at say a corporation or local business who may need a young, ambitious marketer like yourself?
IR: I honestly don't like people telling me what to do, because they take too long to get to the point and a lot of the things they do are surface work. I like to ask WHY do you do the things you do, okay well are your actions aligned with your big WHY?
N+C: What advice do you have for people that are considering starting their own digital business?
IR: Ask yourself why do you want to do it in the first place. What do you want your legacy to be?
N+C: A personal goal of yours was to set up shop in Paris and work there remotely which you did. What recommendations do you have for anyone thinking about spending an extended amount of time in Paris?
IR: Live in Montmartre! I lived there and it was lovely, relaxed, and just perfect. I would avoid the touristy things, it's just so un-Parisian. Yeah, I stood under the Eiffel Tower, but it was the little shops, boutiques, and hearing music on the metro that made me so happy. There are so many galleries hidden around the streets. Literally wander around Paris. Be present.
There are no shoulds. Everyone is making it up as they go along and they are sharing their successes.
N+C: "Be present". Love it. What’s the biggest mistake that you’ve made while traveling that you wish you could go back in time and tell a younger you DON’T DO THIS?
IR: Listening to formulas of how you should do things. There are no shoulds. Everyone is making it up as they go along and they are sharing their successes. What may work for one person may not work for another. And that is okay. You will find your own way. Oh, and boundaries. Boundaries are amazing — energetically, physically, and mentally. Use them.
N+C: Boundaries has a bad connotation, but boundaries form a framework to be creative within. I'm with you. Anyway, I know you are a huge tea drinker. Is there a tea that you’ve tried on your travels that you’ll never forget? What is it and where did you have it?
IR: Chamomile. If I can have chamomile no matter where I am in the world I feel so at ease. China was a whole other experience with Pu-erh tea. Rose tea is also fabulous. I had it at a tea party at Glen Eyrie castle for my travel press trip!
N+C: Is being a digital nomad just a trendy lifestyle choice of the 2010s decade or will it become a new norm of the future?
IR: I think and hope it will become more of a norm because the world is so small. I still see it as a fringe of trendsetters and futurists, just like biohackers, dadaists, or buddhas. People won't understand it until they do it and see it as a reality.
N+C: Lastly, for readers interested in joining you on a Storytelling Challenge, what are the top three things they can look forward to?
IR: Stuff is going to be stirred up in you. You're going to get massive clarity. You have support in the Singularity Storyteller Incubator.
N+C: Thanks so much for sharing your story with us Isabelle! Life is all about the stories you can tell and she can help you discover your story so check her out. And remember when you hit a fork in the road, take the path that will give you a better story.
Photos taken by Nomad and Camera.