Work of heart | Mindful Puzzles

Work of heart

Take a breath. Make a change. You can make a living living.

If there’s one thing social media has to answer for, it’s making us think that extraordinary lives simply fall into people’s laps. We’re constantly bombarded with images of glossy, enviable-looking lives that seem both unattainable and inexplicable. We wonder how these people got to be doing what they do, and how they actually pay their bills.

I know this, because as a freelance travel writer who posts glossy, enviable-looking pictures on Instagram most days, the questions I am asked most of all are: How on Earth do you actually make money from travelling? And how can I do it, too?

Now, being a travel writer is an extraordinary way to make a living. I visit a dozen countries a year, on adventures mostly sponsored by travel companies who want their trips featured in the newspapers, magazines and websites I am then paid to write for. But I’d be lying if I told you making it happen was easy, because it wasn’t.

For me it involved five years at university (incurring a $35,000 student loan I’m still paying off) studying journalism and international studies, while doing unpaid work experience. After that came the begging – emailing contacts at the newspaper I wanted to work for, every week for months on end. Finally they relented, and I toiled away there for five more years before a hallowed writer position opened up on the travel team, which allowed me to fulfil my dream of living in India for a year.

A year and a half later, the newspaper underwent a restructure, and I was out of a job. At first I felt like my life was over, but I soon realised it was actually an enormous gift. Here was my chance to build the kind of life I’d only ever dared peek at from the corner of my eye, a life outside the nine to five.

First I spent $300 creating a website using a developer based in Serbia, opened a travel-based Instagram account, and taught myself how to take better photos and videos to sell alongside my stories. Over that first year, while mostly using my redundancy payout to cover rent, I built up freelance work and streamlined my life to keep overheads low. I stopped buying clothes, visiting the hairdresser, and having expensive dinners, and held off buying the car I’d been saving for, so I could keep doing the work I loved.

Were the sacrifices worth it? Hell yes. Since then, I’ve travelled to dozens of places – from Antarctica, India, and Zambia, to Japan, Nepal, Peru and beyond. These journeys have opened my mind and my heart and, in the act of writing about them, have hopefully helped my readers expand in a similar way.

There are downsides, of course. I’ve missed more weddings and birthdays than I can count, I’m not available nearly as much as I’d like to be for family and friends, I get tired and sick more than I would otherwise and I make less money than almost all my friends. But I really love the work I do. It feeds me intellectually, creatively and spiritually, and it affords me a lifestyle I couldn’t even have imagined as a kid.

Here’s the thing: you can make a living living, too. You can craft your own creatively fulfilling life, one you don’t need a vacation to escape from.

I’ve spoken to many inspiring people who craved more flexible lifestyles, and then made them happen. If you’re wanting to take more pleasure in the simple things and minimise stress, to take control of your time and energy, to travel, cultivate inspiring relationships and build a successful, purpose-driven career doing what you love, then read on.

Emica Penklis

The chocolatier on having a purpose.

For 35-year-old Emica Penklis, chasing her dream of creating a handcrafted, organic chocolate company that actually enhances the consumer’s wellbeing hasn’t been an easy road. But take a peek inside her life today, running her thriving business Loco Love in the Australian surf town of Byron Bay, and you’ll realise that any struggles have been well worth it.

Since starting Loco Love in 2013, Emica has funnelled everything she has into building her business. She has taught herself everything she knows – from how to actually make chocolate that’s vegan, gluten- and refined sugar-free using superfoods and tonic herbs, to creating invoices and doing accounts, learning about marketing, designing a commercial kitchen, creating packaging, managing staff and more. Along the way there have been machinery breakdowns, suppliers going bankrupt, copycat companies and customers baulking at the idea of ‘healthy’ chocolate that comes with a higher price tag.

Societal doubt about following a non-traditional path is something else Emica has had to contend with. “When I started Loco Love, my partner at the time often ridiculed the idea, especially when it came to it delivering financially. Friends and family were supportive, but everyone was shocked I could actually make a living making chocolate,” says Emica. “Still today, as much as I don’t like to admit this, being a young and relatively inexperienced woman in business means people often don’t take you seriously until you prove you’re professional, by being reliable and consistent in every aspect of the business.”

The huge highs have made up for all of this, though: building her own chocolate factory in Byron Bay, which she now runs with her husband, and the biggest one of all, making a living doing what she loves. She works with her hands as she’d fantasised about doing since she was a kid, can work to her own timeline, is surrounded by a community of inspiring business owners and is able to live by the ocean, in her favourite part of the world.

“I spent so many years not understanding or accepting the society we live in. We work in jobs we hate, for money to buy things we don’t need, and everyone’s walking around complaining all the time,” says Emica. “Finally, it dawned on me that it’s only by being the most authentic, inspired, love-filled version of yourself that you can help change the world, and that has become a big part of my company’s ethos.”

If there’s one thing we can learn from Emica, then it’s this: Following your heart and building your dream life – where you write your own rules and are free from societal strictures – won’t mean your life will be free of struggle. But because you’re doing something you love, and living a life filled with purpose, that struggle will be completely worthwhile.


  • Get really honest with yourself about what you want. Write it down.
  • Ask yourself: what can I contribute that no one else can?
  • Remember that what you do, more than what you say, proves what you believe.

Make a mood board

Building a creative career, one outside societal norms, takes intention, tenacity, and most importantly, a crystal clear vision. Mood boarding can be a really helpful tool for identifying this vision, including the kind of energy, community and work you want to attract.

Buy a poster-sized piece of cardboard, grab a stack of old magazines, some scissors and a tube of glue and start cutting and pasting images that speak to the kind of life you want to move towards. These can be pictures of places and people, but also colours, landscapes, interiors and even found objects like dried flowers, coins or photographs. Next, add words that capture the qualities you’re looking for in your life.

This process will not only help you stay true to your vision, but will also get the creative juices flowing and pull you out of creative ruts when they arise. Whenever you find yourself wondering if a decision is the right one, you can return to your mood board and get some clarity as to whether it is aligned or not.

This is an edited extract from Make a Living Living, by Nina Karnikowski, published by Laurence King Publishing, available at, RRP $30.00. To read more about Nina’s inspiring work, visit and @travelswithnina on Instagram. To find out more about Emica’s passion, visit and @locolovechocolate on Facebook or Instagram.

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