Why (and How) I Quit My Job in South Africa and Moved to New Zealand – A Reader Shares.

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. – Helen Keller. 

Why did I decide to give up my cozy executive job and move my family to a country where we didn’t know anyone?

In part – I have always been a “seeker”. Once I’ve got “there”, it’s not long before I start wondering what lies around the next corner.

I was in a senior marketing management role that I described as “what I worked so hard for” in my career. I had a great team, a brand that had meaning, and a paycheque that helped me send my ADD/dyslexic son to a private remedial school. 

Yet after 2.5 years, the restlessness had returned. 

I was unsure if I wanted to study an MBA, get out of corporate, or move countries. As my CEO said – these were very different choices and all led to different paths! 

I joke that it was an early midlife crisis.

It was 2010 and I was about to turn 38. 

I started with the logical option. I went for an initial MBA evaluation and got the green tick. Yet when I was honest with myself – the study itch was because I wanted to stretch my mind rather than take the next logical step in my career. 

The appeal of a different country was growing.

A new country would bring a massive learning curve to catch up the basic areas of my role that I took for granted. My son’s future education was a strong consideration as options were limited for remedial high school and in general, we didn’t feel confident for South Africa’s future.

We had 5 countries in mind (funny how you can narrow the 196 options down by language and visa requirements!).

The defining question was when I asked my hubby “What do we want out of the next 10 years of our lives?” We both agreed that family and lifestyle were important. 

I’m grateful we were clear about this from the start – it proved to be a sanity point many times in the upcoming months.

With our emphasis on family and lifestyle, we decided on New Zealand. I flew to Auckland for a week to “suss it out”. At this point, all I knew was that NZ was below Australia, had a rugby team that we played against, and had 3 main cities. 

I quickly learnt our skillset would be one of our main obstacles. My hubby is an advertising man and I’m in marketing communications. Not the sort of skills you see listed on country’s “skill shortage” list!

It meant that one of us would need to return to “be on the ground” to find work and prove we were serious to potential employers. We decided my skillset would give us a better chance to land a job and as my wise hubby said “you need the adventure more than I do”. 

My company didn’t have a policy to allow an extended period of unpaid leave. I took a deep breath and resigned. It was a heart-stopping day as I felt like a crazy loon – I was choosing to walk away from everything I knew into an unknown future.

I booked a ticket to return to New Zealand for two and a half months to look for work. I hardly slept the night before I flew out. I had never been away from my son for such a long period of time and it took an enormous amount not to break into sobs as I said goodbye to him at the airport that day. 

Press fast forward and today, we have been here about 20 months.

I finally got a job which allowed us to apply for residence visas. It has been the most amazing, challenging, soul-stretching personal journey and I hope that by sharing some of the lows and highs, I can in some way inspire and encourage you to keep going and never give up on your dreams!

Some of the challenging, difficult parts.

  • We had limited finances. I felt enormous pressure to find a job and secure the visa for us to move over. One night I cried so hard with feelings of loneliness, overwhelm and uncertainty that I burst the blood vessels in my eyes. Not a pretty picture the next day! 
  • Missing my son’s 13th birthday. These are times when the “what is life about” questions are highlighted in extreme. Is it more important to be at your child’s milestone birthday or doing what needs to be done to secure a new future for the family?
  • I didn’t realise how hard it would be to have my everyday fabric stripped off my soul. I still miss the vibrant energy that leaps off the ground, the colours, diverse landscapes and cumulonimbus clouds that tower multiple stories into the sky.
  • Growing up, I knew little of my country’s apartheid history. It was difficult at times when meeting new people as I was judged on my country’s past, not seen for who I was as a person. 
  • Offshore experience doesn’t always translate to the local working environment. My hubby has struggled to find work and is still in the process of reviewing and reinventing himself. 
  • My employer had two rounds of retrenchments. Fortunately, I survived them. The experience made us feel vulnerable and alone as we have no backup here, as we did in South Africa.
  • “What have I gained?” can be a big tough question at different stages of the journey. Having given up so much – lifelong friendships, beloved pets, a comfortable lifestyle, it takes time for the new environment to catch up to some of that you’ve left behind. 

There’s no way around it. If you really want something in life, you  just have to be bold, be brave, and …

Blast the comfort zones!

  • Do what you have to do: I am not a sales person. I ‘d never even done a cold call in my life! Yet, in the first month, I scheduled 40 coffee meetings to start building a network. I cold-called over 60 companies asking for work. I was told more than a hundred times that I was taking on almost the impossible as “why would anyone employ you when there are known, local, skilled people available?”.
  • Stay focused on your end goal: I was warned that I’d go back 5-10 years in my career. I thought I’d be happy to do that for an opportunity. And yet in reality, it’s bloody damned hard. I have always loved work – it defined me for many years. Taking a job just to have a job and doing work that didn’t necessarily play to my skills was challenging on many levels, but it was a part of a bigger picture and made me review “what is life when work isn’t meaningful” from new angles.
  • Be open to the learning curve: Know that with any change, there is a period of adjustment and getting used to the new. I underestimated how much I took for granted in my everyday life. Simple things like going grocery shopping took double the time – so many unrecognised brands!

Embrace new perspectives.

  • Adapt to cultural differences: While our two country’s cultures are a good mix, certain cultural differences threw us as we were not prepared for it – as opposed to going somewhere completely different like Japan or Russia where we would expect them.
  • New ways of being: My first year of work, I was beyond frustrated as I was still working at a big city pace. It took me a long time to settle to “island time” and realise that it was ok. The world won’t collapse if I don’t complete every last task on my to do list!

In spite of all the challenges, I feel blessed with the many gifts. 

  • One of the biggest is the space to breathe on every level. Whilst our survivor instincts are still operating, this is a gentle country with a soft energy. We even forget to lock our front door some nights!
  • The quirks that make New Zealand unique. How clean the sea water is. The amazing size and range of shells that roll up onto the local beaches. Pineapple Lumps – a wicked sweet! The average of 3 odd rainbows a week.. glorious colourful arcs that hold the sky. 
  • The lack of judgement and materialism. It doesn’t matter here about your job title, where you live or the brand of your car. You are accepted for who you are and you don’t have to “prove” anything through materialistic clichés. It’s wonderfully liberating. 
  • Freedom to explore!! My son can walk a few blocks down the road to his friends. My hubby is reinventing himself. I’ve started a blog and working towards a life dream of becoming a coach. 
  • Whilst you don’t need to move countries to do all this, being in a different space, challenging all that you know, meeting different people with their stories expands and opens your mind.

In closing, was it worth it?

By conventional measures – ie financial security, owning a home, career path etc – we have gone backwards.

But then, we don’t want to live by conventional standards.

This period has shifted and changed us. Individually, and as a family.

Personally, I have grown enormously in confidence by attempting and pulling this off. The result is I say more often “if I could do this, then what else is possible?”

It’s been a great ride.. and it continues.

Have you made a big change, be it moving to another country, quitting your job, or starting afresh in any way?What kept you going/what did you learn? Please leave a comment below and share, thank you!

Zivana Anderson mentors women who wonder what lies beyond the day-to-day hamster wheel of life at http://www.mindsetdestination.comShe guides them to clarity on how to invest time and energy meaningfully. 

Get a free copy of The Essentials Toolkit where she’s summarised the best of her learnings over the years to get clear about what’s meaningful to you. Connect on Twitter & Facebook.


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Facebook comments:



  1. says

    I so admire your courage and strength Zivana, what a huge leap of faith you took. In 2011 I too gave up everything I had known for a 6 month stay in Bali, meeting my sponsor child and volunteer teaching. It was huge to give up my good job, my lovely home, leave my friends and family BUT I didn’t move countries permanently! It’s damn hard but the strength and growth you get from doing these major things outside our comfort zones makes it all worthwhile – life’s an adventure, to be lived…for some of us, ‘settling’ is not an option – from one ‘seeker’ to another ;)x

  2. Antonia says

    For us, settling in New Zealand was not a good choice. After less than two years, we realised that things were much better for our family back home. For readers, expatexposed.com or e2nz wordpress site are both good sites, non-commercially sponsored, to research the other side of New Zealand life.The scenery is lovely, but it is not for everyone as a residential destination, and family immigration is very big and important decision. Our bad decision to move to New Zealand cast a shadow over years of our lives. An expensive mistake. Please read everything you can before moving to any foreign country! 🙂

  3. says

    Hi Paula – thanks so much for stopping by!
    Antonia – I hear what you say which is why I included the part about how the decision (and move) took us back financially many years. It hasn’t always been easy – however – I have so appreciated the personal growth curve and it’s opened my eyes up to other possibilities. Having done this – I think it’s important that people get a “feel” for what country would work for them. Wishing you all the best on your return to South Africa

  4. Blaire says

    Hi! Good on ya! I am a single mama of 2 trying to move there now. I am a nurse but the process is surprisingly difficult. My partner of less than a year is a resident there currently. Any helpful suggestions for the quickest route possible to get in? We are exploring all possibilities. Thank ya:)

  5. Arri says

    That’s an awesome experience. I too am looking for work outside of my country. I’m glad the three of you are growing and learning together. That’s wonderful.

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