“A free spirit”, interview with Nawel Alaoui (SK 2014)

28 February 2020

Our alumna Nawel Alaoui (SK 2014) has changed the way she lives; she has changed countries, jobs, travelled around the world and reinvented her life. She tells the story in her book Le Monde Tourne Rond, published in French in 2019 by Nombre7 Editions. Nawel agreed to answer our questions about her personal and entrepreneurial adventures since graduating from SKEMA. 


Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your journey so far?

After graduating from SKEMA, I was hired by a large consulting firm in Paris. I worked there for three years until becoming senior for HR information system-related issues for several clients including some major French companies. But despite the promotions and career progression, I wasn’t happy in that life. So, I decided to leave it all behind to travel around the world! I sold everything and I vacated my Parisian apartment. All I had left was a backpack and I travelled alone to several places including Latin America, Australia and part of Europe. During that trip, I questioned my vision and my relationship to work. Over the course of my travels, I met others with different and unconventional profiles who, like me, had left everything behind. I met people who worked for part of the year and travelled the rest of the time, digital nomads, etc. When I got back to Paris a year later, I was completely transformed. So, I decided to invent my own job. I started freelancing as a project manager in my chosen field: information systems. I began working remotely for my clients. This way I could continue to travel and work at the same time. This new way of working suited me very well. I acquired new skills such as developing applications and websites. I learned about web marketing, online presence, SEO. I offered a whole range of digital skills and diversified. After a few months of travelling, I decided to settle for a bit in Barcelona, where I created an association for freelancers doing web-related work. It’s called Rocket Agency. Through this agency, I chose to help entrepreneurs, small businesses, and I started to find a sense of purpose in my work. With all these experiences under my belt, I decided to write a blog about leaving everything and reinventing your life. The blog then became Le Monde Tourne Rond, my book that was published in the summer of 2019 by Nombre7 Editions. 


What led you to decide to change your life?

The trigger probably happened when I was working for the consulting firm and assigned to a public body. One day on my lunch break I boldly asked my colleagues about the meaning of our work. Once everyone had got over their initial surprise, tongues loosened and everyone agreed that they weren’t driven there by any kind of passion or desire, that they were only working there for the money and social acceptance. If they had found their true calling, they wouldn’t be there. So, I decided to ask the same question on the Facebook group “Entraide SKEMA” and it generated quite a buzz. I ended up with 2,000 reactions from people who felt the same way. It really got me thinking and I figured that there was an underlying generational problem. I decided to take it further and to run this project via a blog that would become the book. In parallel I decided to leave everything behind and go travelling. 

In our modern society, when we’re a good student the path is all laid out before us. After the high school diploma, you get into a good school. Once you graduate, you work for a big company in a management-level position and in all that time you don’t really ask yourself any questions. But one day you take a step back and ask yourself “What did I dream of as a kid?”  The answer is rarely “of sitting behind a computer in front of an Excel spreadsheet in an office in La Défense.” And then it hits you hard. That’s when the question of “meaning” appears and you begin to ask yourself how you want to live your life. Do I like the mountains or the city? Do I enjoy travelling? What types of people do I want around me? What are the types of skills I want to focus on and develop? How do I want to learn these skills? These are all questions that we don’t take the time to ask ourselves early on. 


You’ve just written a book, Le Monde Tourne Rond, that was released last summer. What made you want to write it and what is it about?

The book stemmed from my desire to “steer” my own evolution in this adventure to change my life. I used myself as a test subject: in what ways was I changing? How was my world view shifting? How was I dealing with the challenges of life as an entrepreneur? The book is intended to provide some modest answers, with different solutions and models, to the questions that people who are outwardly successful yet unhappy might be asking themselves. The question is often the same: “I’ve done everything right, but I don’t really feel fulfilled. What’s wrong with me?” With this book I want to provide some answers and help those who are in that situation. This book could help them see different possibilities, show them that another reality is possible. 


How did you write the book? What was your process? And what have you gained from your travels?

During my travels there were some stages that really stood out for me, where I was aware of changes happening within me and (to me) it was worth explaining the process and exposing the experiences that have made it so that today I am not the same person I was yesterday. There have been significant phases in my entrepreneurial adventure when things clicked into place for me, allowing me to level up. Every time I felt like I was making a breakthrough, that my outlook on life was changing and I kept telling myself that it was time to write it all down before forgetting all the shifts I had experienced within myself and to be able to share it all with others through my adventures, experiences, etc. The point was to be my own test subject: “I want to reinvent my life and start over. What happens? What difficulties will I face? How will my world view change? What impact will it have on my life? What are the types of encounters, reading materials and adventures that will have an impact on me?” 

I wanted to navigate through all the difficulties and the ways to overcome them through this writing process and tell the story as I went along. The blog allowed me to do that. The book that ensued required a different approach, because it contains characters, a story, suspense, a plot. So, for that I got help from a writing coach. She helped me to draw up a plan that included the different prerequisites of a good book. We worked on character depth to bring them to life and give them substance. We very quickly ended up with a few dense pages, to which I added different parts I had written and then I added others. It took me two whole months to write the book.

I drew on my travels to write it, because inspiration is lacking when each day resembles the next and life becomes about going home at night completely exhausted and feeling like cities are just full of zombies. We shut ourselves off from our bodies and our emotions, yet these are the fuel of writers. When we are experiencing things, feeling things, when we are filled with wonder and discovering new things, we truly see the world, we are astonished by it, inspired by it. We feel so much, it gives richness and provides incredible fodder for writing. 


You are also an entrepreneur. Can you tell us more about that? 

This year, my intention is to focus on the book and its promotion. I’d also like to create a coaching and support programme for people who find themselves in this situation. My goal would be to become a writer/public speaker. I’m going to be participating in book fairs. I’m also going to be speaking at the TedX conference in Mulhouse on 18 April this year, where the theme will be "Le puzzle du bonheur" (the happiness puzzle). I will be presenting a method to explain what the problem is when you have a life that society deems great by all accounts and yet you don’t feel content. Often, people who experience this don’t understand what is happening and I’d like to gradually help them to materialise a new way of living. 


Is the network important to you? Has it been useful?

Over the course of my career, anytime I asked for advice about an internship, a job, a company, I always got a high number of responses via SKEMA. When I arrived in Barcelona, I immediately contacted the SKEMA Barcelona alumni club. Unfortunately it was on hiatus, so I took over temporarily and that went really well, everyone was really responsive. Thanks to the SKEMA family spirit, as soon as there are a few Skemans in a city you don’t feel alone; you know you’ll be able to have a social life thanks to the network. In my company, the network also helped me find interns whenever I needed them. And of course, there was that message on the “Entraide SKEMA” group that generated a real buzz and was the catalyst for the blog/book.


What are your plans or dreams these days?

I’d like to develop a programme to support people looking to completely change their life: change countries, change jobs, etc. It’s during periods of change, when we’re at our most vulnerable, that the most limiting beliefs, fears etc. crop up. 

I’d also like to put all the skills I was able to develop through Rocket Agency to good use for the launch of my own brand of organic cosmetics, Namur. My goal is to allocate a percentage of the turnover to environmental projects.

We wish Nawel great success and meaningful projects!

Nawel Alaoui (SK 2014)

Social Media & IT Warrior / Co-founder at Rocket / Writer 

Helping you to find the meaning and to thrive in your work, this is the mission of the SKEMA Alumni Career service! More info here and to contact us.