'Burnt out and lonely, I gave up city life and moved to the Caribbean'
‘During the day, I was rubbing shoulders with Colin Farrell, Eric Cantona and even Desmond Tutu. But at night, I just went home and just slept,’ says author Kat Byles. ‘I was single and had no social life. I lived to work and was completely burnt out.’
In her early 40s, Kat was a communications director and her career was going from strength to strength.
She’d been an instrumental part in growing the Homeless World Cup – an annual tournament which supports 250,000 homeless people to train and take part, and had a host of celebrity endorsers. She was also executive producer on Kicking It, a documentary about the competition, which was shown at Sundance Film Festival.
Kat, now 51, was living the dream, but says she was ‘exhausted’.
‘At weekends, I would walk round the lake near my house in Bath and just cry,’ she remembers. ‘Alongside the low-level depression was the exhaustion, I would put foot on the gas and nothing, the tank was completely empty. I knew I had to leave.’
Finally Kat took the plunge and quit. ‘The board were shocked because I was so dedicated to the work, the players and purpose,’ she says. ‘But I think my family were relieved.’
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What followed was three months in bed. ‘I did nothing, but rest and recover,’ Kat explains. ‘I’d been living on stress and adrenaline for too long.
‘Eventually I started to feel a bit better. I hired a coach and went on a handful of self-development courses and reconnected with my intuition. With the last bit of money I had left, I went on holiday to Antigua for 10 days on my own.
‘It was blissful. I swam every day, walked on the beaches and the beauty of nature made me feel alive again. It was there that I had an idea to start my own healing retreats in Antigua – I felt like the island had magically healed me and I wanted to share the magic.’
While Kat had no experience in running retreats, she knew she had transferable skills. ‘I told myself that I had run a world class football tournament bringing 500 people who were homeless together with global partners like Nike, UEFA, and Vodafone. Bringing an intimate group of women into the beauty of Antigua for a week of creative inspiration for their business would for will be breeze.’
Kat went back to the UK, rented out her flat for three months and returned to Antigua to live for three-month chunks of time, working virtually as a trainer and coach.
‘Initially friends and family shared they were sad and hurt I wouldn’t be around as much,’ she says. ‘But then they saw how happy being in Antigua and by the sea made me. Our relationships were improved by me being happier.’
Then, on one trip back to the island in April 2014, she met her husband, Trevor.
‘He was a tour guide who lived on Antigua,’ Kat explains. ‘I arrived on the pontoon for a sailing trip and he asked me: ‘Where’s your other half?’ He thought I was travelling with someone. We had a holiday romance, which soon developed. We got married this year!’
It was during the pandemic that Kat finally made the leap, and moved to Antigua full time. ‘During Covid, flights were grounded so I began to settle on a more permanent basis,’ she explains.
Now, she runs her Antigua retreats, where she encourages people to ‘align with their true nature and purpose.’ But she admits the move wasn’t without it’s challenges.
‘When I first started living here, I showered with a bucket outside!’ she says. ‘When I moved into my house on the beach, in my first two days I felt something run over my foot in the living room, and I stood on a chair, and I was screaming, and Trevor came in and told me I was being “too English.”
‘But I’ve adapted – we have lizards that live behind the TV, we have bats in the roof, we have a rescue puppy and a rescue cat who sleep in the bed and a turtle that lives in the garden. I am literally living with animals and nature and to start with I wasn’t used to that at all.’
But now Kat is living her dream life. ‘I wake up with sunrise and go to the beach with my dog and go swimming in the sea and watch the light coming over the hill.
‘I have breakfast and do my coaching calls or PR training or writing until lunchtime. The afternoons are quite hot right now, so I usually get back into the ocean to cool off.
‘I work with clients from Britain, America, Canada, Australia, Europe. I am also a director of a Adopt A Coastline in Antigua, which is a new initiative about the conservation of the coastline. And we aim to roll that out across the Caribbean.’
Kat’s journey from burnt-out shell living in London to working barefoot on a beach with a man she loves has inspired her to write her book Creative, Happy Work: Follow your Heart to a Thriving Business, Life and World.
In it, she encourages readers to turn down the noise and the demands of the world. ‘It’s about redefining what success is,’ Kat says. The constant push for more – the myth that success is bigger, faster, stronger – is exhausting. Even business with a purpose personally left me burnt out, nothing left to give.’
Kat encourages us to tune into our ‘heart’s wisdom’ to discover how to create a work or a business that works for you, versus trying to fit into the old paradigm. ‘How do you fit into a traditional business system that doesn’t value, respect or care about this, about what matters most to you? You don’t. You find another way. And that’s what my book is about.’
So how do we tune into our intuition? ‘Being in nature, meditation, yoga, painting, writing, dancing, sports, gardening, cooking, dancing, photography, running and playing in our imagination, to name a few. You will have your own preferred way of connecting to your intuition and creativity and all the healing and transformation this offers to you and your business.
‘It helps to turn down the noise from your mind and the external world, giving priority to space and quiet to hear your heart. Turn off media, social media, and ‘expert’ advice, and just tune into your heart’s wisdom.
‘If someone had told me five years ago that this would be my life, I would have thought they were insane! But that’s why I wrote the book. Anyone can do what I’ve done – the book gives you the pathway through, to follow your heart and to find the life and work you love – creative, happy work!’
5 steps to tackle burn out:
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