'I quit my multi-million pound business and gave it all to charity'
We were ten minutes into our Zoom interview when Sarah Wilson suddenly became distracted by the rain lashing on to her tiny balcony in the rooftops of Paris. ‘Can I just get my washing in?” she asked.
Reassuringly real, I should have expected nothing less of the woman that built up a million pound wellness empire, only to to walk away from it all and give the proceeds to charity.
Sarah started I Quit Sugar in 2011 as a lifestyle experiment for a column she was writing. This led to an e-book, then three New York Times bestsellers and a business that saw 1.5 million people signing up to an eight-week nutrition programme.
But six years on, Sarah wasn’t enjoying it anymore. ‘The business got to a point where it had gone from being a joy – creating, inventing, connecting with people – to a business concern. It felt soul-destroying. It felt wrong.’
With breathtaking integrity, she wrote an open letter to her millions of followers explaining her decision. She says: ‘I set out to educate the world about the truth of our eating habits and to find a technique that could shift things in a meaningful way.
‘Once we arrived at the point where “scale” – growing the existing structure exponentially – was required, I realised the motivator now was money.
‘My motivator had not been money previously…it was time for me to go. I’m an educator, a communicator. Not a money-spinner.’
Sarah sold off some of the assets for an undisclosed amount, and channelled the profits from her business into a philanthropic trust, collaborating with various charities such as Two Good, which donates woollen throws to women’s shelters during the winter months.
Why did she want to take this path?
‘Money doesn’t matter to me. I am aware that nobody else does it this way – that it seems insane,’ she says. ‘But I’ve always wanted to challenge the capitalist model. I earn enough money to support myself now by writing books, doing corporate keynote talks and consulting.’
Sarah says giving is in our DNA as human beings, but too often our ‘neoliberal model’ discourages us from our altruism, something we should strive to rethink..
‘Giving is not just about the moral imperative, it is also the most reliable happiness or wellness hit you can get.’
It’s bold, refreshing life choices such as these that have made Sarah somewhat of legend. Editor of Cosmopolitan Australia at age 29, host of MasterChef Australia, and a former journalist who has interviewed two Australian Prime Ministers, Beyoncé, Brene Brown, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. She was ranked as one of the top 200 most influential authors in the world (two years in a row), described as “the climate queen” and “f*cking wild” (by Russell Brand). But now, she lives a nomadic, minimalist life writing books, hosting her podcast Wild and writing her newsletter.
I’m here on Zoom to interview Sarah about the UK release of her latest book This One Wild and Precious Life, out on August 31. The book documents her journey to find more connection and joy during her three-year around the world hike – travelling everywhere from Jordan, Cornwall, the Lake District, the Australian Outback, Japan the Sierra Nevada and beyond – all with just a tiny backpack.
What inspired this journey? ‘I had been feeling an anxious despair that went beyond my own internal anxiety and pain.
‘I knew we were all feeling it, particularly around the destruction of our planet and life as we love it, and no one was really talking about it at a spirit/soul/nature level.
‘We were talking carbon emissions and plastic-free July and getting frustrated and devastatingly sad,’ she says.
‘This was not how life was meant to go! We are better than this! We have become ‘small humans’ when we really want to live a big life! I knew intuitively there was a better way… a wilder, more connected, more meaningful way. I wanted to find it.’
Sarah’s quest to find meaning in a new way brought her to the conclusion that we are suffering from a ‘moral loneliness’. She describes this as the terrifying state ‘when the supply cord to connection, caring and doing the right thing by each other and the planet has been severed. We can’t tap into the point of life, to what matters. When you don’t know your true north, the disorientation is terrifying.’
The Greeks, she explains, called this moral loneliness ‘acedia’, a state of spiritual apathy or listless sloth. ‘As I ventured into the early stages of this journey, I quickly realised it was at the root of our disconnect from this one wild and precious life we’d been granted.’
Sarah explored a myriad way of re-connecting. One of those was ‘soul-nerding’ – reading and learning and being inspired by leaders in evolutionary biology, history, philosophy, anthropology, great literature, art and poetry. She also enjoyed hiking in nature (‘I found over 42,000 studies which prove that walking in nature will not only bring you a sense of joy but a sense of belonging,’ she says.)
She also recommends asking ‘beautiful’ questions. ‘It’s time we look ourselves in the mirror and ask, “if you were stripped of absolutely everything and it didn’t matter what you looked like, it didn’t matter what you owned, what’s left? What would make life worth living?”‘
Seeking the answers to these questions will wake us up from our spiritual apathy, she says. ‘Do you want to get sucked into the capitalist matrix and spent your precious life in a shopping centre, following the herd? Or do you want to truly live, create magic, and suck the juice out of every moment?’
And with that last thought, Sarah is dashing off to hike in the mountains. The zoom screen is suddenly blank and I am left with Sarah’s book. I read the blurb: ‘We are being called upon, individually and as a society, to forge a new path and to find a new way of living. Will you join the journey?’
I’m not sure I’ll get a better invitation this weekend.
How to start living your wild and beautiful life
- Learn to read deeply. The mental stillness required for a long read allows your mind to formulate a position on what matters most to you.
- Meditate and practice sitting with your discomfort. This practice has formed a part of just about every spiritual tradition throughout history.
- Push yourself out of your comfort zone, go to your edge. For example, try wild swimming and feel ‘the eyes-wide-open pulse of life.’
- Delay gratification or do a ‘dopamine fast’ by turning off technology for radical chunks of time.
Listen to Sarah’s podcast, Wild With Sarah Wilson, on Apple Podcasts.
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