Evelien went from a broken Olympic dream and a ruined trip around the world to building her business to freedom: “I’ve learned to turn tears into opportunities to grow”
“These past two years, I saw two dreams fall to pieces. When our long-awaited rugby qualifier game for the Olympics was ruined because of a decision of the trainers, I sat down and cried my heart out. But instead of continuing to wallow in self-pity, I decided to push the departure date of my world tour forward. It was the best decision ever: I made it out of Europe just in time before the pandemic hit hard. My dream was to travel around the world, an adventure that had been on my bucket list for a long time. It turned out 2020 wasn’t the best moment to do so… I got stuck in Australia and with my plans put on hold, I suddenly had time to reflect on the direction of my life. In the end, the setbacks I faced prove that I’ll find ways to turn a defeat into an opportunity.”
For as long as I can remember, I dreamed of a trip around the world. I initially thought of planning one together with my sister after graduation, but then I rolled into a corporate job, which made it harder to take off. And I lived for rugby, another reason that kept me where I was. I had discovered my passion for the sport at the age of twelve, and ended up in the national Belgian team. In June 2019, we were gearing up for a competition that would determine our qualification for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Four years of intense training and constant pressure had been part of the journey leading up to that one defining tournament.
At the time, we ranked fifth out of 36 European countries. Only the top three would be able to participate in the Olympics. It’d be a challenge for us to get there, but I was convinced we stood a chance. One week before the competition took place, our new trainers chose to withdraw. Their decision came out of the blue. From one day to the next, my dream of playing at the Olympics was shattered. I went through a tough time, screamed and cried my heart out, but the clock couldn’t be turned back. I bounced back and decided it was time to focus on my goal of travelling the world. I used to always say, ‘The day I quit rugby, I’m off on my trip around the world.’ I’d assumed I’d stop in September 2020, but when the qualifying competition fell through, I thought, ‘F*ck it, I’ll go now.’
I spoke to my employer, who was super supportive. They said, ‘If that’s your dream, you should go for it.’ We agreed on a 12-month leave of absence. I decided that February 2nd, 2020 was going to be my departure date, one I thought fit well with a big moment for change. The plan was: kick off my trip with a one-month stay in New Zealand with two friends and briefly say ‘hello’ to a friend in Australia. Then I’d hop over to South East Asia for four months and, last but not least, spend six months in South America.
The weekend before leaving I organised a farewell weekend for family and friends. The week after was all about cleaning my apartment, taking care of last-minute arrangements and packing my bags. On Tuesday night I panicked… ‘Oh my god… I’m really going to do this… Am I ready?’ I wasn’t sure, but my decision was made.
On Saturday evening I had a last dinner together with my family before getting into the car on Sunday morning. My sisters drove me to the airport, with my parents right behind us. We joked, laughed and sang the whole way there. When I noticed the drop-off sign in front of Brussels Airport, I felt tears welling up. That’s when it hit me: ‘This is it, I’m really going to leave.’ I didn’t know what to say, so I was quiet until we arrived at the security gate. We shared the last hugs and tears as I said goodbye. At the time, we thought it’d be for six months only, because the plan was for them to visit me half a year in. I remember my dad’s words while waving off his youngest to spread her wings elsewhere: ‘Stay safe.’ As if he was able to predict what would happen next… I took a deep breath, scanned my ticket and passed through the gate.
The 35-hour flight to New Zealand was emotional. While I was excited to start my adventure, I felt nervous – I was about to dive into the unknown. That first month flew by, I had such a good time with the two ladies I travelled around with in New Zealand. As agreed with a friend, I would go and visit her in Australia as it was ‘on my way’ to South East Asia. We decided to tour the west coast together for three weeks.
I landed in Australia on March 3rd. During the first seven days of our trip, COVID-19 popped up more frequently on the news. One of my cousins had planned to visit me in Darwin and another one in Bali, but both had their tickets cancelled by the end of that week. Throughout the next couple of days, it became clear that a lockdown was pending, with states about to close their borders. It was a nightmare for us backpackers moving around in vans, because campgrounds would be shut down. At the very last minute, we found a house to share with other travellers we had met on the road. A few days turned into weeks, weeks eventually became two months. And then those two months became an Australian trip of almost two years.
Looking back, I entered Australia right in time. While the rest of the world stood still, I had a fantastic experience in an environment that felt safe. For the first time in my life, I was obliged to take time for myself. I used to combine a million things: I had dedicated seventeen years to rugby tournaments and worked a demanding job in the corporate consulting world. Even if I had one hour off, I thought me-time was a waste of time and always had something scheduled. Being stuck on the other side of the world, I asked myself: ‘What do I actually want in life?’
The more time I took for myself, the more this thought occupied my mind, ‘One day, I’d like to be a business owner.’ In the midst of the pandemic, I started to reflect on a business idea. I have a huge interest in storytelling, especially when applied to the business world. In my job as a consultant at Accenture, I often experienced that to convince and move people, throwing logic, facts and figures at them doesn’t work. They might get something rationally, but without an emotional connection or inspiration, people don’t want to change. People relate, connect and empathise through stories they hear. The idea of coaching businesses and entrepreneurs how to apply storytelling in business to connect, engage and inspire others stood out. ‘Maybe one day…’
When my Australian visa got extended, I took it as a sign: ‘If I don’t try, I’ll never know.’ While I was able to travel within Australia, the pandemic made it hard to explore other countries. I decided to invest the money I had set aside for my world tour in the launch of my own business. I compared coaching programmes from all over the world and settled on a Canadian one. Over the course of eight months, various coaches and experts helped me to start and scale my business. I named it Optimiro, which stands for three things: ‘Optimistic Rosier’ (my last name), ‘Optimise my road’ and the power words ‘Optimize, Impact & Inspire’.
That’s my goal: support entrepreneurs and business professionals to master business storytelling to connect, engage and inspire their audience with impact. In the meantime, I’ve developed the Business Storytelling Impact Method, a 6 months coaching programme that includes an online self-paced storytelling course, in parallel with weekly group coaching session and a supportive learning community.
Committed to success
I’m as passionate about travel as ever, which is why I’m building a business that I can take with me everywhere I go. While I initially saw Optimiro as a side hustle, I decided to resign from Accenture to focus on my business full-time. It was a difficult choice to make, because I come from a fantastic world – I learned so much while working there. It’s an incredibly supportive company: if you want to, you can go far. While I’m forever grateful I got to kick off my career in such an environment, it’s wonderful to be able to do my own thing now.
I’m a firm believer that every dream you have is one you should make come true. That’s why I’m fully committed to making my business a success. Even so, I often struggle with self doubt. I regularly ask myself whether what I’m doing is good enough. Although I want everything to be 100%, I can’t let my perfectionism hold me back. I needed a push to let two professionals test my programme and their feedback has been super positive. I’m on my way and building every day. I guess it’s safe to say that building your own business can be an emotional rollercoaster.
These past months, I’ve been practicing lots of mindset work. I’d always heard that successful people get up early to accomplish things before the rest of the world starts their day. I was never a morning person myself: I preferred to study or finish work deadlines at night. Since reading the book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, I’ve been building the habit of waking up at sunrise. I do sports straight after waking up and walk or run outside, often combined with listening to a podcast or reading a book once I get back. My phone remains out of reach until I’m finished with my morning me-time.
I used to think I didn’t need time for myself. But now that I have integrated this morning ritual into my routine, it’s a joy to start the day with a focus on myself and my growth. Everything else I get done feels like a bonus. I’ve discovered first-hand how powerful your mindset can be: if you tell yourself every day, ‘I’m going to achieve X’, your mind imagines you already being there.
After spending almost two years in Australia, I decided it was time to come back. On Christmas day, I landed back in Belgium. At the airport, my family and I exchanged heartwarming hugs and cried tears of joy. While I was happy to see everyone, my heart was still lost. I left my beautiful paradise life behind in Australia, including a guy I’d been travelling with for over a year. You choose, you lose… I’m still proud of the decision I made. I realised that my dream life lies here in Europe, but my travel vibe isn’t over yet. My goal in life is to feel free.
At the moment, I’m saving money to buy a van so I can build my house and office on wheels. It’s my goal to have one by the summer, so I can renovate it during fall and be ready by the end of the winter. The idea is to travel while still being able to spend important moments with my family. I guess my house on wheels will mostly be seeing countries like Italy, Spain and Portugal. That’s how I see my lifestyle: living and working in my van that I can park anywhere. And yes, South America and South East Asia are still on my list too. Maybe not by van, but I’ll be sure to discover those continents on day to finish what I started: travel around the world.
It’s my philosophy that we should build a job around the life that we want, not the other way around. Too many of us reach a point where we think, ‘What if…’ Life is too short to not live up to your potential. These past two years, I saw two dreams fall to pieces. When the rugby qualifier game fell through, I was devastated. But instead of wallowing in self-pity, I decided to move up the departure date of my world tour. Turns out I made it out of the country just in time, or the pandemic wouldn’t have let me leave. And when the lockdown put my trip on hold, I took the time to reflect on what I wanted to do with my life, which led me to a new career purpose. Those setbacks have shown me that you can find ways to turn a defeat into an opportunity. There’s an expression that seems to suit me well: ‘Life is 10% what happens, and 90% how you react to it.’ The choice is yours.