Midlife Strategies

This Ex-CSO of Cisco Took Off to the Amazon Rainforest and Discovered a New Calling

Futurist and author Ayelet Baron quit the rat race of America's corporate world and became a truly global citizen connected to the people and planet.

By Kay Newton

Ayelet Baron has been described as a force of nature when it comes to envisioning a more humane world. A former corporate honcho who has worked in global boardrooms in Silicon Valley, London and Singapore, she touched the pinnacle of her career as chief strategy and innovation officer at Cisco, Canada.

And then, Ayelet jumped off the regular grid of ‘success’ and charted her own path. She went on to win an award for her book trilogy, F*ck the Bucket List, based on her own learnings, and is listed among Forbes’ top 50 global female futurists.

Having just sold her Canadian home, Ayelet is now ready for her next exciting adventure, a trait she has had since birth. “I was almost born on a plane and started travelling when I was a few weeks old. World travel helped me nurture my ‘cut-off switch’. I often think, hang on a minute, this is not working for me,” says the writer and visionary.

As a teenager growing up in Israel, she believed in the usual parameters of success: go to University, get a job, be successful, and basically do what society expects of you. When she was 16, her family moved to the west coast of Canada.

“It was a traumatic time. I had to start over in a new school leaving behind friends who were getting ready for the army and to fight a war in Lebanon,” she recalls. Being an outsider, she gravitated towards the theatre department in school and learned to “look at the edges”. Her father did not allow her to go to theatre school, so she completed her Bachelor’s with a major in political science and a minor in theatre.

Ayelet Baron

She rose quickly in her corporate career from then on. “I travelled an average of 300,000 miles a year. On the one side, it was awesome. I had exposure to over 100 countries. I love people, to connect, listen with empathy and understand things from a different perspective, not as a corporate person. I understood the inner workings of China and I fell in love with Africa,” she narrates. Despite all this, travel made her ill.

One day, at home in San Francisco, she got an invite from United Airlines to attend an event at the Asian Art Museum. “I felt like royalty. There was an open bar, a four-course meal and pomp galore. It turned out, I was one of the top 100 flyers for the airline in San Francisco; 75 of us were at the event. But as I looked around the tables, I saw nothing but exhaustion and disease.”

It was a wakeup call for Ayelet. “I was a dedicated employee and work meant everything. I did things at my own expense. All those hours flying, jetlag, the unhealthy food, the uncomfortable hotel beds and lack of sleep. Disease had started to show and I knew something had to change. My marriage also fell apart. Life was not working for me,” says Ayelet. “I fired myself from corporate America and took off to the Amazon rainforest.”

In 2014, Ayelet joined 17 remarkable women as part of the Jungle Mamas programme organised by Lynne Twist, co-founder of the Pachamama Alliance. “Visiting the Amazon allowed me to see the global impact on the rainforests firsthand. I saw the deep separation we have from nature, and the need for action to help sustain a rapidly diminishing environment. The obligation to create healthier leadership. To plant new roots using the ancient natural wisdom around purpose, harmony, integration, and holistic wellbeing,” she says.

The Amazon also led Ayelet to find the courage to discover my path. She said goodbye to a lifestyle and life that did not work for her. “I stepped into my power, a path with greater meaning and purpose. Sometimes it takes being sick to see the way forward,” she says.

Today Ayelet’s purpose is to help people become aware that they too can step into their own power. “I have been the steward of the F*ck the Bucket List books; I do not take ownership as we wrote them universally. I don’t want people to know my name. I hope these books get to millions of people so they too can find their true stories,” says Ayelet.

And they already are. Tim McDonald, former director of community, The Huffington Post, says, “Living life fully can be a very lonely journey. Ayelet metaphorically holds your hand as you take your own steps. What you discover is the connection you find not just within yourself but with the community you find along the way.”

Now that Ayelet has sold her home, she is a digital nomad. She is also designing an international community of purposeful creators. “Who knows where the adventure will take me. Expect me one day to turn up at your doorstep!”

Follow Ayelet on ayeletbaron.com

First published in eShe’s April 2021 issue

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