We had the good fortune of connecting with Amie Williams and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Amie, what role has risk played in your life or career?
When I was studying theater many years ago as an undergraduate, I remember a story my professor told me, a simple story he called “the moth and the flame.” He said there were three types: the moth that circles around and around the flame, the moth that gathers up its courage and passes through it a few times, and the third type, the moth he was encouraging his students to be, the one that embraces the flame completely and so is consumed by it. “Obeying the flame is both the easiest and the hardest thing to do,” Camus once said, and this has been a recurrent theme throughout my career as a filmmaker, journalist and NGO leader.
I was naturally drawn to risk-taking as a child, an avid tree climber and playground disruptor. In my early twenties I moved to Kenya, East Africa to teach in a remote village when my fellow college graduates headed off to law school, Wall Street or sensible well-paying jobs. I didn’t know it then, but living far from the familiar, learning a new language and culture (perhaps one of the world’s oldest and most resilient) would lay the groundwork for a nomadic lifestyle that I would continue to crave, never being able to stay in any one place for very long. I think many artists are like this, throwing themselves to the wind to see where it might take them, but for me, it was absolutely essential. I loved travelling to far-flung patches of dirt to kick it up, it was a glorious way to live. I was lucky, I earned enough money from freelancing to work on my own projects, and I was able to stay within the moral hemisphere that I inhabited, that is, I didn’t have to sell my soul.
As I grew older and had a child, I started to see how taking risks could also be disruptive for those I loved and loved me. I remember being in a remote Siberian town, working on a film about six months after my son was born, trying to call him at a broken-down Soviet phone booth, and when I finally got through, I was told he was in the hospital from dehydration. My frozen breast milk had not been enough and my harried husband was screaming at me in a panic before the line went dead. There are other stories of turning my back on lucrative jobs or doing insane pivots from steady gigs to move for months to Japan or Tunisia (where I narrowly escaped a terrorist attack), still, my restless heart always seemed to beat faster in unchartered territory.
I started to understand there is a huge difference between taking risks and being fearless. I might have loved the thrill of the unknown, but deep inside I was terribly afraid of being predictable, normal, boring. I couldn’t sit still, I had a hard time concentrating, I think I also tripped myself up by having too much going on. Working as a serial entrepreneur or full-time freelancer can also take you into this dark place of feeling inadequate and incomplete—you have everything but nothing going on, and you become OZ-like in your insistence all is well behind the curtain.
When I co-launched the NGO GlobalGirl Media (perfect name, right?), I thought I would settle down some, and in a few years the organization would be running smoothly, scaling well with proper staff and structure in place so I could slow down. Just over ten years into it, although we have expanded to seven countries and ten cities, and I have had the privilege to work with truly trailblazing women in media, impacting countless young women from all over the world, it always feels short of complete. Our challenges loom larger than ever, partly a product of the pandemic and partly the result of how journalism has slid down a slippery slope into a mess of social media, misinformation, lack of accountability and mass layoffs. Even the film industry will never be the same. It’s a perfect time for chronic risk-takers like me to take center stage, but I’ve started to feel otherwise.
This would be a good time to admit I have had a lifelong obsession with two prototype female adventurers: Amelia Earhart, and the lesser known writer Isabelle Eberhardt, who travelled through Algeria dressed as a man and converted to Islam in the late 1800’s. Both women were mega risk-takers, solo traversing huge expanses of sky and sand well before their time. Who can’t swoon over these words, penned by Eberhardt in her book The Nomad: “For those who know the value of and exquisite taste of solitary freedom (for one is only free when alone), the act of leaving is the bravest and most beautiful of all,” or this: “I will never be content with a sedentary life; I will always be haunted by thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere.” Still, Amelia disappeared in flight and Isabelle died penniless and alone in Algeria in a flash flood at age 27. The thing about risk is “only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go,” said one of my favorite poets, T.S. Eliot. I think there is a wall you eventually hit, especially if you see risk taking you through a cyclical pattern, back to where you started. Risk itself can be repetitive, and funny enough, even predictable. As long as it eventually leads to reward, you keep riding those fences. But like that great Eagles song, the desperado in you can even become a little desperate.
Former CEO of five businesses, Margaret Heffernen in her amazing 2019 Ted Talk, (clocking over 3.5 million) not only predicted a looming epidemic, she argued for what she called “robust thinking,” which I have come to adopt as my new mantra, instead of my previous romance with risk. In our hyper tech-driven world, she sees the need for a less algorithmic approach and more experimentation, imagination and humility to solve problems in an unpredictable age. That last one, humility, mixed with resilience, patience and even humor I’ve come to realize are necessary companions for risk, and like a signature cocktail, it has become my elixir for whenever my “dogs start barking,” and I want to run. Heffernen cautioned against what we are now living in lockdown, that zoom-induced slumber where we have outsourced all we think, feel and do to technology, and what gets left out? “Anything that can’t be measured, which is just about anything that counts,” she warned. So figuring out what really counts, for me, is now the first step in deciding just what risks I am now willing to take.
These last few years I did in fact take another giant leap, and moved to Greece. I met a man who was a dreamer and adventurer like me and we hatched a plan to build an eco-retreat center and organic farm on the Ionian island of Zakynthos where ostensibly we would bring all the other wandering artist souls we knew to rest, rejuvenate and share a well-spread table. We opened six months before Covid-19 shut us down. We’ve been in a holding pattern ever since. Like many small business owners, we have panicked, pretended it will all be better soon, even started considering conceding defeat. But I found myself one day walking along one of our island’s spectacular cliffs and thinking about Sappho, the 7th century Greek poet who leapt to her death off a similar dizzying jut of rock on another island, Lefkada, not far from us. In a world dominated by the loud, male voice and view of life, hers was softer, lyrical, revolutionary because she was a woman. Some swear she was a lesbian, even the dramatic suicide, pining over her male lover, Phaon might have been myth. Most of her poetry survived only as fragments, and is still being uncovered today, the latest verses in 2013. One thing is certain, she took great risks with her writing, her art, her life. She put it all out there, even begging Aphrodite, “don’t crush my spirit.”
To take risks isn’t so much about being strong or intrepid, being a leader or the hottest innovator in the room, it’s ultimately I think about willing to admit you are imperfect, you’re still searching, piecing together fragments of an unfinished dream, wherever it takes you and however it shapes you. So for now, my plan is to plant my feet in the fertile soil of this ancient island, home to more olive trees than people and maybe write a few unfinished poems of my own to Aphrodite, who after all, was not the goddess of risk-taking, but rather of passion, and of love.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am most proud and excited about Wild Fig Retreat now, the eco-farm and retreat center I am building with my partner in Greece. Wild Fig is a special, playful, tucked-away paradise on the Greek island of Zakynthos. Our motto here is “come to Wild Fig and uncover what matters. ” I see Wild Fig Retreat as our poem, our playground, our refuge, our collective offering to the world. The space is open for individual family vacation rentals, but we want to welcome retreats focused on holistic health, wellness, yoga, mindfulness, creativity, writing, screenwriting, filmmaking, traditional music, Greek cooking classes, and more. We also feel very strongly that retreats should not be exclusive or unaffordable, that especially in these turbulent times, we want to create community and give back both to the locals as well as those less fortunate. In that vein, we host an annual women’s leadership retreat in September that focuses on uniting female entrepreneurs and “women on the move,” or migrant women in Greece to come together to explore ways of supporting each other. We also host “workawayers,” students and travelers who want to trade work for accommodation, and we plan to host immersive culture and cooking retreats during our autumn olive and wine harvest.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I love nature, and L.A. has lots of amazing hikes in the Santa Monica mountains and various canyons. One of my favorite hikes is Franklin Canyon, which also has a small lake. Also for sweeping views, there is Kenneth Hahn State Park. I surf, so I would take them to surf or give a lesson at Venice Break, but also for an after-surf coffee at the french cafe Zinque on Venice Blvd, where they serve the coffee french-style in small bowls. They are also known as a wine bar and singles scene at nights. They also have a branch in West Hollywood. I have lived in Culver City for decades, watching it transform to a restaurant mecca, but I live down the street from the little known Jackson Market Deli, owned by a Syrian immigrant who transformed this unspectacular convenience store into an urban garden oasis, with a backyard courtyard and waterfall! He makes the best paninis and also sells Syrian wine. Another favorite hang in Culver City is the classic old Culver Hotel, which has jazz some nights. It’s a throwback to old L.A. for sure, very romantic/nostalgic, be sure to check out the upstairs bar if its open. Another hidden CC gem is the Museum of Jurassic Technology, a curiosity feast, with the motto “”…guided along as it were a chain of flowers into the mysteries of life,” the guy who founded it won a MacArthur Genius Award, and one visit here you can see why. Home to Mr. Wilson’s “Cabinet of Wonders,” there is so much more! Be sure to stop for tea in the Russian Tea Room on the top floor. Finally, no visit to Los Angeles is complete without a trip to the Getty Museum, both inside and out it is truly spectacular and one of my most favorite places in Los Angeles. Most summers there are outdoor concerts and lots of great programs throughout the year. Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My shout out is to a Kenyan woman I met during that first wild leap into the unknown I took in my twenties, moving to a small village in Western Kenya. There I met Nester Theuri who would go on to become a mother/sister figure, work colleague, mentor and spiritual advisor. She was trained as a nurse and together we worked for an NGO that helped women have fewer kids so they could build healthier lives, but the AIDS crisis happened while I was there, and Nester was on the frontlines. I will never forget her bravery and compassion, her absolute dedication to others. Over the years she taught me patience and grace, and how to be a “Jane Kenyan” which really meant how to be a full woman, in all her glory, strength, love, vulnerability and resilience. We recently worked together on a project with my NGO, GlobalGirl Media in Northern Kenya among the Samburu, where young girls are still undergoing FGM (female genital mutilation) and married off as young as 13, but Nester helped me teach a group of them to say no and create a video campaign against child marriage.
Website: www.globalgirlmediaproductions.com AND www.wildfigretreat.com
Youtube: Don’t do YouTube, but Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/ggmp
Other: www.globalgirlmedia.org is the website for the NGO I run.
all photos taken by me, the landscape photo is of Zakynthos, Greece where we have our retreat center and the shots of me with the girls are about the NGO GlobalGirl Media.