Our ongoing GlobetrotterGirl of the Month series features women who have been able to break free and have incorporated a lifestyle of travel right into their own job description. No one embodies this idea of living life on your own terms like Ash Ambirge, of The Middle Finger Project. We first heard about Ash from two different women on opposite sides of the planet in one week. Both gushed about her, her lifestyle and her business, and since then I discovered that we share some favorite stomping grounds around the world! I signed up for her newsletter over at her website to find out more. Now, everyday when I get my daily update, I am super motivated to sit down, quit my bitchin’ and get sh*t done!
Ash is truly a force to be reckoned with, and while she plans to take her six-figure marketing business up to seven figures this year thanks to big dreams and a great new business partner, Ash has also had her fair share (and plenty of other shares) of adversity in her life. Her story is incredibly compelling and although reading parts of it feel so sad, this woman’s bad-ass way of overcoming it all and mastering her life make this month’s interview easily one of the most inspiring we’ve had on our site to date.
Read on to find out how Ash runs her business while living across 2-3 countries, plus squeezes in plenty of time for travel, too.
Philly, baby. Philly. Land of the soft pretzels. (Because cheesesteaks really aren’t that good! Am I missing a chip?) Though I grew up in the Scranton area (yes, The Office), and went to school there, so I’m a NorthEast PA girl at heart!
Where are you currently based?
Eh, depends. I spend most of my time between Santiago, Chile, and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, with intermittent trips back to Philadelphia and Scranton, as well as a handful of other trips to new places. Last year my favorite was Ecuador. This year? I’m thinking Mexico, Colombia, Italy, Ireland are on the list.
Our GlobetrotterGirls theme of 2013 is Break Free. When did you ‘break free’ and decide to start up your bad-ass marketing company: The Middle Finger Project?
I love that theme! Break Free, for me, started the moment I first stepped in an office in 2005. I had just moved to the Philadelphia area with a college degree in hand, ready to become the next CEO of somewhere important. And then I was like, “Wait, this is it? I worked so hard for this?” So I left my job and started my first copywriting company, which was a huge hilarious joke and totally bombed. So I returned to the advertising world for a few years, gathered up some more guts, and then began TMFproject in 2009. I’ve never stepped foot in an office since.
The tagline on your site reads: Dropping F-Bombs and jaws since the beginning of time (rough estimate). Can you explain in more detail what The Middle Finger Project is all about?
We’re all about doing things differently. Whether that’s your life, your career, or your marketing. As a marketing agency, we specialize in personality – if you’re looking to add more personality to your corporate communications, or your brand, we’re the people for you. But our message is much greater than that. We attract thousands of people to the blog who don’t have businesses at all, but who are just looking for a better way to do things. A way that feels like they’re actually kicking ass and taking names in this life. A way that feels like they matter – and the shit they’re doing every day matters. That’s important, that shit.
If you had to give yourself a job title, what would it be?
Well, we’ve recently incorporated under a new name – are you ready? It’s House of Moxie, Inc., and according to those documents, I’m the President. 🙂 So there we have it. (House of Moxie will be separate from TMFproject, but is the umbrella corporation it sits under.)
Reading the ‘longer, more poetic version’ of your About page, it is clear just how much of a theme overcoming adversity played in your life growing up. Judging by your fabulous attitude and buckets of self-confidence, we’re guessing you don’t like to dwell on the past. Would you mind talking quickly about a couple of those challenges – and how you think you did get over them?
Adversity happens in everyone’s life. It’s a part of all of us. But I’m continually interested in our varying responses to adversity – some people move on despite of it, and others cower under it. It’s not a matter of who’s better, but it’s the humanness of it all that interests me. Why do some thrive in the face? Why do others become overwhelmed? It seems that somehow, I developed some kind of mechanism that allows me to thrive in spite of. I’m very grateful for that, because there’s been a few things that could have really caused me to break.
As many people over at our TMFproject crew know, I’m a bit of loner. Not voluntarily, but because of perhaps the world’s most bizarre circumstances, I’ve got no living family left. It makes me sad to think about, sometimes. I remember the first day of my college internship at FOX-56 in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre; I had spent the morning getting ready, trying to make the best first impression, when I got a call from “authorities” who said my mother was at home, an hour and a half away, and “unresponsive.” That I needed to get there quickly, but no one would tell me what “unresponsive” meant. I drove in a haze-like state home, with my college roommate, expecting to see a parade of ambulances and people with important uniforms; instead, there was nothing. It was silent. It was as if nothing had ever happened. I approached the door ever-so-cautiously, to be met with a note from the coroner on the door, telling me to call him. I never saw my mother again. They took her.
It’s things like that that really make a mark on your heart. As bizarre as this sounds, my first reaction was to approach things very methodically; practically. I remember the only thing I could do at the time was go into her bedroom – the room where she had passed, yet all of her things still remained in tact, from her pink glasses on the bedside table, to the computer still being on – and I robotically began to just slowly put everything into a trash bag. Books. Knick nacks. Her medicine. She had a blood clot in her leg, and was taking blood thinners for it, but it had decided to move and hit her lung that morning. But it was all very methodical. And while that sounds cold, I do think that I approach all crises in a similar manner; by just shutting down the emotion, and moving through it like a snow plow. I’m not sure that’s the best advice, but it’s my most honest advice.
As a result of the difficult high school years, money for college was tight (non-existent?) Would you mind sharing the story of how you got your scholarship?
Ha – yes. Non-existent. For a long time growing up, we lived on $769/month – I remember the number, because it was my job to go to the bank and deposit the checks. My mom did her best, though. Even though we lived in a trailer, it was the cutest trailer anyone’s ever seen, with a gorgeous yard covered in flowers and plants and raised gardens. The scholarship was being given by the founder of Monster.com – he had grown up in a small rural town in Pennsylvania, and wanted to give back. So the scholarship was based on two different things: Financial need, and entrepreneurial potential. He was an entrepreneur, himself, so he believed in this very much. There were rounds and rounds of interviews, and eventually I made it to PennState against 4 other possible winners. We had to bring a “tangible” object to the meeting to demonstrate why we felt we had entrepreneurial potential. This is the story of how I won. 🙂 It’s very surreal to me now, looking back at those times, and very proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish. We’re looking to hit 7 figures this year, and I have no doubt that I have the tenacity to do that because of those earlier times.
The very first time I heard a girl from my hometown speak Spanish. She was a few years older than me, and she had gone abroad for a year to Mexico. She came back and visited the ice cream stand where I had worked as a teenager for 8 summers in a row. When I asked her to say something in Spanish, the most exotic, eloquent words fell right out of her mouth, and I was stunned. We went on to have many coffee dates, where she would tell me stories of love affairs and salsa dancing and adventure. I decided right then in there I was going to study Spanish, which I did. I majored in Spanish (and later, PR), and first went abroad to Costa Rica when I was 19. It’s cliche, but it changed me forever. It helped me see possibility. It’s a big part of the reason why we’re starting the Life Hooky: Retreats for Confused People division of our company. More on that later. 😉
Since breaking free and starting your own business, where have you settled in to work and what destinations have you traveled through? How do you effectively balance work and travel?
I mentioned this before, that I spend the majority of my heavy work times in Chile and Costa Rica, mostly because I’ve got so many friends that feel like family in those places. I have an apartment in Chile that I return to (the same one, every time, in an aparthotel), and an apartment here in Costa Rica I return to every time, and each one of them feel like home. As for working and traveling, though? It’s hard as hell. It’s very challenging. You want to be outside on a sunny day walking through downtown Quito, exploring, but you’ve got to be finishing a project inside with Wifi. I mostly try to make sure that my biggest projects are completed when I’m in one place, so I can go on auto-pilot when traveling, just doing what’s necessary for the day-to-day so I can make sure I’m not sitting around in an apartment in Barcelona for 3 months…never having time to go explore, or having even found a favorite restaurant. (True story – I made that mistake a few years ago.)
You truly embody the idea of living life on your own terms. You’ve got life on lock! What is your best advice to block out voices of haters, naysayers and self-doubt for people looking to Break Free?
I don’t know – this seems like a non-issue to me. It’s more like…”Who cares?” When you know what you’re doing is right, they’re like a little ant on your radar. There’s not a lot of room to talk when you’re out and about in the world, doing everything they wish they were doing, and making a million bucks at the same time. That sounds arrogant, but sometimes a little arrogance is exactly what you need.
What books have influenced you?
Anything by Erma Bombeck – she was a humor columnist for women in the 60’s. She pushed every envelope there was. And she did so with a smirk. And she taught people to loosen up their shirt collars a little bit. We could all use a little Erma Bombeck – even today. That’s the irony.
What websites do you read on the daily?
None, unfortunately. I need to get more into this again! Been too distracted with our own projects. But I always pop by to see what Seth’s saying.
What music do you listen to when working? What music pumps you up?
I’m a hip hop girl through and through. That probably comes from my Scranton roots. 😉 But I listen to anything I can move to – even if I’m in the car. I don’t do soft. I don’t do slow. I don’t do sad. Only music that gets you going. I actually have a Spotify list called, “Playa please,” and you’ve got songs like Timbaland and JT’s “Give It To Me,” Jamie Foxx’s “Winner,” Sean Paul’s “She Doesn’t Mind.”
For those haters you mentioned in the previous question, “Could you speak up and stop mumbling, I don’t think you came in clear? When sitting on the top it’s hard to hear you from way up here,” lyrical ego boost never hurt anyone. Ha.
Do you have a mantra? How do you stay focused on meeting your goals?
My mantra is this: Excuses are for your competitors. Period.
As far as staying on track with goals? I hire people to help me. When you’ve got big dreams, big ideas, and lots of ‘em? You need to narrow it down, figure out what’s most important, and then go the hell at it. The best business decisions I’ve ever made include hiring other people who are smarter than me to make that happen. To go to the hell at it.
How many countries have you been to in total? What is your dream destination?
Eh, I don’t even know. A few. More than most. I’m constantly in a state of travel. Asia doesn’t call to me, for some reason, so I’m not hopped up to go there yet. My dream country is still Colombia – I’ve been waiting for the right time to go, though, because I want to have plenty of time to run around barefoot and explore as much as possible. It feels like the perfect mix between Central American flavor, and South American European. 🙂
Looking to the future
What’s on the horizon for next year? Any particular travel or business goals you can share with our readers?
Too much! A book – I’ve been approached by a few agents, which is exciting. Life Hooky: Retreats for Confused People. We’re starting a new corporate marketing division, spearheaded by my new business partner, Jenny. A new resource library over at TMF. A few other projects in the mix. And as for travel? I’m really thinking Colombia, Mexico and Brazil are on the list, while I’m over here. I’ll be back in Chile at some point, too, for a bit. Gotta love those Chileans. 😉
Lastly, how can someone hire you?
Right now, the only projects I’m involved with are our copywriting projects – I’ve got a team of writers who I work with, and I oversee all creative direction. We’ve got The Copy Shop, and are rolling out a new Name Shop and Idea Shop soon. 🙂
If you want to know more about Ash and all of her incredible adventures and endeavors, you can find her at her website, The Middle Finger Project, or across social media on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and on Instagram. If you have any questions or comments for Ash, you can leave them here below this post.