When a Sabbatical Reveals Your Mission in Life: Sarah Williams (Ep. 6)



Sarah Williams created Tough Girl Challenges in 2014 as a way of motivating and inspiring women and girls.


Her 2016 self-challenge was the Marathon des Sables: Six marathons in six days across the Sahara Desert!

Mount Khatardin.jpg

Sarah’s 2017 challenge was to thru hike the Appalachian Trail solo and unsupported, logging 2,190 miles in 100 days. Here she’s pictured at the trail’s northern terminus, Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine.



Sarah Williams started out her career working in finance in London. Now, she works for herself – when she’s not pursuing some intense outdoor challenge in a far flung corner of the world.

Sarah is the creator of Tough Girl Challenges, and the host of the Tough Girl Podcast.

Her mission is to share the stories of inspirational female explorers, adventurers, athletes and everyday women who have overcome great challenges. She wants to motivate women and girls to push the boundaries of what’s possible for their own lives.

Sarah herself has been recognised by The Guardian as one of the 10 most inspiring contemporary female adventurers to follow.

In this episode, you’ll hear how Sarah went from a conventional career path that really wasn’t making her happy to pursuing her passions as an adventure-seeking entrepreneur.

She says she’d never have gotten here if it wasn’t for her sabbatical leap.

In 2013, Sarah quit her job in banking, at age 32. Her time off, to recover her sense of self, ended up lasting 18 months. During that time, she went to visit family in Australia, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, and backpacked around South America. She made an important discovery in her time off: She wanted to motivate and inspire other women to take on their own big challenges.

She began Tough Girl Challenges with a podcast that shared the stories of women who had undertaken incredible physical feats. It is now listened to in 174 countries around the world and has passed 600,000 downloads.



  • What it’s like when you’re a super positive person, and the realization that you need a life shift comes on very gradually.

  • How time off opened up a whole new direction, and where to take her passions and interests.

  • How it actually felt to quit her job and leave what was a good life in London — feeling a sense of failure, and difficulty understanding why she couldn’t make it work.

  • How family and friends were supportive initially – until more time passed – and people started wondering what she was going to do next.

  • Having the persistence and drive to push through on building a business, even when outside support wanes and it takes a long time to see results.

  • How easy building a business might look on social media – and the reality of how difficult it is.

  • The real challenge of starting a business and making it profitable.

  • How someone who loves “plans” dealt with so much unstructured time during her time off. The balance between having plans and going after spontaneous opportunities.

  • How hearing from the women she’s impacted helps keep her going.

  • The importance of women and girls having female role models; which is why she is so committed to sharing their stories.

  • People who go off and do a personal challenge are ordinary, regular people who have problems and fears too. What’s different about them is simply that they started by taking the first step.

  • The very real fears that we all have that keep us from acting on our dreams.

  • Flipping the script on failure for yourself.

  • What kind of people you need in your life – or to cut out of your life.

  • How luck has nothing to do with achieving your dreams. Behind someone accomplishing their dream is a lot of hard work.

  • The importance of just getting started, and how.



1. What do you wish you had known before you took your leap?

2. What was the most unexpected thing that came of your leap?

3. For someone who is thinking of doing something similar, what one piece of advice would you offer? 




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