Amber McCue, Global Nomad & Modern CEO

Photographed by Meagan Conrad

Here’s how one working mom designed a location-independent lifestyle for herself and her family.

Be careful what you wish for, they say, or you just might get it.

In the fall of 2017, an American named Amber McCue sure did. This entrepreneur, wife and mother decided she needed some lessons in surrender and patience, and the universe graciously obliged by presenting her with the chance to turn life’s challenges into opportunities.

Over the next nine months, McCue and her family moved eight times. “I was saying ‘Uncle!'” she recalls. And after moving an additional seven times, the family finally landed in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.

This nomadic lifestyle was no accident. In fact, it mostly happened by design. Although McCue is from a small town in the state of Illinois with a population of just 500, her stepfather, who worked in the oil and gas industry, moved their family to Saudi Arabia when she was in grade school. From then on, international living was in her blood.

Top R, Amber and Family in Cape Town, South Africa (photo by Flytographer); Top L, Amber and Daughter on Kenyan Safari (photo by Amber); Bottom, Amber and Daughter’s in Dubai (photo by Flytographer)

Even so, it would be years before her ultimate goal of relocating abroad as an adult with her own family was realized.

“When we moved back from Saudi Arabia, around the time of Desert Storm [in the early 1990s], we returned to Illinois where I finished school,” McCue says. “I continued my education at Marquette University in Milwaukee [Wisconsin, U.S.] and had our oldest daughter, Lily, over Christmas break my freshman year.”

Although Lily’s father Matt had enlisted in the Army, he and McCue remained together in a long-distance relationship while she continued her education as a functionally single mom.

A Fine Place to Start

After graduation, McCue and Lily moved to Maryland where her soon-to-be husband was stationed. She worked for a talent management consulting firm and enrolled in an MBA program. She also renewed her interest in a beloved hobby: photography.

“I asked my friend Joanna, who had modeled for Playboy, to take boudoir photos of me as a gift [for my husband],” McCue shares. He’d since been deployed to Iraq. “The experience was so much fun and empowering,” she continues.

Almost immediately, the two friends decided to launch a boudoir photography business together. They called it Three Boudoir.

Brick by Brick

By now, McCue was juggling a full-time job, her MBA program, parenting and her new side-hustle.

“When Matt would deploy, it was a bit tricky,” she recalls. “We didn’t have family or a strong friend network in Maryland. This really prompted me to learn to prioritize and create systems. I had a system for everything!”

Like so many military spouses and working mothers, McCue found herself focused on work during the day and her daughter in the evenings. When others were winding down for the night, this entrepreneur turned her attention to her photography business.

Freedom is a core value of ours, not just for ourselves but for our team members.”

Amber McCue

And in three years, McCue and her business partner had grown Three Boudoir into an $80,000-a-year business. Instead of personally taking all the photos and booking all the jobs, they began outsourcing whatever wasn’t absolutely necessary for them to do. McCue recalls Joanna saying, “This could be our full-time job!”

But McCue wasn’t really in the market for another one. “I didn’t want another job, ever,” she says. “That’s where we started to build our own leadership positions. Freedom is a core value of ours, not just for ourselves but for our team members.”

Drilling Down

In 2011, McCue had her second daughter, Audrey. “I had one year to finish my master’s,” she recalls. “But, I started having chronic migraines.” With her health in decline, McCue left her MBA program, and then, as luck would have it, she was laid off.

But, she soon found the silver lining. Being laid off “turned out perfectly,” she says. “They loved my work, so I ended up consulting for the same company, but working from home.”

This was the beginning of McCue’s next entrepreneurial adventure, AmberMcCue.com.

Top L, photo by Tami Paige; Top R, photo by Krista Jones; Bottom, photo by Natalie Franke

The Modern CEO

“I remember a moment when someone asked me, ‘Don’t you just wish you could clone yourself?'” That’s when she realized she could show people how to build systems and teams, so they didn’t have to be the ones doing everything in their business. She knew from experience it was possible to live a more relaxed lifestyle as a freedom-seeking entrepreneur, or as she calls it, a Modern CEO.

“It all comes down to prioritizing what you value,” she says. “For me, I valued my time with [my kids], excelling at work and growing this business because I believed in my vision for the future.”

With her husband back home and baby number three on the way, McCue and her family set their sights on moving abroad. Matt began the lengthy U.S. State Department recruitment process while Amber continued building Three Boudoir and “preparing for freedom, whether we moved or not.”

Right On Time

By the time Matt’s assignment in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia was ensured, the family’s 15 moves had more than prepared them for arrival.

“We were ready to be settled,” McCue says. “We pulled up at the airport, and the first thing our driver said was, ‘Remember, you can’t control anything in Africa.’ So, we decided to just roll with it. To me, surrender isn’t about letting go. It’s being open to the possibility that there is something wonderful that is unfolding. We started to embrace this mantra of, ‘You’re right on time.’ We have so many ‘right on time’ stories now, and are enjoying a slower, richer pace of life.”

Moving abroad hasn’t stopped McCue from continuing to build two thriving businesses, either. “I had two requirements for moving abroad,” she chuckles. “I have to have internet, and I’m not moving to Russia … I think it would be too cold with too much vodka.”

Photos above: Taken by Amber of their time in Ethiopia

The internet, as it turns out, is critical for global nomads. So critical, McCue says, that “I also have backups and backups for my backups.” She continues: “This is part of the planning that really paid off and probably minimized culture shock. As soon as we got here, I stepped right back into business. Within three days, I had calls and deliverables. I stepped right back into my life, and immediately started experiencing the beauty of Ethiopia.”

McCue and her team members in both businesses use tools like Zoom Video Conferencing and Slack to work seamlessly together across multiple time zones. In fact, McCue has turned the time-zone challenge into a happier, more relaxed lifestyle.

“My mornings have slowed way down,” she says. “I work out. I get a massage. I volunteer. I run errands. Whatever I need to do for myself happens in the morning because most of my clients are still sleeping.”

This schedule also enables McCue to pick up her kids from school and have lunch with them. Around 1 p.m., she begins working, and stays in her zone into the evening.

Fostering Strong Connections

Her mobile lifestyle has taught McCue a thing or two about adjusting to new places. She tries to impart these lessons to her children. “The connections and the bonds that are strong will stay strong no matter where you are,” she says. “But you still have to put in the effort.”

That effort includes helping her extended family adjust.

“I talked to my whole family about our plans and expectations before we left,” she recalls. “My mom, my sisters and their boyfriends have already been out to visit us. We went on safari together at Christmas and [met] them in Morocco in June. It actually elevates and creates a different lifestyle for everyone.”

What advice can she offer for others who may be interested in creating the flexibility and benefits of a Modern CEO? “Just start,” McCue says. “Start reviewing your budget. Start building your business if that’s going to be your path to get there. Start applying for jobs like my husband did, and really build a plan.”

It also helps to swallow a healthy dose of reality.

“As much as I believe in surrender, [be] open to the possibility of what will come and [trust] that it’s all going to work out,” she concludes. “You also have to put a plan in motion. It’s not just going to happen.”

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