How did I get here?

So here I am – it’s February 2015 and I have 23 days left to work in my current job, with no next job lined up. I’m here by my own choice, having somehow plucked up the courage to leave. In April, Dave and I will be leaving the country, leaving the flat where we live and leaving all our belongings behind to trade our safe, easy life for a life of cycle touring adventure, uncertainty and – most importantly – a sense of purpose. I can hardly believe it!  How did I get here?

It was mid-summer 2012 and I’d been living in London for 18 months. To say I’d been burning the candle at both ends doesn’t really do my lifestyle justice. I’d cut the candle into tiny pieces and was trying to burn each little nubbin at both ends. That year so far, I’d signed up to a different sporting event each month – runs, bike rides, triathlon, Tough Mudder – training for each new activity on top of my full time job and jam-packed social schedule that included a lot of drinking. I was absolutely exhausted. I crashed and burned and spent a lot of time in bed, unable to do anything. And then in July, my amazing, immortal grandma died of lung cancer. My Mum was devastated and it was a really sad time for the family.  I spent some more time in bed and slowly started to seriously re-evaluate my life.

Well I suppose that realising you need a change is an important step, but what are you supposed to do then? I kept asking myself the same questions but the answers were never forthcoming. I started asking my friends what I was supposed to be doing, and slowly I started to get somewhere. My first eureka moment was in late autumn that year. I was sitting on a bench on the south bank with a friend; it was dark and cold but the trees have those lovely blue light bulbs all over their naked branches and it was a beautiful, peaceful place to be. We talked and we talked and my usual frustrations appeared – I want to leave a legacy, but I don’t know what I want it to be! It has always troubled me that the world is going to environmental ruin and I’d always thought I should save it. But the task is too big and too scary and too depressing to tackle. My friend suggested I make the task smaller… ok, maybe I could save one species from extinction? Hey, there we go, that sounds like a more achievable goal – Eureka!

Well I suppose that realising you have to save a species from extinction is an important step, but what are you supposed to do then? After over-excitedly sharing my goal with anyone who’d listen, I started by signing a year-long contract with an oil and gas company to work on their HSE procedures. Not an ideal first step, I grant you! But actually it did allow me to earn enough to live on my own, embark on hobbies (other than drinking) and start saving up.

By the time the next year had passed, I had taken up climbing, acquired a lovely boyfriend, done loads of hiking trips and saved up a decent amount. Right, I thought – now I need to make a change. So I signed a second year-long contract with the oil and gas company, but this time incorporating a 6-month sabbatical. And I started to plan my temporary escape.

In March 2014 I had farewell drinks with my colleagues, waved a cheery goodbye to my family and friends, had a tearful goodbye with my lovely Dave at Heathrow airport, and flew to eastern Canada with my bicycle. I spent a month on the east coast, then cycled 5,500km to Vancouver. The journey was truly amazing – I learned a lot about myself and a bit about other people, I saw wonderful scenery and incredible wildlife. It was a trip of a lifetime, people told me. But I’ll be damned if I do the best thing in my life aged 25.

Coming to the end of the bike ride was a surreal experience. The realisation that it would actually be over sunk in all too late and I felt really lost. The latter part of my trip which I spent in BC with Dave and then my family was also amazing. But that, too, had to come to an end and I felt even more lost. Coming back from that sabbatical was horrible – being torn from a beautiful and happy life to return to routine, grey monotony. The busy commute to work, the grey cubicle that houses my desk, the noisy flat where I live, the miserable winter weather. And worse, the realisation that most people hadn’t really done anything in the time I’d been away!  I’d cycled across a continent, worked on a farm, climbed mountains, learned how to whitewater kayak, seen three black bears, camped in the wild, killed my own fish and met the most amazing people in the most incredible places!  And a lot of people had spent all that time doing nothing.  And now I was back doing nothing with them.

My contract was going to come up for renewal in 5 months, and it didn’t take a lot for me to realise that I would struggle to even make it that long. In my first week back at work, I told my long-suffering boss that I would be leaving in 5 months. 5 long cold, dark winter months.

Happily though, regardless of how shit you feel, the relentless march of time continues. Christmas came, New Year followed, I enrolled on a career change course with Escape the City, and finally the end of the long winter looked to be in sight! When I only had 30 working days left to go, my thoroughly rotten mood slowly started to lift. I started to feel like myself again! I started to plan and take action and look forward to the impending change.

The course at Escape the City is making me look at things very differently. I realised that everything I’ve been done has been a specific goal – complete a triathlon, cycle across Canada, even my plan to save a species from extinction! I needed to change how I approach life if I want to avoid that terrible feeling that you get the day after you achieved the goal you set yourself.

So from 2015 I am going to steer my life using my values rather than goals. I am starting a new way of living based on the mantra “for people, for nature”, and I can do whatever I fancy and take whatever opportunities come along, as long as they align with that mantra. Sounds easy, right? I can’t wait to get started and I look forward to seeing what I get up to along the way!

– Anna

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