Our latest coaching client, Chris Ward (@chrisatcoffice, workwhereyoulike.com, www.bluedotagency.com) is publishing an e-book of inspiring stories from people who have made massive change in their lives in 2015, geared towards people considering doing the same in 2016. 100% of the profits will be going to the Guardian & Observer’s Refugee Appeal, and the book contains a great many inspiring tales of risk, reward, adventure, and daring.
He has very kindly asked me (Mike) to contribute a story, about the move from London to Spain we made as a family, and the setting up of the Halo Cycling Project. (I am hoping I can return the favour by coaching him to doing something amazing next year – the only problem is that he sets the bar pretty high himself, having already ridden the route of the TDF on the same day as the pros, and ridden Mt Ventoux 6 times in 24 hours, among many other cycling achievements).The piece in the book is around 600 words, and the full (longer) version is below, but do visit Amazon to purchase the entire e-book – it goes on sale today, and is a recipe book to do something amazing, whose purchase comes with positive consequences. Mine is arguably one of the less daring adventures, I would say, but one that required a bit of bravery and a lot of planning. Don’t just take it from me though! The contents are exciting enough for London’s Evening Standard to have included the book in a list of its top Fitness, Running & Exploration books to make 2016 an active year. The most important bit though, is that I would recommend it to everyone, and I’d do it all over again!
Read on for the full story, and maybe, just maybe, it will inspire you to do something YOU can write about, next year.
Catalan Exodus – Dec 2015, for Guardian & Observer Refugee Appeal
The proof that making a massive change in one’s life doesn’t carry nearly the risk of upheaval, fear and unhappiness as we lead ourselves to believe, is, as they say, in the pudding. Everyone lives things differently, so let’s say that for me at least, the proof is in my pudding – and my pudding went from being English custard, to a Crema Catalana (Spanish flan, for you non-independentistas), when I moved my whole family to Catalunya, Spain after 17 years of living in East London, UK. But I think there are ingredients in my pudding worth sharing with others.
We went from an urban life we knew so well we could live it with our eyes closed, to a spot so rural if you kept your eyes closed you might find yourself face-to-face with a wild boar. We bought a rambling, forest property so unlike our little Victorian house in an industrial part of Stratford, and suddenly needed to be buying hay, gathering firewood, and doing hitherto unheard of things like mucking out bunny cages, squishing grapes with our feet to make [frankly horrendous] wine, picking mushrooms for dinner (and not getting them wrong!) and living without the ubiquitous 3G (let alone 4G) coverage of the big smoke. A far cry from the ‘there’s-an-app-for-that’ culture for which we were rapidly becoming the poster children, in London.
To round it all off we sold everything we owned in the UK, leaving nothing but our pensions and a small amount of savings. I continued to work between the UK and Spain for the first three months, which was probably the only thing that stopped our parents saying we were totally mad. But three months into our stay here, I quit that job, and became, by choice, what I would call gainfully unemployed.
“Gainfully”, because I am happier now. And that is my currency. And whilst I might not be employed in the traditional sense, I spend my time building up various inter-linked ideas for a few different social enterprises, which will only make me happier. If all goes well, they will also allow me to continue purchasing food, or at the very least seeds with which to grow it.
I’ve thought about it as I sit here in front of my fire, looking out at the forest I now call home, and I have realised that the one irrefutable argument I can offer about making a massive change in your life, is that if you do it right, the gain in happiness you receive will far and away outweigh the risk you perceive in advance of making the change.
We very naturally are risk-averse as a species – that is a great natural adaptation (thanks, Evolution!), but it has also given us a ridiculous capacity for inertia. If you have a morning commute, look around at the faces of your fellow commuters – look deeply into those faces, and count how many of those people look like they are on their way to a job that they want to do forever, or that satisfies their childhood dreams about “when I grow up I want to be a….”. The grasp of that inertia is often only released by a traumatic event. One often hears of people who made massive changes after severe “life incidents”. For my family, it was my brain surgery which pushed this adventure from “maybe we should try this” to “let’s do it”. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
I did say “if you do it right, you will have an incredible increase in happiness”. Let’s unpack what doing it right meant for me. I am someone I would best describe as a self-centered altruist. It’s a bit counterintuitive, but I like getting pleasure out of doing things for me, and I get pleasure out of doing things for other people. There are many moments where those things are one and the same. Having spent many years in the field of urban sustainability, I dig things which have a benign, if not-positive impact on the world, as well. So, I am “getting it right” if I can do something I love, which helps other people, and does no harm (or even does some good) to the broader world. I don’t believe I am alone in seeking these three parameters to be true for what I do in life, and whilst my example of what I did to achieve them is premised, certainly, on some middle class advantage, I don’t believe for a second that these principles are restricted to the moneyed few.
That is it, as I see it. That activity, or number of activities, that satisfies those parameters, will be different for everyone – but I firmly believe that inside us all is a desire to please ourselves, please others, and not hurt any third parties or planets in the interim. There are simply a lot of other, mostly societal things which have caused us to believe that there are immutable obstacles between us and being able to do this, or in some cases have blinded us to seeing that is what we really desire – unequal access to education, poverty, stress, hurried lifestyles, inflated costs of living, pressure to have more shiny things, or an economy which rewards the heartless and unsustainable. But seriously – I have proof that these are boulders which can be rolled out of the way, or at least navigated around. It’s right here in my Spanish flan, as I said.
Happiness is like food – “soul food”, to borrow the cliché, and roll back into gastro-metaphors. Since our move, and despite the work we have to put in to develop our new ventures, adapt to our new lifestyle, learn a new language, and work around the whims of our rambling, aged house, our little family is happily getting better quality food (the soul variety and the belly type). The thing is, happiness, like food, can come from various places and in various grades. Like food, happiness derived from certain sources can be richer in nutrients than others, and burn cleaner. From other sources, it might be nutrient-poor, or unbalanced, or produce pollution during its burn, or even not last as long.
And that, to me, is where the the three principles I mentioned earlier come in. Find activities which make you happy, make others happy, and either do no harm or create benefit for the world, and you have the cleanest burning happy fuel available. It lasts long, it warms better, it creates no nasty bi-products like guilt, hangovers, lost friendships, and in the process, the world is made a better place.
So what does this look like for me? Well, I love cycling. No, wait. I LOVE cycling. So it had to be something about life on two wheels. That’s the first box ticked. In terms of helping others – cycling was ripe for finding such opportunities. It is a sport replete with people wanting to be faster, lighter, more aerodynamic, better fed, leaner, and tactically smarter – and they all want to ride further and higher. Training as a cycling coach enabled me to take my racing experience and add to it another level of rigour, to be in a position where I could impart that knowledge to others, to help them improve, thereby making THEM happier – second box ticked.
Since moving here to Spain we have re-designed various elements of our new house, and the builders are on their way to getting us off-grid for water, heat, and electricity, meaning we will disconnect from the harmful fossil-fuel economy for those basic needs. We are also renovating a few of the spaces in this rambling property to make them available to individuals and groups who wish to deliver classes, lectures, performances, exhibitions, pop-up restaurants, and the like – the only condition being that they be, at least tangentially, related to some sort of self-improvement. In terms of our work with cyclists, we’ve decided to measure the improvement we give our riders using the myriad “big data” tools available to modern sportspeople. The more we can help them improve, the more of our profits we will donate to develop the marginalised female side of the sport. Again – counterintuitive in business terms – but money isn’t a clean-burning fuel, so isn’t our overall aim. These efforts make up the “triple bottom line” (environmental, social and economic) stab at ticking that third box, of being at least neutral in and at best a positive force, for the world.
Call me idealistic – but frankly you’d be wrong. It’s not ideal – it’s real. Good luck with your massive change! Do it!
If you’d like to read more about our projects, the cycling enterprise is the farthest ahead in terms of web and social media presence. Check out www.halovelo.cc, or @haloveloproject on Facebook, Instagram and twitter. Our performance centre, which will likely carry the name of our house, La Bruguera de Púbol, will be born onto the internet soon.