What a difference a decade makes: how I found my happy


3 min read
19 Dec
19Dec

It’s been a month since my last ‘fortnightly’ blog. Old me would have said sorry about that – I hate breaking promises. But then I remembered that I’m the boss and I didn’t promise anyone I don’t think, I simply had an intention. Besides, six months ago I’d never written a blog post at all. There’s a channel in a Slack community I’m in (Leapers) called #littlewins, to celebrate small achievements. Blogging is one of those many small new things that I’ve tried in 2019.

I’m only intending to blog monthly from 2020 because my business is more established, and I am busier. Less hours for business development mean that I need to be selective about how I use limited time. Continue the most effective of all the new things I’ve tried. You’ll see if you read back over my past blogs anyway that I’m not necessarily writing for any one audience. It’s quite self-indulgent really, whatever takes my fancy.

I’m also not going to write about anything that novel in this last one of 2019 and the 10s decade. The only original element will be that this is my personal story, but in general terms I’ve not done anything different to thousands of others: I got unhappy, I changed my life, I got happy. Ten years is a long time and I’m not sure that I trust my memory to do this chronologically. So, I’ll sketch out the before and after and then pick a few headings to go into some detail on.


2009

I’m 31, been in a relationship for 4 years and living in an estate semi in SE London. We have three mortgages thanks to 2008 financial/housing market shenanigans but have found tenants for the flats. I am a manager in my third corporate role and working very long hours. I don’t exercise, eat poorly and drink too much booze. I also: joined Facebook this year, was 3 years into an Open University degree and went on 2 weeks holiday to the Dominican Republic. I’m an Android fan and I have a red laptop because I liked the colour and glossiness. No kids. No pets.

 

2019

I’m 41, been married 5 years (same relationship), living in a detached house that we own outright in a Nottinghamshire market town. I’ve been working independently for 2.5 years and not had financial support other than my savings. I have 3 voluntary roles locally, but I’m pausing one in Q1 to avoid overload. I use the gym, walk and cycle. I am flexitarian and will drink alcohol (on average!) within the low risk guidelines. 3 nights in Valencia. I’m an iPhone convert (red) and I have a functional laptop that runs modelling software. No kids. Cat called Chester, who just walked into our house and stayed.


Children

Started and ended the decade with no children, by choice. Got nothing against them – godparent to 2 and I have 4 nieces. I volunteer in a school. Just never wanted my own. It’s quite a relief to reach an age now where the questions and unsolicited advice don’t happen. I used to seethe internally, and my heart ached for the couples I knew and strangers who were subject to the same questions but couldn’t have kids.

If you’re a parent, you can’t fully understand my position and I can’t completely understand yours. I’m glad that I didn’t have a child just because it was expected. I’d worry that child may suffer if I didn’t give 100% because I was unhappy. I don’t splash about the extra cash that not having kids has resulted in. It’s meant that we can take on voluntary work. What we had accumulated before the move is invested to be used for care if needed for our parents, ourselves. Any left will pass to the next generation.


Money

Since I alluded to it above, I’ll continue with the topic. I had a very high salary and benefits package in my latter corporate years and so did my partner. I make no apology; we were in senior positions in lucrative industries in the capital. It was some compensation for never seeing each other and made paying our mortgage off quickly possible. But once that was done (about 5 years ago) my attitude to my career shifted.

I’ve always had an uneasy relationship with it - specifically having it in greater amounts than others. We realised that we only needed to each work part-time to pay the bills, live comfortably and put a little aside for the future. We relocated to where we could afford a larger, nicer house that could accommodate two offices. The cost of living is lower, so we continue to enjoy ourselves. I earn far less but I’ve never been happier.

 

Health

Still a work in progress, but changes made to how, when & where I work have undoubtedly contributed. My mental health is strong since leaving my corporate career. I’m not sure I was cut out for management or leadership and I hated the politics that became increasingly difficult to avoid as I became more senior.

Working for myself gives me the opportunity to play just to my skills and interests. I have also discovered this year that by connecting with other freelancers and small businesses there are opportunities to join forces to broaden the variety and scale of projects available – the future of work. By joining online groups and having a husband who works from home I have avoided the isolation that can make freelance life tough.

I used to eat badly – skip breakfast, crisps and chocolate for lunch, microwave meal for dinner. My husband is a good influence and now that we mainly work from home, eating more healthily is easier. But we now live somewhere with independent bakeries and breweries galore so it’s easy to fall off the wagon daily. I guess that’s where moderation in other areas has come in, so I can have my cake - and eat it.

I’m not as physically fit now as I was 3 years back, but much fitter than 10 years ago. In my final corporate role, I hired a personal trainer. I’ve lost the tone, but my strengthened knee means that I now enjoy (not endure) long walks. I have re-learned how to ride a bicycle. The man who sold them to us said ‘4 wheels move the body; 2 wheels move the soul.’ I totally get it now. I don’t drive, so walk distances up to 45 minutes and we often do “10 mile” days on holiday. I go to the gym 1-3 times a week, alternating cardio and resistance. I still detest running though and only swim occasionally now.

I have been tracking every unit of alcohol I drink for three years and I even developed a system when on an all-inclusive holiday. Monitoring led to a reduction in my intake. But looking at the data also shows a drop off when we moved out of London and since I started my business. I also attribute needing to be alert for all my voluntary roles and a mounting fear of hangovers. 4-5 non-drinking days a week and the rest spread out. Dry January obviously, but we still go to our local pubs during this month to support them.


Happiness

Not following the expected pathway in terms of starting a family has made me happier. My corporate career where I was not as satisfied as I could be provided security for the future (pension) and a safety net (savings) so I could try something different as an occupation. It pays less, but only because I choose not to work full time and fill the rest of my time with voluntary pursuits, that return in other ways. Finding ways to be healthier now is an investment in sticking around to stay happier here, for longer.


I can’t really be certain as to how much changing what I do for work has really driven these changes. It may partly just be a function of growing up and older. But it is an example of how it’s possible to redefine a life, purpose and what success looks like.



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