Friday thought #49 Money vs lifestyle

I’ve written about this before, but it’s a subject I think about a lot. Whether through choice or necessity, the vast majority of people work either very hard, or an enormous amount, and I would never criticise anyone for the lifestyle choices they make. Everyone is different and everyone has their reasons for the decisions they make. Right from an early age I knew that a standard lifestyle was never going to be for me. The thought of working in an office terrified me and I always leant towards seasons abroad or travelling.

I spent the summer between finishing school and starting university in France, which set the standard for the next 3 years. I think once you’ve had the taste of an outdoor, slightly alternative lifestyle, it’s hard to ever imagine going back to a ‘normal 9-5 job’. I found out that what made me happiest was being outdoors and being barefoot. Whether that was in the mountains or on the beach didn’t matter, it was the fresh air and the outdoors that I loved. I discovered that I was a simple person who didn’t need much, as long as I had the outdoors, I didn’t feel trapped, I was happy.

And I’ve never really looked back, I found ways to make it work in France, and carved out a pretty good life for myself as a teacher in Switzerland. I’m happy to work hard, and when I put my mind to it I think I do a damn good job, but leaving home at 6am every morning, sitting in a traffic jam and driving for over an hour each way just to get to work, wore me in to the ground. Wrong or right, I knew that I wasn’t happy anymore, so after a few years of this I knew I had a choice, accept it or change it. Many people do this for their whole working lives, and I admire them for it, it shows a lot more commitment and dedication than I will ever have, but I knew it wasn’t for me and despite how much I enjoyed my job, I knew this lifestyle was never going to make me happy.

So I chose to change it. Me and my boyfriend made the rather life changing decision to hand in our notices and move to Austria. We knew we wanted to stay in the mountains, but we needed something more, something different. I’ve realised that there are 2 types of people, those who seek the path of least resistance, and those who constantly seek something more challenging. Neither is to be criticised nor celebrated, as both are perfectly acceptable life choices, indeed I often envy those who choose to keep things simple, life is complicated enough without adding in extra issues like language barriers and trying to get your head around an entirely new country’s social system. But I’ve discovered that it’s those extra barriers that keep me going. As much as it’s a very tempting prospect on paper, I’ve had to admit to myself that I don’t want to settle for the easy path. An cruisey job which pays well sounds like the dream, but I thrive on new challenges, on throwing myself in at the deep end and on feeling a bit terrified.

Quitting your job on a whim and moving to another country is never going to be the best decision financially, but you need to decide how much money you really need and what is going to make you happy. My commute has gone from waking up before dawn and a 2 hour round trip in a car, to a 10 minute cycle along a river and flexible working hours. I’m so much happier and I’m so glad we made the decision we did. You only get one shot at life and sometimes you have to stick your neck out and take a risk. If it works, brilliant, and if it doesn’t, well at least now you know!

Welcome to Innsbruck, Austria, where time and lifestyle take precedent over money…

Friday Thought #2 Mountains or Beach?

This is an age old question which I’m sure countless numbers of people have asked themselves at some point in their lives. I would be tempted to say that the majority of people would automatically say ‘beach’ simply because they have spent more time on beaches and very little or no time in mountains, but also because our society tells us that beach holidays are more exotic and the obvious choice for a summer break.

Growing up in the United Kingdom it’s safe to say that we don’t get much experience of impressive mountainous regions or golden sandy beaches, our highest peak being Ben Nevis at 1344m and the hottest average summer temperatures hovering around the mid-twenties. Holidays mean ‘getting away’ and we grow up believing that hot places and beaches are the only option worth considering. This is where the rise in low cost airline flights has come from to countries such as Spain, Greece and Italy; people want a cheap escape to somewhere in the sun, and understandably so. Why would you want a holiday to a freezing snowy place if you spend the other 50 weeks of the year grinding away in a rainy, cold city? Most Brits live in landlocked counties and only see a beach once a year on an annual summer holiday; sand and sea are exciting, different and best of all, cheap. To go on a beach holiday a family needs nothing more than themselves and swimming gear, no expensive hiring of equipment or paying elevated prices for lifts or accommodation. In my experience children couldn’t care less and often have no awareness of whether they are staying in a 5* hotel or in a tiny tent on a crowded campsite so it’s easy to see why beach holidays win for a family.

Skiing holidays are viewed as only for the wealthy and privileged, a pastime which is only ever viewed in magazines or on television for the majority of people. It’s too foreign, too difficult and too expensive, why not just get a cheap flight to Spain with your togs and towel and you’re all set for a holiday? But those who have never visited the Alps or indeed any high mountain range I find are often extremely naive. What people don’t seem to realise is that in the summer months the mountains serve a very different purpose. I remember heading out to the French Alps in July aged 18 to work my first ‘summer season’ and several people asking me if I was going to be a ski instructor. I found this hard to understand because firstly even at 18 and having never stood on a pair of skis, I was aware that you probably needed qualifications and experience to be an instructor, and secondly, it was the summer, didn’t people realise that snow is generally a winter phenomenon??

However I imagine this is a completely different story for those growing up in countries with a more temperate climate or surrounded by mountain scenery such as the States or a lot of mainland Europe. Much of these continents are covered in spectacular peaks which their inhabitants grow up admiring and using in every way, and perhaps these people would have little interest in a beach. You can’t climb it, conquer it, travel down it quickly. I think my opinion of how people view mountains and beaches is very much British as this is the main pool of experience that I can draw from. With the exception of a hardy handful, Brits generally don’t grow up roaming the hills and valleys, children will generally choose building a sandcastle over donning a pair of hiking boots and trailing after dad over the Yorkshire Moors. Most people’s earliest experiences of holidays are on the beach in the sun and this is therefore imprinted in to their brain as what holidays are all about.

But I feel people are missing out on what these places of natural beauty are all about and often it takes an inspirational teacher or a school trip to broaden a young mind as to what nature has to offer. How many of us have walked away from the crowds at a beach and simply sat down to admire the tranquility of the waves, or snuggled up on a rugged coastline to watch the ferocity of a storm? In a similar vein, on those annual skiing trips how many tourists avoid the over-crowded mountain restaurants, take a packed lunch and find a peaceful spot to eat where they can really take in the beauty of a mountain landscape? I worry that ‘holidays’ have become such a desperation for over-worked and fed up people that most don’t even consider where they are going anymore. Wherever is cheap and hot, nothing else matters.

So back to my original question, having spent many a happy summer working on the south and west coasts of France, and having had the fortune to experience the East Coast of Australia in all its glory, I love the beach and the sea. I fell in love with the ‘beach’ way of life in Australia, so simple, so chilled, so beautiful. Scuba diving, snorkelling, sea kayaking, it’s all hard to beat, but for me the mountains will always win. They are a geographical phenomenon and awe-inspiring doesn’t even come close. To me they are nature’s greatest achievement and will be there reigning supreme when everything else is long gone. Life in the mountains is constantly varied and I love that there are 4 very distinct seasons, all of which are magical in their own way. Rather than being a miserable, cold, dark period that everyone hates and wishes away, winter is highly anticipated and never long enough. Every year I think I like winter more and then when summer arrives I change my mind, until the following December when my love of snow is rekindled! Being in the mountains in winter, completely alone with not a soul in sight, having pushed your skis uphill for hours, you have truly earned your turns downhill, and in the summer, having got up at first light and climbed a steep, rocky and exposed ridge, standing on the top of that peak looking down at everything below is a feeling that cannot be beaten.

Beach or mountains? I think deep down, everyone is one or the other. It’s important to experience both. I’ll always spend time on the beach and in the sea, but the mountains will always take my breath away.

Mountains win
Mountains win

Happiness and choices

Thoughts on happiness

How your life choices can have such a profound impact on your life and happiness.

I spend a lot of time thinking about lifestyle choices, career choices, and just choices in general. Why and how do people make the choices they do? What really rings true for me, is how many people I come across that quite openly admit that they either hate their job, hate where they live, or can’t stand the people they live with. So why continue on with a lifestyle that clearly makes you unhappy? Obviously there are countless answers to this question, and of course for some, there is no other choice, but this is not the case for so many. It is a true cliché that the grass is always greener, and I will hold my hand up and say that I, along with so many others, am a victim of this. Yet rather than view this as a negative, as something that you must try and avoid at all costs, I see this as a healthy way to live your life. It is perfectly natural to dream of different things, or to wonder what the next adventure or challenge might be. Of course you must be happy with what you have, but if you can’t look forward and dream of more, won’t you just stand still for the rest of your life?

From my personal experience, I have found that one of the main reasons people become stuck in a lifestyle that doesn’t fulfil them, is the fear of the unknown, and the sheer terror of stepping outside of their comfort zone. I have been living in France for several years, and even now when I return to England I am told by friends and acquaintances that I am ‘so lucky’ to be living the life I do. As gentle a sentiment as this flyaway comment is, I am often left resenting the inference that my lifestyle landed on my lap, as if I had recently stumbled across an unexpected inheritance, or a lottery win.

Of course not everyone can up sticks and follow their dreams, but what I am finding more and more are those who either have a dream and are too afraid to follow it because it would disrupt their safe life, or those who are spending their life doing a job or living in a place they hate, but can’t muster up either the energy or the drive to find something that inspires them. Statistics say that for people working 40 hours a week, over 30 percent of their lives are spent working. It is a large chunk of your life to throw away on a job that leaves you feeling unfulfilled, or at worst, unhappy.

I have found that the other important factor in quality of life and happiness, is where you live. Yes you may be in a job that perhaps wouldn’t be your first choice, and is a bit of a drag. But if you can spend every evening and every weekend doing the things you love, in a place you love, life suddenly doesn’t seem so bad. Sometimes it is necessary to stick out a rough few years in order to get where you want, but if you are aiming for a goal, or doing something uninspiring to pay for something you have had your heart set on, it makes a huge amount of difference to your motivation and work ethic. I spent a fairly unhappy few years in places I didn’t really enjoy, but I had my goal in sight and I was aiming for it. You can make the most of a less than perfect situation, if you have the courage to look further afield, and pursue something that will make you happy, even if at first it seems out of reach or too much hard work.

Amazing stones, Vancouver
Amazing stones, Vancouver