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“it’s 8 degrees & cloudy with spells of drizzle” was the announcement as the plane approached Heathrow – it was hard not to laugh given it is/was spring – old Blighty hadn’t changed at all. The q is/was, have I?
Just shy of 6 months had passed since I’d departed for my trip down under (Haribo & phrasebook in hand thanks to secret birthdays – yes, phrasebook – it’s not quite as bad as heading to the north of England etc but it at times it can seem like a different language down there).
A 3 week trip to watch the Ashes & experience Melbourne at Xmas & Sydney at new year had snowballed into 6 month jaunt for a variety of reasons.
I’d had the odd weekend travelling alone but had not spent a prolonged spell away from friends & family since bobbing off to uni 10 years previously – I’d grown up a lot at uni & wondered whether 6 months in a new environment(s) would result in something similar (not sure you can really grow up in your 30s, mind).
I opted to keep a note/diary of what I got up to & my thoughts daily. I haven’t gone through this yet, save for a note that I made when I skipped across to kiwi land which was c ½ way through the trip & consisted of my thoughts to that point. It could be the most important thing I gained from my time away & so it seemed sensible to use bits of this note as a foundation for this piece (permission granted for many peeps to stop reading now).
“I have realised that there are many things that I no longer do or have not achieved that I enjoyed or wanted to do when I was younger. There are also several skills/goals I have not achieved. Some appear to be only little things but to me, they all serve as examples of what is lost when the “real world” hits & the 9 to 5 (or 6, 7, 8) becomes the norm & focus (hardly surprising when it forms 5 days of the week, at least, mind). It’s too easy to get into a routine of going to work, cooking dinner, watching TV (etc) for a couple of hours to “switch off” & sleeping before doing the same over & over.”
Originally, I was puzzled when peeps hadn’t done this or that despite wanting to, but it became evident that it is v easy to make excuses not to do something (money or time, generally) & I had been guilty of it (until I had made the decision to go). As the trip went on, it became easier to go, “yeah, let’s do it” rather than looking for a reason not to – there’s no way I’d have been pushed out of a plane had I continued to look for a reason not to do so.
“Whilst I have met a lot of peeps on the way (some I hope will remains friends & others I’m glad I’ll never see again), solo travel has resulted in a lot of self-reflection. It makes you trust yourself & realise what you like doing/seeing/experiencing.”
One of my main gripes was being told I should do X, Y & Z from someone who I’d met in a dorm room or over a ridiculously priced beer (worse than London down there, & it’s generally weak) so didn’t know me & couldn’t tell whether I would appreciate or gain anything from those suggestions. It was about me – I had to find those places & do those things that suited me & not those that I was told I should do/see.
Now, I found that some of the places I went to & things that I did were shit disappointing, but it provided some strange self-satisfaction that I had discovered this on my own without guidance from the cheese loving German or the posing Frenchman. Had I not done this, there were many things that I wouldn’t have seen or done.
A need to trust one’s decision is strangely uplifting. Doing something that not many (or no one else) does or has not recommended is a strangely uplifting feeling. Equally, walking away from something can be just as rewarding.
“Further, with so many things going wrong that are beyond control (buses/flights being late & phones breaking etc), it is essential to find a positive in every day.”
Nothing is worse than negativity (verbal or non-verbal). It is/was very draining but unfortunately the individual person/people often don’t/didn’t appreciate the impact it has on others & the environment it can create. This is the case in every situation & can be applied to the office where pressures & deadlines etc mount.
According to folk I met along the way, the Brits have a reputation for being negative & moaning. Having spoke to several Brits also, I can see where this unflattering stereotype comes from – 1 bloke (he must have been around 20) made it sound like the world was coming to an end because he had to wait 1 week in a small town for the bus his mum had booked him on.
However, I found that it wasn’t necessarily always other peeps that created negativity – I could do so in my own company just by seeing or doing something that I didn’t like/enjoy.
I found the simplest way to avoid the negativity & ultimately, becoming frustrated/annoyed etc, in both situations, was to simply walk away & not dwell on it. Perhaps easier said than done at times, but there is always a positive in the day, even if it seems trivial or minor. Further, it helped to look forward to the next day which would invariably be better.
I had originally thought about sharing the following note via LinkedIn or something whilst still on my travels but thought again – I’d have become one of those self-righteous guys who think they know best. Now, it is just a message to myself (though I appreciate the somewhat hypocritical nature of sharing it in this piece):
“Thus, I urge everyone that reads this to take some time out, be it an extended holiday, a long weekend, a cup of tea or a long spell on the toilet (some folk love that for some reason), to really think about what makes/made you happy & then make a concerted effort/plan to incorporate that/those things into the here & now (if it/they aren’t already).”
At the end of the day, if you’re not ‘really’ happy, what’s the point? (hope those last 3 words don’t get taken out of context – to be clear, I did not consider suicide, whether by jumping off a mountain or excessive consumption of a poor man’s marmite, i.e. vegemite).
A lot of the things that I did whilst down under – ziplining, skydiving, scubadoo-ing (thanks again to my colleagues), coming face to face with deadly snakes, getting lost, drinking too much & eating fruit etc – are things that I enjoyed but will be forgotten over time. However, I hope that I will have obtained a more positive/less judgmental outlook & increased confidence in my own decisions that will last with me indefinitely (or, at least until I have saved enough for another adventure).
The above sets out 3 of the most important things I gained from my sabbatical. It’s difficult to write this without appearing to give advice which isn’t the point of this piece – it’s about what an extended break did for me & would not be the same for anyone else.
However, hopefully the points (not making excuses not to do/see something, trusting yourself & having a positive mindset) mentioned will resonate with some.
I would recommend a sabbatical to almost anyone.
One last bit of my self-righteous nonsense (though again, despite how it’s written, it’s a personal message that I will continue to reflect on):
“Also, & perhaps more importantly, ask yourself, what was good about yesterday & what aspects did I enjoy? (& then apply it for the whole of the week). If you can’t answer it or it is “another day gone until the weekend”, then please go out & look to change it ASAP – at the very least, get some Lego (everybody loves Lego & remains “great value” as I was told by the company’s creative director on top of Sydney’s Harbour Bridge).”
Written by James Parkinson, Costs Lawyer at A&M Bacon Limited
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