We’ve all thought about chucking in our jobs, living on a beach and getting back to a simpler way of life however not many of us have the courage to actually do it. Setting aside your fears and going for it is easier said than done. But that is just what Emma Bamford did and it helped her find inner peace and happiness…
I had a good job once – an enviable job that thousands of other young hopefuls would have killed for. I was a news editor on a national newspaper – and a cool, hip, liberal newspaper at that. It was something I had worked towards for years, assuming while I toiled and strived that, once it was mine, I’d be happy. I’d have made it.
I had a home, once, too – it might have been a heavily-mortgaged ex-council flat on London’s south circular – but it was mine. I had a car, a bike, gym membership. I had a group of close friends I could rely on to come out at short notice for dinner, drinks and a catch-up.
And then I jacked it all in, pretty much on a whim. In fact, I did it in pretty spectacular fashion – I answered an advert on the internet for ‘crew wanted’ and bought a one-way ticket to Borneo to live on a boat with a man I’d never met (and his cat).
Why do such a thing, you might well ask? And you wouldn’t be the first. My parents were astounded – it was such an out-of-character thing to do. My work colleagues were bemused. Friends were worried the captain of the boat I was about to join would be an axe-murderer (I asked him. He promised me he wasn’t).
The reason I did this crazy thing was that I wanted to shake things up. I wasn’t feeling happy or settled in my life any more. Like any goal aimed for, once I had that job it became the norm and other worries – the stress of 12-hour days, budget cuts and Fleet Street egos – replaced the excitement. I was becoming increasingly frustrated at the fact that I worked my socks off and yet I earned a relatively low salary. And I was sad that, at 31, I was single while my friends were marrying and having children around me.
I knew that the only way to get out of this rut of annoyance and self-pity that I had created for myself was to do something drastic. So I answered that advert. Living on a boat is hard. It’s a very back-to-basics existence and you have very little in the way of creature comforts. We drank rain water and ate mainly tinned foods. Our shower was a plastic bucket. We had to drag 25kg jugs of diesel from land onto the yacht and siphon the fuel by sucking on the end of a hosepipe. There was no internet, and often no phone signal.
But it brought me back to life. Before I left home, I thought that I had been failing at ‘real life’ in England. I had no husband, not even a boyfriend. I felt like a fraud every time I went to the office. I was never thin enough, rich enough, interesting enough.
I had always been a meticulous planner (possibly verging on OCD) and I was, also, a bit of a wimp. I was scared to try new things, especially if I thought they could hurt me: everything from skiing to a new relationship. Going away made me reassess my thinking. I wasn’t a failure; I was just me. I wasn’t running away; I was exploring the world – and myself. I became less of a planner and more impulsive. I became happy to go with the flow, to open a door and see what blew through it. Mixing with people of all different ages and cultures as I moved through south east Asia made me realise that there are many different kinds of lives – and happy lives, at that.
Not everyone had to have a perfect, straight-from-a-glossy-magazine lifestyle to be content. What did it matter that I wasn’t married, really? Or that I didn’t live in a four-bedroom house? As long as I chose to do what made me happy and healthy, that was all that was important.
I was away for two years, sailing all over the world, and it changed me – for the better. I am back now in the UK. I don’t have a house; I rent. I don’t have a husband or children, either. I do have a job – a small, part-time one that is a world away from my glamorous media days. But what I do have, and what taking a chance on my future gave me, is my freedom. Literal freedom, in that I work for myself and I can go away again on a whim if I want to, but also freedom from thinking I have to conform to what I think society expects of me, and that if I don’t, Bad Things will happen. They really won’t – only Good Things will.
How to do the same
1. Identify what it is in your life that is making you feel like you don’t fit in – and work out a list of ways that you could change that. I did something drastic but I could also have made more of an effort to date, for example, or asked to be moved into a different role at work.
2. Fight the fear by breaking the process down into baby steps. I approached one thing at a time – going through adverts to find a boat, researching a ticket, handing in my notice, hiring a letting agent to handle my flat.
3. Keep an open mind. When I was away, I was offered opportunities – jobs and romances – that I would have dismissed out of hand when I was stuck in my old life rut in London.
4. Have no regrets. Everything you do has made you the person you are today. But you are not static and your future self will be different from your past selves, too.
5. And understand that you can always go back. It might be difficult but you can if you want to – but you may just find that you want to go forward instead.
Emma Bamford is an author and journalist. Her travel memoir Casting Off: How a City Girl Found Happiness on the High Seas is published by Bloomsbury.