(10 minute read)
Step by step we are moving toward something different. We aren’t entirely sure what that will be, when or even where, but we are now in motion. This post is about why I (Stu) am making this change.
This is a difficult but exciting post to write. Difficult because it’s my first, and that whilst we have been thinking about this for some time I have to now actually commit to writing. Exciting because, well, for the same reasons really.
Aren’t all firsts difficult and exciting? Let’s ease in together…
First off, Kylie and I have decided to write our opening posts separately as a way to give a bit more understanding of how we have individually arrived here. So perhaps here I will wind back a little as this sort of adventure wasn’t necessarily what I had pictured on the horizon. In fact we didn’t even picture each other.
In the beginning…
In early 2014 Kylie moved into a shared house where I was living along with four others in North London. She was, and continued to work as a digital marketing strategist up until we left the UK. I also worked then as I did up to our departure, as an Architectural Technologist and Town Planner. At the time we were both excited to be in London, going to gigs, great pubs and having some pretty sweet house parties. Our jobs both had the potential for us to grow and learn, and we enjoyed life. After around six months in the house Kylie became absolutely besotted with me and so we fell in love (pure fact). Actually we ended up spending a lot of time together simply chatting about work, life, ideas and ambitions. So began the life of Kylie and Stu, but as this isn’t a ‘romance’ blog I won’t spend much more time on this side of things.
Fast forward a couple of years (in our own flat) and we were no longer enjoying life as much (I don’t think the two are related). The potential we saw in our jobs wasn’t what we thought, we felt little real control over our lives and were slipping into an exhausting routine of work, eat, sleep, repeat. Where work was longer, sleep was shorter and food poorer.
Inevitably when you are unhappy in this way and from one place while your partner is from another, you end up talking about your future. It wasn’t necessarily the obvious choice to move to Australia, but once it was in our minds it stuck. We were in need of change, so why not just pack up and leave? Well, because modern life, paperwork and visas don’t allow you to. Two fingers to that, we made the decision and got to work.
A year of research, coordination and applications began. Although this period was long on the calendar, the time we were able to put into planning was far from ideal, and we left in more of a rush then we would have liked, underlining the reasons for needing change. We were however now putting the necessaries in place. As we did so, we noticed how many countries there are in between our two islands, so the move became a trip. A chance to relax and have some fun.
As the year ground on, with my visa submitted and trip planning underway, the opening up of new opportunities sparked a simple question: what are we doing? This had bumbled away in my mind for some time, not so much as to why we were moving, but what for. What did we want to achieve, to change or find?
Countless conversations followed focusing on this, on what makes us happy and what gives us fulfilment? Things we had spoken about when we first met came back to my mind and I began to consider what I had been doing for the past decade. What did I want from University, why did I go into a particular profession? Fortunately it didn’t take too long to get back to that one core desire. Because it always existed. It had become obscured by the fog of veiled and misguided possibility. It seemed I had to find what I didn’t want, in order to understand what I did.
Reflecting on a journey.
On finishing school I had hoped to study either history or philosophy following a personal intrigue of human nature and our interaction toward our collective future. But I held off going to Uni to save some money and consider various options. Two years later I enrolled in Architecture.
My prime interest and focus was to understand (and engage with) how to improve the quality of life of the everyday person. Through architecture I saw a mechanism of improving our environment. From the new elements to be formed, to the interventions of those that exist. I studied hard and with enthusiasm, after five years I emerged with the relevant academic paperwork. For the following five years I worked in London learning some of the realities of ‘business’, big money and of course design. Unfortunately for all the effort, time and money sloshing about, the outcomes were some distance from my aspirational ‘prime interest’.
A frustration and confusion grew over this time of how some of the country’s most deprived and wealthy areas could stand side by side. London is a wonderful and amazing place to live and visit, but it is also incredibly complex. How I could see so many homeless people whilst seeing so much finance pour into a project with careless disregard of opportunities to do better. Opportunities to raise the collective well being of an area which would inevitably benefit the project. I found it obscene there could be so many parallel worlds existing in willing disconnect. A fundamental and active ‘dis-awareness’ seemed to be taking place. I was, and continue to be troubled by this entire lack of social, environment and economic sustainability.
I have spent a lot of time considering what I understand this word ‘sustainable’ to mean and I have struggled to find a rational means of separating the quality of life of the many from the quality of the environment and functioning of both. The interaction of the two are deep and symbiotic.
At that point I was regularly seeing situations that seemed to fundamentally work against the betterment of a collective quality of life, eroding elements of social success, grain by grain. I had never had this feeling growing up. I don’t believe I was sheltered or unduly naive, but this period of time had laid it all very bare to see. Butt naked and shining right in my face, a full moon in the light of day…
I grew up on a former council estate, north of London, attended the local comprehensive schools (a British term for a state funded, all inclusive mixed gender school), and went to a childminder/babysitter afterwards whilst my mother worked to keep our lives ticking over nicely. My brother and I went on annual holidays with our grandparents to various destinations around the UK (very fond memories!) and I even remember memorising my mates phone numbers (landlines!), and in my most polite voice asking ‘is [insert name] there please.’ A pretty normal childhood. There are of course an array of nuances that make that childhood mine, but you get the idea, Normy McNormalson.
These early years formed the foundations of the change now afoot. Observing the challenges of life impacting on quality and outlook, how a poor quality built environment can negatively affect attitudes and self worth. How the cost of living leaves people with few options but to suffer. Ultimately, I have become aware of the numerous and unnecessary missed opportunities that could have otherwise enabled many people to live a more happy, more prosperous and enjoyable life, and by inescapable consequence, collective betterment.
The new horizon.
Our trip from the UK to Australia has become a reorientation of our lives. Not just looking for a change of scenery and some sunshine, but an opportunity to explore exactly what makes us happy and to create a life that we want (by a stroke of luck the majority of our ambitions are shared).
Since meeting we spoke of a frustration of seeing the vast resources of the various people and companies we worked with being used so poorly. This could be creating a product that wasn’t needed, or seemingly almost deliberately something of poor quality. Ultimately missing opportunities for the betterment of the collective many. When we came across an innovation, or for that matter a long existing but little known way of doing something that was productive and sustainable, it brought a flash of optimism and relief. None of this is to suggest that I believe it is inherently bad to make money, but simply that if you are to make money you don’t have to be an arsehole about it. I think it is perfectly reasonable to make money and do good. Whilst we are happy to work hard (and on many occasions throw in many extra hours), it is incredibly disheartening to put that energy into hollow projects.
Mental note one: Find work that is fulfilling, worthwhile and purposeful.
Mental note two: Must avoid a life vs work set up.
Mental note three: Don’t be an arsehole.
So what does this mean; ‘Fulfilling, worthwhile and purposeful’? after all, I guess it could be seen as pretty vague. To put a little meat on the bone, I believe this is something that brings happiness to both myself and others, it is productive in effort and output, resides in the mutuality of respect and improves our collective quality of life. Ultimately it is sustainable. If I am to spend the majority of my life doing something I would like it to be these things.
I would like to know how I can live a good and happy life, working hard and productively, meeting new people, travelling and being actively engaged. I would like to know that whatever it is I am doing, it does not cause harm to others. I would like to understand how we can live more sustainably.
So with all this in mind, where to? Now that we are in motion, what next? Well, the beauty (and on occasion fear) of exploration is the search for something new. We are forming our own framework, working to discover a happier way of living and being an active, positive participant in the world. Central to this is uncovering the many possibilities of sustainable living.
One particular tenet of interest of sustainable living is our ability of production and consumption. A broad concept, but one that fundamentally makes humans different from all other creatures. However it is one of the most basic subjects of this is concept, food, that remains the most important. It plays an essential role with relevance all over the world. It is an aspect of sustainability that is intrinsically tied with quality of life, as poor quality food leads to poor health and together can exacerbate sometimes already difficult situations. Our relationship with food has evolved in process as we have evolved in society. But it is also symbolic as it is manipulated by a few. Much (at least in Western societies) is of poor nutritional quality, and despite our abilities of production, huge numbers of people are without. The complexities of sociology, biochemistry, finance, and of course politics is incredible. I am fascinated by the detail, and whilst more time may have been valuable at the start of our trip to focus on this earlier, this is the big picture I now find myself intensely staring at.
What begun as an acceptance that we weren’t happy in our day to day life has gradually become a realisation of the opportunity in front of us. We are in search of a new life for ourselves and how best we can contribute to the world we live in.
This is our exploration of finding a more sustainable life, a new normal that enables ourselves and others to improve both individually and collectively.