Stepping On…

July 23rd, 2013

… This site has been a little quiet for a while as we have seized another unexpected opportunity… part of the community of Shap has long been the fish and chip shop but last September it was closed down.
We stepped up for the challenge! Shap Chippy
Unfortunately this leaves us little time for Stepping Off but we are delighted to still be in touch with so many friends who have Stepped Off over the years.
We are happy to help with enquiries if we can!

The mixed blessing of redundancy

March 21st, 2013

When facing redundancy it is very hard to keep hearinig others tell you what an opportunity you have, and I know not al circumstances are the same, but I thought I would share this email from a recent Stepping Off client:

“The time spent with yourselves over the last few days have been very thought provoking……….. my frame of mind now is that N….. G…. have done me a massive favour by shutting the site otherwise I would have trundled on in the same job until I reached 60, and then I would have done nothing afterwards apart from extreme pottering! At the age of 51 discovering things about myself that have always been there but not recognising them has been quite an eye opener. Additionally being able to discuss the pros and cons of my ideas with business professionals has given me the confidence to move forward. Your hospitality was first class, immaculate bedroom and bathroom and lovely food, the whole Stepping Off experience was faultless and has fully prepared me for the next chapter in my life. I will keep you updated and hopefully we will meet up again sometime in the future.

Thanks again for all your help, kind regards Rob.


Stephen Covey with more wisdom for life…

January 5th, 2013

I was browsing through a book given to me by my sister (who Stepped Off the rat race and landed in New Zealand) when I came upon a quote from Covey that I thought perfect for our thought for 2013. Here it is in full:

“There are certain things that are fundamental to human fulfilment.  The essence of these needs is captured in the phrase ‘to live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy’.  The need to live is our physical need for such things as food, clothing, shelter, economical well-being, health.  The need to love is our social need to relate to other people, to belong, to love and to be loved.  The need to learn is our mental need to develop and to grow. And the need to leave a legacy is our spiritual need to have a sense of meaning, purpose, personal congruence and contribution.”

Many people we meet at Stepping Off that are looking to downshift have realised they want “to make a difference”; many find they have got to the top (or thereabouts) of their profession – they have “made it” – but it doesn’t feel right.  Some find they have full lives but feel lonely.  Others just feel they are missing out… on something…  I found Covey’s words above do indeed cover what we have found at Stepping Off to be true:  We are all driven – to achieve, to learn, to experience and to love… if you make sure you are driven in the right direction you are much more likely to enjoy the ride and find you will be happy with the legacy that you leave; that you will have made a difference.

At Stepping Off we work with you to discover in what direction you are ready to go!


Stepping back on again?! Busy with Christmas gift vouchers for food smoking courses…

November 9th, 2012

I have had a lot of trouble updating this blog for months, as WordPress was not sending my my password… but I found an emergency fix on village idiot and now I can!

We are about to leap into a new venture – more about that later; but in the meantime I am updating our Smoky Jo vouchers to their Christmassy mode, and the order have started to come in!  Lots of people still looking to learn to smoke food – and not just salmon!  Another job on the list is upgrading the Smoky Jo shop – but it is still showcasing our recently published book (that’s two now!) “Smoking Food at Home with Smoky Jo”, which is going well.

I had some Stepping Off tales to tell but for now I just want to say what a wildly full and varied life we have acquired after we stepped off… and yes, we are still running our two day courses here in Cumbria for individuals and couples  who want to change their lives… for the better!

May is here, the sun is shining; so many reasons to be cheerful!

May 24th, 2012

Counting blessings is so much easier for us when we can feel the heat of the sun.  It doesn’t remove the stresses or the unhappinesses, but for Jo and I somehow the sun helps the smiles come through.  It may just be because it can be such a rarity here above Shap…

While we were full of the importance of making new year resolutions (that were feasible, and NOT starting on new year’s day) I received an email from an almost-client of Stepping Off:

“Dear Georgina,

I would like to take this opportunity to apologise for not following up on my trip to Stepping off.  Sadly I had a very serious nervous breakdown due to the stresses and strains that I face at work and this has left me with a very long road to recovery.  I apologise for not being in touch and planning a date last year and for letting my opportunity and deposit lapse, sorry for any inconvenice I may have caused you. I hope that you and Jo can help many people ‘get out’ before they get to the stage I have.

I wish you well for 2012.

Kind regards…”

Sadly it’s not the only time we have had a message like this.  We know that life can sometimes feel like that wheel in the hamster cage:  We know we have to keep making it go round, we can’t remember why, and we want to stop… but sometimes the only respite is when you are thrown off.

We are very proud of the work that we have done in the eight years since Stepping Off was launched.  We remain in touch with some of our clients: some completely escaped the rat race after examining their lives, their values, their frustrations and their joys; others tweaked at the edges and realised they could operate a little differently to feel a lot better, healthier and happier; a few took a longer view, building an escape fund but knowing that a brighter future of their making was around the corner.

Some, like the one quoted above, have come to Stepping Off after going through their own personal hell and we have been privileged enough to help them create a plan that has led them to a contentment that they may have given up on.

Here are some words from someone continuing their journey!

“I did move and I just love it! I know it sounds like a real cliche but it is a very peaceful cottage.

I slipped back into working stupid hours the last couple of months and felt like I’d lost my way somewhat, but gave myself a bit of a kick up the backside and reminded myself that this year is meant to be all about me. So, got back into swimming before work again, started a pilates class every Monday, still doing choir on and off on a Tuesday (more on again now than off). I think I also lost sight of the fact that its about small steps, not gigantic leaps. I have excavated my [From the weekend with us] flip charts and stepping stone sheets to re-visit it all this weekend. Even after just opening up the flip charts made me smile and a bit of a buzz and a reminder that actually I have achieved a lot and am quite fabulous. Want to get back to the high I was on after spending the weekend with you two!!”



A Stepping Off weekend rounding off a good year and kick starting a great one

December 10th, 2011

“A huge thank you to you both for such an inspiring weekend and for your great hospitality! I can honestly say that I can’t think of a better way to round off what has been one of the best years for me for a long time and now I am  going into next year with exciting plans for living the rest of my life”

So begins a recent email from Rachel a Stepping Off client. We have been lucky enough to work with some amazing people over the years, individuals and couple who for one reason or another want to reassess their life’s journey.  Some have had a change forced upon them – by redundancy, bereavement or divorce. But for many people there just comes a point at which they want to be sure what they are doing is right. Right for them, right for their dreams and aspirations and right for their life. Often this comes when there is a mismatch between their own values and those of a profit-driven or target-driven organisation, or when work has become the number one priority – when it shouldn’t be!

Rachel took the advice from a previous Stepping Off guest and took a few days off after her weekend with us.  Her email continues:

“ I carried my Stepping Off report and goal sheets with me and sat and read them sitting on rocks by the sea and on top of a hill so have truly anchored the excitement and self belief that we explored last weekend!”

“I have stopped myself from looking at my work e-mails until I go into the office in the morning and although I found myself thinking I should forego swimming in the morning so I can get into the office for 8.00 am to catch up on all my e-mails, I have thought better of it and am going swimming, because nobody will thank me for giving up a bit more of my life for the sake of work, least of all me!! I am going back to work with a very different perspective than when I left it and with determination to keep priorities working for me.

I will definitely keep in touch and let you know how my world changes. Huge thanks again!”

I have had another email from Rachel since… she has joined a choir, booked time with her Godson, been to a show and been short-listed for a job more in keeping with her values.  Next month she is is moving into an idyllic cottage… We don’t work the miracles, but maybe we light the blue touchpaper! As Rachel says “….you really have something very unique going with the weekends!”

Although we started Stepping Off weekemds before we haad even heard of life-coaches, now when people ask us about what we do we describe it as Intensive Care Life Coaching – instead of a session of an hour or so and then back into the commute, walking the dog, work and chores we have found that a weekend away to really explore what you want your life to be all about can build a solid foundation on which to build the next chapters… if you think we may be able to help you please get in touch and we will arrange for a no-obligation chat. 01931 716638.

Whatever the weather… keep a sunny disposition. We CAN change the way we feel…

October 25th, 2011

Whatever the weather… I have just been exchanging emails with a friend about the weather – why is it that when I went camping it immediately started to rain and when I got back to work it was glorious sunshine? He, on the other hand, couldn’t believe the need for extra jumpers in September – “bah, humbug!” – so I got to wondering how much the weather can influence our mood…
There are plenty of clues in our language about the link between mood and weather: having a sunny disposition or a face like thunder, stormy relationship, frosty reception… and research tells us that the weather can indeed have an impact on us – sometimes as a contributory factor to mental illness. More commonly most of us have felt a sense of gloom after a long patch of grey days; and it is so much easier to count our blessings when they are bathed in sunshine! Of course the impact of the weather is also dictated by what it means for us. A camping trip can be ruined by continuous rain; snow can be beautiful – but that’s unimportant if you know you have to work outside however deep it drifts; a hot sunny day can be uplifting – but less fun if you can only see it at a brief time-out from the factory floor. This of course comes back to the fact that what we think affects how we feel.
We can influence what we think and therefore how we feel. Under canvas, it can be exhilarating listening to the rain falling on the tent; working in the cold snow can be bearable if the focus is on the cup of tea and a hot bath at the end of the chores; looking forward to the fresh air and sunshine of a coffee break can be like anticipating a mini holiday, and like a holiday, the sun soaked up in the minutes of freedom can see you through till the next one! I think it was Billy Connolly that said “there’s no such thing as bad weather – just wrong clothing”. John Ruskin said: “Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.“ So here’s to having good weather and the right clothing!

A review and explanation of what we do…

July 7th, 2011

This was emailed to us shortly after Mike and Judith had spent two days with us.  I am putting it here in the hope that it explains from a client’s perspective – better than we ever could – why two days with Stepping Off can be such a valuable experience.  And because we were moved by it.


Background – This course is for one or two people looking to change the direction of their lives, for whatever reason.  It is small, intimate and entirely focused on the needs of either one person or a couple.  Judith (my wife) and I went together.

First impressions – Jo and Georgina genuinely want to look after you.  They are both very friendly and welcoming without being gushing or pushy – Judith and I felt at home within the first hour in the warm, friendly home environment of a deceptively large house with lots of your own space when you need it.

During the first evening we shared a high quality home cooked meal, feeling like two valued house guests rather than customers on a corporate course- so much so that  I will use the word guest below rather than a colder one such as client or attendee.

One of the many strings to Jo’s bow is that of motivational speaker (from Ladies’ Supper Clubs to Corporate Headliner), but she has none of the ‘loud and shallow’ characteristics that you may have come to associate with the worst of this group.  Indeed, she appears solid and calm, with the genuine leadership quality you would expect from someone who has held a senior position within the police force.  It is not until Georgina gentle encourages her to tell one or two stories during dinner that you see another side to this apparently phlegmatic lady.  She is genuinely warm, funny and self deprecating.  Georgina is engaging in a very different way – a natural, twinkly eyed way that could easily fool you into missing the strong, practical and very smart person beneath the smile. If you dismiss her often quirky one liners as purely flippant (which they sometimes are) or assume they are coming from a superficial person, you will miss out on a real treat.

What do they do in the course?  – Let me start with the trite version. They play some exploratory games – ask a few simple questions – and work with you to sort out your priorities.  Indeed, many of the techniques they use will be familiar to anyone who has done any sort of self-evaluation reading or management training.  So it was tempting at first to think that this was going to be yet another – “lend me your watch and we’ll tell you the time” consultation, where you finally take home a report for which you have provided all the input and, to a certain extent, that must be true. The first task of any professional doing this work has to be to gather data and that data can only come from you – but this experience turned out to be far from trite.

The real experience – Jo and George quietly and irresistibly guide and listen; challenge and encourage.  Vitally, they are not afraid to suggest potential problems with your thinking.  From many people this could be presumptuous or pretentious psycho-babble.  From Jo and Georgina this is coming from a very different place.  They are really listening.  They are listening to you.  They are not loading you with the baggage of their own preconceived values and trite solutions.  They are so clearly ‘on your side’ and want you to find the best outcomes for your life that the very pronoun ‘they’ quickly leaves your mind.  Sooner than I have previously experienced, ‘we’ are a single committed tug of war team – with energy, warmth and enthusiasm – pulling together.  Together, we are looking for the right next steps for our lives.

This is not some trick; this comes right out of the heart of who Jo and Georgina are.  They are highly experienced, motivated, strong and capable people in their own right.  They have a huge work ethic.  Lesser people could be strong in a domineering way, but Jo and Georgina use their strength to create a safe place to allow their guests to be themselves.  They draw out your experience, your current situation and (if you allow them to) your hopes and fears, without seeking to impose their own needs or wants or world view.

Jo is a natural leader and an intuitive navigator – she keeps things on track and ensures a rhythm and pace that steers a clear path between aimless wandering and the genuine freedom to explore. Georgina is an unusually lateral thinker – which means purely logic driven people may not always understand where she is coming from but, because she makes connections and listens exceptionally well, she brings a genuinely different and important dimension to searching out alternatives and asking perceptive and sometimes challenging questions.

The heart of the value of these two days is in Jo and Georgina.  Their warmth, strength, experience, fun, wisdom and a genuine desire to create a space where together, working as a single ‘we’, you can hear what might really be important to you.  This is a truly precious opportunity in a noisy and busy world.

Would I encourage others to do this?  In a heartbeat.  It’s one of the best things we have ever done. I have been an MD for 15 years in an industry packed with smart people and am not easily impressed.  I hesitated to book the course, fearing it would be just another chance to clear my brain – but then decided that time to think is always worth taking.  My expectations were not high.  I am delighted to say that I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Judith, who is very private and hates sharing herself with strangers, nearly didn’t go and was amazed by how helpful she found the whole experience.  We would go so far as to say that for us those two days may turn out to have been truly life changing because the time allowed us to bring into focus many things that, without this concentrated work and without an emotionally safe environment, may never have fully crystallised or turned into action.  Whether we do now is up to us, but no-one could have helped us more than Jo and Georgina.

If you have the opportunity to spend two days with them – just take it.  The two days is fantastic value, but we have just two caveats.  The first is practical.  You will probably come away needing space to let the ideas and goals generated ‘set’.  If you rush back to a busy job or a hectic home you may miss out.  We did the course at the beginning of a two week holiday and that is probably the ideal, as it allowed us plenty of time to consolidate and integrate the experience.  Not everyone will be able to do this, but we would recommend at least two days in a hotel after the course as a minimum setting time.  That leads me to the second caveat – this indeed is my only niggle – to call this two days a course is to completely miss the point.  This is an exploration, with all the potential excitement of setting out to explore a previously unexplored continent – the rest of your life. I would love it to be called something more fitting, but hey if that’s my only complaint, I don’t think I can ask for my money back…

Other thoughts – You have to bring yourself as honestly as you can.
This can be emotional
Not because Jo and Georgina are in any way trying to lead with an emotional experience.   But by definition if you are there you are looking for a life change and that means you are asking questions that are central to you and this can almost inevitably lead to the unpacking of powerful core needs and wants.

The Times Article Monday 9th May 2011 – downshifting

May 16th, 2011

Nicola Gill’s article about downshifting duly appeared in The Times last week, with a great picture of Jo taken by Phil Tragen.  The article’s attention was perhaps a little on the potential for difficulties following a major life swap – but we are here to remind you that there a many thousands of people who have downshifted to a happier, more fulfilled and satisfying way of life.  Some of them have spent time with us on a Stepping Off weekend to maximise their chances of avoiding the pitfalls!  If you want to read about some of the joys of downshifting, Saturday’s Guardian featured Kim Stoddart “I swapped a £60,000 lifestyle for £16,000 – amd I’m  happier.”

Below is the text from Nicola Gill’s article:

THE TIMES I Monday May 9 2011

Jo Hampson from the Times, picture taken by Phil Tragen

Jo Hampson from the Times, picture taken by Phil Tragen


Rat race or chicken run?

Many of us dream of a simpler

life — especially after a holiday.

But downshifting isn’t always

a good move, says Nicola Gill

Life changer:

Jo Hampson runs

courses to help people

to decide whether

downshifting is

right for them

In the rat race, lots of us rats have

the occasional downshifting

fantasy. How wonderful it would

be to say goodbye to commuting,

crazy hours and irascible bosses.

To never eat another reheat. We

may not be sure exactly what we’d

do, but surely it would be better

than the pressure ofthe daily grind.

Latest results from the national

Labour Force Survey indicate that an

estimated 435,000 people in Great

Britain suffer from stress caused, or

made worse, by work. In 2009-10, an

estimated 9.8 million working days were

lost through work-related stress, so

perhaps it’s not surprising that we crave

the good life, especially after a long Bank

Holiday break. But is everyone who

downshifts really living in a stress-free

nirvana? Jo Hampson, herself a

downshifter, has written the book Life

Swap and runs Stepping Off, which

offers advice and courses to help people

to decide whether downshifting is right

for them. She says: “Embarking on this

sort of life change is momentous, yet

people do it without really thinking it

through. For every happy story of people

successfully downshifting, there is a

sorrier tale of those who get it wrong.”

Tom Green was one downshifter who

found the dream and the reality very far

apart. When he was made redundant

from his job in marketing, he knew

exactly what he wanted to do. “l guess

everyone who enjoys photography as a ··

hobby must have fantasised about doing

it for a living. So, armed with my

redundancy cheque, I marched into a

camera shop and came out with an

expensive camera, two lenses, studio

lighting, reflectors, flashes and memory

cards.” He decided to specialise in

wedding photography and childrens

portraits. “I’d heard that photographers

can charge upwards of £2,000 per

wedding. Two grand for a day’s work – I

wouldn’t even need to suffer for my art.”

However, he soon realised that it

wasn’t quite like that. There was loads of

work and expense before a wedding –

marketing and advertising, sussing out

wedding venues, meetings with couples,

expensive sample albums. Then there

was the editing, uploading of proofs to

web galleries and creating albums. His

hourly income was roughly the

minimum wage. “And it was such hard

work. I would get through three shirts

per wedding – each soaked through

with sweat in minutes lugging heavy

camera gear around after drunken

guests. “This tale comes as no surprise to

Hampson. “Do not be under any

illusions,” she says. “You will work .

harder when you work for yourself than

you have ever worked for anyone else.”

Green agrees. “Most of the time it was

just bloody stressful. What if my car

broke down on the way to the wedding?

What if l was ill? I was one faulty memory

card away from blowing everything. You

can’t ask the bride to walk up the aisle

again because you missed it.”

Green decided to concentrate on

family portrait photography. He had a

thousand postcards printed up and

waited for the phone to ring. He got two

calls, one of which he suspects was from

a rival photographer keen to get a

handle on his pricing. There wasn’t a

single booking. “That hurt. l was from a

marketing background, remember?

He got work eventually; friends to

start with, then word of mouth. But he

has grown to hate it. “Surly children who

don’t want to be photographed. Parents

who look down their noses at me.

Sometimes I want to scream, ‘l used to

have a better job than you’. But what’s

the point? The obvious response would

be, ‘Why are you doing this then?’ l don’t

have an answer for that any more.”

Even downshifters who are less

disappointed wouldn’t suggest that it’s

easy. Ali Mitchell, who used to run

pubs and restaurants, and is now a

kinesiologist, says: “lt was a massive leap

of faith. I had a mortgage and bills but no

regular income. I’m not sure I could

have done this if I’d had dependants. It’s

been scary enough with it just being me.”

A loss of status is a problem for many.

As John Hawkes, who ran a software

business before becoming a full-time

dad, puts it: “A colossal amount of

identity is wrapped up in what you

do. It’s one ofthe first things people

ask when they meet you, and they

respond to you totally differently

according to the answer.”

Tania Collins, who also became a

full-time parent after giving up an

executive position at Atlantic Records,

echoes this sentiment. “You don’t feel as

valuable as you used to. And not just in

financial terms but social ones, too.”

For others, the day-to-day reality

of running your own business is a

problem. Charles Meynell was a foreign

affairs journalist who frequently

worked in war zones. Hee’s now a tree

surgeon and forester.

“I’d started the business because

I’m passionate about trees,” he says.

“They’d been a hobby of mine since I

was a child. What I hadn’t taken into

account is that I have almost zero

appetite for running a business. I’m not

interested in the conventional mantras

– growth and bottom line. I found

things such as personnel problems and

admin tiresome and dealing with

banks and trying to get funding was a

real hassle.”

Many couples dream of running a

business together but this has its

own pitfalls. Hampson warns:

“You need a strong relationship to

withstand the stresses and strains.”

Lots of people who work from home

will empathise with the grumbles of

Sarah Campbell, a freelance art director.

“I miss the support staff you get working

in an office – the IT guy to help when

the printer is playing up. Also the

company. Sometimes I’ll go to the park

and stroke a dog, just as a ruse to talk to

the owner.”

Carol Deacon left a high-flying career

in advertising to start a cake-making

business. Her sense of isolation was

exacerbated by having moved to the

country. Hampson says: “The lure of the

country idyll may be strong —the idea

often comes to people when they’re on

holiday. But country life can be really

tough. Nothing is round the corner,

public transport may be scarce and

everybody knows your business. The

‘natives’ can be hostile.”

Deacon also discovered that not

everyone she came across in the world

of cakes was sugary sweet. “Some of my

customers were just as much trouble

as corporate clients had been in my

advertising days. One guy got quite

annoyed when I refused to put an illegal

substance in a cake. He thought it would

be ‘great fun to see granny off her face’.

Then there were the stressed-out

Bridezillas who would constantly be on

the phone with ideas and amendments.

They’d arrive to view the cake with a

whole load of people who all had

different opinions.”

Pricing was another thorny area.

“Someone would come in with a design.

l’d give them a price. And they’d say, ‘But

Tesco does cakes for £5’. It’s not often in

today’s world you have something

hand-crafted. lt’s impossible to charge

realistically. If you charged a decent

hourly rate, some cakes would cost a

ridiculous amount.”

Then there were the health and safety

inspections and all the admin. “l was

working very long hours for a pitiful

hourly rate.” Luckily, her business has

been a success and she has a new book

out this month called Fabulous Party

Cakes and Cupcakes (Tuttle). But even

now it’s not all plain sailing.”I recently

made a cake for a couple ·— Pete and

Christine – with large ornate icing

initials ‘P’ and ‘C’ on top. I arrived with

the cake and nearly dropped it with

shock. A huge banner over the door

proclaimed, ‘Congratulations Pete and

Laura’. It turned out that Pete and

Laura had been married at the venue

the day before and the banner hadn’t

been taken down.”

I ask her if she’s less stressed now

than she was in her advertising days.

“You just have to accept that stress is

part of day-to-day life. The grass is not

always greener. It’s just a different

shade of green,” she says.

Downshifting in The Times, Monday 9th May

May 5th, 2011
Phil Tragen photographing Jo Hampson for The Times

Phil Tragen photographing Jo Hampson for The Times

There is (we understand!) an article in The Times on Monday about downshifting, with Stepping Off and Jo Hampson getting a mention, and even our book – Life Swap: The Essential Guide to Downshifting.  But you never know with newspapers!  Certainly they have taken the trouble to send a photographer up from Manchester!