Archive for the ‘Downshifting’ Category

Stephen Covey with more wisdom for life…

Saturday, 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!


A review and explanation of what we do…

Thursday, 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

Monday, 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

Thursday, 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!

Radio 5 Live and Jo Hampson talking downshifting and Stepping Off!

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

With National Downshifting Week starting this weekend, Jo will be talking to Radio 5 Live on Saturday 23rd April – rather early! – 7.50 am.

One of the things covered in our book “Life Swap” is the different approaches to downshifting.  For some the change is a dramatic leap from full speed ahead to dead slow;  Vicky had a great career but gave it up to live in Thailand.  Others change down through the gears – Zoe left an international executive job to move to the countryside and work hours to suit her as a consultant – some start working part time as they learn a new skill or give themselves time for a new (or forgotten) interest.  Dave started his own catering business alongside his “day” job until he was in a position to be his own boss full time.

We have found that every change, however small, somehow broadens the horizons, revealing more and more possibilities that can lead to real personal diversification.

Although a huge change may not be possible, there is always a small change that can make a huge difference – finding that change and finding the motivation to make that change is where Stepping Off can help.

Other downshifting stories.

International Downshifting Week, April 23 – 29 2011

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Stepping Off

Our old downshifting friend Tracey Smith is going greener with this year’s Downshifitng Week campaign… in her words, Tracey Smith “and her cool green team have been raising awareness for this important little awareness campaign for 7 years and this year is set to be the noisiest one yet.

It exists to help you find a better work life balance and to show you how to give a positive embrace to living with less.
It encourages you to wear your downshifting hat with pride by pulling back from mass consumerism, so you hold onto more of your hard-earned cash.

It can also have a powerful impact on your mental health and well-being, your relationships with family and friends, it can even improve your sex life!”
Well you can jusge for yourself by visiting the campaign website!

Downshifted, working, and doing what we want to do…

Friday, March 25th, 2011

… do you cancel meetings with friends because you’re too busy, then wish you hadn’t? We had a happy reminder of one of the reasons for downshifting yesterday when we were able to meet up with a dear friend at short notice. The weather played its part and we had a great walk above Windermere… and a picnic… and tea and cake afterwards.
Georgina has also made time (and found the confidence!) to take her violin to a local  orchestra. The first time she has done that since she was a teenager… more practice required, I understand…  So many Stepping Off clients talk wistfully about the things they have enjoyed in the past.  If you make a committment to yourself to pick up old, happy habits, it can make a world of difference!

Personal diversification…

Monday, March 7th, 2011

We coined the phrase “Personal Diversification” as we recognised that our lives, having “stepped off” the treadmill were incredibly varied.  We moved to Cumbria in 2001 – the year the county and so many farmers and small businesses were affected by the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak.  Some funding came into Cumbria for farm diversification projects – many converted barns to holiday accommodation, others opened farm shops and tea rooms.  While our lives after selling the Smokehouse did not have main purpose as farmers do – we have certainly diversified! 

Much of the work we do with clients is when people feel they have lost control of where they are going – that is a common reason for wanting to step off or to downshift.  To a certain extent we have diversified without a clear plan – but because we HAD taken back control of our destiny we were better placed – mentally and emotionally – to take advantage of opportunities that have come our way, as well as to say “no” to others.  Smoky Jo’s has taken on a life of its own – we have had some fabulous publicity about the food smoking courses we run – and we now run them at a local hotel, The Wild Boar Inn,  where not only do they do the washing up but the smoked food is served for the evening meal for our guests and us!   We write a column for a local magazine, we are  volunteer business mentors and Jo co-ordinates the Cumbria-wide scheme.  I do a bit of web design and book-keeping – skills I have learnt as I have needed them.  Most of all we are able to choose our hours… if the day is beautiful, we are out there enjoying the splendour of Cumbria – or at least gardening! If you had told us in 2001 what life would hold for us in ten years time we could not have begun to imagine what we now have.  Our personal diversification gives us about nine income streams – none of them very big – and a priceless personal freedom.

This morning Jo set off early to fly to the Isle of Man to work as a professional speaker.  Her speech today is “I’ve always worn purple“.  Because why should we wait till we’re old to do crazy things?  Why must we worry so much about saving for a rainy day – if we could do with a bit of cheering up now?!  We do not advocate recklessness, but reviewing our priorities and values and making adjustments – minor or major – where possible to regain control of our lives can open up so many doors…

If you feel we may be able to help you, please get in touch… here’s the latest email from our Stepping Off alumnus, Vicky in Thailand:

“I cant believe a year ago I was in my flat paralysed about my next move and the options open to me and now I am here it feels very strange sometimes, for the first few weeks it felt like a holiday, then I felt I was skiving school but now it feels good and I can’t believe I have to go for my visa run soon. 

“Going forward I am not sure what I am going to do and to be perfectly honest I am not thinking about it just yet.  I am meeting so many people and I have so many new thoughts everyday I am enjoying the freedom of not having to do anything for the time being I might train to be a dive master if I can get over my fear of fish, I might go work as a PA in Dubai for 6 months until the next season, I might see about joining a crew on a boat for a few months, I really don’t know.  I have enough money to see me through until the end of the season as long as I don’t go crazy, but to be honest I don’t need to go crazy I am not substituting buying new things for happiness, it’s right here on this beach and every week I am learning new things.  A few weeks ago I learnt to drive a speed boat and I am currently getting to grips with riding a motorbike which is keeping me very busy!!!  Next will be sailing the hobie cat which looks great fun!

 Again  I can’t say how thankful I am that I came to see you last April I would never have done it if it hadn’t been for the help and support of you both, I truly feel like I have ‘Stepped Off’ and it feels wonderful.”

Downshifting to manual labour as the route to happiness?

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

I spotted an article on the BBC website about getting more satisfaction from a manual job than being chained to a desk using Facebook as escapism…

Our Christmas and new year have been splendid – family, friends and jollity.  But what really delighted us was updates from our clients – a Christmas card saying they were about to move as intended and that work life balance had improved tremendously; a warm message from Vicki on her beach in Thailand (what was her top goal on her action plan after her Stepping Off course in May?  New Year in Thailand!) and an email from Scotland saying 2010 had been entitled “year of progress”.

Not all goals and action plans are followed exactly, but undoubtedly if you keep a watchful eye on your future you will have more control over it!

… and this is why we love running Stepping Off weekends…

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

This is an email I have just received from a Stepping Off alumnus…  We don’t do magic, but sometimes it feels as though we do!

“Thought I would give you an update I can’t believe I am actually saying this but from nothing I suddenly I have 2 very different options for this winter, both of which were on my list!!

Option A – I have had an invitation to Thailand for the winter no job but accommodation and the opportunity to see what comes my way!!!

Option B – I had a meeting with Nicky (Chalet Owner) today and she said she thinks she can find me a slot in her chalet as Chalet Host!!!

I cant believe from nothing I have the two fantastic options of which both I had identified back in April… were both so very right when you said options become available when you ‘get out there’!!!  I really need to get my thinking cap on and work out what I want to do!!  I think I will start with a pros and cons list and consult my ‘Stepping Off’ report again!!

I will let you know the outcome – Thailand/France?????  Who knows, I could pinch myself!!

Thank you so very much,