Do you miss doing something you used to do? Do it again!

May 4th, 2011

Well, firstly thank you to those who tuned in to Radio 5 live – unfortunately the presenter forgot to mention that it was National Downshifting Week! Ah well.

On the Stepping Off programme an awful lot of ground is covered.  Many people feel their careers have been a fall-back position; they went to secreterial college as something to fall back on when actually they wanted to to be a photographer.  They may have the most incredible (and enjoyavble)  career as a PA – but it feels like a fall back position. 

Many hobbies and leisure pursuits are given up when we leave school or college… BUT YOU CAN PICK THEM UP AGAIN!! 

Violin, with the cobwebs dusted off!

Violin, with the cobwebs dusted off!

“Leaving the house with a violin case in my hand took me back nearly 30 years. It was as comfortable an extension of myself as my hockey stick and tennis racket were then; as my laptop and car keys are now.

Two and half hours later I got home having played one or two notes in the right place at the right time during Beethoven’s symphony number 4 and broken my violin. But I had got a taste back for being a part of a wonderful sound. I knew that I wanted to be able to do it again. Mercifully the Cobwebs orchestra seem full of generous musical souls. 

I had also realised that when I was young and played music (and sport!) all the time how agile my brain must have been – and how sluggish it has become. Thirty years on I could still read music, I still knew more or less what my fingers should do for each note – I was struggling to trying to count in time, or at least be able to see and register the movement of the conductor. I needed to hear in my head how the music should sound. Then I needed to make a sound that at the very least least didn’t clash. 

I struggled to distinguish the different strands of music and melody. Deciphering the score was a challenge – not least because of my eyesight – the high notes way of the stave had become a mystery to me. Sitting next to me was a valiant musician who managed to keep going in spite of the occasional tuneless, embarrassed scrapings coming from me. I think she knew I wouldn’t be that much help as I muttered “what a lot of notes!” each time I turned the page. Respite for her wasn’t far away – my violin was getting flatter and flatter and I realised the gut holding the tail-piece in position was slipping. Blessed with an excuse for wrong notes I thought it best to sit in silence. And turn the page. I was good at that. 

The saddest thing was after the impossible Beethoven it was Elgar, two Enigma variations. Including Nimrod. Fewer notes and further apart! I could have played quite a lot of it, I think. If there was only one reason to keep me going back it would be to play a small part in evoking the feelings Nimrod has always inspired in me. Thank you Mother.”

I’ve fixed my violin and been three times now… I can’t wait to be better, so I’d better practice!  It’s all about committing a chunk of time to doing something you want to do for yourself – and we sometimes get out of the habit.

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

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

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…

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…

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?

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!


December 22nd, 2010

What a day… solstice, eclipse, selenelion – and then an earthquake!
How many signs do we need that it’s time for a shakeup?
Wishing you the best Christmas you can possible imagine and wonderful things for 2011.

Lives are changing!

October 29th, 2010

On the day we hear from V that she has handed her notice in and is heading for Thailand to follow her dream we also received a postcard from a couple who came on a course earlier this year and left determined to take action and move – and they have!

It’s so easy to let time go by while we wait for the right moment to make the change; there is almost always a good reason for deferring big decisions; there are usually enough things to do keeping our heads above water without thinking about the distant horizon…

But sometimes you just have to go for it!

Our Stepping Off programmes are designed to give you the time and space to discover WHY you want to make a change, why you have itchy feet or why you feel dissatisfied.  Understanding the drive for difference provides the energy to make the change… if you think time away with two  supportive but challenging people could help you create a future that is right for you, please get in touch.

“Stepping off was excellent value for money. I was made to feel very welcome and felt very much at home.  Home from home – without the chores! The best thing was having the time and space to explore who I am, what I want from my life and how I might get it.  I now have a plan.”  Anne S More testimonials

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

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,


A benefit of a simple life

September 3rd, 2010

One of the benefits of living a simple life can be working for yourself.  I consider ourselves very lucky as we have a few different ways to earn a crust and we manage our time ourselves working from home.  That means that when something enjoyable crops up we can rearrange our work to make the most of it.

Today has been a glorious day –  warn sunshine and blue skies – we had a friend call us to see if she could pop in and visit  – a friend who we have not seen for 10 years.  We were able to sit out in the garden and have our lunch and were still sitting there at 4pm catching up on all her news and reminiscing over old times.

We could never have done that in the old days when we worked 75 hours a week and commuted 4 hours a day.  Working for what you need rather than always for what you want allows you to change the balance – we now work to live rather than live to work.

Today has been lovely and it is what our new simpler life is all about.  Putting friends and family first, eating simple home cooked food – home baked bread, salad, cheeses – (a lovely brie we smoked on a Smoky Jo’s course on Tuesday) and a glass of home made elderflower cordial and relaxing in the garden.  Absolute perfection on a summers day and we didn’t have to wait until the weekend to enjoy it!

Lovely to see you Jackie – come again soon.