Posts Tagged ‘Changing your life’

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

Thursday, 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 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.

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,


A benefit of a simple life

Friday, 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.

Making the best of Blackcurrants

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

I love the summer.  Well if you can call this summer!  Though June was lovely even up here on the top of the fells in Cumbria!

Why do I love it – it is because you see all your work come to fruition. 

Today I have been picking blackcurrants and redcurrants. The bushes are heavy with berries this year.  I wanted to do something different with the fruit – I still have jam from last year.  So this year I have decided to make blackcurrant liqueur – Cassis.  It is lovely in the bottom of a glass topped up with sparkling white wine, Cava, Prosecco or if you are celebrating champagne!

It is so easy to make –

Crush the currents and fill a jar 3/4 full.  Add 150gms of sugar for each pint of liquid that the jar holds.  Fill the jar (leave a gap at the top as the liquid expands) with gin.  Let it stand until all the sugar is dissolved (I will  keep mine until Christmas). Strain the liquid through muslin and pour the juice into a bottle. Simple!

It makes for good Xmas presents or just enjoy it yourself as a treat.  It is really yummy and we convince ourselves that it goes towards one of our five a day!

How wonderful to have the time to do these things – just think I would have been sitting in commuter traffic  or still at the office at this time (20.30) if I was still living my old life!

A wedding and a funeral…

Monday, May 31st, 2010

Since the last blog things have been fairly hectic.  Last month we had a sudden family bereavement, this month we have been to our friends’ wedding.  In between we have been working with some truly lovely people both with Stepping Off, Smoky Jo’s and on the Volunteer Business Mentoring scheme for small businesses in Cumbria that Jo is co-ordinating.

At times, working through tears has been quite surreal; at other times having to travel a long way  to a wedding seemed inconvenient!  How crazy!  One of the things we focus on with Stepping Off is sorting out priorities.  Celebrating the wedding of friends is at the top!  (And we wouldn’t have missed it for the world! A great day! The last month  has also provided a reminder that as an employee it may have been  much easier to take compassionate leave than it is when you work for yourself.  Perhaps the most bizarre thing was writing our regular upbeat and positive column for Carlisle Living magazine the day after a death in the family.

One of the reasons we wanted to escape the rat race was to have more quality time for friends and family.  Having a wedding and a funeral in such close proximity is a timely reminder of why we believe in what we are doing.

Sun breaking through the clouds...

Sun breaking through the clouds...

Stop tolerating the intolerable!

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

How long are you going to put up with all those little things that drive you mad?

How many times in the past few months have you done something that you haven’t wanted to do;  gone somewhere that you have haven’t wanted to go to; or even  spent time with people that you don’t really have much in common with or whose company you don’t really enjoy?

Are there things in your life that irritate you?  How long have you tolerated the catch on the door being broken or put up with someone else’s pile of ‘stuff’ gathering dust in the corner of the room?

How many times are you going to put up adhering  with traditions – just because that is the way it has always been – like the round trip to spend time with the in-laws or having the traditional ‘family’ christmas when inside you are screaming to have for once  chrismas on your own? Ok we all have to do things that we don’t want to and many times it is because we do things for other people’s benefit. 

I am not suggesting that we become selfish, heartless or hurt other people but here are some things in our lives that we do tolerate needlessly and how much better , calmer and happier could we be if we stopped just tolerating them and made a decisive move to either do them with good grace or stop doing them all together.

Life is just too short to go on putting up with things that irritate, depress or just drive us mad.  So go on – break free and stop tolerating the intolerable!

Downshift to Sri Lanka…?

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Just before the Vitality Show we got back from the most wonderful trip to Sri Lanka, land of Jo’s (and her Mother’s) birth!  She’d not been back since she was eight, I have no idea why – it is an amazing country.

Curiously we have been slightly unsettled… we upped sticks leaving jobs and home in the south ten years ago… are we ready for a move abroad..?  I think we need a Stepping Off course to check on our priorities, values, aspirations and limiting beliefs and then to plan the next steps!

Like most visitors to Sri Lanka we had a chauffeur/guide for the first part of the holiday.  His name was Jally – Hafiz Jaleel, and he absolutely made our holiday!  I promised I would link to his website so I hope you will forgive a little plug for him  He used to work for Kuoni, but  “Stepped Off” and went solo last year.  He has a good fan base on Tripadvisor – but links aren’t allowed.  He helped with all Jo’s strange requests tracing her roots – searching out  old family home and church and her Father’s office at the old brewery.  Her Father and Grandfather ran the Ceylon Brewery between them from the 1920’s to the the 1960’s and it was her Father who started brewing Lion Lager (and Lion stout)  which is still going strong today.  We raised many a glass to her old man as we negotiated the hills, beaches, kitchens and other wonders of  Sri Lanka.  Who would have thought that an island the size of Ireland would have seven – yes, SEVEN World Heritage Sites?

If you are thinking of a trip to Sri Lanka – and why wouldn’t you? – we would be delighted to talk to anyone considering asking Jally to accompany them.  We cannot recommend him too highly; but being one of the best he can get booked up months in advance – just make sure he is available before you book your flights!

May be we will see you there, running a cinnamon farm or a guest house… or downshifting courses…