Posts Tagged ‘Downshifting’

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.

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!

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.”

How to measure life…

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take – but the moments that take our breath away…

Stepping Off

Camping, Dentdale and poetry…

Monday, August 16th, 2010

We have just had a couple of days away camping and climbed Flinter Gill above the village of Dent in the Yorkshire Dales.

The view from Flinter Gill with toposcope

The view from Flinter Gill with toposcope

At the top is a Toposcope(!) pointing to the various peaks and fells that may be seen but also bearing a poem – “Smiling Along” by Kathleen Partridge.  The poem says so much that we believe in at Stepping Off, about getting away from the frenetic 21st century pace of life… and I thought I would be able to find it on the internet, but no! So I only have the middle verse which I can read from a photo…

“A good wholesome breeze sweeps the frown from my forehead,
Here is simplicity, fragrant and free;
It is enough to be living this minute,
To feel and to hear, to think and to see”

Kathleen Partridge Poem Smiling Along

Kathleen Partridge Poem Smiling Along

If anyone knows the poem, please let me know, or I will have to climb Flinter Gill again!

Thanks to Julia Hall who found a picture of the whole toposcope on the web… here is the poem in full:

“Roaming the byways outside the great city
The sky seems to large for my little concerns
Worries are lost in the green of the landscape
A sense of wellbeing and wonder returns

“A good wholesome breeze sweeps the frown from my forehead,
Here is simplicity, fragrant and free;
It is enough to be living this minute,
To feel and to hear, to think and to see

“My values of living take on a fresh aspect,
With every green leaf that I notice unfurled,
Roaming the byways is good as a tonic,
I come home renewed to the work a day world”

Getting the priorities right

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

One of the most valuable things we help people with at Stepping Off is getting their life into perspective and sorting out what is really important in life.

Sadly my Mother died last month and it has been quite a tough few weeks but what has really helped is that for the past few years we have lived near her and been able to see her and spend time with her.  I cannot imagine how I would have managed if I had still been living 300 miles away, putting work first and working 12 hours a day.

Getting off the treadmill and moving to live a simpler less stressful life was the best thing I have ever done and it really helped me get life into prespective.

The hardest part is working through what your own life’s priorities really are.  I guess we do not think about it too much – mainly because we are too busy ‘living’ and getting on with life.   When did you last ask yourself – ‘Who am I?’, ‘What do I stand for?’ ‘What do I want from my life?’, ‘What does success really mean to me?’

Now I find I may not have  as much money as I used to have but I do have a  more fulfilling life, I have more fun and more time for the important things.  Things like – having time for friends and family.

The Vitality Show

Friday, March 12th, 2010

Stepping Off will be at the Vitality Show this year being held at Earls Court in London on 18-21 March.

Why I hear you ask?

Well because there was a fantastic show called the One Life Live show held at Olympia every year – and it is all about life change, career change, adult gap-years,volunteering etc.  Well this year it has been incorporated in the Vitality Show. So it will be twice as good!

So come and see us – we are in the One Life section by the theatre.

Also I will be speaking in the theatre on “Finding a Future that Fits” which will be a motivational talk outlining  some useful hints and tips to help you design the best future possible.

Come and listen on Thursday evening at 8pm, Saturday at 1.30pm and Sunday at 1.30pm. 

If you want to know more about the things I speak on have a look at Jo Hampson

See you there!

Make this YOUR year!

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

Our motto at Stepping Off this year is to “put procrastination in the past”!

How many times have you been here before – it is a new year – we are thinking of new year’s resolutions, we are all keyed up and motivated – this year is going to be different!

But is it?

Being keyed up and motivated is only half the story – the other half is understanding why you have been here so many times before and have never really achieved all you set out to achieve.

Identifying the things in our lives  that stop us from moving forwards and achieving our goals is vital if we are to live our lives differently.

So why not spend some time thinking about  –

1.  What are the things that are stopping us moving forward and living a happier life?   

2. Who are the people who are stopping us changing? – Have you ever thought that some friends and family members may have their own reasons for wanting you to stay where you are?

There are lots of reasons that keep us where we are – our own comfort zone for one.   But if you can name some of these reasons, think them through and then answer this question:  Are they real, are they imagined or are they just an excuse?  When you have made sense of them you can then dismiss them from your mind. 

Don’t let them stop you becoming the person you long to be, living the life you long to live!

Procrastination may well be one of these reasons. So make this the year you put procrastination in the past and make this YOUR year for change!

Fruit of our labour!

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Return to Stepping Off website.

Remember how hard we worked at Easter ploughing a furrow and preparing the ground for our raspberry plants?

Wild raspberries growing nearby

Wild raspberries growing nearby

Well having nurtured them all summer – watering and feeding them and trying to protect them from the Shap weather (!) they are finally bearing fruit.  Not many as yet – as this is the first year.  Also they were  present from our lovely neighbour Alexand she bought us three varieties – which all bear fruit at different times of the season.  Some early and some later in the year.


Molly and I with our first raspberry!

Molly and I with our first raspberry!

Also with the raspberries we transplanted two gooseberry bushes and two blackcurrant bushes and a redcurrant bush.  These are growing well but no fruit yet.

Raspberries with leeks planted in between!

Raspberries with leeks planted in between!

In addition we were also given a few leeks to bring on so I popped them in the ground – in between the raspberries and right at the end where I had about a square metre I planted some seed potatoes and a parsnip!!!   I am new to this and just thought I would have a little fun and see what happens.

Potatoes and parsnip doing very well – very exciting!