living the dreamand that quite a few people reading this blog would love to do what I've done - pack in the day job, move to some idyllic place and live off the land (OK, we're not quite doing that, but serious veg gardening is part of the plan). The thing is, this isn't my dream.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about my life. I'm not trying to say that I have other dreams that I'll pursue someday, either. What I'm trying to say is that I don't get through life by having a grand vision and following it.
You've probably seen
wise wordsadvising you to hang on to your dreams, to imagine yourself living your ideal life, not to give up and if you wish hard enough... one day your dreams will come true! OK,
wish hard enoughis never the way it's expressed, but that's basically the message. That is not how I got to "live the dream".
Unlike many people, I have never fantasised about
living the good life. I never pictured myself living in a pretty cottage in the country, with roses round the door and runner beans growing in neat rows, popping out to feed the chickens before shutting them safely in for the night (always chickens - why does this vision always include chickens?) That was not my dream. This may be partly because the first house I bought was in fact a 400 year-old ironstone* cottage with roses round the door. Come to think of it, the roses weren't there until I planted them, but I digress.
Apart from actually living in the kind of house many people spend their lives working towards, there's another reason I didn't dream about the good life: I just don't operate that way. I've always considered it a bit unfair to ask children what they want to be when they grow up - how should they know**? When I was old enough to think it through, I concluded that it's only necessary to think about three years ahead, as far as the next stage. I changed schools at 16, spent two years doing A levels, then three years doing my first degree, three years PhD, four years postdoc, four years lecturer, three years research manager, then here. For all my adult life, about three years has been as far as I needed to look ahead. I hope I'll stay here much longer than that, but I don't really need to look very far into the future - it's enough to say I'm happy to stay put for the time being.
My approach to life is to see what it has to offer at the current time, see how I feel about the oportunities available, and make decisions on that basis. Although I felt that an academic career was the life for me, when my husband got offered his dream job in a part of the country where I was unlikely to get an academic job I wanted, I considered other alternatives. By being open-minded, I got a very interesting job outside of the university system and learnt a lot about politics. I'm very glad to leave it behind, but it was and interesting and valuable life experience. That break from academia made it much easier to consider giving up work entirely, which was the most difficult decision I made in moving here.
Another major factor in making it easier to move here was being in a strong position financially. Even there, I didn't dream of giving up work and therefore save up so I could. I just had a generally frugal approach to life and made decisions that strengthened my finances. For example, when we moved away from the pretty cottage, we chose a cheaper, ex-council house so that we could pay off the mortgage. That goes against conventional 'wisdom' that you always buy the most expensive place you can so as to climb the property ladder. Of course, inheriting one-third of a house helped, too.
What prompted us to move was dissatisfaction with our current jobs. Both of us were getting fed up with our respective employers, so considered what else we might like to do. For Ian, that was relatively straightforward. Having been employed as a journalist for several years, he'd built up enough experience and contacts to go freelance without imminent danger of starvation. I didn't have the working from home option, so spent some time observing myself and considering the question, "What do I really enjoy doing?" The answer came most clearly when making elderflower champagne: I really enjoy harvesting things and making them into something delicious. (I also noted computer programming - I didn't expect to end up writing a music promotion website.)
I'm not trying to tell you how to live your life, just how I live mine, but if you want to take a message from this, don't dwell on dreams of how wonderful things might be in the distant future. There's even some evidence to suggest that this might make you less likely to pursue them. Instead, look at where you are now - what you enjoy, what your opportunities are - and decide what to do with your life now. After all, now is all we've really got.
*like the honey-coloured Cotswold stone, but more iron ore so a deeper shade of orange **Notwithstanding the fact that my sister did, in fact, know, and in spite of Grandma's dismissive, "Oh they all do at that age, don't they?" she is now a fully qualified, practising vet.