Picture the scene.
We are outside the main train station in a Japanese city, all glass and steel and impeccably clean. There are hundreds of commuters streaming past: impossibly skinny women wearing impossibly high heels and immaculate men in immaculate suits.
I, meanwhile, am sitting on the pavement in my temporary role as Guardian of the Bikes. My cycling outfit these days includes old leggings and a scruffy shirt of the kind usually favoured by Indian and Pakistani men. I am ashamed to admit that I am also wearing socks and sandals, having learnt to avoid sunburned feet the painful way.
As I sit there, waiting for Tim to come back from refilling our water bottles, I think of all the hundreds of commutes to and from work I had done. I used to be like these worker bees, buzzing to and from their hives (albeit on a bike and minus the high heels). I realised there and then how right what we are doing at the moment feels.
I gave up an intellectually stimulating, often enjoyable job. I gave up (mostly) wonderful colleagues, a couple of whom I was genuinely sad to say goodbye to. I gave up sixty grand a year, excellent health insurance, a decent pension and copious amounts of free booze at work events. I gave up the chance for promotion, partnership and the dizzy heights of an equity share in the business.
And I haven’t regretted it once.
Even on horrible days, shivering through an Iranian winter or sweating through an Indian spring, I haven’t questioned the decision that led me here. The idea met with scepticism from colleagues and a certain amount of opposition from family. I don’t always enjoy our life – right now, I would kill for a warm bath and a glass of red wine- and I suffer from some level of homesickness virtually all the time, but it feels like I am finally doing something I am supposed to do.
Choosing what to do with our brief lives can be tricky. One way to start is to write yourself two obituaries: one based on your life as it as at the moment, and one based on your ideal life. If there is a disparity, something needs to change.
Alternatively, write down what you hope to be doing in five years’ time, then use this to work backwards and plan your life over the next half decade. A friend at university did this and professed that her sole aim was to have a dog. Although this was superficially simple, it meant she needed a house to live in with the dog, money to pay the vet’s bills and nearby countryside to walk in, so she set about organising her life to achieve these goals.
This certainly doesn’t mean that you have to do anything as drastic as quitting your job to cycle round the world. Tim and I once attended a workshop put on by the fabulous School of Life on the topic of ‘how to find work you love’, and they advised that life changes can be incremental. If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do with your life but feel constrained by finances, commitments or lack of confidence, start it on the side as a hobby or part time job. If it works out, you can turn it into a career. If it doesn’t, you’ve managed the risk. I personally like the idea of a portfolio career, juggling a few different projects and benefiting from a few different income streams.
Of course, I don’t have all the answers. I don’t want to be a cycle tourist forever: I spend several hours a day planning what to do when I come home. I might go back to law and join those throngs of commuters, although I quit knowing full well how difficult this might be and it almost certainly won’t be as well paid, having turned my back on the City. I might become an international spy. I might do something else entirely. I fully expect to have a period of low mood and restlessness as the next stage of life takes shape.
Whatever happens, I’ll always have done this trip. I chose life.