In a nutshell: Earned some decent money, bought a lot of stuff, got made redundant, started my own businesses, earned more money, bought even more stuff, nearly died, changed my priorities, started to simplify my life.
Perhaps this is a bit self indulgent but unless I tell it, you won’t fully understand how I’ve arrived at this point.
So what is ‘this point’ that I’m talking about?
Simplifying my life by removing the clutter and detritus from my brain, my home, my finances and my day to day life so that I can enjoy the things that bring me joy, make me happy and help me to lead a healthier more fulfilling life. In other words, bringing a state of calm simplicity to my life that will benefit me and those closest to me.
Where it all started…
I am a workaholic. I have always stated that there are plenty of people who are smarter than me but very, very few who work as hard as me and this explains a lot. I am also an ADHD sufferer which explains my full on, ‘can’t-sit-still’ attitude to everything I do.
In 2002, whilst still in my early 30’s, I finally got my dream job after many years of working at regional level with various blue chip firms. A national role with the UK arm of an American insurance giant as Commercial Director. My salary at that time was about £63,000 plus the usual perks like a pension, healthcare and car allowance. Naturally, I bought a BMW coupe.
Fast forward a few years and by the time we reach 2007 and the (almost) onset of the credit crunch, I had been promoted to Vice President, I was responsible for almost 120 staff, my basic salary had risen to £116,000 , I was driving a Porsche and my wife was driving around in a brand new BMW 5 series. The division I led, had a turnover of almost £4bn.
I was a corporate whore of the highest order and because of my ADHD, I was also the centre of attention with my impulsive nature and ‘don’t stop ’till I drop’ attitude.
I traveled to the Monoco Grand Prix as well as the Spanish, Italian and British Grand Prix’s. I played golf at some of the finest courses in Europe. I went to Dubai, Portugal, France and Spain on conferences. I had a pretty nice life.
Then I was made redundant (laid off).
Starting my own business(es)
Although I was earning a six figure salary with my job, I was spending all of it on cars, insurances for the cars (I bought both my daughter’s a car each too), dining out, weekend breaks in 4 star hotels and Michelin starred restaurants. I wasn’t paying my credit cards off, my mortgage was interest only and we just carried on buying ‘stuff’. More and more stuff.
In fact, my disposable income was probably the equivalent of someone earning £30,000 a year because my outgoings were so high.
Fortunately, I had made a lot of contacts during my career so when I started my insurance brokerage with my wife Heather, in early 2009, it was profitable from day 1. Before we knew where we were, a few years had passed, we had 6 staff (2 of which were our daughters) and we were earning almost £90,000 a year from our business and I had also taken on a pretty undemanding employed consultancy role paying me £50,000 a year too.
When you combined my paid employment with our business income, we were earning more than ever and apart from the odd day here and there, I had no commute, no bosses to answer to and early finishes and long weekends whenever we liked.
In January 2014, this is a snapshot of my life and day to day business dealings
- Consultancy role with an accountancy firm
- Still working on my own business outside of these hours which meant:
- 67 domain names
- 23 active and ‘live’ websites
- 17 active email addresses
- 8 active Twitter accounts
- 8 active Google+ accounts
- 8 active YouTube accounts
- Average 14,000 words written by me for my sites every month
- Average 16 hours a day work and then more work listening to podcasts
This meant that most days I was getting up at 5am to complete these tasks, going to bed at 9pm to listen to entrepreneurial and business podcasts on my ipod and working all weekend doing the same. I created all the websites, designed all the logos in Photoshop and did all of the marketing including social media and social bookmarks. i was also the main point of contact for all of our major clients and product providers.
In addition, I had 1 work smartphone, 1 work ipad, 1 work laptop and the same personally but also with the addition of a PC. That meant that I had 7 electronic items on the go constantly.
I literally never stopped and I just couldn’t relax or sit still.
The start of my personal health problems
In early January 2014 my behaviour was becoming very erratic. I have always been a total extrovert and that’s one of the reasons why I think I did so well in my corporate career. I could drink with the best of them, stay out the latest, laugh the loudest and was able to inspire loyalty amongst my employees but now, I was being louder and even more extrovert than normal.
I would also suffer from the occasional dizzy spell which my doctor put down to Vertigo and then Ménière’s disease, which is an inner ear infection.
I had no social life and I paid scant regard to my family. After being made redundant, I was petrified about the future…My career, my earnings and how I would continue to provide for my family. I started to worry about things that had not yet happened or I had no control of.
I was busy all of the time and for the first time, we had a few money issues when we had problems with an office lease, a dishonest employee and one of our main business contacts going bust (all of our eggs were most definitely in one basket). I didn’t realise it at the time but it was a perfect storm of sh*t.
My behaviour towards my wife and children was reprehensible. I would snap at them for no reason. Lose my temper if a pair of shoes weren’t put back in the right place or the TV remote was not where I thought it should be. This culminated in one incident where I threw a PC monitor against the wall and tried to overturn a desk simply because someone in the office didn’t pass on a message.
I was not a very nice human being around this time and my family bore the brunt of my actions and it got to the point where they were afraid to tell me things in case I screamed and shouted (I was never physical towards them, which was my ONLY positive at this time).
I was averaging just 3 hours sleep a night and I was prescribed anti-depressants by my doctor (which I never took) and my life was a complicated, cluttered, unorganised mess and I contemplated suicide on more than one occasion, especially when I had to make both my daughters, my daughter’s boyfriend and 3 of their friends redundant – a truly terrible situation.
On Wednesday 30th July 2014, I met a contact of mine at Oxford Road train station in Manchester for a spot of lunch. It was great timing on my part as my wife and I used the meeting as an excuse to go and stay with some friends who we hadn’t seen in a long time.
Although I wasn’t a native of Manchester, I knew the area really well through my previous corporate career and have been working on and off in the city for almost 25 years plus our family lived near there for about 3 years.
Again, I will spare you the finite details. Suffice to say that on the way back to the station, I got lost. Very lost in fact. I simply had no idea where I was. Nothing was familiar to me, nothing was recognisable and I also had no appreciation of time.
I was scared. I mean really, really scared.
I had to ask the person I was with to call my wife on my phone to come and pick me up and she took me straight to hospital.
To cut a long story short(er), I was diagnosed with a Colloid Cyst or to be more exact, a Colloid Cyst of the Third ventricle, along with acute Hydrocephalus. In other words, a type of brain tumour and the tumour was pushing down on the part of my brain that affects your decision making process and memory, in addition to causing me headaches, mood swings and dizziness. The other issue is that Hydrocephalus can kill with no warning, which is why the timing was becoming an issue.
It was a benign (non cancerous) tumour so I know that makes me one of the lucky ones and for that I will be eternally grateful.
Two days later on Friday 1st August 2014, the operation takes place to remove the tumour. The craniotomy took 10 hours and I ended up with 19 stitches in my scalp but it was a small price to pay because I was alive.
To give you an idea of what it’s like in a specialist neurosurgery unit, in my ward of 6 men, one of them sadly died whilst I was there and another one was back in for his third craniotomy in just 4 years. It was a truly scary and surreal experience.
I also suffered a stroke just a few days after my operation which also set my recovery back.
Not surprisingly, this changed me as a person and also changed my entire outlook on life. A life changing experience and one that I can now look back on as a positive, not a negative, as it helped to reset me and turn me back into the person I used to be.
Loving, caring, compassionate and sensitive. Basically, the man my wife fell in love with all those years ago.
A new found me
I was able to start working on our business again, 6 months after the operation, which is pretty good according to my consultant as most people need 18 months to recover fully, although I no longer do that because my writing, speaking engagements and executive coaching have taken over. I lost my job as a consultant (it was a long term retained contract) because of it and as I was only in a contract position, it was easy for them to terminate my contract.
I now consult for companies, large and small, on how their executives and management teams can avoid the mistakes I made. I also show them how they can best manage their time and resources, deal with stress in the workplace and how to live a life less cluttered life so that they don’t suffer from burnout like I did.
I think the reason it works is because I have lived it. I carved out a successful corporate career and then did the same again with my own businesses, so I am far from the typical theorist. I know the pitfalls and the warning signs of an overworked and under appreciated (emotionally, not financially) executive.
I am writing a book and I also help my wife run an offline crafts business which gives us the opportunity to work together which is great, along with our daughters (when the mood takes them).
We also own an online Amazon business that is run on autopilot (only takes 5/6 hours a week to manage) and brings in a nice, high, 4 figure income each month and our earnings our more than they have ever been.
But that’s not the point.
The quality of our lives has improved beyond all recognition and I find that the more I give of myself, the happier I am. Clichéd but true.
I realised I had far too much going on in my life. Mentally, emotionally and physically.
One thing that the illness taught me is that I need to appreciate every single tiny solitary moment of my life. I was too busy dealing with the business of life that I didn’t appreciate life in all its wonderful forms.
Forget what you read on the news, this world can be a pretty wonderful place if you know where to look and after not being allowed to drive for 6 months, walking my dog for mile upon mile of English countryside as part of my rehabilitation, has given me a new purpose and a new sense of living life in a clear, unfussy, uncomplicated way.
I found ways to give me an ‘out’, a way of escaping the daily drudgery and focus my thoughts and attention on something non work or non money related.
I feel alive for the first time in years because I have introduced the concept of calm simplicity into my life. I have:
- Restricted my use of the internet
- De-cluttered my house with some really stringent rules
- Learned to live with less possessions by selling or giving away our stuff
- Started to eat healthily
- Walked an average of 2 miles a day
- Removed all but one TV and Satellite package (we had 3 and the satellite will go next)
- Get rid of both our cars and bought one small, economical hatchback
- Got rid of my landline phone
- Swapped my £46 a month iphone contract for a Windows smartphone at just £10 a month (best thing I ever did)
- Reduced myself to 1 mail address (2 if you count this one as well)
- Started to get up at 5am (by choice – not necessity) and go to bed to read at 9pm. Not use a tablet, laptop, etc
I’m no poster boy for enoughism but the fact is that I do have enough and that’s all I need. I was most definitely guilty of having more than I needed and now I can see that for the folly that it is. I’m not a vegetarian or vegan but I want to be. I’m not giving up my TV or internet but I am reducing my use of both. I still drive a car and probably always will. I don’t exercise vigorously every day but I want to do more than I do.
Most of all I want to live life to the full without the burden of debt (UPDATE: £47k in April 2015 – £11k in January 2016 – £0 in March 2016) or the burden of material possessions. The less I have, the happier I have started to become as I stop being a slave to consumerism and STOP. BUYING. THINGS.
I haven’t got the balance right yet but gradually I will. As my wife often tells me,
To make changes you need to take small steps, one at a time
and that’s how I am learning to take control of my life again and make it simple.
I hope my story will inspire others to do the same.