So what are those changes I’ve made in the last 18 months? In early April 2013 I’d decided to move to the Netherlands, and I’d found a house here, but I was still living in Switzerland. I didn’t want to stay there permanently: I’d moved there in 2011 to study. I decided I was willing to learn another language, and I thought I should choose my next (and last) country sensibly. The Netherlands won out because it’s one of the fairest societies in Europe, it’s close enough to get back to the UK easily and I had colleagues here (a couple of whom have since become friends). By coincidence I’d spent quite a lot of time here, for work and pleasure, in the previous couple of years, so it wasn’t a leap in the dark. Not only that, but the similarities to English and German would make Dutch relatively easy to learn.
Now, if you move to a new country it’s pretty obvious there’ll be big changes in your life: the language you speak, the people you’re with and the culture you live in. That’s huge, even for a freelancer like me whose working routine isn’t directly affected by location.
Strangely enough, though, other major changes occurred at almost exactly the same time. I stumbled over a BBC programme and a UCLA lecture online that made me think about health and nutrition in ways I hadn’t done before (in fact, I remember seeing the UCLA lecture while I was house-hunting in Hilversum). After that I started eating more healthily (not that my diet was terrible). Next, a friend linked to a Raptitude article on Facebook and from there I discovered both Raptitude and Mr. Money Mustache. They made me rethink my spending and my attitude to work: I now try to be more economical so I can spend less time working and more time doing things that are important to me. Finally, I found a book that made me decide to tackle the insomnia I’d had most of my life. Partly the timing is coincidence, but maybe it’s also partly because I was changing some things anyway, so I was more open to rethinking others?
Another enormous change was my approach to my career. I was a translator specialising in pharmaceuticals and clinical trials, and some time in late 2012 I bought a book called Bad Pharma. I couldn’t believe what I was reading, and decided I couldn’t in all conscience carry on working with the pharmaceutical industry now I knew some of the things that went on in it. Over the course of 2013 (it took longer than I would have liked) I stopped doing translations in that field. That left me without a specialist subject area, so I started thinking about how to develop another one. When I started looking into that, I decided the best way to do it would be to take a degree course in a new subject; then I realised that if I was going to go back to university I could retrain completely instead of staying in translation. I haven’t decided yet which of those two options I’m going to take when I finally finish my degree.
Anyway, along with all these big changes came lots of smaller ones. Sometimes there was a direct link: because I wanted to eat better, I learnt to cook better. Sometimes an indirect one: the cost of living in the Netherlands is lower than in Switzerland, so I can afford things I couldn’t as a student in Switzerland – gym membership, for example. And sometimes there was no connection on the face of it, but I think serendipitous things were more likely because my mindset was different. I met my significant other just under a year ago, and I’m sure that was partly because I was doing so many other positive things at the time. At one point I started keeping a list of changes I wanted to make and ticking them off when I’d made them, but then I stopped because there seemed to be more things I’d changed than things I hadn’t.
The point is that it all adds up. Big changes are bound to have a big effect, but the thing is lots of small changes do the same. Once I started, I kept finding more and more little things to improve. That keeps you motivated, plus you learn so much. So many things I took for granted just a year and half ago now seem daft, and I’m sure that in five years’ time I’ll think the same about lots of things that seem normal to me now. If you tweak a few things here and a few things there you can start combatting the things I mentioned in my post last week: that niggling feeling of stress, fatigue, whatever. There are plenty of things I’m still fixing, and it often doesn’t go to plan. One example is that gym membership: I didn’t actually join a gym until last week! That’s pretty pathetic, even if I did have a language problem at first.
Right now I’m working on learning to touch-type (because this seems to be what happens when I look down at my keyboard) and not letting personal emails pile up for months before I answer them. Sleep is also still a big issue for me. I’m hoping that before too long I’ll find the time to start learning to play the piano and to learn some Japanese (as my fiancé is Japanese). Those are just the newest projects – earlier ones are still there.
From the readership figures of some of the blogs I follow myself, and their comments sections, it looks as if there are plenty of other people out there who share my take on things. I really think you can live your life in a way that matches your priorities, if you can just find it in you to stick your head above the parapet and, well, not go with the flow.