A quick into by Rob (Cousins):
Rob Cousins somehow managed to combine an office job with mountaineering trips, arctic expeditions, smuggling classic cars out of a failed African state, ultra distance marathons and triathlons, and building dry stone walls in North Wales.
It is amazing how many years it has taken Rob to find the courage to work full time at things he loves, rather than returning each time to the office job he doesn’t.
1. What are you currently doing?
I’m totally engrossed in doing things I love, in the way I want to do them. And I don’t have to write a report on it, monitor it, find key objectives that suit someone else’s opinion…..
In February 2010 my next real adventure begins. After a couple of months off to spend time with my new family, my wife and I are traveling to Nepal to work for a year or so. I have three main jobs in the pipeline…..
- Training the Nepali long distance running team
- Writing race reviews for Nepali and Himalayan marathons
- Teaching orphaned vultures to fly
2. What did you do before?
I’ve worked in commercial insurance for 7 years, doing a variety of roles. I was very good at it, and thought very highly of. I’ve done very well for myself.
A few years ago I left for about a year, where I experimented with doing the things I loved, but it didn’t work out and I ended up full time in my old job. At least I was earning good money at something I could do.
Looking back on that experience I now see where I went wrong, and I do see it as a valuable experience. Maybe going back to my old job was the wrong thing to do, but I don’t regret that – back then I didn’t know what I know now..…
3. How long have you dreamt of doing what you are doing now?
I’ve wanted to do something different for years, I just hadn’t been able to figure out exactly what that ‘thing’ is. I was very nervous of dropping a decent job for something that may just have been a whim and lead nowhere.
I spent my first few years at work rebelling a bit – flying in on Monday morning from trips to the Alps, running to work (it was 13 miles door to door…), and so on. But these were jollies, and weren’t building a set of skills to use to change career.
My year off was great for really indulging in these interests, and I did a huge amount in that time (loads of independent travel, climbing, rebuilding my Morris). Whilst I had a great time, it didn’t last, and I ran out of money. Since then, maybe the last three years, I’ve wondered how to make that lifestyle sustainable.
Rather than thinking about what job title I wanted (like ‘physiotherapist’), I’ve been thinking about what sort of activities I want to be involved in. That has meant desperately searching how to use my skills and experience in the fields I enjoy. And it has felt desperate at times.
4. What inspired you to do it?
Yet another year had gone by, I was still unhappy, and my prospects seemed just as unfulfilling as every other time I’d looked at them. I was simply fed up of feeling like that. Did I want my life to be a collection of distant dreams, or a collection of wonderful memories?
5. From a practical perspective, how did you plan for it?
Put simply, I needed develop and practice the skills that I enjoyed using. For me, I realized that I know loads about physiology, anatomy, biomechanics, nutrition and psychological development. I could piece all these things together in a very special way that had a real and deep impact on the people that asked for my advice. I hadn’t realized that there was an entire industry out there devoted to this, and that I’d fit into it very well.
I simply needed to ensure that my qualifications were legitimate. I then needed to know what my skills were worth, and where I could use them.
I still don’t know whether I know enough (can you really ever know enough?), but I’m sure I know enough to begin and do well.
6. How are you funding it?
Big mortgage, our first child just having entered the world, credit crunch…. Isn’t this totally the wrong time to do this?
But I’ve reflected that city folk always think that other people are better off, and so feel poorer than they actually are.
In fact, compared to the vast majority of the world we all live in luxury. Taking that perspective has made money worries less of a concern. I suppose if we have to, we’ll sell the house. But worse things could happen.
But still, there’s a mortgage to pay. So while we’re away in Nepal, a friend will rent our house from us and that’ll cover those costs.
Our flights and living costs will be covered by various charities we’ll be working for, and from various fundraising activities we’re organized (dog shows, endurance sport events. There’ll be a bit of money from our savings to pay for travel insurance, vaccinations and so on. But really, we’re been surprised at how little this is costing. I think it’s more our ‘future earnings’ that are changing. They’re just becoming less certain than a monthly salary.
In many ways life for us will get a lot cheaper – no expensive season ticket, all that sandwich and coffee money, all the little presents and gadgets to make us feel better. Won’t need anywhere near as much money for those things anymore. Nepal is dead cheap to live in.
I’ve studied health and fitness in my own time at my own cost. I’ve loved learning it, so have been happy to part with the cash. Paying for them myself has also challenged me to use the qualifications too, to make sure they pay for themselves. Writing magazine articles and doing endurance events means I have negotiated discounts through sponsorship which has saved me some money. That has involved using negotiation skills I learnt at work.
7. What was the hardest thing about making this happen?
Believing in myself. Believing I can make this happen.
8. What has been the best thing about having made this happen?
I read this question and I can’t help but smile. For me there is no ‘best’ thing. Instead there is a collection of sad things about the world I’m leaving behind, and exciting things (with a dash of anxiety) about what’s coming next in my life.
Some of the things that come to mind are…
- Feeling the weight of responsibility at work lifted. When silly office politics happens, I no longer have to care.
- A week or so ago, I spent 3 hours training with a client. I came home tired and exhausted. But elated. This was a new combination of feelings. I went to sleep that night happy, deeply happy having made a difference to someone’s life and goals. I had no feelings of things I wish I’d done that day. I’d really earned my sleep.
- Knowing that whatever I do in the future will be about what is important to me. If I have a dream, no matter how big or small, I can work towards it and make it happen.
- Now I’m moving into doing something I love, my attitude is more positive and what I value is changing. In a really healthy way. After all the help from my wife and friends, I feel I enjoy a better relationship with the people I know and love.
9. What advice would you give to other people who want to do something similar?
For me it has been identifying what I love doing. Then having the confidence to do it.
Try lots of things, different things, maybe even unusual things for you.
Really reflect on how you felt about it, what you liked, what you didn’t.
Surround yourself with like-minded people, or people that work in that field. You’ll never be inspired if you only talk to people in the office about officey things. Talk to them about you, what you like doing, what you’re interested in. See where those conversations go, and what you learn about yourself and what you’re good at.
Be speculative and persistent. The worst that can happen is to get no reply.
Once you have found something, even if it just feels like a good idea, believe in it and yourself.
See what you can grow it into. And be bold when it comes to the all important moment.
10. What resources have you found really useful?
My friends and my wife. Their help, advice and perspectives have been invaluable, and I doubt they know quite how much.
For health & fitness, I’ve built a network of people I trust, who inform and challenge me on what I can do, what I know, what I need to learn.
My professional training has largely come from….
My wife has shown me what can be done when you commit yourself to an industry that you love. And when you push your skills, how it can change your life, your perspective, and open up a world of opportunity. Seeing how she’s used her skills to carve out a role for herself has been a real inspiration to me.
My friend Tim has also been very helpful too, in ways I don’t think he realizes.
11. What else?
The most significant thing I have done is to challenge what I understand by the words ‘success’ and ‘achievement’.
Rather than think of the criteria that society or other people judge these by, I’ve created my own understanding of these terms, and I now using this as a guide for what I get involved in.
I am so much happier, less frustrated, and feel like my life has a real direction. In many ways it is frightening, but I always come back to the fact that my values are now driving my life.