I turned twenty-six a couple of weeks ago and find myself at a bit of a crossroads – as the saying goes, every beginning has an end and every end is a new beginning, but it’s not always clear which way to turn when faced with life-changing decisions. I don’t usually get introspective here but today I want to share with you a couple of stories from my formative years which had a lasting impact on my life today…
Around fourteen years ago as a boy I used to spend a few weeks each summer staying with both sets of grandparents in Southend-on-Sea (Essex) and Bromley (Kent) respectively. I think a lot of my interests today can be traced back to those long summer holidays – one of my grandfathers was an avid photographer and worked with the very first ICL computers while the other was a Chemistry lecturer at UCL and a skilled carpenter. Their generation grew up during the latter stages of World War II and so were full of interesting stories.
One of my fondest memories of those holidays was restoring an old clinker-built Tideway sailing boat with my grandfather in Southend. It had been rotting in their garden for decades and over the course of three or four summers we completely stripped it back to the bare wood, made repairs and got it to the point where it was seaworthy again. Most of the work was done using the traditional hand tools in my grandfathers workshop and what I learnt from his attention to detail and craftsmanship greatly inspired my interest in design.
In June 2002 I nervously waited outside my school to receive my A-Level exam results – the outcome of which would determine whether I went to university and which one. I needed at minimum ABB grades to go to Durham (my first choice) and BBC for Kent (my distant second choice). Clearly the examiners weren’t ready for my take on the “Philosophy & Ethics” paper and what I got was ABD. Ouch.
In an instant visions of having to go through clearing or retake the year flooded through my mind. I wasn’t in the mood to talk with anyone and rather rudely brushed off my anxious parents (sorry mum!). An hour later I got myself together and called up the university. I explained the situation and was told they’d get back to me. Shortly afterwards I got a call from the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Brendan Hodgson, who told me that they were still prepared to accept me. Relief.
In my second year of university I discovered scary Japanese movies and out of interest enrolled in Japanese language classes. It turns out that I am not very good at learning languages but it did give me the opportunity to make friends with some Chinese foreign students in the same class which sparked of a new interest in China. After graduation I moved to London to begin my first full-time job with dreams of travelling to Asia one day in the back of my mind.
In January 2007 my dreams came true when my company sent me to Beijing for three months to work on a project there. It was an amazing experience and one which left me wanting more. A year and a bit after returning to London I quit my job and with a lot of searching and a little luck found a new one in Shenzhen. The location wasn’t ideal but it was the perfect way to get a foot in the door of this amazing country undergoing such rapid transformation.
Through these events and many more I find myself working in China in the IT outsourcing industry as a project manager / designer of sorts. In the context of these stories it feels a bit unreal and I am pleased to be on a less well trodden path but deep down I long to be doing something a bit more creative and perhaps in a different industry altogether.
Last June I visited Jeonju, in South Korea, and immediately fell in love with the beautiful Hanok Village and the superb craftsmanship of the traditional buildings there. As crazy as it might sound I would love to do an internship with a local carpenter or take a course to learn about how Hanok’s are built and do something physical for a change. This maybe a little far-fetched considering my limited language skills (I studied Korean for a year and only know the basics) but not necessarily outside the realm of possibility – If you happen to know of anyone with connections to this field I’d love to hear from you!
“Never let your memories be greater than your dreams.”
The quote above is one of the most important things I try to keep in mind to motivate myself. Letting ourselves get too comfortable in life is a sure way to waste away our precious days on this earth and if that’s not enough to scare you into action then I’m not sure what is!
If you have any dreams or stories you’d like to share feel free to leave a comment below – perhaps another good way to hold yourself accountable