Next Starfish and Me

A guest post by Lee, an Environmental Health Officer.

I wanted to contribute to Next Starfish again. I’ve written a guest post previously, a technical contribution and in considering a topic for a second post I wanted to discuss something more personal, something life improving. In the end I’ve decided to write about how and why Next Starfish has affected me.

I guess I have always been into improving my own happiness, it’s a basic human aim, right? But it’s how I’ve changed going about this that I wanted to write about.

In 2008 my father passed away, not long after I landed my then ‘ideal’ job – a senior position within a multi-national consultancy earning a considerable wage. Since 2008, life has changed a lot for me. Here’s how.

I used to think having money solved pretty much everything, and my career ambitions lay primarily in how large my monthly pay cheque was. Whilst money does not necessarily solve all problems, a lack of it can certainly can create a few.

I have always had enough money to live very well. I haven’t always gotten exactly what I wanted, but always had what I needed, and as I mature, I’ve also tried to make decisions to ensure one day, when I have a family, they will also have a little of what they want as well as what they need.

But, the loss of my father in 2008 suddenly rendered financial comfort much more irrelevant for me. I suppose it marked the change from living my life as if it were guaranteed, to making sure that ‘I sucked the marrow out of life’ to coin a phrase from one of my favourite films, Dead Poets Society.

I now have much less interest in possessions. I still have a nice house* in a nice area where I enjoy living, a bike and a pair of trainers – that’s pretty much all I want. (*Somewhere decent to live is important -you have to have a sanctuary somewhere. In my job I often see people struggling in poor living conditions and they’re not good for people. People having to live in fear, not sleeping well due to their surroundings, or in conditions which cause ill health shouldn’t be acceptable to society).

I now spend more money buying experiences and enjoying time with my friends, than on possessions.

A bit more about me – I’m pretty sporty, and live for and love the great outdoors. I really do ! My best times have all been sporting times, and the best relationships I have are with sporting mates. I value the mates more than the medals, and the socialising more than the training. But a lot of what makes us great mates is the hardship of training and competing. When you’ve completed another 20 hours of training in a week, and raced to within an inch of your life, you bond well because you have hurt yourself for the benefit of the crew or team.  That relationship is never lost. The respect earned never fades. The trust is never dented. So, what is it I really enjoy . . . money, no. Medals, yeah maybe. Great friendships. . . bingo !

I’ve also had some experience with the Armed Forces – it fits in with my ‘mates and outdoors’ mantra. I remember one night, on exercise in Catterick, with the rain pouring and the wind howling, if I could have been anywhere other than there, then, I would. But after putting up our home for the night (a Gore-text sheet strapped to four trees), my mate had made me a cup of tea containing dirt and grass but I will guarantee you that no one could have derived as much joy from a caffeine drink than me at that exact moment. A simple pleasure shared with friends.

Am I very different to most people ? I don’t think so. We’re all social animals. I am a big believer in organisations: sporting, artistic, educational, agricultural or whatever. I think these clubs, especially with a structured hierarchy are as important to our social growth as schools or our family. Next Starfish suggested the film Into the Wild to me. The quote from that film that stays with me is ‘Happiness is only real when shared’. I certainly believe that. Is a great view as great if you’re on your own ? Is a good joke as funny if you laugh alone to it ?

The last 4 years have been a roller coaster – a very fast one at times, and one that’s certainly had some highs and lows at times !! But the ride has set a better perspective for me. I look forward to future now through very different eyes.

Now, my calendar is more full of stuff that my flat is. I enjoy talking and debating with friends more than buying ‘stuff’ and given the ‘stuff’ my attention. I know I should also do more for society, and want to find something I can do and commit to, to best use my skills. I also want to put some of my money to use for those who really need it. I want to see it making a difference, and am currently thinking how best to go about this – I hope to let you know what I decide to do through Next Starfish.

I’m still one of the richest people in the world. Not just  right now, but that has ever existed. The chances are, as you’re reading this, so are you.

Can I can distribute some of this money as well as my time ? I’m lucky enough to be educated and can also put that to use, influencing and lobbying – perhaps for better housing and living conditions for those less well off. That’s my passion, and it all helps.

A lot of what we see and read is designed to make us part with money. Newspaper headlines are aimed at making us buy, and do it through shock headlines that often play to our worst fears. How many people would buy a newspaper if the front page said ‘Things in the UK quite good’ ? For me Next Starfish challenges ‘the rules’ a bit, talks about another way to live. Some people might even say it is an ‘alternative’ lifestyle. But the messages and articles have struck a chord with me. If these messages could outweigh the marketing messages . . . well, I’ll help spread the word anyway as they’ve helped me.

I still keep up with the Jones’ – but the Jones’ are people who laugh and smile rather than own everything.

Photo by David Ashford, via Flickr 

RELATED ARTICLESNext Starfish: A ManifestoRebel with a Cause, The Beat of a Different Drum

Comments

  1. I appreciate this guest post Lee.

    We all change our views and attitudes throughout our lives. Sometimes suddenly but more often gradually, sometimes due to a particular event or experience, but many times it’s for more nebulous reasons, we’d struggle to pin down.

    I think it’s important not to think of ourselves as ‘the finished product’, to allow ourselves to change, develop and grow, and to be prepared to reinvent ourselves a little from time to time.

    I’m obviously glad Next Starfish has perhaps had a little influence on your journey. If all our work, writing, tweets and even conversations had no effect at all, then of course we’d all be wasting our time.

    It’s nice to hear occasionally that we’re not :o)

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