Escaping the City: discovering the start of my desire to ‘escape’

When asked to write a blog post for Escape the City about my ‘escape story’ I sat down to think about it, I realised the notion of escape for me, went back far further than I had thought. The piece I wrote for them ended up being something completely different but I thought this was worth keeping, so I reclaimed it back for myself 🙂

Age 3. I’m on my brand new tricycle. I recall that weary, tiresome day, the need to bust free from the cul-de-sac I’d been trapped in for two pre-school years. I am found on the motorway, tricycling my little heart out at 1 mile per hour.

Age 7. My escape story involves Nuns. I’m at a boarding school in Yorkshire. I start writing sci-fi and fantasy stories, and all my dreams involve being on the run.

Age 10.  I escape from my house to watch cartoons at my friend’s house. Hours pass and I am unaware of the police search party.

Age 15. I start to learn the meaning of a ‘Saturday Night’.

Age 16. I need to figure out a way to escape from Sunday morning Church. Permanently.

Age 18. I apply to study Digital Media Production. It seems ‘progressive’. It’s 1999. It was either that or Public Relations. I don’t really know what I want to do, but I know I want to somehow change the world.

Age 19. I drive off in my parent’s Nissan Micra. There’s an imaginary sunset. S Club 7 on the stereo. Not quite the soundtrack for greatness.

Age 25. I’m running from the boxing day Tsunami waves. I’m in Thailand.

Age 26. I’m working for some national magazines. It’s high profile. There are celebrities. And celebrity parties. It can almost be described as glamorous. But I only enjoy the first six out of those landmark twelve months. I very quickly start to feel unfulfilled.

Age 27. Escape comes via a friend’s tech start-up. It’s 2005. I spend the next year building a new online music community for independent bands and music artists. There’s this new thing that everyone’s raving about called Social Media. It’s exciting.

Age 27. We’ve ran out of funding. I go back into advertising. It’s a decent digital job with great pay. But something in the pit of my stomach feels wrong. Advertising wasn’t really meant to be my career – I feel trapped. And it rains solidly for days.

Age 27. Two months later, thanks to Facebook, I’ve escaped the Clapham apartment with the Lichtenstein on the walls. I head to the Caribbean to work with an old colleague. I travel. I work. I laugh. I relax.

Age 29. There’s a fire in my belly I can’t control. I wanna do my own thing, but have no idea where to begin. I turn 30 under the stars on a beach in Malawi. I quit my job in newspapers, and start working in a pub in Bethnal Green.

Age 30. The pub lasts one week. An opportunity to turn a youth-run volunteer programme into a national magazine brand feels like the escape I’ve been waiting for. So I escape corporate media and head to a social enterprise. We set the project on a path to self-sustainability and ultimately, not relying on government funding. It feels victorious.

Aged 33. I hear about Escape The City. I have been invited to a talk at the Adam Street Club in Embankment, on How to Start a Social Enterprise Overseas. It gets the old excitement juices going again. I’ve been working with socially impactful youth organisations and youth brands. But the itch to do my own thing, is over powering. I read the Four Hour Work Week, and it changes my life.

34. I’m Managing a volunteer programme for a Social Enterprise in Kenya for three months. I applied through Escape the City. I meet an amazing person called Anna who wants to set up a social entrepreneurship training programme. I tell her about my plans to do something different too.

Still age 34. We start advertising our first programme on Escape the City. We secure our first paying customers, and run a pilot in Kenya at the end of 2014. We work with a group of unemployed young Kenyans to get them starting their own socially impact businesses.

Age 35.  Flash forward to today. _SocialStarters is now running social entrepreneurship training programmes for volunteers in India, Brazil and Sri Lanka. We continue to advertise on Escape the City and recruit incredible skilled professionals who want to start their own meaningful Escape journeys. I am excited about the future.

if you’re starting to get that urge, and you’re wrestling with it – the best advice I could give would be to start to listen. Invest in yourself. Take some time out. Work on yourself. Get a life coach. Do CBT or NLP. Travel to places that intrigue you. Rediscover your ‘inner child’, that kid who looked out the window with the big eyes and a future of possibilities. Take risks. Develop. And design a life for yourself that’s more in line with your core values.

What did I learn from my own series of personal escapes? …Perhaps it’s about doing whatever it takes to make you happy. That, and the importance of listening to one’s own inner voice. When we feel conflict in ourselves we are not listening to that voice. Drowning it out, most likely. And as the great late Indian philosopher/mystic/guru Osho said, suppression is equal to death.

The trick is also knowing which voice to listen to 😉 But that’s a journey of it’s own in itself.