I was asked recently by Sarah Stirling to be a part of an article she was writing and collating for Summit Magazine. The article is called Living the Dream. Below was my take on the questions she asked.
Living the Dream?
I’m a person, who after having made certain sacrifices and unusual life choices, has for the last thirteen years been a full-time climber & writer. By the way, being a full-time writer-climber is a proper job and does come under the definition of work…
Climbing for me has always been about testing myself, but above all it is about pursuing freedom and trying hard to have fun, and getting away from being bound by rules. I would not call myself a ‘professional climber’ because to me that word ‘professional’ connects too strongly to regulation and conformism, and of course is bound to the trap of having to be paid money for what we do. I work against this trap constantly, and of course remain in it. But mostly I do what I do because of passion. I do not have any time limits put upon me … apart from the one inevitable limit we all share, and will all have to face. This time-freedom is the only kind of ‘payment’ a person such as myself can expect. Time is the most valuable possession I have (until of course time finally possesses me!!) Time has become my only real pay-master, and I am delighted and deeply contented to say that I have been top of Master Time’s pay scale for the last thirteen years.
Worst day scenario? Actually I’ve come to realise that I can’t have worst day scenarios, how could I? There are people every day being killed and abused and living in poverty all around the world. My life is privileged. I am exceptionally fortunate. When I wake in the morning I have plentiful food and clean water. I have no fixed abode, so sometimes I have to use club huts, and when I want a little peace and quiet to write and the space becomes busy … this can be difficult, but I know it’s a minor niggle – at the end of the day I will not be trying to go to sleep wondering if I will be bombed that night or if I will be able to eat tomorrow.
Pension plan? The way things are going, I’m not sure people who have paid into a pension plan in Britain will actually have one. I came to climbing late in life, and after working almost full-time for twenty years, I was in the position to pay off the mortgage on my terrace house and even bank some savings. My house is rented, and this is part of my income and gives me something of a security blanket for the future. Added to the rent from my house there is income from my writing, lectures, and some work for my sponsors (generally in the form of lecturing in the UK and abroad) and then two of my sponsors pay me a small retainer, and all of my sponsors of course provide me with all the kit I need. Combining this modest income with a streamlined lifestyle paying no rent or mortgage means that I am actually exceptionally comfortable. It also helps hugely that I have never craved material goods, I don’t feel a need to buy things, unless I really need them. I don’t feel smug about this; I really do feel genuinely concerned for people who have slaved away only to be let down in their old age. It really scares me to think I could have gone on working hard doing something I did not enjoy for the best part of my life only to finally realise what I had worked for was a delusion.
My advice for people, and not just younger people, would be to try so very hard to do what feels correct for you at the time. Be completely honest with others, but above all work hard to try to be honest with yourself: find your own genuine passion, follow it, be it needle-craft or brain-surgery, and then try extremely hard to not worry too much about failure … it is just trying hard that is most important. I know that everyone simply cannot follow a passion like I have, many in the world only hope for the next meal, but really, if you have tried to be true to yourself and those you love, then that is all that counts. And then there’s education, proper expanding of knowledge, but above all there is experience, which will then hopefully bring you to compassion and a better understanding of other people. Whatever you do, whatever path, as they say, you take, or whatever job you have to undertake, if you are honest and focus on compassion and understanding then your life and the people in your life will be happier, and whatever happens in the end, when time finally stops all the payments, you will feel free ….