How I’m Navigating In The World Of Work

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Having taken plenty of advice from friends, family and fellow long-term travellers to take it easy upon returning home, the elements of domestic life on this small island seem to be gradually clicking into place.


Upon arriving home I immediately got busy, splashed out on a steel-framed road bike and a pair of running shoes, raised concern by jumping into very cold rivers, began developing video footage from the ride in Mongolia earlier this year, and caught up on a handful of dormant books. I ventured forth to the Royal Geographical Society in order to spread enthusiasm and advice to a large assembly of would-be bicycle travellers, and was reminded (again) how many people there here in the UK are who’ve made incredible things happen in the world of expeditioning. An intrepid bunch indeed.

In fact, I overdid it, trying to cram too much in. I quickly realised the fact, and against a protesting mind and body I gradually wound things down to a slightly slower pace. Finding a comfortable middle-ground between all of this and the timeless company of friends and family is a thing I must treasure while it lasts.

Being in a small village in the East Midlands has played its part – if I’d slipstreamed directly back into the rush of a big city, I might now feel very different. My friends in London live life at a pace that I can’t keep up with. Time ‘off’ is measures in minutes, rather than months. Productivity is measured in ticked boxes and pay-days; there’s no blurred line between the value of a working life and the value of spending time in the world from the point-of-view of what I suppose could be called a non-working lifestyle. (Others might lean towards the stigma of the word ‘unemployment’ – an underrated profession, in my opinion!)

But there’s no traditional employer on Earth I can think of who would allow me to take a few months out whenever I decided in order to head off on some jaunt or other. This is a sub-optimal state of affairs when the only style of future in which I can see myself hinges on exactly that!

Looking ahead, freelancing my way through my late twenties appears to be my one and only prospect. Now, there are careers which lend themselves quite readily to this. They are the kind of careers in which you become part of a project with a finite lifespan, and are employed on a contract basis. My previous line of work was such – I would take lovingly-crafted artwork from a designer and write computer code to make this artwork not only visible but interactive on a wide variety of user interface devices. I was the last link in the chain, from conception to launch, of the production of an online communications medium commonly known as a website.

Once the website was launched, the client would in 99% of cases be responsible for its upkeep via a nifty gizmo known as a Content Management System, which essentially allowed me to slog my guts out in front of a screen for a while, present the finished product and then simply take off on another leg of my bike ride. For many years, the model worked exceptionally well for my needs, and in a pinch it would continue to do so today.

However, it splits my energies right down the middle. Swinging between one world and another is no longer sustainable – it effectively dilutes both. Can I put my skills to a use which not only puts a roof over my head, but encourages the creative activities I find so rewarding? Making a living through simply doing what you love – it’s the universal dream. I have great respect for all those who’ve gone through thick and thin to be able to say with all honesty that they have achieved this.

It’s early days. I’ve put in the hours and made many sacrifices to achieve a position from which I can continue earning a good wage on website contracts, but from which I can also invest a lot of high-risk time in bringing to fruition the last few years accumulated training in the writing, photography and film-making that I love to do, with no immediate prospect of remuneration.

Because in terms of demonstrable results, I don’t have an awful lot to show for my efforts right now. The existence of a hundred and thirty-odd articles on this site is worth far less than the publication of a single, real, tangible, physical book which I can hold in my hands. Likewise, the thousands of images I’ve captured can only be transformed into career-advancing material if they are bought and published as well as generating nice comments on Flickr. And despite having nearly 300 hours of documentary footage under my belt, it’s irrelevant until the majority of it is on the cutting room floor and the finished film is booked in for its first festival.

I feel that well-designed expeditions have potential social benefits by the bucketload. They inspire people to chase dreams and do better. They further scientific knowledge about the natural world, at a time when we really, really need to be sure of what we know. And they contribute to our cultural and geographical educations, regardless of our age. I really admire Digital Explorer’s work in bringing to the classroom the lessons that a good expedition can teach.

Lastly, we live in a capitalist society, and while negative manifestations of our current version of it can be widely seen, we often overlook the simple fact that money – as the means of exchanging labour – is currently what makes things happen, and in the expedition world this is no exception. Expeditions need funding, and all they have for sale is publicity, which is the axis about which the corporate world and the determined individuals behind these audacious projects revolve in order to make it all happen. Given my modest experience in producing the kind of media for which sponsors are willing to exchange their money, how stable would I find these financial foundations, were I to leap out onto them?

What would you sell your soul for?

Judging the waters and making all of this work is up to me alone. The best opportunities are those that you generate yourself. At the age of 27, embarking upon a brand new road is daunting, no matter how many new roads I’ve faced in the last few years.

I should probably be pitching articles to magazines and newspapers right now, instead of wasting time blogging about what I should be doing ‑but will the headline ‘The Benefits Of Not Exactly Cycling Round The World’ catch any editors’ attention?

If you know of an upcoming expedition or project that could use an experienced web professional, copywriter, photographer and short film producer, please get in touch.

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One response to “How I’m Navigating In The World Of Work”

  1. “non-working lifestyle” — I love it 😉

    We have faith in you, Tom! Your loyal readership and your perseverance is proof enough that you will succeed in whatever you set out to do. Best of luck in 2011! (And say hi to Tenny for me 😉

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