My Partner & I Stepped Out Of The Rat Race. Why We'll Never Conform Again

August 27, 2020

I first met my boyfriend back in 2013 when we were working at a photography studio in the U.K. I was fresh out of college and my boyfriend, Ben, had not long graduated from university. We were both earning starter salaries and worked at the studio until the start of 2016. During our time here, we were promoted and given slight pay rises. Despite this increase, we were still struggling to make ends meet. Each month, we were lucky if we broke even.

Our days consisted of road-rage-fueled commute to work, and photographing pictures of consumer goods in a studio without windows. Our lunch was most likely bought from a corner shop and we’d often be asked to stay late to complete overdue projects. We’d head home and watch TV all night, probably with a bit of alcohol. Sometimes we did something after work, but it wasn’t often as we were just so tired or the weather was bad. Our weekends mostly consisted of sleeping in, going out drinking with friends or staying in and watching Netflix.

We were bored with our routine and our unhealthy lifestyle. All the extra hours weren’t exactly worth it either, as each month after paying our bills for our house shares, we were far from “rolling in it.” We kept telling ourselves that it wasn’t all about the money and we were on great career paths. Despite trying to convince ourselves of the great future we presumably had ahead, we didn’t feel happy in our jobs and we just weren’t satisfied with how we were living life. The thought of living this way for the rest of our lives was a depressing one and so in 2016, we decided to go traveling.

Beach in Tasmania

The first year of our new adventure consisted of traveling Southeast Asia for two months and then moving to Australia to work. We traveled around eight countries and worked for just six months of the year. We spent our money carefully in order to be able to travel as much as possible but that didn’t stop us when it came to trying new things. We used this time as an opportunity to tick things off of our bucket list and do things we’d always wanted to do.

I will never forget the gut-wrenching feeling I had in Australia, when we were seated in a small aeroplane with parachutes strapped to our backs. As I sat taking deep breaths, I noticed all of the nervous faces around and asked myself, “what are we doing?” That feeling was soon wiped out of my stomach as I tipped out of the plane, encouraged out by the professional skydiver strapped to my back. As I twirled around upside down, I caught a glimpse of Ben falling from above. Once our parachutes had burst open and I knew we were safe, I could relax and take in the stunning scenery of Australian beaches with the warm sun shining down on my face. The smell of fresh sea air and the sense of achievement soon followed. Once we were back on firm ground, we headed to a cafe to process what had just happened. We were so proud of ourselves, we had just skydived 14,000 ft. It was moments like these that made us appreciate that we were having the best year exploring the world, ourselves, and each other. Our lives were finally full of adventure, fun, passion, and love. In 2016, we earned half of our usual salaries.

The following year we spent three months in Australia, two months in New Zealand, and then we decided to head back to the U.K. for the remaining 7 months of the year. When we got back to the U.K., we decided to try self-employment and so we experimented with freelancing and setting up small business ventures. As much as we enjoyed traveling and living a more carefree lifestyle, we did miss our passion for creating content. We were back living with our parents but we were enjoying finding out what we were going to do next. During 2017, we only earned around a quarter of our usual salary.

At the start of 2018, we realized that becoming self-employed freelancers and making business connections was challenging and took time. We missed travel and adventure and we were worried that getting full-time jobs would have us fall back into bad habits. We decided to work part-time service jobs to give us some time and money to work out what we really wanted. This decision allowed us space to pursue other interests. Ben got qualified and employed as a beach lifeguard and I achieved my goal of volunteering overseas.

Saying goodbye at the airport was one of the hardest moments of our relationship. We had grown so close the years prior that it seemed crazy to head off to a remote village in Nepal to volunteer without him. I and 24 other volunteers from the U.K., alongside 25 Nepali volunteers, headed out into communities around Lalitpur to raise awareness of sexual rights, sexual health, and child marriage. I was selected as a Youth Reporter and so I spent months getting to know locals within the community, seeking out stories of positive change. It was an amazing experience, one I will never forget, but after 3 months, I was happy to be reunited with Ben.

Towards the end of the year when I was back in the U.K. and summer was long gone, we felt a bit lost and back to square one. We missed travel, earning steady money, and being independent. We decided to do something that had always been a goal of ours for years, a ski season in France. In December 2018, it was time to end the year on a high and embark on a new adventure. I’ll never forget the one morning we woke up at 3:30 a.m., grabbed a light breakfast and piled on our layers. We met our friends at the bottom of one of the lifts to begin our ascent on foot. After hours of placing one boot in front of the other, carrying heavy snowboards and stopping to remove a layer and drink some water, we made it to the top. The sunrise was magical and as we sat there watching in silence, it offered a moment of reflection. Being in nature and helping other people experience nature through our work felt rewarding, more productive than any day spent in an office. In 2018 we had increased our earnings, but we still only made about half of our original salaries.

The ski season was great. We learned how to snowboard, made new friends, saved what we earned and used our spare time to freelance. It also gave us time away from home to think about our future and our passions. We knew once we got back to the U.K. that we wanted to move to our own place, the first home we would have just the two of us after being together for over 3 years. Before we knew it summer was upon us, Ben was back lifeguarding, I was working for a charity and we had our own place. Despite being back in full-time work and putting our freelance and travel dreams to one side, we felt happy. We were both working fulfilling jobs, spending lots of time outside, and enjoying our new home.

Our jobs for the summer were seasonal and so as we headed into winter, we were back to searching for work. We secured full-time roles with Ben pursuing graphic design and me working in marketing. By this time, we had already applied for visas to live and work in Canada. Canada had always been our end goal as to us, because it offered the lifestyle we so desired. We knew we wanted to move to Vancouver one day to enjoy the combination of snowcapped mountains, a bustling city and a vast ocean full of wildlife. The visa process was long and so at this stage, we weren’t sure whether it was going to happen. We focused our attention on living a healthy lifestyle and creating good habits such as running on lunch breaks, taking fitness classes before work and meal prep. During 2019, we earned around two-thirds of our original salaries.

Much like many other people around the world, we believed 2020 was going to be our year. We had our visas for Canada approved, we packed up our apartment, left our jobs and said goodbye to friends and family. We headed to Vancouver, moved into a nice place and started to search for work. Then the pandemic hit. What’s been quite ironic this year is that our freelance has really taken off. With everyone working remotely, we have been able to create content for many clients and connections we’ve made over the last few years. Although this year has had its challenges, we are enjoying exploring Vancouver, pursuing our passions of freelance and we feel happier and healthier than ever. We are probably now on our way to earning over our original salaries, but we now know money isn’t what satisfies us.

Over the last 5 years, we have traveled to around 18 different countries and we have worked in a variety of job roles in many different locations around the world. We have learned all sorts of new skills and met so many incredible people. We have found what truly makes us happy which is each other, traveling, our health, our happiness, and working in jobs that we enjoy and are passionate about.

There have been tough times and it definitely hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. This is actually mostly because of the pressure other people have been put on us in the past to get “real jobs” or long-term careers. We have often been dragged into conversations with family about getting steady jobs, saving to buy a house, getting married and having babies. We’ve often felt like we’ve had to defend our spontaneous lifestyle, how we’re different from what society deems the norm, even with our vegan diet. Sometimes it can be hard to stay positive and to believe in ourselves and what we are doing, but we aren’t in any rush to “settle down” and who knows, maybe we never will.

In these last few years, we have chosen to live our lives the way we want to. We feel like we don’t have to conform to society’s norms of a 9–5 and we also feel like we are now able to get out there and explore what the world has to offer. We always make sure that we put our happiness and health first and earning lots of money is always at the bottom of our priority list. Sure, we need money to survive and to pay for the things we enjoy doing, but we definitely don’t need buckets full of it. We personally feel that focusing on money and careers comes with stress, pressure, and unhappiness.

Over the years since we met, we have given ourselves a chance to take a step back and think about what we really want from life. Being out of full time 9–5 work has allowed us to be more creative, to push boundaries and to step out of our comfort zones. We aren’t sure where our future will take us, but we know we want to enjoy each and every year and live our lives to the absolute max. Aside from lockdown and the pandemic, Vancouver has been everything we’ve dreamed of. We enjoy weekends in the mountains, weeknights by the ocean and the opportunity to work and live in the city. We now enjoy photographing people and animals, creating work for ethical businesses, and working alongside companies that value our passion for life and adventure. We often walk along the sea wall, hand in hand and chat away about how far we’ve come. Long gone are the days of windowless studios, road rage and junk food.

Here’s to happiness, healthiness and no regrets.

on the beach

Also by Anna: I’m A Wheat-Free, Nightshade-Free Vegan. Here’s Why It’s Worth It For My Skin & Health

How I Rediscovered My Love Of Cycling—Years After A 350 Mile Race In China

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Photo: Anna Ashbarry

Anna Ashbarry
Anna is a Communications and Outreach Manager at Dyslexia Canada and works in a freelance capacity as an activist, photographer and writer. Anna uses various media forms to raise awareness of issues whilst seeking social justice. With a passion for human rights and international development, Anna has worked as a Youth Reporter in Nepal and continues to explore her interest in communications in order to help provide platforms for voices to be heard. Follow Anna on Instagram @annaashbarry


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