“Paying off the mortgage was the key to my flexibility. My wife and I chose a lovely house to live in but made sure that we could live mortgage free. That was the key to our freedom.”
“In the past, I had to wait until work ended, then drive to the beach – now I fit work around the surf conditions.”
Almost 2 years in the 1980s in the Northern Ireland police force with a “nuts” year on the ground for a 19 year old. Accepted a much lower-paying traineeship in a local architecture business “feeling safe going to work” was more important than salary. Studied and learned on the job and stayed in the technical side of architecture for 23 years in various small practices. He lives on the north coast of Northern Ireland.
What triggered a change?
Stephen’s final practice was successful and grew in size over the boom years but when the recession hit in 2007, slowly, year-by-year the business shrunk. Stephen and the owner were the last two men left standing and they did everything to keep the business going – working 4 day weeks and then 3 day weeks just trying to eek out a working existence until the down-turn up-turned. Sadly, the business only survived until 2011. “I really loved my work but I went down with the sinking ship.”
“I had a daughter to support and a mortgage so I didn’t have time to wallow. I asked around for work and sorted a decorating job for the Monday after we closed the office. I knew that earning money was my only priority and I wasn’t fussy. Choice just wasn’t a factor.”
“Over-time I got a name for myself for being able to turn my hand to lots of different things and I always found work. Over time I began to be able to turn down the jobs that I liked less. Today, I have one flexible part-time job and my own small business which gives me freedom. I may not enjoy my work in the way I used to but I have freedom – which is absolutely priceless to me.”
What did you learn during that process?
Knowing what makes our family happy makes it easy to say no to things that don’t fit.
We love being on the water in any form – paddle-boarding, surfing, diving or kayaking. We love walking our dog on the beach which is 10 mins away. I love a single malt whiskey of an evening. None of these things cost a fortune so our lifestyle is not lavish.
I was able to turn the skills I learned previously in the practice
I just pointed them in a different direction, towards setting up my own business supporting local estate agencies doing EPC Surveys.
On average, I earn about half as much as I used to but seem to have the same about of money in my pocket.
Paying off the mortgage was the key to my flexibility.
My wife and I chose a lovely house to live in but made sure that we could live mortgage free. That was the key to our freedom.
There are always jobs out there if you look and are open.
What would Stephen do differently if he had to do it all again?
“That’s a difficult one. If I had to do it all again, I might start at a different start point but that would be dreaming. It is what it is.
As it stands there are times when I think I could be doing much more but then I look at my average week and know that not many people get the flexibility, the freedom and the opportunity to be on the water as much as I do. There are some sacrifices but not enough that would make me change the situation.”
How does it feel on the days you know you’ve made the right decision?
Check out the photos – Stephen looks blissed out in most of them!
“I spent much of the school summer holidays this year with my 13 year old daughter diving, paddle boarding, surfing.
In one week in January, the conditions were fabulous and I was in the water every day that week.
I look at the tide tables and surf reports for the next week and plan my work around those where possible so that I can make the most of the surf conditions.
In the past, I had to wait until work ended, then drive to the beach – now I fit work around the surf conditions.”
“I have plenty of regrets about the recession happening but not regrets about how I reacted. In a perfect world, I’d be doing work that I absolutely love every single day but I really enjoy half of the work I do – the other half gives me financial stability to enjoy the flexibility.
Over-time, I’ve developed a system where I have regular income from multiple part-time sources which gives me amazing freedom and flexibility. I get to be out on the Atlantic Ocean many days a week when others are sitting in offices or doing long commutes.
I am very fit and healthy for a 50 year old. I have almost no commute, a fabulous relationship with my daughter and wife based on time together doing the things we like to do together.”