I’ve got another great interview for you this month, this one’s with George Beesley. He quit his job in finance to get away from the spreadsheets and explore if there might be something more meaningful that he could do in his work.
George is around 3,000 miles into a cycle tour from Alaska to Argentina, 4 months out of an expected 18-month journey. We’ve been staying in touch for weeks trying to find a time that would work and we finally found a slot where George was staying in the same place for a few days and had Wi-Fi. Hurrah! When I spoke to him, he was freezing cold in a garage – you have to suffer for your art!
We had a great conversation about all sorts of things that I couldn’t capture fully in the written version of the interview, so I do encourage you to watch the full video.
A few of the things that I think are especially important to draw out:
First, the importance of self-care, of following the airline safety advice to “put your oxygen mask on yourself before you help others”. But if you push yourself too hard, you’ll inevitably reach burnout at some point and you’ll be doing yourself and those other people who you’re so desperately trying to help a disservice. We put so much pressure on ourselves to be the absolutely best person that we can be, but sometimes a bit of patience and self-compassion can be in order as we take a step back from all that goal setting and pushing forward.
Next, we put pressure not just on ourselves but also on individual areas of our lives, asking them to deliver absolutely everything we need. For all our talk of the importance of finding meaningful and fulfilling work, it’s too much pressure to put on ourselves and on that job or business to expect that our work can bring us all-encompassing happiness and fulfilment, as we neglect other areas of our lives. What are we going to do all those days we’re not at work? The same goes for a partner: it’s a lot of pressure to expect one person to be your lover, your friend, your coach, your adviser, your whatever other role that you’re expecting them to fill. A happy and fulfilling life (If you’re interested in this, I’m exploring this over on my website onestepoutside.com, through the 5Ls of Live – Love – Learn – Lead – Laugh.)
We also talked a lot about the value of travel in opening up your perspectives of what’s possible, as you meet people of all ages making all kinds of different choices, experiencing life in all sorts of different ways. And that it doesn’t have to be a mega-trip across the world! It can be a mini-adventure, a weekend away… just finding those little ways in which you can get out of your daily routine and see something different.
Read on and watch the interview below!
Leaving a corporate job behind to follow your passion: From finance to cycling
George Beesley started working in finance straight after university. He had studied economics and “that was what everyone was doing”. He quickly realised that it probably wasn’t where he wanted to spend the best years of his life, and with some extra encouragement from his yoga-teacher girlfriend he quit last year. Right now, they’re cycle touring together from Alaska to Argentina, a journey of around 17,000 miles. They’re raising money for the Stroke Association, while George has also started a podcast that he’s running along the way. In terms of what’s next after the trip, he wants to see how the podcast goes and he has a big vision around setting up community centres with the aim of replacing some of the sense of community and structure that religion used to give us.
1) At what moment did you decide it was time for a change?
I went to Yestival in 2016 and Dave Cornthwaite, the organiser, was saying, “Look, now is the time, if you’ve had a dream or something that you really want to do that you’ve been putting off, commit in front of hundreds of people and then you will be chased to do have to it.” I found myself walking up to the front and then I just said, “I’ve always wanted to start a podcast. I’m going to have do it, now that I’ve done this!”
In terms of quitting finance, I’d never planned to stay in a professional job, I’d always wanted to be an entrepreneur and start businesses – but I felt like I lacked experience. And the idea that made me think, “This is the one that I want to put a lot of time, effort and resources into.” So I took that job as more of a learning experience and a chance to meet people, make contacts and move down to London.
So I always knew that I wasn’t going to stay.
Then I qualified (as a Chartered Financial Analyst, CFA). And my girlfriend also hated London, so she was trying to get me out of it, every single minute of the day!
And then my best friend, my mentor and my manager at work, all the same guy, left. He was really helping me with my development in all sorts of fields. (Big shoutout to Vish Hindocha!) He left and then I just felt very uninspired and I lacked energy. It was sort of a safe job for a lot of people, there was no energy or excitement in the day-to-day.
That got me a little bit involved in the adventure community, with people doing that kind of stuff and I heard about my friend Henry quitting his job and cycling from London to Sydney* and I asked myself, “Well, is this really the best way that I can be spending my time right now? What do I want to do?” It wasn’t spreadsheets and risk management and conference calls.
[*Henry has now set up an adventure business, We Are Explorers.]
So, I just thought, “You know what? I’m going to take the leap, go for it.” The thing is, you can always go back, if you want to. There are a lot of companies that you can work for in finance management. That’s going to be there, but the opportunity to do a huge trip like this, 18 months away, without a mortgage, kids or anything like that, any big tie…now was the time to do it. So I decided, “Yeah, let’s just go for it.”
2) What was the biggest challenge you faced in making the change?
Sacrificing security is always difficult.
Then my dad had a stroke a while ago, so I moved back home from London, to help out at home and do a little bit of my own life coaching back there. But I was working full-time, I had a couple of businesses, starting a podcast, life coaching, social life, girlfriend and hobbies. I just got a bit burnt out, I sort of thought that I was this endless ball of energy and then finally found my limit. I realised I needed to do something different.
I think the hardest thing for me was probably leaving my family when I felt like I could offer value and help them out, while I was back home. But, also, it was a bit of a double-edged sword, I think in Buddhism they call it ‘naïve kindness’: if you give a lot and then you end up burning yourself out then you can no longer give anymore; you have to be aware of your own state of mind and wellness as well.
So I wanted to leave, but also, I felt, “Should I be leaving right now?” I felt like they needed me, but things seemed good enough, back home and plateaued, they wanted me to go… So that was difficult – but I’m super glad that I did.
3) Where did you get the support you needed to make it happen?
With making the move to quit work, there’s generally been a stigma against that, especially from our parents’ generation, where the idea was, “You’re lucky to have a job, you’ll have a job for life. Stay in it and appreciate it.” Now, it’s changed. There’s still a bit of a hangover from that – when you tell people that you quit a fancy-sounding job, to go and live in a tent and cycle around and interview people, they’re like, “Hmm, that’s a bit strange.”
But Escape the City was pretty cool, it was a nice atmosphere, with encouraging people to say, “Look, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know what the next step is, just take the leap.” The YesTribe, Yestival, was great too. That was a good support network and as I mentioned, my girlfriend was trying to drag me away, so she was always just highlighting the great things about quitting your job and following a passion and starting a podcast. That definitely helped, too!
And then, I think a few long conversations with myself. Just going out for long walks in nature and thinking. I consumed a lot of content, podcasts, and so on. And I just thought: “Is it really that big a deal if I quit my job right now?” I sort of just realised that the answer was “No.” As we said before, the opportunity will always be there, to go back. So, there didn’t really seem like a good reason not to.
4) What’s the best part of your lifestyle today?
I guess there are two sides, there is the podcasting and then the cycle touring.
The podcasting is an amazing excuse to talk to awesome people. You’d never normally be able to monopolise that much of their time, an hour or two hours with somebody who’s doing something really cool, these guys who I would love to get an audience with. And it gives a great opportunity to skip the small talk as well, because it feels a bit like an interview – then you don’t have to talk about the weather and sports. You can get right in there and you can be like, “Boom, what’s the meaning of life? What’s the most important thing that you’ve found?” That’s amazing, I love doing that. Meeting people like Sean Conway and Benedict Allen and all these guys who I admired.
Also to learn to scratch my own itch. I wanted to know, “How do you make a living from adventure and your passion? How do people get paid to do things I thought I would pay for? Things that are fun.” That’s really cool.
Then, cycle touring… You meet new people every day and you get to travel, two things that I really love.
Travelling always just smashes those misconceptions that you have about people, like coming into the States, into Montana, a red state and all the Trump supporters. We definitely had some misconceptions! We actually cycled over the border, from a fairly liberal place in Canada. That same day, we got down into Montana, into a mining village where it’s pretty conservative. The first lady that we saw had this t-shirt on and it said, “Trump, built tough.” And she was lovely, she was a really nice lady! She bought us beers and she let us stay in her garden for free. I love that kind of stuff: just because they have some, what I think are wacky, ideas, it doesn’t mean that they’re not nice people.
It’s also about getting out of your normal experience, to realise: you don’t have to live like this. Most of the time that you’ve spent growing up in a particular environment, you download a certain culture. You download the culture that you should work hard, you should get a job, all the things that we’ve talked about. Whereas, you go to a lot of different parts of the world and you go to Brazil and people are like, “No, you should go surfing and smoke some weed and do some yoga. Just have fun!”
You meet artists and creatives and people who are living in yurts and this whole other way of living life, that you don’t really have exposure to back home. Natives who are still living a more hunter-gatherer type of life, when you go to the jungle. Then you can ask yourself, “What are the best bits that I can take from all these communities and bring them into the way that I live?”
5) What one piece of advice would you give to someone who is considering making a big career or lifestyle change?
Don’t just blindly follow your passion. There are a lot of people out there who are trying to offer help and advice to people and some of it is more thoughtful than others; some of it applies more to certain types of people than others.
So, you’ll hear somebody like Alan Watts and his famous talk on YouTube, his lecture that’s everywhere now, on What If Money Was No Object? Then there are people like Joseph Campbell, who said to “Follow your bliss”. These are authors who I love and who I really respect – but that’s one side of the equation. On the other side of the spectrum, you have people like Derek Sivers and the 80000 Hours organisation, who are saying, “That’s a part of the equation; but also look what you’re good at, look at how you can offer the most value to society.” Because real happiness, which I think is what most people are sort of aiming towards, doesn’t just come from doing something that you find fun all the time.
I really like Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, and the idea that motivation comes from autonomy, mastery and purpose. Mastery: what is something that you really want to get good at? What is something that you can spend a long time on? But also, purpose: does this really matter? Say you love skiing, you could go and be a ski instructor – that’s great for some people, but you need to think, “Does that have the element of purpose that I need? Do I feel like I’m helping people?” We all tend to feel a lot better when we think that we’re impacting the world around us positively.
So I think you should look at what you really enjoy, what your passion is, but also, what are you good at? What is going to feel like it’s fulfilling at a higher level? Somewhere in between all of those things, you’ll probably find the best move for you.
Also: it doesn’t always work out. In finance, they call it the survivorship bias, that you only tend to see the companies who win. You only read the biographies of the winners, of the people like Richard Branson, who took a gamble and then made one of the most successful businesses in the world. But they’re outliers, they’re not the norm. Statistically, it’s very unlikely, almost impossible, that you’ll be one of those people if you follow your passion. But that’s not to say don’t try.
We’re putting so much pressure on work to fulfil all of these human needs. We have this huge demand that, “My job must give me every single thing and make me feel like I’m living my ultimate life.” It’s a huge ask, to find a job like that. Some people do it, but it’s very, very difficult. Again, it’s only part of the equation – what are you spending the rest of your time doing? I think Al Humphreys gives the example that you have about 130 days a year when you’re not at work, with weekends, bank holidays and your own holiday from work. So, you can spend nearly a third of the year doing stuff that’s not work! How can you try and reach whatever your goals are or self-actualise outside of work? How can you spend your time? Do you want to volunteer? Is that going to give you a greater sense of purpose in the world? It puts so much pressure on you if you just look for a job that’s going to give you every single need.
When it comes to starting a business, one little bit of advice on that would be to try and start it and test it as much as you can, while you’re still in your full-time job. Seth Godin talks about “the dip”: whenever you start anything new and exciting, you’d be having a great time, because you’re working on a new idea; then, after a while, it starts to get really, really hard… If you want something to really succeed, you have to be willing to wait out the dip and get to the other side, when you start to get the payoff with your business becomes successful, you get regular customers and so on.
So while you’re still in your full-time job, test your ideas, start selling, build a website. As soon as the money starts coming in, then the stress can start to build. So make the transition when you have some kind of proof of concept.