Tomorrow marks ten years since I made the big move to the other end of the UK – and ten years later, here I am back home in Orkney. It’s not like nothing has changed, though; a hell of a lot has happened in between, of course. I think it’s safe to say that everyone looks back on their lives sometimes and wonders how different things would be if just something small had changed.
“What if things had been just a little bit different?”
For me, this happens big time. Ten years ago, I moved from northern Scotland to Sussex in the south of England in a bid for freedom and career opportunities. Why Sussex? Predictably, it began with a man.
The irony is that I left for freedom, and ended up trapped in a cycle of business and a semi-abusive relationship. I wasn’t old enough to realise it at the time, and it’s hard for me to admit now, but the amount of shit I endured in that relationship would have been enough to send most people running long before they moved to the other end of the country – or so I’d like to think.
It’s only natural, therefore, that I ponder my life and what it could have been had I not made such a huge leap of faith all those years ago. There’s no way that I would have ended up in Sussex, which means I wouldn’t have had all the memories at gigs in London of my favourite bands and the incredible community of friends that came along with it. I wouldn’t have the friends I made where I lived, who are some of my closest friends now. I would probably still have some sort of semblance of a Scottish accent. And the chances of meeting Ash the way that I did (at one of those gigs, in fact) would have been pretty low.
I certainly wouldn’t have bought a bloody shop. Don’t get me wrong, the life experiences I learned from running a business are completely invaluable and will stay with me forever, but had I known that within a year, I would be running it completely alone at 21, the crazy plan wouldn’t have even crossed my mind. I spent the next four years struggling with everything, having absolutely everything stacked against me including the building I was in, my landlord and local authorities, and consequently I had several mental breakdowns.
Last week marked three years since I sold the business. While there are definitely upsides to working for yourself, I was throwing myself (and my money) into something that was giving me very little freedom, which ironically is what most people tend to associate with self-employment. I was running away from exactly what I wanted, which is something I never, ever do. I’m in a much better place now, but I actually do miss a lot of things about the job, and I’ll always be extremely proud of everything I achieved in there.
My fiery love of travel was already sparked long before I moved to England, though. But the way my life panned out sure managed to throw a spanner in the works. Had it not been for my shop, I would have spent a month or two backpacking Europe at 21. I would probably have lived in Australia five years ago, but I wouldn’t have spent three incredible months in Asia on the way. I doubt I would have ended up in Brisbane, which means I wouldn’t have lived in the hostel we fell in love with. In fact, I would have met totally different people and never know any of the wonderful friends I’ve made along the way. And who knows what could have happened from there, with completely different people in my life?
A lot of scenarios have crossed my mind.
There’s the Clazz who moved to Edinburgh 10 years ago, as was the original plan and still is the plan, instead of still not living there now.
There’s the Clazz who went backpacking in her early twenties, and made mistakes and learned from them, and maybe that learning curve would have been just as invaluable as the lessons thrown at me by my business.
There’s the Clazz who set up this blog back when blogging was barely even a thing and perhaps made a success of it alongside the initial influx of travel bloggers. I’ve always made websites, written for publications and even kept personal blogs since around 2002, so it would have only been a natural progression. Of course, the success may not have come with it, but you can bet if I didn’t have the shop, my writing would have held up more than it does now.
There’s the Clazz who waited a few years to travel anyway, but saved up an absolute ton of money and got to do everything she wanted on her travels. Perhaps then, she came back and settled down instead of getting itchy feet.
Or maybe I’d be travelling even more.
There’s the Clazz who didn’t use a company to find her first job in Australia (more on that another time – but how do you think I ended up on a racing yard?!), and had a completely different experience on her own terms. Maybe I would have lived in Melbourne for a while, or maybe I wouldn’t have found anything before running out of money and coming home to say at least I tried. Maybe I wouldn’t have done any farm work because I didn’t meet those guys at that first job, or maybe I would have failed to stabilise myself in a city and moved into the country for even longer.
There’s the Clazz who would be married now because I’ve had a crazy time in my 20’s and I’m not so scared of settling down after being tied down for half of them.
There’s even the Clazz who never left Orkney, or at least left for a couple of years and then came back permanently.
Hell, what about all the (mostly crazy) things I wanted to do ten years ago that I still haven’t done?
But while I wonder how things could have been, in a lot of ways I’m glad they worked out the way that they are. Allowing myself to grow as a person before I went backpacking made a huge difference to my travels. Five years before finally going to Thailand, I would have blissfully ridden an elephant there. I wouldn’t have had the courage to visit Vietnam, which is now firmly one of my favourite countries. I think I would have really struggled with the reality of Australia because I hadn’t quite come out of my shell in my early twenties and wouldn’t have had the confidence to push for what I wanted. I would have been the girl crying in her hostel dorm saying she wants to go home, which despite having some pretty low moments in Australia, never even came close to happening.
Even owning my business – it gave me a fantastic work ethic, which is something I carry with me and has probably made a huge difference to my opportunities because I work hard in every job I get. I’ve even been offered management positions in a couple of the jobs I’ve had in the past three years.
So there are a lot of “what if?”s surrounding me and whispering in my ears and telling me I should have done better and made better choices. I have my regrets, but I’ve accepted them, and made happiness where I thought I couldn’t. Hopefully, things have worked out for the best.
But still, every opportunity offers a choice, or chance comes along and changes everything. Every little thing that’s happened in my life has led to this moment. So which direction is my next opportunity going to take?
Do you ever imagine how different your life could be if one small thing had changed?