Updated: Oct 5, 2021
After spending years in a high-pressure consulting job, I burnt out and lost my sleep. This was the red flag to change my life. As I embarked on a journey to find purpose and meaning, I started with recovering from the burnout and getting my sleep back.
There is only one success: to be able to spend your life in your own way. Christoper Morley
And so it began. I made a leap, a leap way outside my comfort zone and it’s happening. I quit my corporate job, drove all of my stuff in a small van to my sister’s basement in Paris.
I took off in search for a place and the kind of life that will make me want to wake up in the morning.
First stop was Switzerland, where I spent 2 weeks in a small town by the lake called Zug.
Switzerland was a spontaneous choice. I got invited to stay at a friend’s place. I needed to finish a project and it seemed like a good option. Little did I expect it will turn out to be so much more than that.
I did finish the project but, more importantly, I started sleeping again. Without medications or hours of meditation.
Losing sleep was the red flag which I simply couldn’t ignore.
I struggled to concentrate, started forgetting important things and at some point lost the will to get up in the morning. Recovering from the burnout and getting my sleep back was a revelation.
I remembered what it’s like to have the energy to exercise again, being able to concentrate for hours and go out until 5am without feeling like a zombie for 3 days afterwards. What I thought was age (you know, getting older, harder to recover, less energy) appeared to be a simple lack of sleep.
My takeaway – if you want to be happy, sleep must be a priority, even if it means quitting your job and moving countries.
But what got me my sleep back? A few things Switzerland appeared to be perfect for (and made it to my countries to live in shortlist in the end). But one thing at a time.
When I started my life experiment I thought I’d be scientific and developed hypotheses to test. One of such hypothesis was – ‘If I live in a place with slower pace (compared to London), I’d be happier‘. Proved.
What I’ve realised is that it’s the amount of people and stimuli, like noises and ads, is what makes a place exhausting. We are not made for that as humans. But even less so we are made for megapolises like London where it is non stop and unbearable.
In Zug, with 30,000 inhabitants, I could finally slow down. You don’t have to run on the left side of the escalator on the tube or put on earphones to cut off someone bitching about their boss. I spent 90% of my time on the streets of London wearing earphones. I barely took them out of my bag in Zug.
Even with 2 parks walking distance away, nature was something I was badly lacking in London. Draining concrete jungle sounds like a cliche, but it isn’t. I believe that energy is a foundation of a happy and successful life. Not only physical energy, but emotional and mental energy.
This is why if you want to improve your love life or looking for a great business idea, sort out your energy first.
Once that’s in order, everything else will simply flow.
There is a number of ways to get your energy back, some are universal and some would be unique to you spending time with loved ones, gratitude, good nutrition are a few to begin with.
But try nature first. Have you had a long and annoying day and trying to wind down? Binge watch a few episodes of Games of Thrones and you will make it worse. Take a walk along the lake and you’re back on the horse. I promise you.
And guess what, Switzerland got lots of lakes. Like – lots! And mountains and forests and cows and goats and it’s all mesmerising. You don’t need to drive for hours to be in the nature, it’s everywhere. Even a tiny Zug had its own mountain and a lake. Here it is.
Yeap, going through fundamentals today – sleep, food, all that jazz. Maslow pyramid, baby. What’s up with food? It’s all about those small pleasures. What makes a happy life? Lack of major bad stuff and lots of small every day good stuff. Food is an easy one, you can’t not eat.
Swiss food is delicious. The milk is real milk. It’s white and creamy and tastes like milk from under a cow (I spent every summer as a child in the village, so I know what it tastes like. I can even milk a cow).
I had a glass of milk every night for 2 weeks and every day it was that small thing that made me very happy. Easy – a glass of good milk.
Takeaway – don’t underestimate the quality of small every day things you fill your life with.
Time to just be
This was new and deeply uncomfortable. Still is. I am so used to constantly having a million things to do, work, projects, admin, art stuff. The more things I tick off the list, the more I add.
And it’s addictive. I simply could not switch gears.
As I was finishing the project, working long hours gave me a sense of comfort. What do you do with addictions? You withdraw. But you must do it gradually. Going cold turkey might bounce back.
I wrote a list of priorities and actions. The first task I forced myself to prioritise each day was to lie under a tree. That’s right. No reading, no listening to music, no calling friends. Just lying under a tree watching clouds.
Deadlines, to-do lists? That’s right, first the tree, then the deadlines.
I’m recovering, but need many more months of daily lying under a tree practice to fully recharge. Try it, even for 5 minutes during the lunch break.
Life moves on pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it. Ferriss Bueller
Pace, nature, good food and time to just be in Switzerland was nicely complemented by spending time with a friend. Taking care of someone, being taken care of, long meaningful conversations are priceless.
Next stop is Portugal. More hypothesis to test and lessons to learn, so stay tuned. In the meantime, try to slow down, drop that to-do list for half an hour hour and be in the nature doing absolutely nothing. It will be strange at first but then your body will remember what it’s like to be alive.
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