Death & Life in Rio.

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After 2.5 months off work I travelled to Rio on 4th May to clock back on. A 10 week contract as a Broadcast Engineer on the FIFA World Cup.

To start with, I was in shock.

This work environment used to be pretty much all I knew. I travelled constantly from one international car park to another. Too busy doing something I didn’t want to (at least not week upon week), I didn’t have time to do the things I really wanted to. 2 years ago I decided to change my lifestyle and now my feelings towards the International Broadcast Centre in Rio were bothering me.

4 weeks down, I have had the chance to register my new thoughts and also come to understand the new perspective that I have on life in general.

My hotel is on an industrial estate along with some high rise housing next to a 12 lane road. I can see the beach very close by, but there is a swamp in the way so it’s actually an 8km round trip if I want to touch the sand. There is another swamp on the other side of the 12 lane road. It is in that one that the ever positive Brazilians plan to hold the Olympic triathlon in 2016.

When I arrived, I had to adjust to a new routine of trying to find healthy food and sneak in some training time whilst working from 9 to 7. I know those aren’t long hours and this is far more relaxed than Wall Street, but still, I had jumped from skiing off Mont Blanc to working in a warehouse. I had to start thinking in a work way.

I’ve stepped down the responsibility I take on at work by choosing to become much more of a worker than a project manager. I now enjoy my work again and it suits me. At the same time, I do appreciate that if it wasn’t for people doing what I used to do then I wouldn’t be here. But at the end of the day I’ve found another much more personally satisfying way to get the fulfilment that I used to seek (not get) from heading up a project.

There are thousands of people here from all over the shop. I have really enjoyed taking time to pause in the day to catch up with some great friends, making some new ones along the way and finding time to natter about life instead of work.

There is a vast spectrum of different kinds of outlooks on life here. At one end you have me living as a ski bum in a camper van, doing exactly what I want to do and working here to fund my passions. (Not having anyone tell me what to do and being able to go out into the mountains with my friends to do my thing is the greatest concept in the world by the way.) At the other end of this spectrum you could put someone that works themself to death (the Japanese have a word in their dictionary that means exactly that!) not doing what they want to do in life or not knowing what they want to do. Engrossed, tired and stressed. That’s exactly how I used to be. Many are playing around in the middle of this spectrum. Many enjoy the comfort of familiarity and some fear change. I know I used to pretend that I was content. I didn’t really realise that I wasn’t until I came close to death.

I used to work too much in order to pay for a life that I wanted to be living one day. I hope that others aren’t waiting to live their lives the way they actually want to live them.

I know now that you live you life whether you accept or ignore the fact, how you live it in the moment determines how happy you are.

But what exactly has changed for me and why did I change so dramatically?

I would accept it if a philosophical friend were to explain the upheaval in my mind by saying that the silence of nature over the past 2 years has turned me into a different person. But simply categorising myself as an overthinking hippie doesn’t really answer what has changed for me.

The other day I read one of those facebook articles that most people would love to say they ignore but secretly love reading, this one was entitled “Top 10 regrets that people have on their death beds”. This article resonated with me.

When my lung spontaneously collapsed 2 years ago, I felt pretty close to death at that moment. During the 2 weeks of hospitalisation and 3 procedures on my chest I thought about my regrets. I regretted the years of not taking care of my body at all. Years that culminated in me running a hotel in Columbia (what the?!?!?). Had my stupidity not only ruined the past 4 years with constant stomach pains, yet more procedures and mental unrest….. but had I ruined my lungs as well? Could the other one pop too?

The issue of keeping my lung permanently inflated was something that I obviously discussed at length with the specialists. I had choices to make regarding the procedures I was to undergo and it felt like we were working through it together, like an engineering problem.

The clarity of mind that I had at the time can only be described as awesome. In the true, open mouthed sense of the word. I could clearly explain the value of life to myself. I stopped regretting what I had done in life and started to regret what I hadn’t.

People commented on how calmly I seemed to be dealing with the situation. I too had not previously felt the far reaching consciousness that being in such a medical predicament gave me. So seemingly close to death. Then to be given a second chance at life can also only be described as a complete rush. High on life! I was ready to go.

Nothing had made me feel like this before.

When I think about this catalyst to my new outlook, I also realise that recently I’ve found this clarity of mind in slightly different near death situations –

As I swapped my crampons for skis and then coiled 2 x 60m ropes, balancing my pack, my body and the weight of the ropes on a 55 degree, 600m high couloir of ice with a 10cm covering of snow, all of this above a hanging glacier with a 2000m drop down to the valley floor and then I skied the couloir….. any fall would have ended in certain death.

There are other occasions like this but I’m not going to carry on the drama for the sake of it. My point is that for me at least, life after my death bed (sorry, I did say no drama but it helps me make my point) is markedly different. It is richer and I am so much more appreciative and thankful.

I often hear extreme skiers say that what they do helps them deal with the bullshit of normal life. Maybe besides the expression that they are allowed through skiing, maybe the near death or close to death experience constantly reminds them of the value of life as a whole and therefore gives them a more positive and thankful outlook?

Maybe their rush also comes from the mind state, the lack of panic, the ability to think clearly, slowly and in an extremely calculated fashion. I’m new to this and certainly don’t think I’m an adrenaline junkie but if that’s what it is then I now understand the phrase.

I’m not saying that this kind of life is the answer to everyone, it may not be the answer for me all the time… the mental exhaustion I felt after attempting to solo an alpine climb made me want to pack up and run away. I often think “can I really hold my life in my hands again”, especially now that I have Anna. But of course I can. I need to keep my mum proud after all!

Some may say that because I’m a freelancer with no financial commitments or children then it’s easy to do what I want to do. I’d be interested to know peoples thoughts on this. However, I do believe that by simplifying any lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income we think we do. And by creating more space in our lives, we become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to our new lifestyle. Maybe the answer for some is to do nothing more than work just the right amount in order to spend as much time as possible with their family. At the end of the day though, we really owe it to ourselves to try and do what makes us truly happy.

I didn’t go out searching to play with death and adrenaline. I didn’t ask for my lung to collapse.

What I have found though, is that I do like scaring and challenging myself. I do like trying to find out who I am and what I’m capable of doing. At the end of the day I’m on a complete unknown road where my only guidance is my passion for doing what I love. I just don’t love project management 😉

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