I have just spent the most motivating, inspiring, head clearing, hilarious and relaxing weekend of my life (this is not an exaggeration).
A few months ago, a speaker at a work event reminded me of the existence of Escape the City, an organisation dedicated to helping people fulfil their true potential and find a way of life outside the corporate conveyor belt. I ordered their book, devoured it over 4 commutes and immediately recommended it to everyone I spoke to as one of the most inspirational things I have ever read (I’m going to not apologise now for the amount of times ‘inspirational’ will occur in the rest of this post). I signed up for the mailing list and…. didn’t really do anything. Then, the day after I came back from holiday with a little case of return to work blues, Twitter popped up with Escape to Umbria – a 3-night stay on an Umbrian farm with workshops throughout the weekend designed to help you identify and develop the way you want your life/career to move forwards. It looked perfect and within two hours I had transferred my deposit and booked my flight.
Now, I have ‘a good job’ in marketing for a UK household name, with wonderful colleagues and a pretty ideal work-life balance – so on the surface of it there is absolutely nothing obvious for me to escape from. But over the past few years I’ve realised that my passion and curiosity for the job has all but disappeared and that I want to spend my days doing something I love, something that can have a positive impact rather than just contributing to the bottom line, making money in order to invest it in finding new ways to persuade people that our ‘Product A’ is that bit more beneficial to to their lives than someone else’s (even when it really isn’t). I’ve now developed a pretty clear vision of what I want to do and how I want to do it – I have many, many pages of lists and plans and more plans but I’ve just not done enough actual doing…. So what I wanted to get out of the weekend was to feel like I was on the right path and (probably more importantly) to get a kick up the arse in terms of making things actually happen. And the food looked pretty good too.
We started off with a super-early flight to Perugia (my taxi driver to the hotel at Stansted was an ex-city worker who had escaped a year ago – it had to be a good sign), scanning the hordes of people in departures to see if any of them looked like they might be heading to the same place (I failed totally on this count). Off the plane and out into the tiny airport, to see who else would be heading for the same taxi. The feeling when about to meet the people you’ll be with for something like this is pretty much like internet date trepidation x10 with much higher stakes – you can’t leave after one drink and you’re definitely going to be seeing them over the breakfast table tomorrow morning. Luckily, there was far more potential for these to be people I wanted to see again than has been the case in 95% of the internet dates I’ve been on. There was no awkwardness at all; we started chatting in the arrivals hall and carried on til we left the train on the way home.
Our home for the weekend was Tribewanted Monestevole – a sustainably run Tribewanted (read more about them here) property in the hills of Umbria, Italy. On arrival we were greeted by a cacophony of dogs and the wonderful Adrienne who had herself escaped her festival/event planning life and come to manage Monestevole (we weren’t jealous at all…). The farm was even more beautiful than it had seemed on the website, and we were given a tour round to see the olive trees, gardens, wine vats, new sustainable water systems and many animals.
Over the weekend, our group (facilitated by Escape the City’s Becca and Skye who were just the most perfect people for the job) worked through everything – what we wanted to do, what was stopping us from doing it and what we could actually do to make it happen (this totally simplifies things but you get the idea). We had the most supportive, positive and inspiring discussions I have ever been lucky enough to be part of – each person benefiting from the knowledge and encouragement of those around them in a totally practical, non-judgemental way. Everyone was entirely open and honest and you could so clearly feel the change in all of us from one day to the next as we relaxed, became more positive and concentrated on the possible.
But it wasn’t all about the deep & meaningful; we made pizza and pasta, rescued abandoned kittens from a tree, helped feed animals and collect eggs, planted trees (to offset a tiny bit of our carbon emissions from the flights there and back), and dissolved into multiple fits of laughter at the man playing the ‘interesting instrument’ at the local town’s chestnut festival. Monestevole was the most amazing venue – lovely people, fabulous fresh Italian food, beautiful surroundings and plenty of dogs and cats to talk to.
I feel so lucky to have spend the weekend with the most inspiring, supportive and generous group of people you could ever hope to meet, who not only make you feel as if you can change the world but will make you laugh discussing topics I really should not go into here (what happens in Umbria stays in Umbria). We all came in from different places, at different stages and with different challenges but have all ended our time together with a clear view of our direction and the actions we need to take to get there – actions which we’ll be holding each other accountable for. I got exactly what I needed from the weekend, and so much more that I didn’t anticipate – for anyone who wants to break with their current norm and wants some support and guidance in how to make that happen (or even for anyone who wants to eat the best pasta ever and live with 5 dogs) I would recommend this weekend wholeheartedly.