I didn’t notice how fast my pace of life was until I jumped off the ‘hamster wheel’ and swapped the hustle and bustle of city life for the gentler flow of life in the country.
Having worked in Manchester city centre from the age of 18, and with regular client visits to London, the relentless pace of city life seemed ‘normal’ to me. I certainly never considered any alternative way of living. Many years later, however, having now retired from business and fully immersed myself in country life, I’m amazed at how different my outlook is; and how fulfilling rural life has proven to be.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, the seeds of change had been planted many years earlier, way before I actively decided to make a change. This is how it all came about…
I spent ten years as an insurance broker in my 20s. I would play keyboards in bands and write and record songs in my spare time. It got to the stage where I found myself having meetings with record companies to make a deal. I would give them demo cassette tapes of my songs, but the ‘big deal’ was ever-elusive. Then, out of the blue, I discovered that a major record label (one of the ones I had given a demo tape to) had ripped off the catchy part of my song and used it as the basis for that year’s UK entry to the Eurovision Song Contest!
This revelation led to a crazy few days of TV and radio attention, during which I did over 20 interviews, putting forward my side of the story. As shocked as I was at this turn of events, it nonetheless led to the realisation that, while I had enjoyed my time in insurance, I now wanted to move away from that line of work and follow my passion for music.
I knew that the music industry was very fickle, but my desire to step into the unknown was strong. Anticipating that it might take me a few years to build up an income through composing jingles or writing film soundtracks, I decided to teach myself how to build websites to earn some money while I waited for the music to take off. The internet was in its infancy, and I liked the freedom of being able to work from any location.
As the web design work got busier, the music took a back seat. I took on some employees, and, over time, the business grew into a digital marketing agency. After joining forces with another entrepreneur, he and I embraced some exciting business opportunities, which led to us establishing a sizeable team across several countries. The excitement of building the business meant that, at first, I didn’t mind putting my music on hold. I vastly underestimated, however, just how long my music would be on hold! The pace of change in the digital marketing world grew ever faster and, whilst the business was profitable, I started to feel as if I was on a ‘hamster wheel’, running faster every year but without moving forward. I was used to overcoming business challenges as they arose, but when two major business complications and a divorce (mine!) all came along at the same time, the time felt ripe for me to make a radical change. I realised I no longer wanted to spend my energy on business. Instead, I wanted to return to my passion for music. As before, when I left the insurance industry, I didn’t know exactly what aspect of music I wanted to focus on or how I might make a living from it. What I did know, though, was that I would have to free up my time if I were to find the answers.
The first step was to change my mindset. I ‘retired’ from business and wound down my digital marketing responsibilities. The next step was to move somewhere quiet, with a low cost of living, so that I could relax and give rein to my creativity. I wanted to explore new ideas without feeling pressure to return to business.
A few years earlier, I had bought a derelict thatched cottage on impulse (which is another story…!). This proved to be the ideal place to start my new adventure. I set about learning everything I could about renovating old buildings, and I began the mammoth job of converting the house and barn into a habitable home. The physical labour involved in renovating the cottage was hard, but it was also incredibly energising. It proved to be the perfect antidote to the business world.
Attending music events in the surrounding area, I met many locals and quickly made new friends. This led to many opportunities to explore my creativity whilst also contributing to the community. I learnt to sing; I recorded and produced music albums; I volunteered at schools and charities for the disabled community and organised community music events. I realised, through these activities, that helping others learn to play the piano was where my main passion lay. I spent time developing a new method of learning piano designed to remove the barriers presented by traditional methods. My method removes the need to read traditional notation to play, which facilitates incredibly rapid progress. I named my piano tuition method ‘DecPlay’, and was awarded a patent.
I’m very fortunate to have high-speed internet at the cottage, which has greatly helped develop my piano tuition method into an online course (DecPlay.com). This course is specifically designed to make learning piano easy in later life. This is the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done. I’m especially gratified when I receive feedback from students telling me how DecPlay has changed their lives. It’s heartening to encounter people who, having struggled to learn piano for years, find they can now start playing songs within days and to see people aged 50 and over (even into their 80s and 90s) play for the first time.
I’m convinced that the headspace I was able to find in the countryside was pivotal in developing my creative ideas into a finished product, and the community groups I joined locally inspired me to extend the course to include online community events (using Zoom and Facebook). Combining the course with online community events has proved highly effective, with DecPlay achieving the highest rating on TrustPilot of any piano course (96% of students gave us the maximum 5 stars); and has also been featured on the BBC.
It’s funny to reflect that I’ve been able to impact a greater number of people since coming to the countryside than I ever did when I lived and worked in the city – as evidenced by the DecPlay.com course currently having over 3,000 students in 73 countries!
When I go to the city, I have a spring in my step as I’m not rushing to an office – I’m going to the theatre!