It was the fifth straight month of 6 a.m. construction that finally made me snap. Vancouver’s hot Canadian summer was long gone by this point and what lay ahead was nothing but four months of rain. The permanent rain. My Yaletown condo was a cozy respite from the Vancouver winter, but it came with other baggage. Living downtown in any big city, you have to get used to the fact that no matter how hard you try, you can’t block out the noise. Vancouver’s unstoppable construction industry plowed forward throughout the pandemic and by the time I left, I was living within a block’s radius of six (count ‘em) new high-rises under construction.
I didn’t sign up for that.
City of Runaways
I arrived in Vancouver at the beginning of 2019, off the back of a failed relationship, a mental breakdown and a year of sobriety from a lifestyle that was killing me. I’m from South East England, and this was the first time I’d lived more than 20 miles from London. Even before I arrived, I knew of Vancouver as a "cold" city. Not in the meteorological sense, but in the interpersonal: You don’t move there to build the foundations of a bustling new social life. You go there to disappear. You go there to be ignored. I was once told that everybody in Vancouver is running away from something. It makes sense. My three-year stint there was lonely, isolated and at times, miserable, but it did what it had to do. I spent the years turning my attention inwards, relearning how to human and healing parts of myself I didn’t even know needed healing. It was a trip in the most literal sense, psychedelic as they come and transformational as could be.
But at 6 a.m., six days a week, a convoy of lorries, diggers and road layers would arrive within a block’s radius of where I lay my head, smashing any notion of a good night’s sleep to smithereens. By 7 a.m. the drilling would begin, and it would continue for most of the day. It wasn’t long before I was as sick as everyone else of hearing myself say “Sorry, they’re digging up the road outside,” on Zoom calls.
So one wet, miserable October morning right before my 34th birthday, jacked up on three cups of coffee and too many cigarettes, I furiously wrote an email to my landlord to give my notice, booked a flight to Barbados for a month’s time and a chapter of my life began to close. Of course, at the time, I didn’t even realize it.
Working 9-5 (Ain’t No Way to Make a Living)
Let’s rewind for a minute. How did we get here?
Throughout the early pandemic, I was fortunate enough to retain a steady job. I was working remotely for most of it, but I felt less than nothing about the role. It was a marketing gig with a capital M—a world away from my beginnings as a music journalist. I used to be a storyteller. I used to feel like what I did mattered. That’s the thing about us millennials: We set out to change the world, but eventually, we all ended up in marketing.
So that June, I up and quit. Then, the Vancouver summer arrived. For three months, there wasn’t a drop of rain and a freak ‘heat dome’ smashed century-old weather records. The city enjoyed its hottest week on record, peaking at 38 C for three consecutive days of blazing, inescapable sun. (Yes, I’m English and I refuse to Fahrenheit.)
For a moment there, despite the ongoing daily auditory assault, I found myself swimming in a state of bliss. With no job, a steadily dwindling savings account and only a healthy dose of optimism to push me forward, I stopped paying attention to the clock and punctuated my days with sunrises and sunsets, tuning in to my own natural rhythms and those of the environment around me. I quit coffee. I journeyed with a lot of mushrooms in this time (a lot of mushrooms) which gave me clarity on something that had been rubbing me the wrong way for most of my career: The way we build our lives around work and careers and professional identities is bullshit, and I was done with it. If I was going to work full-time again, it would be on my terms. I would work to live, not live to work, and only for other people that share this vision.
And then I got an email from MUD\WTR.
If I’m honest, I don’t even remember applying. Not three days before that email landed, I wrote in my journal a clear vision of what I wanted to do next:
I want to find my place in the psychedelics movement.
I want to get back to writing and publishing, and develop a platform for people to tell their personal stories with psychedelics.
I want to take back my life from the 9-5 grind.
Within a couple of weeks, I was setting up as Assistant Editor at MUD\WTR and Trends w/ Benefits. And I haven’t looked back.
A New Working Paradigm
What attracted me to MUD\WTR was the way they do things differently here. It’s baked into the company culture that mindless productivity does not equal success, and the team, spread across North America and beyond, works to their own rhythms. People support each other here. People talk to each other with respect. We’re working together to build A Thing, but it’s only a part of our lives, not the goal.
That’s not to say this new way of working isn’t without its challenges, especially for someone who’s been indoctrinated in the nine-to-five since ‘06. When you’re only spending time with your team virtually for a few hours a week, emotions can appear amplified and conflict can arise over simple misunderstandings. Zoom calls only offer a sliver of a person’s personality and sometimes, you need to remind yourself that the window of time you spend talking with boxes on a screen isn’t the full picture … or the full person.
In many ways, we’re entering the third wave of the working evolution. If the industrial revolution was the first and office work was the second, the new approach that companies like MUD\WTR—and countries like Barbados—are championing, where you can work from anywhere and on your own terms, is the third. The pandemic might have sped things up, but it’s my opinion we were headed here anyway and for millions of people the world over, the ability to work from home and enhanced ownership of one’s own time have been revolutionary to their productivity and mental health. Families are spending more time together. Chores get done and not left for a Saturday morning. Gas tanks are filled less frequently. For the lucky ones, there’s more money in pockets.
Time spent working does not equate to value added. That's been my great unlearning.
When I made the decision to leave Canada, I was only a couple of months into my role here. I was terrified about telling the team of my plans. The time difference concerned me (Barbados is four hours ahead of LA), and I was worried everyone would think I’d lost my actual mind. Only a few weeks earlier I’d overshared about how I was due to start an intensive meditation teacher training course and looking to settle down in BC, and how happy I was with the path I was on. So when I told Kyle, our Head of Editorial, my plans to relocate some 4,500 miles south east to the Caribbean, his reaction—or rather lack of one—took me by surprise.
“Cool man, go get that sun.”
That was it. There was no discussion about logistics, or whether I had permission to go. Just blind faith that I’d stay on top of my shit and a trust that what I’m doing is the right thing for me. The confidence Kyle had in me was unsettling. But that in itself was a huge shift in mindset from all I’d ever known.
I Think I’ll Stay Here
Not six weeks after that miserable morning in Vancouver, here I am, settled in paradise. Every beach is a postcard and the people here are wonderful. Everyone you pass says hello or throws you a wave in the street. There’s a big community of remote workers here on Barbados’ Welcome Stamp visa, and slowly but surely, I feel like I’m starting to find my tribe. It’s everything I imagined it would be, and as a pasty, ginger white guy from the Surrey hills in England, I’m as surprised as anyone I haven’t burnt to a crisp … yet.
Sure, life is different here. Things move more slowly, and I’ve had to drop my big-city hustle. Things are less convenient than they are in a big city. It’s mostly a cash-based economy, there’s no Uber and you buy your vegetables from Margaret and her cart on the street, not your local supermarket. Everything is imported, so it's hella expensive, but the financial cost of living on a Caribbean island is balanced out by everything I’ve gained: peace, presence, community, sunshine. Of course, it still rains, but here it arrives as intensive, short, refreshing bursts of moisture that punctuate blazing sunshine, not a months-long misery trip that crushes your soul. I found my paradise. And I’m here to tell you to get out and find yours.
Maybe you’re stuck in a job you hate, working for a bullying boss in a city you don’t vibe with. Maybe you’re living at home with your parents after the pandemic did a number on you. Maybe you just want out of the hustle-and-grind mentality our society has deemed the most important thing above everything else. You’ve got a dream to change things, a dream to go somewhere new. A dream to do things differently, to work differently, to take back control of your life.
My advice? Do the thing. The grass isn’t always greener. But the sea can always be more blue.
Andy Ritchie is MUD\WTR and Trends w/ Benefits’ Assistant Editor.