London and I need a break; its toxic atmosphere is causing millennial melt-downs

When I first set up a blog to document my new life in London, I used the strapline ‘Not tired of life’ as a reference to that famous Samuel Johnson quote ‘When a man is tired of London, he’s tired of life’. Eight years (and several blog reincarnations later) the memory brings a wry smile to my face, because I am unashamed to admit, I’m getting tired of London.

And no, I’m not tired of life, before anyway interprets this as a more serious plea for help. I’m just burnt out. And I feel really wanky and self-absorbed to say that at the grand old age of 29, but it’s true and I sincerely doubt I’m alone among my peers as many headlines indicate.

I love London – as much as I love travelling around the world, many cities often get compared unfavourably against the UK capital. I love the multi-culturalism of its inhabitants. I love the many excellent and free museums and art galleries. I love the grand feel of its city centre, and the distinct personalities of all its other districts. My career as it is would not have climbed as far or been as varied if I was based outside of London, I’ve had so many fun unique opportunities here (many of which involve copious amounts of wine in swanky locations) and made some great friends.

But I’ve had enough. London and I need to go on a break. The relentless cycle of house/flat moves that face you in the renting market; the inevitable recurring rage at how the tube always has signal failures when you desperately need to be somewhere; the pressure to find a job, keep a job and get ahead at that job within a city where hundreds are snapping at your heels for the same chance. And the prices. Oh my, I don’t bat an eyelid anymore at dropping up to £50 on a meal out with friends, at least, because London is just expensive, but isn’t that ridiculous? No wonder saving is so hard. Plus, I miss greenery and open spaces so much. How wonderful would it be to not be fighting for prime grass space with others the minute the sun is out?

Now I’ve got some friends who are totally ‘London for life’, it’s all they’ve ever known and thus all they’ve ever wanted. They would probably think I need to be locked up for saying I need a break from London. But I do have friends moving out of London or thinking of moving out to buy homes big enough to maybe start producing sprogs. It’s gradual, but it’s an acknowledgement as my age group inch into our thirties that maybe London isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. House prices, desire for children to grow up somewhere green and unlikely to be full of drunks masturbating in the middle of the road all play their part in their thought processes no doubt.

Some will keep commuting in and that will bring a whole load of new stresses but some are building careers outside of London (listen to my podcast interview with Matt Green, who has set up an adventure filming business in the British wilderness) and I think it’s going to grow. We’re the snowflake generation who want a better work life balance, and frankly unless you are loaded thanks to daddy’s trust fund/have a very rich spouse and thus no need to work, London ain’t conducive to a good work/life balance and the feeling of zen. No wonder there’s such a major mental health crisis brewing within the city.

The complicated joys of technology and Crossrail and HS2 will no doubt make it easier to not live in London but still derive all the business benefits of the capital. And I can’t wait. My dream, as I’ve mentioned before, is to set up a communications and content marketing agency outside of London, preferably somewhere green and beautiful (I’m envisaging a very hipster converted barn, sorry London habits are hard to shift) where all my employees can bring their dogs to work, we can easily commute to London for any client meetings that have to be done face-to-face and I can have a horse and spend my weekends hacking/doing small shows and competitions. Oh and carry on doing freelance journalism on the side and maybe write the odd book. (Upon reading that list back, I suspect I might still suffer from burnout, but at least I’ll have a dog to make it all better, right?)

Anyway, that is the long-term goal. The short-term plan is incredibly wanky and self-absorbed. I’m going to Kenya for three months for a mini gap-yah essentially. I’m not helping school children or building wells or anything useful though, if that makes it less vomit-worthy (although probably not that great from an ethical point of view). I’m volunteering at a luxury horseback safari lodge. I am self-indulging in three months of sitting on horses and not in front of a computer screen, and admiring beautiful views without a ridiculously tall glass building in sight

I think that should give me enough time apart from London to reappear refreshed in our capital and able to truly appreciate its good bits for a few more years. (And hopefully be less grumpy to my lovely colleagues in my fab new job – I’m so sorry, colleagues, it’s not you, it’s London). I know how lucky I am to be able to take this time out (#blessed #vomit) but you know what, I think I’ve earned it, so I’m refusing to feel guilty about it.

All those other millennials out there getting sick of London, remember you’ve earned a break too, whether a few months out or a more permanent move from this unforgiving capital city. There is life outside of London.

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