Monday, August 29, 2011

Cemetery of dreams.

It is not an easy thing to slow down.

Judging from responses to my recent article on the cost of impatience, the concept of a much slower pace to our lives hits a chord with many. This is also reflected in growing support for the slow movement worldwide and concepts such as slow towns and slow-cities, and slow food. It all started some 2 decades ago and has gained momentum with towns and hospitality establishments adopting a “slow brand”. It’s also a favourite ingredient of many life skills and inspirational texts.

clip_image002Our better known example of a slow town is the holiday village of Sedgefield along the Southern Cape coast. The official town emblem is a tortoise. I’ve been there on a number of occasions and I must say that during peak holiday periods it does not deviate much from your typical resort area that gets invaded by up country holiday makers who have left their inner tortoises at home. The N2 between Cape Town and Durban runs through it which does little to reinforce the slow town image. Of course, the dilemma for any town that wants to make “slow” a selling point is that it could be self-defeating. Crowds bring their own individual and collective stresses and crowding by its very nature seems to foster competitiveness and pace.

Slowing down has many components of which the most significant is to change locations from the fast pace overcrowded metropoles to smaller picture post card rural areas. It’s one I have become quite familiar with, having moved to one myself and witnessed the contentment or agitation of quite a number of people seeking their acre of paradise. We must distinguish them though, from retirees or semi-retirees. That’s a very different circumstance and one that I hope to deal with in future on the strength of my own and others’ experience. Suffice it to say that changing locations is just one of very important options to consider when retiring. This is a choice that more than any other can affect your life satisfaction in retirement and certainly outranks financial security although the two are clearly linked. It is a tragic omission in the thirty something R.A. salesman’s promises of serenity in the twilight years.

But perhaps even more tragic are the forty-something’s who reach a point of desperation in their life circumstance and try to escape the noise, the bustle, the traffic jams, crime and the pace of their overcrowded urban locations. I have tweaked some names to avoid some potential discomfort among my real life examples.

Mark and Annette came to Swellendam from Cape Town where he had been a mechanic who became a high flying car salesman. They had accumulated as many possessions as the average upper income couple could at their stage of life. Mark opened a car dealership and Annette became his assistant. The first time I met Mark, it struck me that his needs had not changed much. He and, I suspect Annette were as obsessed with their material wellbeing as they had been before. They had locked the door firmly on serenity by trying to sustain their previous levels of acquisition.

It did not take long before the disillusioned and much poorer pair returned to more familiar predator territory. Earlier, I had suggested to Mark that he return to his mechanic trade, which is a much sought after skill in any farming environment. But it clearly would not have met his desired income and perceived status.

Then there is Keith, a Gauteng accountant who decided to use a retrenchment package and pursue a slower life in the Overberg. He loves nature and gardening, and bought a modest, just ticking over landscaping and gardening service from a local owner. It’s one of those make or break services, like “general handyman”. But Keith put his all into it and today has a flourishing business.

And so I could go on. There have been a number with the same mixed results. The most overtraded businesses in this area are B&B’s and restaurants. They appear to be the obvious choice for fast pace refugees, and they regularly change hands. Places like Swellendam, and others I’m familiar with like Barrydale, Montagu, Robertson, Bonnievale, McGregor, and Greyton have become well-known chill zones and havens for “de-clutching.” But they can be either the nurseries of contentment or the cemeteries of dreams.

One simple consideration is not to apply market logic too rigidly. There is strong customer loyalty to local folk that tends to work against “inkommers”. But, as Keith has shown, patience, dedication and service eventually prove winners in any environment.

Children can also be a complication. We too readily project our dreams on our offspring and they often simply don’t share them as they enter their teens. In today’s electronically obsessed world it is less easy to seduce the average teen with the wonders of nature. Adolescents in the small rural towns are as likely as their peers in the big cities to be exposed to bad influences, drugs and alcohol.

But there is a much deeper consideration in relocating. It came to me while sitting on a quad bike in a lush green oats-field on one of those special, crispy, late winter days that break a spell of intensely cold and wet weather. I was watching a small herd of cows grazing a short distance away – the classic picture of contentment. Ciska the boerboel came charging at them from the other side of the fence and they broke into a mini stampede heading straight for me. I thought at least two would crash into the 350kg ATV, but both veered off at the last second. It was the perfect illustration of how, when you are running away from something you are likely to run into obstacles ahead.

It is never a good idea to simply run away from things. It is far better to run towards something with a clear and well considered idea of where you want to be. You have to become a tortoise first before joining a community of tortoises. To think you will become a successful hare among the tortoises is the kind of big-fish-small-tank geographic arrogance that can be your undoing.

There are many steps you can take to slow down in your present circumstance. The renowned “slow down” advocate, Carl Honore gives a number of tips on how to do this. I interpret these as simply slowing down expectations, avoiding instant gratification, fighting the Want-It-Now or WIN addiction. Become the change.

This can be done anywhere and at any time. Any town will get to appreciate people who bring with them aspirations of making a difference, and have left their expectations behind.

Above all, relocating should be a journey in the pursuit of meaning rather than of means.

1 comment:

  1. Really relaxing this Jerry, and exactly what I'm planning for the near future except without any added pressures to upset things. Folk can burn their fingers with notions of settling in a rural environment with no adequate thought for the transition and its inherent demands. Retirement should be just that,.. a big relax, with many different small distractions to keep both body and mind ticking over. Rusty