In the second of the heroes series, in which I profile those individuals who are providing inspiration for my year in flux, I’d like to introduce you to a man who has been living a life in flux for as long as I’ve known him (over a decade). Benedict Beaumont has ridden a motorbike solo across India, he has also been a film producer, musician, teacher, IT consultant, Buddhist, ski chalet host, and many other things besides. Read on for Ben’s opinion, advice and a few nice stories from a proper black belt fluxer!!
I joined Ben in the French Alps for a few days right at the beginning of My Year In Flux, in March 2013. Together, we took a crazy road trip through heavy, drifting snow into the Swiss Jura mountains overlooking Lake Geneva. We stopped for a coffee at a tiny ski station, and as the circulation returned to our hands, I began to ask Ben about his time in flux.
When you have to define who you are and what you do, what do you say?
I used to say on my website that I was a teacher, as that was the easiest pigeon hole to put me in, but I like to think of myself as an adventurer, a sailor on the seas of fate! [Laughter]
You don’t define yourself by what you do, do you? Since I’ve known you, you have been everything from an IT Consultant to a film producer!
When most people are asked ‘What do you do’ they actually answer the question ‘How do you earn your money’, but there is a big difference between the two! I learnt early on that earning lots of money wasn’t of particular of interest to me, sometimes what I do earns lots of money, and sometimes what I do doesn’t.
There is a big difference between how you earn your money and what you actually do
The biggest barrier to people pushing towards the lifestyle they want is money. How do you bankroll your life?
Actually I don’t believe that. People use money as an excuse but really you can do it with very little money if you have to. I wish I was bankrolled, and had lots of money!
I left my last career as a teacher about 18 months ago, and at that point I was earning reasonably decent money. I had about £6-7k saved, and that kept me travelling around India on a motorbike for 3 months. After that I pretty-much ran out. I didn’t want to go back to having a ‘career’ job, so I got a job in a ski resort, running a chalet which pays very little. Since then I’ve done a bit of supply [teaching] work, here and there and then come back out to the alps again. I don’t have a huge amount of money, but if I did I would probably do something similar but just work a bit less and do it all a bit more extravagantly!
I was lucky because I bought a flat in Brighton UK when I was 26 which is now rented out. There is a lot of pressure to buy a property, but I did that when I was young. It is a great security to have, to know that I could always go back to it if I really wanted to but also it sometimes feels like an albatross round my neck, and also keeps me chained to England.
There have been plans, but they’ve never been for the rest of my life.
Do you find it hard to explain and give an answer to the ‘what do you do’ question, are you ever ambivalent or conflicted about describing your lifestyle?
People have stopped asking me what I do or where I’m going! They know it’s not going to be a straight or easy answer, and I think people get tired and bored or don’t really want to know.
I think if you’re doing something that you don’t want to do any more or see yourself doing for the rest of your life, it’s an easy decision to stop doing it and do something else until you find what you do want to do, to try different things, to put yourself in a position where you might have more of a chance to see an open window that you want to climb through. That’s what I think you are doing with your Year in Flux and I applaud you for it.
Have there been points where you thought you knew what you wanted to do for the rest of your life?
There have been plans, but they’ve never been for the rest of my life. They’ve been more like 3-5 year plans. From the ages of 21 till about the age of 37, I kind of knew exactly where I’d be going or what I’d be doing. I remember thinking I wanted to spend 6 months working in England, 3 months travelling in Asia and 3 months doing an artistic side project in Brighton or….I wanted to have a motorbike, or live in a European city. So I kind of had plans but they weren’t always traditional.
When the last one came to an end when I was 36-37, I decided to try not having plans any more. Or if you like my plan was to not know where I was going, to lay myself open to opportunity, to be able to go somewhere, to be more flexible and see what happened. A plan to not have a plan, and I’ve been living like that for over a year now.
And how’s the plan-to-not-have-a-plan going?
It’s not easy to live in uncertainty, but one of the real things that I’ve learned is that, in life, there is no certainty. You might get a job/relationship but that might end at any moment, everything is kind of temporal. There is nothing you can do that will make it 100% safe, the best we can do is be okay with uncertainty and be able to live with chaos. If you can live with not having plans then it gives you a kind of security that is much more meaningful.
Was there a turnkey moment when you realised that this was how you wanted to live?
It was a gradual process. In the last five years I did a lot of what you might call ‘internal work’, exploring myself intellectually and emotionally and spiritually. For a long time I was a practising Buddhist, so there were a lot of deep meditative experiences, but in the last couple of years I’ve moved away from that and I started to study. I went to a lot of self development workshops where I started to understand myself a lot more and what it really meant to be a person, to be a man, to be a grown up.
I’ve been lucky enough to have given up several careers several times, and it has never ever failed for me.
Has your path of continually seeking new skills and experiences enriched you as a person? Has each different path added to the composite whole that is you?
It can’t not! I certainly don’t regret any choices that I’ve made, but partly that’s because I don’t think I could have made any different choices at that time. Just through the process of getting older, you are enriched, and you never return back to the same point, you can’t.
You do change what you’re capable of as you get older anyway. I look at the person I was 10-15 years ago and I am significantly different in my outlook.
What would be your one piece of advice to someone who was thinking of following a similar ‘flux’ route to the ones which you and I have taken?
I’ve been lucky enough to have given up several careers several times, and it has never ever failed for me. I might not have always made more money but I’ve almost always been happier when I’ve done that. It is not luck – when you let go of something that you don’t really want, you cannot help but land somewhere better than where you are. Even if bad things happen, at least you’ve made a choice to do something about it rather than just sitting there and suffering in silence…or carrying on on a treadmill in a place you don’t want to be.
Is sticking with the straighter path and attempting to earn lots of money going to make you happy? Losing material security can make people really unhappy and I do understand that. For some people, just having a regular income every month is the most important thing but not everyone’s like that. I’m certainly not like that, I know that I’ll always be able to work or find money from somewhere else. So for me, getting a regular pay check is way down on the priority list.
If there are people who are reading this who feel the same way, to stay doing something that you don’t see a future in: you’re failing. It’s not difficult to stop failing. Stop what you’re doing; whatever you do next will help you succeed.
What’s next for you?
Well at this time in the (ski) season, as we get towards the end, there is a huge panic amongst the staff here as everyone begins to think ‘What am I going to do when Winter finishes, what am I going to do over the Summer?’, and even for some people ‘What am I going to do with the rest of my life?’
I’m still in the place of not making any long term plans until I have an idea of where I want to go. I’m still going to live very much month-to-month, and going where I want to go and doing what I want to do. Once I finish here, I imagine I’ll do a little teaching (supply work), I’ve got a couple of writing projects to finish before the end of the Summer.
When someone that wise and holy asks you to do something, you do it.
Writing is something you’ve recently started taking seriously. Why, and why now?
Last year, in Kathmandu, I met possibly the wisest man in the world. A friend who I was with was having a midlife crisis (his second wife had left him and his job had gone wrong and he was all over the place) and someone recommended he visit a lama (a very high up Buddhist monk). My friend dropped this guy an email, not really expecting an answer but the monk wrote back almost immediately saying he was free this Sunday and that we should go over for tea and a chat. It turned out the monk was the director of one of the four main International Tibetan Buddhist Schools – so it was maybe the Anglican Christian equivalent of having an audience with the Archbishop of York! We sat in a small, plain room, and spoke for about five minutes and he asked where we’d come from and where we were heading to, small talk, and then he just turned, looked at me, and said ‘So, what do you really want to ask me?’
At that moment, it felt like everything in the world stopped. It felt like I was on trial and being judged, but not in a nasty way. I can’t repeat everything I said, but at the end of it he said to me ‘I want you to write your story, I want you to write the experiences that have led to you being here, sitting with me now.’ And when someone that wise and holy asks you to do something, you do it.
You’ll probably be going back to him the next time you need some advice then!
I said I’d let him have the book!
Do you think you’ll ever settle down?
I think I’m quite settled down now, to be honest. If you mean settle down in one physical place, I’ll almost undoubtedly do that at some point for several years, but I don’t think I’d be able to settle in one place for the rest of my life.
But I think if you really ask anyone that, people might say they will, but they don’t and they can’t. We don’t know the future, we don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m maybe just a little more honest about that.
Settling down with one person? That would be nice, but one place/lifestyle/job? No.
Meeting new people, doing new things and imparting what I’ve learned keeps me happy.
So amidst the flux of your life, what holds everything together?
I feel content with what I’m doing because I am being really true to myself. I’ve made some choices that people would not make in my position – right now I live in a tiny little attic room in a small, shared house, amongst hedonists and thrill seekers about half my age which is tough, but I’m happier now than when I finished teaching.
It only took me a few years to get burnt out, but I think lots of teachers reach that predicament earlier than they care to admit but they carry on. They lose their lust for it; it’s strange, you get better at the mechanics of teaching, but there is no joy in it any more. I didn’t want to be that tired kind of teacher so I stopped. I suspect that’s the case in many, many careers, actually.
Meeting new people, doing new things and imparting what I’ve learned keeps me happy. It’s a two way thing: you get something back, it’s not just a teacher/pupil relationship, it’s a person/person relationship. What you give is what you get back.
Ben’s been a huge inspiration but he’s not alone. Want to know how Jose Mourinho inspired My Year in Flux? Have a looksie, it’s not so crazy…