FROM the outside, Rob Lendon seemed to have the perfect life.
He had his dream home, which he’d stylishly decorated, a flashy car and his own business, which made him a healthy income from just four hours work a week.
He dined at Michelin Star restaurants and spent much of his free time holidaying.
But he wasn’t happy. In fact, he was very unhappy.
So he decided to do something about it. He sold everything he owned – his house, his business, his car, his possessions – and began Travelling the world, to find what did make him happy instead.
“I think the more I achieved and the more I got in terms of material things, the more I realised that those weren’t the things that made me happy,” says the 41-year-old from Southampton.
“I had all the things I’d thought I wanted. I had my own business, a beautiful house that I loved, a nice car, but I wasn’t happy. I thought ‘what’s the point in continuing to do this, to accumulate more stuff to die with,’ when it wasn’t making me happy.”
It was around this time that Rob, then 39, went trekking in Nepal. He didn’t know when he booked the trip just how significant it would be.
“That was a defining moment for me,” he says.
“The people there seemed to have such terrible lives – it was just after the earthquake and all the houses had been ruined, they didn’t have any money but they were happy, and it made me question what happiness is.”
Rob spoke with the people he met there to try to understand what made them happy.
“It was very clear that they didn’t want more and knew that if they had more thing and more choices, they wouldn’t be happy,” he says.
“There’s a line – you need enough money to have shelter, comfort and food, but I think that once you go beyond that, it becomes a bit more complicated, and it doesn’t necessarily bring you more happiness the more you have.
“I’ve got some friends who are exceedingly well off and it’s quite funny – they’re not happy with their 90 foot yacht, they want a 120 foot one. It’s farcical really. At what point would you be happy?”
Like many of us, Rob had daydreamed about what he would do if he won the lottery – he would go travelling. Then he realised that he didn’t actually need to win the lottery to go.
“It seemed madness to continue down the same path that hadn’t worked for 39 years,” says Rob, who has suffered depression on and off throughout his adult life.
“You only have one life and logically there was no alternative. I could continue plodding away at a life that didn’t make me happy or try something new that might.”
Rob knew that if he really wanted to change his life, he had to go all out.
“I’d travelled a lot but I couldn’t fully be myself,” he says.
“I was a bit on edge, checking my work emails. I wanted to be as free as possible.
“It was a very, very hard decision to make to sell my house and my business, but I knew I had to do it quite drastically if I was going to do it. I didn’t want to think I had a home to go back to because I didn’t want to view my trips as holidays. It wasn’t that I needed the money to be able to travel, but that I needed to sever my ties.”
Rob has a background in design and had prided himself in filling his home with beautiful furniture – much of it original 1960s Danish rosewood furniture that he had had imported and reupholstered. But it had to go. And he wasn’t only getting rid of the house but also almost 40 years’ worth of possessions that filled it. He donated carloads to charity, sold much of it, gave some away to family and whittled everything he owned down to a couple of boxes of clothes and books that he keeps at his parents’ house.
“I had too much stuff, and I had realised that I was genuinely happier when I had fewer things,” he says.
“A lot of thought had gone into some of the things, and they were hard to part with, but I knew that the harder it was to part with, the more good it would do me in terms of the almost unhealthy relationship I had developed with material things.
“My identity was quite bound up with success and my possessions, and I saw that as a problem. I was so wrapped up in these things I owned but that wasn’t the real me.
“The real me was the person who was trekking through Nepal with almost nothing – not worrying about what they were going to wear or whether they needed a new pair of shoes.
“I was very unhappy and I realised that I was causing my own unhappiness, my own problems. I’d get worked up and stressed worrying about which Michelin Star restaurant to eat in – it was just ridiculous! Whereas, if I’m trekking and someone can serve me some fried potatoes, I’m really happy, because it’s fuel and I need it.
“Once you start adding all the variables and questions and options, that’s when I start to get unhappy. I don’t know why, but too much choice is definitely the problem.”
It took Rob around nine months to sell his possessions and be ready to begin his travels.
So far he has been to Mongolia, China, North Korea, Thailand, Romania, Hungary, Spain, Egypt, UAE, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Iraq and Portugal.
He had intended to be in Thailand now, but has injured his shoulder and is currently back in Southampton resting up, before resuming his travels.
“The thing I find in the more unusual places is that, perhaps because they don’t get many tourists there, they’re more surprised to see you and you get a much more genuine interaction with people.
“When I started, I wasn’t going to visit anywhere the Foreign Office recommended against going to. That very soon changed after I realised you could go to Afghanistan, because I was aware of how beautiful it is there.
“I don’t think these places are as dangerous as people perceive. I loved North Korea and Afghanistan. Iran had the friendliest people I’ve ever encountered. On any day, just wandering round, I’d get three or for invitations for dinner from strangers.
“North Korea was strange because although they are incredibly hospitable in the hotels etc, on the street people aren’t allowed to talk to you, so you can turn a corner where 30 people are walking towards you , and they all turn and walk the other way.”
Unsurprisingly, Rob has found himself in lots of strange situations: watching buzkashi, polo played with a dead goat rather than a ball, in Afghanistan, celebrating his birthday in Iraq with peshmerga forces, who were protecting a village from ISIS fighters, singing karaoke in North Korea.
He is documenting his travels on his blog, A Second Life (www.asecondlife.co.uk). It was important for him to have a creative outlet while he travelled, but long term, he doesn’t know what he is going to do.
“My view is that this is a five to ten year temporary retirement,” he says.
“I definitely don’t see myself coming back to Southampton and settling down again. I’d like to be somewhere else and doing something else – it’s that doing something else that is most important.
“I’ve never found my work rewarding. Making money for a corporation is not satisfying. I’d like to do something I’m passionate about. It could be teaching English in an orphanage in Africa or making macarons in Paris! It’s hard to say.
“When I started thinking about this, I did think I should have done it when I was younger,” he continues.
“But the reality is, I didn’t want to do it when I was younger. I didn’t understand when I was in my 20s why people would take time off to go travelling, because all I could see was that they were missing out on earning money and building their careers and collecting stuff, which was what I thought I wanted at the time.
“For me, this was definitely the right time, because it’s the time I want to do it, and it’s the time I can do it.”
Source : DailyEcho