Leaving London: One Year On

I still remember the nerves in my stomach as I sat down in the meeting room, a pint of water sweating on the table between us. What I don’t remember, one year after handing in my notice at my job in London, is what I said. I don’t remember what I told my boss or my flatmates. It’s as if my brain has hidden this information somewhere in the filing cabinet of my mind.

What I can recall are the rejection calls, the late nights spent creating PR strategy decks to present to potential employers, the tears streaming down my face as I called my mum from a bus back to Shoreditch.

The length of time it took to find a job in Leeds so that I could leave my job in London was frustrating and stressful. It made my last 8 months in London almost unbearable as I fell in and out of love with the city and constantly questioned my motivations.

Then, finally, in May 2016, I got a job.

leaving london, one year on

It’s not that I didn’t like my job in London. In fact, I loved it. I loved being a digital PR consultant and I loved my team. So much so that I stayed at the same company for the entire time I lived in London. I had no reason to give it up, until, suddenly, I had to get out.

Not get out of the job – I tried to come to various solutions that would mean I could continue in that role remotely – but out of London.

Sometimes I’d walk home over Tower Bridge, past the Tower of London, past the luxury high-rise flats being built at Aldgate East and the curry houses and cafes on Brick Lane, and I’d feel settled and happy.

I’d wander around markets with my friends at the weekend, drink in little pubs in Bermondsey after work in the evening, explore parts of the city I’d never been to before on sunny Sundays with only my camera for company and feel overwhelmed with love for London. Living just off Brick Lane, I had everything I needed without having to go too far: cafes, pubs, restaurants, markets.

And it was the practical side of living in London that I loved too: four airports at my disposal, train stations that could take me to any corner of the country.

Storefront of Monmouth Coffee shop, Borough Market, London

But, then, there were also the times that I felt like a stranger in my own home, a shared flat above a little shop on Bethnal Green Road. There were the times that living with other people felt claustrophobic, especially knowing that the likelihood of ever being able to afford to rent a place of my own in London was slim.

I knew I could if I continued working hard to further my career. But I also knew that working for someone else for the rest of my life wasn’t what I wanted either.

And there was something else I still struggle to put my finger on; a feeling not unlike being swallowed whole. For all the love I had, and still have, for London, it felt like I’d never be able to do the things I wanted to do if I stayed. I’d never be able to save for a mortgage alone, never be able to go freelance without someone else to help pay the rent, never move out of my parents’ house properly and set up a proper, grown-up home.

So I left.

I packed up my little room on Bethnal Green Road, packed up my desk, and said goodbye.

Leeds, thankfully, wasn’t a stranger. I’d already spent 3 years living there previously as a student so in many ways it was like coming home. I rented a flat at Leeds Dock, on my own, and started a new PR job in June 2016. A job that was so different to my previous role in so many ways that at times I wondered if I’d made the right decision.

It’s strange looking back on those first few months in Leeds. I was finally able to rent a flat and, even though the rent and bills were only a fraction less than what I was paying in London, I had the entire place to myself rather than living in a tiny room. I met up with friends from uni, with Leeds-based bloggers, and made new friends too. I’d come home from work and see the sun streaming in through the floor to ceiling windows and swell with pride, because I did it. I said I was going to leave and I did.

I hadn’t made a decision that huge since I left the UK to move to Sydney in 2010, but even then that decision wasn’t made alone. I left the UK as a couple and came home by myself.

But something wasn’t right. Naively, I thought once I’d done it – left – everything would be sorted. There’d be no more work to be done. My friends told me otherwise. They reassured me that moving to another city was a bigger deal than I thought it was, that sometimes it takes months, years even, to feel settled again, that I needed to stop beating myself up.

They were right, because it did take a while to feel settled. To feel as though I was part of the fabric of the city rather than just an outsider looking in.

Beverley-Joanne_Crawford-3123

Part of what helped came from making more friends and nurturing the friendships I already had. I threw a Christmas party and watched my flat fill with people I’d only met a few months before, I reached out to people I’d met online to see if they possibly, maybe, wanted to go for coffee, I said ‘yes’ to all that I could and hoped for the best.

Part of what helped was a life-change I hadn’t anticipated at all; losing my job. Suddenly unemployed with no plan, no savings, and no partner to keep me afloat financially while I decided what to do next, I took the leap into the world of freelancing.

Being totally self-reliant, and making it work, has not only helped me grow in confidence, it’s also brought even more new people into my life.

Mostly, though, what helped was just giving it time. Giving myself some time.

Because now, almost 12 months on, I finally feel settled. That word would have scared me a few years ago when I was travelling around Australia or living in New Zealand or determined to never get tied down to one place for too long. But, actually, knowing that I’ve got a flat I love to come home to when I travel makes me happy. Knowing that, amidst the uncertainty of being self-employed there is one constant – Leeds – in my life, is comforting.

I didn’t feel like that in London. Everything always felt up in the air.

Do I miss London? Yes, without a doubt. I miss it like I miss Sydney. If you live somewhere long enough you become part of it, it becomes part of you. It shapes you and changes you. That doesn’t just go away when you leave.

But, one year on, I know I made the right decision.

 

Beverley x

Portraits: Joanne Crawford Photography

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Comments

  1. says

    Loved this piece, Beverley. I know what you mean – I go back and forth between wanting to travel and wanting my own place and to feel settled. I’m so happy you’ve found your place – such a good feeling xx

  2. says

    This is really lovely – I’m so happy that Leeds is starting to feel like home for you! I felt so discombobulated when I first moved here; not because of Leeds, per se, but just because moving somewhere new is always a shift and a change that I just wasn’t really prepared for but now I *love* Leeds and can’t really imagine making my home anywhere else. I think it’ll always take time to settle somewhere new, to get to know the paths you always walk, to start recognising people in your local haunts (and to find those local haunts!) and generally get bedded in. I always think you feel the most settled somewhere when you start bumping into people you know when you go to the supermarket!

    • says

      Thanks so much, Amy! When I moved back to the UK from New Zealand I was in two minds whether to move to London or Leeds. I’m glad I moved to London first though because it was a life-changing experience, despite not always making me 100% happy. I’m definitely feeling much more settled in Leeds though and, like you say, it’s nice when you start recognising people and going to the same places all the time x

  3. says

    Oh Beverley I love this post! I’m so glad to hear that you’re feeling settled in Leeds now. I feel a bit the same with New York. I love it, but I was surprised at how it takes time to settle in somewhere new (I thought I’d settle in right away because I’ve spent so much of my twenties here, and because I’d already lived abroad). It’s definitely taken me a bit longer than expected… but I feel like I’m finally getting there two years later!
    Katie MacLeod recently posted..Love, Laughter, and Wine: A Destination Wedding in TuscanyMy Profile

    • says

      Katie I’m so glad you had the same experience in New York! I thought I’d settle in straight away in Leeds too because I’d live here before, but it’s comforting to know that it took time for you to feel at home in NYC as well. So glad you’re feeling a bit more settled now xx

    • says

      I’m happy most of the time, I’d say. I still miss London a lot but I don’t think I’d have had the confidence to go freelance if I hadn’t felt settled in my home here in Leeds. You’re welcome to come stay anytime! :) x

  4. says

    Beautifully written, Beverly. It’s comforting to hear you’ve gone through all of this. Really glad that you’re happy and enjoying freelance life! Thanks for writing this.

    • says

      Thanks you, Ben! Writing it was a little emotional, because I’ll always love London, but I have no regrets about moving to Leeds which is good. Glad you like the piece :)

  5. says

    Great post! Being a traveler isn’t always easy and even though moving around gets easier every time you do it, its still hard sometimes. I think you really nailed the feeling of ambivalence travel and moving can have. I can really relate, so thanks for sharing!
    -Caroline

  6. says

    This is so great, Beverley! I know exactly what you mean about feeling like London can swallow you whole, and sometimes I have the urge to get out, too. It’s so scary thinking about leaving (what is there, if not London?!) but it’s great to read stories like yours to know that there is life after London. And good life, at that!

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