27th June 2017

Downshifting

Relaxing on a boat on the River Thames

Relaxing on a River Thames boat

A law graduate earning a 6-figure salary in the City gives up her lucrative job to set up business as a homeopath. A commodity broker, after 23 years in the same company, starts a charity and a small hospital to rescue injured wildlife. An ex-employee of a money brokers firm of 16 years standing suddenly becomes a fringe theatre actor.

They are the downshifters, people who make the life-changing discovery that being stress-free is more valuable than money. Or at least that's what they think most of the time. "I occasionally miss the Christmas bonuses, but choose not to remember how much I was earning because it was so much, compared to my current earnings, that I would only become sad", says very honestly the City-high-flier-turned-homeopath described above.

What's new? People who feel that their jobs don't make them realise their potential have always been around, and probably always will be.
But now their numbers are staggering, and they form part of a trend in working life, in society and in current opinions about values.
So much so that a whole host of services designed for downshifters have mushroomed: organizations, support groups, how-to manual books to help them make the shift.

The term downshifting was actually formed in America in the post-Reagan years, at the time when Charlie Sheen was saying to the capitalist and (obviously) bad guy, one of the worst movie villains ever, played by Michael Douglas in the film Wall Street: "How much is enough?"

"Downshifters are people who make the life-changing discovery that being stress-free is more valuable than money."

In the late 1990s the term arrived and spread on this side of the Atlantic. In the UK, the movement has became associated and has been embraced by two main groups of people: women who want to work but need more time for their families, and hippy-type (repeating the drop outs trend of the '70s), new-age, back-to-nature individuals.
In this time and age when people have become more aware of the work vs. home life demands, downshifting has in many cases represented the answer to that dichotomy.
Once women have entered the workforce in great numbers, they have also experienced what it means to be divided between two loyalties, equally strong and perhaps equally important.

Connected with this, is the practice of gap years. Nearly as many people in mid-life as students now take a gap year.
The phenomenon of middle-age escape is spreading. A Mintel study published estimated that each year 200,000 older adults were taking "career breaks" or pursuing early retirement to become "denture venturers".
What do these middle-aged people do in their gap years? Mostly adventurous things, it seems, like sailing in yachts around the world.

 

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