Reflection and Question: A Year In Scotland
PHOTO BY PHIL HILL @the_PHbalance
A year ago, I was commuting to London via the Caledonian Sleeper from Scotland. Today I am on a Caledonian Macbrayne ferry returning from the Inner Hebrides. Less than a year ago I was still working as a senior research fellow and junior lecturer at the University College London, one of the top universities in the UK. I loved what I did, but it did not align with how I wanted to live. There came a point when discomfort outweighed the rewards of my career. Max felt the same, so we did something we only do when it is absolutely and irrevocably the right thing to do so. We quit. We started out on a new path to new goals we had yet to dream of.
We knew where we were going, we were heading north and west. The night I fell in love with Max I had dreamt we had met where mountain met sea, like a prophecy that was where we were headed. Since moving to Oban on the Scottish West Coast, both Max and I changed jobs, bought a house and incorporated our business, WayOutside Ltd. We then got a couple of outdoor qualifications, a website, started an outdoor swimming community at our local beach, held our first training camp, Max got noticed for his swimming, we started a beginner runners’ course and took some families hiking and wild swimming. We featured in the local paper, a couple of articles, one book and along with many free articles I even wrote my first paid pieces, one of which was in Women’s Running. We organised and successfully hosted our first ultra-marathon, toured many Scottish islands, hiked tens of mountains and Max was even picked to train with endurance swimmer Lewis Pugh for 10 days.
In all of this I have struggled with my identity. I am no longer Dr S McGowan Holloway, no longer a Proton Therapy Physicist. I am not even knowledgeable in my new field, let alone the near-expert I was used to being! We moved somewhere we knew no-one as incomers, southerners, English (though I would argue that!). I have also struggled with my identity since changing my name 2 years after Max and I married. I am not sure men understand the conflict of something so permanent to suddenly change. Ultimately, my name no longer feels my own, and I am not named the same as my family. Especially now, living in Scotland and after leaving my career, I miss my name even more.
WHO AM I NOW?
Like we experienced in rowing, when you train twice a day with someone in hard conditions and under a performance pressure connections are formed fast and firm and trust is established quickly. From complete strangers Lewis and Antionette became people I could confide in within a matter of days. Lewis was able to see my situation clearly and gave some frank advice. On route to a loch one morning my phone rings and Network Rail are calling to tell me I do not have their permission to use a level crossing at night in my race. I catch my thoughts and reassemble them before I emotionally shatter, a small voice I rely on in emergencies speaks up you must make this work and I immediately put panic aside and start to calmly negotiate how we can resolve the situation. The race is in 10 days and I am currently stranded in the Outer Hebrides during Storm Brendan. I can’t give up, so many people are relying on me. I hang up and Lewis looks at me ‘you do not need that stress in your life’, and he is right.
I have always said my greatest danger is when I do not know exactly what I want, as I will go for everything. Lewis has promised to post me some books to help me work out what it is I want from my life right now.
What is my purpose now I am no longer curing cancer with particle physics?
What role do I want in my life?
Lewis posted on Instagram a couple days later and I could not help think it was aimed at me.
I have no doubt that we are where we are meant to be. I guess my question is not one of courage, but knowledge of myself now removed from the context I had existed in for so long. Ultimately, what is really important to me?