Interview with freelance tech consultant & outdoor blogger - Andy Darnton

Andy has put his career as a lawyer behind him for a simpler life. His freelance work as a technology consultant supports him financially and gives him more freedom to pursue his love of nature and spending time outdoors, particularly in the Lake District. He's working towards a Mountain Leader qualification and writes a blog about his adventures, work-life balance, gear reviews and outdoor challenges.


I asked Andy why he decided to leave a job that he'd studied and worked hard for, what expectations, worries or fears he had about making a career change and if they matched his experience, what have been the very clear benefits of his decision, and much more. At the end, Andy asks you not just one, but three questions to take away and think about!

Why did you decide to leave a job that you had studied and worked hard for?


The studying and training were the bits I enjoyed, so I don’t regret working hard at those. But the reality of a career in law was quite different from the theory. As the honeymoon period wore off, the realisation that I’d chosen the wrong career hit me. Not being one to give up easily, I spent the next 10 years giving it a good go, thinking the situation might improve as I climbed the corporate ladder.


I found myself living for those precious few hours on a Saturday morning when I could relax, before being consumed by apprehension as a new week approached. My job had robbed me of the wide range of interests I once had and I was simply counting down the days until retirement. Leaving was a no-brainer!


What expectations, worries or fears did you have about making a career change, and have they matched your experience?


I bought into the fears that others projected on to me. Will you earn enough money? Why on earth would you give up a secure job? What if it doesn’t work out? What will your parents think?


Being a lawyer teaches you to be risk averse, so these worries played on my mind. I also didn’t really know what else I wanted to do, so it became easier to listen to the doubts and stick with what I knew, however unhappy it made me.


The experience of changing careers has been far more empowering than I imagined.


How did you start moving towards your change in direction?


One afternoon, I was drowning under files. My e-mail inbox was refreshing at the same rate as the arrivals board at Heathrow and the phone kept on ringing. So I did what no normal person would do and built a spreadsheet.


This spreadsheet soon became quite whizzy: it sorted out my to-do list and told me what order to do things in; it told me when to give someone else a nudge; when I had to provide updates; even how much I was going to bill that month. It was like having a massive clear-out of my brain.


That was my Eureka moment. I thought, if I can build this in an afternoon, there must already be more sophisticated wizardry out there to help professionals work more efficiently. Turns out there’s a whole movement surrounding it, and that started me down the path of working with technology.


When did you make the decision to hand in your notice?


I’d reached a point in my legal career where the prospect of partnership beckoned. Everything I’d worked for was right in front of me. Surely I should be more excited? But I felt indifferent. I was simply going through the motions.


A colleague had a health scare. I speculated this was down to stress. It shook me, as I recognised I was probably heading the same way. They had a young family. So did I. Enough was enough. Time to do something about it.


What things and beliefs did you feel that you needed to give up or let go of, in order to create a different life for yourself?


Society measures success by top exam results, a traditional career, big salary, massive house, fancy car, foreign holidays and having lots of ‘stuff’. While these things can be nice, they don’t always lead to happiness. This year’s global pandemic has reminded us all what we really value in life. And a traditional career no longer guarantees job security anyway. Ultimately, you only have as much security as your notice period.


It took a while to leave the ‘9-5’ (and beyond) culture behind. Some days, I’m more productive than others. If it’s just not happening, it’s best to do something else. I’ll soon find my flow and often produce some of my best work.


Oh yeah - and most people don’t really care what you do! At the time, giving up my ‘solicitor’ label felt strange. I’d excuse my change in direction by saying ‘I used to be a solicitor’. It’s liberating not to be defined by my job any more.


Who has inspired and supported you along the way?


Alastair Humphreys completely changed my outlook on life. I discovered his incredible Microadventures book a number of years ago and devoured the contents one Christmas morning. I’d urge anyone wanting to adjust their work-life balance to treat it as compulsory reading. If it wasn’t for Alastair, I might still be slaving away in a law firm!


What have been the very clear benefits of your career change?


Where do I start?! My life is better in so many ways. I’m happier and healthier and it’s given me time to rediscover my passion for the outdoors.


In 2019, I set myself the challenge of walking around the 18 major lakes in the Lake District. Having this focus established a routine of getting to the hills regularly. It stirred emotions deep within me and I knew I was meant to be in the mountains.


This year, I’ve been working through 18 of Alfred Wainwright’s favourite walks in Lakeland. Standing on the summits of some of the most iconic peaks in England is where I feel most alive. It’s encouraged me to start collecting more Quality Mountain Days and work towards a Mountain Leader qualification. Who knows where that might take me, but the idea of helping others to experience just a fraction of the joy I get from the mountains is an exciting one.


How do you balance your work as a technology consultant with outdoor adventures, writing your blog, your relationships, and training as a mountain leader?


To be honest, it’s a lot easier than it used to be! I’m careful when choosing the projects I take on and have learnt to say ‘no’ to things.


Even when I’m busy, I no longer live in a state of constant fatigue so can afford to get up at silly-o’clock-in-the-morning, drive to the mountains and be home after lunch. Freeing myself from the shackles of the corporate timetable even makes things like going to the dentist or getting a haircut a lot easier!


I started my blog, Highs and Lows, as a way of recording my adventures and thoughts about the outdoors and work-life balance. The fact that lots of people are reading it is amazing!


Are there any challenges that you're still figuring out?


Yes - what I want to do! Although I enjoy tinkering with computers, I have loads of other interests and want to pursue them all.


Our perspectives on life evolve as we get older. So when thinking about a change in direction, I don’t feel I necessarily have to commit now to what I want to do for life. I’m figuring things out as I go!


What question would you ask somebody who is feeling worn out from a stressful job and thinking about a career change, but feels a lack in energy to pursue something new?


I’m going to cheat and ask three questions:


Is this worn out feeling temporary or more permanent?


Lots of people have bad days at work. It’s only natural to fantasise about what it’d be like to do something new. It’s only if the cause of your lack of energy is deeper rooted that it’s time to do something about it. The fact you are reading this interview suggests it might be!


How can you break the cycle and get more energy?


Try making something else the main focus of your day. For me, that meant a folding bike in the car, parking on the outskirts of the city and cycling the last few miles to the office. My active commute soon became the highlight of my day. Work was just something I did between going for a bike ride. It gave me chance to think, I became fitter and started craving healthier food. This gave me the energy to get creative.


If you had the courage and money was no object, what would your perfect day at work look like?


Start by thinking about what you enjoy. What could you never get bored of? What are you passionate about? Be really honest and let the ideas flow, however daft they sound. You might just hit on something which sets you down a career path you never knew existed.

I first came across Andy and his blog via Twitter, where he has been really supportive and encouraging of my podcast. I was interested to find out more about him after reading his career change story on his blog, so I invited him to be interviewed here.


To find out more about Andy’s outdoor adventures you can read his blog and follow him on Twitter. Check out his About page to read more about his career change story.


If you have any comments on this post or if you would like to send any questions for Andy or myself, please email: sarah@sarahventurer.com

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