I met Josh Taylor in an Afghan restaurant. We broke the ice over a ‘couple’s selection’ of charcoal grilled meat, dhal and some obligatory naan. We share a passion for Central and South Asia, having met the year before in Kyrgyzstan, as you do.
Josh has made some pretty interesting life choices, despite his modesty, and so I sheepishly asked if I could interview him for this blog. I found his initial experiences and subsequent decisions immensely re-assuring, as I saw parallels with my own. I hope others will too, and can draw inspiration and confidence from his happy ending.
Josh 2.0 - the charity-worker
A rough-sleeping prevention officer, Josh currently works for New Hope Trust, a Watford-based charity. There, he spends his mornings preparing breakfasts and chatting to his service users, and in the afternoons meets with clients individually and visits areas where he knows his they congregate. His passion for his job is obvious as his face lights up when I ask why he works there; he feels like he is ‘doing something worthwhile every day’ and can measure his achievements in terms of literally changing the lives of those less fortunate. He loves building relationships with people and understanding what ‘makes them tick.’ As he continues I realise that he is referring to mental health issues, rather than innocuous personality quirks.
I realise that my ideas about homelessness and why people are homeless might be somewhat divorced from reality. So I ask him to tell me about his experiences of why people find themselves in such horrendous situations, and to correct any misconceptions I may have. Josh gets pretty animated, telling me how so many of us assume that all homeless people are ‘criminals, drunks, drug addicts and people with no future or real hope.’ It seems this is far from the truth. I trust him – of all people, he knows.
"These people are just like everyone else, but have been hit by unfortunate circumstances and have been through tragic situations that most of us will never experience, but they don’t have the support networks in place to get them through."
He highlights the importance and seriousness of mental health as a major issue when people don’t have family or close friends to fall back on. They slip through the net society is meant to provide as they aren’t vulnerable in as much of an obvious way.
He finds it difficult to compartmentalise the things he hears and sees in his work from his personal life, though says it is completely worth it. Josh is also more than willing to accept the 50% pay cut. Why? Because the sense of fulfillment he feels from his job and having a positive direction, in his and others' lives, more than compensates for it.
Josh 1.0 – the lawyer
Josh comes from a family of lawyers, and relished in 'debating and playing devil's advocate' so much growing up that he never questioned what seemed like the obvious career path. What parents wouldn't want their child to grow up to become a lawyer? It is a well-paid and prestigious career, and so he merrily skipped off to university to study for his LLB.
It is easy to ignore that voice in the back of your head that initially goes off like a fire alarm when you feel that something is wrong. But the more it is ignored, the quieter it can get. The voice can be placated and seduced into thinking it is mistaken. The weight of expectation, though often well-intentioned and unspoken, is heavy and it is easy to be distracted by the highs and lows of life, especially when you are young and enthusiastic students (enthusiastic for things other than our studies in many cases).
Josh placated his by the thought that while he may not be the best law student, when it came to doing the actual job, he would enjoy it far more. So after graduating, it seemed nonsensical to not try and become a fully qualified solicitor.
So the next life stage followed, and he won a place on a trainee scheme at a commercial solicitor’s firm. It started with sleepless nights, but soon the voice was back and this time it could not be disregarded as easily. ‘Within four months of starting I knew I would quit the minute I qualified,’ two years away. The realisation that the last five or six years would be a ‘waste’ though was difficult to bear. Slowly, the sleepless nights got worse and Josh began to explain how during that time he felt as though he was 'wasting' his life.
As he went into more detail, we ignored the dessert menu now in front of us.
Despite muddling on through, he describes that time as ‘hellish’ and that he became a ‘different person, far less sociable and confident, always thinking about and dreading work.’ Josh described how a lack of confidence could to affect every part of your life, how you become resigned to your situation but still live in a constant state of panic.
What he is depicting is something I am familiar with, the knowledge that you are desperately unhappy on a daily basis but not knowing how to take control of that. It’s like he has watched my experience over the past year and is repeating it back to me. I had not realised until this conversation that I was not alone, and that was more comforting than any sympathetic shoulder during that time had been.
Then he said it – ‘I was depressed.’ I don’t think he meant in the clinically diagnosed sense, but it certainly sounded not too far off. Josh’s body language had changed, his face was more downcast and shoulders hunched, it was easy to see the physical impact of feeling this way, and it was something that, again, I could relate to.
But then came the golden moment – ‘on the day I qualified, I stuck to my word and quit.’ Josh spent three months travelling through Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, China and then Central Asia - where I met him. Afterwards, he moved back home and spent six months volunteering for a range of ex-offender charities in Manchester and eventually got his job as a rough-sleeping prevention officer.
As we pay up he tells me that he thinks life is about enjoyment. Josh 2.0 shines through and poignantly advises me that I choose something for the experience and enjoyment, not the salary.
One thing that was certainly become clear over the evening was that it is our social relationships with friends and family that are important, far more so than material possessions - all too frequently the lack of the former seemed to lead to the lack of the latter, not the other way around.
Josh works for the charity, New Hope Trust.
This was the first article in a new series about inspirational individuals. If you have a story you would like to tell, please get in touch via the contact page.
If you're interested in my trip to Central Asia, check out my travel writing.
All photos are © Josh Taylor.