Irrational is a word used in the definition of Atychiphobia - the fear of failing. Irrational is defined as ‘not logical or reasonable’.
I can feel your eyes rolling at the screen already but understand that I am not here to lie to you, or myself, by saying I’m immune to fear. And, no, I’m not Will Smith in After Earth preaching the ‘False Evidence Appearing Real’ acronym. I am just someone who drew Alex Buk in, from a 38 degree day in Portugal, for a moment to learn why letting the fear of failing be overlooked by the fear of “sitting around a table…looking back on life and not being fulfilled” may be far less irrational.
Alex was born on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. When he was six years old his father passed away and his family subsequently moved to New Zealand in attempts to “get a fresh start”.
Alex spent time growing up in Hanmer Springs and in high school caught the “camera bug”. He began working as a photographer at the hot pools. “You know those guys that come and annoy you in the pool? That was me.”
Unfortunately, later on “things started surfacing” around the age of 15 and he became “incapable of suppressing everything.” His father had lost a battle with mental health and now Alex had begun his own. “It got pretty intense for awhile.”
Alex moved back and forth from Christchurch and Australia, before moving back to Christchurch by himself in 2018. He spent this time working as a Personal Trainer and was managing a store. A physical mindedness was something that had “always come naturally” he says, “even at school I had been writing programs for people”. After awhile, though, “it really didn’t fulfil [him]” and he experienced a “loss of character”.
Alex utilised lockdown as an opportunity to question the direction of his life. He did not want to get “stuck” in the routine he’d had prior to the lockdown. Instead he wanted to “orchestrate where and when” he worked, therefore gravitating towards the digital nomad space. He looked into website design and learned coding but after finding it extremely time consuming, moved his focus to Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). He and his partner, Olivia, also made plans to move to Portugal to reunite with his family, who had been living there for over a year.
In April of this year, Alex and Olivia made their move and now reside close to Faro, in the South of Portugal. They have been expanding their online digital studio, for which they had already obtained clients whilst in NZ. “We’re kind of a one-stop-shop for any brand that wants to expand online,” he says. Alex creates websites, content, and works on SEOs. Olivia works on social media management, branding and logo design. They’re aware that they are in the early stages of their business but are “thrilled with how it’s going so far”.
They plan to increase in scale, and work in different sectors to find which their value and “boutique” style best serves. Initially they will work with establishing businesses and in 2-5 years they want to work with widely known established businesses, at which point they can hope to outsource and hone in on their more particular passions. For Alex this would mean having more time to “play with the camera, and get out and be on [his] feet all the time.” Alex sees his greatest skill, which has also received the best feedback so far, as his ability to interact with clients. Olivia brings a great eye and management skills. And for them “the joy is [they’re] not limited to anywhere.”
Alex, understandably, took awhile to adjust to the Portuguese way of life, but after a few weeks “life just started to slow down,” he finishes saying this then clicks his fingers, as if reliving the switch that occurred. “There’s no such thing as being in a rush here” he says and made references to the “three P’s of Portugal: patience, politeness and persistence.” He accredits this to the hot weather, lower wages and the importance of spending time with family. “Around the larger cities you will find more pressure to work hard and long hours but in the South more people go through their day 15 minutes at a time and love to have a chat.” These chats can present difficulty due to the language barrier and that Alex often gets mistaken for a local due to his appearance.
Before leaving Christchurch, Alex’s life consisted of intense structure that stretched from his work schedule to his routine of meditation, journaling and other wellness practices. However, since being in Portugal he hasn’t “felt the need to structure these things into [his] day.” He attributes this loss, of need for structure, to the fulfilment he gets from being in a new place and experiencing new things; and even his concept of meditation has evolved from the “sitting-down-on-the-floor” practice to “throughout the day…living with a more open-mind”. He had had out-of-body experiences in meditation when he first explored the practice but has since reached a realisation “that they can come in any shape or form throughout the day”.
Alex is “feeling good at the moment” which “has been a long time coming.” He feels his experience has not only increased his awareness of his own mental health but also that of those around him. “So many people in New Zealand and around our age group have experienced it.” He knows “what it feels like when you get that lump in your throat, your lungs expand, and you can’t really do anything.” He sees a correlation between this and the pressure to attain security, usually in the form of a 40-hour work week and at the sacrifice of passions. He also thinks there is something to be said for the fear of failure, apparent as a consequence of the Tall Poppy Syndrome. “Kids aspire to so much in New Zealand” but “it only takes one person to shoot down your dreams; not everyone bounces back.” Alex’s view for young-adults is that “because we are so young we are able to hit that brick wall over and over again. It gives us the opportunity to revise and rethink. It teaches you more each time.” “People are really inclined to take the safe route…failing is just part of human nature…and it’s okay to get knocked down, just don’t stay down.”
Alex envisions that the rise of digital will continue. “It’s the one thing throughout [the pandemic] that has increased and increased. People that are willing…really have to dive into it these days, especially if they’re wanting to do it outside NZ... it helps silence the doubt.” As it has enabled him to work remotely from anywhere, he thinks that when our ability to travel freely is reestablished, “whenever that may be”, “there will be more Kiwis overseas than ever.”
Alex hopes more people can realise “it’s okay to go against the grain of what is considered ‘normal’, it’s okay to do something that the majority of people may not resonate with, and it’s okay if it doesn’t end up working for you.” Whilst his positive influences on perspective have come greatly in the form of travel, Alex would encourage others to be willing to identify opportunities to “see life from a different perspective” and make the most of them when they present themselves.
Alex has learned to come from a place of “less is more” and wants to continue to live a life filled with gratitude for the things he does have; something installed in him by his mother. He makes it known his family “still has one parent who’s doing an amazing job.” Quality of life comes from “the ability to communicate extensively, meet new people, try new things, journey to unknown lands, embark on new adventures…for me at least”, he says. At 23, he has experienced times of not being fulfilled which consequently has emphasised a need for “spending [his] time wisely.”
Alex, thank you for making time for a conversation; the pleasure was all mine. The gift of words is lost when they are not shared. May you continue to be generous with your gift of communication. I have no doubt you will “live a life [you] can look back on and be proud of” and have exciting stories to tell.
Keep doing what you’re doing and keep your head held high!
Max Anderson (CYC Member).