When I’m not supporting small business owners I’m writing about monkeys, playing with my dog or exploring the world with my wife.

I’ve never been one to focus on a career. For a moment as an early teen, I wanted to be a vet, but an incompetent careers guidance counsellor and then a missed grade scuppered that dream. However, I’ve always had a vague sense of direction in life, one driven by continuous learning and a desire for a healthy, balanced life.

As a teenager, I had seen what an unhealthy, stressful life had done for my dad, and I didn’t want that. From the time I left high-school in 1998, up until 2014, I’ve pretty much been a student with part-time jobs and bank loans to pay for my studies and adventures. Except for one year when I was a zookeeper in a Midlands zoo looking after parrots and penguins and two weeks I spent selling gas and electric utilities door-to-door.

I mostly studied apes and monkeys and specialised in studying the ways humans and other animals communicate. I’ve chased chimpanzees through the riverine forests of the East African Rift Valley; observed red-tailed monkeys leap through the tree canopy in Western Uganda and followed olive baboons closely as they stomp through the jungles of Eastern Nigeria. And as you can see, I have a passion for forests and I loved the two years that I spent living in them, almost completely isolated from the world.

olive baboon karima in Nigeria
david in jungle
kakama male chimpanzee portrait
chimpanzees grooming

The greatest challenge in all my years of study was the final three years of what became a seven-year PhD programme. For the first three years, I had a scholarship and some savings got me through the fourth year, which should have given me enough time to finish my thesis. But when I came back from collecting data in Nigeria in summer 2008, I was weak and sick. It took me months to fully recuperate. And once I had recovered, I had no money left and needed to find a job to support myself – I managed to find four.

During the day I ran doggie daycare and dog walking service. While the dogs rested after a long walk in Richmond Park, I worked as a virtual assistant helping a handful of small business owners with some invoicing and answering some email enquiries. A few evenings each week, I served drinks in a private tennis and squash club. And at the weekends I offered a tutorial service to University students, helping them design their final year projects and then analyse their data.

david with pepper and toby
baxter and gracie
cooper
mimi
poppy and eddy
hendrix

All this work kept me very busy. I enjoyed the diversity of the work and I got super fit walking dogs every day. They were also a welcome distraction from writing my thesis, which was becoming an almost impossible task with no end in sight. By the end of 2009, I was ready to give up. I wanted to walk away from my thesis and get on with my life.

And then at a party on New Year’s Eve in London, I met a French girl, and I had yet another distraction, but she was the most beautiful of distractions.

She returned to France, and we stayed in touch. I didn’t speak or write French, so we conversed in English, through a few phone calls but mostly by letter and email. After several months we were hopping back and forwards between London and Paris on the Eurostar as often as we could afford it.

After a year and a half, I was still struggling to write my PhD thesis and could barely earn enough to pay my bills. I’d even replaced the cleaner in our apartment as a way to make a bit more money.

After a difficult conversation with my girlfriend to explain that I could no longer afford to travel to Paris to see her, she suggested that I come over to Paris and live with her. She’d support me financially so that I could leave all the jobs and focus on just my thesis. And I did just that.

On the 3rd of July 2011, I loaded all my belongings into 29 boxes. I set off at 10 pm with two Romanians and their white truck, travelling the night as we crossed the English Channel on the cargo train and then into France to arrive early morning in the quaint western suburb of Saint-Germain-en-Laye where my girlfriend lived. And it’s where she and I still live as husband and wife.

david and bene in machu picchu
david and bene in garden
david and bene on glacier
david and bene kayaking
david and bene in canada

It’s now been almost 11 years since I started doing a little administrative work for small business owners as a way to support myself as I finished my PhD. In that time I’ve worked with business owners in real estate, marketing, arts, personal and business coaching, training and consultancy, mystery shopping, complementary therapy, safeguarding children, custom furniture, theatre, circus, a homelessness charity and an NGO.

For some clients, I’m a virtual assistant. For others, I’m an online business manager, copywriter, web developer, technical support or coach. It all depends on what they’re looking for – someone to advise, someone to implement, someone to create or someone to manage.

In whatever role I assume for clients, however, my goal is always the same – to help them get stuff done as simply and as organised as possible, giving them space in their lives for other things. And the reward for me is the diversity of the work I’m given. Over the years I’ve specialised in being a generalist. And I love it!

Simplicity, organisation and making space are important principles that run through my life. They’re the reason that despite an offer to move into a corporate job, I stuck with my home business supporting clients around the world. My business allows me to manage my own time and energy, work from wherever I want and gives me plenty of time to be with my wife and dog, read and write almost every day and do a whole other number of things that I’m interested in. At the moment I’m learning the ride a unicycle (and it’s much harder than I ever thought).