The view from Solsbury Hill. Credit: Bill Boese

I worked in I.T. for 25 years. After earning a Ph.D. in Chemistry but not finding suitable employment, it was my second choice career. I never enjoyed the work, but I was good at it, and it paid the bills that come along with a family. Later in my career, when my kids were grown and out of the house, the pressure to earn money waned. My only source of meaning, an extrinsic one at that, evaporated. I woke up every day and tried to take on my work day, but I was like a balloon with all the air let out. I had nothing left to give. I needed a change.

After a particularly hopeless and frustrating day at work, I finally sought out and began working with a therapist. I learned that depression, which I suffer from, and which runs in my family, contributes to the hopelessness that made me believe I had no other options for my future. We also talked about uncertainty, and the need to accept it if I was going to get out of the trap that I was in. I struggled to let go of my old life.

Why not leave? Find a new job. Do something different with your life. It sounds simple and reasonable now. Unfortunately, it is like telling a person who suffers from depression to “snap out of it”. After spending so many years in the container of my work life, I could see no other possibility for myself. My therapist asked me what I thought would happen if I quit my job. My honest answer was that I thought I would be financially ruined and would end up homeless. My view of the future was a long dark tunnel with impervious walls that blocked out any view of something different. There could only be work. There was no other option.

One day while driving to therapy, I listened to a Spotify playlist of music from my youth (late 70’s and 80’s), and the Peter Gabriel song “Solsbury Hill” came on. I had always liked it, but now I focussed on the lyrics.

I discovered that the song, penned at the time the artist left the group Genesis, is about his experience changing course in his life and career. It is a song about finding the inspiration to make the hard decision that is required to let go and start over. I also learned that Solsbury Hill of the song’s title is an actual place, the hilltop site of an Iron Age fort near Bath, England called Little Solsbury Hill.

I am not a rock star, but as I listened to this song, over and over, it spoke to me. I found a quote from Peter Gabriel when asked about the meaning of the song.

“It’s about being prepared to lose what you have for what you might get, or what you are for what you might be. It’s about letting go.”1

That quote resonated with me. Peter Gabriel defied conventional wisdom and walked away from his successful career to pursue a different path, and it worked out for him. 

I could let go too. I could let go of the career that kept me trapped and miserable. I was in the same place, in a rut. Not many people would walk away at my stage of life. It would seem strange and be hard for people to understand. But to move forward in life I would have to let go first, accept the fact that there was no certainty in the future. 

The song became my mantra. I listened to it in the car on repeat, singing along and hoping the message of hope would help me to become unstuck and leave my old life. I listened until it left an imprint on me, like a tattoo.

In therapy I made progress. I started creating the new me.  

My therapist challenged my narrow view of the future. We worked on accepting change and uncertainty as something not to be feared, but a part of the journey I was on. I began to enjoy the process of changing my life. I became (and still am) grateful for the opportunity and good fortune to be able to go on this adventure of self-actualization. I realized that leaving my job would not ruin my life. It was an irrational fear. I left my full-time job over two years ago and I am thriving. I found the courage to leave my old career behind. I learned painting and photography in my fifties and started writing. While I do none of them for a living, they are new parts of me that I have discovered in this new act in my life. 

While I have come far, there are still bad days. Progress never seems to follow a smooth upward curve on a chart. It is jagged, with spikes up and down all along the way. But if you draw a line through it, the trend is positive. I wanted to continue moving forward and upward.

And so it was, that this new version of me, this work in progress, stood on an overcast February day in Alice Park. It is a small, tidy, local park on the outskirts of Bath, England. It is also the starting point in most accounts2 for the walk to the top of Little Solsbury Hill. I arrived after an overnight flight to London and a train to Bath Spa Station. The whole journey took around 12 hours but was a lifetime in the making.

I started the hike up Solsbury Hill with a bound. The eponymous Peter Gabriel song was blaring in my headphones. I strutted out of the park with a broad smile. The drumbeat of the song is urgent, driving, in 7/4 time1. The next measure sounds like it starts before the last one ends. The effect moves me forward, up the hill.

Soon I was along the busy A46, but I opted instead for a parallel, quiet, uphill lane through a residential neighborhood. Still climbing I passed the last of the houses and followed the public footpath signs. I was soon alone on a wide green grassy sweep of a farmers’ field. I secured the gate at the exit, I did not want to be responsible for any sheep escaping, and left the field. Then I faced the first challenge of the walk. The footpath signs pointed to a wide path up a steep hill. The path was submerged in ankle-deep puddles and mud. I struggled up the hill along the borders of the path, which were somewhat less slippery but covered in shrubs and thorns. Still clutching my phone for purposes of photography and navigation, I slipped and fell forward. I somehow managed to arrest my fall with both hands and landed in a high plank position. The only damage was mud all over my hands and phone and a few scratches from the thorns. 

I stood there for a few minutes and gathered my thoughts. Though my muddy phone said I was near the top, I could not see anything past the trees and bushes. I put my phone away, kept my hands free to balance, and continued up the muddy path. The day had started chilly and damp but now I was sweating through my clothes as I slowly muddled forward. It didn’t seem possible that something so near could take so long to reach.

I emerged from the muck and thorns onto a narrow country road that I needed to follow for a few hundred meters. I was relieved to be on firmer ground. The next hazard soon presented itself, a hurried driver in a small SUV was barreling downhill on the road towards me. It showed no inclination to slow down, so I scrambled into the hedges on the side of the road to avoid it. 

Soon, I was back on the footpath and zig-zagging around the deepest mud and making arduous progress towards what had to be Solsbury Hill. I stopped in front of one vast expanse of swamp blocking my upward path. I was tired. My feet were so caked with mud they were heavy as cinderblocks. I thought for a moment about giving up, finding a way back down.

Then I decided to look up. I had been staring at my feet and the mud for so long, it had been a while since I looked up or very far ahead. The steep grassy hill to the top was now in front of me, I could see the stone trig point in the distance. I had thought about turning around, but now, with the hilltop in sight, there was no going back.

The stone trig point. Credit: Bill Boese

Soon I was on the top. I made it. I unzipped my coat and let the cold wind blow over me. I lingered there and walked the perimeter of the hill over and over, taking in the views of Bath and the other towns below. It had been a much more difficult trip than I thought it would be, but I did it. I did a hard thing. I was not anticipating a transformational moment when I got there, some lightning bolt of insight or new awareness. I was happy and relieved to have arrived, for the place to now occupy a spot in my memory, my story.

The top. Credit: Bill Boese

After having seen it all and being present for the experience, it was time to go down. During my time on top of the hill, a few other people and dogs joined me. They did not appear muddy or tired like me. I watched as a few others came up a much easier path on the opposite side of the hill from which I arrived. I was grateful that the way there had been hard, but had no interest in repeating it, so I completed the traverse by walking down a nearby road to the neighboring town of Batheaston. 

Back at home, I thought about the experience and what it meant. Before I left, I had been planning a short-term return to my old career. No big commitment, just 6 or 12 months working another IT job to put some money back in the bank. I had rationalized the whole thing before I left. I was sure I wasn’t backsliding, I was being prudent. I told myself it would be too hard to start a new line of work this late in life, and my new-found hobbies could always wait.

Now that I finished my trip it was time to update my resume and find that new job. I couldn’t do it. Each time I tried to start, my chest felt heavy, and I had a knot in my stomach that was not present before I left. I had convinced myself that I would go back for a short time, but now, when faced with doing it, it was impossible. 

Then I realized the meaning and significance of my pilgrimage to Solsbury Hill. I had worked hard to change my life. I had come a long way emotionally before I climbed up that hill. In traveling there, I had also gone physically far. I had arrived at the top of Solsbury Hill after doing so much work, even the hike itself was a challenge. But it all had led me to that place. The journey reinforced my commitment to my new course. I had come too far to go back now.

  1. Unterberger, Andrew. “10 Reasons Peter Gabriel’s ‘Solsbury Hill’ Is One of the Greatest Songs of All Time.” Billboard, 25 Feb. 2017,
  2. “Little Solsbury Hill Walk.” Discover Bath, 8 Jan 2021,

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