I knew Pete would be someone with a colourful life story even before we had met. The second I turned the corner on his steep gravel driveway and saw his not exactly ordinary home, I knew this would be someone with stories to tell.
Pete lives in a pretty spectacular old house truck on a beautiful property roughly two hours north of Auckland.
While his house truck might look a bit dated from the outside, on the inside, you find beautiful handcrafted wood cabinetry, colourful glass windows and a bed with windows above to watch the stars and moon before falling asleep. When stepping outside, you get to enjoy views over nothing but green hills and nature with the occasional little house thrown in. The setting is exactly where you would expect to find someone like Pete. Someone who is content with life and has found inner peace, someone who understands that happiness is a mindset and someone who values freedom more than anything else.
But Pete says, it was a long journey to get to this point. In his twenties, he was the typical young kiwi bloke with big dreams, focused on getting ahead and making money. However, even back then he never felt like he really fitted in, always feeling just that little bit on the outside. He partly blames his DNA, saying that the ‘loner gene' runs in his family.
But as a young man, he still found himself chasing ‘normal'.
Trained as a diesel mechanic, his dreams and itchy feet led him to move to Indianapolis in the U.S. in his early twenties, and for a while, it looked like he would follow the traditional path in life. He met and married an American woman and became the step-dad to her three children, and he worked hard, chasing his dream of a becoming an engineer in the top echelons of motorsport.
Until his dream came true.
After years of hard work, Pete was at the top of his field, working to build, optimise and service some of the fasts cars in the world at the epicentre of car racing: The Indy500. He had achieved his dream. Ironically, his dream coming true is what then sent him into a downward spiral. Suddenly, Pete found himself aimless and without a goal to work towards. He’d been so focused on chasing this dream that he thought would bring him happiness and fulfilment that he never thought about what he would actually do once he got there.
Without new goals, things took a turn for the worse. Pete ended up walking away from his career as a race car engineer and his marriage fell apart. After a series of odd jobs (including working as a clown for a while), a major personal tragedy involving a close friend, a truck accident, falling in with the wrong crowd and picking up a cocaine habit, Pete hit rock bottom and was living on the streets in Indianapolis. When winter came, and the first snow started falling, Pete decided it's time to go home.
After 12 years of highs and lows in the United States, he got on a plane and returned to Auckland.
While those last few years in the U.S. have been some of the hardest of his life, Pete also says they taught him many valuable lessons. He learned that life is more about the journey than the destination and about the importance of having goals to chase. He learned that achieving your dreams doesn't automatically lead to lasting happiness and fulfilment. And he learned that settling down and living the traditional 5-9 kind of life just isn’t for him.
With these insights and renewed energy, Pete set out to build a new life for himself back home in New Zealand. He worked as an engineer on boats spending much time out at sea to save some money. Eventually, he was able to buy a sailing boat to make his home. He spent many years living on the boat until he decided he was getting too old for life at sea and bought his house truck and settled back on land.
During these years, Pete found a work-life balance that works for him. Instead of working a regular job five days a week, like most people do, Pete takes on contracts as an engineer where he works hard for several months and then takes several months off in between to enjoy life. While the lack of income security might make many others nervous, Pete says it’s perfect for him. Living a basic life in nature means he doesn’t need a lot of money to get by and being free of mortgages or other debt means he isn’t tied down and under pressure to make money.
This on-off work life also gives him the perfect balance between having lots of social interaction with colleagues while working and enjoying the quieter and more solitary life, first on the boat and now on the land.
Several years ago, his search for meaning and purpose introduced Pete to Buddhism.
Drawn towards the openness of the religion, it’s foundation around teachings and wisdom rather than rules and commandments, and its focus on mindset and our inner world, Pete says Buddhism just felt right for him from the first time he engaged with it. As someone who had long been on a different path in life, Buddhism has helped him find inner peace and to accept himself fully for who he is. Pete says that at this point in his life he had been feeling empty and lonely for a long time and Buddhism helped him overcome that - to the point where he no longer feels lonely even though he still spends a lot of time alone. The teachings have also made him more patient and content, less judgemental, and often enable him to see both sides in arguments or conflicts. All of this has helped him develop better, more meaningful relationships - with others but also with himself.
Something that worries Pete about the world today is how we’re moving more and more to a self-centred society where everyone is focused on themselves. He feels that today, we always expect something in return for everything we do – even when we do favours for friends or family. One Buddhist teaching that really resonates with him is to “give without expectation”. He thinks the world could be a much better place if we were all more giving and would be supporting each other without always expecting something in return.
Talking to Pete, you get the feeling he is someone who has come full circle in life. Having felt a bit like the odd one out for most of his life, it took him years of learning about life and himself before he got to a point where he is content and can accept himself for who he is. And it might be easy to think that his life would have been better and easier if had figured those things out earlier but, like all of us, Pete wouldn't be who he is today without the experiences that have shaped him – both the good and the bad.
While certainly content, he is not without regrets.
If there is one thing he would do differently, Pete says it would be to think ahead and plan for old age more. Even though he lives a very basic lifestyle and doesn’t need much, he does think life would be easier if he had some passive income now that he is getting old. His advice to others is to be smart and find the right balance. Don’t waste your life chasing more money than you need to be happy but also “never forget that you are gonna get old”. Don’t ignore the fact that one day you will be old and you might get sick and having some level of financial security can help tremendously in living a good life into old age.
Pete’s advice for young people is as simple as this;
“Be nice. Stand up for yourself. Try lots of things. And do what makes you happy!”
And that is exactly what he is planning to do with the rest of his life. He is looking forward to work on the land, helping the owners to plant and grow food that they will then give to those in need. Pete says what motivates him today is the idea to leave something behind, that he can plant trees and seeds that will provide food for people who need it until long after he is gone. That will be his legacy.
What I learnt from Pete:
Life’s a journey!! It’s not about a destination or achievements but about embracing the journey that we’re on, having some faith that things happen for a reason, being willing to give without always expecting something in return, and making the most of what we have every day.