We always knew we wanted to do something different with our lives. Without sounding too kitchy; we wanted to make a difference and we wanted to travel. We lived a comfortable middle class life but we hadn’t put away enough for retirement. How can we follow our dreams? You only live once, right? Well maybe; what happens in the afterlife depends upon your beliefs.
My husband and I spent many hours over coffee or wine, trying to plan but we couldn’t figure out how to move forward and when the time would be right. We talked to friends, tried out a few ideas. Nothing seemed to be the right idea. After a few years life happened, and with that our new life started to evolve.
The downturn of 2010 hit us hard. It didn’t happen until a few years later but the spiral had begun. Jobs lost and gained and lost again. We decided that we needed to hold on to what was most important to us, and that was our family. We downsized from our family home and moved into an apartment. We sold everything we could and started to cut out whatever we didn’t feel was necessary.
Once we got our lives in order things slowly started happening. A surprising offer to move to a country on the other side of the world working for a non-profit, or NGO; non-governmental organization. A chance to do something different, and to make a difference. It didn’t happen fast or easily, but it happened and I believe it can happen to anyone if you spend enough time working on it.
Here are some suggestions which may or may not help you, but they are what we went through.
- Plan – the first step is the hardest step. What do you want to do with the rest of your life? We knew we wouldn’t be able to retire in our 50’s and probably not in our 60’s. I don’t want to retire. Most of my life was busy raising our kids and now I wanted some me time – this is my time to prove to the myself that I can do be successful at something other than motherhood. I am not knocking motherhood, raising our kids was the best part of my life and I miss it. I just wanted to do something else. It was different for my husband who put in 60 hours weeks for most of his career. We had to find out what can we do that melds both of our skills and desires.
- Figure Out What’s Important – this part was easier. Our relationship, our family, our future. Moving to the other side of the world has done wonders for our relationship and our future, but being away from family is so difficult. As we aged we also worried about our health more. We have always been active – we enjoy hiking, playing soccer and bike riding. Moving to a developing country we really needed to make sure we were healthy. We are careful about what we eat and don’t take risks which could lead to injuries. We can’t drive so we walk, bike or taxi to our destinations. Taking advantage of all the great fresh fruit and vegetables here and using our own two feet as transportation has helped whittle down our waistlines, another health benefit.
- Get Your Life in Order – do you have money set aside to support your life change? If not, how are you going to manage it? We didn’t have money set aside to help support change so we couldn’t just quit our current jobs and start over. The money in retirement isn’t enough so what is there needs to stay there. This is where we starting cutting out everything we felt wasn’t necessary, which for us included our home. We had refinanced and the mortgage was close to the value of the home, and at that time home values were dropping fast. We decided to sell our home figuring out that rent was about half of what our mortgage was. We quit the gym, cut back on cable, stopped eating out, going to movies, concerts and travel. We started to budget, which meant ordering drip coffee instead of latte’s. Added benefit – less calories.
- Downsize – for us downsizing meant downsize everything. Our cars were almost paid off, thanks to the refinance. By having a smaller place it was necessary to downsize. My new mantra became, “keep what you love.” I had about 5 different styles of dishes. Do I really need that many? I ended up keeping my heirloom dishes and giving away the everyday dishes which meant we were eating on my favorite dishes on a regular basis. Do we need to hold onto every book we have read? What about all the school stuff for the kids? I went through and kept one box for each kid, the rest were given or mailed to their owners. I love to cook and garden – they bring me peace so for me those were the hardest things to go through. My husband is a collector and loves books, watches, pens, sports memorabilia, CD’s, records and the list goes on. In a moment of frenzy I got rid of his records. Probably not my best moment and one I have regretted. Because of that we still have boxes of CD’s. This was our journey, not mine. We had to find the balance.
- Financial Plan – We had to find a budget that work for us, one that we would stick to. After trying many different types I selected the Ramsay plan. You notice that “I” selected, it is because I do the budgeting. Trying to make that a “we” process didn’t work as well although I made my husband go over it with me to make sure it was something we could both work with..
- Network, network, network – So important. Make calls, meet for coffee, say hello at the grocery store. It was our friends that thought of us for this role. At first it didn’t seem like a good fit. My husband has many passions and climate change is one of them, but he didn’t have experience working in the field of climate change. He was looking for a role in a non-profit but he wouldn’t of applied for this job if it hadn’t been brought to him.
- Be Ready – In moving I had to make the decision to leave my job. I loved my job but it was exhausting me. The physical labor was difficult and I was starting to get hurt. To do my job well I needed to put in hours before and after work and I felt guilty coming in late or leaving early to balance out my hours when my co-workers arrived on time, and left on time – even when they were putting in the extra hours. My job was also where we had our benefits and they were excellent benefits which I took advantage of to make up for the demands of my job. When Obamacare allowed for us to keep our two youngest kids on our insurance until they reached 26, so leaving my job meant that they were going to have to find their own insurance.
- Support – It isn’t going to happen if your family isn’t supportive. Our kids were surprisingly our biggest support. Never once did they say anything about us leaving them, but it was always how proud they were and excited for us. It was harder to leave our parents. Mine were going through some of their own life changes as they sold their 9 plus acres and family home. Thankfully we are close family and my siblings are all there to support them. Hardest of all to leave were our two beautiful granddaughters and the knowledge there might be one or two more by the time we return. Skype and Google Hangouts help, but it isn’t enough.
- Setbacks – Things happen. What feels like the perfect plan can unravel. Be prepared to take it in stride, fix what needs to be fixed and start once again. Try to remember to fall forward and learn. When those moments happen for me I get on Skype with my best buds who help me brush off and stand back up.
- Enjoy – change isn’t always easy and you might find at different points along the way that you want to go back to life as it was. Be sure to think this through. During our first year in Vietnam we have often felt, enough is enough. We want to go home. Then something would happen that would make us grateful, once again for the opportunity. A chance meeting with someone who would become a part of our lives, a new experience or the opportunity to make a difference. Take advantage of those moments, because a life reimagined can make the difference between living an ordinary life and an extraordinary life.