The Pursuit of Happiness is something innate to all humans, but we all go about it in different ways. In this series of articles people from every walk of life share their experience of making the decision to be happy, grabbing life by the horns, and taking the plunge into a happier and healthier life. If you’d like to contribute your own story, please contact me.
It’s Never Too Late
I’ve been married 33 years and, like you, my husband and I followed all the paths prescribed in the American dream: education, family and climbing the career ladder to success. We lived in a water front home on north Padre Island in Corpus Christi, TX: a beautiful place to live and retire.
My husband had been “downsized” which, due to the economy, had led to early retirement. He filled his time with many volunteer activities, friends and hobbies. I was a hospital pharmacist and worked with people I enjoyed but, gradually, my work became less satisfying and more frustrating. We started talking (a little) about our growing restlessness but we were doing everything right, weren’t we? I remember looking around at our beautiful house and all the things we had collected over the years and saying to myself “I do NOT want to keep working at a job that makes me miserable to maintain a bunch of stuff I don’t care about anymore”.
So, I began following travel blogs (yours was one) and reading online articles about early retirement, location independence and what other people were doing to redefine their lifestyles. I was gratified to discover that there was a growing community of adults and even baby boomers like us who were also unsatisfied with the “American dream”. This realization, that people like us were actively pursuing new directions spurred us to make our life altering decision: we began to envision an alternative to our previously anticipated retirement years. We decided that we would do something we had talked about vaguely: travel. We would travel with no clear end game, no ultimate destination, no place to which we must return.
We began in August 2011 and started making up lists of what needed to be done. We went through two garage sales, endless Craig’s list postings, shipping treasured items across country to new homes, etc. We finally got our stuff down to what we would need to travel. We put our finances in order, leased the house long term (still waiting for the real estate market to recover), arranged for worldwide health insurance, addressed issues of taxes, voting, medical records, and especially, how to stay in touch with all those who are important to us.
Deviating from the norm and choosing to change our future was and has been an evolving process. Leaving a secure job and home we loved was frightening but even more terrifying was the thought of staying in a lifestyle that no longer made us happy and left the question “WHAT IF…” unanswered. As we let our possessions go we felt our priorities shift too: each thing we shed was one less thing to take care of or worry about. As our house emptied of all the things that were once so important to us we felt lighter and more focused on anticipating a future where experiences would be our priority.
Some of our friends and family expressed complete bafflement over our decision to leave. We had so much- how could we leave? Didn’t we know that Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, etc. were destitute and dangerous places filled with people who hated Americans? What if we got sick, robbed, kidnapped, died…? Many people, however, shared their own longing to change direction and I kept wanting to say “Do it. Do it NOW”. Don’t buy that new television, car or house: that ball and chain that’s keeping you tied to the same place… Figure out how to let go and take the PLUNGE.
We left our island home on September 11, 2012. The cars were loaded to the gills with “stuff”, but all of that was destined for our son in Colorado. We drove to Colorado, left the vehicles with all that remained of our worldly goods and said our goodbyes to family. On September 19th we took off from the Denver International Airport for Mexico with two laptops loaded with all our photos, scanned copies of documents and other important information, two kindle e-readers with extensive libraries, two cameras, and two suitcases each.
We’ve been travelling for 9 months now (by bus) and are currently in Antigua, Guatemala. Along the way we took a CELTA class to teach English as a Second language and volunteered for two months at an all-girls public school. We’ve met more people and made more friends in the last few months than in the entire 10 years we lived in Texas. We’ve started our own blog and have loved exploring this area of the world. We have no set itinerary or schedule. We plan to NOT PLAN and follow opportunities and interests at our own pace. In the immortal words of Dr. Seuss, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose”. Finally, we have no regrets about our decision and, I feel, are pursuing a different path to happiness.