You know that feeling you get when you move into a new house and everything around you, the smells, the light, the physical space, are so different to what you are used to? You imagine living in this space as a new chapter. Or the first day in a new school where you don’t know anyone? The butterflies in your stomach which are a weird combination of extreme anticipation for a clean start and new experiences, mixed with a strong desire to run away and throw up. Have you ever felt this? I have loved this experience, a few times in my life. The see-saw of emotions marks some of the best periods of my life and I yearn to experience it once more. Then again, I’ve had some pretty difficult transition times after a big move to a new job or school. When I remember those experiences, I vow to protect myself from that kind of misery. I rationalize that I’m probably too old for that type of adventure anyway. Sounds like a great deal of work.
There is an old saying – ‘be careful what you wish for, you might just get it’.
December 16, 2016 – was my last day of work in the corporate office, where my cubicle was located. My last commute. There was a last lunch, with some nice speeches and presents. Maybe there was even a cake. This ritual was the same as it had been for others before me and will not likely change in the future. My days in the typical corporate, institutional environment were at an end and I could not be happier. At least that is how I thought I should feel.
I drove home early that day, feeling a little stunned. I thought I would be overjoyed, this was a big deal! I was supposed to be on cloud nine, floating high in the sky, euphoric even. It was not like that, though. Maybe I was tired. After all, the Christmas rush was upon us now. Time to turn my attention to the holidays and all the fun it would be.
I ended the year with a bang. Down in Cabo San Lucas, with my husband, sister and brother-in-law, we partied like it was going out of style. I don’t remember the last time I woke up drunk on New Year’s day. Sometime later, I moved into a hangover state, mixed with extreme anxiety. I was so upset with myself for what I had done. Which was? I don’t know. Lost control. Wasted 8 hours in a lounge chair on the beach, sipping water and going to the bathroom to pee. What a start to my year. My new, wonderful life was feeling a lot like my old life.
Back home in mid January, I attacked my new life with the same gusto as I had done in my old life. It was all about digging into the details. Starting with reviewing last year, setting goals and objectives, and then looking for ways to improve my performance. I was effectively transferring the habits of my corporate working life over to my freedom life. I had planners filled out, every moment scheduled and colour coded. I was going to be productive. My ambitious deadlines were set.
If you are reading this and thinking it sounds strange, rest assured, it is. I was convinced that I had been successful in the past by acting in a certain way and all I needed to do was plug that formula in to my new circumstances. Easy peasy. It only took about a week for me to start seeing the flaws in my thinking. I did not have that feeling of adventure, that first day of school butterflies mixed with exciting and scary, which I yearned for. Instead of being energized, I wanted to sleep.
Maybe my calculations were off. After all the years of working full-time, I probably needed a break. I gave myself permission to hide the planner away. Then I borrowed lots of books from the library, I pulled out loads of yarn from my stash and spent many hours, (days and weeks), watching Netflix. My husband was not worried, per se. He agreed, I needed some time to process everything and adjust.
Then we decided to do something really big. We had talked about living in Europe for a year. That idea evolved into a year of travel. We picked a date to leave and made our first Airbnb booking. This was non-refundable, paid for, we were not changing our mind on a whim. That day in March was really exciting. Finally, something in my middle-aged life was going to be very different. Each day was going to be unexpected. I was so excited. When will this start? I had to wait for 7 more months. That was a bit of a let down.
Planning for long-term travel requires so many small steps, taken over a long period of time. For hours and hours, as I sat at my computer researching, in my mind, I had taken our trip so many times over, as I anticipated everything I booked. As much work as this is, I still had a lot of time on my hands each day. I was not having much luck getting back on track with the goals I set for myself in January. I started to feel bad about myself, for not doing enough, fast enough. I felt like I didn’t have anything to show for myself. My husband never once said, “what did you do all day?” But I felt the weight of it all the same. When was I going to get out of this slump? Had I lost some kind of edge which I once had?
My past wouldn’t leave me alone at night, when I went to sleep. Even though I was super tired all the time, I was afraid of the crazy dreams that dogged me. I wondered how this could be normal? There were people from different companies I had worked for, mixing together in one dream. Sometimes my family would be there. Sometimes friends that had nothing to do with my work, from a long time ago, would stroll in. None of it made any sense. In the morning I would feel really out of sorts, trying to understand what on earth my subconscious mind was pondering all night long.
Anticipating our big year, I started to learn all kinds of new things. I bought a new DSLR camera and started shooting video. Along with learning about that, I added in video editing and created a youtube channel. This was another social media platform on top of all the others I was attending to. Consuming content started to take up a bunch of time, more than it should have. I was not creating so much in those days. I could hardly blame my kids for wasting so much time on youtube, I was in the same boat. I rationalized my consumption as education. But I was really falling down the rabbit hole and wasting hours on end.
I travelled a little, maybe too much in hindsight. I was still spending money as if there was lots more where that came from. I wasn’t over spending what we had, but I could have spent it more wisely. Hindsight I suppose. We went on a family trip to Arizona in March. Then I went on a girls trip with my 2 besties to Barcelona. After that I met my husband in Amsterdam. I knew, at the time, these trips would put a strain on our budget. Instead of changing my plan and cancelling those trips, I worried about money constantly. This could have been caused by the fact that this was the first time in our married life where either one of us, seriously paid attention to our household budget. Shocking.
By late Spring, I still felt like the same person as I was before, in my corporate life. Except now, I had no job and no money coming in. My thoughts about starting a business were locked in my computer as ideas, trapped in a 79 page document. I was anxious much of the time, although I started to enjoy Monday mornings. Everyone in my house went away and I had the place to myself. I had nowhere to go, and no time I had to be there. My week was a blank slate. Which was probably not a good thing for me, a person who likes to plan and organize and generally accomplish stuff.
In my wonderful, new adventure life, I had not factored in my 2 teenagers. Now that I was home full-time, and my husband was travelling, I was on deck. I was the parent who fielded all the teen drama. Both what my kids had created for me to discover and the stuff that was being thrown at them. Man, I didn’t love high school when I went through it. I sure didn’t like their version either. Times had changed, the stakes were higher and I was the old one who was clearly not cool. I was there to help and guide my offspring and they seemed to be treating me like hired help. I felt like they were taking me for granted. (Welcome to the life of a stay home parent.)
I didn’t even have a car when I might have needed one. I had to schedule my errands and grocery shopping with my husband, which felt like we were back in the 1950’s and he was giving me an allowance. Instead of feeling the adventure in this change, I felt put out. Most things were the same in our home and life, but some routines were more inconvenient. At those moments, I really had to check myself. What on earth was I thinking by booking a year of travel if I couldn’t be flexible to do things in a different way? For our first 2 months in Barcelona, how were the groceries going to get to my doorstep, magic Spanish fairies?
At the mid year point, my whole planning process kicked into high gear. Lots of details needed to get worked out. There was a day by day calendar on the wall to keep track of it all. This is a book/course/worksheet in and of itself. (More on that later, stay tuned). Suffice to say we had to downsize. Stuff had to be sold, everything had to get packed up to allow tenants to move into our home. Other essentials for a year of travel needed to be purchased. We had to fit everything we wanted to travel with into a 23 kilogram checked bag, one for each of us. Yikes.
So many other details needed to be sorted out. Immunizations, travel insurance, in case of emergency plans, etc. Every time I turned around there was another item on my list. I handled this kind of pressure pretty well. Not just at that time, but usually. It was a short burst of activity, just a few months and then we would finally be underway. I was getting more and more excited.
By this point, much of the worry I had carried, throughout the first half of the year was melting away. I was starting to find my way and relax. Turns out, I didn’t need to prove myself to my family. They loved me as I was. The more I accepted and valued myself, the more they did too. My son and my husband thanked me for being at home when they needed me. Any thoughts of not contributing enough were of my own making. My efforts were starting to pay off, in ways I had not anticipated and had not recorded in my goals and objectives. I was easing into this post corporate life. Even though it was technically a huge change, it was not like turning a key in a lock. It was more like walking down a forested trail where everything looks the same, tree after tree. But when you move from point A to point B, you are clearly not where you started.
Wheels up for our travel adventure, after visiting family for the summer. We landed in Barcelona and became digital nomads. Everything was different, but much was the same. Each of my kids had their own room, in our flat and preferred to be alone or staring into their devices. I was expected to make their meals, organize the grocery shopping, clean up and generally run the house. My husband was travelling or working from a nearby coffee shop. I felt most of my energy was being wasted on being a Mother, keeping everything running as I had done back home for most of the year leading up to our departure.
As with most events in my life, change takes place slowly. Nothing seems to happen all at once anymore. Day after day I wake up and sense something small has shifted. This pattern repeats and then I realize months later, something big happened while I wasn’t looking. So it was with our travelling family.
Our month in Cambodia was probably the biggest turning point. Nothing significant happened, no one eureka moment. Rather it was daily observation and learning about the people, their lives and the Khmer culture, which had the biggest effect on our habits and thought processes. In Cambodia, I have learned more about myself in 30 days, than I have in 30 years. Each day, as I lived amongst the Cambodian people I was reminded about another important life lesson, something I know, but have let slip away. Appreciating what I have and making the most of my talents, offering what I can without expecting anything in return. I have finally figured out how to live free. This took a year, but it has been worth it. I have Cambodia, a place where most people have so little, to thank, for teaching me.
For our last flight of 2017, we are heading down to the Southern hemisphere to spend our Christmas vacation in Bali. In truth, no day is a vacation for a digital nomad. But everyday is wonderful. Something we don’t need a break from. (The kids might disagree, they would probably have preferred to take a gap year from school.) The rhythms of our life together, being on the road, doing our work, we have each found our groove. I’ve finally figured out how to place a higher priority on the work I want to do. In that, I have discovered it is not really work, but rather my mission to serve. I want my creations to be of benefit to someone else, just as they have been to me, during the process of bringing them to life.
Speaking of creations, in case you missed it, check out, What would an epic creative retreat look like to you? And, or take a few minutes to complete my survey of the same name. Your insights are greatly appreciated! To those who have kindly shared ideas, thank-you! Some really awesome gems in there, which will make a retreat truly epic.
Join me in this creative journey. I think it will be worth your time. I look forward to hearing from you! Use any form of communication which feels comfortable. Email, social media or even, if you want to give me a call, I can reached at cwestermark on Skype. Together, let us see where we can take this.
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Daily Creatives Resources:
: : “Fruitless at 40: Rediscovering My Creative Power“
: : Be bold! Join, start or share in a social movement
: : After 25 years, why I walked away from my beloved career
: : What would an epic creative retreat look like for you?
Our travel year:
: : We are a Canadian family, on a year-long trip, planning on 32 cities, 18 countries over 4 continents.
: : Dad is working in Europe and Asia, Teens are doing distance education for grades 11 and 9, Mom is keeping it all together, writing, taking photos and making videos.
: : Join me, Christine on a quest for a creative life, everyday.
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