On our recent trip to Mexico we had the good fortune to meet Flor, a fascinating 55 year-old Mexican woman who happened to be dining in the rooftop lounge as we enjoyed sunset cocktails. We got chatting and I, being the nosy girl that I am, eventually learned her story.
Flor is 55 years old and single. She has two grown daughters. She is a psychologist and a teacher. Or perhaps I should say she WAS those things. Until one day, as she sat in a huge traffic jam coming home from work, she decided she didn’t want to be either of those things anymore. Her work wasn’t bringing her enough joy, her daughters were independent, there was no romance going on and she was decidedly in the mood for adventure.
So what did Flor do?
She quit her job and set out to be a travel-writer, photographer, adventurer and free-spirit. She set out to truly discover Freedom-55.
At our hotel/hostel she was a “volunteer”. What this means is Flor helps out around the place, is given room and board in return and is then free to satisfy her adventuresome soul in any (inexpensive) way she desires. Oh, how I was beguiled by her life!
She joined us several nights for barbecued fish and tagged along on our scuba/snorkel expedition. Her photos are breathtaking, her travels are exciting, her company is delightful and watching her trying to get into the boat after snorkeling was comedic entertainment at its finest.
So I got to thinking … could I do that? Could I give up my home, my comforts, my privacy (to some degree; her bed is in the hostel part of the complex. Our 2 bedroom apartment was fully private) and my home? Could I scale down my life to backpack size and be content with new experiences and zero acquisitions? More importantly, could I be content with ‘vagabond’ as my identity? I mean sure she is a travel photographer (and a damn good one) and I could probably write up a storm whilst traveling but would that be enough?
Many years ago I found myself in a rather unpleasant work situation. My son was still young (like 6) but in school full-time. I had worked my entire life so when my darling then-husband suggested I quit and just stay home I was incredulous! Whaaat??? I am allowed to do that? I don’t have to quit and then immediately rush out to find a replacement job?
Nope. Apparently I did not. So I quit.
For the next year and a half I enjoyed many creative pursuits, totally dug being a full-time mom and wife and discovered that I didn’t really require an “identity.” I didn’t really require a job description or a fancy title or fame or prestige or outside affirmation. I wore overalls and t-shirts almost every day and relished my new role as … me.
Then came a sweet job offer and 20 years later here we are.
Now the difference between Flor and me is that I had a fab husband supporting my new adventure. But that adventure did make me realize that I am not defined by my career. I am quite happy living a creative life with no remuneration required. I’m never bored and I always find some new pursuit to keep those juices flowing.
So yeah, think I, maybe I could be a full-time vagabond.
Then I remember that in Mexico Flor shares a room with any number of other vagabonds and I’m like … um, nope. Couldn’t do that. I like to do my snoring in private. But the traveling with just a backpack thing? Hell, yeah, I think I could do that. Well I could do it for a while. A good long while. In the sunshine.
But then, much like Joni Mitchell in her song Carey “I’d miss my clean white linen and my fancy French cologne.”
Yep. Probably would.
But that’s the thing. I’d miss my creature comforts. But I have learned as a proud summer-trailer owner that I don’t need much to satisfy me. I don’t need big square footage and fancy furniture and even water frontage. What I need is to be in my happy place with people (and dogs) that I love. And I can meet people (and dogs) all over the world.
I think on some level it’s different for dudes. I think men are far more defined by their work and their titles. That’s not to say that some women don’t also fall into that category. I just thing that more men tend to fear ‘retirement’. They are SO used to achieving and producing that a life of experiencing and savouring with no end-game and no acknowledgment or recognition is actually terrifying. I think it’s a bit of a cavemen mentality. A woman can still feel useful at home, tending to children (and grandchildren), cooking and nurturing and administering. A man is more likely to “need” a dragon or two to slay. Some “bacon” to bring home. Some affirmation from his “people” that he is still vital and viable and dare I say it … virile.
I could be wrong.
I just know that my friend J is actually dreading retirement. Freedom 65 or Freedom 75 be damned, J needs a purpose! Sure he has many hobbies and passions but it is the WORK purpose that has defined him all these years. And he is terrified that without that purpose he will become … a ghost. Unlike my other friend T who is a woman. A woman with a highly successful career which she abandoned the moment her pension topped out. Sure, she worked part-time for several years thereafter, just because it was now just fun (and maybe a bit challenging) but even she got tired of that grind and eventually embraced retirement and all its perks with gratitude and gusto!
But J cannot. He has more money than he could possibly ever spend and still he cannot.
I don’t ever want to tell anyone what to do but I think J needs to tear a sheet out of Flor’s new playbook. Open up the oyster that is the world. Vagabond the crap out of this planet. Meet new people and share experiences and be defined by WHO YOU ARE as opposed to WHAT YOU DO.
For a living.
Because ‘for a living’ implies making money. And yes, of course we all need income to survive.
Flor goes home every now and then to tend to her aged mother and to earn some money. Doing ‘whatever’. Whatever in takes to help finance her next adventure. This intelligent, articulate, classy broad does ‘whatever’ to sustain herself and her dreams.
I love that.
So the question remains – could you really do Freedom 55? Or 65? Are you actually ready to embrace the next chapter of your life? Maybe even create a new identity? Maybe be content without any identity at all?
You can follow Flor’s travels @TravelwithPOwer on Instagram and Facebook.
And then decide.
Because Freedom always gives you the right (or opportunity) to choose. And then act on that choice.
Just like my courageous friend Flor.