Freedom 55 … Could You Do It … and Truly Be Free?

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.

Or not.

Because Freedom always gives you the right (or opportunity) to choose. And then act on that choice.

Just like my courageous friend Flor.

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Why You Should Pay It Forward … Again and Again and Again.

I’ve always been pretty good at paying back. When I say “pretty good” what I mean is if I borrow money I pay it back (except for my parents – sorry about that) and if I borrow a book I give it back (except for my sister’s copy of “Eat, Pray, Love” which she is never getting back) and if I receive a dinner invitation I reciprocate and if someone invites me to spend a week with them at their villa in Italy I bring lots of wine and cook all the meals. For the record, this has not yet happened but I’m just putting it out there in case the Universe is listening.

Paying it back seems natural and honorable. But what about paying it forward? Honorable yes but perhaps not quite so natural. As children we are not “trained” to do good deeds with no hope of compensation. It is something we must experience, enjoy, teach ourselves and then do it again … and again.

Why?

Well … karma can be a wonderful thing. But that’s not the real reason. We don’t pay it forward in the hopes that something magical will befall us due to our selfless altruism. Indeed I might purport that is the opposite of benevolence that leads us to pay it forward. We do it because it makes US feel good.

And then if karma shows up to bless us, even better. But this is no bargain with the gods. There is no guarantee. So we do it just because we can.

As I prepare to move house yet again I am reminded of my first two moves. Move #1 was into a new build so the place was contractor-clean. But even though my sales agreement stipulated no such thing, I left my townhouse professionally polished. Down to every shelf and cupboard. I also left a bottle of wine on the kitchen counter with a card wishing the new occupants well. It felt nice and it felt right.

Weeks went by and my vagabond cat kept wandering the five blocks back to our former abode. The new tenants eventually did the math, called the realtors, got my number, called me and said “We think your orange cat wants to live with us.” Turns out he didn’t. He was just … um … mentally and directionally challenged. Now they could have just said “Shoo!” and ignored him but they did not. They went above and beyond.

I’d like the think karma was at work here.

When I left my second home and moved to a new city I again left my place sparkling. Alas my new (old) house was anything but. Not only had it not been cleaned, the owners had actually left junk behind. Baby formula. Jars of pickles. An old sleeping bag, some sticks of furniture and a garage full of crap.

I refused to get upset. I simply informed my lawyer, held up closing until they ponied up $500, loaded up a truck and carted all the stuff to the dump. Sure it was a hassle and sure it wasn’t my responsibility but I had every intention of starting my new life in my new town positively.

So now you may be saying “Well, see! Paying it forward doesn’t always work! Sometimes you do good and get kicked in the shins!”

No doubt true.

But Move #4 was also into a pristine property. As was Move #5. Both times what I left behind was what I entered. Hotel-room clean homes.

So I got to thinking … maybe paying it forward doesn’t always reap immediate rewards. Except of course for that “Damn, I feel good!” reward. But maybe when we pay it forward by habit we set the stage for it to habitually be paid back to us? Maybe that’s how the Universe works? They say it’s an echo. What you send out, you get back. All I know is I won a lot of super-clean houses and only one notsomuch.

So now we ready ourselves for yet another change. We already have possession of the new property and I can tell you with great glee that when we took said possession said new property was immaculate. Not only was it hotel-room clean, the former owner left us paint. And flooring. And other gizmos and thingies that we might need. Everything was labelled and beautifully presented. Plus he left us the three bar stools that had shown with the house and which we desperately needed.

Yep. He sure as heck paid it forward big-time.

So now we do the same. Years ago on one of those moves I gifted a friend with my funky kitchen table. It didn’t work in my new place, she loved it and needed it so it was a no-brainer. I also gifted another friend with my custom-made leather sofa. Again, didn’t work for me, she was in need and so she got it.

A few years ago sofa-girl sent me a note telling me that she had finally bought the sofa of HER dreams and had therefore paid my sofa forward to a young couple starting out. She knew I would appreciate the gesture. And I did.

Then a few weeks ago kitchen-table girl told me she had finally purchased the table of her dreams and did I want the old one back?

Well golly gee, just a few days before another dear friend had informed me that her son was looking for a kitchen table. Bingo-bango and he’s got the table and three old broads are happy.

Today a lovely woman came to buy a day-bed we no longer require. When she realized we were moving she told me she loved ALL of our stuff and asked if anything else was for sale. I replied “Sorry, no, the rest is coming with us.”

As she was leaving, filled with gratitude for her sweet deal (hey, I’m a soft touch) I looked up at the huge bouquet of fake flowers that adorns our front hallway. Now if you’ve ever put together a HUGE bouquet of (good quality) fake flowers you know it ain’t cheap. But I looked at her and said “Do you like those flowers?” And she answered with a big grin “I love those flowers!”

And so she took them home. For free. Incredulous. Thrilled. Grateful.

And I spent the afternoon smiling. Because it felt so good.

Will it come back to me? How will it come back to me? When will it come back to me if it ever comes back to me?

Who knows? Who cares?

Today it felt really damn good.

And just so you know I’ve already lined up an amazing cleaning service to leave this house unimpeachable when we depart. Even though the sales agreement says “swept clean”. And yes, there will be a bottle of wine on the kitchen counter.

Because paying it forward is how I roll. And you just never know what tomorrow will bring.

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It’s Bell Let’s Talk Day so Let’s Talk and … Tell The Truth

Many years ago I went through a period of feeling pretty darn depressed. Like sad to the point of crying – or actually weeping buckets – for weeks on end. Finally a close friend dragged me to my doctor to get help. My good doc suggested anti-depressants.

I thought umm … no. I don’t need chemical help. I don’t want meds. I want to know WHY I am so perennially sad. I’m quite sure it had to do with boys and loneliness. I wanted to work on the WHY so that I could manage it without tears and angst.

So my good doc suggested counselling.

Okey doke, I thought. Let’s give that go.

You know what? It worked. A few sessions of honestly discussing my shit and I finally understood it, I accepted it and I was able to move forward. Talking was good. Talking with a professional was good. Sorting through shit was good. Making a new plan was good. It was all good.

Since that time I have become a therapist. Armchair therapist, I know, but I did take a coaching course and I learned that I could help. I learned that I could listen and actually hear (big difference) and maybe even point in a new direction. Man, did that feel good!

I’m still an armchair therapist but last fall I found myself back in the patient’s chair. There was an avalanche of stress in my life and the weird thing is, most of it was the stress of those I love. My own personal stress was actually quite minuscule. But handling all the stresses surrounding me was beginning to choke me. I was incapable of saying “No” because I never say no to those I love. But my health took a hit, my blood pressure rose to dangerously high levels and my headaches were off the chart.

Back to the good doc I went. Except I have a new doc now. Loved my old doc and love my new doc who actually takes the time to listen to me and HEAR me. He’s young and super cool and up on all the latest and the first thing he did was prescribe a sleeping pill.

Whaaaaaaaaaaaat? I don’t need no fucking sleeping pill.

“Are you sleeping well?” he asked gently.

Umm … nope.

“Then just take it for one week. One week only. You need to get some rest to even start getting these numbers down.”

So I took the damn blue pill. Yes, I did. Not only did I take that blue pill, I fell in love with the blue pill. I mean Holy Shitballs! Who knew a little blue pill could do more than spice up your love life? This little blue pill allowed me to shut down. And in shutting down so completely I was able to bound out of bed before the birds, bright-eyed and ready to tackle the day’s traumas.

A week later I returned to my good doc and said “I am in love with this blue pill. I want to marry this blue pill. Pretty please can I have a prescription ad infinitum?”

Umm … nope. No you cannot. Nope. These blue pills are highly addictive and we’re not going down that road.

(aside: since then I have learned that a lot of people I know are highly addicted to these blue pills and loving every long blessed sleep … but that’s another story)

As I hung my head in sorrow, wondering how ever I would cope with life again my good doc said “I’m going to put you on a little yellow pill”.

Up my head perked! Yellow pill, you say? Oh do tell.

Please know that although I do take prescription meds (remember that blood pressure) and Tylenol for the occasional pain I am not a pill popper. I’ve had some pretty painful surgeries in my life and all that Oxycontin and Demerol and whatever else I was prescribed went down the toilet.

The new yellow pill did not. He called it a chill pill. Just a little something to take the edge off. Absolutely non-addictive and hopefully helpful in the long run?

Long run, I asked? My short run is pretty messed up right now.

Just take it, he countered. In 6 weeks its effects will plateau and you will see and feel the worth.

I did.

And I do.

You know what I feel? I feel better. More able to take on life’s challenges. More able to navigate through mucky bogs of stress and more available to help those around me, the sources of those mucky bogs of stress. I do sleep better (although am still available at 3am if you need me) and I am … wait for it … much more content with my circumstance. I am grateful and optimistic and realistic and … content.

God, how I love that word.

Now some my call this an anti-anxiety medication. I honestly never though I suffered from anxiety and even if I did I knew it was my poor estrogen-deprived soul kicking and screaming and I was able to quash it. But here’s the thing – the yellow pill quashes it now. So now I can deal with all of life’s slings and arrows.

I can assure you that all those stresses that led to autumn’s meltdown still exist. I am just handling them better. Maybe one day I’ll stop the yellow pill? Maybe not. Right now I am loving the new me.

So … let’s talk.

Because I never ever thought I would be a pill-taker. And here I am, madly in love with my little yellow pill. Much like I was madly in love with the therapist who hauled my ass through that previous crisis.

We all need help. Sometimes we ALL need help.

Get it. Please get it. Whether it’s a conversation or a medication please get it.

And by the way I do think I’m a pretty decent life-coach and I’m absolutely free. As in NO COST. I made that decision years ago when I passed my course with flying colours. I am just a phone call away. And as much as I am grateful for the help granted me, I am more than willing to offer it back. I can’t prescribe those yellow pills but I am here to listen … and to HEAR.

So yeah. Reach out.

Let’s talk.

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Are You Taking Care Of Yourself?

We read about it all the time, right? How self-care is important. How we (women) must learn to set aside time for US. How we spend so much energy and effort caring for others – children, husbands, parents, friends – that we often end up at the bottom of our own totem poles. We neglect our own needs because we are so tired from tending to everyone else’s needs that when we get a moment to ourselves we crash on the bed. THAT is our idea of self-care. Grabbing some sleep so that we can do it all (for others) tomorrow.

Okay, so that’s the spin. I will admit right here and now that it’s the spin but it’s not really my personal truth. I am one of the fortunate ones who has time for self-care. Yes I have a son who requires attention on occasion and I have a man who does as well. But they are both adults and quite capable of tending to themselves. I have friends who need to talk and sometimes drink some wine (and that of course is never a hardship) and I have family to cook for (also not a struggle) and a part-time job which I enjoy immensely. Oh yeah, there’s also a dog that needs walking.

But I am in no way run ragged. Which is why I have the time and opportunity to muse on this subject. Because I do see so many women who ARE run ragged. And that’s why I have decided we need a self-care handbook. Something quick and easy to remind us how important WE actually are.

Years ago I had a friend who was a single mother, working full time to earn a living and raise her daughter. I often tended to that daughter after school until mom would stop by for some wine and dinner (and to pick up her kid).  She always said to me “Oh, I wish I had time to work out. I want to lose 20 lbs and feel fitter but I just don’t have time.”

In those days I was still working full time and my job involved a 40 minute commute each way and I still got up early so that I could log 20 minutes on the treadmill before I hit the road. And so I asked her “Why not just get up a bit earlier and log 20 minutes on the treadmill?”

And she replied “Oh God no. I’d much rather sleep.”

Aha. There’s the question. What speaks more to self-care? Working out or sleep?

You decide.

Then there was another friend. who rarely took a sip of wine. She couldn’t because she was always driving her kids somewhere. Sports, music, school activities and then there were appointments and full-time work to boot. That girl was always running somewhere. She never seemed to have a moment to breathe … or sip.

Until that rare night occurred when she did. And that dear girl would sip so enthusiastically she’d be blind-drunk in two hours.

Now I understand that we do need to tend to our kids but I also understand that sometimes we have to tend to our own needs. Breathe. Sip. Chill. Take care of self.  And I don’t mean once a month when a rare moment arrives. I mean weekly. Even daily.

My favourite time of day is 5pm. The music comes on, a glass of wine gets poured and dinner prep begins. My beloved knows that this is the perfect time for him to get lost. I don’t mean out in the big bad city, I mean go to your office and DO something. I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to hear about your day (yet). I want to listen to music (loudly) and create something delicious for us to share. THAT is my daily therapy. THAT is my daily self-care.

I am fortunate that he takes nothing personally and happily escapes to his lair.

But my self-care is not all wine and Carole King.  It also takes discipline. That dog gets walked every morning no matter what the weather or my disposition. I have to be really sick to forego that walk. And it’s not so much because the dog needs it. it’s because I need it. I need to zone out, commune with the Universe, get my heart rate up and hopefully even work up a bit of sweat. Yes even this morning in -10C I came home somewhat damp because I walk hard. I walk hard because my high blood pressure and mental well-being demand it.

And that’s the funny thing. I’ve been walking hard for over 20 years. It is no longer a chore. It is my joy. My happy addiction. It is the self-care I never knew I needed and now can’t live without.

And that’s the thing, isn’t it?  You’ll never really know what your daily joy is until you live it daily.  Until you find the time to discover it, practice it, make it a priority and then do it again tomorrow. We can all be disciplined in what we eat or how much alcohol or water we drink or less caffeine and more green vegetables and blah blah blah. But what about joy? Daily self-care joy?

There is a moment in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Eat, Pray, Love” where she is in Rome and walks past an upscale lingerie store. This is not a familiar place in her shopping repertoire but she goes in nonetheless, spends a fortune on lacy underthings, goes back to her apartment and lays out a picnic. A picnic for one.  And then in her very expensive silky new nightie she sits on the floor and delights in that beautiful repast. Alone and content. She is no longer shackled to a man or his needs. THIS moment is ALL about her desires.  HER sensual pleasures. Spending time (and money) on herself simply because SHE is worth it.

I love that moment. And yes, I get it.  Those expensive lingerie picnics are a one-off.  But most magical moments are, right? Why not create one just for yourself?

Many moons ago when I was profoundly broken-hearted I was finding it difficult to eat dinner, much less make it (just for myself). But one night I decided that LACK of self-care had to stop. So I put on some very loud music and danced around my kitchen.  Like crazy dancing, the kind we did back in high school. Once I had completely exhausted myself I set out to cook dinner. I don’t remember what I cooked but is was a true grownup meal, not just cheese and crackers. I lit a candle, put on some jazz and sat at the table like a proper adult enjoying my creation. Alone. Not even the cat joined me.

And that moment made me laugh. And then made me proud. Because I had spent so many years cooking for men and kids and friends and family I didn’t even know what it felt like to cook just for me. I learned.

We learn in increments. By trial and error. But the word trial involves TRYING. We have to at least try to feed our bliss, walk off our stress, bathe in lavender serenity or listen to music loudly while cooking. Whatever it is that leads to our caring of self, we must practice regularly.

Without guilt.

There it is – your self-care handbook. Figure out what makes YOU happy and then do it regularly.  Yes, even if those around you suffer with the loss of your ever-available selflessness. They’ll figure themselves out eventually.

You figure yourself out. Care for yourself. Love yourself.  Make yourself a priority.  At least sometimes.

Because you know why?

You’re worth it.

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The Beginning Of A New Journey

Do you know when a new journey begins? Every day. Every single day. THAT is when a new journey begins.

This magnificent revelation came to me this morning when I was vacuuming up evergreen needles from our living room floor. It hit me that, as much as I love Christmas and all its fancy finery, I also love January when life gets back to normal.

If you know me at all, you know that I love the festive season. I start decorating in November, at about the same I start listening to holiday music. By December 1 it’s pretty much all holiday music all the time and our home is fully festooned. I mean I even decorate the powder room and my son’s bedroom!

And I can honestly say this past December was one of the best. As in … ever.

Why?

Because I stopped trying to be all things to all people and I stopped accepting every invitation and I stopped fighting for relationships that no longer serve me or my well-being and I stopped sweating anything that was even vaguely small and I stopped expecting a “magical Christmas.”

Instead I just took it as it came. I loved on old friends and new ones alike. I saw (almost) everyone my heart requested and was thus blessed with family time, son time, girlfriend time, yoga time, couple time, puppy time and music time. I ate well, drank well, laughed well and still kept walking.

And you know what happened? When I stopped expecting a “magical Christmas” I actually got one. Because I discovered that magic doesn’t come from the perfect gift (given or received) or the perfect party (hosted or attended) or the perfect romance, friendship, family dynamic or even song.

Magic comes from embracing every moment with people you love. Even yourself.

But magic also comes from not hanging on. Not hanging on to perceptions, notions, approaches or expectations. Magic comes when you let go of anything or anyone that is counter-intuitive to your own well-being. Magic comes when you prioritize YOUR people without apology.

But hey, magic also comes when you are vacuuming balsam needles and looking forward to a new month and a new year. Magic comes when relishing the changing of the season, whether from summer to fall or spring to summer or even, dare I say, Christmas to January. Sure, people talk about the January blahs and I suppose they may show up. But today on this first day of a new year I have January excitement! January optimism! January intoxication!

Not from the wine, honest. From the anticipation of what this new year will bring. This new journey.

I have long been a morning person. And I finally figured out why. You wake up, you pour that first cup of coffee and you wonder with childlike anticipation what the day will bring. It could be anything. It could be everything! It’s a blessed marvel just waiting to unfold. Kinda like Christmas morning.

That is exactly how I felt this morning. The antique ornaments were lovingly wrapped in tissue and stored away. The twinkle lights (well, most of them) packed up. Our most beautiful tree out back, naked yet noble, awaiting the charity pick-up this weekend. The needles vacuumed away for another year.

It is January and we are ready. I am ready. Ready for the new journey which begins today.

And will begin again tomorrow morning. And the next and the next and the next.
It doesn’t require tinsel or twinkle lights or shortbread or champagne.

All I have to do is wake up tomorrow morning and pour that first cup of coffee. Whether January 2 brings magic or mundane is yet to behold. I can hardly wait to find out.

Happy Journey, my friends. Happy Newest Day and Happy Newest Year.

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