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I Happily Blew Up My Old Life At Age 50

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I keep hearing "I admire your courage" from friends ever since I completely blew up my life.

At 50 I sold my house in Toronto, split the proceeds with my ex, kissed all my best friends, social network, work contacts, family and cozy life goodbye. I bought a bed and breakfast two hours away. I thank everyone for their accolade of "courage," but the truth is that the change was actually borne of fear, which provides really good lessons to share.

theresa albert
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Here is how you know that your life needs a shake up:

  1. You are no longer inspired by the things that you do to earn a living. Be afraid. You are now living to work rather than the other way around. You have heard it before: no one says on their deathbed "I wish I worked more."
  2. The view from your window doesn't catch your eye anymore. You have stopped looking outside at home or work, and any awe of the things that surround you has become mundane. Be afraid. You have become complacent.
  3. You are gaining weight and feel helpless to stop it. You have exhausted the spin/yoga/running group inspiration or just gave up. Be afraid. This is a slippery slope that will make the last 10 years of your life much more uncomfortable than they need to be. The time to prevent that is now.
  4. The seesaw of your private thoughts lands more on "there has to be more out there" and less on "my life is pretty good." Be afraid. "Pretty good" starts to feel like "just OK," and then plain old "meh."

Now, I hear your inner voice saying "Yeah, but..." my pension, only 10 more years, my kids, yada yada. These reasons not to give up your old life are all valid.

And it is also true that I had none of those excuses myself. I am self employed, I can never retire, there is no pension, my kid is grown, well-adjusted and supportive of my change. This only means that it was easier for me to take the leap -- not because I didn't have these shackles weighing me down, but because I never chose them in the first place. My life took a different path by choice.

That said, all of these things are anchors that are critical to keep us from drifting toward danger and are ties that bind us to meaning. Believe me, it is much more terrifying to NOT have them and feel like you could float away at any moment. Isn't it better to choose a change that can tie you to a safe new harbour that you love? Time is not your friend, my friend.

writing plan
(Photo: Shironosov via Getty Images)

Make a Plan

It is ill-advised to blow up your life without a plan. That kind of behaviour can just cause devastation in the lives of others. For me, it was a matter of assessing my skills and seeing where they could add to my living.

For me, change took the form of a bed and breakfast in Stratford, Ontario. While running this business I can still write, develop recipes and maintain my consulting business in Toronto within a two-hour train ride of my past life.

But it took me two years of planning in the form of mulling, soul-searching and researching (even though on the outside it came as a surprise to everyone). Once you have done this work, the change happens fast and it simply won't go back in the box.

Lesson 1: Shut up

Don't talk about your dream until you are ready to share it. Those nearest and dearest to you will poo-poo or otherwise influence your change. They don't mean to keep you down (hopefully), but their opinions can come from their own fear and perhaps self-interest.

Lesson 2: Journal.

Just scribble, note, list and doodle to find your inner desire. This will be for no other eyes but yours. Be honest about your skills and where you can apply them. Do you really want a promotion with more responsibility? Or do you want to be free of the rat race? What photos, movies, books move you?

It is so totally OK to have a dream and fanciful ideas, because it means you are still alive. What would your favourite uncle want you to do long after he is gone?

The change happens fast and it simply won't go back in the box.

Lesson 3: Ask questions.

It is important to go outside your circle to find out what kind of work is out there for you. You have to be practical about how you earn your living. I threw my hat into the ring of jobs that looked like they could satisfy my financial and stimulation needs. I met with everyone from other bed and breakfast owners across the province and private practice nutritionists to an executive search firm.

Head hunter Angelo Panousis had known me in my first management job decades ago; he also knows the job market. I shared with him my current skills and desires and asked what could fit, what would the change look like if I joined the workforce after two decades. There were options! But I wanted none of them.

Lesson 4: Be sure there are options.

For instance, my bed and breakfast could be converted into a triplex if my knees no longer want to climb stairs and make beds. There are schools in my new town where I can teach what I was teaching "at home," and there is writing work that I can submit from afar. To boot, if it all doesn't suit me in five years, this has been a good investment that moves me financially as well as experientially forward. Beware another dead end.

Lesson 5: Check your relationship.

Take a good hard look at who you are banking on to enjoy the back half of your life with. Your life. Your life. Are they willing and/or able to make the leap? Are you willing to do it with or without them? This is a tough one. I got super lucky.

What I learned was that the ties that bind are quite elastic; the right ones will stretch to accommodate my growth.

In the end, I have landed in a new community, in a new job and am figuring it out. I'm still scared, but differently. What I learned was that the ties that bind are quite elastic; the right ones will stretch to accommodate my growth. Those that snapped at the effort are free to tread their own path.

The job market will go on without me, a new family will be raised in the house I thought I would retire in, and my real friends are happy for me (and phone, text and visit me often). I have a new life full of inspiration and hope to share with them (and lots of bedrooms!).

And as I wrap this up, what song comes on the radio to seal the deal? John Fogerty's "Garden Party."

"You can't please everyone, so you got to please yourself." Bam.

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