I have recently announced my goal to save for, plan and take a midlife career break to travel with my family. We are calling it a “Midlife Escape” but the truth is that I have always suffered from a case of Wanderlust.
I remember standing in the front yard as a young child, watching jet-streaks of light crisscross the sky, of packing my little suitcase and “running away” albeit only a block or two before getting scared and going back home. I remember looking at the church bulletin board dotted with pictures and letters from the Central American missionaries and wanting to go there someday.
In high school, I read everything I could find about the Peace Corps. I later graduated from college and completed the application but worries about homesickness and a two-year commitment took over.
My mom would be unhappy if I left. What if I got sick in some undeveloped country? What if they sent me to Africa when I really wanted to learn Spanish? What if my dog died?
I had spoken via phone with a Peace Corps recruiter who was obviously bummed about another 23-year old liberal arts applicant. They needed practical skills sets in business or agriculture. I had majored in Music and Music Education. I was broke and needed a job so I got one and started teaching music.
How I regret that decision! Not the teaching music part. The not submitting the application part. Instead, I taught in a dysfunctional little town for a year followed by two years in a private Christian school at subsistence wages with no retirement plan. That was followed by 3 years in an urban district where my tires got slashed in the parking lot and there was a drive-by shooting one day at recess.
I should have gotten on a plane on someone else’s dime and had the experience of a lifetime!
Another regret while I’m adding them up? While I was teaching, I had summers off but I always worked extra jobs to supplement my income. Why didn’t I learn to budget better and travel during the summer? I had TIME.
After 6 years in education, I decided to change careers. In 2002, I graduated with an MBA in International Management, along with ridiculous student loans and no job!
The returning Peace Corps Volunteers had received scholarships.
I decided that if there were no jobs anyway, we should just go. I could defer the loans and deal with them later. But my husband was a non-US citizen at the time and was ineligible. Soon after, we found jobs and started a family. No kids allowed. The Peace Corps was on hold again.
I decided I didn’t need the Peace Corps. I could do my own service project and take my own trip.
But with low paying jobs post-911 in new industries for us both, we were struggling to make ends meet. Shocked to be working full-time and still so poor, we had a lot to overcome. We had moved to a new city in 2002 with no friends or close family to help. We had two young daughters to care for, one of which with health challenges. It was Stress City.
We have both progressed in our careers since then and we are doing great.
Now we can’t leave.
We would be crazy to opt out of the American Dream when we’ve finally made it. We are piling money into the 401k plans. Only 14 years left on the mortgage and fewer if we send extra. Contributing to the kids’ 529 college savings plans. Helping family members as needed. Taking nice vacations. The kids love their home, their friends, their schools. Their teachers are wonderful human beings. Even the dogs are deliriously happy.
Why didn’t I go sooner? When I could still eat eggs and gluten and other things I can no longer tolerate? Before I was allergic to wine and cats? When I was thin and cute and had more energy and fewer bills? Now I have a house in the burbs, kids, pets, and aging parents with health concerns. With such a mish-mash of complexity in this season of life, I am totally exhausted. Enough already!
I don’t even want to calculate the financial cost of walking away from a great income and having to start over later – so I’ll just throw out the calculator! All those fancy MBA formulas need to add in a few more variables anyway: H for Happiness, P for Purpose, and M for Magic.
We need HPM more, much more than we need money. Happiness and Purpose are topics for another day. Magic includes an experience of the mystical part of life and acknowledges supernatural, benevolent intervention in our lives. We may have done nothing to deserve this help from on high, but I believe we receive Divine Guidance and Love when we need it most. For that I am grateful.
That gives me hope. Even though I have missed some opportunities and I have regret about not capitalizing on the free time and good health of my 20s and early 30s, the dream is still alive. God can intervene and circumstances can align in such a way that I really can take that trip.
I won’t blink and miss my 40s making the same mistakes. It’s time to get busy on this one.
Maybe this won’t just be a trip, but a time to embrace a fresh perspective. I will transition into a pace of life in which my time and energy is spent in a more giving way, where the material isn’t so material, and where I have time to nurture the relationships that matter most.
These are all nice, idealistic thoughts but I’ve been poor and poor ain’t fun. Leaving a career I have worked so hard to build and leaping into the great unknown admittedly creates anxiety. We can all say we want to flip off the materialism of the American lifestyle. It is another thing to walk away from it and to seek another more spiritually minded way to live and still pay the bills.
When we return to our home and jobs post-midlife sabbatical, the outside may all look the same but hopefully we will be different on the inside. We will feel refreshed and ready to deal with “re-entry” pains and to balance our lives with a calmer, saner pace. Or perhaps something new will be birthed in us, given the time and space to grow it.
It’s all a risk but so is being born and so is getting out of bed every morning so I guess I’m up for it.
I am so uncomfortable and conflicted with where I am that I really have no choice.
What about you?