At sixty I left pretty much everything behind me - my husband, step children, family, business, cats, and most of my belongings - and started again, in another country. My only plan was to find happiness.
It had been a long time coming. I'd grown up in a family business where work was the priority and I'd become super responsible, believing I had no alternative. Actually I'd been using it as a means of avoiding the uncomfortable truth that I wasn't very happy. But eventually I faced it, decided on radical change, and began planning a way forward.
My husband was happy with his life in retirement and wanted no upheaval. So we discussed, for months, and eventually decided to part as friends, and remain so. This meant a lot to me, and it still does. Leaving day was tough, but I had rented a house in the hills of Tuscany and however strange it felt I was on my way.
The next few years turned my life upside down. British, and therefore naturally reserved, I was thrown in at the deep end of the Italian way of life - heart on sleeve, passion, drama and all the senses in play. And I loved it - the noisy, lively street life, the effort people made to understand my tiny bit of Italian, the rows that blew up out of nowhere and gave way to hugs all round. I felt so much more alive.
It was a very different life. Long, hot summers, growing vegetables, walking amongst meadows of wild flowers, exploring and soaking up the heat. And cold, wet winters, hauling wood for the fire, learning to let myself rest, and be still. That took a long time. I became absorbed into an Italian family, in and out of each other's houses, making pizza, learning bee keeping, laughing a lot.
Cats who were living wild on the hillside around my house joined me, then a dog, and we became a family. Gradually I was changing, letting go of who I used to be and thinking no further ahead than what to cook tomorrow. Peace.
I thought I would stay there always, and was dismayed when I became restless for new experience. I felt more was calling, I couldn't put my finger on what but just knew I was ready to move on. And this time it was to France. I started out in Provence and a new culture, language, and way of life was demanding at first, but exciting.
After a while I yearned for countryside around me that was soft and green, and to be near water, so I moved again, to the Limousin, where I now live surrounded by woodland and lakes, with my animal family. After moving home four times I've stopped imagining if this is where I'll stay, who knows. But it feels right for now.
It's over eight years since I left the UK, and I've lost so much. All of the work persona I had built up over so many years, the achievements I thought were important, the striving to do better... gone. All of the agonising over the right thing to do, forgotten. It's been a process of stripping away, often unconsciously, and arriving at the bare bones of what makes me happy.
It hasn't all been easy, there were demanding times grappling with the unknown on all fronts when I felt lost and alone. One winter there was 40 cms of snow for two weeks, I couldn't get out, the temperature was -10C, the pipes froze and I was melting snow in a pan over the fire. And not everyone understood or approved of my choices, so there has been criticism to face and relationships lost. It takes courage to walk away.
As I settled deeper into myself and relaxed, I began to study things I'd always been curious about, to take courses, learn from amazing teachers, and research online. I realised that for years I'd cut myself off from so much that excited me because there was never time, and I never made my own interests a priority. I was discovering whole new worlds of knowledge and understanding of life.
And the most exciting part is that I realised all this learning and experience wasn't just for me, it was to be shared. So now I'm teaching others how to find their happiness, following whatever calls to them. I work online with people all over the world, bringing new perspective to lives, and it's the most rewarding job I've ever known.
Not many people would welcome such radial change, and neither is it necessary to uproot and become a nomad. You can stay exactly where you are, and just begin again. If you're willing to let go of who you used to be there's so much potential for who you really are.
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