Stepping Off the Edge After 50

From San Miniato al Monte

From there to here

In early 2013, after more than a decade of crazy long days and constant deadlines, I decided I needed – and wanted – a change. As my career had progressed, the demands increased and the benefits decreased – somehow this didn’t seem right. After almost 10 years back in my homeland Australia, I chose to return to Canada, moving to Calgary, Alberta.

Now, with more than 20 years working as a communications professional, I was enjoying senior positions but getting less personal satisfaction from the work at hand. I had lost sight of me – there was so little time to do the things I loved – and I could hardly remember a weekend without at least some work. Ten years is a long time to not see yourself clearly – I wanted to find ‘me’ again.

I wanted a change – a dramatic change – but how do you start to even think about completely changing your life when you are 50?

Only months earlier, after three years in Calgary, I was offered a position in my favorite city, Vancouver BC. While I enjoyed Calgary, I was happy to move away from the extreme cold of Alberta winters. Within two months of starting the new position, unpleasant interactions with a colleague became an almost daily reality, escalating enough over a two-month period to warrant discussions with Human Resources. Their support for the situation was wonderful, however I realized I was ‘done.’ I had had enough of unsupportive colleagues, impossible demands and constant deadlines. I wanted my life to be more than someone else’s timeline. I wanted a change – a dramatic change – but how do you start to even think about completely changing your life when you are 50?

The challenge of finding a starting point for what I’d do next was overwhelming at first. I understand why people don’t do this more often. It isn’t easy.

I resorted to the tactics I’d used with clients for years – define the problems and look at all options, no matter how crazy. Nothing was off the table until carefully investigated. I started by considering what was truly important to me – not on the surface, but what was I missing, what did I want to fill my days, what distracted me from watching time pass.

My large dining table was soon covered in well-organized and color-coordinated post-it notes, structured by country, city, living situation, type of work and interests. My evenings were filled with following ideas on Google, and reading blogs and articles on making choices and changing directions.

As I thought of cities I knew and countries I loved, nothing seemed to fit. I added extra notes – England? No. France? Maybe, but I wasn’t sure. Italy? …Maybe, maybe… But what would I do there? And why Italy? Apart from the peace and excitement I’d felt on short visits there, I couldn’t answer that question.

All the while I was mindful of comments and questions I’d hear soon enough. Those questions kept me up at nights for at least a week. Not because I was afraid of them, but because I still couldn’t answer them well.

I could hear the judgment and condemnation of people, many terrified, possibly immobilized themselves, by the thought of change. “You want to move countries? Again? Not street, house or suburb, not even city, but country? Seriously? What on earth is wrong with you?”

My favourite, and most predictable question, “Are you having a mid-life crisis?” was often paired with, “Seriously, what is wrong with you?”

I answered then, and still do, saying, “Nothing!”

Sandy Swanton in lavender Provence
Surrounded by lavender, in Provence

Support is at hand

Nothing was wrong with me, but that didn’t mean I didn’t have any fears about this great change. It turns out I had two fears to overcome.

1. Was I too old to start such an adventure?

2. Could I really find my feet in Italy, where I knew no one, didn’t speak the language, and only had a vague but very strong pull to the beautiful, historic and often chaotic country with incredible food and wine, and kind people?

Through taking it one step at a time I realized, again, that fears are not a good enough reason to not do something.

Surely this sort of caper was for younger people, those without an established career. All I knew was that I did not see myself enjoying my life if I had to do this work for another 10 years or more. I was done.

Through taking it one step at a time I realized, again, that fears are not a good enough reason to not do something. Recognizing what I was afraid of was the hardest part.

In June 2013, my mum arrived in Vancouver from Australia for a five-week holiday. We took the first few days to get over her jet lag and talk about this crazy adventure I was considering. Three days and many questions later she said, “I have one final question, what’s stopping you?” I had to think for a moment.
Mum continued, “Moving countries is a decision – you know this. You have risen to the challenge each time you’ve moved, from Australia to Canada, back to Australia and back to Canada. You know the benefits, challenges and time it takes to feel at home in a new land.

“It is a choice, and you can do it. If this is truly what you want – and you know you don’t want to continue as you’ve been doing – what’s stopping you?”

Almost a week later I had my answer. One highlight of her visit was a 7-day cruise to southeast Alaska. On the final day trip in Ketchikan, as we watched eagles flying free, it came to me. There was nothing stopping me – all I had to do was stop off the edge of fear.

Ketchican eagle starts to fly
Eagle in Ketchican starts to fly

At first the idea of such a move can seem daunting or even terrifying. This would be my fourth international move by myself. An unplanned advantage of my earlier moves, I was now quite adept at such an adventure – the logistics were now simply part of the process.

As I told family and friends, the support circle grew as people understood that this was my choice to make. I chose not to be bound by fear; instead choosing a new path, a new dream.

Since moving to Italy, the people I’ve met have become some of my strongest supporters because they, too, understand that while choosing a different path isn’t easy, it is truly incredible!

The updraft will catch you

My leap of faith – my stepping off the edge – is now my stability. It is my rock, my foundation. Despite a struggling economy and learning the culture, the thought of not living here isn’t pleasant. From here I can see new paths to explore that weren’t even visible before.

I am freer in myself because I’ve stepped outside the confines of other’s perceptions of me. I now think differently about what I want to do, which of my skills I want to use, and which of my interests could be an exciting path to follow.

No one knows what the future will bring – I chose to be bold and fearless, to pursue a dream or two, somewhere else in the world. In the end, what mattered to me was trying.

Ultimately, it takes patience to learn how to live in a new country – it takes the decision to connect with a place and her people, and not just pass through. The choice in 2013 to step out of my successful career and into the world of living outside the box has been more than a fairytale – I have made it my reality.

Now I teach business and conversational English, online and to local students. I help friends with strategic project planning, and I travel to write and photograph the beauty I see. Importantly, I am happy. I smile daily at the colours, flavours and places that fill my life. Now I enjoy taking short trips – Venice is two hours away, Rome about 90 minutes, and it’s only three hours to Lake Como. I can do those trips and more whenever I want – even for a day – and that thought always makes me smile.

Lake Como in the summer sun
The Lake Como view heading towards Bellagio

No one knows what the future will bring – I chose to be bold and fearless, to pursue a dream or two, somewhere else in the world. In the end, what mattered to me was trying.

There was something exquisite, even intoxicating, about flying into Florence for the first time. I had already visited the city before and was familiar with at least some of the landmarks. Until that October 2013 moment, I had only arrived by car from the north.

The first reward from choosing to live, to not give up or give in, was the view of the Florence Duomo as my last plane of that long trip from Vancouver to Paris to Florence came in to land. This was it – my new home. I was in Italy!

The view – looking level across to the cupola rising above the city – felt like a hug from my new home. Almost two years later, the feeling hasn’t gone away.

sunset warmth on the Duomo
Autumn sunset warms the Duomo

Stepping off the edge after 50

Sandy Swanton was a participant in Pink Pangea’s Travel Writing Retreat in Venice.

About Sandy Swanton

AvatarAn international traveler from the age of 6, Sandy Swanton found embracing the familial expat life hard to resist. Life for Sandy has always included travel to see family, friends, and wonderful places. Australian born and raised, with English grandparents and Canadian cousins, it is easy to understand why. Taking her first solo international trip at 19, and moving to Canada at 27, Sandy’s adult life had been shared between Australia’s east coast and Canada’s west coast, until late 2013. Through pursuing a portfolio career in written and visual communications, Sandy developed her professional experience and skills, enjoying times with great friends and fun adventures in new places along the way. Now combining a love of travel with a career of working with words and images, Sandy lives in central Italy, stepping out of the corporate life for the next chapters of her life.

9 thoughts on “Stepping Off the Edge After 50

  1. Avatar
    Tracy
    May 21, 2016
    Reply

    You, Miss Sandy, continue to be an inspiration. Miss you.
    Tracy

  2. Avatar
    Maree
    August 19, 2015
    Reply

    Sandy, I loved and enjoyed your story and your courage. You have given thought to others which always carries great satisfaction for one.
    Politics in the workplace is a real killer and travel is the best medicine.
    What a wise and loving mother you have to give you the advice she did -“what is stopping you”.

  3. Avatar
    August 14, 2015
    Reply

    Wow Sandy, your words ring so true to me, especially the part about not seeing yourself enjoying life if you had to keep doing what you were doing for another 10 years or more. I also turned 50 last year and decided to quit my job, while I was still young enough to start something that would allow me to travel and that I could continue to enjoy beyond ‘retirement’. I’m in the process of getting a business up and running (as a specialist VA), just from home in Australia for now but planning to head overseas (Italy – yes!) once it’s up and running.
    I hope to be able to read more of your adventures soon!

  4. Avatar
    David Twomey
    August 12, 2015
    Reply

    sandy, great piece and really enjoyed learning of your experience dealing with something I’m also thinking about. Would be interesting to know how you went about establishing yourself, home, work, etc? Ciao David

  5. Avatar
    August 12, 2015
    Reply

    Hi Sandy, what a loveloy story! Yes, Italy is a very beautiful country. Although I live in my native Prague (Czech Republic) I travel to Italy (mostly to Rome) very often because I have there a long-term relationship :-). Recently I started writing my blog about travelling. You can find there a couple of tips what to visit in Italy – http://blog.businesstripfriend.com/.
    Also I created the travel portal Business Trip Friend – http://www.businesstripfriend.com/ where you can find tips what to do in Rome.
    Enjoy your new home! Maybe you will find there even a love :-). Italians are charming people.

  6. Avatar
    Sandy Swanton
    August 12, 2015
    Reply

    Thanks Michelle. …more tales of travels coming soon…

  7. Kathy
    Kathy
    August 12, 2015
    Reply

    Thank you for that story Sandy. I am in the midst of the same decision (Spain for me),and I am past 60 – and a British born Canadian. Getting the same reaction from some people, but also “go for it” advice from others. Crossing my fingers my decision turns out as well as yours .

    • Avatar
      Sandy Swanton
      August 12, 2015
      Reply

      Thanks Kathy. I look forward to hearing of your journey as you step off the edge and find your wings! Whatever the hard days bring, the good ones are incredible!

  8. Avatar
    Michelle
    August 12, 2015
    Reply

    What a fantastic story, Sandy! So inspirational for all those that must also feel locked into something that they no longer want to do. Keep it up and keep sharing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Top
Loading...