Fulfilling a Promise to Myself at 54

Fulfilling a Promise to Myself at 54

Fulfilling a Promise to Myself at 54

“Life is short, so live it.” It’s a phrase I’d heard all my life and one that I never hesitated to quip. The truth is, I was a hypocrite. I was the classic example of someone who was just going through the motions of living.

For 36 years I worked in corporate jobs, hating every minute. Over the years, the stress and unrelenting politics of these high-pressure positions took a serious toll. Eventually I would burn out and quit, promising myself that I would never again put myself in that position. But after a few weeks, fear always kicked in; that little voice in my head began insisting that I needed to work hard so that I could enjoy a comfortable retirement. Inevitably, someone would make me an offer I couldn’t refuse and the cycle would start all over again.

I worked 70-80 hours per week, then spent all the money I earned trying to make myself happy, but the old saying, “Money can’t buy happiness,” is true.

It took a major illness for me to realize just how miserable I was. My health began to spiral downward in 2002. I was exhausted all the time and every joint in my body ached. Initially, I thought it was the flu but rather than abating, my symptoms grew worse; by 2005, I had developed neurological problems that included short term memory loss and dyslexia.

Doctors could find nothing wrong and began to suggest that it was all in my head. Finally, five years later, I was properly diagnosed with Lyme disease, a malady that results from the bite of a tick, which leaves behind Lyme parasites that wreak havoc with the human immune system.

The cure was almost as bad as the disease. I was allergic to all the antibiotics normally used for treatment so the doctors tried alternative medicines, which made me so sick that I could barely get out of bed. Faced with the possibility that I could die before doing all the things I had dreamed of, I promised myself that, if I could recover, I would pursue my true passions of travel, writing, and photography.

Dog sledding in Kirkenes, Norway
Dog sledding in Kirkenes, Norway

A year later, fully recovered, I was faced with another crisis. For the previous six months I had tried unsuccessfully to sell my house, but the real estate market had already begun its tailspin. Should I stay true to my dream or cave once again? I chose my dreams, finally fulfilling a promise I’d made to myself. I closed up my house, slung a backpack over my shoulders, and hit the road for a six-month around-the-world adventure.

Midway through my trip, the financial crash went into hyperdrive. House prices plummeted and the adjustable rate mortgage on my personal house doubled to $5,000 per month. At the age of 54, I had never in my life paid a bill late, so I continued to pay the mortgage on a house that was increasingly difficult to sell. By the time I returned from my trip, my bank account was alarmingly depleted.

I was about a week away from bankruptcy when my house finally sold, which provided me some much needed funds. But once again I was faced with a decision. Should I acquiesce and return to the corporate world or stick with my passions? By that time, the blog that I had started to document my travels, Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel, had about 1,200 monthly visitors, so I decided to see if I could make a career out of travel blogging.

It’s been nearly nine years since I donned that backpack and much has changed. Although I had rented an apartment in the States after selling my house, over time I was there less and less, so in 2009 I let the apartment go. I knew that, in a pinch, I could always come back and stay with friends or my father in Illinois. Perhaps the biggest change was in my blog, which grew to nearly 30,000 visitors per month.

My father never understood my decision to leave a successful career to travel around the world. He didn’t consider travel blogging to be a real job, but last year, when the doctors said he could no longer live alone, the flexibility of my career allowed me to return to Illinois to care for him until he passed away this past March. It was a tremendous blessing to be with Dad during his final months, but it was just one of many blessings that have come my way since making the decision to follow my passions.

I’ve visited 65 countries but there are so many more to see that I can’t even imagine stopping any time soon.

I realize now that fear had kept me in jobs I detested. All those years, I did what society expected of me, rather than being true to myself. I worked 70-80 hours per week, then spent all the money I earned trying to make myself happy, but the old saying, “Money can’t buy happiness,” is true. When I had money I was miserable; now I earn very little, but I do what I love, and my life is filled with joy.

Staying with locals in a village in the Himalayas in Nepal

Fulfilling a Promise to Myself at 54

Just before my father passed, he asked, “What will you do when I’m gone and you have no house to come back to?” I told him I’d return to traveling full time with no home base, and pointed out that living on the road was cheaper than living in the United States.

And that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’ve been traveling around Western Europe and the Balkans since the end of May, and I’ll be spending the fall and winter in Nepal and Thailand. I’ve visited 65 countries but there are so many more to see that I can’t even imagine stopping any time soon. Life may be short, but I’m definitely making the most of it.


Fulfilling a Promise to Myself at 54

Related Reading
On Travel and Gratitude
How My Travels Have Changed Over the Years
My Annual ‘Trip of Triumph’: Thailand and Cambodia

About Barbara Weibel

AvatarWhen Barbara Weibel realized she felt like the proverbial “hole in the donut” – solid on the outside but empty on the inside, she walked away from 36 years of corporate life and set out to see the world. Nearly nine years later, she is still traveling and sharing first-hand accounts of the places she visits and the people she meets on her blog, Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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