When Everything Falls Apart
I’m committed. Not to an insane asylum, although some of my friends and relatives may think that’s were I should be headed, but to a new career and life as a long-term travel blogger and writer. I plan to leave the U.S. and travel around the world for a year, or however long my retirement savings lasts, couchsurfing and house sitting to make things more interesting and affordable. It’s where I’ve wanted to go for a long while, but fear, lack of funds, concern over what others might think, and a need to follow the norm, to fit into our society’s idea of what a proper life looks like, have kept me from following my current true calling. These things haven’t stopped me before, like when I was 5 and decided I was an artist, but changes in the economy and marital status sometimes scare us into thinking about the path of security. Until everything falls apart and you realize that security is just an illusion anyway, and sometimes the least secure looking path is in reality, the safest way to go.
Have any of you lost your job? Gotten divorced? Lost your home? How about all three at the same time? When things fall apart, the “bug soup stage,” as life path guru Martha Beck calls it, that’s when life gets really interesting, when the opportunity arises (or kicks you in the butt) to make some major life changes. It happened to me about 7 years ago, when most of my income disappeared due to the economy, my beautiful 3,400 square foot home of 19 years went away, as my marriage was failing, my mother had died from a rare form of cancer, and I was about to send my youngest daughter off to college.
Through a crazy synchronicity, I walked 200 miles coast to coast across England, had an epiphany that I could be really happy with just what I had on my back, came home, sold almost all of my possessions, rented a room over Craigslist on the other side of the country, got in my little Corolla and drove 2,500 miles from Michigan, where I was born, raised, and had lived my whole life, to California, where I’d always wanted to live. (Thank you TV Disney and Rose Bowl parade for showing me at a very young age what winter could look like).
Amazing doors opened up. There’s a Zen saying about taking a leap off the 100 foot pole and the Universe will catch you, and that’s exactly what happened. I attended a week long silent meditation retreat, explored San Francisco and the California coast, took part of my nest egg and spent a month in Thailand and Bali, traveled with a rail pass throughout Europe for 3 months, slipped into the wine business in the Napa Valley, hiked in the Sierras, visited most of the National Parks in the Southwest, and much more. In other words, losing almost everything led to a very interesting life!
But then suddenly, the owner of the winery where I worked put the business up for sale, cut my position, and I found myself in my 50’s with no job. After quite some time looking for work that would support my now relatively minimal lifestyle (a 500 square foot apartment and a 10-year-old car, and some very budget travel), I gave up my apartment as savings ran low. Friends and relatives have been kind, providing a temporary roof over my head (yes, technically I’m homeless, but I clean up pretty well, and most people on the street wouldn’t mistake me for, well, homeless). I’ve applied for jobs in wineries, as a flight attendant, painting instructor, at libraries, and bookstores, a bakery, and on and on. Seems I’m overqualified or under qualified, or in most cases, though nobody will admit it, just too old. Yes, they hired a 20-something-year-old at the wine shop who knows nothing about wine, but I have to admit, she’s blond and very cute. The economy was down at this time, and job openings were minimal.
This could all get pretty morbid and depressing, if it weren’t for one thing – attitude. I can go into a party and when someone asks what I do or where I live, I can answer in a variety of ways, the two most accurate being, “I’m unemployed, homeless, and divorced,” which usually elicits some kind of discomfort or pity on the part of the enquirer. Or, my favorite answer, “I’m about to leave to travel around the world, couchsurfing, house sitting, doing odd jobs, photographing, painting, blogging and working on a book about my experiences.”
The most common response to that? “I’m SO jealous!!!”
The very fact that I have virtually nothing left of a material nature is exactly what frees me up to go on the most exciting adventure of my life! People want to know, “How can you afford to do that?” meaning really, how can THEY afford to do it. I tell them, if I can do it, anyone can do it. But it’s a matter of priorities, like possibly giving up their job with benefits and a steady paycheck, (after paying off their debt), selling their house/cottage/fancy cars/boat, even furniture/clothes/dishes/grandma’s silver/artwork/mountain bike/appliances, and on and on. Most people I know aren’t willing to do that. And I probably wouldn’t have been either. That’s where those cataclysmic life experiences, where the rug is literally pulled out from under your feet, give you a true advantage, if you choose to see it that way. Janis Joplin once sang that freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. It’s that loss that can truly set you free.
And so, after selling and donating everything a second time (it’s amazing what you can accumulate in 7 years after getting rid of everything the last time), I am taking the leap off the 100 foot pole again (really being shaken off while clinging for dear life) and heading to Australia, and then around the world.
Why start in Australia? Because as we head into winter in the US, it’s summer down under! And I’ve wanted to go there for 30 years, but postponed my trip to marry, raise children, have a career, and live in the suburbs. Plus, as happens when you take a leap, doors have started opening. Through a tele-class on finding your calling, I met a woman who lives in Australia and has offered to host me and introduce me to other friends who, as she puts it, are great tour guides.
I’ll take the rest of my savings, which I’d spend anyway living in the US on paying for a tiny apartment, gas, car insurance, phone bill and food while looking for jobs that don’t pay a living wage even if I could get one, and instead, buy a one way plane ticket and see how far it’ll take me. I believe I can make that money go a lot farther traveling through places like Vietnam, Cambodia, Slovenia and Croatia than staying in the US. (Visiting inexpensive countries, or couchsurfing and house sitting in the more expensive places – more on that in another blog). Could I end up back here broke in 6 months or a year? Possibly, though I don’t count on it. And even if I do, would I ever regret going? Not a chance!!
Forget unemployed, that sounds so depressing. My new job description – travel blogger, author, artist & photographer (and possibly English teacher, au pair, wine educator, sailing crew, hospitality worker, whatever odd jobs I might find along the way). My calling – to live authentically, out loud, and to inspire and encourage others to follow their own dreams!
Feel free to tag along. My phone is my camera, and although I don’t have fancy equipment, I’ve got a good eye and promise to post some great pics, maybe even a painting or two, for your enjoyment. I’ll tell you the good, the bad and the ugly, (the latter usually make for more interesting stories), and maybe, just maybe, inspire you to take a leap of your own!
*That was written in 2014 – here’s a brief update in 2018: the first year of travel I visited 14 different countries, and discovered it’s much less expensive to travel than to live full time in the US, so instead of coming back to my home country, I spent 6 months back in Thailand. After that, I housesat in California, traveling down the coast, and did three different 6 month stints in various places in Mexico, with visa runs in between. Finally, 3 1/2 years after I left the US that snowy November of 2014, I took the Coast Starlight train from LA to Oregon to Vancouver, and now I’ve come back to the US for the birth of my granddaughter. One year turned into four. You never know what life and the future will bring!
Lynn, you are living my dreams! Reading your blog and your posts on the Find Your Calling FB page have been a true inspiration. I will be following your adventures and creating my own!
Thanks Kris! Keep me posted about your adventures as well!!
I do not think it’s a coincidence that we have just met at this particular moment in my life! I resonate with so much of what you’ve shared here.
So inspiring! I love that you are following the sun.
Thank you Jennifer! I definitely choose summer over winter any day!!
YAY LYNN! You go girl!!! I’d like to tag along with you and live vicariously through you. 🙂 Your positivity is inspiring and I know that all the people in the Find Your Calling forum will enjoy keeping up with your adventures. I wish you happiness on your journey. Blessings to you!! Wendy:-)
Thanks Wendy! I really enjoy your posts on Find Your Calling as well!! More posts & pics to come…
I can’t wait to read your posts from down under and beyond!
I wish you safe travels my friend.
Amazing!! So excited for you, Lynn!! And grateful to have been a part of your journey and be able to see you ‘jump off the 100 foot pole”… Me next!! 🙂
Thanks Lisa! Yes, you too!!
Thanks Lizzie! Stay in touch!!
I SO admire you for doing this and living minimally! May you be blessed in the journey! I look forward to seeing the world through your eyes!
Thank you Virginia! I enjoy seeing your painting posts too!!
Your adventure will be priceless.
Thank you Susan! Can’t wait to share it with you!!
“Auntie” Lynn, you’re such an inspiration to me. I love you so much and wish you the best. I truly can’t way wait to read about all of your adventures (You know I love your stories)! XOXO, the Schnaar family will be thinking of you
Thank you so much Ashley! I love you too!! We can stay in touch via FB & Skype!!
I will miss my new friend immensely….as I attempt a similar path but in the U.S. Here’s to our safe travels and positive attitudes about the new world we are about to explore!! All the best Lynn…take care of yourself and thank you so much for being such a wonderful and thoughtful “inspiration”…when I needed you most !!!!!
Thanks for your support as well, Suze, it means so much to me! Safe travels to you too, and stay in touch. I’m happy to hear that you are already on your way and enjoying it all!!
Wow,Lynn! So well put. I love the way you have found “the gold” in your life’s difficulties. Ongoing blessings as you make your own way. Love, T.K.
You’re part of the gold in my life, Therese!!
It was so great to reconnect with you after so many years. I love your blog and will be checking in regularly to see what you’re up to.
Live the dream as no one else could! You are one courageous lady!
I do hope to see you, somewhere, sometime, in this vary small world!
Thanks so much for reaching out on Facebook! It was so great catching up with you, and what a small world it is that we are both in France, lol. It would be wonderful to meet up in person – let’s stay in touch and see where that might be! Meanwhile, thanks for checking out my blog & the words of encouragement. Safe travels to you too!!
Your experience resonates pretty strongly with me. My husband and I divorced after 26 years just as we hit “empty nest” years in 2011. In 2015 the office where I worked closed. I had already determined that I wanted to free myself from my STUFF so I cleared my house with a big cheap yard sale and then sold the last house I plan to own. I’ve rented a room in a new city (where my son attends school) and everything I own fits in this 150 sq ft bedroom except my bike, my hatchback car, and the old 15 ft sailboat I bought after selling my house. I’ve always wanted to learn to sail. (I took some lessons the year of my divorce).
I’ve been divorced five years now, and unemployed for 15 months. I’m in a city where treatment for my health/physical challenges is available and I am meeting people who live life simply and outside of traditional models infectious joy, love, and peace. Life is good.
As a student I spent a year in Europe studying Spanish. I have no strong ties to geography and expect to move on at some point, maybe soon. It depends on when I can pare down to what fits into my hatchback + boat and solving my income puzzle. After learning to sail, I’ll want to shed the car, boat & bike down to what I can carry (or maybe pack onto a boat?) and away I’ll go.
Thanks for your inspiration. I’m grateful our mutual friend introduced you to me and look forward to becoming better acquainted. Peace!
Thanks for writing – you’re right, there are a lot of parallels! Life is full of challenges, it’s what we do with them that counts. I am actually happier now with few possessions than when I had lots. You’re already over the biggest hurdle, paring down and letting go. Sounds like you’re about ready for the fun to begin! Best of luck, and feel free to contact me for more information 🙂 Lynn
Duckie asked who you were and I told him that you’d ridden home with me from La Manz to attend the writers conference and and he skyped me:
“I had to Google Lynn to make sure she’s not some on-the-run con artist. Nope, pretty cool! http://www.travelynntales.”
Remember, this is the guy who ran a police check on himself on the internet and sent it to me before I met him the first time! Ha.
Hahaha, I’ve been proof-read! I actually ran a police check on myself for my house and pet sitting profile. Good thing I came up squeaky clean 😉