At 45 I was ready to take the big leap. I’d listened to all those entrepreneurs, life coaches, motivational speakers and gurus about following your dreams. Don’t let fear hold you back. Go for it. You only live once.
That messaging, popping up day after day in my feed, dragged me in. Convinced me that I could – I should! – be living a bigger life. In fact, I got the feeling that maybe I was a bit of an idiot to not pursue the entrepreneurial, goal-obsessed dream. It just takes hard work! Anyone can do it.
So why not me? I’d lived a very adventurous life up until, well, having kids. I climbed mountains in Nepal, rappelled off cliffs at midnight, hiked Peru self-guided, competed in Ironman triathlons around the world, skinny-dipped in the Mediterranean. I could do this! In fact, listening to these guys and girls, I could do anything!
My dream was to pack up my family and move to Europe. Learn the language. Embrace the culture. Continue my successful career in an international setting.
We moved to Europe, to the country of my husband’s birth. That would make it easy right? Well, no.
At first, it was a dream come true. We had planned carefully, worked our arses off and saved enough money to get us through the first year. We found a beautiful village to live in and rented a gorgeous apartment. We quickly met the locals and went to every village event. Our kids settled into the local school and picked up the language in six months. Happy days.
And then the holiday was over. Our bank account dwindled and we hadn’t found work. Despite my qualifications, being a foreigner put me at the bottom of the “suitable applicant” list, not to mention not knowing the language. I applied for more than 50 jobs in six months. Most of them never responded.
And thanks to the language gap, those friendly locals were still friendly, but they weren’t quite up to having a coffee with the Aussie who could only speak in present tense and mixed up the word for “eraser” with “condom”. I was only asking about what was on the list of school supplies!
So, here I am in my beautiful apartment, in a beautiful village, in a beautiful country - terribly, heart-wrenchingly lonely. My kids are happy and at school every day and my husband has found some part-time work, but we’re flat broke. And let’s not get into what that does to a marriage. We’re barely talking.
I’m studying hard – extra language courses, extra academic courses – anything to keep me moving forward. But, damn it, it’s really hard. I miss the easiness of life in Australia. Where the day-to-day is so familiar, it’s almost automatic.
Where I understand what people are saying to me, including the subtleties of vocal and non-vocal language. Where I am a sort-after employee and not the bottom of the list. Where, if I argue with my husband, my girlfriends pick me up because they’re right there, every day. All of that is gone and life sucks right now.
But, I don’t want to go back. Not yet. Maybe not ever.
Because I came here, with my family, to achieve something. I’m here to learn, not just the obvious things like language and driving on the wrong side of the bloody road, but deeper, meaningful lessons.
For example, no matter how tough it gets, I’m able to get up each morning, get my kids off to school with a smile and then pick up where I left off the day before searching for a door to stick my foot in.
LISTEN: Holly Wainwright and Andrew Daddo discuss the couple who retired in their 30s to travel the world with their kids (post continues after audio...)
People are kind. They really are. We’ve been welcomed with open arms and been given so many gifts of fresh fruit and vegetables, home-made jams and cakes from our farming neighbours. We were even given a quarter of a cow (slaughtered the day before) which we could barely cram into our tiny European freezer. I can see that in time, those friendly people will become friends.
We need less “stuff” than we thought. We don’t need to go a shopping plaza and watch the latest movie release in Gold Class. Now, we put on our hiking boots and walk in the mountains with our dog and have a picnic, overlooking spectacular scenery.
And the list goes on. But for me, the most important lesson is a mind that is open to new experiences is essential for growth and I know I’m growing. It’s exciting to imagine what the next year, and the year after that will bring.
So, in a way I’d like to say thanks to all those social media motivational gurus out there. You really fired me up, and even though you left out the stuff about how tough it would be and for how long, you’re right, it really is about the journey.
Michelle, originally from Brisbane, is a former journalist, PR specialist and adventure traveller who settled down to have kids when she met her Euro hubby. She reclaimed the adventurous lifestyle and moved the family to Europe with little more than a dream and no-where near enough savings. She's now running a trekking business and communications business and dreams of eventually getting the hang of skiing.