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When I lost my job, I lost myself. Until I was saved by bees.

How does a woman thriving in a busy international marketing role reinvent herself as a beekeeper, and organic gardener? The answer to that is simple: an unexpected redundancy.

It was a huge shock being made redundant just weeks after turning 60. I simply didn’t see it coming, having had a very successful career.  Although I’d started to plan the next stage of my working life, I’d intended to continue in the job I loved for a few more years. I was managing an international marketing position which saw me working in India and Nepal (places I loved) for three months a year.  I loved the work and the relationships I’d built with business partners in these countries.

However economic downturns and changes in government policies affecting the markets I worked in meant my job was no longer viable. It took more than a bit of adjusting to, the lack of structure and stimulation loomed as a challenge.

I’d be kidding myself if I said the redundancy wasn’t a blessing in disguise financially.  It was a windfall, especially as I’d been working for the company for many years. The payout was substantial enough to enable me to clear my debts and bank a lump sum. I was fortunate to have just enough superannuation to live a simple but comfortable life.

Decisions like stopping work are obviously easier to accept if they’re made by you, at a time that suits you. However, at 60, still with plenty of fire in my belly, I’d completely under-estimated just how much my work had defined who I was, and how much self esteem and satisfaction I’d derived from work. I’d been in paid employment since I was 16 years old, and to be suddenly unemployed saw me rattling around the house with far too much time on my hands. The day had no structure and not enough stimulation. I was very aware I didn’t want to fill my days with activities that held little interest or inspiration, or to sit around feeling sorry for myself. I needed to reinvent who I was and what defined me. It was tough for a few months.

My husband and I had recently relocated to an idyllic three acres of land on the outskirts of a small village in the southern highlands of NSW. This particular little village is populated by very active retired people from all walks of life. People with interesting lives, a strong commitment to the environment, politics, the arts, community gardens and more came into my life.

There were growing number of young families, people escaping city life and those either commuting or working from home, or looking to buy a house in a more affordable real estate environment moving into the area. Being bored really was not an option and there were many groups and and activities I could get involved with. But I wanted a bit more than that. I wanted a new direction and a challenge that would develop new skills, as well as using those built up over many years in the workforce.

My city life, both professional and personal, began to fade into the background as new interests, opportunities and friendships emerged. Having time to think about what I wanted to do, without the restrictions of paid work, was a gift. I joined a vibrant reading group, an amazing community garden, and started doing a lot more walking in the beautiful national park that borders our land. Meanwhile, my brain was ticking over with ideas for engaging with the world beyond our place.

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The grand passion that has emerged is bee-keeping. Three years in, I’m the proud owner of five bee hives, Secretary of the Southern Highlands Apiarists’ Association, and an active member of the local community garden where I also manage a hive. The bees are great team players, and have taught me a thing or two about respecting their space. Whenever anyone asks if I’m retired, I say “no, I’m just not doing paid work anymore”.

unexpected redundancy
" I joined a vibrant reading group, an amazing community garden, and started doing a lot more walking in the beautiful national park that borders our land." Image via iStock.

Another huge positive about having more time on my hands has been the opportunity to focus on my health and fitness. Access to fresh organic fruit and vegetables, often grown in our own garden, is fantastic. The ease of getting out into nature and the lack of stress are enormous benefits. I feel fitter, stronger and more relaxed in my early 60s than ever before.

Our organic vegetable garden is getting lots of attention. I’m fully engaged with life beyond paid work, and managing to dodge most of life’s problems. I checked my bee hives for the first time since winter, and am happy to report there is a honey flow on, so the season for honey is also looking abundant - which is a bit of a metaphor for my reinvented life.

How have you reinvented your life?

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