I’ve spent most of my life living with family, only living alone the past 18 months. I found that, with the help of a paid handyman, I was very good at living alone. I liked living alone until I didn’t. Until I realized how much time I spent watching Netflix. I call those my Gray Years because they were somewhat dreary.
I’d find myself on the phone with other women who were single and living alone asking why there wasn’t a way to live together, but alone, either with family or friends. Why is the “correct” path in America to empty the nest, work hard and sacrifice for retirement, to end up living alone or in a nursing home?
While at the same time our children struggle to work and raise their children on their own, are exhausted and overwhelmed, as our generation was, and still is. And all this for to retire somewhere warm, travel after we are 65 or 70 when our financial advisors deem it is time.
There must be a better way and I’m determined to chart a different course. This trip is the start. I’ve learned that you can immerse yourself in another culture, become part of a community, make new friends and acquaintances while achieving your dreams—on your own, or join up with others.
Although I came to Italy alone, I am staying in a reading retreat and in exchange for a discount on room and board, I help wherever I am needed, doing basically the same chores I was doing at home for the family (except hanging laundry out to dry, or walking goats). I am contributing, meeting people from Italy, as well as all over the world. We share meals, stories, and adventures.
By coming alone, but being open to whatever opportunities presented themselves, I’ve gone to Bologna with someone I met here from Australia and to Venice with someone else. They were also single women and we traveled well together. Quiet, contemplative people who loved to meander, but also knew more about the culture than I did, and I learned so much more than I could out of a guidebook, or on a tour.
After my adventures in Italy, I plan to travel with family on a road trip to Colorado. I will then spend the summer with my daughter’s family, helping take care of the grandchildren. All of this feels right also.
This is one of the many lessons that I am absorbing on this trip. Being alone is good, being with others is also good. Being part of a community is most important, whether they are your family or a group of strangers who have come together to share a meal and an evening in rural Italy at a quiet retreat center.
I worried about leaving my community when I sold my home. It was the most connected I had ever felt outside of my family. What I’ve learned is community can be fluid. It can be long term, it can be short term. It can withstand long lapses of communication or last one night. It is about connections and there must be a better way of staying connected than working hard until retirement, living alone or in a planned community for senior citizens.
I’m learning about encore careers where you make a difference. I’m learning about B Corporations that pledge to give away a percentage of their profits to make a difference. I’m learning about how other cultures deal with work, retirement, and family. I’m learning you can travel the world through volunteering, assisting in research, learning or work for room and board. All of this opens so many possibilities for my generation and those who come after me. I’ve been so inspired by this journey so far and hope you find some inspiration in it as well.