2017 was my gray year. I can’t even say it was my grey year because using that spelling would make it sound more interesting. It was just gray.
I know I was not alone in how I felt from a political point of view because my Facebook feed was reflecting the hearts and minds of many others who were upset and angry. I was so upset I created a support group until it was too depressing to keep meeting.
I decided it was time to let my gray hair grow out. I felt it was time to see what I was supposed to look like. Covering the gray hair seemed wrong, unnatural and became part of the peeling back of the onion of finding out who I was now that I wasn’t the on-call mother that I had been for the past 35 years.
My clothes were gray. My house was beautifully decorated using gray tones. Even my car was gray (although it was a Fiat and fun to drive). And of course, there are lots of gray weather days in the Midwest. I listened to NPR daily and became addicted to Twitter. I subscribed to Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and the New York Times and stopped reading anything else. I no longer listened to music, but podcasts. It was a never-ending doom loop.
But there was a dawn breaking on the horizon, I just didn’t believe it.
I had a friend who recently turned 60 and shared that she that she realized she had 10 good years for active travel. I nodded my head and then realized I only had 12 years until I was 70 years old. 12 short years to live a life I created, rather than one that was created for me as daughter/wife/mother/grandmother/employee.
Over the winter and spring, I joined an online financial coaching program that had me analyze my spending and articulate my goals and measure the gaps between them. I attended a three-day workshop and found myself declaring I was going to go home and turn my liabilities into assets by selling my house and begin traveling. It was just words, but they felt good to say.
I shared this with a friend on my birthday a few weeks later and she put me in touch with a sabbatical coach named Tara Russell. Who knew there was such a thing?! We had a great conversation and she shared some reading materials including You Are a Badass and The Nomad book. But it was too soon and felt like a fantasy.
Shortly after that, I read a New York Times article about a company called Center for Interim Programs that placed mid-career adults into gap year experiences. I filled out the interest inventory and participated in a 90-minute Skype call that started to bring color to my world. But it was too soon. I had a job, a house and two children in college.
In late November my father’s health declined very rapidly. One morning he was telling me he’d be over in the morning to do some paperwork, that night he went into a coma that led to his death a week later. This event drained all conversations of change for the remainder of the year and colored everything dark gray—again.
2018 started as each year has for the past 15 years—in a vision boarding exercise with dear friends. We get together January 1 and articulate our dreams. My board was again all about travel, but to be honest was still a fantasy to me. But this year I added accountability. Meeting monthly with friends—both old and new—we talked about our dreams for the year and how we be accountable. Again, I was talking a big game which inspired many—but seemed unrealistic to execute.
More accountability came through two coaches I was working with—one who I’d been working with for several years. One I was blessed to have been assigned to through a non-profit in December.
Then the manifestation started. The job ended, the house sold. The coaches took off their coaching hats and gave advice, and the vision board called me. I had the resources through Tara Russell of Three Month Visa and Holly Bull of the Center for Interim Programs and it all came together. An opportunity to travel and volunteer in Italy for a month. A way to utilize the opportunity of time to grow as an executive and strengthen my skills for non-profit leadership at the next level.
I broke up with NPR, ditched Twitter, sold the car and either sold or packed away everything I owned. After volunteering, I took a vacation in Eastern Europe with a friend and came back to my daughter’s home for the summer. To help her become the next generation super-mom—trying to balance work and family. Hopefully, she sees that there is a rainbow at the end for herself. Taking a “gap” doesn’t have to mean traveling full time, it can be taking a break from the escalator of life. To stop moving nonstop from career to retirement, but to build in mini-retirements. To stop and appreciate good health, family and the amazing life I have.
I now live and breath in full color, appreciating the gray in my hair and the color in my life that comes from a love of family, community, and a long life of experiences yet to come!