When I moved to Mexico in 1996, a couple of my friends admired my courage, but most people I knew considered me crazy. They didn’t understand why, at age 50, I’d leave friends, family and a great high-paying job to retire to a country where I didn’t speak the language, knew no one and, by giving up my next 15 years of salary, would have to drastically reduce my lifestyle.
According to several published surveys, 80% of people in the U.S. and Canada, are uncomfortable with change. I’m one of the other 20%.
In Alan Deutschman's book, “Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life,” he states that only one of nine people will make lifestyle changes (diet, exercise, new job, etc.) even if they know they could prolong their life, restore their health, reverse diabetes, reduce stress and perhaps even prevent heart disease.
Other studies have determined that most people seem predisposed to resist change because the present feels safe and stable. They are creatures of habit. They sometimes prefer to remain mired in misery rather than to head toward an unknown. We’ve all known such people. My sister stayed married to the same man for 25 years in an unhappy relationship. She kept the same job for 30 years refusing promotions because she felt confident in what she was doing and was afraid she might fail in another position.
Well-known sayings such as “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know” and “being is easier than becoming” have evolved as a result of this aversion to change. What is it they also say? “The only sure thing in life is change.” Becoming comfortable with change and taking risks requires a tolerance of ambiguity, a clear goal and receptivity to learning new ways of being and doing. Or, in my case, a predilection to learning new ways.
As the world finds itself in the current Covid pandemic, political unrest and social upheaval, changes are being forced upon people in all walks of life--changes the world didn’t ask for and doesn’t want. Some people are adjusting by learning new ways to educate, live, work and die; others are not.
Most of the major changes in my life were self-inflicted. I lived in three countries, five states, eleven cities and I can’t remember how many homes. I have had seven careers, too many jobs to count and only two that existed before I took them. I got high on starting up new endeavors, new hobbies and new studies. Once I had learned them, it was time to move on to something new.
Change experts say you need to have a clear goal. In 1970 after my divorce and with two toddlers, I had $300 in my pocket and was living without child support on a secretary’s salary. My only goal was to make more money. That goal, along with my evolving desire to climb the corporate ladder, kept me taking risk after risk in my various careers.
One of the biggest risks I took was when I was an information technology manager at Hewlett-Packard in Vancouver, Washington and I was offered a marketing management position at HP in Germany. My children were nine and ten. I had no experience in international product marketing, knew no German and knew no one there except for the man who wanted to hire me. I asked him why he’d offer me the job without even an interview. He said, “Blue, I believe it’s easier to train someone who has developed accounting systems in her career how to market them, than it is to train marketing people how to talk to CFO’s about international accounting systems.” I hoped he was right.
I accepted with two clear goals. Number one: Don’t fail. Number two: Learn something new. It was a three-year commitment. I sold my house and I took the risk. I had, by then, developed a tolerance to ambiguity and openness to, nay, even excitement to new experiences. After six months, I figured I had made a mistake. My family was ready to return from Germany to the U.S. The kids had to be bused to an army school. I was in over my head. Stores were closed weekday evenings, Sundays and Saturday afternoons. There were only two female professionals besides me in the division. Although I was taking German lessons, it was slow. I was the only single parent there and we didn’t fit in with the single employees or the families. I hadn’t done my homework.
After six months, we began to adjust. We found a small international expat community who befriended us. Together we skied on the Alps and explored Germany and the rest of Europe on the weekends. I learned to drink beer and speak in front of audiences without having a panic attack. At the end of three years, the kids and I spoke what I’d call “tourist German,” and I travelled around the world introducing our new accounting software.
Surprisingly, returning home was more difficult than moving to Germany. I expected things to be different there and they were. I expected things to be the same when I returned. They weren’t. Peers had moved on. My career path had been diverted and even friends weren’t interested in what we had done for the past three years. We didn’t return to Washington, we returned instead to Silicon Valley where I started up a new department getting educational and game software converted to HP’s new personal computer line. The kids had to readjust yet again to a new school and develop new friendships.
Eventually, after several more career moves, I left corporate America to start a direct marketing consulting company with two partners. Although we did well, working 80-hour weeks didn’t leave me enough time for family, friends or fun. I felt successful. I felt confident. I also felt that doing more of what I was doing and getting more of what I was getting might make me richer, but was not going to make me healthier or happier.
I had three clear goals when I decided to retire early to Mexico: First, put more balance in my life; second, never have another goal; and third, never let panty hose touch my legs again.
When I had first announced this decision to my grown kids, my daughter gave me a thumbs up and reminded me of one of my many quotes, “The only thief of dreams is fear,” and my son asked me, “Mom, what if you don’t like it?”
I had a ready answer. “It’s not the last decision I get to make.”
That was 25 years ago and there’s never been a regret. Was it scary? Yes. Was it worth the risk? Absolutely.