Whenever I go back to the States, I am always surprised how many people tell me I am living the dream; a double life of the part-time expat on the beach in Mexico while maintaining a place at home. “I would love to do that!” they tell me. I guess it surprises me because really anybody can.
Looking at the circulation of International Living newsletters, it appears many people share at least the dream of beaches and Mexican night skies. There are plenty of logical reasons not to live in Mexico. Mexico is not for everyone. They have made the comment though, so I take it on face value that they really would love to. Why don't they? For me the reason would have been fear. I was definitely afraid.
"Heaven is living in your hopes. Hell is living in your fears. It's up to each individual which one he chooses" - Tom Robbins, "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues."
Starting again from scratch at 50
A couple of years ago I certainly would not have thought I'd end up living alongside a Mexican beach. After moving to Denver from Virginia during the recession, I did all I could think of to jump-start my career again in a new town.
For several years my life consisted of meager contract work, interviewing (and all that goes with that), volunteering on boards, attending continuing educational courses, networking and every other imaginable thing associated with job hunting.
Things began to remind me of the old joke about the man selling his widgets at a loss, then telling everyone he would “make it up in volume.” If I kept up working harder and harder for less and less money, certainly I would be rewarded in the end, right?
Women in particular in the U.S. are struggling to regain the ground they lost in the Great Recession. My age wasn’t doing me any favors either. Women over 50 are unemployed longer and when they do find work, it's likely to be at a much lesser job and pay.
In spite of myself, I don't begrudge employers their prejudices. Having been a headhunter for a number of years in my first career, I saw first-hand how entrenched age discrimination is, and was often coerced to be part of it.
Recruiters are routinely expected by clients to discriminate. When you protest, they subtly suggest maybe they'll consider expanding the search to other recruiting firms.
The best we could hope for was their giving at least a cursory interviews to our older candidates. That's if you have a very good relationship with client. Usually they won't even "waste" their time and quietly hire another search firm if you insisted too much.
Remembering those days as a recruiter, I know there is little convincing to be done. Either they are one of the isolated few who have an open mind, or they are part of this majority who don't.
I'm not serving you up my personal bitter fruit. I'm serving you the candid conversations I had with literally thousands of employer-clients over the course of my 15-year recruiting career.
It's just reality. You can read all the cheery AARP advice you want and let people coach you on "right" responses to issues like energy level, technical skills and flexibility. It likely will not matter.That's why so many older people start their own businesses.
For me, it was a matter of whether I would acquiesce to a lesser, safer life doing just anything, or imagine a riskier, wildly different life.
By middle age we really should be fearless. Our children are grown. We have made or lost our fortunes. Many of our friendships have slogged to a slower journey of discovery. We are doing things for the 3rd, 4th or hundredth time even as the ramp gets shorter and shorter to try something new.
It should be a time when life experience, skills we've honed over a lifetime and knowledge of ourselves should converge into the most creative period of our lives.
Our final act should be a culmination of what we've learned and love about ourselves.
It should be a time of letting go of the hand bar of the roller coaster of life and waving our arms over our heads. Finally it matters much less what anyone else thinks.
By middle age, your ego should be tamed, awakened to the realization that other people aren’t paying near as much attention to your life as you thought they were. It has finally become your life.
Finding embers in the ashes
Our unique gifts and aspirations are the jewels within us that God intends us to find. They lay naked before us the older we get. Many people don't even look, afraid of where the discovery might take them.
They are afraid that it might carry them off, or might even carry them away. Our society creates plenty of distractions from the real task at hand, finally living an authentic life.
It gets harder to determine what you want versus what everyone else thinks you should want. Some people who have contacted me about moving to Mexico share that they aren't telling anyone about their plans. They know they will be herded towards what is expected of them, that thing everyone else does.
Is it the money?
Money usually comes up as an excuse not to pursue a new lifestyle or career. In my own trek toward expat life, what surprised me was how solutions to the budget problems appeared so organically.
You don’t have to solve problems. Problems solve themselves if you are truly committed to a new plan. I really like what actor Will Smith has to say on this:
"There's a redemptive power that making a choice has, rather than feeling like you're an effect to all the things that are happening. Make a choice. You just decide what it's going to be, who you're going to be, how you're going to do it. Just decide. And then from that point, the universe is going to get out of your way." - Will Smith
For example, constantly going back and forth and haggling over phone bills and contracts with Verizon propelled me towards total internet phone service, which costs practically nothing.
I wouldn’t have discovered E-salon (a custom hair coloring kit I take with me to Mexico) in place of my $180 salon visits if Mexican stylists knew how to color blond hair.
I dumped the $1,000 a month expense of owning a car for Uber and Lyft because paying what equates to $3,000 a month to use a car (based on four months in Denver) is just stupid.
Traveling with books became impractical, finally weening me off books for an electronic reader and cheaper e-books. Where ever I am, I may only have 10 outfits in the closet due to luggage limits, but they are 10 outfits I really like.
If you are a part-time expat, every time you see something you are tempted to buy, you have to think of how much you’d like carrying it around or paying to store it. All these savings from lifestyle change occur in addition to the savings you realize through the lower cost of living in Mexico.
The more some people have materially, the more locked they are on a lifestyle, even when it no longer fits their circumstances. So much for money buying freedom.
You’ve only one life
Again and again, you have to go back and examine what activities will make our lives feel most authentic and exciting and test them against currents of familiarity and safety.
You may wake up relieved, in total alignment.
You may wake up frightened because you know you are not aligned but are too afraid to change.
One day you will not wake up at all.
I read an excellent article in the New York Times about a triple amputee who made his palliative care his life work. One of the observations made was that at the end of life, rather than the existential clarity we anticipate, most often patients' days focus on "quotidian" beauty, small things.
It was a relief to realize that going with a simple sigh might be enough. We die with only a whimper and according to hospice volunteers, that's perfectly normal. Yet that is still one more reason why it's what you do between now and then that really matters most.
Take a happiness test with one of the twenty tests devised by Penn State to measure your happiness, engagement, flourishing, meaning and satisfaction with life.
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Hola - I'm a partner with Ventanas Mexico which provides insight and resources to people considering expat life in Mexico.
I am also author of the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online," a curation of the best Spanish language tools on the web, and "If Only I Had a Place" for aspiring expats desiring to rent luxuriously for less.