How to take a time out later in life
All I needed was a break from the madness!
I remember the year I turned 51 very well. I recall lazing and pondering my life so far and then I was hit with the thought that "only 20 short years ago I was turning 31, now I'm over 50!) which then triggered the thought "OMG, that means in only 20 short years I'll be almost 71!) and this caused me to ask myself, "Are you Happy", to which I had to honestly answer, "No, not as happy as I could be".
Thus ensued my decision to retire from a 30+ year career in Nursing only 13 months after that fateful day.
This ultimately became my big "break" from the life I was currently living, but there were other little breaks along the way. As I reflect on these "breaks" I realize that many people take such breaks from their lives and routines as did I. I wish to discuss the wisdom and joy that such gaps from jobs and lifestyles can provide.
Following the path
I suppose my first "break" came in 2001. At that time I had been working for my company as a Nurse for about fourteen years. I married the love of my life that year in February. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and expected to only live 6 months to one year. Once he was settled at home after surgery and recovery I returned to my job. I had only taken a day off here and there in order to be there for my spouse.
It became increasingly difficult for me to provide the loving support to my husband and to continue working full time as a nurse. I frequently had to call in sick to take care of something that could not wait. It was creating ever more stress.
After about 3 months of this, I started to ponder taking a Leave of Absence from my job. I just felt that I had my whole life to be a nurse but only one year (if I was lucky) to be a wife. I had the support of my husband to take the leave to be home with him. I just needed to work it out in my own mind and then make a decision.
I recall going to sit with my then supervisor named Judy. I just want to say that Judy was the best supervisor I ever had in all my nursing career. She was a God send when we spoke. I recall her saying that maybe continuing to work but cutting my hours back would provide me with activity to keep my mind off of my husbands illness. She also understood how distracted I felt and that I was not where I should be. At last she simply said to me "Martha, if you feel this is the best choice you can make, I suggest you trust in the Universe and be with your husband, though we certainly will miss you here".
At last I felt I had the permission to take my leave of absence which I did do. I will never regret this choice. I had one year for them to let me come back to the same job. The company I worked for had a Union and some of the best benefits you can find.
It was pure joy to be able to just take care of my husband and in so doing, take care of myself. My heart needed the time with him and my faith carried me along.
My husband did lose his battle with cancer and passed away only 10 months after my leave of absence began. I was offered my same job back, but because he passed so closely to the one year mark I simply wasn't ready to return to work at that time. I took a few more months and went back to a new job in the same company later in 2002. The time away from work allowed me to heal and to feel able to again focus my energies on caring for others. It would be a long while before I felt the need for another break.
Here we go again
In 2008 I began traveling to Belize. I quickly fell in love with the country and truly felt I was being called to live there.
In 2009 I booked a 3 week stay in a town in Belize that I wanted to visit to get a feel if I would like to live there. My supervisor at the time after having approved this vacation refused to let me have the time off. I had already decided earlier that year that I would retire to move to Belize, but my plan was to wait until 2010 or even 2011.
But, when my supervisor refused the time off I had to do some serious evaluating! I had already paid for my airfare and lodging and most was non-refundable. I also was now in a job that I was extremely unhappy in. We worked very short staffed most days and I went probably a year without taking lunch or breaks and working overtime day after day. I loved being a nurse, but I feared bad outcomes for my patients being stretched too thin. And my sense of optimism and self respect were being destroyed. I simply felt that I could no longer do the work I had been doing for 30 years. As rewarding as being a nurse is, it can become a living hell when there simply aren't enough staff or support for the patients.
So, though it might not have been the wisest decision, I moved up my retirement date to 2009. I told my supervisor that I needed this vacation, so I would retire October first 2009. I think all along she was pushing me to retire. I was just 52 at the time, but my present place of employment seemed to want to rid itself of employees over 40 and who had a lot of seniority and in turn were reducing the benefits for new hires to save money.
So, retire I did. And I moved to Belize and I had a 3 year career there working as a Veterinary Technician utilizing many of my nursing skills. It was completely different in every way than any time in my life and that difference was exactly what I needed. I may have lived there indefinitely but my dear Mom was elderly and she was starting to decline in health. I opted to return to my home state in the US in the summer of 2012 and care for my Mom.
A few weeks after returning to the states I applied for a position as a Seasonal cashier for a local department store. I did not want to work as a nurse, and Veterinary technician jobs were not going to hire me without specific credentials; unlike the persons in Belize who valued my experience and passion over credentials and degrees.
I stayed with this for five months and worked part time so that I still had ample time to help my Mother.
After a while though my mother's needs got bigger and more frequent and I was having difficulty with work as the schedule was ever changing. I had to make the difficult decision to terminate my employment and to make taking care of my Mom my full time job. And that is exactly what I did until she passed away one year ago.
My only daughter was pregnant with her first child and so as soon as my lease ran out I decided to move once again in order to be nearer my family. My granddaughter quickly has become the dearest person in the world to me, along with her Mom.
In the year that I was not working but caring for my Mom, I went to school and became a Board Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. I felt being an entrepreneur would suit me well at this stage of my life. And having spent 30 years working as a nurse in typical Western Medicine, I felt that it would be wonderful to instead prevent illness by promoting health!
So, now I am in the process of building my own coaching business while I also write articles and blogs and best of all, I have a lot of time to sit with my granddaughter and see her grow up.
Do you need a Time out?
My point of the story is that there are times in life when one needs to step away from their means of making a living to instead just live! It is no longer the world our parents grew up in, but a new world with all kind of different options.
I think it is perfectly fine for an adult prior to the "age" of retirement to take time out and see what they might do differently. Many professors take a Sabbatical and return after to their jobs refreshed and able to bring enthusiasm again to their role.
Mothers will sometimes take time off after they have a baby beyond just a few months. Maybe they will stay home until their children have all left the "nest" and return to working after that time.
Still others will simply just pull up stakes and start all over somewhere new.
I think all of these options are great. It is up to the individual to do what they can to make their life the most meaningful and pleasant that it can be. More and more people are realizing that while a job does pay the bills and can even garner some great self satisfaction, it's not the end all and be all of life.
It is best to remember while making a living to also make a life! I welcome you all to explore your present and your future and make some choices now if you feel change is in order.
The things I regret in this life are not the risks I took, but the risks that I was too afraid to take.
Be a risk taker and Make your life all that it can be! You won't be sorry.