I’m turning 65 in a few weeks, and I’m thinking about another milestone birthday that marked the beginning of a new life for me. Turning 50 was the catalyst for launching an international lifestyle that I’m still enjoying today and plan to keep on enjoying into my 70s and beyond.
A woman’s 50th birthday was once commonly seen as the beginning of the end. From that point on, women could expect a life of blue rinse invisibility and service to their multi-generational families.
These days, though, with scientists making the case for 60 as the new middle age, we’re celebrating milestones that were formerly viewed as tombstones. We’re seeing that renewal, empowerment and maybe even a sprinkling of life-changing magic are possible at any age.
I turned 50 in the fall of 2006. In the year or so leading up to it, I found myself thinking a lot about what I wanted my life to look like in Act Three. For me, the worst case end of life sentiment would be regret.
I was already experiencing the G-force sensation of passing time, and I felt the need to take stock of my dreams and make some plans.
One of my best friends was also turning 50 that year, so we got a group of women together for a trip to Italy and rented a villa in Tuscany. I know. Cliché, right? We kept running into other groups of women celebrating someone’s 50th. The conversation flowed almost as freely as the red wine and limoncello. The prevailing question was “what’s next?”
I started planning the “what’s next?” pretty quickly after my return from Italy. I was single, childless by choice, and ready for a big adventure. Top of my dream list was living and working abroad.
I’m a teacher by profession, but my professional path also included intensive years in a non-profit organization, and I wondered how I could use my skills and experience to build the new life I was longing for.
Some research led me to teaching opportunities in the Canadian High Arctic. Not quite abroad, as I’m Canadian, but I’d dreamed of the far north since devouring Jack London’s Call of The Wild as a child. It just felt like the right place to start. Still within the safety net of my own country, but exotic and otherworldly enough to fulfil my dreams.
I spent the next four years living and working in remote fly-in communities. The challenges and exhilaration of life above the Arctic Circle brought out the best in me and propelled me to new levels of self-reliance, resilience and innovation.
I once repaired a photocopier in my school with telephone help from a technician 3,500 kilometers away and then solved internet problems and started to think of myself as a tech savvy person. The mindset I developed during this time led me to a multimedia journalism program a few years later.
But I wanted to pursue my dream of living abroad. My first overseas posting was China, followed by Malaysia, Oman, Angola, Malawi and now I’m in Sudan. Each place presented challenges and gifts in equal measure and often the challenges turned out to be gifts in disguise.
I learned to dig deep and find out what part of my former Canadian life I needed to continue to take with me. After my first year in China, I returned to Canada, packed up my house and listed it for sale. I took a few treasured items and gave away the rest.
Over the past few years, I’ve been learning to gauge the value of my possessions by the going airline rate for excess baggage. The stuff just started falling away and I didn’t miss it.
With each relocation to another country, I felt stronger and more capable of adjusting to current realities and circumstances. On my 60th birthday, I made the decision to set up a retirement life in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
I bought a condo, renovated and furnished it and went through the process of getting a retirement visa. I’m not sure when I’ll retire from teaching and live there year-round, but it was a convenient bolt hole when Covid hit, and it’s a lovely home base while I’m still working abroad.
This year, on the day before my birthday, I’ll fly from my current home in Khartoum, Sudan to Cairo, Egypt for a holiday. I’ll explore and marvel with gratitude and make plans for the next few years.
I hope you’ll continue to follow my monthly posts at Sixty and Me. I’ll be sharing my experiences as well as practical tips and advice about how you can adopt an international lifestyle. I’m looking forward to hearing from you in the comments section and starting a discussion about making major lifestyle changes after 60.
Have you ever thought about working and/or retiring abroad? These days there are so many options for working abroad after 60. The pandemic has firmly cemented the place of remote work and teaching abroad remains a favorite post-retirement option for many people in their 60s and beyond. Let’s talk about possibilities!