Stephanie Bungay on embracing change in midlife

When we’re young we’re encouraged to go on adventures, discover the world and who we are. But as we get older it is discouraged and even mocked – labelled a mid-life crisis. The truth is humans have always been able to embrace change, but why are we so scared about it as we get older?

Our 40s are a time of change, the average age for a new career is 39 and the average age for women getting divorced is 43. We also spend more time reflecting on what has been and what is still to come.  A survey of 40-year-olds showed over a third wished they’d travelled more, four in ten wished they’d put away more money, over a quarter wished they had kept themselves in better shape and 16% wish they had better qualifications.

So rather than a crisis, seeking new paths should be welcomed. It is an acknowledgement that we continually evolve and if our bodies and minds change as we get older, then naturally our desires do. Not following them can be unhealthier for us.

Part of the concern is that by mid-life we have a settled, hopefully comfortable, life – home, career, possibly a family and with that financial and other obligations. Any change is seen as having a negative impact on that stability. But it does not have to be re-building your whole life and crucially, it can be managed and, as I have discovered, gives you renewed energy and joy.

The first step is to listen to, question and voice your dream – it could be something small from studying a course to something more significant such as a new career. What is it you are seeking? And more importantly why – by answering this you might discover your dream is actually something else. Also tell others – not only to get advice, but someone who will check that you’re making those passions come true.

I always knew my dream was to live in Spain. The UK never felt like home – I had lived abroad before and travelled. In those moments I had a joy and comfort that I never got in the UK. However, I buried those desires, partly fear and partly conforming to a so-called ‘normal-life’ with a successful job and beautiful home. No partner or children and happy, healthy and positive being single. But the longing in my soul to leave the UK was always there.

In 2016 my world crumbled when someone tried to rape me. I continued trying to exist within the life I had built and thinking I could deal with the impact; however, it was clear I needed counselling. This not only allowed me space to deal what happened, but to also consider my wider-life. If I was to heal and re-build what would that look like? Being true and good to myself above others was something I had never done before, but now that was central. That meant accepting that I would be happier abroad and also quitting PR, which was not fulfilling me.

Of course, it wasn’t as simple as packing up and going. My second tip – research, plan and save. I spent around a year saving up. I did a course in Teaching English as a Foreign Language – a complete career change on top of a new country; sold or gave away clothes and household goods (getting rid of my books was hard!); rented out my flat (and later sold it so eventually I can buy in Spain); researched where to move to and spent time in Spain to give the thumbs up or down to a location. Then I applied for jobs to ensure I had financial stability on arrival.  This might sound like a delay, but it built the excitement, with deadlines and goals. Every step was one closer to being me in the place where I was meant to be.

There will be some sacrifices – whether that’s financial, time or relationships, but not realising your dream is also a sacrifice. Planning ahead will allow you to better manage the process and have support in place. It requires commitment and time to make the dream a reality, but don’t be deterred.

Finally, just go for it – I set myself a date when I would move (looming Brexit deadlines were great for focusing my mind). I was offered a job and I went, with just one rucksackand a suitcase for my new adventure.

I moved to Almeria in the south of Spain, the best choice for me as it is very much Spanish and doesn’t have a large British community. I love Spain because of language, culture and people so Almeria meant I could immerse myself in this. However, there are times when the language and cultural differences clash (particularly around politics and feminism) and tasks that are intuitive in the UK make no sense here and you have no idea how the process works. You yearn for what you’re used to. Also turning 40 and starting out as a teacher was a rollercoaster – literally thrown in at the deep-end on my first day on a subject that I knew little about, which I was not used to in a career situation. It took me a few months to feel confident and enjoy it.

Five years on, I still get a moment every day where my heart bursts with ‘wow, this is my life’. It bears no resemblance to that in the UK. I have the perfect life work balance (something the UK needs to learn from Spain), I get time to enjoy my hobbies and my only possessions are my bike, my paddle board and my padel racquet. I love that I speak and think in Spanish and am learning the history and culture of my new county. Being here has strengthened my confidence and love for myself and broadened my outlook.

Change shouldn’t be feared at any age – it is a time of personal growth and new opportunities.

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