When our lives hit rock bottom almost five years ago, I wished someone had been there to tell me everything was going to be okay. Looking back is a beautiful thing. On the other hand, it needed to hit the deck to force us to examine where we were in life and where we definitely weren’t.
Honestly, if someone had told us everything was going to be okay, we might never have embarked on the most important journey of our lives. In crisis mode, my husband Malcolm and I rediscovered perseverance and redefined what success means to us. Sounds profound doesn’t it? I promise it’s not.
In plain language: five years ago he suddenly lost his job in banking. Although he had been unhappy for quite some time, it still came as a huge shock. I had managed a busy children’s fitness franchise for five years. With three children of my own, I too got nothing. Having recently wrapped it up, we found ourselves on a Thursday with literally no income, no savings and a sense of impending doom in the pit of our stomachs. Not only were we scared, but we felt like complete and utter failures.
Luckily, we didn’t have much time to think about our shortcomings. Within hours I hatched the idea of opening kennels as a short term solution and my husband took a job as a gardener until he figured out his next step, applying for jobs and going to interviews. Note to self: Taking care of dogs isn’t easy, nor is working nine hours outdoors six days a week. With little other option, we plowed on and plowed on to fall into bed at night, too tired to contemplate what came next or reflect on the past. We lived one day at a time, surviving to survive.
Then the strangest thing happened. In the midst of the worst time ever, we slowly began to reform differently after falling apart. I’m not quite sure when I first felt the fresh wind of change blowing through us. Perhaps it witnessed my husband come home in the evening tanned and healthy, satiated after a day’s work. Maybe it was his animated babble about types of flowers I couldn’t pronounce, watching his smile widen a bit, or the realization that there’s more than one way to skin a cat.
During that time it dawned on both of us, separately and then together, that earning a living is very different from accumulating a fortune. We had tried to accumulate wealth and failed miserably and felt utterly depressed and exhausted. Instead, we did the only thing that made sense. We moved to a heap where achievement meant more than focusing on making as much money as possible, where success became happiness.
On a Friday evening, over a horrendously cheap bottle of wine, we finally addressed the subject of the future. He had just turned 40 and I was next. It felt like halftime – a chance to reevaluate, an opportunity to correct past mistakes and follow dreams. I can’t remember which of us asked the question, if money were no object, what would we want to do with the rest of our lives, but our answers were clear.
He had fallen in love with working outdoors with his hands, and I told him I finally felt ready to write. It was something I had been threatening for many years, but until that moment I didn’t feel like I had anything to say. Suddenly I did. I giggled like the school kids we were when we first met and told him to turn down the permanent retirement job he’d been offered at another bank and go into gardening on my own. He told me to write the book. Then stupidly as some would say and although money was an issue we did it anyway and vowed not to give up until we made it.
They say that we all have two lives and that the second begins when we realize we only have one. Almost five years later and with many sacrifices, Malcolm has a successful gardening business, Getagardener.ie, with upcoming expansion plans. As for me, I just published my fifth book, don’t follow me anymore. It wasn’t an easy journey. Raising two teenagers and a teenager while working harder than we’ve ever had in our lives and keeping the wolf out the door has proven to be a challenge. A healthy savings account and countless visits to the career coach might have helped, but sometimes it’s time to follow a dream, even when it couldn’t seem worse.
Head down has become our motto. We only worry about today and try to exclude negativity. Yes, we received a lot of unsolicited advice, sifted through opinions, and encountered a healthy dose of job snobbery. “Gardening? Really?” And “Do you know how hard it is to make it as a writer?”
I read somewhere the other day that some people are afraid of change. More specifically, they fear that other people will significantly change their lives because it may make them question their own. Of course, change can be difficult, but it is also necessary. The older we get, the shorter life becomes. It’s really going to be a case of now or never. We have now decided. In adversity, we found true fulfillment in our daily lives.
I met my husband when I was 16 years old. Back then, and maybe until recently, I believed that success meant a big house, nice cars, and more Gucci handbags than I could carry, but not anymore. To me, success means happiness and being true to yourself. I have accepted that there are many material things I may never own or places I may never see, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Sitting with him every Friday night over a less-awful wine, chatting about where I am with a book or where he is with plans for his business, there’s a fire inside of us I never knew existed until we reached our second act.
As for our children, the only thing I can say to them when it comes to their future careers is do what makes you happy. The rest will follow. Instead of chasing money, you are chasing dreams. Almost as many people tell me they carry a book as say they can’t think of anything worse than to sit still and write. I always say the same thing to the first group: just write the book. And second, I tell them that I couldn’t think of anything better, especially if the road I traveled to get here was long.
Today, that same path is lined with an abundance of flowers I still can’t pronounce, brought to life to within an inch and lovingly tended at the other end with a contented smile. This path is the epitome of life.
don’t follow me anymore by Judith Cuffe is available now from Poolbeg Books
https://www.independent.ie/life/midlife-career-change-wed-tried-amassing-wealth-and-failed-miserably-leaving-us-feeling-utterly-downtrodden-and-depleted-41867068.html Midlife Career Change: “We had tried to amass wealth and failed miserably, leaving us feeling utterly dejected and exhausted”