A ‘risky’ way of life isn’t for everyone but Sandra Louise Walsh ditched retirement and embraced a risky ‘water gypsy’ lifestyle.
I suspect family and friends would have no reluctance informing you I’ve been a bit of a rebel from an early age. I’m in my mid-fifties now and yet to ‘grow up’.
Rules and regulations send a bristle up my back and usually generate the question “But why can’t I?” Unsurprisingly it’s got me into a bit of strife from time-to-time…
Admittedly growing up in the 1960s made individuality easier and more fun than it is today! We’d yet to be negatively influenced by the mass media into the (mostly) false belief the world is an unsafe place – especially for children.
Evidence of the powerful link between our thoughts and emotions is constantly emerging. The more we think the world is a scary place, the more likely we are to believe it.
I’d often spend whole days playing with friends, from the age of five or six, and my parents rarely had a clue where I was or what I was doing. Which was probably a good job reflecting on memories such as laughing happily whilst innocently running naked through an open field with a couple of girlfriends and a boy – who sadly died when he was in his early twenties. It feels now like a great example of the adage ‘carpe diem’, seizing each and every day.
Another treasure in the magic-moment-chest is of knocking on a complete stranger’s door, when my friend and I had been out riding our bikes for hours suddenly realising we had absolutely no clue where we were. Luckily I knew my home phone number, and the lovely lady let me call my dad to come and collect us. Of course this was decades before the mobile phone revolution.
We experienced such freedom. I feel really fortunate to have been able to ‘be’ a child.
You see my father was an early adventurer too. I was fortunate to inherit a disproportionate percentage of his genes.
His father had died suddenly when dad was just 14 years old. Rather than letting that limit his life as an only child with a mother in her 50s, the only thing I discovered a few years ago was he chose not to pursue a dream of a new life in New Zealand due to feeling responsible for her.
However he did live and work in Bahrain and Nigeria in his early 20s, cycling back to England from Switzerland, through Europe, in his late 20s just after the second-world war. He continued to find ways to travel with his family once he’d married and had his four daughters, and after we grew up and left home.
Not conforming to the ‘norm’
Since adulthood I’ve rarely been one to conform to society’s expected ‘norms’. A few instances that spring to mind include:
- Travelling to France on my own when I was 10 to stay with some of my dad’s friends (admittedly not strictly alone, but without my family).
- Being a model for the British hairdressing team in the World championships when I was 13 – travelling with the ‘team’ to Vienna and staying in my own hotel room. Posing for the judges for over an hour each day with my streaks of bleached hair and neatly coiffed pin-curls!
- Having my first daughter when I was a month off 17 years old. Marrying her father, because it was ‘expected’, then finding a way to leave him feeling I was suffocating and needing so much more from life.
- Leaving my daughter with mum for three years while I did my general nurse training an hour’s drive away – seeing her on my days off each week and holidays. Crying each time I left, but staying strong knowing having a career would be vital to my self-esteem and future earning capabilities.
- Divorcing husband number two after eight years, at the age of 28, and now with two daughters, rather than continue to tolerate a life of emotional and financial abuse.
- Buying a house and training to be a midwife, working full-time whilst bringing up my two girls as a single parent.
- Selling my house and car, giving up a senior midwifery leadership post and ‘secure’ workplace of 14 years, and travelling to the other side of the world at 42 – this time really alone and knowing nobody.
- Returning to England nine months later, with no money, no house, no car, no job, and moving in temporarily with my parents.
- Securing a senior ‘Recruitment and Retention Lead’ midwifery post in a London teaching hospital, and subsequently a very senior role as the ‘National Midwifery Recruitment and Retention Lead’ for England.
- Eighteen months later, in January 2005, after having found the means to buy another house, selling up and immigrating to New Zealand (permanently I imagined!)
- At 53, selling up AGAIN, this time with my third-time-lucky kiwi husband. We returned to England in March 2013, bought a narrowboat, and followed through with a plan to sustain our modest, simple, but full-of-freedom-lifestyle as self-employed floating entrepreneurs.
Not waiting to live until ‘retirement’
I’ve had a bit of a bugbear for a number of years about not waiting to live until the made-up by politicians (and frequently changing) age of retirement.
I’m now almost 56 years old with no fixed abode, just a narrowboat that my husband and I own, and the requisite money safely tucked away to apply for the second round of my husband’s ‘Sponsored spousal UK visa’. Apart from that, I have a lump sum in New Zealand from my NHS Superannuation pension transfer, locked in until I’m 60, and my meagre British pension when I’m 66 (I don’t think they can change that age again, though anything’s possible?!).
I retrained as a Holistic Life Coach in 2011, leaving a 25-year midwifery career in March 2013. In the spring of 2014 I added a face-painting business to my income stream, and now trade alongside my husband who runs ‘The Home Brew Boat’, selling everything you need to ‘make your own’ at home. We trade at festivals and on-line.
The world is such a small place now we have the Internet and can earn money as ‘location independent’ people.
It’s taken some time to grow our self-employed foundations, but the tide seems to be turning and we’re beginning to earn enough to make ends meet. With a plan to bring in more as time goes on.
To be brutally honest – and most people will find this a frightening prospect – we have absolutely no idea what we’ll be doing when we’re ‘retired’, or even in which hemisphere we’ll be living.
Even more crucially I believe, IF we’ll be still here by then!
Because let’s face it, none of us can predict exactly when we’ll die – unless we’ve paid for a planned-death-trip to a Swiss clinic.
Paying into a pension is basically an insurance policy. The government knows full well a decent proportion of people won’t reach the age of drawing out the money they’ve paid in, or will only last a few years having worked themselves into an early grave.
Making plans too far ahead can prevent you living fully TODAY. We don’t know what’s around the next corner.
I realise living this way isn’t for the feint hearted or those who crave certainty and security.
Counting the days, or making the days count?
I vividly recall as a newly qualified midwife, the Head of Midwifery discussing how she was ‘counting the days’ until she could get her NHS Superannuation ‘pay-out’ and leave.
And the Obstetrician who worked his socks off (or hands?) until well into his 70s, eventually retired, and died shortly afterwards.
Or the gregarious man we met at Panakeri Bluff, tramping alone on a walk around Lake Waikaremoana, New Zealand, one of the most unspoilt areas of bush in the world. As a retired financial adviser he wasn’t short of money. What he was short of was companionship. Having waited patiently to live their dream, believing he had to have ‘x’ amount of money stashed safely away first, his wife died shortly after he’d ‘made it’. He continued with their vision – but undoubtedly it wasn’t the same.
So when Harry asked a question in his ‘Seniorpreneurs’ LinkedIn group about whether people were planning on stopping work after they ‘retired’, I was moved to share my thoughts and feelings. [You can still answer the question: Will you "work-until-you-drop" or stop altogether? via LinkedIn or via Facebook]
Which were basically ‘I’m not waiting to live until I retire”, and that “…retirement isn’t a concept I’m willing to prescribe to’.
Too many people I know believe they can’t possibly stop or reduce their working hours as they’d never be able to afford to. If and when they DO stop, they discover they have no life away from it, because they spent it all working!
That’s not the life for me thank-you. It’s not the type of existence I wish to leave as a memory for my eulogy.
We have no car. No TV. We don’t read the papers. We rarely buy new clothes – why would you when the charity shops are teaming with fabulous things whenever you need a bit of a ‘fix’? Food bargains can be had if you visit the supermarket in the evening – and we have a freezer on the boat so can bulk-buy. We live simply, but very well. And we have the freedom to ‘be’ and to take time off when we want to.
As I alluded to earlier, I’m aware this kind of ‘risky’ way of life isn’t for everyone.
And I’m definitely not writing to advocate it or persuade anyone to ‘Ditch the routine and live the dream’. Unless of course, they want to and have been lured into believing it’s not a possible to ‘be different’.
As Audrey Hepburn says, “Nothing is impossible. The word itself says “I’m possible””…
How often have you ‘played it safe’ out of fear of failure, or change, or incredibly in order to avoid being successful? Have you dreaded and so not changed the place you live, or the job you hate?
We invited fear in, welcomed it, sat it down and made friends with it. Action brings courage, and finding ways to move through the fear of change brings magic to your moments.
This is it.
We only get one shot at life.
Whatever your beliefs may be about an afterlife, no one really knows for certain there’s anything else. If you do please send me proof!
So I for one am living it now. I’m not waiting until I’m 60, or 66, or whatever age is the recommended time for me to ‘slow down’ and relish life.
I’m grasping opportunities to live now, impulsively and unpredictably. It’s in my blood, and I feel fully alive each day.
“Don’t fear failure so much that you refuse to try new things. The saddest summary of life contains three descriptions: could have, might have and should have.” ~ Unknown
Sandra re-trained as a Holistic Life Coach, and is passionate about supporting women to find ways to birth their dreams. She also set up a facepainting business in 2014 and adores brightening up children - and adults - faces.
She has no idea what she will be doing in one year's time, never mind ten years when she 'officially' retires!