Sometimes you have to take yourself away from your situation to come back with a different perspective, as Fidelma has found.

I’ve never been a big fan of change. Growing up, we moved around a lot, so I found it hard to put down roots. As a result, I like to know where I am and what I’m doing – and where the next mortgage payment is coming from. For a few years I was a self-employed arts consultant based in London, and while I loved the work I really struggled with the professional insecurity, of trying to get funding for projects. I decided a new lease of life was needed and retrained to be a teacher in my late 40s.

We moved down to Christchurch to live in my mum’s old house and for a few years I taught English and media at a secondary school in Southampton. After a few years both of us got itchy feet again and started talking about going travelling. It was summer 2016 and my husband’s contract was due to end soon at the school where he was site manager.

We’d had an amazing time when we’d gone away for six months in 2010, exploring New Zealand in a camper van, visited India and ending our trip staying in a village in Nepal where we’d helped out at the local school for three months. And now the open road was calling us again. We discussed going traveling again and realised the timing was right – before Tony got another job. And we didn’t want to get to 70 and regret we’d never done it again.

Bristol had always been the ultimate goal. It had long been our dream to move there and live near friends, but in between times we’d moved to my mum’s old house in Christchurch – she’d died in 2002 – and had given life there a try. We’d done our best to settle in there. We loved our house near the sea, it was perfect for us, but we longed to be around likeminded people, and missed our friends many of whom lived in Bristol. So we knew that sooner or later we would make the move.

“We didn’t want to get to 70 and regret we’d never gone travelling again.”

But should we go travelling again first? I was in two minds and it was making me anxious. On holiday that summer I suddenly announced I didn’t want to go anymore. I felt like my work was going really well and I wasn’t ready to give it up. Tony was very disappointed but he kept it to himself.

But then I went back to school and my mind soon changed. It was a new curriculum, which meant a lot of hard work and pressure. The 70-hour weeks including all the prep and marking made for a gruelling regime. I really was in a quandary. Stuck between our plan to move to Bristol, our dream to go travelling and the fear of giving up my future career, I went to a life coach to help decide what to do. I realised I was at a crossroads. Carry on at school, move, work part time, go travelling – or what? The life coach told me I needed to take better care of myself. The stress of my job had already taken its toll in 2015, causing me to lose my voice for three months at one point.

We never discussed going away again. Then at Christmas I bought Tony the DVD of Wild as a stocking-filler, the true story of a woman who walks the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Seattle. Suddenly I made up my mind.“We could do that. Let’s go to America”. “Yes but you wouldn’t do that,” he replied. He didn’t trust me. But driving to a NYE party the next day we started planning it. My dream was to go to Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. He said “If you’re serious you’ve got to shake my hand at 12 o’clock”. And at 12 o’clock I shook his hand. Three days later I handed in my notice.

“Sometimes you need to take yourself away from your situation to come back with a different perspective”

By talking to the life coach I’d realised I’d been struggling with changing too many things. Sometimes you need to take yourself away from your situation to come back with different perspective – it’s like a paradigm shift. I knew it would happen if I took myself away. When we’d gone travelling before I hadn’t known I was going to become a teacher afterwards, leave London within a year and have a completely new career. So I knew this paradigm shift would happen again if we went travelling – and that it wasn’t as frightening as it seemed. I knew we’d be alright.

This trip was as amazing as the last. As well as America, our travels took us to Cambodia, Malaysia, Lao, Vietnam and Thailand. We loved exploring and being around different cultures and lifestyles, whether it was fabulous food, fascinating wildlife or trying to understand the challenges faced by people with life experiences very different from our own. And while I don’t think we had an epiphany while we were away, we talked all the time, exploring all the possibilities of our life plan on returning to the UK.

I’ve realised I’m someone who’s not good with uncertainty. My youth had left me with a sense of discomfort about moving around. But when you go travelling you’re living out of a rucksack and you learn. You meet people who’ve made their lives in a different way, and that gives you confidence. By having adventures and taking chances I learnt to be braver.

“By having adventures and taking chances I learnt to be braver.”

I had moments of high anxiety along the way, like the time we went swimming in a cold dark cave with just a torch on our heads, and going through tight spaces where we couldn’t see the top, nor what was up ahead. But I’d remind myself that there aren’t many 54 year old women doing these things. I really pushed my boundaries and however fearful I was at the time, afterwards I thought, Yes, I can do it.

We could have stayed travelling forever but in the end we came back to work for a few months and prepare for our move to Bristol. It’s frightening coming back to real life but I’ve learnt that you have to hold onto uncertainty and confusion. People want you to conform. Some assumed we’d just go back to our old house and jobs, but we felt ready for the big move. You have to take yourself away from your own environment to make a change – you’re braver when you come back. Having faced my fears and embraced uncertainty I now see change as a positive thing.

Everyone at the school was lovely and they were keen for me to take a full time job there but I resisted going for the safe option, although sometimes I had to give myself a talking to.
Not having somewhere to live was really hard, especially as we had tenants in our lovely home. But although we missed it, we just kept looking forward and planning our next move. We kept remind ourselves we had to live with this uncertainty in order to work out what comes next. Conforming was not an option. We’d met all these people who live differently, who don’t have ties, and we’d held onto that.

“I’ve learnt that you have to hold onto uncertainty and confusion.”

We finally made the move to Bristol over the summer, renting a flat in the city centre while we looked for our next home. We decided to turn Tony’s passion for outdoor adventures into a full-time business, with me as his partner in all aspects of it. It’s a bit terrifying, but we both feel it’s now or never. My brother died at 54, my sister at 50 and a friend also passed away recently and it’s left us both with the feeling that life’s too short to be doing something you don’t love.

If you have a yearning to climb mountains and swim in subterranean caves, do it now, while you’re physically fit enough. Life’s too short not to. I think it’s safe to say that I’ll never be 100% comfortable with uncertainty in my life and I’m still anxious at times. But I’ve also learnt that change is necessary and sometimes change means facing my fears, however uncomfortable they make me. When I think how far we’ve come and all the things we’ve done, I know it’s been worth it.

Above: Tony and Fidelma on their travels

Words: Marina Gask

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