Seven Years After

Sweet home

This week is the seventh anniversary of our move from Evergreen, Colorado to Bratislava, Slovakia. The move wasn’t my idea; I had barely heard of Bratislava. My manager had called months earlier and proposed a six-month assignment. Pat and I discussed it. Ultimately, I said, “Yes.”

The rest isn’t history; the rest is this blog.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, here’s a summary: A six-month assignment in Bratislava expanded to eighteen. During this time, we sold our home in Colorado and crammed our residual things into a super-sized storage unit. After Bratislava, I agreed to move to Budapest, Hungary for two years. Then we returned to the US and I retired. We donated the contents of the storage unit to a non-profit and stashed a pile of boxes in our son’s basement. For two years, we lived on the road before settling in Paris for one year. Then another.

It surprises me when someone suggests our life is unconventional. Seven years after, it’s simply our life.

This week, Pat and I had dinner with a friend of his from high school. As we were headed out the door, I asked Pat when he had last seen this friend. He peered at the ceiling while calculating his response, “35 years ago. Maybe 40.”

“This could end poorly,” I replied.

I was wrong.

It was by all measures, a wonderful evening. We ate at a charming French bistro in an untouristed part of Paris. The food was great, the service friendly, the conversation never lapsed. Pat’s friend has a very big job at a very large company. He himself is a big man—tall and athletic with an infectious laugh. I wouldn’t describe him as pretentious, but if I were to guess, he lives a big life.

When Pat and I were first married, we stayed in Super 8 motels and Red Roof Inns. I remember a palpable pride the first time we upgraded to a Holiday Inn. Nothing said you’ve made it like stain-free carpet. We never slept in a Red Roof Inn again.

Similarly, I think Pat’s friend might struggle to give up first class travel and Michelin-star lunches. I say this because I realize, I would struggle too.

When I was a kid, my friends and I gathered around the coffee table on rainy days and played Monopoly. It was there that we mastered the rules of the game: Grab your favorite piece. Roll the dice. Snap up properties. Build houses. Upgrade to hotels. Pass Go. Collect 200 dollars. Destroy the opposition. If you ever manage to buy both Park Place and Boardwalk, flaunt it.

The game ended when one person won because everyone else was bankrupt. The gloating commenced.

Our dinner conversation with Pat’s friend meandered, eventually making its way to what Pat and I have been doing. I summarized the path from Colorado to Paris. Pat’s friend leaned forward–engaged, probing. Then he laughed, “You need to write a book. This is what everyone wants to do.”

“Do you ever think of retiring?” I asked.

“Every day of my life,” he replied.

I felt a pang of sadness. Not for him so much, but because I knew this feeling intimately. I’d experienced it myself, every day for years.

Yet, I believe a book is unnecessary. I can distill my advice to a short list of bullet points:

–Identify your passion, then finds ways to foster it.

–Work hard, but don’t mistake your career for your life.

–Spend your money on experiences, not things.

–If it’s too late, cull your things.

–Learn from the past, but don’t dwell on it.

–Seize control of your destiny, by building a plan.

–Be flexible about your destiny.

–Swallow your fears, and your pride.

–Shun the rules of the game, and create your own.

–Accept that life goes by too quickly, but don’t succumb to age before its time: Learn new things. Be active. Eat well.

–Foster a diverse set of friends that includes all ages.

The dinner ended and Pat’s friend called an Uber. We waved as he lowered himself into the back seat, and then we turned toward home. Someone roared our names, and we looked back to see Pat’s friend standing next to the car which had stopped at a traffic light. He pumped his fists in the air and yelled, “Congratulations! You guys won!!”

When the light turned green, he was gone. We didn’t gloat; I hope he wins too.

Categories: How To

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6 replies

  1. Hi, Julie. Enjoyed your story. Sage advice!

  2. So, I have followed your blog for many years silently. We followed a similar, yet divergent, path. Littleton to Bratislava in 2010 to China in 2012 and back to Colorado in 2014 with children tagging along the whole way. I could be represented by your dinner companion in this story today and I struggle with the work v retirement path as well. I do consider you the winners and hope to emulate some of your path sometime in the near future. Thanks for the many enjoyable posts.

  3. Thanks for this, good reading, good advice.

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