Niamh Ennis was in her mid-forties when she found herself in a career, and in a life, that she wasn't sure she had chosen for herself. Here she writes about the first steps she took towards a mid-life career change
“You’re so brave, I would be too scared to do something like that."
Probably the most common response that I get, when I share with people, that in 2016 I left my permanent, pensionable job to follow what I suspected was my life’s true purpose. I use ‘suspected’, advisedly, as I wasn’t at all sure what that was, or how it was going to look, but I felt moved enough to know that I needed to do something. Call it a knowing.
They say that the mind “thinks” but the heart “knows”. Well my heart knew for sure that I needed to introduce big changes into my life. Now, it’s fair to say that I’m not a half-assed kind of girl. When I commit to something I go ALL IN. Admittedly, this isn’t necessarily always the best course of action, but I felt sure that on this occasion it was going to serve me well. And it did.
So what did I change? Well, almost everything.
For my whole life I had played it safe. I had been a stickler for the rules and had followed the life path that everyone else had laid out in front of me
I took a sabbatical from my career, moved country and left the life I had inhabited in Ireland, for what felt like too long, behind me. My husband thankfully came with me, in case you think I was totally reckless, and we rented out our home in Dublin, put the majority of our belongings in storage and began making plans to relocate to Spain for a year.
So why did I feel I had to go to such extreme lengths? Well, mostly because for my whole life I had played it safe. I had been a stickler for the rules and had followed the life path that everyone else had laid out in front of me. My parents, my teachers and my friends all had influenced me to the point that I had found myself in a career, and in a life, in my mid-forties that I wasn’t even sure I had chosen for myself. In fact, I was pretty certain I hadn’t.
Family circumstances had kept me tied to living in Ireland and I had a deep sense of responsibility to look after my parents in their advancing years. When they died, I felt like it might just be MY time.
A number of close bereavements in the previous decade had also given me a newfound desire to live out the life I believed I ‘should’ be living, which would ultimately be the one I, and nobody else, would create. I just had no idea what that would look like.
So with a car bursting at the seams, on a cold December morning in 2015 we got on the ferry in Dublin Port and three days and five countries later arrived at our final destination in southern Spain.
When you experience a lot of change in your life, especially the kind of change that you do not choose for yourself, like divorce, death, loss sickness or redundancy, survival is your only motivation
The following year was a revelation on so many levels, but for me this year out was predominantly a chance to grieve, to process, to breathe, to gather myself, to observe who I was becoming and to reflect on the direction I thought I now wanted my life to go.
In that one sentence above I have just described a journey that continued for years but by going to Spain, by leaving the only life I had known, I was finally able to do that. Nothing opens our eyes more than stepping out of what’s most familiar to us. Some describe this area as our ‘comfort zone’, but for me it wasn’t a place I necessarily felt comfortable in but I did feel safe there. Until now.
When you experience a lot of change in your life, especially the kind of change that you do not choose for yourself, like divorce, death, loss, sickness or redundancy, survival is your only motivation. You kick in to autopilot and just get through life one day at a time.
Concepts such as your personal vision, your life’s purpose, living your best life all seem a little self-indulgent and, let’s be honest, totally farfetched when you’re simply struggling to put one foot in front of the other.
Yet in the aftermath of such extreme life-changing experiences we do need to catch our breath. In truth, we need to acknowledge that our body has undergone a trauma of its own. We need to accept that getting used to our new reality takes time. A lot of time.
Now, not for a second am I saying that everyone should pack up the life they have known and move country in order to find themselves. I realise this is an extreme example, but by getting off the career treadmill I had been on for over 25 years, I gave myself a chance to see was there a better way for me?
I also gave myself a chance to heal from the grief that had entered my life more times than I was able to cope with in the 10 years prior to this. I just knew that I wasn’t going to be able to do this staying where I was. It was actually that simple.
A year in Spain has all sorts of romantic connotations and implies an experience akin to a year-long holiday. The reality was different. I was able to let myself fall apart finally so I could start the process of rebuilding myself again. That’s what this year did for me.
There were parts of the decision I can see now did require courage. But my heart knew that I had little choice. I could stay feeling how I was feeling, which was lost and broken, or I could begin to do what was necessary to help me slowly start putting the pieces of my life back together in a new order.
When we came close to the end of the year we took the decision that it was indeed time for us to come home. We had each got from the year what we had hoped for. The experience had enriched us and that allowed us both to know, separately and together, that we were ready for the next step.
You don’t always need to know what is next. You don’t always need to know what change you want or how it should look. You just need to know first of all that your life, as it is right now, is not making you happy and that something needs to change.
Finding the courage to do something about that will come next if you let it.
You deserve to find happiness in your life. That happiness looks and feels very different for each of us. Finding the courage to do it requires taking a leap of faith and I have never regretted taking that leap to honour that part of myself that ‘knew’ I needed a change.
When you’re scared but you still do it anyway, that’s brave.
Niamh Ennis is Ireland’s leading Transformation Coach, www.niamhennis.com, working with women who feel ready to make changes in their lives. Her next workshop ‘It's Time to Take a Leap of Faith’ takes place on 29th February, 2020 in The Calm Rooms, Monkstown, Dublin. A limited number of tickets are available now by clicking here
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