It was 6 p.m., not a cloud in the sky. A blissful 80 degrees warmed our bodies. We strolled through the park, breathing in the air of the rose gardens all around us. Between us we carried a blanket and a picnic basket, making our way to a little corner of paradise off the beaten path. As we sat down and began dividing the food, popped the cork and enjoyed our first taste of wine; we knew there was no place on earth we would rather be.
But it wasn't always like this. Not until three years ago when we first started trying to define what "a normal life" really meant.
What is normal? I guess by societies definition, a normal life would resemble the American dream. For most people our age (50ish) and in our circle (midlife), our path meant getting a college education so we could get the great jobs, so we could buy the big house in the suburbs, and fill it with lots of stuff, and put two nice cars in the garage, have a daughter, and put her into a great school system, so she would have the best chance at getting into a top-rated college.
Then together we could work at paying all of the bills to maintain that lifestyle, choke at the cost of today's education, never retire ...
My husband and I started down that "normal" path many years ago. And from the outside looking in, we did as we were expected. We had the education. Had the careers. Had the big house. Filled it with lots of stuff. Put our daughter into the best school district. Pushed her down the college path...
The American dream was alive and well. That's what all the 40 and 50-somethings around us were doing, and we did it too. And it worked for a while ... until it didn't. We started to question it all. So we did what very few couples our age and in our situation were doing; we changed.
As our daughter's junior year of high school ended, we made the decision to dismantle our life in suburbia for a chance to live out our dreams. We made the decision to sell off our family home, and get rid of two-thirds of our belongings.
When our daughter graduated high school and moved to start her new life at college, we embarked on a destination of our own: a new adventure traveling the world. We decided to slow travel, making the Pacific Northwest our first destination.
For us, slow travel means choosing a destination we've never been to before, and explore it for a full year. That means four seasons, countless holidays, and many new learning opportunities in an area we've never visited. Eight months into our journey, we know we made the perfect choice.
When we first announced our plans to family and friends, we noticed the sideways looks shared between them. Really, they thought? You could see it in their eyes. That's something 20-somethings do. Or people when they retired. Not 50-year-olds in the middle of life, career, and the pursuit of the American dream.
The funny thing is we decided a long time ago that the American dream didn't define us. Sure, we bought the house and filled it with stuff. But we understood that happiness came from what we did as a family, as a couple, not just where our house was in the city, or how much stuff was placed inside.
And with 50 fast approaching, we knew we wanted to escape the safety and security we were taught was normal, and pursue life on our terms instead. We no longer want what most consider to be the safe route. We no longer want to live risk-free. How other people define safe and risk doesn't meet our needs; we're blazing our own trails instead.
As we sat there toasting to a beautiful day, and sitting back and taking in the sights and the scent, we reflected back why normal shouldn't be normal at all. Who is doing it the right way? Who's to say? With four months left on our first yearlong journey, we know our new normal is the only life we need.
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