My wife Lisa Grassi-Blais and I had our mid-life crises at the same time, and I’m happy to say it turned out great.
We ended up winding down our North American fast-paced lives and moving to Abruzzo, Italy to open a tour company and inn. It’s cool, but when we hit the “Is this it?” wall, we had no idea we’d end up here.
For us, things came to a head as fall turned to winter in late 2011. We were living in an old house in Ottawa, Canada that we’d fixed up over eight years. We had two dogs, no kids, we were both 43, and we had been married nine years.
We were both doing well in our professional careers, but (1st World Problem Alert) we wanted more out of life.
I loved my co-workers at the City of Ottawa and the work was periodically rewarding, but I can tell you I didn’t grow up dreaming about being a legislative strategist for a municipal government. Lisa adored her co-workers in the federal prosecution office in Ottawa, but when she was in law school she thought more about guarding against wrongful convictions than convicting people.
Neither of us saw a future in our employment, and we were both uninterested in the money that comes with career advancement. Worse, I was feeling the first signs of turning into a bitter middle-aged man.
It was clear, the mid-life turmoil cocktail was mixed. The only question was how it was going to end up tasting.
I'm a pretty black and white guy, so I figured that for me on one end of the spectrum was a bitter morass of sports cars, booze, drugs, affairs, divorce, and all the wonderful things that come with that. The option on the other end of the spectrum seemed like embarking on a course of therapy, yoga, new-aged spirituality, and other “meaningful” introspective searches for contentment and happiness.
Lisa has a more level head, so instead of careening from one thing to another, we decided to address things together.
Over a series of conversations that fall, we started with the basics.
Are we still in love? Yes. Never an issue and we really are (get ready to cringe) best friends.
Are we healthy? Yes, especially since I’d quit smoking and started addressing an anxiety issue. (Therapy works by the way. Thanks Dr. L.)
Are we happy with where we live? Ottawa is home, but owning a house turned out to be a bigger headache than I would have liked and living overseas appealed to both of us.
Are we enjoying work? Nope for either of us.
Are we happy with how we are living? No. The fast-paced, work-centered North American lifestyle seemed hollow.
Are we happy overall? Kinda, but not really.
When are we happy? When we at our modest country place and when travelling, especially when visiting Italy.
Are we ready for a change? Yes.
What kind of change would be best? No clue.
When should this change be made? As fast as possible.
So we wanted change and we wanted it now, but we didn’t know what that change looked like. Was it professional careers in a different city? Was it opening a business in Canada? Was it taking a year off and really addressing our travel bug and desire to live in a different part of the world?
We needed an answer, but without a plan and deadline, things don’t get done, so we said by Jan. 1, 2012, we would make a choice on our future. We would research various options, see how things would work financially, and start making inquiries at work about leave of absence options.
While this was going on, separately we were discussing our plan to purchase a small place in the tiny central Italian village where Lisa’s grandfather was born. We’d been going to be the village every year since 2006, we loved it there, and friends and family in the village had been urging us to buy a place. With an apartment going for around $30,000, it made sense too, but we had no plan for a permanent move to Italy. It just didn’t seem feasible.
It seems silly now that we didn’t view Italy as a solution to our mid-life woes in late 2011. But as temperatures plunged and another bone-chilling Canadian winter took hold, it wasn’t long before our love of Italy came together with our need for change to send us down the path to our future.
That path has led us to where we are today – six months from receiving our first guests, and we couldn’t be happier about it.
Next blog: The birth of our escape plan.