Following the dream by Michelle Hanton

Special guest post by Michelle Hanton, Dragon Sisters

Michelle Hanton waiting for train in Brussels while following her dreams
Michelle waiting for train in Brussels, following her dreams of living abroad.

Have you ever thought you’d love to run away from home for a bit? To follow your dream?

Sure, as kids we’ve probably all had this thought, and some of you reading this may well have done exactly that. But what I’m talking about here is actually making the escape as a 50+year old adult.

A bit of backstory

During my childhood, I lived all over the world and called several different countries home. My father worked for the United Nations. This somewhat nomadic lifestyle was the life I was born into, so of course, I did not realise that our living in many places was so different.

As I grew older I started work in London, where I would work for a few months to save enough money before heading off somewhere else on my travels. My childhood upbringing made me comfortable being a wandering nomad.

Real Alcazar of Seville, a dream location to visit
Real Alcazar of Seville where they filmed GOT

Globetrotting takes a back seat

One of my trips took me to Australia where I met my husband. Family life and commitments meant my wanderlust had to be curbed somewhat. I became a responsible adult with kids to bring up and a business to run. My craving for exploring the world was partially sated through that business where I traveled frequently as part of my work.

As the years went by I yearned to be able to spend more time in Europe. Not just fleeting trips, either. In my heart I knew this was unlikely to happen as my husband was firmly entrenched in his little world.  After almost 30 years of marriage, I suddenly found myself single again. My husband decided he wanted out! (But that’s another story.)  

The flame begins to stir

“Now is the time.”

The little voice that lurked deep in the back of my head started whispering “Now is the time.”  I could start thinking about making my dream of traveling and living abroad come true. My daughter was about to finish school and head to university which meant I was almost free to go where I wanted.  This was the time to start creating a plan for following my dreams.

The Challenge to my dream

The biggest obstacle was I would need money, or some kind of income stream if I desired to live overseas for any length of time longer than a fleeting trip. Had I been 30 years younger, I could have been an au-pair, picked fruit or got some kind of bar work and lived in a shared house. Had I been a nurse, I could also have found a job caring for someone elderly. But I was none of those.

Michelle at a dinner table with fellow dream-followers & co-workers

This presented a real dilemma as I certainly didn’t have sufficient funds to live without working. I also didn’t have enough fluency in any of my foreign languages to actually work in any kind of job that would pay me well enough to live in Europe.  My lack of language skill meant it reduced where I could go with my existing skills to just English speaking countries. That was not where I wanted to be.

It was a real dilemma, but heck, I am used to thinking outside the square! Using this ability to think differently, I was determined I could find a workaround for this challenge.

The solution

After following different ideas and doing lots of research, the solution showed up.  I realised that I could use a skill that I already possessed and knew was in high demand – speaking English. I was always good at this subject at school and for many years had been editing and writing for others so why not develop my English further by learning to teach?

It took me 3 years to gain my certification. My Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL) studies had to happen in conjunction with working full time. This meant when my work schedule was really full (btw, I was the CEO of a suicide prevention and crisis support organisation), my studies were on hold.

Michelle holding an award as Business Woman of the Year 2004
Business Woman of the Year 2004

Learning something new

I found English classes a very refreshing break from my day-to-day work. I gained practical experience by working as a volunteer with asylum seekers and refugees. My students were all so keen and eager to learn. They looked to their future with the view that learning English was a way to secure their future life.

One of the positives was that none of the students knew my history. They knew nothing about my business awards, my breast cancer journey or my business successes. There were no expectations other than for me to help them learn English. It was really nice to be able to work in anonymity without people expecting me to live up to a reputation.

I was forced to exercise my brain in a totally different way.  Learning something new (TESOL) exposed me to so many new concepts around the acquisition of a second language.

Michelle sitting with a student in Australia
Through my training, I met an amazing array of individuals. All with incredible stories to tell of their journeys to settle in Australia.

The dream became a reality

My opportunity to make the move to Europe came once my daughter graduated from university. She was in charge of her life, and now became the time to follow my dream’s next steps.  With my bags packed and enough money to last 2 months, I headed to Europe.

Job hunting

As I travelled through Italy, France, Belgium, Holland and Spain I fired off applications and attended interviews for jobs as an English teacher.  Spain became my new home, having opted for a position there teaching mainly adults. I thoroughly enjoyed coming home to a quiet apartment, to spending weekends exploring local sites, or sometimes venturing further afield.

Street Minstrel in Spain who helped me appreciate my dream job
One of the many street minstrels in Seville, Spain

I was paid a good wage in a country where unemployment figures were 24.5%. Thanks to the business hours in Spain, I was able to keep a little toe in the business world by continuing to mentor, to provide strategic advice, and to write.

Followed Dreams as Life Saver

Fortunately, I had no one to worry about except myself. It might sound selfish, but actually, it was more of a lifesaver than anything else. I was never lonely. The experience gave me an additional opportunity to develop and grow as an individual. My personal expansion provides additional experiential tools which I am able to bring to my work today.

Personal Growth

During my time in Europe, I was able to consider what it was that I really needed in life to feel content. I reflected on the past. When my husband of 30 years decided to leave, I bought him out of his share of our house. It was a massive struggle to stay afloat financially, but I managed. I realised that at the time, having a home for my daughter and for our transition, was key then.

Whilst living a simple Spanish lifestyle, without the trappings that go with having family home, I came to the conclusion that, on a personal level, I actually needed very little to live on. I could be happy in the moment as long as I knew that my family was cared for and safe.

living the simple dream life in Spain
The simplicity of my apartment in Spain

Sharing the Life Lessons

The other benefit of my move to Spain was that I’ve always told my clients they can achieve whatever they set their minds to! Sometimes I think they were skeptical. But I am walking the walk as well as having talked the talk. I’ve personally demonstrated that, despite the fact I am no longer a spring chicken, I am perfectly capable of moving across the world and finding a job in a country that does not use English as its main language.

Follow your dreams

Cordoba Palace of the Christian Kings
My life may be simplified, but inside I am the Queen of my castle!

I was successful in achieving my goal – my dream–  because I took a very strategic approach. I had a plan. My advice to any woman who finds herself harbouring a dream is to let that dream come true. You are important, you deserve happiness. Your happiness comes from within, not from someone else.

Be open to thinking out of the square, do the research and allow your dreams to come true.

Interested in connecting with Michelle? Check out LinkedIn or her special cause

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