We left the United States to dislodge ourselves from the inevitable third act doldrums. My post-career life began to show signs of the common societal memes associated with retirement. The tell-tale lack of energy. An inability to focus. Dare I admit, a slight depression. The highs and lows of a highly active career had come to an abrupt end. And though planned well in advance, leaving my day job was a mic-drop moment that challenged what I thought had been a healthy balance between work and personal life.
There seemed to be few substitutes for the adrenaline rush provided by winning a lucrative new account. Or fighting the good fight with colleagues, laser-focused a single goal: winning. What long-term, fulfilling happiness was offered by the win escapes me now, but I compare it to a neurotic need for Facebook Likes. Though after departing from my day job I never reached the depths of without work, who am I?, my so-called gravitas took a serious hit. That, combined with a short-fused, unremitting referendum on well-established values in the U.S. (aggravating less from the standpoint of politics, and more about the downward trend of civilized political and social discourse), was over-the-top disheartening.
The Urge to Start Over in a New Place
In previous articles (see here and here) I had offered this sage advice to retirees: It’s not about how you fill your days, it’s about the self-fulfillment awaiting to be discovered during those days. I still believe that to be true. And as I became more acutely aware of my symptoms of inertia, and as our unhappiness with the swing of American culture grew more intense, Mark and I began to orchestrate a life more to our own specifications.
When human activity and purpose is measured on a graph over one’s lifetime, the depiction often takes the shape of an arc. On the horizontal axis, the line starts low at childhood, then jumps higher during college years, career-building, family development, and career success. It begins a downward trajectory close to and during the post-career years.
Moving to another country could seem like a drastic fix. It certainly isn’t for everyone. But we’d been focused on the idea of expat life for decades. Even before our life together. To us, it felt more like a sky’s the limit choice.
Man Makes Plans and the Universe Laughs
When relocation became a serious endeavor, we began a deep exploration into the Spanish lifestyle, its health care system, culture, climate, and cost-of-living. We hired an attorney to assist with immigration requirements. A relocation expert to help find suitable living accommodations. And a tax attorney to explain the systemic differences between the two countries. Yet there remained a hoop of formality and regulations to jump through before reaching the other side. Plus the logistics required to tie up loose-ends stateside was steeped with a complexity we’d not considered. Whether on the side of emigration or immigration, it’s a strenuous, agonizing process, with a continuous onslaught of to-dos. You have to want it bad.
On a cool Los Angeles morning in September of 2022, we visited Spain’s Consulate for our final appointment. One hour later we were back in the car with newly minted visas in hand. Both of us dazed by the reality, sporting oh crap, this just got real expressions. Underneath the sudden concern, though, was a confidence that all prep work done up to that point – the strong planning, the mental gymnastics, the turning over of every possible stone – boded well for a successful outcome. What could go wrong?
Plenty. We could not have predicted the coldest, wettest winter in Spain’s recent history. A short-term rental with no heat and no hot water. A parasitic infection that nearly killed our twelve-year old Doodle. My big, fat Spanish hernia surgery. Cancelled health insurance. Bureaucratic bungling over resident status. Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up.
Dressed in our what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger winter coats, we plowed forward. And nearly a year into it, (after one of the hottest, most humid summers on record) I can look back dispassionately to assess our progress.
It’s All About Context
Expats who willingly choose to leave their countries of birth, extract their lives from one envelope and slip it into another. We create environments sympathetic to our current ambitions and goals. It not a tossing out the past. It’s a world-building exercise riffing off of curated experiences and accumulated wisdom. More of a custom fit. Context driving content.
It’s thrilling to walk down streets filled with centuries-old architecture. Dine out on tapas or explore diverse international cuisines. Cruise north to Barcelona or west to Madrid on high speed trains. Jaunt over to the island of Mallorca for a chill few days. But nothing compares to the exhilaration of living comfortably in one’s own skin.
So yes. Spain has met – and exceeded – our expat expectations.
Photography by Howard Fishman.