At the start of a New Year, a dose of inspiration goes a long way. Lorraine’s story has it in spades. The transformation she has undergone over the last few years has been quite staggering, not just in changing her way of life but reassessing her whole value system and priorities. It’s not been an easy ride and many heart-wrenching decisions have been taken along the way. But having made them, she has been rewarded with a life that is happier than she ever could have imagined. If you meet her, she radiates joy. It is wonderful to see. I am delighted that Lorraine has agreed to share her story with us:
The first thing to say is I’m not very comfortable about writing about myself because there is nothing momentous to tell. But if this small story of change helps someone, anyone, who feels trapped and compromised to live the life of their dreams, then here goes!
It’s a truism that none of us chooses to be born, but I think we at least owe it to ourselves to live life experientially and fully. Each of us has a unique context and set of skills to share. The problem is that the train tracks we create as we become ‘adult’: our choice of jobs, relationships, what we think is expected of us by family, bosses, society at large etc, etc, can so easily disconnect us from who we really are.
I’m writing this, just about to turn 62. I have been separated 4 years from my husband of 27 years. The children have all but flown the nest. I have cared for my ageing parents through stroke and dementia for 5 years until their deaths. I retired a year ago from a full-on executive career in the NHS and a string of non-executive commitments. All in all pretty burnt out with most of the major rites of passage and big life stress points behind me.
This year I am about to embark on yet more change: divorce, selling the family home of 22 years, buying a smaller flat, and starting a very different way of life in France. My new partner (Mon Amour) and I will begin our two-centre retirement, splitting our time between a pied-à-terre in London and La Foucheraie, our permaculture project in Normandy.
Yet I have never felt happier, objectively fitter, stronger, mentally and physically lighter (over 4 stone lighter in fact!), and excited for the next phase.
From the outside, it might seem like I made all the changes in a very short time, evidenced by the last 2 years. In fact my process of change started 9 years ago with my father’s stroke, and all the events that unravelled from that point.
There were 4 stages really:
- Living with the status quo with increasing awareness of being unhappy.
- A crisis point which triggered acknowledgement and the need for action and re-evaluation.
- Understanding, acceptance and the leap into the unknown.
- Emerging into the light – meeting my new partner, finding the next adventure and living the fullest and best version of me.
The Status Quo
In 2013 I had just marked 10 years as CFO of a very busy London hospital, when my father had a vascular stroke and my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimers shortly afterwards. This change of circumstances proved the straw that broke the camel’s back for my family.
My own interactions with my husband and children were transactional and superficial, as I was usually in recovery mode or not really present. Whilst I had it all on paper (marriage, family, top job, great house and lifestyle), I was nearly 15 stones and definitely a functional alcoholic (reliant on the daily wine-down). As I later realised, I was stressing out my husband with my constant yo-yo’ing between loving the job with its mission and meaningfulness, yet desperate for a simpler stay at home life.
The marriage was strangely friction-free as we were a good team with shared morally-upstanding values and respect for each other. I now realise the lack of friction was a danger sign that should have been acknowledged sooner. A combination of my single-mindedness for work, and my husband’s inability to speak his feelings or to confront me, ensured that instead of making time for each other, we just worked harder and ignored the signs.
So there was quite a prolonged status quo period trying to keep things on track. There was so much in my life that I valued and was afraid to lose. I recall having a sense that if I separated from my husband, I would be like a kite in a high wind, which when cut, would spiral, rudderless, out of control.
But then I became aware of something inside that said ‘Lorraine is lost and is headed for an early grave’. I felt my time was running out.
Acknowledgement and the need for action
That Christmas, I said I didn’t want any stuff but what I wanted most was for someone to brainwash me into a healthier lifestyle. My sister-in-law duly obliged by suggesting a 3 day bootcamp in Bournemouth. This opened my eyes to ways of becoming active and how making small daily changes could lead to enormous transformation. On my return, I took up Nordic walking, Zumba, Pilates and then personal training. My fitness began to improve and I started to lose weight.
My reading of Happiness by Design by Professor Paul Dolan also helped me realise that I was living a half-life. I got most of my happiness from planning but didn’t really remember enjoying the results as I hurtled on to the next thing on my ‘To Do’ list.
My husband and I started Relate counselling and individual counselling which helped me become more self-aware and understand my part in why we needed to move on and look forward. I tried everything I could think of to become the person he could fall back in love with but it was too late. No one likes rejection and I took it very personally. I felt a lot of anger, recrimination and fear at the time and disbelief that there was no future together.
Understanding, acceptance and making the leap
Somewhere in all this, I knew I had to give myself some time out. I took the big decision to step away from my executive job. I felt in need of not just a holiday, but regeneration, balance and finding out what makes my heart sing. I read voraciously on the art of ‘being’ rather than doing. I realised there were lots of choices in front of me.
During this phase I became more open to listening and observing. I added yoga practice and I started to have richer discussions with my family and friends. So many came forward to support. I saw that I had been very self-centred and that everyone I knew was struggling with something difficult.
I began to realise that waiting for my husband was holding me back. It took 4 years to get to a trial separation and another year to make it permanent. It was hard but by this time, strangely positive and liberating.
Emerging into the light
This phase happened very quickly because it flowed naturally from all the reflections, research and action I had taken to develop self-awareness and consider different options. I recognised that I was an enthusiast and wanted a big adventure, to live life with my top hat on, and to continue to be mission-led.
I did a lot of travelling, reconnecting with old friends. I explored religion more deeply through an Alpha Course, which couldn’t provide answers to my questions. I considered learning new languages and going to live in Europe. I read even more widely on psychology, philosophy, nature & wilderness and the mysteries of the amazing brain. An important author, introduced to me by my son, was Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost.
A lifelong fan of David Attenborough, I began to properly consider my carbon footprint and how I could make up for the conspicuous consumption of my working life. I dropped the remaining non-executive commitments and took a 10 day silent Vipassana meditation course. I thought a lot about my legacy. Above all I wanted to learn to dance and have fun again.
I realised I was not a rudderless kite. I was following a guided, gut-driven journey.
Finally, encouraged by one of my Nordic walking friends, I decided to sign up for a dating app. Very quickly I met and fell in love with my current partner. I think life is all about timing and there was incredible synchronicity in our profiles. But above all, this happened because I made the time and space and invested in becoming my fantasy-self for many years leading up to it.
What lessons have I learnt?
When I was working 80 hour weeks and taking on lots of extra-curricular activities, I did not have the capacity to imagine the future that I have actually embarked on. Five years ago I thought I would develop a portfolio career. Now I realise that was a version of myself set by past parental expectations and my own work expectations.
Learning: be less sensitive to what people think (or appear to think). What matters is how you feel as it’s your life.
I used to be proud of being busy, reliable and effective but, apart from my family, I don’t think anything of real lasting value was achieved by all this frantic busy-ness. I now value having time to do as little or as much as I want. I find I am more relevant to the people I care for as a result.
Learning: ‘beware the barrenness of a busy life!’ Socrates
At the height of my professional career, I was like a locust – working hard; earning more than I could spend; frittering it on treats and generally spoiling everyone in sharing the bounty. I used to have a yo-yo life, binge eating, crash diets and very controlled by food. Now I have finally got to the stage where I do not have to weigh myself or meticulously track everything. I eat when I’m hungry and I feel my mind and body are more in tune.
Wholesome, nutritious food, keeping fit and strong, and getting good sleep are the key pillars to my health, which have to be attended to every day. But it needs consistent, quiet attention.
Learning: Introducing rituals and mindful moments into every day is essential. There was a time when I had become so disconnected with myself. I actually didn’t know what would make me joyful.
I used to want nice clothes and holidays to exciting destinations. These days I care less about ‘stuff’ and more about my carbon impact. I am more of an activist and less of a consumer.
What matters is the here and now, the intimate moments of observing nature and appreciating the small pleasures. I value my garden which I once thought was sterile but it was just my lack of attention. It turns out that a beautiful family of goldfinches has been nesting in the bay tree at the bottom of the garden but I never knew it all these years. I wouldn’t have realised if I hadn’t attempted to wild my garden and let the dandelions grow, their favourite urban garden seeds.
Learning: Strip back experience to the magical creativeness of being human, not overstuffed or overindulgent. There is so much beauty in the small pleasures of life, which are largely free if you look out for them.
I lost touch with myself through the CFO persona. For a while I thought that persona was me, that I could only have ‘age-appropriate fun’. Now I have reconnected with Lorraine Aye Maung, the woman who loves to dance, who values Xenia (hospitality classical Greek-style) and still wants to make a difference.
Learning: Cultivate your fantasy-self because that is how your dreams are made.
I used to crave certainty. Now I enjoy the adventure of uncertainty. I used to be so focused on the future and very good at planning, which made me very effective at work, but a very wearing partner and mother. I am no longer so invested in outcomes but more in the experience of the journey.
Learning: I have stopped trying to control everything.
Looking to the future
Far from being rudderless and out of control, I have real purpose. I am living my dream permaculture project and have no idea whether it will succeed or not and I don’t really care!
If I hadn’t accepted the end of my marriage and started dating, I would never have met someone as amazing as my current partner who shares my passion for being active and up for the adventure.
I feel lucky that I still have all the extended family who I love and no one had to choose. We have consciously uncoupled and reformed the family network.
I have a wonderful community of friends, who are supportive and creative. I hope they will all be part of the journey ahead. I can’t wait to invite those who share our quest to live sustainably, off grid, resilient and in tune with nature, to a very special place of beauty, sanctuary, fun and friendship.
I used to spend most of my time planning for the future. Now I’m just loving being open to possibilities and living life to the full. I feel alive and new. I am simply happy.
There is so much in your story that I’ve had to read and reread your blog. Many of us stand on the edge of the precipices that are major life changing decisions and retreat. You jumped and found wings. Congratulations. You deserve all the joy you have found and which radiates so generously to others.
Thank you for reading and for your encouragement, Clare. Your story of meeting changed circumstances head on and actively embracing life has been inspirational. Looking forward to sharing our next chapters on this wonderful journey! X
You do indeed radiate joy Lorraine. So happy for you, and inspired by your journey so far. Not a new chapter, but a whole new book I think : ) Bravo!
Thank you for reading, Corinne and your lovely comments. Looking forward to sharing at least the next chapter with the MeSpot community! X
Lorriane- that is a beautiful and beautifully written (despite your caveat at the beginning) account and a truly inspiring read at the beginning of the year. Thank you for sharing it- and even more I salute your courage in living it.
Thank you so much for reading, Barbara and for your really kind comments. Looking forward to the next chapter, whatever it may bring! X
thank you Lorraine for sharing your story which I found moving and enlightening. I think you have been exceptionally brave and a wonderful role model.
Thank you for taking the time to read it, Sandy and for your lovely comments. It is very humbling! X
This made me cry a little – such a heartwarming and encouraging story! Go girl!
Thank you for reading, for your encouragement and friendship! X