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Viva: Finding new ways to thrive

Taking a gap year in your sixties Source: Chris Herrman

Does life feel repetitive, uninspiring or lacking in purpose? If you need to break out of a rut, why not step out of your comfort zone and start exploring new ways to thrive?

Chris Herrmann had life sorted out at sixty.

He had a fulfilling career, a loving wife, and his children and grandchildren were living close by.

But the sudden loss of his soul mate to cancer turned his life upside down. 

“When she was in her last hours, cause it happened rather suddenly within a week of her becoming ill, her life passed away but it was what she kept saying in those final hours that she lay there that I guess really struck a chord with me till this day, and she kept saying, ‘I can’t believe this is happening. I can’t believe this is happening,’ and it just struck with me that you can’t take life for granted that life is a gift that can be snatched away just as quickly.”

Chris suddenly found himself going back 40 years in time - single and without a family to look after.

To deal with the grief and find new bearings, he decided to challenge himself with something completely different.

He took a gap year to explore the next stage of his life.   

“Our lives were really structured during family time with children and jobs - that's all very structured and there’s a saying that we used to say, ‘when you are in that routine of life, just take the different way to work and the reason being just to stretch the senses just that little bit so you’re not in that routine.”

His inner voice was constantly casting doubt on this crazy idea.

“Like in my case, it’s like going for 12 months. I’m going on my own. I’m too old. What if I got sick had a heart attack? Every time that Mr Logic voice came up with another ‘don't be so stupid’ reason, you know, gut feeling would just say, ‘just shut up, get on, and you’re going,’ and that was pretty much listening to gut feeling.”

Chris had only planned two things before embarking on his great adventure – where he wanted to go and how long.

His year-long trip to South America, Europe and South-East Asia was an experience Chris never thought possible at his age.

He swam with giant turtles, climbed up volcanoes, took Salsa dance classes, learned Latin and stayed in crammed hostel dormitories with backpackers younger than his children.

“It just stretches yourself that bit more. I don't consider myself a huge risk taker. Whatever stage of risk you are, just by taking that extra step just increases your ability to step outside of your comfort zone. Wherever you are, push yourself, sort of saying if it feels uncomfortable, do it.”

Not everyone is in a position to travel the world.

Creating new meaning in life can be as simple as starting a new hobby.

“Take some time to focus on just you. So, actually taking time to think when you get away from work and perhaps your children have grown up and have moved on, what lights you up? What is it that you used to enjoy? Or what are some of the things that you’ve always wanted to try, and then not just thinking about it but to actually get started.”

That’s exactly what New Castle-based vegetarian chef Promila Gupta did.

She realised early on that her life’s mission is to cook and connect with people.

“Cooking is the one thing which you can bring people together because cooking, everyone needs their food, you know, and it’s so creative!  How to garnishing? I still, at this age, I am really really want to learn, okay, I have to do this. I have to do cooking. My main is cooking and that is my passion, really really very bad passion.”

Promila wears many hats.

She’s a community leader, a volunteer, a teacher, a social activities coordinator for seniors, a grandmother and the list goes on.

She’s also written two cook books and is working on her third.

Promila continues to flourish as her life is underpinned with passion.

It’s a recipe she’d love to share with others.

“Come out and you learn there are so many classes for seniors, free classes, you should join and do fulfil your dreams, you know? Why not? You have to live only once, you know? So, you have to do what you want to do. Because I’ve seen lots of people, they’re isolated, I don’t know what to do, especially in my age, they think ‘oh god, what to do, 66,’ you know? But I don't feel any sickness or anything because my mind is full of different things to do. And we still have to learn lots of things you know in life.”

At 63, Chris is single again and capable of living life to the fullest just like today’s Generation Y.

And by following his heart, he has accidentally fulfilled his long forgotten dream of writing a book along the way.

“When I finished the draft and I was standing on the balcony, it was in a mountainous sort of area, and I remembered that something like 30 years ago, it was a lost vision I had that I always envisaged I would write a book, and there I was, I’d finished this draft of the book. It was as if I left myself open on this journey and these things became self-fulfilling in some ways.”

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