Sometimes, good things take time. Sometimes, it takes us a while to figure out who we really are and what will make us happy. But almost always, it’s never too late. Julia’s story is a great example of that.
Compared to most people, Julia's life was certainly a bit different from the very beginning. Born in Mozambique, South East Africa, to Portuguese parents (Mozambique was a Portuguese Colony at the time), Julia and her three siblings were brought up surrounded by both African and Portuguese influences. When Julia was 12, her life was turned up-side-down overnight when Portugal gave Mozambique its independence back, which resulted in chaos on the streets, attacks and an unsafe living environment for Portuguese people in the region – even though it had been their home for decades. The situation got so bad that Julia and her family had to flee from the only home she had ever known to start over again in South Africa.
After a few years living in South Africa, the family decided to move back to Portugal. Surprisingly, Julia says this move was harder for her than the one to South Africa, and she struggled to feel a sense of belonging and connection in her motherland. But she made the most of it and worked hard to make her parents proud.
In her early twenties, she did what any women around her had done and what was simply excepted at the time; she got married and started her own family. Now in her 60s, Julia says looking back she realises that might have never been the right path for her, but at the time she didn’t consider other options. It was simply what you did with your life.
At 22, she married a Portuguese man, and soon after they had their first two children together. For many years, Julia played the role of mum and wife, while also building a very successful career in retail management. However, never quite feeling at home in Portugal, Julia convinced her husband to move back to South Africa. After several years in South Africa, the family decided to move back to Portugal, mainly to be closer to family. Here, Julia and her husband had two more children, completing the family of six.
While Julia doesn’t really regret getting married, it did give her four wonderful children, after all, she does think she maybe would have made different choices if she were a young woman today. She feels like things have changed a lot over the last few decades since she was young, especially for women. We seem to have many more options now, and even though most women are still following the traditional path around marriage and kids, it is much more accepted for women to make different choices – whether that is having kids on their own or not having any at all, or getting married without having kids. When Julia was young, there simply weren’t any role models of progressive women challenging the status quo.
She says it’s great to see that change and for more and more women to stand up for themselves and dare to go their own way, even if that means breaking with tradition.
Maybe noticing the world and women change around her was what eventually motivated Julia to make some significant changes. Life had been hard for the family for a while both financially and emotionally, and Julia had been feeling like she was doing all the work trying to keep everything together without getting much in return from her husband. She says she'd been feeling like the engine that had been pulling the train while everyone else had simply been along for the ride. She figured, if she has to do all the work on her own anyway, she might as well lighten the load and focus on those things and people that really matter and make her life better (most importantly her children). With times being hard and not feeling supported by her husband, Julia says she got to a point where she decided:
“If I’m gonna sink, I’d rather sink on my own”.
So, after 22 years of marriage and four children, Julia decided to leave her husband and set out to build a life as a single mom.
But life in Portugal was hard at the time. The political climate and the economic situation made it difficult for Julia to build a good life for herself and her children. While her two oldest daughters were independent by then and had their own lives (in London at the time), she was struggling to provide the best possible environment for her two younger children. Julia decided it's time for another move and a fresh start.
After much research, she decided that New Zealand would be the place for her and her two younger children to build their new life. Thanks to her extensive experience in management, Julia managed to get a job with Farmers and a work visa, and made the big move to the other side of the world – having never been here before.
Julia considers this one of the best decisions she’s ever made, saying New Zealand was even better and more beautiful than she had excepted it to be. Today, having been here over nine years now, New Zealand is home, more so than any of the other countries Julia has lived in. New Zealand is where she found herself and where she built her life as an independent woman and single mother.
However, it took another big change before Julia truly felt like she is living the right life for herself.
With her kids growing up fast and becoming more independent every day, Julia realised the time is right to focus more on herself. For years, she had been working hard to provide a good life for her family while also looking after the home, preparing meals, driving her kids around and being both mum and dad. Now was the time to think about herself and what she really wanted.
Julia realised that, while her job had enabled her to provide a good life for her kids, now that they were out on their own, the money she was earning wasn't really bringing her happiness. On the contrary, the long hours, evenings and weekend work kept her away from the things that did bring her joy: spending time with her children and friends and enjoying more freedom. She knew she wanted more from life than to just work and live in a nice home and drive a nice car. She also knew she wanted more freedom and a chance to explore New Zealand.
Being a very caring and empathetic person and having had a whole life of learning how to support others, Julia decided to get qualified as a carer for sick and elderly people. She saw a high demand for qualified carers in New Zealand and the contracting-focused industry offered more flexibility as well as maybe a chance to travel and live and work in different parts of New Zealand. Within a few months of completing her qualification, Julia was getting enough work as a carer to make her leave her retail management job. Since then, she has been supporting elderly or sick people, making sure they have the best possible life. Julia has worked in different areas around Northland meaning she gets to see the country a bit while working. And in between jobs or on her days off, she gets out to explore. This lifestyle has re-ignited her passion for archaeology and the history of New Zealand, especially potential pre-Maori settlements, so she used many of her trips to explore unique places and look for signs of ancient civilisations.
Her desire to travel more and explore New Zealand led Julia to another big decision. She gave up her house and, together with her cat Ruby, made a motorhome her new home. This was a big step for her and moving from a big house to a little motorhome was definitely a challenge. At first, she put most of her belongings into storage, not wanting to let go off them for good. But now that she knows the motorhome life is right for her and will be a long-term situation, she realises she doesn't miss most of her stuff and is starting to sell and more and more. Today, her life is very basic. There is no TV in her motorhome, only a tiny kitchen and no room for all those other little things we all tend to keep around. Julia spends her time reading and going for walks and just enjoying the simplicity and freedom of her new life. She says she now realises how a lot of the materialistic items she used to own and the big house she used to live in just provided her with a false sense of security and achievement and distracted her from what really matters to her.
Julia says she feels like she has finally found herself and like she's now living exactly the life she was meant to live.
As someone who believes in faith and that things happen for a reason, she doesn't have many regrets. She knows that everything that happened in her life, the good and the bad, where lessons she had to learn and took her to where she is today.
When I asked her what advice she would give young people today, Julia said she would tell them to follow their dreams, to do whatever will make them happy without worrying about tradition and what other people expect. And after almost sixty years of being focused on following traditions, making other people proud, looking after others and being the ‘engine' that pulled her family along, that's exactly what she is doing now, she's following her own dream and doing what makes her happy: Being free and enjoying life.
What I learned from Julia
That it’s never too late to live YOUR life, that you’re never too old to make significant changes in your life and to make the most out of every stage of your life.
Talking to Julia also reminded me how lucky I am to be a young(ish) woman at a time where we have so many more options and more freedom than women just one or two generations before us had. It makes me feel very grateful for those amazing women that fought for our equality and gave us the freedom we have today. Thank you!