Last week’s post “Spring Cleaning—And Sparking Joy” highlighted my small journey into “kondo-ing” (a term introduced to me by Dorothy, a WomanPause reader).
Dr. Diann Schindler has taken decluttering to a whole other level! Her “paring down” has been a journey in every sense of the word. She has let go of most of her worldly possessions so she can make the world her new home.
I first “met” Diann in the fall, when we were both students in an online course called Awakening to the Sage Within taught by Deborah Briggs from Sage-ing International in conjunction with the Charter for Compassion. (Deborah will be next month’s interviewee.)
When I read Diann’s discussion posts in our class, I was immediately intrigued and just knew I had to interview her for the blog. Diann had made a courageous and inspiring life- change after 50! Author of two books The Essential Guide to a Life of Travel: the ABC’s of International Travel and Just a Girl and the creator of the podcast “In the Know,” Diann loves to share with others what she has learned on her journeys. She will also be teaching her own “travel with compassion” course this upcoming fall through the Charter for Compassion. (I will send an update on that when we get closer.)
I had the joy of interviewing Diann on Skype in mid-December 2018. Enjoy!
DG: Hi Diann! As soon as I met you in our online class, I knew that you would be a really interesting person to interview for WomanPause. Once a month, I interview a woman over 50 who has made an amazing change, and you definitely fit that bill. I’d love for you to share your experiences, how you decided … to sell your house, your things, and spend your days traveling.
Diann: Yes. First, I am familiar with your blog because I was so honored when you said you said you wanted to interview me. I did a little bit of homework. Your work is very impressive. I appreciate what you’re doing.
Diann: My decision to travel was an evolution. I had retired to Amelia Island, Florida, where I am right now house-sitting. I moved from a 4,000 square foot house to a much smaller house. Obviously, got rid of a lot of unnecessary furniture and settled in this lovely upscale community. But, in 2008, the economy went south. Suddenly my house wasn’t worth what it was before … plus, I had lost half of my retirement money.
“I was worried! I wondered if I would live long enough to recoup that loss.”
Finally, when the economy did improve, my expenses started ticking up. Gasoline cost more, my real estate taxes increased, groceries were more expensive … I really felt the pinch. It didn’t take long for me decide to downsize. So, I moved from a 1,500 square foot house to a 900 square foot house. That really felt good … not only because I was living within my budget, but, for some reason, I just felt lighter … less burdened. Yes, it was a very good feeling.
And, just about this time, I visited my mother in Ohio. She’s lived in the same house for over 50 years …and, for the first time again … I saw how chock full and cluttered it was. Imagine, 50 years of accumulation. And I understand accumulation … holding onto memorabilia and reliving memories all sort of treasures.
Yet, I was compelled to say, “Mom, let’s get rid of some of things you don’t need anymore.”
“She said, ‘No, I’ll just wait till I die, and then you can take care of it.’”
My heart dropped! For two reasons. I never want to think losing my mother. And, I was overwhelmed at the thought of being responsible for all her stuff.
Beyond my downsizing and this conversation with my mother, I was thinking about shedding even more possessions and taking some international trips. I had traveled abroad some, but it was always work-related. It never dawned on me that I could travel full-time … until … until October 2015 when I went to Istanbul with some wonderful friends.
“In planning for Turkey, I secretly thought, ‘Could this be my tipping point?’”
Taking a few trips and maintaining my house didn’t sit well with me. I didn’t want to travel part-time. If was going to travel … I was going to travel! Forget having a life in the United States and another life in a multitude of places.
‘Let’s just see, Diann,” I said to myself, “let’s just see how you do in a strange country where you don’t speak the language, and you don’t know exactly where you are.”
I decided to would go to Istanbul and be with my friends for two weeks, and then be on my own a third week.
And, of course, it happened. My last week in Istanbul, I was alone. And, just as I thought: I couldn’t speak the language, and I got lost. I mean, I was lost for hours.
I got lost looking for the Grand Bazaar. Can you imagine? How could I possibly do that? Well, I don’t know, but I did. And, finally, when I found the Grand Bazaar, I got lost inside. I struggled to find an exit.
But you know … I eventually found my way and it was an adventure. I ate great food, enjoyed delicious Turkish coffee, photographed beautiful scenes and people ….
“When I returned to Florida, I sold my house, and my car.”
I gave my ceramic studio equipment and supplies to a school for mentally challenged adults. I sold all my musical equipment.
Three months later, I was drinking Chinesa (great coffee), eating incredible food, and making new friends on Madeira Island, Portugal.
DG: Okay, so let’s back up a little. I can understand somebody wanting to travel a bit, going to Istanbul with friends, staying an extra week, and finding it an adventure. But where did this idea come from? That you could just get rid of everything and be this nomadic individual who just travels the world. What was it? A spark?
Diann: It was the process of downsizing and realizing that my possessions were no longer bringing me joy. Honestly, they had become burdensome. Every single day I had to take care of my stuff.
I had to wash my car, get new tires. I needed to cut the lawn … clean my garage, my house. I dusted this, I dusted that. I didn’t have time to do some of the things I really wanted to do. I wanted to play tennis. I wanted to play my music more. I wanted to write.
“Playing music, singing, writing, and travel…all those activities feed my soul.”
When I had traveled in the past, I thought time slowed down. It seemed like the days were longer, time slowed to a crawl. I loved that. I always want more hours in a day. But I realized it felt this way because I didn’t have a list of things I needed to get done. I didn’t have an agenda, other than to enjoy my day. I had the luxury of whiling away the hours, doing exactly what I wanted to do … engage in those activities that I enjoyed. That fed my soul. Playing music, singing, writing, and travel … all those activities feed my soul. That’s where I want to be.
Plus, I didn’t want my children to be overwhelmed with all my possessions that were once very important to me, but no longer. Certainly, they were not important to my children. After all, they were acquiring their own possessions.
Ridding myself of my possessions freed me … released me from responsibilities of taking care of all that stuff … those belongings had lost their joy and were just getting in my way of doing what I wanted to do. Does that make any sense to you?
DG: It does. Not that it didn’t before. I just wanted to understand what it meant for you. Having a home and a car meant car payments and real estate taxes and cleaning and all this stuff that you couldn’t see the need for at this point.
Diann: That’s right.
DG: It wasn’t feeding you.
“They are only things. I prefer experiences.”
Diann: It wasn’t feeding me. I really wanted to experience more. You understand that as a result of this Sage-ing course you and I are taking. Through the process of the Charter for Compassion’s Awakening the Sage Within course, I came to realize, I don’t want these things. I had my joy with them, now someone else could have joy with them. They are only things. I prefer experiences.
What was more important to me? Experiences. I wanted to learn. I wanted to see. I wanted to absorb. I wanted to feel. I wanted to feel it all. I wanted to be free to feel the wonderful and the not so wonderful, and just immerse myself in a life that would be more interesting, more joyful.
“I had lived a certain way for, what, 72 years? And, now, in the years I have left, I want to live differently.”
DG: I’m interested in women and how they make that shift from saying, “You know what? This has been my life, and now I’m ready to do something different.”
You said you wanted to learn, see, absorb, feel it all. When did you or how did you realize that you wanted to do that?
Diann: I think there was a little bit of my facing mortality in that, watching people around me who suddenly became ill. This loss of good health affected their lives. They couldn’t do what they had done so easily before. They were less active. Their stamina dwindled. They couldn’t travel as they did before.
I thought that may happen to me. It probably will happen to me. I don’t want to waste the good years I have left.
I also wanted to remain inquisitive and, I think that keeps people young. It’s good for the brain and the heart. Traveling the world would be fun, adventurous, challenging, and actually keep me alive longer …maybe even younger! Well, at least, the rest of my life would be wonderful.
DG: Okay. How long have you been retired?
Diann: I retired about 15 years ago but kept working. I started a website called CCollegeJobs.com, C for community college jobs dot com. It was cutting edge when I started it. I barely knew what I was doing. I did that, and I did some writing. I’ve always been engaged in work, even as a retiree.
DG: Okay, so tell me about your career before you retired.
Diann: Let’s see. I was a college president at Minneapolis Community College. I led the consolidation with Minneapolis Technical College. Then I became the president of the Minneapolis Community and Technical College. After that work was finished, I was recruited to the presidency of the Auburn Hills Campus, the high technology campus at Oakland Community College in Michigan.
“I grew up in the two-year college sector. First, I was a student and then was lucky enough to teach English composition and climb the higher education ladder, from faculty, to administrator, to president.”
DG: You started out teaching English comp?
Diann: I started out teaching English composition at the local two-year college. I also taught speech and a few management development courses. Later, I was mentored by the president of the college while earning the Ph.D.
DG: What’s your Ph.D. in?
Diann: I have a Ph.D. in Education with a Certificate in Higher Education Administration.
DG: Okay. You did that for a while. Did you enjoy that?
Diann: I loved it.
DG: What did you like about it?
Diann: My whole career—it’s probably universal in other sectors, too–during my career in higher education, climbing that ladder, I had to prove myself. Then when I became a college president … my first presidency in Minnesota, everyone trusted me and looked to me for leadership. That was wonderful freedom.
We could work together to bring these two college together to create a brand-new college. I want to make clear that I didn’t consolidate this college alone. We established a committee together, and I just gave them a charge. The faculty and staff did the work. The process of coming together and creating an innovative new college, and incorporating new concepts was so rewarding.
Then I had reached my goal. That’s the good news and the bad news.
“I set a goal, and once I reach it, I always think, ‘Okay, what’s next?’”
DG: After that, when you said, “What was next?” That’s when you retired and started the website, and all that?
Diann: Yes, I retired and started the website. It was very lucrative until the technologies became old tech and, ultimately, obsolete. Then, I moved to Amelia Island, Florida.
DG: What brought you to Florida?
Diann: My daughter lives in Florida. Truth is, I left my husband …very difficult, but the right choice.
DG: This was a second husband?
Diann: Yes. I was married for 19 years to my first husband. He’s the father of my children. Two girls. We divorced, and then I was single for 15 years when I married again.
Finally, now that I’m all grown up, I know I’m really good by myself. I’m a bit of a loner. Of course, I love people … men and women and children and animals. And, I’m so much better, happier, when I’m living on my own.
DG: Wow. Okay. You decided you wanted to explore, and learn, and grow, and for you that felt like traveling was the way to do that?
Diann: Yes. And, my interest in travel developed through my higher education work. For example, when I was in Michigan, we had a sister city, Kyoto, Japan. I went to Japan for three weeks, and I stayed with a host family. I slept on a thin tatami mat in their spare room. The spoke little English and I only spoke a few words of Japanese.
“I loved it … even my mat!”
I also toured 6 countries in Europe. I visited London … Bermuda. All those experiences changed me. You know what I mean?
Diann: Travel was an opportunity to see how other people lived. It changed me and broadened my awareness. But, a trip here and trip there were just little blips on the screen. I was so inspired, then I’d come home, and I’d go back into my normal, everyday life. Still, those wonderful travel experiences stayed with me. Yet, I just thought travel was something I could do occasionally.
Gradually, I thought, “Wow, wouldn’t it be great if I could feel that sense of freedom, that sense of wonder, and meet different people in different cultures, and see all kinds of things all over the world, and do it full time? Do it so that it would be my focus. I would be steeped in it. Instead of a peripheral, occasional experience.”
“Travel creates change in all of us”
DG: It seems like it met all your expectations.
Diann: It has and more.
DG: Can you talk about that a little bit?
Diann: The “and more?”
DG: Yes. What you feel you’ve gained and how you’ve changed as a person.
Diann: First, we know travel creates change in all of us. When you travel, even if it’s from a western state to an eastern state, there is something that changes when you meet the locals and enjoy new experiences. You see more. You understand more. That can’t help but imprint on your brain and cause you to compare your life with different ways of living in another culture. I felt those changes when I started traveling.
“I became more aware of my values”
I’m a free spirit. I’m happy about that. And, of course, I don’t fit everywhere. And, that’s okay, I don’t have to fit everywhere. But often my free spiritedness can be a little challenging for people. I left the United States, knowing I couldn’t help but change, think differently with a new awareness. Of course, I also knew I would be giving up something.
DG: Giving up what?
Diann: I was giving up, in some respects, my friendships … some of the fullness, the depth of my relationships. Why? Because, now, what was important to me would not have same level of importance to them. I, obviously, all my talk of travel could bore them to tears!
DG: Yes. You changed your priorities.
Diann: Yes, I became more aware of my values. I became more conscious and had the ability to embrace my values more clearly, without having to explain them to anybody.
“People everywhere want to be happy, want to lead good lives, to be safe, and to raise their children to lead happy, successful lives.”
I think everyone changes when they travel. You see how other people live … how they think … how they see their own lives … begin to understand their humor. You understand that there is more than one way to live and those other ways are just as good as yours … maybe better, or, perhaps, more interesting.
And, guess what I found out? People are the same everywhere.
Diann: People everywhere want to be happy, want to lead good lives, to be safe, and to raise their children to lead happy, successful lives. They want to stay healthy and have enough money to have a good life. We all want that.
“Women are women are women. Heartbreak and love are the same all over the world”
Diann: I want to tell you a story about Markita. I met Markita in Prague. She was the host of my Airbnb apartment. German, a beautiful, tall, blonde woman with big blue eyes. She didn’t speak much English, and I certainly didn’t speak German. I had my guitar, and she said something that indicated to me that she wanted me to play something. And so, I played “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton … well known tune, across the world.
Afterwards, we sat down and had some wine and cheese. We talked. Well, that is, we worked to communicate.
I learned she had two daughters and she was going through a divorce. Her husband of 37 years had just left her for a younger woman, 6 months prior. I could feel her sadness and see the pain on her face. I just reached over and touched her hand. She began to cry. I cried with her. And I realized, women are women are women. Heartbreak and love are the same all over the world.
DG: I read that story in your travel book. That’s a powerful story. I’m imagining that was important to you, a validation that we’re all the same, that women have a bond no matter what language they speak.
Diann: Yes. And I was honored that she shared it with me. I felt like I – a person from a whole different world – I could support her in her emotional moment. And that’s what women do. It happens with men too, I’m sure.
“It was such a beautiful moment. I was fortunate to experience that connection. Yes, it changed my life.”
I understand also … and this is so important to me … that I have not done enough for my country. I came to that understanding when I was in Kosovo. All Kosovars love Americans because the United States acted to get the United Nations involved and end a horrific war in 1999.
I was in Prizren, the former capital of Kosovo, buying some chestnuts from this beautiful, old man. I have picture of him on my website. He has a craggy face, he’s downing a traditional black beret, and is dressed in all black.
When I said, “I’d like one bag,” he recognized my American accent.
He looked at me with his piercing, dark eyes and paused. I looked back. Then, he grabbed my hands with both of his and said, “USA?”
He squeezed my hands and repeated, “USA … Kosovo … USA.” His chin quivered. His hand shook. His grip tightened. Tears streamed down his face.
“I joined his chanting, ‘USA… Kosovo, USA… Kosovo, USA… Kosovo.’ We cried together.”
At that moment, I knew I had done nothing to earn his admiration. I couldn’t help where I was born. We are lucky that we were born where we were born. Or, we are unlucky.
This man was giving me such undeserved gratitude. I had a profound sense of guilt. I felt that guilt viscerally. Especially, I felt it in my heart.
That is an example of another level of transformation that I’m undergoing. I don’t quite have my head around it yet, but I’m working on it. And that’s what caused me to get into the Sage-ing course.
DG: So, tell me about that. Did you find the Sage-ing course transformational?
“I embrace all that has happened throughout my life. All of it.”
Diann: Somewhat. Let me explain. The Sage-ing course required that I write answers to thought-provoking questions. And, we know, it is when we write that we come to understand what we think. As a result, writing helped me understand more clearly what I had been thinking about. It did help me understand more about why and how I’m moving into what I hope to be is a Sage-ing mindset, and a Sage-ing approach to life.
DG: And what does that mean to you?
Diann: That means that I embrace all that has happened throughout my life. All of it. The good and the bad and the ugly. And, I recognize that there’s wisdom in those experiences, then, and I need to have confidence in my ability to share that wisdom.
So, maybe the Sage-ing course was, indeed, transformational.
DG: So, you’ve been traveling for three years?
DG: Tell me the numbers of countries.
Diann: 40 countries, 5 continents.
DG: Do they all kind of blend in? After you go country to country, do the boundaries start blurring or does everything feel like its own?
Diann: Even in Europe where the countries are so close together, you simply cross a border, knowing it cannot possibly be so different. Wrong. All of those countries have maintained their own culture and their own language.
“The novel is a coming-of-age fiction … for adults.”
DG: So, you write. I bought both your books. I am so sorry, but I was so busy at my MFA residency that I’ve only had the change to read the travel book. It has wonderful tips that you don’t necessarily find in other places. The other one, and I apologize for not reading it, is a young adult book?
Diann: Thank you for buying my books! No, the novel is a coming-of-age fiction. Paula is the protagonist. It starts out when she is five or six years old and follows her life until she is an adult, marries, has a career, divorces, and so on.
DG: It’s written for adults?
DG: Have you written fiction before?
Diann: No, I haven’t. Most of my writing was academic writing. And then I began blogging. But for 25 years, I talked about writing a novel. I even started it once, but then, life got me by the neck. When I started traveling and had much more time … you know … no more taking care of all those possessions. I said, “You have no excuse now.”
DG: So, you wrote it while you were traveling?
Diann: Yes. I started it a few months after I started traveling. The book took me 16 months to publish.
DG: That’s not that long for a book.
Diann: I guess that’s true … but this was consistent, daily writing for 16 months. It seemed long to me.
DG: And you self-published?
Diann: I self-published both books on Create Space. I published the first book from Spain, and the second from Kosovo.
I’ve started a second novel. I’m excited about that.
“I’m going to explore … India, Sri Lanka, Africa, all those places…Mauritius”
DG: So, what’s next for you? You’re traveling again after the holidays?
Diann: I was in Thailand and Vietnam in February, March and April, before I came back to the US. I was going to be here in the States, for three weeks, when people kept asking me to house-sit. Then, I visited my mother in Ohio and my cousin in North Carolina. So, I will have been here six months!
I was worried about getting complacent because it really takes effort and energy to travel. But, boy, do I have itchy feet. I’m leaving in January, going back to Thailand.
I have an extended Visa for Thailand, which will be my base. I’m going to explore that part of the world. India, Sri Lanka, Africa, all those places…Mauritius.
DG: For how long? Do you know?
Diann: Well, I don’t know. I have a 6-month, multi-entry visa. I can extend it for two more months. I’m hoping to be in that area for almost a year, if I can. There is so much to explore, to learn.
“’In the Know’ … an opportunity to tell my audience about the transformational aspects of travel … letting go of fear and cultivating compassion, especially for the less privileged”
DG: Can’t wait to hear about it! I know you said you started podcasting?
Diann: I’ve been podcasting for a while, but it’s only in the last two or three weeks that I decided to get more focused on getting it broadcasting on social media platforms.
DG: What are your podcasts about?
Diann: The show is called “In the Know!” It includes writing tips, travel tips, and my views of situations I face. I read excerpts my books. And, I try to make every episode interesting, savvy, thoughtful, and mix in some humor, of course.
It’s also an opportunity to tell my audience about the transformational aspects of travel … letting go of fear and cultivating compassion, especially for the less privileged.
Frankly, one reason I took the Awakening to Sage-ing class was because a friend recommended that I teach a course for the Charter for Compassion. I thought I might want to teach a course about travel and how it can cultivate compassion. That was the other reason I took the Sage-ing course … to find out how the Charter courses actually work. I submitted a course proposal, had a conversation with the Charter’s Director of the Educational Institute, and, if all goes well, I’ll be teaching this course in fall of 2019.
DG: Woohoo! So, it’s going to be a 4-week course?
Diann: Yes. I am beyond excited about it! Really honored that this has happened.
“When I was growing up, we weren’t allowed to sit”
DG: That is fabulous. So, as you said before, you don’t sit for very long. Which is wonderful. Do you see that as the key to have an exciting vibrant life beyond “a certain age?”
Diann: I think it’s in my DNA. When I was growing up, we weren’t allowed to sit. We weren’t even allowed to read, especially those sordid paperbacks. I had wonderful parents by the way. I’m just saying that’s how it was.
If we were sitting or reading, we were idle … not good. We always had to be doing something: cleaning, doing yard work, washing clothes. And, if we were finished doing everything, we needed to make something, to create something. My father was really good with his hands. And my mom was very crafty. We had to be busy. Yes, it’s in my blood.
“I love spending time with my grandchildren … And, yet, I also have a life.”
DG: So, what do your daughters think of your traveling?
Diann: My daughters are conflicted. Which is expected, don’t you think?
DG: Oh totally. When you first said, I’m selling the house. I’m outta here. They must’ve gone crazy. Yes?
Diann: Well, they definitely breathed a long, frustrating “Okay.” Even though I raised them to think differently, I think they believe a grandmother is supposed to be what you see on the television commercials. You know, sweet, doting, perpetually smiling, cooking, baking … always present.
I love spending time with my grandchildren. I love them. I’m proud of them, and I want to spend time with them. And, yet, I also have a life.
Sadly, I’m a disappointment for them. Yes, it breaks my heart, but ….
DG: I think that’s fabulous.
Diann: I must be who I am. Learning, growing, traveling.
DG: I’m down with that totally.
Diann: Oh right, you’re in the MFA program. Good for you. Do you love it?
DG: I’m almost finished. It’s breaking my heart. I love it, I love it. I love it. And I’ve learned and grown and it’s probably one of the best things I’ve done in my life.
It’s a time to go inward and focus more on yourself. But it’s also time to focus on how you can impact the world. It sounds like there are two opposing concerns, but they’re really not.
“While I feel the tug of my family, I feel the pull of traveling, writing, blogging, podcasting … and I used those activities to share my passions.”
Diann: I understand that. It is an interesting tug and pull, isn’t it?
DG: It is. It’s an interesting tug. How do you balance that out?
Diann: It is a balancing act … and the balance is always teetering. I’ve decided it simply is how it is … it’s life. Being aware helps. While I feel the tug of my family, I feel the pull of traveling, writing, blogging, podcasting … and I used those activities to share my passions.
DG: You’re reaching people. And touching people. That’s the important thing.
Diann: I had a couple of opportunities to reach out to people recently. I conducted a workshop in two different locations on my book The Essential Guide to Life and Travel. One was at the Phoenix and Dragon Bookstore in Atlanta and the Story and Song Bookstore here, on Amelia Island. I couldn’t believe how many people came.
It was proof! People really do want to travel. They want to see beyond their communities.
DG: You’re a wonderful guide, and that’s a beautiful thing. It really is.
Diann: Thank you, thank you so much.
DG: Thank you Diann. I really appreciate your taking the time to do this.
Diann: It was my pleasure.