In this inaugural edition of Old Chicks Inspiration I want to highlight someone I have come to know over the past few years, who has inspired me so much. In fact, unbeknownst to her, she is person who got me to start thinking radically differently about what I wanted out of this next chapter of life.
But before we jump in let me give you a little back story on why this feature is so important to me. This feature will showcase real life women who are defying cultural stereotypes and perceptions of midlife: women just like you and I who are re-inventing themselves, starting businesses, chasing their dreams and tackling challenges they never thought possible. There are so many awesome Old Chicks doing amazing things out there and quite frankly we don’t hear enough about them. When I set out on my own personal reinvention journey at age 50 and started searching for inspiration and real-life examples, the messaging that was reflected back was downright deflating. It was all about staying safe and comfortable, not taking risks and waiting for retirement so life could begin”. The overarching theme was “active” life is coming to an end, just hang in there. Really, WTF? I’m not even close to being ready to tap out just yet. I had enough of my own doubt and fears about what I was taking on and this BS messaging just pissed me off (Ha, can you tell I’m a bit fired up!). And so I made a pledge to share inspiration where ever I can find it. I hope this feature provides the inspiration and real-life examples that I was searching for to those of you who need it. If you are looking to make changes in your life; big or small; wanting try new things or chase a dream then I hope that you take from this that anything is possible and “If they can do it, then so can I”. So without further adieu.....
Meet Monique Kozan. We met at our neighborhood gym and would then run into each other on the subway going to and from our respective corporate jobs, both of us in our 50’s lamenting the fickle Toronto weather and the rat race we live in.
Then one day Monique announced that she and her husband had made the bold decision to quit their jobs, sell their home and most of their possessions and pack what they could into 25lb backpacks with an open-ended plan to explore the world for a year. I remember being awestruck (and a little bit envious, if I’m honest) by how brave and bold it was for a couple in their 50’s, who would normally be settling into thoughts of retirement and security, to make such a radical life change.
I lived vicariously through pictures as I followed along on their adventures. While the destinations themselves were inspiring, what captivated me the most were Monique’s photographs. Having never been a professional photographer, during that trip Monique uncovered her hidden talents behind the camera by taking the most beautiful and captivating portraits of people that she encountered along the way. She found a love and passion (and talent I would add) for portrait photography that might have remained hidden if she had not taken the bold steps she did at this point in her life. Such a great reminder of brilliance that we all have in us that is just waiting to get out if we let it.
Monique and her husband have since settled in Asia and Monique is now building her portfolio with plans to create a book of her portraits which will be used to support charities in underserved parts of the world. Truly inspiring!
Here’s what Monique has to say:
What do you love most about this stage of life?
I like the fact that I’m finally learning to let go of a nagging lack of confidence that has plagued me all my life. Always believing I was good at nothing. That’s not to say I’ve magically become confident in my 50’s, far from it, but I’m finally realizing that even highly successful, outwardly confident people have groundless fears, and that it’s ok - as long as those fears don’t rule your life. Letting go of that shit is not easy but, as I do slowly learn to let go, I feel emotionally and creatively freer.
What was your inspiration for such a bold and life-changing decision?
My husband and I both really needed a serious life change and had talked about doing something like this for several years. And then in 2013 my two best friends died within less than 4 months of each other. It numbed me and ultimately it was the catalyst for a huge shift in my life. They were in their fifties and had worked hard and planned well for their retirements, only to never get the chance to enjoy it. I thought, “What’s the point of working so hard and living a stressful, sometimes joyless existence? And then dying before reaping the benefits of all your hard work?” I was determined that wasn’t going to happen to me or my husband. I wanted to know that, if my time here on this plain was going to be short, then I was going to die knowing I lived my dream and that I had once-in-a-lifetime experiences on my terms. I wanted to be young and fit enough to be able to do the stuff I wanted to do!
What was the biggest lesson for you on this adventure?
There are many - the obvious ones being to let go of materiality and to live each day to the fullest (which can mean different things to different people). But I think the biggest take away for me was that I realized I had something to say. I am hardly the smartest person in the room and figured “Who gives a rat’s ass what I think?”. But, you know, it turns out when I started sharing my own experiences and life stories with people we met along the way, and continue to meet, they actually listened. I think that’s where my portrait photography started from. I unconsciously always seemed to take portraits because that’s what resonated with me. It went from me learning to use my voice, to me “seeing” the voices of others through my portraits. Maybe in some very small way I’m giving a voice to those who would otherwise never be heard.
What’s one piece of advice that you give to women who want to live their best life in this mid-life chapter?
Well, first of all, it’s always easy to give advice! But I don’t find it at all easy to take my own advice!! But I do tell people Don’t be afraid. So you fall down. So what? (I need constant reminding of this...). It sounds so cliche, but, really, that’s what so many of us are ruled by, including me (ESPECIALLY me!!!). It’s that damn F word... Fear. Believe me, I have yet to fully conquer my own fear demons but I am learning to trust that my voice, be it my actual voice or my voice through my camera, has something to say, and people actually might want hear what it is. Or, sometimes, maybe not. And that’s ok too.
Heres some of Monique’s stunning portrait work from her travels. You can see more on her Instagram account @hildakozan