Sell Everything and Start Over in Italy At 56 | LISA CONDIE
I officially met Lisa Condie through Facebook, but I had already known about her because she’d written a book called, “I Found Myself In Italy”, that I had come across months earlier.
Because Italy is a place I desire to find myself in as OFTEN as possible, I was immediately intrigued and quickly ordered her book. This was the introduction:
“When Lisa Condie’s marriage and a subsequent relationship disintegrated, she traveled to Italy to lick her wounds and implore her angels to help her discover what her next chapter of life might hold.
As Lisa explored the streets of Florence, she felt invigorated and fulfilled wandering through the famed architecture and spectacular galleries; a deep sense of peace enveloped her as she discovered the rolling hills of the Tuscan countryside, where Condie sought out wineries and olive groves, and monasteries and churches for answers and inspiration.
The imposing Duomo that dominated the Florence skyline and the city’s awe-inspiring bridges and meandering rivers beckoned her to leave her Utah home. The sights of Florence not only healed her, they became her muse.”
Have you heard about the “six degrees of separation” phenomenon that posits the idea that all living things and everything else in the world are six or fewer steps away from each other?
And that a chain of “a friend of a friend” statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps? As it turned out, Lisa was good friends with one of my Facebook friends, which is how I accidently found her. While it really was only one degree of separation, it emboldened me to reach out to her, hoping she wouldn’t be freaked out that I was some crazy Facebook fan who was stalking her.
Thankfully, she was delighted to meet and she actually happened to be in Salt Lake visiting her family and friends at that very moment. We quickly made plans to meet for lunch.
Merrilee and I met her at a local Italian restaurant, one that she deemed authentic (and she would know, having lived the past five years in Italy). Indeed, she was good friends with the owner, an expat himself from Italy who had moved to Utah for love, (but he desperately missed Italy).
Lisa is a genuinely affable person and we had a great time talking, laughing and getting to know each other. We made plans to get together again for an interview and photographing session. A week or so later, Lisa came to The Villa offices for the interview. Anticipating a fascinating story that I could hardly wait to hear, I lost no time in starting the interview.
“Tell me how you made this decision to move to Italy,” I said eagerly.
Lisa smiled, and took a big breath. “Well,” she said, with a little glint in her eye. “What got me to Italy to live there was that my partner at the time and I had gone there on vacation in 2011. I fell in love with it, and my partner was turning 60 in 2012, so I bought us tickets for a cruise to go from Italy to Greece to Turkey.”
“Ah,” I thought, happily, “A romantic story.”
And, then, suddenly she became subdued.
“But,” she paused for a moment, “About 10 days before we were supposed to leave, well….things fell apart so badly, to the point that there was physical abuse.”
I leaned in, instantly feeling empathy and sorrow for Lisa, and wanting to give her support. But, I was also surprised and impressed that she was willing to be so open about this part of her story. I’m a therapist, and I’ve had many clients who have been there, too. Because of my professional experience, I also knew that many women who have experienced domestic abuse feel shame and are reluctant to talk about it.
But she wasn’t. She was authentic to the core. She talked about this vulnerable and painful time in her life openly and honestly. At this point in the interview, I knew that her story was more than just one about a woman in midlife who found the courage to pull up roots and move halfway across the world to live out a dream. I realized quickly that her story was even more important to tell because it also included trauma and pain, loss and resiliency, as well as finding the courage to move forward and reinvent her life.
As a therapist, I continually find it inspiring how brilliant we human beings are in resolving our personal dilemmas and problems when we need to, and even more so when those experiences have been traumatic. When we experience trauma, it is often difficult to make good choices in our own best interest, because our central nervous system becomes overstimulated when we perceive danger. When we are in that over-stimulated emotional state, we seek safety and self-soothing remedies. Lisa had been involved in a traumatic experience. At that moment, Lisa’s plans for her life changed. She was faced with having to make life decisions at a time when she was vulnerable and grieving the loss of the life she had previously envisioned with her partner.
After the break-up, Lisa first inclination was to cancel the trip. But, unable to get a refund from the cruise company, she gathered up her resolve and invited her daughter to go along. Lisa and her partner had planned on spending a few days in Rome prior to the cruise, but because it was a last minute arrangement and her daughter could not leave that soon, Lisa flew alone to Rome and spent the first three days there by herself.
“I was absolutely terrified,” she admitted. “I had never really traveled without someone. I’d always had a partner on my arm from the time I was 16. I couldn’t imagine landing in a foreign country and being on my own. I felt panic as I flew over the ocean.”
Neverthless, Lisa was determined to confront her anxiety and decided she would take a good book to read and give herself permission to spend the entire three days in her hotel room reading and taking long, luxurious baths should she decide that she wasn’t up for exploring Rome alone.
Having come to a resolution, Lisa felt her anxiety lessen and assuage, and her confidence grow. By the time she got to Rome, she was feeling more courageous and adventurous, so she started walking the city. “I went to the Borghese gallery,” she remembered. “And, I’ll never forget, just the feeling of walking and doing things by myself. Stopping for lunch by myself was something I’d never done.”
At this point, Lisa hesitated for a minute, and said, with a big smile, “It was liberating and it gave me huge confidence that I can do this.” After three days of exploring on her own, Lisa’s daughter joined her and they had a wonderful time together on their cruise. It also ignited something new and unexpected inside of herself: a feeling of connection and kinship with Italy. On the last morning of their vacation, Lisa ducked into the coffee shop by her hotel to grab a coffee, and she had, what she called, “the closest I can describe as a religious experience.” She felt an overwhelming sense that she belonged in Italy, not just as a tourist, but as someone who lived there.
As she sat in that small coffee shop, she began to make plans. “I am 56 years old,” she thought. “I’ve worked as a fitness instructor for 32 years and my body is really tired and I didn’t want to teach fitness anymore.” She’d known for a while that she was going to have to find something else to do once her children were grown. She thought she had a partner to fill that void, but then the relationship ended, and she had nothing tethering her to the city she had called home her entire life.
She decided, right then, that she would go home, sell her home, her business, and her car, and move to Italy to start over.
She was crying as she climbed into the taxi with her daughter to head to the airport, and her worried daughter asked her if she was okay.
“I told her I was going to live in Italy!” she said. I asked her how her daughter responded. She beamed. “My daughter said, ‘I think you should. I don’t think I have ever seen you happier.’”
So she did just that. She moved to Italy, despite the people back home who questioned her: “What are you doing?” “You must be nuts!” and “This must be a midlife crisis.” But there were others who supported her--especially her children--and, “They were really the only ones who had a vote,” she said.
Lisa had a vision for herself; she had a new template that she had created. She knew it would have its challenges and missteps. Nevertheless, she went home, sold just about everything she owned, and was back on an airplane to Italy three months later. She knew no one there. She knew not one word of Italian. She’d decided that Florence was her destination and she had made arrangements to rent an apartment there. Even then, she was counting on faith that this unknown man named Lorenzo, who was renting her the apartment, was real and not some fictitious swindler to whom she had already paid a large sum of money for a deposit. Beyond knowing that she wanted to take classes to learn the Italian language, she had no idea what else she would do there.
Fortunately, the landlord was indeed real and became one of her closest friends. Settled in, Lisa began to walk the cobbled streets of Florence. She had no agenda or schedule to keep, so she walked. She walked wherever she felt her curiosity pull her. “I would walk by a place and try to figure out what it was, and then I would go home and Google it. I’d read all about that place. I’d go to markets and try to figure out how to navigate day-to-day things, and it would take my whole day.”
As she walked, navigated, and explored, she learned about her new home and how to get the things she needed to live.
And, as she walked, shopped for food and other essential items, and explored her new digs, she felt “a sense of bliss.”
It was the confirmation she needed, and as the days passed and she became acclimated and more comfortable in her city, she started considering what else she might do in her new adopted home.
Eventually, Lisa sought out the American expat community, and discovered an inclusive group of women who also were living there for various reasons. “It’s a lovely community,” she said, fondly. “There was a piece of home there. I got to have both.”
She also made close friends with Italians who lived in her community, and her two worlds intertwined. She shared American customs with her new Italian friends, even having a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with some of them one year that became an annual tradition. I asked her how she made that happen.
“You really have to get over looking foolish when you’re learning a new language or living in a new culture.” She said, “You’re going to make cultural mistakes.”
She told me a story about a time when she was at a market trying to buy some sort of food item. “I got brave enough to order what I wanted in Italian because a lot of the people there don’t speak English. There was a group of Italian grandmothers all around me and they burst out laughing at me.” Turns out that Lisa had ordered enough for all of them to eat.
Lisa laughed at the memory. But, she kept at it.
She kept learning. She kept walking.
And she kept healing.
“The first year and a-half was a healing time,” she said, gratefully. Over time, she realized that she was still grieving the loss of her marriage to the father of her children, a marriage that had lasted 23 years. She missed her family and their traditions. She missed her children. Her son flew over to spend time with her at Christmas, and that helped both of them, and she felt at peace when he left. And, while she became more settled in her new life, she began to consider making it a more permanent home. And that would require an income to support her.
While she considered her options, Lisa continued exploring Italy. One day when she was in Cortona, she had a profound thought that felt like an answer. She had spent her adult life building a business teaching fitness classes to women, so she knew how to set up and run a business. She loved her life in Italy and had learned so much.
She began writing travel stories for the Huffington Post, with titles like: “What’s It’s Really Like to Sell Your Stuff and Move to Italy”, that she credits as giving her “street cred” and exposure.
With that, she started capturing an audience with people writing her and asking her if she would show them the Tuscany she loved which then sparked an idea.
“What if,” she wondered, “I could bring American women over here and show them Tuscany? What if I could show them what I’ve learned and experienced?”
With an idea starting to form, Lisa enthusiastically began designing a tour company that would cater to women travelers from the United States.
She spent days thinking about the details: how to get the word out and find interested clients, what to charge, where to go. She partnered with a friend she knew in New York who designed her website. She researched and visited hotels, restaurants and sites to explore, and she launched her new business. Her first tour launched in April 2014 with 10 women, and the business grew organically through word-of-mouth.
And then she had an unexpected BIG break.
Lisa's editor at Huffington Post was working on a project called “Fifty After Fifty” in conjuction with The Today Show, which is a daily live morning broadcast based in New York City.
Huffington Post planned on headlining the series of 50 women who had reinvented their lives after turning 50 years old after which two women in the group would be selected to be featured on The Today Show.
Lisa was excited and hoped that she could be one of the fifty women chosen to be featured, knowing that it would be exceptional exposure for her newly founded tour business. Lisa reached out to a few of the women who had been on her Spring tours and let them know of the contest. Many of the women sent in their experiences and Lisa wrote her story and submitted it, and continued with her tours while she waited to hear if her story had been chosen.
One day, Lisa was sitting in one of her favorite restaurants waiting for her sandwich she had ordered, unaware that her life was about to change.
As she sat there, she scrolled through emails on her smartphone and saw an email from a producer of The Today Show. The subject line said, “50 Over 50.”
Feeling a little confused because she hadn’t yet heard from her editor, she opened the email and read the message that she was hoping for: she had been selected to be one of the stories, and she only had one week to prepare before a crew would arrive to film the segment!
That week was busy and exciting as she gathered photographs of herself growing up in Salt Lake, photos of herself with her children, and photos of herself teaching fitness classes.
A week later, a videographer arrived to interview and tape her. “It was a heady experience!” she said. On August 4, 2014, her story was aired on NBC.
She was also featured on the front page of the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper, and that, along with the national exposure resulted in a constant stream of requests for tours. Friends she’d lost touch with and women from all over the country contacted her: women in transition, women who were grieving in some way, women whose children were raised and they were finally doing something just for themselves.
“Taking a tour with me became healing for them,” she said. “It was much more than just seeing the sites in Tuscany.” These women, many whom had never traveled alone before, garnered up their courage and booked one of Lisa’s tours, inspired by Lisa’s own story of taking a leap of faith in pursuing a dream she had never thought she would dare do. They came alone, or with friends. They gathered together in Tuscany, exploring the gorgeous and historical city of Florence, and shared their stories over Tuscan dinners and wine. They talked about healing and joy. They talked about what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives. They found new connections with each other and themselves.
As Lisa’s reputation grew, so did her business. She was happy and fulfilled in her work, her friends in Italy, and the remarkable women she brought together in Italy. “Brene Brown says, ‘We are born for connection,’” Lisa said, thoughtfully. “I really do believe that as women we don’t feel fully satisfied unless we are in service in some way.”
Providing tours for women became both an income and an opportunity to be of service to other women. Lisa thrived in Italy, content with her expressive Italian lifestyle. When she wasn’t leading tours, she loved the simple moments of her life: going to the markets and talking to the Italian “nonne” grandmothers who were pleased that she could speak Italian, stopping in cafes for a fragrant and foamy cappuccino on her walks around the iconic city, enjoying her new friends, both Italians and expats, and discovering that she could be independent and carve out a life for herself that was rich and satisfying. I asked her if she was interested in one day finding a romantic relationship. Lisa laughed, and said, “Maybe one day.”
Lisa never planned on living in Italy forever. She knew that eventually she would come back to her home in Utah. Recently, after living in Florence for almost six years, Lisa made the decision to do just that, and moved home with plans to continue providing private tours to Tuscany that she would expand to include families, couples and women-only retreats. She had left Utah to do something she needed to do. She had found a community where she could heal. She had founded a business that turned out to be not just a way to earn an income, but also an unexpected opportunity to bring women from all over the country together who were also searching for the same things she’d been searching for: connection, healing and personal growth.
Lisa truly found herself in Italy.
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