Today I am delighted to share the first guest post on Pretired.org. It’s a wonderful pretirement story from my good friend, Rebecca Smith Hurd. Rebecca and I are old college buddies who share a craving for exploration and adventure. While I left my fancy corporate job to take care of Pretired Baby, Rebecca decided to bail on her corporate job to move to Mexico. There she found a new life, language, culture, husband and founded All About Puebla, the leading English-language resource on Mexico’s fourth largest city. I hope you enjoy her story!
Why I Outsourced Myself to Mexico
By Rebecca Smith Hurd
What happens when you realize that your dream job is no longer as dreamy as you’d like it to be? You quit. Or at least that’s what I did back in March 2006, when, after 20 years in journalism, I resigned my post (and gave up a six-figure salary) as an editor of an award-winning national magazine. My departure did not make headlines, but it altered the course of my career—and my life—for good.
At the time, I didn’t think of myself as pretired. After working for two decades in the U.S. media business, I was just plain tired—tired of stressing over deadlines, tired of lying awake at night fretting about possible errors, tired of saying “no” to friends and family because I had professional obligations, and tired of having to, er, strap on a pair to get taken seriously. I needed a break, stat!
So, I took one. I went skiing, ran a 10K, camped out at Coachella, and rafted the whitewaters at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I spent two months using my 37-year-old body instead of my brain, as one colleague observed, and it was fantastic. But it wasn’t enough.
Shortly thereafter, I started freelancing to pay the bills while I figured out what came next. To drum up clients, I printed business cards with the title “word nerd” (because it rhymes with “Hurd” and pretty much sums up my skill set), and I emailed former colleagues. Whenever I didn’t have to go to someone’s office, I worked at my coffee table in my pajamas. I took random afternoons off to run errands or hang out with friends. I drank wine on Tuesday nights. I was, as the saying goes, the boss of me.
But I was also still paying nearly $2,000 per month in San Francisco rent, plus other standard living expenses, which meant I was working as much as ever, occasionally on the weekends. Sigh. This wasn’t the break I needed. Could I afford to take a sabbatical? I couldn’t just do nothing for six months, could I?
As the year drew to a close, I flew to Spain to visit a friend—and found the answers. My aha moment came as I was sitting in a bar in Madrid, chatting with him and two other Europeans. Each of them spoke several languages and, as the conversation flowed, it dawned on me that they were using English exclusively for my benefit. You know, me, the stereotypical American who, despite calling herself a “word nerd,” had mastered only one language. So humbling.
I returned to the States in mid-January, determined to become bilingual. I would take that sabbatical and study Spanish! I researched language programs in various countries—and ultimately came up with a plan to spend the last six months of the year in Mexico. I enrolled in the intensive summer program at the Monterey Institute for International Study in California, followed by 16 weeks of immersive study at the Spanish Institute of Puebla. Why these schools? Because they were serious, affordable*, and highly recommended by former students. Beyond that, friends of the family kindly agreed to put me up for free near Monterey, which sealed the deal. That June, I gave up my apartment, put my belongings in storage, and hit the road.
Many of my friends and relatives thought I was taking a huge risk. But they were nonetheless supportive; a few even commended me for being “brave.” Personally, I thought the move made perfect sense: I’d not only get the break from routine that I sorely needed, but also learn a new skill that would make me more marketable as a word nerd. I’d return to San Francisco with a second language on my resume, ready to land my next full-time job. ¡Andale! Sounds entirely practical, right?
Except that things didn’t turn out as I’d planned. While spending four months in Mexico’s fourth-largest city, I fell in love with the place and a Poblano. I reached out to a few colleagues in the U.S. to see whether they had any freelance jobs I could do 100% remotely. They did! And so began my pretirement.
Six years later, I’m still in Puebla. I’ve effectively outsourced myself. My husband and I could relocate to the States, but financially we’re better off here. My freelance clients—all of whom are in the U.S.—don’t care where I am, as long as I meet their expectations. I’ve also been able to take on new projects, including minor translations, because I speak English and Spanish. My language investment is paying off.
What’s more, because my overhead is 30 percent of what it was in San Francisco, I can charge competitive rates (in dollars) and work fewer hours (about 35 per week) than I could otherwise. Of course, I could do more, and I’ve had a few lean months along the way. But the work-life balance is worth it. I now have enough time, flexibility, and mental space to focus on personal projects, such as running a local travel website, putting out a monthly expat newsletter, and writing posts like this one, for my college buddy Pretired Nick.
Best of all, my job is dreamy again, and I’m rarely tired anymore.
*The cost of the 2007 program in Puebla, which included all instruction plus room and board was $100 per month less than my rent in San Francisco.
Thanks for sharing, Rebecca! It’s so inspiring to hear about someone deciding to give up the big salary for a better life! Anyone else considered moving overseas to bring their pretirement dreams closer? Or considering a move to Mexico? Tell us about it in the comments! And be sure to visit All About Puebla to learn about Rebecca’s fascinating city.