Courage, change and the new year

Photo of Grizel Ubarry on one of her first stops in Mexico

Reflecting on one year ending and another beginning gets me thinking about the practice of courage. I am keenly aware of how easy it is to keep doing the same activities and how hard it is to change. It doesn’t really matter whether I enjoy or get benefits from a habit. Or if some new activity would bring obvious joy and pleasure. Routine is comforting and reassuring. This week’s post is a reflection on radical courage and willingness to change from my friend Grizel Ubarry.

Earlier in my career, I met Grizel Ubarry, a feisty and inspiring woman whose family came to New York from Puerto Rico. Grizel was an advisor on a five-year leadership project, funded by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. Grizel was practical, an outstanding planner and had a great way of working with groups. She also had the courage to speak the truth directly, whether easy or hard.

Over decades, we have remained friends and I have continued to be inspired by her life and commitment to working for good. Her capacity to inspire me hit a new peak a couple of years ago when she told me she planned to retire, sell her home and travel around the world for as long as she was able. Being an extraordinary planner, Grizel had a detailed timeline for getting ready for this adventure.

As I mentioned, small changes are hard for me. So the courage Grizel showed in literally selling everything and taking the leap of faith to travel at the age of 70 is gargantuan in my book. And she intentionally decided not to worry about the details of where she was going to travel and to invent her trip as she went.

Grizel has chronicled her journey from deciding to getting ready to launch her new life in her newsletter and blog at  Below are a few excerpts from Grizel’s reporting on her process and travels.

Grizel introduces herself on her website this way: For the last 40 years of my adult life, I have been a community development practitioner helping rebuild neighborhoods using every possible tool for change. More recently, I have transitioned into a second career as a photographer and blogger ( My writing and photos seek to inspire readers through travel, art, and personal growth while serving humanity.

She describes her motivation for her letting-go journey:

You are getting close to being 70 and you no longer love what you do as much. The house that you worked so hard to renovate and make it your sanctuary ain’t cutting it anymore, although the kitchen is still your favorite spot. Family and friends are moving on to new careers, ventures and places while you are thinking about what’s next for you. You long for change that is both purposeful and fun. How does one begin?

Then her steps to prepare:

“Next step was to write out a plan to downsize my consulting practice towards closure, prepare my house for sale and get rid of 50% of my stuff. I had less than three years to get this done if I was going to meet my 70th birthday benchmark …. I was determined. … The more arduous task was downsizing and letting go of the house. At some point, you had to stop having gatherings and start getting rid of things. There was not a room, closet, or drawer that was not full of stuff. I am not one to live in clutter, but as a baby boomer, I have serious hoarding tendencies.

The decision to retire and liberate oneself from years of accumulating possessions is both demanding and hard to do. As creatures of habits, you don’t realize how emotionally attached you become to your possessions and daily rituals. Not letting go is our own internal resistance to embracing change. Once I’ve packed my choice belongings into two 10×10 storage units…what’s next?”

When she sold her home in July 2023, Grizel decided to spend six weeks living in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. This was both a bucket-list dream and an intentional opportunity to learn what she needed for her world excursion.

Following New York City, she began her travels with a trip to Mexico starting in September 2023. In the few months she’s been on the road, Grizel has experienced the Day of the Dead festivities in Merida and a solar eclipse at the Chichen Itza Pyramids, took a side trip to Miami to enjoy the Art-Basel week and spent 25 days in the historic city of Campeche, Mexico.  She is currently residing in Oaxaca and will move on to spend time in Puebla and Mexico City, where she concludes her six-month stay in Mexico. The next major destination on her itinerary is Italy.  All the details on this amazing journey and more to come are at

As I mentioned earlier, Grizel is a realist and speaks the truth as she experiences it. Here is what she wrote after her first few weeks in Mexico and the major emotional challenges she faces in her transition to becoming a full-time traveler:

“Waking up every morning in a foreign country away from everything that is familiar to you can be a bit daunting. Two questions I generally asked myself in the morning, “so, what exactly am I planning to do today and what day is this?” It’s not that I don’t have a list of projects to pursue and fill a good part of my day. The issue is much bigger affecting most retirees, especially those like me who are obsessive-compulsive workaholics. It’s the lack of a familiar routine or schedule that is no longer part of my life, at least not in the same way. Knowing that you no longer have a home to return to, a place to hang out with your buddies, see your relatives or work with clients requires you to seek other outlets. I miss my home, my work, friends, family and simple routines like getting mail, receiving and opening packages (yes, I have an online shopping addiction). I sorely miss watching MSNBC and CNN as bad as the news has been. At times, I feel isolated, alone, and un-focused. None of it is alarming. It’s a matter of adjusting and finding ways to fill your day, connect with people and build from there.” 

As we each head into 2024, where might we summon up our courage for change? As I work with my co-author Joy Jones to finish our book Bill and Lois Wilson A Marriage that Changed the World, I am facing my own fears of change and letting go. I am aware that writing a book, especially about people who are revered, has its risks along with its satisfactions. 2024 brings new challenges for me in adapting my life to complete and offer the world this book. I pray for courage to trust the process as Grizel obviously has.