Seasonal Portfolio Careerists - Al and Denise

Photographer - Michael Mims

Photographer - Michael Mims

Quit your stable job to live and work between Mexico and Canada. Sounds like a good idea? Ten years ago, Al and Denise did just that. They pulled up stakes, and sold their house close to Calgary, Alberta to live in Mazatlan, Mexico in the winter and Saskatchewan, Canada, for the summer. It sounds like the perfect retirement plan, but they weren’t even close to retirement.

Al and Denise were known for taking risks that involved significant life changes. They had moved to Japan several years before to work and income stream from a variety of teaching ventures in the city of Sapporo, Japan. They had a reputation among their friends for being hard working people who had learned how to work with intention. They would figure out a way to accommodate their desire for a waterside and golfing lifestyle.

The idea to change gears came to Denise in a workshop during a teacher’s convention. At the time, she was a principal of an elementary school. The workshop facilitator asked the participants where they saw themselves in five years, and the image that came to Denise's mind was not working in her current job. She saw herself in Mexico and not just on a beach for a short vacation. The facilitator then asked them to share their vision with three other people, and Denise was sitting at a table with co-workers. She confesses, “I felt I had to be honest with them. I didn’t see myself in the school I was working in. I honestly saw myself working in Mexico in five years.” She then adds, “Because I put it out there, from that point onward the steps that we took led us in that direction.”

Changing direction isn’t always easy and Denise admits she struggled with making the decision to quit her job. However, the following year, at the end of October, she knew she didn’t want to do it anymore. “I knew it was bad timing. The school year had just started. Although we had a great staff, and we enjoyed spending time together, I decided to resign in November. I still loved the job but I didn’t want to not like it anymore. I helped transition the new principal. Then, I started a small business course.”

Al and Denise were living outside of Calgary in the community of Redwood Meadows in the beautiful foothills of the Rocky Mountains. They had spent a great deal of time and energy getting their home just the way they wanted it, but their attachment to their home and community didn’t stop them from starting on a new adventure. During that school year, events converged in Al’s job as a vice principal to further solidify their desire to pack up and move to Mexico. They then heard about Judy. Judy was someone who was living and working in Mexico. After meeting her, seeing her pictures, and hearing about her lifestyle, Al and Denise were convinced they could do it. Al quit his job, they sold their house in June 2007 during a hot housing market, and the portfolio career adventure in Mexico began.

Their first goal was to get settled in Mazatlan. They bought a house, then sold it and bought another. They taught English to start out and Al got his real estate license and started selling real estate with Remax. Denise became Al’s assistant helping him show listings to buyers searching for a vacation or investment property. While helping Al, Denise noticed there was a need to help vacation and investment property owners manage their properties when they went back home. She started a property management business and also worked as Al’s assistant showing listings. Denise says, “I thought I would be starting a business having to do with education. But, when you see an opportunity, you jump on it.” She partnered with her Mexican friend who took care of business when Denise went back to Canada in the summer. For two years, they worked like this in Mexico.

Their first summer back in Canada, Al and Denise built a lake front property in the province of Saskatchewan with Al doing a lot of the work himself. Their lake home was in a good location with access to First Nation schools, rural school divisions, and schools within the nearest city. They immediately got on the substitute teacher lists putting to work the skill sets they had honed working in education. Denise also took courses that allowed her to work and substitute teach in the local correction's facility. To add to their potential income streams, Al’s cousin suggested he get into the crop insurance business. Al started taking courses to become a crop and hail adjuster in the agriculture industry. Between studying, substitute teaching and building their home, they were busy. Denise says, “It was a busy summer and Al was able to do a lot of work that we would’ve paid a contractor to do, so he didn’t work for a pay check but he saved us money by working on our house.”

Strangely enough, you would think that with all the moving back and forth between two countries that their multiple careers would become stagnant over the years, but they didn’t. In Canada, Al was willing to travel while they were home, so he quickly moved up the crop insurance ladder eventually becoming storm boss, managing groups of insurance adjusters. Because hail insurance is a seasonal job, it fit well with Al’s new lifestyle. In Mexico, he eventually went into partnership with another real estate agent. It became a running joke with their friends that Al had become like Chevy Chase in the movie Fletch, juggling multiple jobs and business cards.

Denise’s career in Canada also grew. She was offered a permanent position as a special program coordinator with a school board in conjunction with the local correction's facility to work with boys in corrections giving support to continue their education. She designed the program, developed the curriculum and taught. She worked in this program every summer, gaining seniority with the union, and taking a leave of absence in the winter to go back to her work in Mexico.

Back in Mexico, Al and Denise partnered with Shawn, another real estate agent, and expanded what they started with property management increasing Denise’s workload and turning Al and Shawn into “The Real Estate Guys” a name Denise jokingly called them. As a new company, there were all sorts of glitches selling new property, and eventually they did this for two years until the business became a lot of work. That's where their portfolio career story takes another turn, creating a Part II to their story.

Over the years, Al and Denise learned how to change gears and adapt their work life in order to do what they love and live where they want. They have designed a portfolio career in Mexico and Canada that is enviable in how they have been able to piece together work from two different counties in such a seamless way. Al and Denise are now on another adventure that includes an online business. So, we will see where their portfolio career takes them next.