All posts in Transition

“At 57, I Don’t Lean In”

“Congratulations,” Sheryl Sandberg said with a smile as broad as the years that separate our generations when I told her that at 57, I’d recently gone back to a corporate job. “At this stage, I’m standing up—not leaning in,” I continued. This statement did not generate another high-five from the Facebook COO and author of Lean In, a new working woman’s manifesto for success.

Glancing at my business card, Sandberg said, “I’ll find out who you can talk to about Lean In Circles at your company,” before turning to greet another BlogHer ’13 attendee in the crowded Skyline Ballroom in Chicago’s McCormick Place Convention Center.

A corporate layoff in 2006 interrupted my 30-year marketing career. When I returned to corporate life after six years of teaching and writing, I knew my future called for a new outlook. I had been the prototypical MBA-owning, globe-trotting, leaning in career girl in my twenties, thirties and forties. Now, I’m a fifty-something woman standing up for the pursuit of personal satisfaction and enjoyment on the job and for living every day as if I’m worth it, because I am.

* At 57, I don’t lean in at work because I don’t feel the need to prove myself anymore. I believe in myself and know that I will deliver value.

* I don’t lean in because I already take a seat at the table. I speak up when needed and not just to be heard.

* I work for satisfaction in a job well done and the personal growth that comes from that, not to position myself for the next big move.

* I’m standing up at work rather than leaning in because I know the importance of a meaningful job. It requires my energy, but it’s just a part of my life, not the whole.

* I’m past worrying whether everyone likes me. I’m not sure I like everyone anyway. But I can figure out how to work with them, and that’s what counts.

* I want to see what’s around and ahead of me, and you can’t do that when your nose is leaned-in to a corporate playbook. I will travel the rest of my life gazing at serendipitous experiences outside those pages.

* I still haven’t heard from anyone in Sheryl’s office about the Lean In Circles at my company. It’s unfortunate that she missed the true significance of going corporate again at 57. There is meaning to be found, purpose to be had, and passion to be explored.

My generation must stand up and be counted. We are in vigorous pursuit of the ultimate goal—a life well lived.

Photo:
Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook Inc., center, poses with students for photographs after her speech at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea
Photo: Woohae Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Originally published on LifeReimagined.arrp.og
Life Reimagined AARP “At 57 I Don’ Lean In

The Walker Was Waiting For Me

Walker Husband’s request was simple enough but it put me on guard.

“I’m going to ask you a question and I want you to answer rationally and not emotionally.”

Did he want my opinion on buying another ukulele to keep the one that he bought on vacation company? Was he at Coscto debating a super deal on a big screen TV? Or did he want me to meet him at the local car dealer to test drive a convertible?

“Where are you?” I asked.

“I’m at the little resale shop around the corner,” he answered.

The resale shop. That’s not an odd place for him to be. But it is odd for him to call and ask about buying something there.

“They have a used walker for $10. Do you think it would be a good idea for you to have, just in case?”

Silence on my end.

Husband was asking a perfectly reasonable question that could push me right into irrationality, or at least into being overly emotional. He’s calling to see if I want a walker because in one week I’m having foot surgery on both feet.  Surgery on three hammertoes and one bunion per foot. Surgery that requires ten days of being completely off my feet except for slowly making my way to the bathroom and back to bed, to couch, or to chair. Surgery that results in an 8-week recuperation period where my mobility will be immobilized to a degree that I can’t fathom.

He was asking a perfectly reasonable question and I needed to call on my left brain when forming a response not my right brain, which was screaming: “A walker. What? I’m too young too need a walker. This surgery won’t stop me. Oh, I’m turning into my mother, father, someone other than me.”

“What’s it like?” I asked.

“It’s small, silver and has tennis balls on one end.”

“Will it move over carpet?” The path from bed to bath is carpeted and if the walker was going to be useful it had to be an all-surface walker.

“I think so.”

Continued silence on my end.

“All right I won’t buy it. Your silence says it all,” Husband said.

“No. I don’t know. Do whatever you want.” I was still in denial and couldn’t be responsible for the decision.

“We’ll donate it right back when you don’t need it anymore,” Husband said.

“Fine.” I hung up. He was right. It might help. For $10 it couldn’t hurt.

Husband came home with an upscale version of the model he had described over the phone. This walker had wheels instead of tennis balls and it was still just $10.

I took it for a spin over the carpet. It worked perfectly. I imagined myself gliding through the dark of the night to the bathroom, my way illuminated by a small flashlight I could attach to the front bar. Add a backpack and I could roam from room to room ready for anything. Dress it up with a flag and some streamers and I’d be ready for the local Fourth of July parade.

“The walker was a good idea,” I conceded to Husband.

“I thought so. I promised I’d take care of you,” he replied.

And so he did. And so will Wendy, the name I’ve given to my new wheels. With Wendy and Husband by my side, my walking will be smooth. Or at least more manageable.

And the Transition Goes On

“Why don’t you just say it, you’re retired,” a male friend said after my layoff that produced an unemployment check and a Cobra health insured life.

“I’m not retired,” I insisted. “I’m in transition.”

At lunch with a working friend from the good old days of full employment and a certain path I shared the nascent beginning of my blog.

“I’m writing about women in transition.”

“You’re always in transition,” my male lunch partner said.

He was right. Whether in a job or not, I have always felt in transition. I prefer to think this makes me an expert on the topic rather than someone who always looks for the next patch of greener grass.

When I told my sister about the potential job offer she asked, “Aren’t you enjoying your semi-retirement state?”

Semi-retirement? Is that what my life looked like to the outside? It didn’t’ feel like that inside.

The five years that I didn’t report to an office, I still worked. Not at a corporate office doing the same thing. But I worked. From a home office or at a borrowed desk. At various things. Consulting projects. Committees. Content development. And mostly teaching.

Two hundred students–give or take a few–have sat in my classes and been mentored over coffee and during office hours. Teaching has been the hardest work I’ve ever done. By myself. In front of a room of young adults hoping to advance their careers with the material they are learning in my class. Finding new ways to fill the hours, to bring the principles and theories alive. A three-hour, one-woman show running for 10 weeks straight. Each week required a new script and the ability to improvise.

“I never want to retire,” I tell Husband, who is on the brink of retirement. Teetering so close to being able to nap at will on any one of our couches. To putter in any number of puttering spaces in the house, garage, or outside. To being able to do something else as soon as he discovers or defines else. To being in transition.

Retiring sounds old. And I reject being old, while fully acknowledging being older. So I’m rejecting retirement and accepting rehiring into a new role in a familiar field. Or as I prefer to look at it, I’m just entering one more transitional phase in my life of transition.

Fashion Faux Pas or Face Plant?

Coming of age in the 70s I was more than a fashion faux pas, I was a fashion face plant. Nothing can explain away the dress I wore to the junior prom. I looked like a picnic tablecloth on the bottom with a matching place mat on top. Since I can’t find the picture, which I know I saved, you’ll have to use your imagination.

Large red and white checked gingham fabric. Long skirt accented with a ruffle. Halter-top attached to the skirt, also accented with a ruffle. Straps crisscrossed in the back and buttoned into the top of the skirt. My father made me dance around the living room to make sure nothing fell out of the square piece of material over my chest. Since my chest amounted to nothing at the time, I was safe.

Ruffles play a major role in my best wardrobe worsts. My early choices for formal dances at college all had ruffles on the bottom and unfortunately a few had gathered sleeves with ruffled edges. And there was the ruffled yellow dotted swiss bridesmaid’s dress accessorized with a matching floppy hat. Of course that was chosen for me and truth be told, the whole time I wore that dress I squelched the urge to cry out, paraphrasing Scarlett in Gone With The Wind, “I’ll never go dotted swiss or ruffles again.”

Of course it took a whole new decade and career before I found my ruffle replacement. Half the fun of going to work in the mid-‘80s–for me¬–was wearing the businesswoman’s bow tie. Floppy or stiff. Bright red, blue or black. It didn’t matter. I simply liked the ritual of tying it. And it announced my competence without me saying a word.

I first learned about power dressing from The Women’s Dress for Success book written by John T. Malloy. His advice to women hoping to be taken seriously by others (men) in the workplace: look like those others (men) as much as possible. My closet was full of men’s styled dark colored suits that I wore with white, blue, or an occasional pink shirt, when I felt rebellious, and a bow tie. Simple jewelry, gold or silver stud earrings and maybe a pearl necklace rounded out the corporate career gal’s look.

I took all of Mr. Malloy’s advice and added my own twist. Looking at my first-day-on-the-new-job picture I wish I had applied Coco Chanel’s advice: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” I wore a dark gray pinstripe suit with modest shoulder pads and a light blue wing-collared shirt with pleated front. A bow tie in the same color as the shirt flopped under my wing collar more than it stood at attention. A necklace of alternating silver and lapis-colored beads lay under my tie. Thank goodness I just wore matching silver studs.

In the 90s my bow ties and starched shirts gave way to flowing scarves and silky blouses. Then I went casual, business casual and then work from home casual. Today the most flounce in my wardrobe is found in the pashmina-style scarves warming my neck in overly air conditioned and under-heated environments. I am aware of the return of the bow blouse to the workingwoman’s closet but have resisted. Much as I have resisted anything in red and white checks. Neither bows nor gingham fit my style anymore.

The New Year Feels Different Already

Signs that 2013 will be a different kind of year than 2012:
1. On January 1st Northwestern University won its first bowl game in 64 years.
2. On January 1st I watched a whole football game on television since the Chicago Bears won the Super Bowl in 1985.
3. I learned more about probiotics and restoring the good bacteria in your gut than I ever wanted to learn while watching said football game.
4. An anonymous friend sent me a five-day pleasure challenge to start the new year, and I’m taking it.
5. In a few minutes I will drive to my new full-time job and first corporate job in five years. I didn’t sleep well last night and my stomach hurts now. Some things never change.

What Kind of Blogger Am I?

According to a study of blogging styles and attitudes conducted by Zemanta, a content suggestion engine (according to Wikipedia), I’m a Life Stager/Hedonist/Life Improver. Translation: I write about How to Enjoy and Survive Midlife With A Smile on Your Face, or My Face, as the case may be.

If that sounds like a mish mash of styles and attitudes, it is. According to the study, I’m not alone in exhibiting more than one blogging persona. And that, my blogging friends, is comforting to know for a couple reasons.

I’m forever being asked what my blog is about. I’m forever finding myself searching for a one-word answer because people like one-word answers that quickly categorize who you are, and because I teach marketing. I tell my students that an effective brand positioning statement is consumer-centric and singular in its promise. It is the rare branding success that offers two benefits in one drink. (Miller Lite’s Great Taste…Less Filling!) So if my blog is a brand or a product, it should offer something singular. Something it can own.

Here are some of the words I’ve tried on their own: Transition, Humor, and Midlife. But they don’t work on their own. Transition from what? What’s funny? And midlife, what does that mean? Midlife is about as broad in definition as Middle Class. Far as I can tell, Midlife means you’re not wearing diapers.

However, I also teach my students that a target audience or consumer can’t be defined narrowly by demographics. A brand’s consumer is more nuanced than a woman between the ages of 45-55. My students learn how to develop consumer personas, which include a demographic description along with information on attitudes, goals, lifestyle, and behaviors related to the product.

The Zemanta study highlights, for me, that while a blog has a brand identity, it also has a persona attached to it. Maybe I have difficulty describing my blog in one word because I can’t define myself with one word. Maybe I’ve just rationalized why I shouldn’t even worry about coming up with the one word. Maybe I should just focus on the one thing that differentiates me from the rest of the midlife bloggers talking about the midlife journey with a touch of humor. Right now the only answer – and it is one word or two, depending upon how I express it, is: Me. or Julie Danis. Only I can own that.

Rites of Passage: Mid-Life Marriage

It was a normal blind date at a nice restaurant, when the banker asked me some getting-to-know-you questions.
“Are you originally from Chicago?”
“Where do you work?” And,
“Why aren’t you married?”

Why aren’t you married? That’s the number one question on a single woman’s hit list. Running close, in second place is: “Why isn’t a woman like you married?” The latter moves to first place if any of the following adjectives modify woman: smart, pretty, wonderful. Why isn’t a wonderful woman like you married? Those positive adjectives only underscore the absurdity of the situation. You’re such a catch but still at sea.

Over the course of my extensive singlehood, I collected an arsenal of retorts to questions about my single status:
“Because you haven’t introduced me to him yet.”
“I haven’t found a man that makes me want to share my closets.”
“My husband is still married to his first wife.” And,
“I haven’t met the right person.”

Past dates have also identified reasons for my long-tenured singledom. I’ve been told:
“You’re too independent.”
“You’re not vulnerable enough.” And,
“You’re ovaries are too old.”

Okay, the guy didn’t actually say that to me. But he implied it. He asked, on the first date in a nice restaurant after finding out where I was from and where I worked, “Do you want to have children?”
“Sure, but I want to be married first. Anyway, I have plenty of time.”
“You’re over 30, I wouldn’t be too sure,” he said, and then told the manicurist who had fixed us up his real assessment. He felt I was too old to have babies. Had filed me under reproductively undesirable. He wanted a younger, more sure thing mother for his children.

I married when I was 48 years old for the first time, to someone I had known, on and off, for 12 years. Being so used to the “why aren’t you married” question I was caught off guard when, post-wedding a twice-divorced college friend of mine asked: “Why did you get married at this point in your life?”

I didn’t have a quick answer to this two-part question. Why get married, period? Why get married when you’re past child bearing and rearing age and all the benefits of a relationship can be had without marriage? Why? Why not?
“I married for love and adventure,” I answered.

Marriage was one of life’s great adventures that I had never experienced. Not even pretend experienced. I had never lived with a man before I married. I’m not even sure a man ever stored a toothbrush or razor at my apartment before I married. Not that I’m against co-habitation before marriage, but merging without a contractual commitment never made sense to me, especially as I got older and bought and decorated and redecorated my space in my way. I liked my space. I liked the way I cluttered my space. Control is my friend. Why would I give it up without a license?

Man-Who-Would-Become-Husband, and I met on a blind date in June, when I was 36 and he was a 48-year-old, divorced, father of a college-age daughter. I wanted children and wondered if he wanted more. I broached the subject while kissing on my couch one night.
“Do you like children?”
“Of course, I have a daughter.”
“I mean would you have any more?”
“I could but…”
“You could, good.”
“Isn’t it a bit early to be talking about babies?”

Yes, it was. We dated maybe six times over the course of that summer, and the relationship faded as summer did. His impression lingered though. In a journal entry on the following New Year’s Eve I summed up each date of the last twelve months with three words. Except for Man-Who-Would-Become-Husband, he rated four: “handsome, intelligent, good cook.”

Fast-forward eight years to a charity art auction. A small event, maybe 75 people. Hoping to meet new people – men – a girlfriend and I dressed up in leather skirts and boots and headed off to an up-and-coming but not-quite-there-yet Chicago neighborhood.
“Oh no,” I said as we walked in the room.
“What?”
“See that man over there.” I threw my head to the left and described Man-Who-Would-Become-Husband. “Tall, salt and pepper hair, blue eyes, blonde woman on his arm.”
“Yes…”
“I went out with him years ago and just never called him back.” I told my friend that he was the only man I had dated – if five dates constitutes dating, and in your 30s it just might –to whom I wished I had given more of a chance.
“But he was such a man,” I said, “and I was used to boys.” He told me jokes in German and knew about art past the Impressionists. We danced in Greek restaurants, on his deck, and in my den. But I let him go.

That night I bought a piece of art that I didn’t even like just to spend time talking to him at the auction table. I made sure he had my telephone number and the following week we went to dinner where he did not ask, “Why aren’t you married?” I learned that he had just started seeing someone in London and I told him about a budding relationship of mine in Wales.

For the next two years we casually went out to dinner when we were both in town. His cross-Atlantic relationship ended before mine. For a year, he patiently listened to me agonize over whether or not I should marry the man from Wales. Then one night on our way home from dinner, as he placed me in a cab, he said:
“I’ll dance at your wedding if you marry this guy, but if you don’t, I think we could have something here.”

The walk down the aisle didn’t come right away. My need for control and doing things my way tested and retested our relationship. I insisted we stop at the edge of the crosswalk; he insisted on standing a foot back from the curb. I needed to know the exact directions to a location, and follow them. He expressed a boyish delight in the serendipity of getting lost and then found.

But nothing was more irritating to him than my popcorn rule. I insisted on my own small, no butter popcorn on movie dates. He was perplexed and mildly put off. It was as if I had committed Dating Crime #1. If I couldn’t share something as inconsequential as popcorn could I share the New York Times Magazine? The last squeeze of toothpaste? The final drop of milk?

In my defense, I was used to buying my own movie ticket, my own diet soda and especially my own popcorn. I’m not selfish. I just like to ration my popcorn so it lasts through the first half hour of the movie. Most people I know finish their popcorn before the seventh preview. If I share I can’t control the pace and therefore, my satisfaction.
On one typical movie date night, after we found seats in the front row behind the break in seats, he went to the refreshment stand.
“A small, no butter popcorn and medium Diet Coke for me, please,” I ordered.

He returned with two popcorns, as I had hoped. One child’s size, no butter for him and the jumbo tub of popcorn, no butter for me. Jumbo, as in big-enough-to-feed-the-rest-of-the-audience-please-take-some-as-you-walk-by-popcorn. Jumbo, as in see-how-ridiculous-it-is-to-insist-on-your-own-popcorn-when-you’re-in-an-intimate-relationship-with-someone-popcorn. I got the message as well as everyone else in the movie theater.

So on the next movie outing, in a spirit of compromise and in an effort to see if I could live outside my control zone, I agreed to share a medium, no butter popcorn. Sharing that first bag of popcorn was as stressful as I had imagined. His big hand, which never seemed big before, opened and closed like one of those claws in the arcade game that tries to grab a stuffed animal or plastic encased prize but never does. He grabbed a gross of kernels and started eating. His fist moved from bag to mouth, bag to mouth. I watched him eat and slowly put one, two, maybe three kernels in my mouth hoping that he would see this as behavior he should adopt.

Bits of popcorn decorated his sweater. Staring at me. Daring me to leave them alone. Popcorn shrapnel trailed from the bag to my jeans, to his jeans, and beyond. I cleaned up after him, off of him and off of me. If we were going to make it as a couple I needed to take control in a non-controlling way. I spread a napkin over my lap and created a little bowl-like shape. I poured a large amount of popcorn out of the bag into my makeshift receptacle and handed it back to him.

“It’s all yours,” I said and proceeded to eat by the 1s, 2s and 3s. He didn’t drop as much popcorn on our laps. I got my fair share and munched happily 30 minutes into the movie. I turned to him and said,
“You know, this could work.”

A couple more years and a few more adjustments to coupledom passed before we married. Bit by bit my singledom behavior and habitat have changed: I surrendered half my closet space. I eat real meals for dinner instead of just grazing on pretzels, yogurt, and Diet Coke. I’ve relinquished control over the remote control and sometimes watch the Military Channel, car auctions, and the German news. Some things will never change…my night owl will never understand his morning lark (and vice versa), driving directionless still frustrates me, and I get antsy standing behind a gaggle of pedestrians at a crosswalk.

There is one change that I didn’t make from my single days. My name. This doesn’t bother Husband. “It’s a sign of the times,” he says. “My first wife won’t give up my name, and my second wife won’t take it.” As I see it, there are only so many changes that could be accommodated in my middle age marriage.

Boomer Women: Listen to Your Elders

I always enjoyed sitting like a mouse in the corner of the room when my great aunt, aunt, or grandma came to visit. My little ears learned big lessons about just about any topic from those who had come way before me. A recent article in The Atlantic reminded me to listen to my elders for advice on how to navigate the mid-life transition I’m facing today. Bottom line: Accept the age you are, rethink retirement, and immerse yourself in community. I’m all ears for this advice. (Photo courtesy of The Atlantic and the AP)

Reunions are Just a Memory Event

So far 2012 has been a year full of school activities. It started with graduations attended (graduate school, college, high school and elementary), moved to being a specatator at extracurricular activities (college soccer game,  high school cheer leading), and continued this past weekend with a college reunion.

I can sum up the weekend in a word: memories.

Memories were stirred: My room mate reminded me of how nice I was for taking care of another friend who was sick from a night of partying. Apparently I was quite the Florence Nightingale. I don’t remember and am sure I blocked the memory because it might make me sick. Anyway, good to know that I pulled through when needed.

Memories were unexpected: At an alumni-student career networking luncheon I met a young woman who said she was in a sorority. This was the last piece of information she offered after stating her major (Learning and Organizational Change and Political Science), hometown (somewhere in New Jersey), and hope for the future (human relations in a corporation and then executive recruiting.) When I learned that she and I were members of the same sorority I offered my hand and we exchanged the secret handshake.

“I haven’t done that in years, ” I said.

“I never expected to do that here,” she said.

“What just happened? Did I miss something?” the boy sitting next to her said.

Memories were confirmed: For years I have tried to confirm the occurrence and particulars of a summer party that had something to do with the university. I lived in Dayton, Oh and have no memory of traveling to a suburb of Cleveland for a summer get-together of either prospective students or accepted, soon-to-be freshmen students, but I do remember being in a classmate’s back yard. I think I remember another friend being there, she had traveled from Columbus, but this friend draws a blank whenever I try to force the memory into and out of her synapses.

The most salient part of the memory is the  backyard soda fountain and ice cream parlor. At the edge of the brick patio, near the grassy expanse of the lawn was a stainless steel home version of Baskin-Robbins. The father of the house treated all guests to a soda or sundae of their choice. I hung out near the chocolate. I remember nothing else of that event.

At the Saturday night party I beeline to the classmate from Cleveland.  She can make or break my memory.

“Did you live outside of Cleveland,” I asked her.

‘Yes,” she said.

“Did you have a summer party one year and served ice cream out of a backyard ice cream parlor?”

“Yes, oh you remember that too?”

“Remember it, I’ve told stories of that party and the ice-cream for years, not quite sure it was true but hoping it was. Thanks for confirming my memory. Now, why were we there in the first place?”

“I don’t remember.”
Memories were awkward: So you haven’t seen someone in a gazillion years and she sees you at the reunion talking to your college boyfriend. Seems just like yesterday. You and he hanging out. In fact, you and he do hang out with a group of friends and have a great relationship.

“Julie, hi,  it’s Susie. How are you?”

“Susie. Hi, it’s great to see you here. Do you remember…”, and I start to introduce said college boyfriend.

“Yes.  Did you two get married?”

This mistaken coupling is not the awkward part of the story. The awkward part happens when my close friend, Abby,  standing with us says: “Oh, almost.” And then laughs. A lot. But my college boyfriend and I didn’t almost get married and we both don’t really know what to say so I just point out my husband, one of the non-alumni spouses watching the Notre Dame football game in the lobby.

Memories were made: I’m sure they were made but I won’t know for sure until I see my friends and classmates again. Will we remember that one of us announced his engagement? Probably. Will we remember that Northwestern beat Iowa for a record of 7-2? Probably not, but we will remember that the football team played better than they ever did when we were there. Will I remember Susie asking me if my college boyfriend and I were married? Not sure. Depends upon how much short-term memory loss I experience between now and the next reunion. And if Susie is there.

Some people are reunion people, others are not. I like them for the memories that are stirred, confirmed and made. I especially like being with people who help me retrieve forgotten memories that when remembered help make my past whole.

Go U Northwestern! Just feeling a little purple pride today.

 

Lists. Choices. Decisions. Oh My!

I  am making a list and making it more than once. Maybe more times than that. In fact I think I’ll split the one list into two or three lists because the decision facing me is bigger than one list can handle.  I’m making these lists to help me answer the question: which way do I go?

“Asking the right question is half the answer.” Aristotle said. So perhaps this isn’t the only way to pose the question. And if one believes the adage, “there is more than one way to skin a cat,” there may be more than one right answer.

Therefore, I’m making multiple lists to help me answer this question: Given the choices presented to me, the opportunities unexplored but in my sight, the options that are still partially formed dreams, and my talents, desires and needs – how do I do “what’s next?”

Bottom line: I’ve been working on my reinvention from a corporate advertising executive to a writer/essayist/storyteller/multi-media person of words for several years. After my one and only layoff I took a year off from looking for jobs because it was pre-recession and the seemed right to take a break, to assess where I had been and make some adjustments for where I was going. Assuming I would live into my 100s I had another half-life to live and I wanted to live it purposefully. Even with that faulty assumption, I wanted to live more in-line with personal objectives.

Post-recession I half-heartedly looked for corporate jobs and non-profit opportunities. Nothing I found made my heart pitter-patter. More often my gut clenched when I read the job description and envisioned the lifestyle that accompanied it.  So I took a part-time job teaching graduate school, a couple consulting jobs and I went back to school. I love school. It has always been a good default for me when I’m not sure what to do.

After receiving a certificate in creative non-fiction I decided to focus on being a writer. One writes to be a writer. But to be a writer that is read and shared takes a lot more than just writing.

I had moonlighted as a writer while working a full-time job in the last century. That makes it sound so long ago, and while that’s true, it feels like just yesterday when the sight of my column in the Sunday paper or the sound of my voice on the public radio station made me fall in love with my creativity each and every time. Not fall in love with me, but with an essence of me that loved being out in the open – fully voiced, fully exercised, and eager for more. I felt alive like I hadn’t felt doing research on salad dressing or writing creative briefs for air freshener.

So I made a deal with an angel and stopped looking for corporate jobs, resolved myself to working for less than waitress wages while teaching at a premiere college because it gave me prestige, validation, a business card and something to talk about at cocktail parties. Nothing shuts down a conversation more than when you tell someone you’re a writer and the only recent evidence you have of this self-claimed title is a blog or an unpublished essay, or file of essays.

Then I set about my reinvention, which lasted well over a year and a half. Probably half of the time was spent learning how to navigate the day-to-day-ness of my totally self-structured, non-corporate life and handling some unexpected speed bumps –who knew that the little country of Liechtenstein would play a large role in my reinvention. I also needed to bring Husband on my journey. This isn’t so easy when Husband is a lawyer – a litigator. Nebulous, finding-your-self and selling your-self journeys don’t fit so easy into an evidence box.

I’m not making excuses for not feeling reinvented yet or ready to be released on my own recognizance as a newly reinvented woman cum writer/media person. I did the assignments – I’m a good Catholic girl, after all – and I attended all the calls, except for the time I was in Liechtenstein. I bought almost all the books, read parts of almost all of them, and all of a couple. The material came fast and furiously – vision boards and cascading goals, the prefrontal cortex and the gratitude journal, false beliefs and negative self talk, the ego and the heart. Who’s talking to whom, who’s taking the lead?

I walked the path each month during the call and fell off the path between calls. Got turned around and retraced parts of the path. Sometimes I just decided to run and catch up with my accountability gang because I just didn’t want to be alone. So even though I don’t feel ready to receive my reinvention certificate today, because 1) I don’t believe I’ve learned all the material, 2) I definitely don’t know how to apply all the material and 3) I believe that I will always be reinventing myself – I must leave this formal reinvention stage of my life.

I leave wistfully and a bit anxiously because I find myself in a state similar to when started: facing opportunities in a new world – a world of writing and media  – and a choice to go back to an old world – corporate marketing. The new world is much more defined than when I started and that is good. There has been movement, successes and a great big wild ride into writing a book that needs to be ridden some more.  The corporate marketing job, which found me since I wasn’t looking for a job as promised in my deal with the angel, is interestingly different than the one I left. It lacks many of the loathing characteristics that made it easy to turn my back on corporate life.

However, I have steeped myself in the creative expression of my life and exploration of the world. I know I do not want and therefore will not forsake my dream and passion of expressing myself through writing, of connecting with other women through words, of feeling alive by seeing my words in print or hearing my words spoken. I won’t do this because 1) I believe my talent lies in connection through communication and I can make a difference that way and 2) I won’t disappoint myself by walking away.  Goodness, I have a book proposal waiting for an agent. Life’s Too Short –And So Am I will be written!

All this means that I need analyze to what the corporate opportunity can bring to my table to make the feast better, not just fatter.  So it’s time to go back to my lists, which I will check more than once in collaboration with my best collaborators, much like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.

Dorothy: Now which way do we go?
Scarecrow: Pardon me, this way is a very nice way.
Dorothy: Who said that?
[Toto barks at scarecrow]
Dorothy: Don’t be silly, Toto. Scarecrows don’t talk.
Scarecrow: [points other way] It’s pleasant down that way, too.
Dorothy: That’s funny. Wasn’t he pointing the other way?
Scarecrow: [points both ways] Of course, some people do go both ways.

Wizard of Oz, 1939

There’s nothing that wearing a pair of red shoes can’t solve.

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