Intrepid “girl reporter.” Truck stop waitress. Radio talk show host. Stay-home soccer mom. Freelance writer. Prosecuting attorney. Photographer. Essayist and award-winning author. (Okay, so I mixed up the order just a little!)
When I published my last essay collection, “When the Shoe Fits…Essays of Love, Life and Second Chances,” a women’s magazine I wrote for on occasion invited me to come up with a list of ten tips for reinvention for the magazine’s website. Editors, of course, have a habit of shortening things, and the original list of ten shrank to seven. But two years later, the magazine is no more…and I’m still standing! So I’d like to share my original thoughts on moving forward and, of course, “growing bolder.”
If there was an actual dividing line in my life that you can point to as a single “reinvention point,” it would be when I lay on the damp sand of a riding arena with a broken back (though I didn’t know it was broken at that exact moment). Once the pain lessened enough for me to think, I vowed that I would never again ignore my gut feelings as to a course of action in favor of somebody else’s advice. I changed direction and went to law school, balancing four children and a marriage on life-support while conquering a crippling fear of public speaking. And for a while it seemed as though I had made the leap to a whole new life.
But, as I eventually came to understand, life is a flowing stream, not a diving board poised above a single pool. So…here’s the list!
1. Take a deep breath. And do it again. And again. See a pattern forming here? “Reinvention” (or as I like to think of it, “evolving”) is life. If we’re really living, we’re always learning and doing something new. There’s rarely a “before” and “after” that are completely unrelated.
2. Know that you can do more than one thing well at a time. When I started law school, I was convinced that the creative side of my life would be gone forever, left behind in the wake of this new and demanding passion. Little did I know that what I had loved to do—write—was what I also still loved to do. And so I became a blogger, and then an author. And then took up digital photography. I can’t imagine giving up any of those three elements—law, writing and taking pictures—any time soon. I feel stronger with all of them.
3. Embrace the strength your past has given you. I wasn’t a “traditional” law student by any stretch. I was forty, and my youngest was just starting kindergarten. I was absolutely terrified at the outset. But when it finally came time for those all-or-nothing semester exams, I knew that I had more toughness and resilience than any three twenty-somethings tied together.
4. REVIEW THE SHOES! Dorothy had her ruby slippers in the Wizard of Oz, and Cinderella’s famous heels were made from glass. Neither pair of shoes changed the essential girl but they changed the way Dorothy saw the world, and they changed the way the world viewed Cinderella. The right shoes can boost confidence, catch your opponent off guard, or empower you to try something new. Trust me, leather work boots and a battery-operated chain saw can entirely change the way you look at Mother Nature.
5. Repeat after me…“WHY THE HELL NOT?” And again please, only louder.
6. Keep an open mind to encouragement from your friends. I wouldn’t be a lawyer, a blogger, an author, or a photographer if it weren’t for some dear friends who saw more potential in me at times than I saw myself.
7. With the exception of arguing cases to the Wisconsin Supreme Court—now there’s an audience that really expects you to “lean in”—my life and career path couldn’t possibly have been more haphazard. Sometimes the most incredible opportunities come at you sideways. So keep your sense of wonder and adventure wide open!
8. Get to the shore. Your inner voice can get drowned out by your job, kids, work, partner, pets, aging parents, daily commutes. Abscond to a quiet beach or a river bank once in a while with a cup of your favorite fancy coffee and a bag of chocolate. Sit and listen to the world breathe…and listen to the voice from your own heart.
9. Feed your passion. It took me several years to recognize that being a writer is who I am and being a lawyer is what I do. Fortunately, I love both!
10. Success is not just about money or power or influence. At some point you have to be having fun! And if you need a primer on that point, here’s my Adventures in Self Publishing essay about the intangible joys I discovered after forging ahead to self-publish my first book, “Running with Stilettos.” I am so glad I opted to make that leap. If I could measure the fun I’ve had along the way as a result, I’d be in the Fortune 500 of “what an amazing ride”!
Cheers! And here’s to new adventures in 2017!!