I was a grant writer at the University of Cincinnati Department of Family Medicine from the time I was 28 until the time I was 57. After 29 years. I would have liked to retire but couldn't quite afford it.
Every year there were rumors that Congress was going to remove the funds for the grants I wrote from the federal budget. One year people would say, "The funds are going to be cut this year." But they weren't. Twelve months later they would say, "This year they are really going to be cut this year." This pattern continued for several years, and every year I feared for my job. Then one year my worst fears came true. Congress actually did take away the money.
I was stressed out beyond belief because I knew my job would soon be abolished. I wasn't securing even enough money to cover my salary. I realized I'd have to find another job -- which wasn't going to be easy, considering the economy.
I had another problem, too. And it was a big one. Dr. Edward Theodoru, the man who had been my soulmate for more than 30 years, had Alzheimer's. Not only did I not want to take him out of the excellent facility where he was living, he was too frail physically to be moved. Given my love and dedication to this man, there was no way I would move away and leave him alone.
It was a horrible situation to be in. However, although I knew I couldn't leave the area, I applied for national-level jobs anyway. One was to be a grant writer at the American Academy of Family Physicians in Kansas City. I was delighted when the organization said that if I were hired, I could telecommute. I was ecstatic. That would solve all my problems.
Then, in early January, Ed unexpectedly passed away. My grief overwhelmed me. But, as they say, when one door closes another opens. Two weeks after Ed's death, the Academy asked me to come to Kansas City for an interview, then offered me the job. Working at the Academy was the best job anywhere for a writer specializing in family medicine grants.
And there's where the incredibly stressful reinvention part kicked in. Since Ed was gone I no longer had any reason to remain in Cincinnati and after much soul searching I decided to upend my entire life and move to Kansas. I wanted to be physically present at the Academy. I wanted to get to know my colleagues. I wanted to be a part of the organization. I wanted to belong.
I was unbelievably anxious about the move, but I remembered that when Ed was my age, he'd given up everything to come to this country as a penniless political refugee from Romania. At least I didn't have to relinquish my language, my culture and all my possessions and money. Just thinking about that made my move seem more manageable.
Nonetheless, my new life was tremendously challenging and required my full attention. This took my mind off the loss of Ed as much as anything could. I simply didn't have time to wallow in my grief.
Almost everything was new and stressful. My only physical carryover -- other than my belongings -- was my beloved little Shih Tzu, Peter. He was a tremendous comfort to me.
Moving and getting settled was nerve-wracking and exhausting. What I really needed was what every professional woman needs -- a wife. But I didn't have one, so I struggled to manage on my own.
Having just lost Ed and having left all my wonderful friends in Cincinnati, I cried myself to sleep every night for more than a month. There were times when I wondered if I'd made a horrible mistake. But I had moved and I had to make the best of it.
One of my first major tasks was to find new service people, and I wondered if I'd ever find all the ones I needed. But eventually, and with many recommendations from my new colleagues, I found a beautician, nail salon, veterinarian, veterinary ophthalmologist (for Peter's chronic dry eye), dog groomer, bank, tax preparer, lawyer, plumber, electrician, handy man, family doctor, lawn service, housekeeper, pet store and so many more. I never realized single professional women needed so many helpers.
I struggled to adjust to the work and my new co-workers. During the first year I was more successful than at my previous job. This was a real relief. I had worried that perhaps I wouldn't measure up to the Academy's expectations.
In retrospect, I'm so glad I moved. Telecommuting would never have worked. It's critical for me to interact with the people on whose grants I am working. Further, my new supervisor is superior to the many I had in Cincinnati. Not to mention that I am earning quite a bit more.
The greatest challenge was making new friends. I'm rather shy around people I don't know and have always found socializing painfully difficult. I decided to start by inviting people at work to lunch one at a time, hoping that would lead to further get-togethers with some. It turns out that I now have more friends and closer friends in Kansas than I ever had in Cincinnati. I think that's because it requires many close friends to fill the enormous void Ed left.
It has now been five years since I moved. Sometimes I still miss Ed, Cincinnati and my previous life, but I have finally settled into my new one. I have reinvented myself, changing virtually everything about my life.
When I look back at the first few months after the move, I realize that although I wasn't aware of it at the time, it was a time when I had the most energy ever; I had never felt more alive. I've never regretted all the changes and would do it all over again if it ever becomes necessary.
Examine your life up to this point: What fascinates you? What, even if I don't fully understand it, really lights me up? What is worth doing? What's most rewarding and where can I make a contributions? Dr. Shep Nuland, a retired surgeon-turned-author who was interviewed by Mark Walton, author of the book Boundless Potential, suggests, "...look back, begin to rediscover who you were when you were 15, 25, or 30 with all that wide range of things that fascinated you that you gave up to become a doctor, lawyer, engineer, business executive and so forth, to care for a family or whatever."
Explore ways in which your personal fascination can be translated into action -- into real-world work you would deeply enjoy, and that would empower you to succeed, Walton writes. Track all the different activities you do, both at work and outside of work, and write down whenever you find yourself experiencing "flow," Walton advises. This concept, created by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is characterized by a sense of being so engaged in the activity that time disappears; a sense of clarity, energy, creativity and joyful mastery. What aspects of your work or leisure activities evoke a sense of flow?
"After being a 'grownup' for 20 to 30 years, there is a certain 'tranquilized obviousness' to our lives, to who we 'hold ourselves' to be," writes Mark Walton, author of Boundless Potential. "We have become, in many ways, what we print on our business cards... Psychologists call this 'institutional identity.' It took us a long time to develop these roles for ourselves, and if we have been successful, they have served us quite well. ...Recognizing our fascination necessitates looking behind the labels we have adopted, penetrating our own PR." Flickr photo via: Needoptic
As you weigh your reinvention strategy, consider work that leaves a legacy. Psychologist Erik Erikson said "In adulthood you learn to know what and whom you can take care of." As author Mark Walton writes in the book Boundless Potential: "...Erikson held firmly to the conviction that by creating a legacy through our love and work, by paying it forward, we generate, for ourselves, a higher order of existence -- a level of well-being and self-fulfillment that is otherwise rarely experienced." Flickr photo via: TinyTall
Whether your reinvention involves a project, a role, a career, a business or a nonprofit, think like an entrepreneur, advises Mark Walton, author of Boundless Potential. Consider marketplace structures and unserved niches of demand that will allow you to pursue your new work. On the financial side, pay off any revolving debt, such as credit cards, and figure out exactly what you are spending each month. Then, set aside at least six months' of living expenses to help fund your transition. Don't buy into the illusion of safety of a full-time job, Walton adds, noting that the unemployment rate for post-midlife workers doubled from 2007 to 2009, to the highest level in at least 60 years.