THE BLOG
10/01/2013 08:01 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Reinvention At Midlife For Real People

Reinvention: choice or necessity?

More magazine is the mother of all reinvention magazines. Every month, it seems, there's another story about a woman who quit her high-paying job as a corporate attorney/brain surgeon/college professor to follow her passion and make dreamcatchers/bake gluten-free cupcakes/start a philanthropic foundation. With shiny, happy faces, these women tell us that YES! we can do it too. We can reinvent ourselves and have a whole new life... if we just try.

These stories exhaust me.

It's not that I don't think what these women do is wonderful, admirable and remarkable. It's just that so many of them have made the choice to reinvent themselves, often (though not always) with money in the bank and time to let their businesses or projects grow at a natural pace. For most of them, reinvention is living their ideal lives, and they're fortunate to be able to dream their dreams and make them real.

Good for them!

Reinvention for the rest of us

Reinvention under pressure -- now that's something to admire. Reinvention when you have no choice, when you're on your own and scared, when you're starting from scratch with little money and even less time. That's reinvention.

That was how my mother did it.

Thirty-something years ago, within five years of moving across the country with her family intact, she went from being a married mother of two to a divorced empty-nester with a brand new Masters Degree in Family Therapy. She went from being, in just a few years, a housewife with a part-time job to a woman who needed to support herself. Five years changed her life dramatically.

With virtually no income or alimony, she managed to create a thriving private practice that lasted for 30+ years, until her retirement last September. She was able to support herself, save money, live comfortably and feel accomplished. Though she had plenty of moral and emotional support, her financial stability depended on her success as a psychotherapist, a job she was born to do.

Ask any of my childhood friends who would come to my house and spend the whole time talking to her.

She had -- and still has -- a gift for listening.

When my mother was going through this reinvention, I had very little idea of what a difficult situation she was in. I was in college, and far too self-absorbed to give much thought to the challenges she was faced with every day as she stayed the course and drew on strength even she may not have realized she had. It was, in hindsight, remarkable.

Reinvention and perseverance

The older I got, the more I came to appreciate what my mother had done. And the older I got, the more I was amazed at her perseverance -- the long hours, the commitment she showed to her clients, her firm and well-earned belief in herself and what she did for the people who came to see her. There was never a weekend day when she didn't call her office to check in and see if anyone needed her help. There were rarely days when she canceled appointments, even when she was in terrible pain from neck and knee problems. No matter what was going on in her life, she put it all aside for 30-40 hours a week to listen to -- and help -- her clients. And she made good money doing it, too.

What I've grown to understand from my mother's experience -- and now, from my own (much less stressful) experience after my years as a stay-at-home mom -- is that reinvention is impossible without two very important things -- desire and need.

  • Without the desire to change and the need to create something new, reinvention can't happen.
  • Without the desire to succeed and the need to feel accomplished, reinvention won't happen.
  • Without the desire to be generous to others and the need to feel rewarded, reinvention doesn't happen.

Reinvention isn't a moment, isn't even a process -- it's a state of mind. For some, it's a choice -- but for many, it's a necessity.

More magazine ought to give my mother a call.

This post originally appeared on Empty House Full Mind

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

PHOTO GALLERIES
What Post 50s Want Most In Retirement