Call it a midlife crisis or a midlife reinvention or a reaction to the turbulent time in which we are living, more and more people are reevaluating their careers and their lifestyles, and thinking longingly about dreams deferred by choice or by circumstance. If you’re lucky enough, you leave your job and set out to find your purpose. That’s what I’m doing. I call this my reinspirement.
re·in·spire·ment | \ (ˌ)rē-in-ˈspī(-ə)r-mənt
Purposeful departure from one’s professional career in order to explore life’s possibilities.
Next week marks nine months since I walked away from a good job and into an unknown future. Nine months equals <pause while I get out calculator> 37.5% of the two-year savings I’ve set aside to fund my reinspirement. Yikes!
The clock is ticking, and I’m getting anxious. There’s so much I want to do, but, if you’ve read any of my previous posts, you already know the question I’ve been asking myself is more existential. Who do I want to be?
I’ve approached this last nine months with that question as my mission – trying on new hats, taking time for introspection, getting way out of my comfort zone. From what I’ve learned so far, here are five strategies for reinspirement. As they say in yoga class, each of these steps can be modified – go at your own pace.
Step 1 – Plan | Like retirement, financial preparation is critical before making any significant change to your existing income.
Create a realistic budget. Take a hard look at your savings and talk to a pro. What do you need to pay yourself each month and how long can you comfortably sustain it? I tracked every single penny spent for four months. In hindsight, I should have done this before I ditched a paycheck, but the data was helpful to make better spending decisions from then on. I also factored in emergency funds and a few big-ticket items I am not willing to give up (e.g., vacation and someone else to mow the lawn).
Figure out health care. The biggest thing I miss about having a job is good insurance. I didn’t start researching options until it was almost too late. If it weren’t for a helpful agent on the other end of the phone, I would have missed the deadline for enrollment and gone without for the year (tax penalty included). Health care will be stressful and complicated, especially if you carry your family on your plan. Start early.
Talk to your life partner, your family, and your pets. Set expectations about spending and schedules. Expect a modicum of resentment if you’re skiing on a mid-week powder day while your partner is slogging away at the office – try not to rub it in. Your dog needs to know things may seem crazy for a while, but you are still in charge.
Step 2 – Recharge | Time to think and space to maneuver are essential. Don’t skip this step. You’ve worked hard. You deserve it.
Rest. It took about a month for my ‘work-mares’ to go away, but soon I was sleeping through the night without anxiety, dreams, and sleep-talking. Go to bed when you’re tired. Take naps. Read for hours. Do what feels restful to you – and don’t beat yourself up for being ‘lazy.’
Play. Take up a new hobby. Take a walk. Visit a museum. Work on a craft project. Play like you’ve got no responsibilities whatsoever. I spent $40 on glitter and stickers and made weird collages and cards for friends and family. The process was liberating and fun and purposeless, which is the entire purpose. I also rediscovered that I have absolutely no artistic talent!
Commit to nothing. Sure, feed your neighbor’s cat while they’re on vacation, but don’t sign-up to volunteer at the pet shelter. Take a yoga class, but don’t sign on for the teacher training. See the difference? Do not take on any new work projects if you can help it.
Step 3 – Rediscover | With space cleared for inspiration, it’s time to explore. Fill up your calendar and get way out of your comfort zone.
Get out there. Network. Attend events. Take a class. Volunteer. Cold call someone you find interesting. This is not easy, especially if you are an introvert like me, but so valuable. I introduced myself to strangers at fund-raising and community events, took a course hosted by the Center for Women and Enterprise, and invited a potential local resource to coffee (she was generous with her time and a wealth of information).
Do some personal growth work. Continue to recharge regularly, carving out space for yourself to reflect, but go deeper. Why are you seeking change now? What is your deepest heart’s desire? These are not small questions. Therapy or a personal coach might help. I dove into memoir and self-help books and podcasts. The Artist’s Way challenged and changed me. This inspiring Brené Brown Ted Talk might change how you think about things in twenty minutes.
Build a tech stack. Ugh, I know. But here’s the thing. EVERYTHING IS TECH. Whatever you end up doing next, you will be using technology. Polish skills you already have, and adopt new tech that can help you manage your life, connect with your friends and family, be more creative. These are the new life skills.
Step 4 – Reflect | Rediscovery can be exhausting. Time to hit the pause button and ask a few questions.
The more personas I tried on for size, the more my journal became a litany of ‘must,’ ‘should,’ and ‘need to.’ I was fast-forwarding my life again. To set me up for success, I thought deeply about the following.
- When am I happiest?
- What is the red thread – the common theme – that runs through everything I’ve tried during the rediscovery phase?
- Am I ready to commit to a new path?
I thrive when I feel my purpose is clear and I am adding value to whatever cause I take on (be it homemaking or political campaigning). I falter – deer in the headlights frozen – when there are too many possibilities, too many (conflicting or self-imposed) expectations. With time for reflection, I am able to let some shit go and narrow my focus with greater clarity.
Step 5 – Reignite | Enough resting, planning, reflecting, strategizing, it’s time to become who you are.
Set goals. Goal-setting is one work practice that should be maintained. Humans are goal-oriented. Who do you want to be? How are you going to go about it? Write it down and hold yourself accountable.
Establish new habits. We’re reinventing ourselves, that likely means breaking out of some well-established (and super comfortable) patterns. Everyone will have their list of bad habits to break and good habits to establish – cut down on drinking, less time on social media, eat healthier, read more, yadda yadda. I think we are more successful when our routines align with our goals, so I’m going to be spending time on that.
Get down to it. I love the outdoors and my old farmhouse, but I am happiest when I am reading and writing. The red thread that runs through my work experience, my hobbies, and the new things I’ve tried this year, is storytelling. Yes, I am ready to commit to a new path! With my recent acceptance to the Stonecoast MFA program, I will get down to becoming a writer. <pause while I do a happy dance >
I read somewhere that writers will use 20,000 words to create 4,000. So too, we need scores and scores of experiences to create a fulfilling life. How else can we discover all that is possible within us? Reinspirement is a condensed version of experiences and reflection that can help us to enrich our lives at any time by writing new chapters for our stories.