As I unclipped Rangeley’s leash at doggy daycare yesterday morning, I wondered, as I usually do, what must they think? “She doesn’t have a job. What does she do all day that she can’t take care of the dog?” Brushing off the imagined judgment, I tick through the items on my to-do list. It’s not insignificant how much more can get done without a big, energetic Lab underfoot once a week. Except, I didn’t have much on the list for the day.
Driving back to the house, I remembered the stress of dialing in (usually late) to early morning conference calls, the ping-ping-ping of email notifications, and the ‘oh shit’ moments when I’d realize I’d forgotten to do something the day before. Those were the days — the days of deadlines, deliverables, and drive. Now that I’ve left that behind… well, what do I do?
As my kids were reinventing themselves from children into adults, I would counsel, “you can do whatever you want to do … as long as you can do whatever you want to do.” But even though, now that I am free from the corporate 9-5, I can do any number of things, it’s only recently that I’ve come to terms with (even embrace) the “whatever you want” part of my advice.
What I wanted yesterday was French toast. So, I made myself breakfast and ate sitting in front of the woodstove while writing my daily journal entry. On a Wednesday! The extravagance of it was not lost on me as I slurped up the last of the maple syrup and put down my pen.
I’ve filled four journals since I left my job, and occasionally I look back to see how my thinking has changed (or not) during this my year of reinvention. My early journal entries have a sense of urgency. The pages are filled with declarations and admonishments about what I should, need, or must be doing. My recurring phrase is the promise I make to myself: “tomorrow I will” <fill in the blank>.
Maybe I can do whatever I want, but what did I want? (beyond French toast, I mean). I pulled on my boots and headed outside to work off the uncountable number of calories I’d consumed.
To the outside world, I espoused that time and space to think was paramount. “I am committing to nothing!” I would declare. While inside, I was frantic. “I can’t just do nothing. I am not retired! I am reinventing goddammit! I was desperate to find my purpose (which, as we know from Instagram, means to excel and achieve and then help others find their true calling — and look really good while doing it).
I’ve networked, taken classes, and toyed with the idea of starting a business. But as what— marketing contractor? Brand strategist? Coach? I’d always wanted to be a writer. Writing a book has been number one on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. But that’s just a dream, a hobby, not a real job, right?
I started this blog to practice my writing and to find an audience. I thought a public platform would hold me accountable to write often and to improve. But old habits die hard. Before I could write any posts, I needed to build a strategy, define the brand, set goals, and create a system for project management. I decided I must have a beautifully cohesive and highly trafficked Instagram feed. I knew I should post on social media every day, and I had to make sure I was engaging with others online as well. “Tomorrow, I will write,” said just about every journal entry.
I did not know how to structure my day (let alone the rest of my life) without those familiar deadlines and deliverables, so I had manufactured my own. Even though I was finally able to do “whatever I wanted,” I kept procrastinating even trying to define what that was. Yes, I was writing a bit, but the idea of being a writer (just a writer) somehow didn’t feel like enough.
What I thought I needed to do was add value. Every Podcast, blog, and Medium post related to reinvention or career change told me so. When I talked to people about what I wanted to do next, I heard myself say “adding value” like I was a strategic consultant, circa 1999. Before I realized it, I was spending most of my energy trying to “build a personal brand” and had committed to leading a workshop at a statewide conference for women business owners and entrepreneurs. I was in my office late at night and losing sleep.
When I left the corporate world, I wanted to reinvent my career, but more so to become re-inspired. Nine months after leaving a job where I was paid handsomely to make PowerPoints and write marketing copy, I was now doing the same thing for free. And to what end?
“Make choices that feed you,” I remembered these words from the life coach I worked with before setting out on this reinvention journey. She’d say “stop steamrolling your life” whenever I demanded an action plan and a timeline. Yet here I was, driving as fast as I could toward someone else’s definition of success, and flattening my writing dream behind me.
After I led the workshop (where, if you believe the feedback forms, I did indeed “add value!”), I took a break from social media and blogging and events and networking. I slowed everything down, purposefully — as I had said I would be doing from the start. I continued my morning ritual of journaling, but I would stop myself before writing the words must, or should, or need to and ask why I thought that was true. Whose deadline is that? Where is that expectation coming from? Do you have to? Really?
By the time I got back from my walk yesterday, it was nearly 11:00 am. A year ago — even a few months ago — I would have thought it I’d wasted a whole morning. I’d gotten nothing done. Then it hit me. This is what I want! I am living my “whatever I want.” I just needed to get off the steamroller to see it.
Being a writer was only part of my dream. The entire vision was that I would live in a farmhouse in the mountains and be a writer. I would spend my time reading and making a cozy home and getting outside every day. (Also, I would marry Robert Redford and have eleven children, but hey…).
I stood in my kitchen, posting photos of my walk on social media. The cherry-red woodstove had turned a deep shade of brown after I’d refilled it with dry wood and opened the air intake to help take the chill out of the room. There’s a bowl of popcorn on the counter that I want to string and add to the Christmas tree later on. But first, I watched the video I’d taken from the top of the hill behind our little farmhouse with a view of the mountains. And then I sat down to write.