I always joke with my husband that I won’t have a midlife crisis because mine was having my now seven-year-old daughter in my forties. After struggling with infertility, I then stayed home to raise her. It was daunting because I had to reinvent every aspect of my life, socially and then professionally. Based on my experience, I have some advice on how you can reinvent yourself after a major life change, too.
Before becoming a mom, I was proud of my many accomplishments — being the editor-in-chief of five national consumer publications, seeing my byline in hundreds of magazines and co-authoring a bestselling beauty book. I even weathered a career change into medical education in the mid-aughts. (I was an editorial director for a large medical publishing company). Then I took a break.
When I decided to reignite my career, it was daunting. And it took time. But I did it.
Take up a musical instrument, take lessons in a sport, or learn a foreign language.
Here’s how I made the transition and how you, too, can make incremental changes that add up to big results:
1. Leverage Your Contacts by Building Community
Join Meetup.com, professional groups and Facebook groups to network your way to jobs, gigs and opportunities. Find ways to reconnect with former colleagues and friends from high school and college. Then take micro steps toward your goals.
How I did it: In 2010, I found a mom’s group through Meetup.com, started to make friends, and through them learned that my local Patch site was looking for a columnist for a parenting column. I wrote a column on spec, got the gig, and though it didn’t pay much, for two years I was able to interview experts like Dr. Deborah Gilboa (Ask Dr. G) and quote Dr. Harvey Karp, which gave me baby steps back into the media world.
Then someone connected me to a ghostwriting and editing job for a publishing company and I worked on my laptop from home while my baby napped.
2. Catapult Outside Your Comfort Zone
Stretch your brain and get motivated by diving into a new experience, like acting in a local play, chairing your church or temple book fair, selling products or jewelry or teaching a class. The more you challenge yourself, the more you will see that you don’t have to be stuck in a rut.
How I did it: In 2012, a friend sent me a link to an audition for a live reading multi-city performance, called Listen to Your Mother (LTYM). Though I had always been a service journalist, I had recently written my first personal essay spurred by an experience I had watching my daughter defy the dictates of sitting and being quiet in a children’s reading circle at the library, when she stood up and danced. “Had I ever been that way, I wondered. If so, could I be like that again? Could I become as free and unfettered as a child with her whole life ahead of her, ready and willing to be the star of her own production?”
I was so nervous at my audition that I didn’t even mention my past in publishing. To my shock, I was cast in the inaugural show in New York City in 2012, along with luminaries like actress Alysia Reiner (before she was Fig from Orange Is the New Black) and authors Abby Sher and Patty Chang Anker.
3. Learn a New Skill
According to research, learning a new skill keeps your mind smart and facile as you get older. So take up a musical instrument, take lessons in a sport or learn a foreign language.
How I did it: Many of the LTYM cast members I admired were bloggers, so I decided to become one, too.
In 2012, I created a blog called Musings on Motherhood & Midlife with the subhead: A Journalist’s Transformative Journey. Learning this new skill was hard (my husband remembers how I came to bed at 3 am because I was teaching myself how to set up a self-hosted blog on WordPress). I found community through BlogHer.com, and have since been named a three-time BlogHer Voice of the Year award winner.
4. Become a Social Media Savant
Establish your profile on Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter to power up your network. If you don’t know how to do it, ask younger, savvier friends.
How I did it: I saw how bloggers were maximizing social media to further their reach, develop relationships and get the attention of brands. Following their lead, I created an author page on Facebook and created a LinkedIn profile and joined Facebook groups for bloggers and writers. I also used my ability to curate good content to build my following on Twitter — from 300 followers in 2013 to over 11,000 today.
5. Volunteer Without Fear
Seek challenging assignments with organizations or nonprofits that align with your interests. Chair a committee or serve on the board of directors to polish your management, public speaking or strategic skills.
How I did it: When my daughter was an infant, I joined my local chapter of the national nonprofit, Mothers & More, and volunteered to chair its advocacy committee. I spearheaded our efforts for the national Power of a Purse campaign, partnering with our local YMCA and other businesses to collect over 5,000 purses, which we donated to a woman’s shelter. In 2012, I joined the board of directors, eventually becoming board president. Unfortunately, the organization — which shuttered this year — had been hemorrhaging money for years, and during my tenure, we valiantly tried to fix it by hiring a new executive director, vacating our expensive office space, automating procedures and shifting to a modern website. In the process, I learned a lot.
6. Follow Your Passion
Decide what you really want to do and then go for it with gusto. Invest in yourself first by taking courses, attending conferences or hiring a life coach or therapist.
How I did it: In 2014, I was ready to jump back into the freelance writing fray. I started by taking a five-week “Instant Gratification” course with writing guru Susan Shapiro that got me familiar with venues for publication and offered great feedback on my writing. Then I signed up for several sessions with a life coach, who helped me hone my goals, inspired me to reach higher and motivated me to request testimonials. I also renewed my membership in the American Society of Magazine Editors. Since taking those confidence-building steps, I have been published in more than 50 outlets.