Does this sound familiar? “I’ve done some incredible things in my life, and I have my family and many wonderful friends. But I’m afraid I’m going to look back on my life and regret that I didn’t take enough risks to do what I really wanted — but what is it that I really want to do?"
Not all that long ago, I found myself uttering some of those very sentiments, which really amount to “Who am I now, and what can I do next?” In future blogs, I will be writing about reinvention: sharing the challenges and success stories of women who have reinvented themselves through new careers or admirable community work. But the first such story I want to share is my own, and the part I’m most proud of is that my reinvention is helping other women accomplish their own.
My first reinvention was from dancer to lawyer. I majored in ballet and worked hard to become a professional dancer. But at age 20, in one of the worst decisions of my life, I quit ballet to follow a guy to Colorado. He turned out to be not so great. The silver lining to my bad-boy cloud was that I got to realize my dream of going to law school, in Boulder. From there — long story short — I moved to New York City to practice tax law, got married and immediately got pregnant.
As Midwesterners, my husband and I didn’t want to raise a baby in a tiny Manhattan apartment, so I quit my job when I was nine months pregnant and we moved to a suburban house in Cincinnati. I found a part-time legal job, then I got pregnant again — and again and again. Even having had four sons in five and a half years, I managed to become a partner in my law firm. I found the pace energizing and the work intellectually stimulating.
But eight years down the partnership track, with four teenage sons (one with significant learning issues), I was struggling to meet all my demands. And the reality was that I wasn’t loving my job anymore. But how could I just walk away? I’d invested a lot to get to where I was. I was making good money. If I left the firm and my clients, it would be next to impossible to go back. So if I left, it was for good. I held my nose and took the leap.
I loved being a stay-at-home mom and enjoyed the opportunity to get more involved in the community. I even had time to work out and take ballet lessons. But once my oldest son headed off to college, with the others soon to follow, that old nagging question came back to haunt me: What was I going to do next?
The one thing I didn’t want to do was go back to law, but I had no idea what else I could do. I realized I wasn’t the only one wrestling with these issues. Whatever I did with my friends — go out for lunch or attend book club meetings — we always wound up asking the same question: “Now what?” Though motivated, none of us knew how to get the help we needed to reinvent ourselves after being full-time moms for 10, 15, even 20 years.
That’s when I decided that I could be the one to help. I started by conducting my own research, and realized something incredible. This was the first time in history that large numbers of highly educated women (baby boomers), who’d had rewarding careers before they chose to stay home to raise their children, were suddenly empty-nesters.
My research further revealed that while a third of these women wanted to go back to work or start a business, the rest just wanted their “act three” to be interesting and productive. And yet the overwhelming majority had no idea what would bring them fulfillment.
I put two and two together and concluded that what would make me happy would be creating a company to help women figure this out for themselves. I got my executive coaching certification, founded a company that I called Act Three, then wrote a book to help people we couldn’t reach personally (Act Three is due in September 2012). Over the past three years, through seminars, workshops and individual coaching, my team has helped hundreds of women start their own businesses, return to the workplace or find causes they were passionate about. And the more I am able to help others, the more fulfilled I am in my own life.
Do you have a story about reinventing yourself? I’d love to hear it. Or let me know if there’s a particular topic you’d like me to address.
You can also follow Julie Shifman on Twitter @actthree or join the Act Three community on Facebook.