Anyone who has been divorced or widowed at midlife knows about starting life anew, as do those who have lost their jobs or found themselves at loose ends after the departure of the kids for college—and their own futures. After I found myself suddenly single and uprooted, I took the opportunity to live a lifelong dream and moved to the mountains where I skied all winter, rode horses all summer, and untangled my thoughts and emotions in a journal—sometimes so vehemently the pen ripped through the page.
Out of the blue I received a job offer to be a full-time medical writer, the start of my second career. I moved first to Boise, Idaho, then to Port Townsend in Washington, bought a small and charming home, and joined not one, not two, but three choirs.
Many can tell a similar story. Yet I not only successfully surfed the tsunami wave of change that had swept through my life: I developed a taste for surfing. A decade later I quit my job, sold my house, and spent the next four years living another dream. In college I had been resolutely steered away from majoring in English—because “you don’t want to end up working at McDonald’s all your life”—and instead did a pre-med program, before becoming a scientific editor and then writer. Now I astonished everyone by enrolling in a program to earn a humanities doctorate in Mythological Studies.
I loved every second of it. I loved my “commute” to Santa Barbara once a month, to spend three to five days immersed in intensive classes on such topics as Hinduism, Joseph Campbell, Mythic Cinema, and Dream Interpretation. I loved reading and discussing and writing about the Mahabharata, the Odyssey, the Iroquois Ritual of Condolence, and Dante’s Divine Comedy. I loved the late-night discussions about the mythological and psychological underpinnings of our political views. When people said, “but what good is it?” I would reply, “What ‘good’ is it to spend a year or two sailing around the world? What ‘good’ is it to climb Everest? This is my dream, and if I have to work for the rest of my life to pay for it, that’s fine with me.”
As it turns out, “following my bliss” is paying off. Last year I published the book I’d been thinking about since the 1980s. It’s not only selling well, it’s led me into a new career as a teacher and speaker—which I’m enjoying very much.
Last year my father, nearly 92 now, lost his beloved wife of 65 years. We wondered if Dad would fade away, as so many of his friends had after bereavement- or if he would find a new lease on life. The answer came in a phone call from a cousin, asking “do you know that your Dad is in Boston?” After being tied to the bedside of my mother in her terminal illness for two years, Dad literally flew. He’s just returned from another trip back East to pursue researches in genealogy, he takes an active part in a men’s debating society, he plays tennis, and he’s planning to join me on a book tour through the Rocky Mountain states this fall. It’s never too late to begin again, it seems.
So I tell friends who see a huge change looming over their lives: “Don’t panic, and don’t try to hang on; grab the board of your courage and surf that wave. It will be one doozy of a ride, but you might just love where it takes you.”
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