I used to be somebody. Now I'm nobody. Who knew that giving up a prestigious job was the path to happiness.
Let me tell you how I stumbled into the life I wanted. I promise, it'll be worth your while: read this and you can avoid the mistakes I made.
It all started on a winter morning in New York City. The wind cornering around the buildings was raw and cold. I was having breakfast with a friend. We both ran magazines at the same company and every couple of months we'd charge a meal to the suits upstairs so we could compare notes on how to get what we wanted from them. A pretty sweet deal.
As we spooned up our granola with nonfat yogurt and fresh fruit, the talk turned to our personal lives. Judy told me her husband's prostate cancer had just recurred.
My stomach clenched. I put down my spoon. My heart broke for her, having to deal with another round of treatment and the primal fear that the doctors would never be able to get it all. I was also scared for me. My husband had had a prostatectomy a few years ago. So far, so good. But it could just as easily be me telling her some scary medical news. For years I'd talked about changing my life to spend more time with Steve. What on earth was I waiting for? For it to be too late?
THE KEYS TO REINVENTION
I went home that night and told Steve I was quitting my job. "Good deal," he said. Because that's the kind of guy he is. A jet-rated pilot who built his own airplane, Steve is always thinking outside the box. In fact, you cannot get him to think inside it. I know; I've been trying for more than 30 years.
Anyway, Steve was with the program immediately. He loved the idea that I'd be working at home alongside him (he's a writer too). As for the fact that if I were lucky – really, really lucky — maybe I'd make a third of what I pulled down as editor-in-chief of More? No big deal. "We're smart; we'd figure it out," he said.
When it comes to life reinvention, Steve is a natural. He does it without thinking. Me, I'm in the remedial class. When I gave my notice that Friday, I was beside myself with anxiety. Was I making the worst mistake of my life?
Which brings me to point number one in assessing a life change: Listen to your heart. I know, I know: this should be obvious. But the call of our true desires can be drowned out by all kinds of static. We worry, we agonize, we don't listen. Cleanse "what if" from your emotional vocabulary. Get alone with yourself, even if it means booking yourself a hotel room overnight, and think honestly about what makes you happy. Of course, check in with your checkbook too. I was able to make the leap because our house was paid for and we'd made the last college tuition payment for our daughter.
Quite a lot of people thought I was making a big mistake, and weren't shy about telling me. When I mentioned I was leaving my job, they looked at me like I had just traded the Hope Diamond for a Twinkie. Even friends said, "Are you sure? Is it too late to get your job back?" Tell your friends to get behind you or get out of the way. If you're not ready to tell doubting friends to dummy up, you're not ready for the change.
THE FINAL SECRET REVEALED
I boxed up my photos hanging in my office and took the commuter train home for the last time frozen in fear. I was terrified that I would turn out to be a terrible reporter, an awful writer. Why, oh why had I given up a perfectly good, even enviable job that had me attending parties with Mary Steenburgen and Sigourney Weaver? Would my life become dull, pale, boring? As it turns out, glamour is highly over-rated. I'd sooner spend an uneventful day with Steve than make chit-chat with Hollywood celebrities.
That's point number three: Look forward, not back. Once you're made a decision, deep six the regrets. Hindsight is 20/20. You know exactly what you're giving up. But the future is less clear. Things happen that you couldn't anticipate. Often they are good things, very good things. For me, one of the best parts of my new career is travel writing. In the years since I ditched my job, I've been so many places I've had to add a new section of pages to my passport. I never imagined that.
My life change has worked out great, but I'm someone who's always going to struggle with change. I've written a book about reinvention, and I still feel like a slow learner. Every day, I try to be more like Steve and see the world not as it is but as it could be.
C'mon, if I can do it, you can too.