How do you reinvent yourself?
I keep thinking of a career change as a moment where you’re riding in a car and the car door opens and you have to lean out of the door and keep rolling as you fall. If you roll just right, you will have minimal injuries and you might just be able to stand up and walk it off.
A few months ago, the career I had been building in visual journalism ended. It was a weird, anticlimactic ending. Some people leave journalism through an ejection seat — SPROING, you’re out! — but my departure was more like my sidecar pin was removed and I just had to spend the last bit of the ride anticipating the separation. It was instigated by the company I worked for and engineered to take a couple of months. My whole department got the boot but we were all encouraged to reapply for some remaining jobs in other divisions of the company.
I had just celebrated my fifth anniversary at the studio, and was about to close out my third year as creative director. A lot was good but a lot was bad, too. I can’t and won’t get into it all here. I’m sad that it had to end — that we couldn’t keep trying to improve on what we were doing — but if I’m being totally honest, I’m glad to be out of the media grind. It’s such a fickle, demanding, cruel master. It took a lot and gave back very little.
I chose not to reapply for a job. I guess I wanted to take a chance on a change of pace and direction in my professional life, even though I had no clue what that might look like at the time. I was fortunate enough to land a new gig that let me roll out of the car and begin walking again with some semblance of grace. I’m grateful for that.
But who am I now that I am no longer doing, no, living the thing I always assumed was central to my identity?
Turns out I’m free.
I’ve realized that the thing I thought I was passionate about was siphoning time and energy from my own creativity, leaving me feeling a bit empty and resentful.
There are lots of upsides to the change.
Now I can be a news junkie without having to log in or haul ass to the office anytime major news breaks. The holidays feel much less frantic and it is expected that I will take some time off. I can speak freely about political issues and participate in activism.
The big thing I’m confronted with here at this crossroads is what do I want to do, long-term, with myself? With my time?
The other day Holden asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I didn’t hesitate. “A writer and an artist.”
In some ways, saying that feels like a kind of revelation. A career coming out. It’s something I’ve always flirted with, always loved, but never actually believed could be a career. That’s in part because I’ve never given it serious time and attention. And in part because I’m terrified of failing.
So, this year I am writing. Here, but also not here. Part of the key to writing for a living is not giving away every little morsel for free on your own website, apparently! This year I am going to submit my work in earnest. I plan to start small — magazines, journals — and work my way up from there.
I’ve got ideas kicking around for picture books and YA/NA series mostly. I’m reading everything I can get my hands on about writing and publishing. I’ve got to reach out and get critique groups and beta readers. Attend workshops and conferences. Put the time in. Rewrite and revise. Rethink and reframe everything I’ve experienced in my life and use it.
It’s exciting and scary. But the thought of going for it feels more comfortable and exciting than any other grand ideas I’ve had about who I am and what I’m meant to do.