Discover more from Midlife Anti-Hero
Becoming. And yet.
A re-introduction, a back-story, or how I came to this reinspired life.
My mother said, "Learn to type, and you will always have a job." She wasn't wrong. And yet.
In 1990, I was 28, a college drop-out with a patchwork job history that included receptionist at an alcohol and drug abuse treatment center, Avon lady, newspaper copy assistant, department store executive secretary, tour boat marketing specialist, and maternity store manager.
With a typing speed of 90 words per minute and an aptitude for the newest word-processing software, I found a job as an Administrative Assistant at a high-tech manufacturing company.
I didn't seek the position as anything more than a secure, well-paying job, and I never imagined it would evolve into a decades-long marketing career.
A few years in, my boss took me out for the traditional (and awkward) Administrative Assistant's Day lunch. Over brick-oven pizza, he asked about my goals.
I was barely 30 and hadn’t considered a career path— or that I could be on one. I was living paycheck to paycheck, with two small children, in a marriage beginning to collapse.
I probably said something snarky like, "Well, I'm not going to make copies and travel reservations for the rest of my life."
I’ll never forget the look my boss shot me over the garlic bread—unimpressed, disappointed. I hadn't taking taken his prompt or my potential seriously.
Over the next 18 years, as the company grew and shrank through the .com boom and bust, I rose from administrative assistant to marketing specialist to marketing communications manager.
I learned about branding, messaging and strategy, problem-solving, and program management. I also learned how to speak up for myself and my team, when to lean in, and how to manage up.
I used the company's free tuition benefit to finish my bachelor's degree and earn a master's degree in marketing communications. Although I had no particular ambition toward business, I accidentally built a career out of spinning dull and complex technology into compelling stories.
This company's culture, anyone who worked there in the 90s knows, was lightning in a bottle. It was family. Everyone who worked there helped raise me into a manager and a leader. I became a confident, smart, independent woman. And yet.
When an acquisition shifted that culture, I had to move on.
A friend encouraged me to apply for a position at his company, another technology business with excellent pay and an inspiring vision and culture. Knowing I had a place to land and a friend's support, I made the leap—100% engulfed in imposter syndrome. How long before they find out I've been faking it all these years?
Suddenly, I was in a different league—a tiny fish in a vast open sea. Where I had led a global but small team that handled everything marketing—events, PR, and employee communications—I became one of hundreds, if not thousands, of marketing professionals, each owning specific functions and industries.
I was challenged to be both more assertive and more collaborative. I honed my strategic and creative chops in this ambitious, political, dynamic environment. Still growing. And yet.
I was losing interest in my career—the one I never really aspired to. I’d found a partner who led me back outside to hike and bike through the woods and play in the snow. I bought a house in Vermont and got a dog. I watched the sun rise over the White Mountains and began to dream about a slower, more creative life.
Over the course of my career, I developed a canned response to the 'What are your goals?' question. I repeated this to every new manager. "I want to grow, learn, and create good work, and have some fun along the way," I'd chirp.
Until one day, over drinks, I spouted my practiced line to my newest manager—a powerful woman a few years my senior. She placed her glass firmly in the center of the cocktail napkin and said, "You can't be ambivalent about what you want."
I swear she wore the same disappointed look I'd seen in an Italian restaurant twenty years earlier.
Her advice was the yang to the yin of my mother's counsel. Mom said learn a valuable skill and go where it leads you. Nearly forty years later, I heard something new: choose your own path.
I had built some financial security. My kids were grown and gone. I'd celebrated my 50th birthday. Turning the page should be easy. And yet.
What if? What then? What now? As much as I wanted to start a new chapter, my grip froze on the pages I'd already written. Marketing was what I knew, what I was good at, what I had become. And yet.
Michelle Obama wrote in her memoir Becoming, "I hated being a lawyer – I wasn't suited to the work. I felt empty doing it, even if I was plenty good at it."
I listened to the audiobook version while walking the dog, Mrs. Obama's dulcet voice in my ears. "In my blinding drive to excel," she said, "in my need to do things perfectly, I'd missed the signs and taken the wrong road."
It was time to forge my own path. Let my work experience become back story, turn the page, and write myself a brand-new chapter.
I dug a treat out of my pocket. Rangeley had been a good boy, and the most admired woman in America had just validated my reasons for deciding to leave a long and fruitful career.
Prompts to reinspire your next chapter
Drop a few lines of writing in the comments, and I’ll share mine too. There is only one rule. Be kind to yourself as you write and to others as they trust us with their words.
Reflection: What are your goals? If it helps, imagine yourself having lunch with your boss. Smell the fresh-baked garlic bread. Tell them the first thing that comes to mind.
Inspiration: Where and when do you feel the most fulfilled? Describe what you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. How does this compare to your goals?
Revise and repeat as needed.
Work hard. Be Brave. Believe.