I’m an avowed risk-taker.
In fact, I had a business card for a while that bragged about this. I tucked the word “instigator” on there, between “editor” and “writer.”
In my career I launched four magazines in a row, and lived to tell – though I can’t say the same for the magazines. I wrote a really raw book about my divorce in which I cried constantly and told the truth about my failures. I joined websites solely for the purpose of finding people to have sex, not relationships. I offend people with my confidence and bluntness and brio – but I don’t mean to.
I like to stir pots and poke bees’ nests and ask inappropriate questions and hold people’s gazes too long.
So I got this idea in my head that I was fearless.
Turns out that was a lie. I’m a total scaredy-cat.
This I have learned in the past ten years, ten years of being unemployed, underemployed and just plain overlooked. In my career, I had enjoyed decades of unwavering success, lining up my goals like shots on a tee and, one by one, swinging hard and always hitting the green. I was “talent,” with quote marks around it and everything. I was prescient. I was a future-forger, ahead of the curve. I took risks in my work I was strongly advised against. “Don’t go to Modern Bride; it will be the end of your career,” advised one big name-in-lights magazine editor with whom I was interviewing to work at her magazine. I went to Modern Bride. Telling me I shouldn’t do something is a sure way to make sure I do it. Because: risk-taker.
I got a reputation for being great at startups and turnarounds. I worked unhealthy hours. For years. I leaned into the future of publishing and digital and how they fit together. I believed in blogging and I paid bloggers years before the rest of media caught up. I single-parented like a boss. I helped build the digital/social/influencer world that would later usurp me.
So then how is it possible, that when that new world came tumbling down upon me, that I didn’t find my pivot? I expected that I would come up with a precise rotation and find myself on an alluring, new path – Vice-President! President! Head of Revenue! Chief Brand Officer! — but instead, I have been spinning around and around that central point like a maypole, trying to hide my increasing panic from my now-teenaged son, and getting ever more dizzy and confused.
I have had some jobs in this interim, with those titles I just named. But they didn’t stick. Or I didn’t stick. Whichever. The outcome was the same.
And so I put my head down, downsized my life as fast as I could, gave away a lot of expensive furniture and shoes, sold my big, fancy, decorated-with-love-and-care house to get my money out of it, and applied for every job in sight that I thought I could lay claim to with my very broad range of skills: brand management and strategy, writing and editing, social media marketing and content marketing, public speaking and motivational writing, blah blah blah blah. I spent literally hours writing each cover letter, so that I could detail precisely and specifically how my experience applied to the job.
That’s the risk: that in chasing security I turn myself inside out and upside down and bend to fit boxes when what I should be doing is expanding.
Finally, one landed. It was like falling in love: so dizzy and so excited after my first call with the recruiter, who kept saying how perfect my experience was for this position. Four months and 12 interviews later I got the job, and everyone in my life just kept marveling at the fit. “What a great job! It’s PERFECT for you! You are PERFECT for it!” I loved that job and gave it everything I had, but nine months later I was packing up my office to leave.
I got swept off my feet, all right. But not in the way the proverbial love story goes.
So, since I was off my feet, I decided to just go ahead and get flat on my back, and, using my remaining weeks of Cadillac health insurance, got a much-needed, much-delayed surgery on both feet. And somehow, after, in those first few days of a codeine haze, I got clarity.
Lying on my sofa with my feet elevated above my heart, I was finally able to hear what my heart really wanted.
And it’s not a job.
But, but, but… But it’s not smart for me not to get a job. It’s RISKY. I need a job. I need to try to earn as much as I can, based on all my past awards and accolades – I can’t throw all that earned experience away. I need to be rational, and orderly, and steady. College is just around the corner for my son, and my ex recently informed me he can’t make contributions. I need to wring out the last few years I can from the job market before it boots me out for good. I want biweekly direct deposit, and a 401(k), and fancypants health insurance, and the ability to plan savings, and stability, stability, stability, my god, PLEASE, give me some stability, that sweet, heady illusion that I was only now, in this very moment, coming to see I was clinging to.
But I don’t want a job.
I want to write again, try to get that second book out of me I shelved a few years ago when things got really hard. I want to take care of my health, above all, first and foremost. Secondmost, too. I want to walk every day (feet presumably healed). I want to meditate. I want to meet more people in my community on the Hudson River and stop living life halfway here in the city and halfway there but mostly nowhere. I want to create things, just for the joy of it. While I was recovering from surgery, I started making beaded jewelry for my friends, which I have been making for myself for years. I want to work with friends, only. I want to do a gallery show with my boyfriend. I want to continue to learn and grow, but on my own clock.
I want not to look back on my life and feel like I didn’t choose me.
Now THAT’s a risk, that’s the risk. That in chasing security I turn myself inside out and upside down and bend to fit boxes when what I should be doing is expanding. Join my own personal army of me. Be all I can be, you know the drill.
Except it’s not a drill. It’s life. Right now.
In all the 6am mornings — when I got up and headed, first thing, directly to my kitchen table to run my fingers through piles of glittering beads, and then string them on cord in patterns of my own design simply because I wanted to, because it brought. me. joy. — I started to think differently. I decided that I would be better able to handle being broke than being dead, and that I have been nimble and smart and inventive and dogged and driven my whole life, and that maybe it’s time I put this idea that I’m a risk-taker to the REAL test. And walk every single morning to take care of my heart. And meditate every single day to take care of my mind. And write my book. And work only with friends. And actually give this jewelry thing a try. And to feel this fear that I feel every day — but know that this is the time in life I have to really truly show up for myself in a way I never have before.
Resolve is different than ambition.
And regret is different than risk.
And I am clear where the real risk lies now