Life Stories: Inspiration for Reinvention

When I entered my mid-forties, I started a process of searching.  I’ve been a college professor for almost twenty years.  I’m a good professor, and the work has been rewarding.  Nonetheless, as my fifties loomed, I started to feel restless and ready to find a new challenge.  I created new courses, following my curiosity to new knowledge. I took on extra administrative responsibilities. Those strategies gave me a short-term boost, but in the end, they weren’t the answer.  I had to face it: I needed to reinvent myself. 

At the same time, I had finished a book project and was casting around for a new one.  I became very interested in women’s stories about their own passages through middle age and beyond, and I began to scour the archives in search of stories from women who had grown older in the twentieth century, a period when the roles of women were profoundly transformed. I found lots of stories tucked away in a diary here, an unpublished memoir there, a set of letters between aging friends. I was especially inspired by the stories of women who reinvented themselves in middle age.

Photo by leszekglasner/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by leszekglasner/iStock / Getty Images

Those reinvention stories struck a chord with me because I had been reading lots of books and magazine articles about baby boomers who were pioneering mid-life reinvention.  Sociologist Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot wrote about this reinvention in her book, The Third Chapter: Passion and Adventure in the Twenty-Five Years After 50. In March 2015, The New York Times featured Americans who are “Finding Success, Well Past the Age of Wunderkind.” Journalist Suzanne Braun Levine has written about women who are Inventing the Rest of Our Lives. More magazine, a periodical that caters to “women of style and substance” over 40, regularly includes an entire section on reinvention and highlights a woman who has pulled off a “second act” in every issue.  All the ink spilled on mid-life reinvention among the Baby Boomer generation could lead a body to believe that Baby Boomer women created mid-life reinvention. But that’s not true: my research showed me that mothers of boomer women were pioneering midlife reinvention well before the advent of the women’s liberation movement, those heady years when boomer women came of age.

With time and reflection, I followed the lead of these women and embarked on my own reinvention journey. One of my favorite parts of my job has always been mentoring students.  I have taught students of all ages, and I enjoy mentoring them, helping them through various challenges and especially helping them to find their way in the world. Those students often come back to me years after graduation for coaching on how to handle situations in the work place or about new career options or business ventures. Building on my experiences mentoring students, I decided to pursue personal and career coaching. 

As I struggled to find my own new way in the world, to choose a different path for myself, I found inspiration in the stories of women who had gone before. I have always been fascinated by the power of story to inspire us, to provide us with role models, to help us see the world through new lenses--to see new possibilities in the lives of people who have gone before us. Because I believe that stories can be powerful tools for helping inspire us to make change in our lives, I decided to share some of the stories I have found with you.  Watch this blog for some great stories about people who courageously embraced change in their own lives and for helpful tools for your own reinvention.