An editor once remarked after reviewing the third revision of an essay I was trying to perfect, “You’ve rewritten this so many times it’s turned brown.” Her analogy to children who color and recolor the pictures in a coloring book was spot-on. I had tweaked the essay too much. Instead of a simple message that floated off the page, it was cluttered with unnecessary descriptors and meanderings.
The storyline was no longer clear.
Her remark came to mind recently when I was struggling to find my own storyline following a job loss, partner loss, financial loss, health loss, and generally dark time. That they all occurred within weeks of each other made it nearly impossible for me to form a coherent thought.
Friends and family encouraged me with “You’ll land on your feet” and “This too will pass,” but for months I couldn’t walk from the kitchen to the den without holding out my arms to break my expected fall. I would latch on to one idea one day, only to have it replaced by something totally different the next.
The thought of reinventing myself—a word people use frequently in midlife to describe being forced (or sometimes choosing) to transition from where they thought they were to a place they thought they would never go—felt cruel and untimely. Hadn’t I chosen the right career track? Picked the right partner? The right CPA? Okay, maybe there had been a few bumps along the way, but they were familiar and manageable and nothing I couldn’t handle. Now my adventuresome, resilient self was at a standstill with no map, no GPS, nothing but fallow ground.
Carol Adrienne writes in her book When Life Changes or You Wish It Would that when you can no longer see the next step, you’re simply looking too far ahead. Like driving in the middle of the night, you must trust that the little bit of road lit up by your headlights will eventually get you where you want to go.
I wasn’t so sure. For a long time, I wasn’t sure of anything other than that lying down felt better than standing up.
Eventually I went looking for answers. First little ones like who to defriend on Facebook and whether to answer the phone, then bigger ones like how I had ventured off my familiar path. I asked questions, read books, and wrote down ideas in a spiral journal I carried in my purse. The pieces still did not fit. I added prayer, yoga, meditation, and a trip to the sea. But even as the idea emerged that life was simply pushing me toward something better, I shrugged it off and went digging for more. There had to be another website, another expert, a bit more sugar, a pinch more salt. Or so I thought.
Then one day it hit me, and I wasn’t doing anything other than standing on my balcony feeling the velvety brush of a breeze on my face. “Have I turned brown?” Had I been trying to reinvent myself too much? Did it really take a therapist, psychic, minister, life coach, doctor, manicurist, and hordes of good friends to clear the path to my own heart?
Hadn’t I done that a long time ago?
I realized instantly that sitting within me was the truth about me. Although my business card had changed and so had my choice of men, I was still me. I knew who I was, and it was time to simply be me again. From that moment on, I challenged myself every day to find one or two blessings in each new circumstance, each foreign and sometimes empty feeling, and to welcome the possibility that something better was just ahead. Instead of doing what I had done so many times before—blame myself for things not working—I focused on the well-rooted, time-honored relationships and activities that had guided me my whole life. In other words, I focused on what was working in my life and put my energy there.
It didn’t happen overnight, but little by little I started to see the world with fresh eyes. My faith, my friends, my values, my sense of adventure, my ability to steer a kayak down the rapids and balance the checkbook were all still there. Admittedly, there were plenty of circumstances in my life that needed to change. And for a good long while I needed some folks to remind me to color within the lines and help me distinguish the red crayon from the blue. But completely reinvent myself? I don’t think so. A new version of the old me was unfolding and would do just fine.