Starting over in middle age is something more and more of us experience, sometimes because of a choice, sometimes because of unexpected circumstances. Maybe it’s an empty nest, or a divorce, maybe a death, but a lot of us find ourselves turning down a new path.
For me, the re-creation of my adult life came in my 40s. My 20s had been a decade of uncertainty and chaos — college graduation, a few boyfriends, a few jobs, then the sudden death of my father, who was only 47 at the time. A few years after he died, I got married, moved to a different state, worked in the cutthroat world of New York advertising.
When I was 30, I had a baby — a girl — and left my job to be a stay-at-home mom and had our son three years later. More chaos ensued, since he came into the world almost three months early. It was the decade of happy exhaustion and devotion, of feeding ducks and taking walks, reading aloud and wiping little faces, managing our household, and stretching every penny until it screamed.
And then I turned 40, and life calmed down a little. I wasn’t a new adult anymore, and I was rather glad about that. One of my friends asked me, “Wouldn’t you kill to be 22 again?” Hell, no! I liked being older, wise, settled, more confident, less desirous of approval from others than I’d been.
With my kids in school and my firefighter husband working two jobs, it was time to look down the road at the next couple of decades and see what I wanted. I didn’t have a plethora of skills — I’d been a copywriter for an ad agency, but I liked being home for my kids. I could bartend. Maybe work in daycare, since I love children. Or maybe …
I could write a book.
A person can’t really plan to be an author and earn a decent living. It’s a fickle world, and who knows if people will like what you write? Success is never guaranteed; in fact, it’s rare no matter how hard you work or how talented you might be. But why not try? I’d always been a reader; maybe, just maybe, I could write something that other people would want to read.
My first book came out when I was 41. When I was 46, I had my first New York Times bestseller. When I was 49, I went on a European book tour. Last year, when I was 53, my daughter — who was 7 when I started writing — graduated from college. That same summer, my 18th book came out.
As an author, I’ve spoken all over the country and the world. I go on book tours and give speeches at schools, conferences, reader events, and universities. It’s surreal and glorious — I was the girl whose first airplane ride was from Bangor, Maine, to Hartford, Connecticut, when I was 19; the girl who spent much of my freshman year of college hiding in her dorm room, afraid to eat in the dining hall by herself.
Life has unfolded in such a glorious, surprising way since that day I decided to write a book. I didn’t know what to expect from my new career choice. I just knew it was time for something different. The amazing experiences I’ve had since becoming an author were part of the inspiration to write the character of Genevieve London in Life and Other Inconveniences. She’s someone who was blessed with financial security, a stellar education, a happy marriage, and two healthy sons. But her life takes a tragic turn when her older son goes missing at the age of 7. Three years later, her husband dies of a heart attack, and Genevieve is left to raise their younger son alone.
To combat her tremendous grief, and to create a new purpose in her life, Genevieve does something unexpected. She starts a company and reinvents herself as a handbag designer, eventually branching into home decor as well. Her new identity is a solace, her success a way to reframe her life from tragic figure to something more.
I hope Genevieve is a reminder to everyone who reads her story that none of us are just one thing and there are infinite opportunities if we’re willing to imagine and pursue them. So here’s to trying new paths, to the unexpected, to getting older and braver and taking some risks.