The summer after I graduated high school, my stepfather had a college reunion at Harvard. This was a weeklong event in Cambridge. The entire family was invited. Not all of us kids wanted to go, but I did. Turned out to be one of the best things I did that year. It became a chance to start over.
I went to neighborhood schools from grade one to twelve. That means I grew up with the same kids all through school. Cliques were established early and permanently. I was not in the upper echelon or even mid-level. I managed to sort of fit in with the fringes of the humanities crowd: orchestra, drama, etc. Any attempt to step out of my station was quashed with quick, snide commentary. I learned to stay put.
At the reunion, someone wisely saw that "family" activities were not for teens. We were quickly herded into activities for our own age group, carted off to the beach, concerts, etc. on large buses. On the bus rides, nobody knew anyone. As kids chatted and laughed, I realized that no one had any preconceived ideas about where I fit in. I made friends with the outgoing, personable kids who knew how to work the crowd. In a matter of minutes, I was one of the popular kids. I had the time of my life for the rest of my stay.
Upon my return home, I went back to work at McDonald's, saving money for college. The manager commented that something was different about me. I asked what he meant.
"I dunno, but it's like you left a girl and came back a woman."
That's a powerful--if somewhat inappropriate--thing to say to a seventeen-year-old girl. But the experience had changed me. That was my first encounter with starting over.
Years ago, a friend of ours was struggling in his marriage. Seems his wife wasn't happy and wanted to do something different with her life; she wanted to start over. This wasn't about abuse or infidelity or the awkward and indefinable "irreconcilable differences;" this was ennui. Her husband was stunned. They couldn't work it out, and they divorced.
She did not know what I have learned in 39 years with the same partner: almost anything you can do alone, you can do with someone (and vice versa). You don't have to leave to start over. It doesn't take anyone's permission but your own to change your expectations or your circumstances rather than submit to sorrow. My husband and I have made all of our mistakes with each other. We've had to start over several times. It keeps life--and each other--interesting.
I have had three careers thus far in my life (Language Arts teacher, corporate sales trainer, curriculum writer/Sunday School director). On the cusp of starting a fourth, I am falling into a familiar trap of counting all the reasons I might fail: I'm too old; the economy; I want freedom; the economy; I don't have the road thoroughly mapped out; the economy, etc. I can get bogged down in the details pretty easily and never emerge. But I have to remind myself I've started three careers before and achieved just what I aimed for. Sure there are roadblocks, but as with the glass ceiling and people who got in my way before, I can just find my way around them. Failure is tolerable as a temporary setback before I examine other avenues to my goal.
Starting over is not easy: it takes time and an act of faith. It is a matter of taking the reins instead of letting someone else determine the path. Making the choice to start over can be life-giving. And while the action is always yours to own, starting over doesn't have to be a solo act. In whatever arena you are establishing a new beginning, engage those friends and family who will encourage you as you find a new way. Ready, set, go.