The Art of Reinventing Ourselves

Change is coming. Be it subtle or strong, it is the one certainty we can count on. As I’ve reached this not-yet-old but past-midlife point, change seems to be more obvious and profound than ever before.

Inevitably, as our lives evolve, our identity follows along. We are no longer “a young mother” or a “middle-aged housewife” “or a “career-oriented businesswoman.” We’ve become a grandmother or a retiree or a senior-citizen. We wear different hats now. And all too often, I hear women say that they don’t quite know how to adjust to their changed status.

For me, the answer is reinvention. I’ve always believed that we create our own reality and no matter what our circumstances may be, we have a measure of control over how we approach and think of it all. We can choose the identity that we desire and take the steps necessary to make it fit.

Some might argue that this isn’t possible or even desirable and I would tell them they’re wrong. Each transition is a new opportunity! Sometimes, it can be as simple as a change in personal style-different hairstyle and wardrobe choices-that can set us on a path for growth. But more often a wholesale change in how we think of ourselves is the catalyst.

Twelve years ago, when we first left our snug little artists’ cabin in the North Florida woods and moved to Georgia farm country, I knew I wanted to grow a large garden and sell our excess produce. But it soon became apparent that I would find it difficult, if not impossible, to maintain dedication to my art while managing my rapidly expanding vegetable business, so I knew I had to make a choice. I chose to reinvent myself as a farmer.

I let go of the guilt from neglecting my art and began calling myself a farmer. Naturally, through the marketing of our produce, the sourcing of supplies and materials, and interaction with fellow growers, I soon WAS a farmer in every way. I had reinvented myself, embracing the change and letting it fuel my personal growth. Inwardly, the sources of my satisfaction in life became the beauty or success of a crop, the feeling of accomplishment when a task was completed, the joy of providing nourishment to my customers. Outwardly? My hands became rough and thickened with muscles, my face sported a year-round tan, and my paint-spattered shorts and t-shirts were replaced with serviceable boots, jeans and broad-brimmed hats.

While my reinvention to farmer was based on personal choice, that hasn’t always been the case. I’m no longer a farmer. When Will became ill, we had to stop farming. In the months since, I’ve had my own health problems also. So now, if I’m not a farmer, who am I? This was not a welcome nor a chosen transition, and yet I am growing from it, my resilience is making me stronger. I have more time available now and have indulged my lifelong interest in photography. I have plans to begin showing my work and offering prints for sale. Through writing of my pain and fear during the dark days of Will’s treatments, I have found a calling to write more, with this blog being a first step.

I have several friends who are widows and many others who are single through divorce. Perhaps no greater transition happens to us than the loss of a partner. Not only are we suddenly alone, but all our other circumstances change as well. From a change in financial stability to an altered social status, everything is different.

While there is grief and adjustment aplenty, there is also the opportunity for reinvention. A brand new life may not have been what you wanted, but you can choose to craft and mold it into a life in which there is growth, introspection, new capabilities, and ultimately a reinvented version of yourself. And while that process is anything but easy, it may lead to the most meaningful part of your life.

I have a friend who divorced after raising her three children. In midlife she dusted off her unused college degree, went to work as an information analyst, and loves her work more than she ever dreamed possible. Another friend who was widowed at the age of fifty-one reached out to friends and acquaintances and soon was leading a busy social life, surrounded by people who found her skills as a hostess and her quirky humor an irresistible draw. The divorced mother of another friend found herself in dire circumstances, with a very limited income and many health problems. She was forced to take up residency in a tiny apartment in a senior living facility. She soon was surrounded by friends and discovered a love of painting and drawing that she enjoyed right up to her death. She blossomed in circumstances that many would struggle to accept.

We frequently hear the term “aging gracefully,” and there can be no more graceful way than to welcome the many opportunities inherent in any transition. Even if it takes a while to discover the hidden gem, it is there and searching it out can lead to what might be the best reinvention of all, that of becoming your truest, strongest, and best self ever.

Let Us Roar

I had another post planned for today but since it is International Women’s Day, I’ll save it for another time. Today I want to talk about Women.

When my grandmother was a little girl, her father dropped dead in the field while plowing. They were poor and lived in a remote area of South Georgia. Faced with a house full of hungry children and no man to help, my great-grandmother sewed simple dresses for girls and women and sold them at the local general store. She raised her family doing this.

When my other grandmother was young, her mother was perpetually pregnant or recovering from a miscarriage or from childbirth. My grandmother, though just a girl, tended her mother while raising her seven younger siblings. Then through the terrible years of the Great Depression, she helped house and feed them and their families when times got too lean.

This same grandmother and all her sisters were college educated at a time when many girls never attended high school. They became teachers and social workers.

My mother graduated from high school at the age of sixteen. She asked for and was granted permission to attend public school an additional year in order to take business courses to prepare her to work. She went on to hold responsible jobs to help support her family until she married my father years later.

These women are my heritage. These strong, brave, determined women are the reason I am here. I carry their DNA and I cut my teeth on stories of their sacrifices.

I know I’m not made of stuff as strong as them. I’ve been weakened by the ease our modern times provides. But what I have that they did not is my Voice. I can speak and shout and sing and chant and whisper and cry out for the justice and freedom they never knew. I can use my Voice through my purse and in the voting booth to influence and shape the world in which my granddaughter will raise her daughters.

Understanding our power, at last, is a profound part of reaching this stage of life. When we no longer cringe at the fear of disapproval from others and accept our thoughts and our bodies and our strengths, we can move the world.

When we know with certainty that we have less time before us than behind us, we can prune away the things upon which we once squandered our precious time and energy and focus instead on those matters that call to our hearts and souls, those matters we know in our gut need attention.

The legacy left me by my mother and grandmothers and great-grandmothers is one I’m very proud of. I owe it to them for their many acts of courage and labor and their sacrifices to be the link in the chain, to take my place in the continuum and use my Voice as they would have if given the chance.

As we celebrate women today, let’s all vow to step up and out of the shadows and use our Voices to heal this world and make it thrive for everyone.