6. Practice, practice, practice.
I never believed that little steps could prepare you for the big one. I figured that reinvention is like bungee jumping: You stand out on the edge of the platform, and you either do it or you don’t. Now I understand that you can ease into change. Do something a little hard, somewhat scary, and when you succeed you’ll be better equipped to attempt the next intimidating thing. After all, you don’t start kayaking in white water. There are ways to break a reinvention down into digestible bites. If you’re dying to go back to school, enroll in a course. If you want to start a business, ask for a leave of absence rather than quitting your job. If you dream of climbing the Matterhorn, try the Rockies on for size.
Trust Uncertainty & Find Passion
7. God isn’t in the details.
Most great ventures arise in uncertainty. Did Lewis and Clark know they would make it to the Pacific? Did Watson and Crick (not to mention Rosalind Franklin) feel sure they could decode the structure of DNA? The hallmark of an adventure is not knowing the outcome, trusting in the flow of events. I’m an obsessive planner, but the wisdom of not micromanaging a life change crystallized for me when Helen Hand, who became president of Colorado Free University after the death of her brother, founder of the school, characterized him this way: "He’d cast his line way out there, and then pull himself toward it." I love that metaphor: Reaching for a goal without knowing your exact path, being open to the possibilities and buoyed by the belief that you have what it takes to get there.
As I heard story after story about ventures set in motion on sheer hope — from a charity to feed the homeless to a racecar-rebuilding business — I realized that the least successful reinventers were the ones who had figured everything down to the last decimal point and therefore were closed to new methods, new ideas.
Don’t get me wrong. Planning is important. You need the right scaffolding to paint the picture of your new life. If the scaffolding is 8 feet high, you’re never going to paint a 12-foot mural. But you needn’t worry that you don’t know what every square inch of the painting will look like before you pick up the brush. You’re smart; you can make some of it up as you go along.
8. Reinvention has a fast track.
It’s called a hobby. Find a passion and chase it. Whether you breed Percherons or bake bread, refinish furniture or hike every trail in a forest near home, you’ll redefine yourself in your own eyes. You’re no longer just the woman with the so-so marriage or the boring job; you’re on a mission. And it doesn’t have to upend your marriage or your career. I talked to a woman who took up tennis in her early 40s; three years later she was winning tournaments. Another finally quenched a lifelong aspiration by buying a motorcycle at 42. A third put her passion to work; at 45, she began supporting herself for the first time by painting murals and decorative furniture.
If a major renovation of your life isn’t in the cards, know that you can still brighten and enliven it. A well-chosen pursuit has a potentially huge emotional return.
9. Singles aren’t the only heroes.
Whenever I read a story about an unmarried woman who made a big change — moving to a new city, launching a business, having a baby alone — I awarded her special "You go, girl!" applause. I’ve been married as long as I can remember, so to me, flying solo is for the bravest, a high-wire act without the safety net of a spouse: the emotional support, the extra income.