The Lazy Woman's Guide to Reinvention

If the mere thought of making over your life at 40+ induces a hot flash, try one of these low-key alternatives.

By Karen Karbo
Photograph: Illustration: Monika Aichele

I used to marvel at people who could reinvent themselves in midlife. Like the woman I once read about who quit her job at a brokerage firm and bought a 1,000-acre spread in Wyoming to run her own guest ranch. What determination! What bravery! What disposable income! "How terrific it must be," I thought, "to just stop being a person who carries a briefcase and start being someone who gets up at four a.m. to muck out stalls."

How did she do it? I have no clue. Like many women I know, I have trouble remembering where I left the novel I’ll never finish reading, so it’s unlikely that I’ll move to Istria (the Tuscany of Croatia) and renovate an 800-year-old farmhouse while learning to harvest truffles. You see, when it comes to the desire to reinvent myself, I am below average. My kind are not hyperorganized alpha reinventers but unfocused, exhausted, and weirdly content women who believe there are too many satisfying things to be done in a bathrobe, such as finding and reading the aforementioned novel.

What we do possess is an abundance of self-knowledge. Translation: We are smart enough to know that to reinvent ourselves might mean moving, which also means filling out those change-of-address forms no one ever heeds, putting all of our belongings in storage, or entering an internship program — all of which would seriously impede our watching Law & Order reruns and mastering five-star-difficulty sudokus. Of course, everyone could use a little change now and then, so in the spirit of no midlife woman left behind, I offer three re’s for the reinvention challenged.

Remodel

This is the equivalent of spending 20 grand to redo a kitchen rather than buy a new house. To remodel your life might mean taking a class, but never going for a degree. You will not be required to become fluent in Farsi or learn how to insert an artery stent. In other words, remodeling takes motivation, but not nearly as much as a full-scale reinvention requires. If you’re a veterinarian, rather than close your practice to become a real estate agent (reinvention), you remodel yourself as a Cesar Millan-style dog whisperer.

Be careful. Remodeling can be easily confused with reinvention. Remodelers redo themselves by improving the selves they know. They never risk going into therapy, which could produce a life-changing epiphany. A friend who worked for years managing a local theater troupe recently quit to form her own company. This is an example of a judicious remodel. But had she decided to cash in her IRA to take acting lessons and remake herself into a star of stage and screen, that would have been, well, just plain stupid.

Refurbish

I like to think of refurbishment as slapping on a new coat of paint, because it’s all about appearances. Instead of signing up for an online book group devoted to reading the works of Proust in one year, you opt for a set of porcelain veneers. It means saying yes to Botox, along with anything else that can be filed under the heading "Makeover." The refurbisher knows that with the proper attitude, a great new pair of boots can produce something akin to a spiritual awakening.

A refurbishment is just the ticket for the short-attention-span crowd. It never entails learning a new skill, although you may be asked to do the hard work of imagining yourself as a platinum blonde or someone who can wear dreadlocks with elan. You might say, "I’m not that superficial, just overwhelmed with the thought of dumping my life to summit Everest." But refurbishment is the re of choice for those who want the quickest return on their investment. If you’re unconvinced, splurge on Lasik surgery and then get back to me.

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