“Be afraid, be very afraid. But do it anyway.” – Jason Isbell
About nine months ago, I made a drastic change. For the first time ever, at the ripe old age of 46, I became an unemployed, full-time college student. I was terrified and excited. But mostly terrified.
I honestly can’t recall ever taking a risk or being afraid in my adult life. I’ve always played it safe, never taking chances on things. I’ve always looked before leaping. In addition, I was one of those lucky few who in early adulthood fell into a great job in a growing, ever-changing industry. I hadn’t needed to finish college to live a relatively comfortable life, so I didn’t.
I just enjoyed the comfort of my corporate job with nothing to fear except maybe downsizing, but that fear had gone away with the establishment of a safe rainy-day fund that would tide me over in the event of an emergency.
And that’s how I lived. Not afraid, but kind of bored. But safe. Always safe.
A series of life-altering events – some sudden and profoundly tragic, some planned and positively life changing – led to a reconnection in 2017 with an old friend I’d met nearly 25 years prior. Through that reconnection, I began working as a freelance copyeditor on a part-time basis. I quickly discovered that I was great at it, and I loved doing it.
The more I loved editing, the more bored I grew at my “real” job. I began to think about what my dream job would look like, and it looked nothing like the office job I’d had for nearly 20 years.
In 2018, I was offered a sweetheart of a deal from my employer. If I accepted the offer, I would no longer be an employee, but I would receive a certain number of weeks of salary and benefits for every year I’d worked for the company.
I took the money and ran.
My departure wasn’t immediate. For those of us who accepted the offer, we had a transition time of six months to hand off our responsibilities to people who were staying with the company. During those six months, people asked me when I planned on looking for a replacement job. When I explained that I wasn't going to work right away but was instead going to finally finish my degree so I could become an editor, concerned family members asked if I was sure I was doing the right thing. After all, what middle-aged woman willingly leaves a great job with a Fortune 100 company to try her hand at something she’s never done before?
Strangely, I was calm. But I was also afraid. It had been a long time since I’d been outside my comfort zone. Could I survive outside that zone? Could I handle not knowing exactly where I would land after graduation?
My last day of work was June 28th, 2019. I took three online classes over the summer, then dove headfirst into campus life that fall. More fears kicked in. Did I just quit my job? What am I going to do when my health insurance runs out? Will I run out of money? And when did I become so OLD?
But I’ve learned over the past 2 years is that a little bit of fear and uncertainty can be healthy. It’s strangely liberating and allows you to think about options. I’m constantly thinking about my next steps after graduation. My original plan was to finish my degree and get right back to work, but now I’m making plans to go for my master’s and am already tossing around ideas for my thesis.
I’ve also made the surprising discovery that all those skills I learned over two decades in telecom haven’t gone to waste: my data mining skills have shown me that I might have a bright future in data journalism. I never would have learned that this was even an option if I’d played it safe, kept my secure job at a secure company and never taken a chance.
Don’t wait until you’re close to 50 before you take chances and leap into the abyss of the unknown.
But also know that it’s never too late to reinvent yourself.