The Night Before – Behind the Book – Pivoting

The Night Before

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Pivoting

I never thought I would be a writer. As a young girl, I dreamed of winning the Olympic Gold Medal as a figure skater. I even spent three years living away from home at a training camp in Colorado Springs. When I was sixteen and my talents fell short, I looked for a new dream.

Wall Street was booming then (mid-1980s) so I decided to become an investment banker. I turned my focus to school, gaining admission to Brown University where I studied Economics. From there, I landed a coveted job at Goldman Sachs. I was determined to make this my lifelong profession, but other interests soon caught my attention. I began to notice the world around me and the impact social policy had on people’s lives, including my own as a young woman.

After two years, I went to law school with a new dream of working in the public interest arena. Like many law students, I figured I would work off my student loans at a big firm with corporate clients before finally pursuing what would surely be a lasting career in the non-profit world.

Time, however, was, not on my side. By age twenty-eight, I again shifted my focus – this time to the dream of starting a family. In full nesting mode, my husband and I moved to the suburbs of Connecticut where we both had grown up, and where we still had extended family. I found work at a smaller law firm and within three years, we had our first child.

Like so many life choices we make when we are young, I did not foresee the long- term consequences of the decisions I was making. I felt empowered by my past reinventions and career pivots, so I became a stay-home mother for what I thought would be a few short years. Until my kids are all in school, I told myself. Then I did the math. It would be over a decade until that day would come.

I loved being home with my kids more than I had imagined, so another dream was born – this time out of sheer necessity. I had to find a way to work from home. I came up with the brilliant plan to write a novel. This was my thinking: John Grisham was a lawyer and he became a bestselling author. I’m a lawyer, so … how hard could it be?

For ten years, I wrote everywhere – even in the back of my minivan outside my children’s pre-school. I sought help from a local writing professor, sent out over eighty-five query letters to agents, and eventually, got two novels published. I thought I had done it! I thought I was done reinventing myself to chase new dreams. I thought I was done dreaming, period.

But, not quite. When my oldest son was ten, I became a single mother with two “underperforming” novels and a rusty law degree.

Anxiety set in. Fear came on its heels. I knew I would have to reinvent myself again, this time in pursuit of steady income, regardless of my interests. I sought advice from everyone I still knew in the legal profession, and was given a volunteer job in family law where I could exchange my time for retraining. As it turned out, my life experience had value in this field. I understood what life was like as a divorced woman in the suburbs, and clients found that comforting. Within the year, I was an employed divorce attorney. I was able to breathe again.

Back on my feet with a solid road ahead of me, the dream of working from home sneaked back in. To my surprise, I also realized that I had fallen in love with writing! Years had passed. I no longer had an agent or a publisher. I had to start all over. One page here, one page there, a new novel was eventually written. This time, I had enough contacts in the writing world to find an agent without having to query. We worked together for an entire year revising and assessing the market. Because I already had two strikes against me with the prior novels, my re-entry had to be spot on. At the end of that year, she told me that this new novel was not the right one.

After seven years of being a single mom, a lawyer and an unpaid writer, I was exhausted. I didn’t know if I had finally reached the end of all this dream chasing – if I was being persistent or chasing a ghost. I had to know for sure. Taking the advice of my agent, I scrapped the novel that had taken two years to write and revise, and tried my hand at a psychological thriller. It was going to be my last book. I cleared my schedule at work and wrote every day for six weeks. After seventeen years of writing, I produced a novel that became a bestseller. My dream came true in the eleventh hour.

Looking back, it was not careful planning that led me to the life I wanted, and the career I fell in love with. It was pursuing a series of dreams in the face of obstacles and failures, and learning when to let go of one dream and find another. I don’t know what the future holds. But this long journey has taught me some very valuable lessons.