I have an interesting assortment of friends. One woman I knew in Nepal now paints murals on the walls of underserved communities in Eastern Europe. Another couple, who once lived in Beijing, bought property in northern Maine where they learned to keep bees and raise chickens alongside Amish neighbors. One fellow whom I remember from the bustling city of Hong Kong, is now an organic farmer in quiet New Zealand. Another left his island home to move to Shanghai, where he opened a small company. A friend I met in Switzerland now lives in the state of Georgia, where she prepares vegan recipes and helps care for her grandson. Another, whom I knew in Asia, now lives in Colorado; she has thousands of suscribers to her popular Youtube channel, where she teaches art and crafts. I even have a friend who left Japan to open a boarding school in the Ugandan bush, where she works with the children of former child soldiers.
Each one of those friends faced the task of reinventing themselves when life drastically altered their circumstances. None of them are the same people I knew five, ten, twenty or more years ago. Life moved on and they moved with it, which I think is a pretty wonderful thing.
But it isn’t just those who live all over the globe who have to deal with change. People who stay, more or less, in one place over the course of a lifetime also face the challenge of reinvention; a volatile economy, an unpredictable job market, chronic illness, or the loss of a spouse can suddenly turn everything upside down. Even normal, anticipated life milestones bring along complications of change: retirement arrives and hours needed to be filled, children grow up and the nest empties. Whatever are we supposed to do with ourselves now that things are different?
For boomers like me, we’ve grappled not only with a changing life, but a changing world. Computers, the internet, online banking, cell phone plans, GPS and programmable coffee machines that you need an engineering degree to figure out; it’s all changed us, for better or for worse.
Change can be difficult to handle, but we humans are built to take it. We may not always think we’re up to the task, but we learn, grow and adapt when life throws challenges our way. Change can be terrifying at times, there’s no doubt about it. We long for things to be as they once were, for we take great comfort in predictable and familiar routines, something we’ve learned from infancy. Eventually, however, the new circumstances we find ourselves in no longer seem so very strange. The unimaginable becomes the new normal, and our peace of mind returns.
Thankfully, during those first rough stages of transition we can look to others who’ve gone before us, for their stories reassure us that though life may now be different, it can still be good.
The truth is, reinventing our life is a process that never ends. Like the rising of the sun and the changing of the tides, transition is embedded in our world. I believe it’s meant to bring us joy.
And yes, just in case you’re wondering, it’s OK, even at my age, to still imagine what you want to be when you grow up.