Faye Goldberg Miller, my mother, is a force of nature. At 81 years old, my mom’s infectious laugh turns heads. She works out several times a week and has been known to curse like a sailor, especially if you cut her off in traffic. Her wardrobe and sense of humor are fierce. Throughout my entire life, she has passed along pearls of wisdom, like: you can forgive others, but don’t forget; health comes first; and shoes always matter. But the biggest lesson I learned from mom was shown rather than told: that you can reinvent your life at any age. She taught me that because that’s exactly what she did after my dad died in 2001.
Faye was only 17 when she met Ivan Miller, marrying him two years later, as was the norm in the 1950s. She was smart as a whip but school was a struggle, as the traditional curriculums at the time didn’t account for people who learned differently. Even if mom had the grades or interest in college, many of her friends were just using advanced education to get their “Mrs.” degree.
Dad was a well-intentioned but very controlling man. Society expected him to be the main breadwinner and decision-maker, and she, willingly but with an undercurrent of resentment, let him mostly run the show. They worked together daily running the family delicatessen. But 44 years together eroded her confidence.
When my dad passed away five weeks after being diagnosed with stage four gall bladder cancer, my mom was crushed. She could have easily fallen apart. Instead, Faye found an inner strength and, I say without disrespect to the memory of my father, a sense of freedom. Because at age 64, she realized it was time to start living life on her own terms.
For the first time, she picked a place to live and her own furnishings. Faye became a docent at a local museum, studying up on each exhibit to lead tours. Volunteering at a local hospital resulted in her meeting a woman named Vivian who became her best friend. After stepping back for years to let my dad always have the spotlight, Faye started writing short stories and actively hosted dinner parties. She met a man named Rene whom she dated off and on for 11 years, before he passed away last year.
Witnessing my mom’s evolution into greater independence and vibrancy has been a gift. It taught me that you can claim a more fulfilling life at any point. I’ve done it several times myself — going from being a corporate employee to entrepreneur to now a corporate executive and executive coach in my career. I ended a string of romantic disappointments where I was always emotionally drained, and I consciously claimed a different way forward. Now I thrive in my happy marriage. Whether you are 25, 45, or 75 years old, reinvention is always possible. Here are three ways to carve a new, more fulfilling path moving forward:
Move to the beat of your own drum. It is so easy to act as others expect us to be — hard-charging executive, artsy creative, doting mom, or social queen bee. But we are more than archetypes. People are messy, beautifully complicated beings who can screw up or shine brightly often within the same day. Get in touch with your true self and let that authenticity drive your reinvention. I’m a C-suite executive — and a writer, pop culture obsessive, loyal friend, possessed of a goofy sense of humor, lover of Deadpool movies, and a slow adopter of cool technology who is terrorized by advanced math. Accepting myself fully has been essential in creating new pathways.
Practice self-forgiveness. Let go of previous self-judgments and practice self-forgiveness in order to make your reinvention as clean of a process as possible. Don Miguel Ruiz, author of the transformative book The Four Agreements, once said, “The supreme act of forgiveness is when you can forgive yourself for all the wounds you’ve created in your own life. Forgiveness is an act of self-love. When you forgive yourself, self-acceptance begins and self-love grows.”
Aim high. Going for what you truly want and aiming high makes your reinvention more fulfilling. A friend of mine struggled with poverty while growing up as the son of immigrants in Los Angeles; he was kicked out of four high schools for acting out. But when he took a temporary accounts payable job in a Fortune 500 company, this first exposure to a professional work environment showed him that a different life was possible. He dreamed about being a department director and ended up going to college and getting an M.B.A. Hard work and smarts led to him aiming higher over time. Today he is highly respected in his field as an officer at a $2 billion company.
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