Monday, April 8, 2013

How to Make Lemonade

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. I hate that saying. In fact, I hate most cheery adages and motivational gobbledygook. No doubt, there have been some inspirational people that have said some inspirational things, so I can appreciate the occasional message of encouragement. But, in general, I feel bombarded by these types of quotes. Do they really stimulate action? I know for myself, that when the going gets tough, I get going (oops, did I just drop a cheery adage?); I don’t sit on Twitter or Facebook and look for quotes that will get me off the couch.

This is all at the forefront of my mind because of a recent change in my life. Since pre-school I have been involved in the world of academics. For many decades I was a student, and then, I became a researcher. Academia is controlled by publications and grants. You need both to survive. Things move reallyreallyfast, and then they move r e a l l y, r e a l l y, s l o w. There is the excitement of being a part of cutting edge research and going to meetings where ingenious ideas are born. It was all I knew. All of this ended for me last month when my grant finished and my funding source was gone. Nine years at the University of Colorado and then nothing. Ouch.

I knew the impending end was coming for about 6 months so I started looking for a new position in my field of statistics. But, do you know how hard it is to find a part-time telecommuting job? And, after being in academia for so long, my qualifications did not even fit into the realm of private industry anyway. I realized I was going to have to figure out how to put my skills to use in a way that was not readily apparent.

Fortunately, I have had experience “reinventing” myself. All of my years as an athlete taught me a lot of lessons that are applicable to life outside of sports. I started out my athletic career as a swimmer. It was my identity for so many years that chlorine became my scent of choice over any fancy perfume. When I graduated college, I muddled around without any athletic goals and I felt aimless. I turned to triathlon and I obtained a new identity. I even had an ID card from USAT to prove it. Again, my life was wrapped up in my new sport and I embraced it wholeheartedly. I never imagined a day when I wouldn’t be a triathlete anymore. A freak accident in 2009 ended my triathlon days; the injuries I sustained made riding a bike impossible (and to this day, I still am not able to ride). I mourned for a little while and wondered what the heck I was going to do to sustain my competitive spirit. I parlayed my love for running into yet another new identity. I even got an ID card from USATF to prove it. I started running competitively.

Every time I had to move from one situation to the next, there was a period of frustration, sadness and readjustment. But, ultimately, I found satisfaction, success and fun.

This brings me back to my job situation. Having gone through the process of reinventing myself athletically, I knew I had the tools to do it professionally. A fluke conversation with a friend who is a doctoral candidate at CU, and who I had helped with some statistical issues, suggested I look into dissertation consulting. Who knew that was such a burgeoning field? What a surprise! I spruced up my resume and sent a few out. Lo and behold, I landed myself a part-time telecommuting position. Good-bye academia. Hello consulting.

The process of reinventing oneself is no easy task. Here are some things I have found helpful:
  • Take action quickly. When a situation occurs that is prompting a reinvention (eg. loss of a job) allow yourself a fixed amount of time to be depressed, angry, irritable, bitchy because inactivity breeds more inactivity.
  • Figure out your talents and then think about how to apply them in a new way.
  • Talk to anyone and everyone. You never know who has a life-changing idea or fantastic connections.
  • Don’t be afraid of change. Yes, change can be scary. Kick its ass.
  • Look at new opportunities as a chance to meet new people, do new things and have more fun.
  • Making changes take time and a lot of effort. Be prepared for both.