On beginning again, and again
Decades tethered to various desk jobs hadn’t really squelched my spirit – or so I thought.
As a kid, I dreamed of becoming a travel writer so I chose my first career accordingly. As a publicist in the hospitality field, I saw the curvature of the earth through the cockpit of the Concorde and sailed home on the QE2. By helicopter, I buzzed a herd of antelope across the Alaskan tundra. I kissed a favorite actor on a chairlift at Sundance. I named my first pup after a dessert I devoured on my birthday at the Sporting Club in Monaco (it was a Mango Charlotte).
For about a decade, the gig suited me well enough.
But I'd always been a school geek and—take two—higher education felt like a higher calling.
There were books and ideas everywhere. I earned my MFA and published short stories. I swam at lunchtime and kept a bike in my office. I helped a mission-driven small college stay afloat.
But eager to move up the food chain, I left Manhattanville College in Westchester County, New York, for Colgate University, an elite liberal arts school upstate.
Things soon heated up. As students found their own way in and out of the admission equation I worked longer and harder to differentiate Colgate. Title IX and cultural crises kept me on-call 24/7. And after 10 years, I moved my soon-to-be-empty nest to a more complex institution in a city with mountains and more coffee bars than Colgate had students.
But at the University of Denver I began to wonder: How much difference could one communicator and strategist—or even a whole team of communicators and strategists—really make? There are so many factors at play: students' changing needs and learning styles, demographic shifts, societal pressures, antiquated systems, budget pressures and more.
And yet, out my window, students balanced barefoot on slack lines between trees. Farther afield, they sampled bacteria in Nigerian streams or took internships in the Hague. Some started businesses, for profit or social good. I encouraged them and shared their stories. I envied them. I once felt their glee. I wondered if my best years were behind me.
So I left my job. I needed to begin again.
I bought a tent, a sleeping bag and a keychain-sized stove for making fresh coffee. I would teach myself to camp. My route included two oceans and as many lakes and rivers and streams as possible. And many chances to reconnect (beyond Facebook) with friends I hadn't seen in years.
Those friends reminded me that I was a "badass" from way back. I learned that they, too, were reinventing themselves. And that each one struggles and wonders and has moments of fear.
But they all are brave. They all are badasses! And under my tent, I felt joy.
As the great Steve Jobs once said—“The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again.”
My first night out, I forgot to tie down the rain cover and woke up soaked and laughing about it. Another night I lost my campsite and a friendly dude with skills helped me find my way back. Along Lake Tahoe's Truckee River, I learned that a healthy fear of bears can keep me safer, but it won't keep me indoors.
The trip reminded me how little I know about some things. And that having a “beginner’s mind” will help me reinvent myself once again.
So my friends, welcome to take three—Flamingo Strategies—my first entrepreneurial venture. It’s time for me to rustle up clients and help them tell their stories. And in the process to rediscover my own voice.
What will YOU do next?