Why more women are repotting—putting down new roots in a job of their dreams.
WOMEN ARE AT a watershed moment. Across the country, women are embracing a no-boundaries mindset as they rewrite their lives, often multiple times, to create lifestyles that bring their values and passions to the forefront. Although women age forty and beyond are driving this trend, a recent survey of college women reveals that they, too, expect to lead multiple lives. Sixty percent of women surveyed by a student in the gender studies department at American University said they expect to have six careers. Today it’s a life stage, not an age, propelling women’s reinvention process.
Modern women are forging new personas to reflect their authentic selves and throwing off outdated rules and myths that don’t fit with their new priorities. For many women, September 11th precipitated a reevaluation of priorities. Like a gardener redoing a landscape design to improve the environment for plants, 21st century women are engaged in “repotting” their lives. Their ultimate goal is to be the best they can be and live a fulfilling life.
Eileen O’Connor is a prime example of the repotting trend. A former broadcast journalist for ABC-TV and CNN in Moscow and London who traveled the world while raising five children, O’Connor made a change to have more time with her family without giving up her career.
Today she lives in Washington, DC, is president of the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and attends law school at Georgetown University at night.
“Turning your back on success is a tough thing to do,” O’Connor admits. “Sometimes I miss being on TV, but then I see how much happier my children are and how much less stressed I am, and I don’t regret it at all.”
This repotting process is spreading quickly across the country. Who hasn’t heard at least one woman’s story of dropping out of her old life, only to reemerge in a new guise?
Chris Boskin did it too. Boskin spent three decades in publishing with executive positions at magazines ranging from The New Yorker to Town & Country, Worth, and Yoga Journal. Family health issues, a desire to spend more time with her husband, and a lack of time to pursue her passion for yoga led Boskin to stop the spin cycle of her life. Today she lives in both Corte Madera in Northern California and in Sun Valley, Idaho.
“I think back on my thirty-year career and it’s almost as if I were in a cage,” Boskin recalls. But, it took her three years of soul-searching to make the change. Now she serves on the boards of three nonprofits and four foundations. “I love making a difference, and I love the feeling of changing people’s lives, one life at a time,” she says.
As Boskin has learned, repotting is no easy task. Women on the cusp of repotting themselves have had to face fears associated with jumping off the proverbial cliff. Boskin remembers wondering, “Who am I if I don’t have a title?”
For many women the choice between the comfortable status quo and a risky unknown future creates enormous fear. Often the fear is financially based, such as a potential drop in income resulting from giving up a high-powered but unsatisfying job. Or it may be the fear of letting go—being afraid to leave a job because they can’t be sure they will be able to do better in a different field.
For O’Connor, her fears about making a change were related to her family because she was jumping from one fast track to another, being president of ICFJ by day and law student at night. But her thirteen-year-old daughter, Gabriella, allayed those fears one day on the way to a soccer game. O’Connor remembers her saying, “Mom, I think it’s really cool that you can be a journalist for all those years and one day suddenly say, ‘I think I’ll be a lawyer,’ and, poof, you’re a lawyer.”
For women who’ve worked hard to establish themselves and their careers, it isn’t easy to give them up. Elly Lessin came to New York with a suitcase and $200 in her pocket. During the next twenty years she built a successful global events production company, working for corporate and nonprofit clients such as Pfizer, AXAGroup, the Multiple Sclerosis Society of New York, and others.
To relieve the stress of her high-pressure career, she bought a horse and a country house in northern New Jersey, where she escaped on weekends. “Riding has been my love since I was a little girl,” she explains. Recently Lessin decided to dramatically scale back her professional commitments to spend more time doing what she loves. She cut her work hours to three and a half days a week and spends the rest of her time at the barn or her country house. While initially she worried about finances, she maintains not much has changed. “My income didn’t drop,” she says. “My clients understand that I’m not here all the time anymore, and they’re OK with it. They know I won’t let them down.”
Lessin says life is more fulfilling since she made time for her passion, which includes showing Sly, her gray Arabian Silver Medallion, in New Jersey-area dressage classes. “I’m glad I reconfigured my life,” she says. “I actually am much better at my work because I am happier and more relaxed.”
Still, life isn’t perfect. Despite more time to pursue her passion, Lessin still has issues balancing work with her riding. “The more I step away from my desk, the more work comes to me,” she says. And there is still the guilt of not working 24/7 because, she explains, “we come from a society that says if you want to be successful, you have to be like a Marine ready to snap your heels.”
While she still doesn’t ride as much as she’d like, the fact that she has organized her life to include work and her love of riding makes her feel successful in the truest sense, saying, “When my riding instructor says ‘excellent,’ it’s like being handed a $10,000 check.”
Boskin too feels empowered now, applying her skills to help others as a volunteer. She’s also gotten past those initial feelings of inadequacy. “I love not having a title and just being me, with no association with anything other than who I am!”
By Diana Holman and Ginger Pape
Related article: Finding Happiness at Work