There are some days when you wake up and everything makes sense. Then there are those days when you find yourself wandering aimlessly around Williams-Sonoma looking for an OXO mixing bowl — and a purpose in life.
Today was one of the later. I had a business lunch in Union Square, and left more confused about life than when I had arrived. So I decided to go to my happy place, the mecca of all things baking and cooking and yummy smells, to visit the cookbook section. It’s where I go to get grounded when nothing else will do the trick. I scan the sea of colorful beauty that is the cookbook bookshelf to find my friend Kim’s books, which are all a culinary journey in and of themselves. They’re inspiring and beautiful, just like she is, and each of the alluring images is meant to be devoured as intensely as each of her remarkable baked goods. And they make me happy. There’s just something about a photo of giant chocolate chip cookies stacked on top of each other so high that the pile looks like it might topple over at any minute, but it doesn’t.
I had the pleasure of working with Kim recently on a photo shoot for a cookbook about pies. Ummmm… pies. Lots and lots and lots of pies. So many pies, so little time. (I tried to eat each and every one of them, and not let any crumb go to waste. But soon realized that my waist was the recipient of all the waste, and that was not a very good thing at all.) Working on the photo shoot was both a blessing and a curse. For the first time, in a very long time, I was actually doing something that I loved and getting paid for it. But it gave me a taste (sorry about the pun, I’m my father’s daughter) of a new life, a life where you can have your cake and eat it, too (sorry, again) and all I’ve been able to think about since then is how I can go about having that life. In many ways, I’d be starting over. Reinventing myself, if you will. Not in as crazy of a way as my stint attempting to reinvent myself training as a bread baker. But still, quite a bit of a departure from where I left off before Ireland.
My resume is filled with words like strategy, execution, customized marketing, data-driven, platform analysis, etc. etc. etc. etc. Sometimes it makes me nauseous. It was my life for many, many years, and like a light switch, I can turn it on again just like that. I turned it on at lunch. It was that kind of lunch. Lunch about potential work in my old life, but at a new place. Yet as soon as it was over, a million thoughts flooded into my head. Do I want to go back to my old life? Do I want to do that kind of work again? Is it now or never? Am I fooling myself that I can actually create and walk on a new path and still live in one of the most (if not the most) expensive cities in the country? And if I try to, will I forever be caught in between the lands of “overqualified” and “not enough experience in that yet?”
So during today’s lunch I was asked, as I always seem to be asked these days, “What are you looking for?” (Which I’ve come to prefer ever so slightly to the question of “Can you work with millennials?”) Once again, I didn’t have a straight answer. I think it makes people nervous and confused when you don’t have a straight answer to that seemingly straightforward question. But I don’t. My answer takes some form of “many things,” followed by a list of the things I’m currently working on. That list runs the gamut, and I lose most people before it’s even finished. It seems a bit all over the place, and I get that. To be fair, I am a bit all over the place these days, both literally and figuratively. But when you are trying to reinvent yourself, do you need to just pick one thing? Do you have to choose between what you once were and what else you might want to be one day? I don’t know. I hope not. Because if so, then I’m doing it all fucking wrong.
A good friend, who is in a slightly similar place, and I talk about this type of thing a lot lately. What happens after you climb the corporate ladder pretty high and then want or need to change course? Why do people and prospective employers seem to not know what to do with you anymore? Why is your vast list of experiences and accomplishments now a deterrent? If you’ve already worked at some of the top companies in your field, is there even anywhere left to move over to? Our generation (Gen X) has been trained to work hard, climb the ladder, do everything we can to gain experience and expertise, achieve lots, push ahead, plow through, and all that jazz. But this upcoming generation of millennials is being trained very differently. They are the new golden children, sought after for their youth and fresh eyes and new perspectives, as well as “awesome” experience in social media, disruptive technologies and the like. After all, they were raised in an era of social media and crowdsourcing. Their lives at age 15 were way different from mine. For the first half of my media career, Facebook hadn’t even been invented yet. (Or open to the general public.) My friend just gave me a copy of the new book called Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-up Bubble by a former Newsweek journalist who goes to work at a tech start-up after he’s laid off from the print magazine. I’m only a few chapters in, but I find myself nodding constantly. Yes, I felt like that. Yes, I know how that goes. OMG, yes!!! I couldn’t believe it either! Yet another book written about almost exactly what I am going through at that exact period of time, but not written by me. (Two other famous “novels” still torment me to that end: The Devil Wears Prada not-yet-published manuscript found its way to my desk when I was the assistant to the fashion director at Mirabella magazine; The Nanny Diaries came out when I was a nanny for a very rich and very fucked up family on Manhattan’s east side after I got laid off from my first Internet job during the original Internet bust in 2001.)
There are days like today, and pretty much every day over the past two weeks, when I just want to wear a big sign that says, “I can do it! Really, I can! I’ve done lots of things!” I wonder if that will work. Or maybe something more like, “I’ve been around the block before — I’ve got this.” Or even better still, “All of the random things in my purse don’t make me more enigmatic, but rather more interesting.” I just wonder if anyone (clarification: anyone who might potentially hire me) will ever really get that, or just trust in that. I really hope so.
Needless to say, Williams-Sonoma did not have the bowl I was looking for. So I walked home, up the big hill, amid the glaring sunshine, wondering where to look for it next.