Today, he’s a professor at NYU, living on a salary that pales significantly in comparison to that of his former life. But his life is richer by far in so many other ways.
Reflection was the catalyst that brought him to a place of peace, fulfillment and balance that those who knew him, never would have believed he’d strive to want, let alone attain.
Talk about going for it …Bob is a refugee from the trenches of high-finance and Wall Street, where he spent over 12 years as a capital markets professional. He ‘fled’ to his new habitat of academia, where he is finishing up a doctoral program in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University.
His journey was riddled with bumps in the road and serious moments of doubt and fear but he was so clear of his desired destination that he stuck with it. His teachers and mentors spent time with him, understanding how much it meant to him that they even helped finance his mission because his dedication and passion were so strong and they believed in him.
Sheer determination and tenacity overtook the fear he felt throughout the transition from a secure and high-living life on Wall Street. Friends helped keep some of his business going for him so he had some source of income, but barely enough to cover all his new costs of school, cost of living accumulated by his late 30’s, and food to eat.
When I asked Bob what the “Big Changes” were for him he responded:
“I began to let go of old ideas, and open up to other people’s ideas/thoughts; in other words, I had to realize that if my absolute best form of thinking resulted in me being in the state I was in (unhappy, miserable), then surely there was an error in the way I was thinking, and I had to ‘learn’ a whole new way of seeing and being in the world.
Most importantly, I really had to work to change my expectations. Instead of expecting to finish a degree in Media Studies and having some pre-determined outcome (say, like a job in media), I had to pull back and let the process take over, to let the final result be undetermined, organic, and a natural development of opening up to what might happen, as opposed to what should happen. I remember saying to myself, “You don’t know who you might meet, what opportunities might present themselves, or what will happen on any day, so just let go and enjoy each class, and see what happens.”
For the first time, I was able to see and experience an entirely new way of living, where the focus was not so much on advancing one’s career, or the crude pursuit of money, but on an intellectual life of ideas. Simply put, before this, the possibility of such a life never occurred to me — I never thought it existed, and if it did, it didn’t seem possible for someone like me to live such a life, and be happy. I had been disillusioned with my prior career, as well as relationships, buying into the conventional ideas of what was ‘success’ and ‘happiness.’ I was able to see people that I admired and respected live a different life, an engaged life, and I really, really wanted what they had.”
When I asked Bob about the “Fears” he experienced along the way:
“Hmmm….. I was most afraid of letting go of what I had. That is to say, I was so defined by what I did, and what kind of life I led, that without it, I would be lost, and that (as crazy as it sounds) no one would want to be a part of my life.
I had kinda convinced myself that by my age, we were supposed to have “it” figured out — that we would be settled, financially stable, with a predictable future, and that that is what people were drawn to. Being a man, I think this perspective had a sharper inflection — that I, as a man, was supposed to be all those things, to be able to provide security and predictability, which was most often expressed in financial terms.
I suppose I conquered these fears by thinking about what I did have, as opposed to what I was giving up; by thinking about what I was going to gain by giving up things that, in the end, weren’t so hard to give up. I knew that in having that ‘security’ I was miserable, and felt a bit fraudulent. And I realized that security and predictability are not just material — that there is an emotional security and commitment that I was now, because of these changes, able to give to other people (not confined here to just intimate relationships, but all of my relationships with people).
I also had the unconditional support of my friends — they didn’t always understand why or how I was doing this, but they supported me nonetheless.”
A year after interviewing Bob, I reconnected with him to find out where his life had evolved to since we last spoke. His goals are still the same – to be happy and enjoy becoming a teacher. However he pointed out something very important. Chances are you’ll have a slight “relapse” after the wear and tear that time and the process could have on you. Sometimes staying positive, optimistic and focused isn’t so easy and you can lose sight of why you embarked on your reinvention journey in the first place. My suggestion is you write down your goals with the determination and enthusiasm you’re feeling when you set out on your reinvention. Reminding yourself of that moment in time can help you reset your course if you get disheartened, exhausted or the process takes a while. Bob reread what he wrote to me a year ago and was grateful for that boost that he was given by reading his focused words from a year ago.