After attending WordCamp Atlanta a couple of weeks ago, Ben Smith who is reinventing himself after a career as a journalist for the AJC, wrote a wonderful story about me for the Saporta Report. It refers to the time when I sold my software business, got a divorce and let my Psychology license lapse. Here is a teaser:
I knew I wanted a different life,” Knight said. “It was like Cortez burning the ships. I didn’t want something to fall back on but I didn’t know what I wanted. That was eight years ago. Today, Knight is a website designer and one leader of an army without generals or privates trying to reinvent new careers for themselves from the ashes of what they lost or surrendered. Knight turned herself, almost by chance, into a guru of WordPress, popular free software used to launch websites (including the Saporta Report). There are currently 63 million WordPress websites up and running across the Internet according to WordPress.com. A tool that helped her unload her real estate properties has now become her livelihood, and her expertise is supporting people who are transforming themselves, too.
I know what it is like to know there is a path you should be on but you are not sure exactly sure what it is. It feels like being in a hallway with a lot of doors and you know know which one to go through. It is something twenty-somethings go through and it can be rough. When I was working as a therapist I would hear from many of them how difficult it was to go through this process for both work and relationships, knowing that these were big decisions that were somewhat out of their hands. They would tell me that well-meaning people in their lives would try and cheer them up by saying, “You don’t have anything to be depressed about, these are the best years of your life.” I’d reassure them that they are the best and the worst years since so many things are unsettled.
Often since it is a difficult time, young people grab onto an idea of what they want to do to avoid being anxious about the unknown. From the time I was about ten, and saw the Peanuts cartoons where Lucy was making 5 cents giving advice, I wanted to be a psychologist. I was the oldest of seven children and was born wise which led me to be a natural caregiver.
Being from such a large family my parents couldn’t afford to send me to college. So I scraped and scrambled and put myself through college at UC Berkeley. I never traveled to Europe or took an art class since I was on a beeline to get to my goal to become a Psychologist.
The thing is, shortly after I got into the Clinical Psychology PhD program at the University of South Florida, I realized that I had made a huge mistake. I didn’t like Tampa, USF, the Clinical Psychology PhD program or the faculty. I had worked so hard to get somewhere I did not want to be. You know it had to be bad for me since I am a fairly cheerful, get along kind of person. The whole experience was soul numbing. But by that time I was a couple of years into it with a pile of graduate student loans. I needed that PhD in order to get a job that would let me pay off my student loans. So I persevered and finished. As hard as it was I am glad that I finished.
Truth be told, my PhD degree has served me well. It was the foundation of a great career with a lot of choice in what I did. But twenty years later, when I sold the sold the software company, my ex-husband and I started, I did not want to go back into clinical work. I didn’t know what I would do next butI knew what I didn’t want.
It took courage to not know. I was in my late forties my husband and I sold the company and separated. I had a little money to sustain me while I figured it out but that was not going to last.
That period of my life after making the decision to sell my company, leave my husband and not go back into psychology was the hardest time but also was the time in my life that I felt most alive. I had some of the very best experiences and also experienced the very worst. But I knew this time, I had to go my own way. As much as I tried to not rock the boat and take one for the team, my soul rebelled and demanded I listen to it and take action.
I see other people going through times like these that use to be referred to as mid-life crises. Having been through this shedding of my old known skin and being vulnerable while I grew a new one gives me so much compassion for others going through this. But I know that eventually if we let ourselves move forward, make the tough decisions and deal with the ensuing chaos, we will grow a new skin and forge a new path.
I happened to find a path that was a combination of all of my talents and learnings over the years. Because what else can it be but that. When we come to a juncture where we are changing directions whether by choice or not, we don’t just reimagine our lives out of thin air. We rearrange, realign, reassess recalibrate all that has come before with a little new learning and experience thrown in. That takes a little time and although the not knowing and being in between is awkward it can’t be avoided or rushed. You will grow a new skin.
In the case of my work at New Tricks I am able to use a combination of psychology, technology and design along with my previous experience growing several businesses. This positions me well to understand my clients and help them grow their businesses. It is a very satisfying. And to make it even better it has given me the opportunity to work with my son Michael for the last three years, which is a totally unexpected gift.