Brand building through storytelling

Every second woman I know is in transition

It’s been just about exactly 16 years since we loaded the car with our son’s worldly goods—the obscure hip hop CDs, the notebooks full of designs for graffiti art, the gray hoodies that he used to sling over a kitchen chair—and headed off down the highway toward his new home, a university residence.

We’d lucked out with the day, a late burst of summer sunshine pierced with a crisp hint of fall. We had all been waiting for this moment. To Ben it was the threshold of adult life; to his father and me it was a chance to reclaim the house and our lost pre-parental selves. I expected nothing but joy that morning. But all the way from Toronto to Kingston, my eyes brimmed with tears.

That’s how it always goes with transitions, even when they’re charged with promise. You wait with a pounding heart for the next phase to begin—and when it does, you’re shaken by the newness of it all. In Ben’s first year at university, I couldn’t pass his empty room without a tremor of sadness. What had once been a sweaty tangle of clothes, books and essential scraps of paper bearing mysterious notations was now so pristine, you wouldn’t know our son had lived there. I had never been the kind of mother whose sense of self is rooted in nurturing. Yet I’d never felt more bereft.

In the early hours of the morning I would lie awake and listen for the soft click of Ben’s key in the latch. All through his adolescence I’d been tuning my ears to that sound and its reassuring message: Mom, I’m home. Now I had no idea when my son was coming home, or with whom. I understood that this new sense of mystery was a necessary part of his growing up, but at first I still longed to know what I had no business knowing. The space in my brain that had once been reserved for maternal fretting felt as empty as Ben’s old room.

A year or so passed. And then, imperceptibly, something else moved in and started rearranging the furniture. That something was another side of myself—the ambitious, purposeful side. This other me had been quietly gathering her powers for a couple of years, but only with the end of active motherhood was she able to move forward. After nearly a dozen years of freelance writing, I returned to the work force as an executive editor at Chatelaine. Two years later I was running the magazine.

I had seen how long it takes to complete a life transition, but the next one proved no less perplexing. (That’s the other thing about transitions: you’re a beginner every time.) After a decade as Chatelaine‘s editor-in-chief, I knew the time had come to move on. I couldn’t wait to be free of the meetings, the politics and the forms from the human resources department.

Yet at first, life without Chatelaine was not unlike tossing in my bed, listening for the click of a key that had gone for good. What was my baby up to? Eventually, the door in my head swung wide open and a big idea walked in—the book that became My Mother’s Daughter. The lingering unease had been a necessary part of the process now known as “transitioning.”

These days it seems as if every second baby boom woman I know is somewhere on the arc of transition. The jobs we’ve left behind couldn’t be more different, yet the stories we tell are variations on a theme: reclaiming the empty room that used to be crammed with work-related obligations. Our minds still bear the stamp of the workplace calendar: the departmental meetings that now chug on without us, the budget presentation that will keep someone else awake this year, the Christmas issue (in my case) that other hands must be hovering over at this very minute. At last our time is our own, both a gift and a challenge.

A few years into post-corporate life, one friend still wonders how to answer that familiar cocktail-party question: what do you do? She mentions what she used to do for a blue-chip company.

Frankly, I’m not surprised. In this 24/7 culture, where the job is viewed as the measure of the person, we know how to talk about making a living. The more meaningful conversation—the one about making a life—is just getting started. This newer, more urgent conversation reveals who we are: the books we’re reading (or writing), the projects we’re embracing, the wonderfully unlikely connections we’re making between what is and what might be.

Outside it’s a glorious day, late summer on the edge of fall. A perfect day for a walk. No matter how I’ve made my living-temping for minimum wage or running a magazine-I have always made walking a part of my life. The rhythm of my footsteps has a way of unlocking the doors in my head.

I’ll be back soon with an idea or two—and in the mood for another conversation. Meanwhile, click here to read more about my transition from seasoned magazine editor to first-time author. I’d love to hear about your own transition.

Posted by Rona

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