In researching these profiles, I came across Susan and Stephen Ristau, who seem to have done a very good job of taking their reinvention slow and steady, and serve as an example to the rest of us for letting our reinvention evolve naturally and organically out of a set of renewed and/or defined values. The Ristau’s process is a text-book approach to career reinvention best practices, and can serve almost as a template for those of us looking to take the plunge, but not sure where to start.
First things first: some tough decisions. Like it or not, reinvention will require shaking things up, whether it means downsizing, simplifying our lives, or even moving. We need to be prepared to invest in (don’t think “sacrifice”) and commit to what starts off as an unknown future. In the winter of 2007, the Ristaus, whose kids were out of college, sold their home in Connecticut, got rid of stuff and put the rest in storage, and headed to Oregon, where a friend loaned them a simple cabin on Mount Hood to use as a sort of base camp for them to incubate their next move. Each of them had been successful (he in non-profit management; she in insurance), but they needed to manage their funds carefully with no immediate career prospects in sight. The next few months unfolded as a kind of meditation retreat, where the couple each engaged in personal visioning processes to spark ideas for where and how they could live happily, productively and meaningfully in their Third Act.
As reported in MarketWatch, Stephen said “We suddenly felt this great sense of freedom to choose to live differently. We both knew we needed to return to work. But we didn’t think we needed to earn what we did before. We were ready to take a bit of a risk.” As idyllic as their surroundings were, this was no vacation. Stephen used journaling and other writings (e.g. creating a personal mission statement) as a way of discovering what was exciting to him on the inside, and bringing forward ideas that he could use to find purposeful professional engagement. Susan took a less formal approach, but interacted with people she met in the local community, and allowed herself to consider new ideas that she had never before considered.
The result was dramatic on the outside, and has clearly been transformational on the inside. The Ristaus stayed in Oregon, finding a new home in Portland, with Stephen returning to the non-profit sector, where he works as a consultant in the non-profit space, providing strategic and training services to organizations. He also dedicates more time to volunteering and service work in the local community. Susan did a complete career pivot and discovered a passion for gardening, so she has now become certified as a “master gardener” and opened up a small landscaping business. To qualify for health benefits, she also works part time as a personal shopper for a local market. They’re making less money, but they’re also spending less. What’s important to them is the freedom and flexibility of their lifestyles, the control they have over their days, and the way that the work they are doing is making a visible difference and touching the people they work for and with.
While the Ristaus clearly had the resources to figure out how they were going to achieve their reinvention, their story exemplifies the steps that all reinventions have to take in order to work. There is always a series of inner processes that need to take place – time that we need to spend contemplating this change, and working out the details of what it’s going to look like before actually embarking on the plan.