How to Make Lemonade

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. I hate that saying. In fact, I hate most cheery adages and motivational gobbledygook. No doubt, there have been some inspirational people that have said some inspirational things, so I can appreciate the occasional message of encouragement. But, in general, I feel bombarded by these types of quotes. Do they really stimulate action? I know for myself, that when the going gets tough, I get going (oops, did I just drop a cheery adage?); I don’t sit on Twitter or Facebook and look for quotes that will get me off the couch.

This is all at the forefront of my mind because of a recent change in my life. Since pre-school I have been involved in the world of academics. For many decades I was a student, and then, I became a researcher. Academia is controlled by publications and grants. You need both to survive. Things move reallyreallyfast, and then they move r e a l l y, r e a l l y, s l o w. There is the excitement of being a part of cutting edge research and going to meetings where ingenious ideas are born. It was all I knew. All of this ended for me last month when my grant finished and my funding source was gone. Nine years at the University of Colorado and then nothing. Ouch.

I knew the impending end was coming for about 6 months so I started looking for a new position in my field of statistics. But, do you know how hard it is to find a part-time telecommuting job? And, after being in academia for so long, my qualifications did not even fit into the realm of private industry anyway. I realized I was going to have to figure out how to put my skills to use in a way that was not readily apparent.

Fortunately, I have had experience “reinventing” myself. All of my years as an athlete taught me a lot of lessons that are applicable to life outside of sports. I started out my athletic career as a swimmer. It was my identity for so many years that chlorine became my scent of choice over any fancy perfume. When I graduated college, I muddled around without any athletic goals and I felt aimless. I turned to triathlon and I obtained a new identity. I even had an ID card from USAT to prove it. Again, my life was wrapped up in my new sport and I embraced it wholeheartedly. I never imagined a day when I wouldn’t be a triathlete anymore. A freak accident in 2009 ended my triathlon days; the injuries I sustained made riding a bike impossible (and to this day, I still am not able to ride). I mourned for a little while and wondered what the heck I was going to do to sustain my competitive spirit. I parlayed my love for running into yet another new identity. I even got an ID card from USATF to prove it. I started running competitively.

Every time I had to move from one situation to the next, there was a period of frustration, sadness and readjustment. But, ultimately, I found satisfaction, success and fun.

This brings me back to my job situation. Having gone through the process of reinventing myself athletically, I knew I had the tools to do it professionally. A fluke conversation with a friend who is a doctoral candidate at CU, and who I had helped with some statistical issues, suggested I look into dissertation consulting. Who knew that was such a burgeoning field? What a surprise! I spruced up my resume and sent a few out. Lo and behold, I landed myself a part-time telecommuting position. Good-bye academia. Hello consulting.

The process of reinventing oneself is no easy task. Here are some things I have found helpful:

  • Take action quickly. When a situation occurs that is prompting a reinvention (eg. loss of a job) allow yourself a fixed amount of time to be depressed, angry, irritable, bitchy because inactivity breeds more inactivity.
  • Figure out your talents and then think about how to apply them in a new way.
  • Talk to anyone and everyone. You never know who has a life-changing idea or fantastic connections.
  • Don’t be afraid of change. Yes, change can be scary. Kick its ass.
  • Look at new opportunities as a chance to meet new people, do new things and have more fun.
  • Making changes take time and a lot of effort. Be prepared for both.

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6 Responses

  1. great tips there at the end!

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  3. Kivisisalik says:

    Being in the academia myself has shown that background in statistics and knowledge of research methods is such a valuable asset. A lot of people struggle with statistic and they are glad to involve those who are better in various projects. A person I know with background and first degree in statistics has made it all the way up to vice rector of research in a social sciences university and she is very good at her job because she is really able to help all the academics to improve the level of their research.

  4. B&J says:

    Thanks for this – I really needed to read it. My wife and I are moving to Portland in June, kind of over SoCal. I have been kind of freaking out about what I will do for work, as I have been an exercise coach/personal trainer/spin instructor the last 10.5yrs – before than an Infantryman in the USMC. As much as I love what I do, I need a break, but the unknown can be a bit never racking. Ya know?

    I am going to test your steps out 🙂

    PS- I agree about the motivation. I spent the better part of year looking for motivation – videos, quotes, etc. then I had a shitty race, got sad over for a few weeks, and then started running. It’s amazing what happens when you stop thinking (searching for motivation) and start doing.

  5. Best of luck to you and your new endeavors! Keep me posted on your progress.

  6. Walsh Byrne says:

    Digital age comprises of laptops, tablets and other internet related phenomena. Today technology has reached at such a height where we are handled over with telecommuting facilities like video conferencing where we can work sitting at home efficiently and communicate each other sitting at far off places.