Monday, March 29, 2021

28. You Can Start Again

I was 38 years old when a NYC yellow cab came this close to bumping me.  I was crossing 2nd Avenue on the way to work in Metropolitan Hospital anticipating having to face another day of being seen as difficult and "not a team player.”  Unless you’ve been on the receiving end of tacit disapproval and consistent microaggressions, it’s hard to know how much effort is involved in showing up to work prepared and cheerful under these circumstances.  I was likely dreading another day of this when a cab screeched to a stop, coming within four feet of hitting my leg.  My first response was to think, “I wonder how much time off I could get if it just tapped me?”

Needless to say, this was a wake-up call.  When you fantasize about getting hit by a cab on your way to work, you know you’re not living your Best Life. 

I knew I wanted and deserved a better career that this.  So, I mustered the courage to quit and start my own independent psychotherapy practice where I could work with clients the way I had always dreamed of working.  Starting my own business in 2010, in the middle of an economic recession, may not have been the wisest strategy.  But it was imperative for my mental and physical wellness to find healthier ways of generating income.  Eventually it led to writing another book, learning about PrEP, and getting to teach about PrEP and U=U around the world.  The uncertainty was scary in the beginning, it was unpredictable at many times, but ten years later I can say this was one of the wisest and most loving decisions I have ever made for myself. 

In 2015 I met a gorgeous man named Adam Singer.  I could tell he was bright, innovative, passionate about helping the world, and had great insights about the fashion industry he had worked in for three decades.   But I could also see a general restlessness and frustration that his creative talents, leadership skills, and business acumen weren’t being utilized to their potential.  He experienced daily malaise and dread having to go into an office where his true expertise and talents weren’t being appreciated. 

Adam in Adam’s Nest , 2018
On the eve of his 49th birthday I sat him down and asked him, “What would you really like to do?”  Adam described his dream of owning a T-shirt shop in Provincetown that would sell fun clothes, books, artwork, as well as teach about social issues and donate to agencies like Planned Parenthood, Ali-Forney Center, ACLU, and many more.  From that point on, Adam began to create “Adam’s Nest.” He has now spent five years actively running a business which fully expresses his heart, his humor, his convictions, and his creative vision.  Subsequently, people from around the world have visited his shop on Commercial Street and continue to stay in contact with him throughout the year.  They continuously remark on the joy they feel when they walk into Adam’s store, and respect his business model of using commerce to help others.  It took incredible courage and conviction to change his life and follow his dream in his late 40s, but the reward and satisfaction he experiences today demonstrates it was well worth the risk.

Right before COVID19 hit I was in Berlin for a conference, and had an extra day to roam around th city.  Despite the rain I really wanted to see the apartment where David Bowie had lived in the 1970s.  Two doors down there was a beautiful cafe called Neues Ufer that served as a museum/shrine to Bowie’s legacy.  I immediately struck up a conversation with Frank behind the counter, who also turned out to be owner/creator.  It was clear this man had found a rewarding way to build a business around his zest and joy for David Bowie.  

at Neues Ufer, 2020

But Frank also told me that this was his second career — he had grown up thinking he should be a dentist, and went through school and training accordingly.  Frank eventually had a successful dental practice, but felt empty and unfulfilled.  “Anderes Ufer” was the name of the 1970s gay dive bar Bowie frequented during his Berlin years.  By the early 2000s the space had fallen into disarray, and this broke Frank’s heart.  When it came up for sale, Frank took a risk by purchasing the space, restoring it, leaving his dental practice, and opening a cafe-tribute where any Bowie fan around the world would feel welcomed.  After Bowie’s death in 2016, Frank saw an influx of even more global visitors who wanted to honor Bowie’s residence, and then come into his shop two doors down to listen to Bowie music, have some drinks, share some memories.  It took incredible strength for Frank to break away from the “should” of his family and society, but the rewards of starting his own Bowie-centered business and happily meeting people from all over the world has made his life deeply fulfilling and joyful.

These are only a few of examples of people taking stock of their lives, and attentively setting goals based on authenticity, integrity, and joy.  I have known dozens of individuals who at some point in their 40s or 50s evaluated, “This isn’t working for me.  I want to start again, change careers, do something that expresses who I am instead of what I ‘should’ be doing.”  Opting to change one’s career path, choosing to bypass security and predictability in favor of challenge and meaning, is no easy feat.  But I have never seen one person who regretted making this kind of move, even if the business didn’t work out.

Let’s face it — the traditional American dream of working one job throughout your life, and then retiring at 65 into your golden years, is pretty much over.  Most people will not be able to financially stop working that early, and more and more people have plenty of vibrant energy and relevant experience to contribute well into their 70s and 80s.  So, if we’re likely to live and work longer, don’t we want to make it count? 

What I’m proposing here is not that you quit the job you loathe tomorrow or make irresponsible financial decisions.  What I am exploring is how people can honestly assess their career situation and methodically make adjustments as necessary.  It makes perfect sense that the career goals we strove for in our 20s may not match up with what is interesting or meaningful in our 50s.  I think questioning work goals and intentions, and appropriately changing course and starting over, can be an excellent way of rejuvenating the mind, spirit, and embracing the adventure that the second half of life has to offer.

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist helping individuals and couples enjoy life with peace, purpose, and pleasure. His books "Absolutely Should-less" and "Rational Relating" help people experience connection with joy, serenity, and meaning. His work has been featured on CNN Health, The New York Times, MSNBC, USA Today and more. He can be reached at or 347-227-7707  

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