Starting Over

NOTE: I originally wrote this post for Manic Readers.

Some people sail through their lives, certain from a young age about what they want from their existence and their work, sure where they belong and what they’re meant to do.

I’m not one of those people.

For a long time, though, I thought I was. From seventh grade until the age of twenty-four, I knew I would become a university professor, beloved and wise as I taught in front of rapt students and researched fascinating subjects. I would be intellectually challenged, part of a community, and happy. Above all else, happy.

Then, halfway through my American History Ph.D. program, everything changed.

Girl comforting her friendAs it turned out, I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t sure anymore that I wanted to spend my adult life battling for my place in academia. So I left a semester after earning my master’s degree, moved back home with my mother, and applied for a full-time position at the living history museum where I’d been working during my school breaks.

And I floundered. For years. I had no idea anymore what I wanted to do with my life. I searched for a new calling at an array of jobs: living history interpreter, high school teacher, student tutor, bakery clerk, and librarian. For a woman who’d thought she knew her life path from seventh grade, the upheaval was disorienting and upsetting. Worse, that upheaval didn’t uncover a new calling.

All those jobs appealed to me in some ways, but none of them made me happy. None of them satisfied me in my entirety: my curiosity, my need for community, my desire to set my own schedule, and my creativity. I struggled with a sense of failure. I feared that I’d wasted my potential and disappointed my loved ones.

Then, at the age of thirty-seven—thirteen long years after leaving academia—I wrote my first book. And at long last, I found my new calling.

Mayday, my third Lovestruck Librarians book, is a bawdy romantic comedy, full of sex and banter and nerdery. But it’s also a story about failure and the difficulty of starting over when your life veers terribly off course.

This, of course, is no coincidence. Unlike my heroine Helen, I didn’t lose my job as a bookstore manager when my entire store chain went bankrupt. Unlike my hero Wes, I didn’t suffer an injury that abruptly ended a promising athletic career. All three of us, though, had to start over when the future we’d envisioned vanished before our eyes. All three of us struggled to find a new way forward through confusion and defeat.

In some ways, Mayday became a story about redemption for me. About the possibility of creating a life you love after years of doubt and uncertainty. Giving Helen and Wes their happy endings—both romantic and professional—brought me so much pleasure. And if you’ve also had to start your life anew, I truly hope my book and my history provide comfort as you create your fresh path forward.

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