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A new path

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It is so tempting to get into a safe, comfortable rut. It’s easier not to take risks. Not to take a step that could lead to failure or disappointment. It’s scary out there beyond the limits of our sight.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I have several friends who are having to reinvent themselves and/or their careers recently. One who has embarked on an effort to lose weight and get healthy, rather than the bad habits she’d fallen comfortably into for several years. Several writer friends who have lost their publishers and/or agents and are having to put themselves out there again and again and risk rejection. Some who have been laid off from jobs and are now searching for new careers. Many people have mentioned to me that they’ve always wanted to write a book or a song or learn to play an instrument or go back to school or some other goal, but fear of failure has held them back.

My second daughter will graduate from medical school in May and is now in the process of pursuing residency programs. She has to rank her top choices (a hard enough decision on its own) and then wait until mid March to find out where she and her husband will live for the next five years or so while she finishes her medical training and he obtains a graduate degree. It’s a scary time for them. My older daughter moved 2300 miles away last year, to a city she’d visited only two brief times, where she knew no one, to accept a post doctoral research position. These three young people grew up in central Arkansas and have never lived far from their families. Yet they are stepping out of that comfort zone to pursue their ultimate career goals, and I’m proud of them all for having the courage to do so.

Every day when I open the paper or turn on the TV news, I read about more job layoffs. Thousands at a time. My heart goes out to those who are forced to make those big changes through no choice of their own. It must be terrifying, especially for those who’d been in the jobs for a long time and expected to retire there.

My grandfather used to tell me that when a door closed, a window always opened. I have lived on that philosophy all my life, and I’ve found it to be more than a trite saying. It’s absolutely true. My family got into the habit of looking for the open window whenever a door closed. When the kids ran for an office or tried out for a squad or a part in a play or whatever and didn’t get it, we redirected their efforts immediately toward a new goal. Within a very short time, every single time, we were able to point out something good that had happened because of that initial failure. A new activity they loved, a greater accomplishment on their resumes, new friends met along the alternate path.

Makes it sound easy, doesn’t it? It isn’t. The window may open, but we still have to make the effort to climb through it. Sometimes its a steep and scary climb. But for my family, at least, we’ve found that it’s always worth the risk.

I’m as guilty as anyone of settling into my ruts and routines. I don’t like to be disappointed and I have an absolute phobia about being publicly embarrassed. I take criticism too hard — not a good trait for someone in my line of work! So, I rarely enter writing contests and I almost never read my reviews, though I work very hard on my books and I’m ultimately proud of each of them. Still, I try to take risks. To attempt something new with each story. To take on new challenges. For the first time in more than twenty years, I’m working on a book that isn’t already sold. It’s not a category romance, which is what I’ve been writing so happily for so long, and which I intend to continue writing because I enjoy them. There is no guarantee that this new book — a suspense story with a paranormal undercurrent — will find a home, or that it will be well received if it does. And yet … I’m very excited about the project. I’m enjoying the challenge of writing in a new style, a different genre, even if it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever attempted, writing-wise. Without challenges, without difficult goals, it’s too easy to grow dull and stale. Comfortable does not always equal fulfilled. I believe it will do well — I wouldn’t even try it if I didn’t have that confidence — but I’m aware of the chances of disappointment. Still, it’s worth the risks because I’m enjoying the journey so much.

To those for whom a door has recently closed, I hope you find your open window. Is there a challenge you’ve always wanted to pursue, a dream that has always seemed just out of your reach? Maybe now is the time to take that first step. And by the way, as my kids will tell you, I’m a big believer in having a Plan B. And a Plan C. They’re all windows that could lead to rewards you never expected.

Enough waxing philosophical today. Because it’s a gloomy February day here, and in many other places, here’s a bright photo to remind you that sunny, warm days are still ahead. Enjoy.

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Award-winning, best-selling author of women's romance fiction.

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