You Do You is as much a self-help book as it is a postmortem on my own midlife renaissance,* which has involved taking a few big risks in the last few years.
* The life expectancy for American women is currently 79.13 years, so as of this writing, I couldn’t be more midlife if I tried.
In addition to exiting the rat race, starting my own business, and convincing a publisher I was capable of writing not one but three postmortems on my midlife renaissance disguised as self-help books, in 2016 my husband and I uprooted our entire life to move from Brooklyn, New York, to a tiny fishing village in the Dominican Republic.
And if you had told sixteen- or twenty-six-year-old me that thirty-six-year-old me would jettison not only a thriving career but also a lovely apartment and a stable, comfortable existence for a complete 180- degree turn toward a life of unknowns, adventure, and snakes in her roof* — she would have lobbied to have thirty-six-year-old me preemptively committed.
All of this is to say, I know a little something about risk (and reward), so if you feel like you’re ready to ditch your real or metaphorical day job, and if you’re looking for a wee push off of the cliff, it would be my pleasure to provide one. Metaphorically.
* “On her roof?” asked her editor. “No, definitely in her roof,” she answered. “Jesus fucking Christ,” he replied.
5 types of risks you could take and how to approach them
Changing your look: Shaving your head, getting a tattoo, going Goth, or just going blond— a makeover can be subtle or bold, and none of it has to be forever. Hair grows back, wardrobes can be retrofitted, and lasers are very sophisticated these days. So why not experiment? These are the best kinds of risks to take— fun and semipermanent. Barely counts at all, frankly. Risk level: Get thee to a tattoo parlor!
Auditioning for something: Whether it’s community theater or an internationally syndicated talent competition, the worst thing that can happen — after strutting your stuff under the watchful eye of Post Office Joan (who’s directing this year’s outer space– set Sweeney Todd) or warbling before your secret man crush Adam Levine — is that Joan or Adam tells you “Sorry, it’s a no from me.” So go polish up that monologue, get your octaves in order, and give it a shot. Risk level: Deep breaths.
Making a big purchase: If you have a bunch of bank in the tank, then buying a house or a car isn’t necessarily a risk; it’s just a thing you do every five to ten years. Congratulations, that’s a nice way to be able to go through life! But for most of us, deciding to use our limited resources to buy a big-ticket item or pay for grad school is more than a little daunting. These are upward-mobility risks. They could improve your life more, even, than a star turn in outer space–set Sweeney Todd, but the upfront cost is a lot greater than a case of the jitters. True, the scariest thing I ever did was sign my name to a mortgage, but I steeled my nerves with math. Figure out what you can afford, either in a lump sum or monthly loan payments, and just don’t overextend yourself. Risk level: Calculated.
LISTEN: Robin Bailey and Bec Sparrow discuss Sarah Knight's 'No F**ks Given' ethos, on The Well. Post continues after audio.
Wearing your heart on your sleeve: Itching to say those three little words, are you? Maybe you’re gearing up to get down on one knee, or just hoping your cute study buddy will check the “Yes” box next to “Do you like me like me?” with a big, fat flourish. Feeling out new territory is one thing (like asking for a first date, or saying “I want to have your babies” on the second date), while making or asking for a big commitment to/from someone you already know intimately is another. In each case, however, the outcome is binary. I know, SUPER-ROMANTIC, SARAH. But look, she either loves you back, or she doesn’t. He’ll either say yes, or he won’t. One box will get checked and the other will remain as cold and empty as your bed on a winter’s night. Whatevs. The potential for heartache is real, but doing nothing just so you can’t possibly be disappointed is its own form of self-torture. Who are you, the Marquis de Sade? Risk level: Zeroes and ones.
Starting a side hustle: Totally intimidating, no arguments there. Booting up a new business — whether it’s web design or an Etsy store — can bring great reward or complete and utter failure, plus, potentially, a lot of useless candle- making equipment in your apartment. The key to getting anything like this up and running is a combination of strategy, focus, and commitment. I go over all of that stuff in Get Your Shit Together, but it comes AFTER you decide to start the business. In terms of taking the risk in the first place, I can tell you that fortuna audace iuvat. That’s a Latin proverb that means it takes balls to make money. Risk level: Grow a pair.
So once you decide to take a risk, how do you keep walking the walk while other people are talking the shit-talk?
Top 3 ways to silence the haters
Fly under the radar: When my husband and I were planning to move to the DR, we told virtually no one. Why? Because we didn’t want to have to field questions, explain ourselves, or entertain naysayers. What other people don’t know won’t hurt them, and you won’t have to talk about it at brunch. Screen your calls: If it’s not feasible to hide your risk under a bushel, you can limit your exposure to negative energy the same way I limit my exposure to street vendors, phishing scams, and telemarketers — don’t engage. If someone wants to pooh-pooh your life choices in person, make an excuse and walk away. (“Sorry, I’m late!” is a good one.) If they email you, don’t respond. And if they call you up, just switch off your ringer and go about your day.
Clap back: If you’re feeling sassy, just say, “Thanks but no thanks for your unsolicited opinion. I’ll be sure to return the favor someday when you are on the verge of making a well-thought-out, nerve-wracking decision that you were nonetheless quite confident in before I opened my yap.”
Ultimately, if other people doubt your potential for greatness, that’s one thing. Other people can be kept in the dark, ignored, and put in their place. But what do you do when the voices are coming from inside your own head?