Taking Risks: 5 Things to Know Before Leaping without a Net

“When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.” ~Unknown

It was the perfect storm.

In 2009 my best friend got married. At 48, having never been married, I once again caught the bouquet. Two months later, my mother’s home burned to the ground. At 70 years old, she lost everything, including a pet. Three months later, her husband died.

During the process of negotiating my mom’s temporary stay at a cabin resort, I fell in love with the cabin developer. To complicate matters, I was already living with a man who I had lived with, inconsistently, for 14 years.

To summarize, in six months I watched one of my last unmarried friends get married. I saw my mother fall to pieces. I mourned my stepdad’s passing. I terminated a 14-year relationship, to be with another man. I sold my real estate business, moved from Kansas City to the Ozarks, and lost touch with my friends—and myself.

Two years later, I awoke and confessed what I formerly denied: I had just had a whopper of a midlife crisis.

Through it, I learned these 5 important lessons about happiness:

To Thine Own Self Be True

In Hamlet, Act I, Polonius shared this as his last piece of advice to his son Laertes. To be true to yourself means to not lose sight of what is essential for your happiness.

When I met the cabin developer who was there for me during a very difficult period, my love (or lust) blinded me of what made me, me.

Because I thought my marriage chariot had finally arrived, I over-compromised by moving to the country, away from the city culture I adored; by living in a depressing man cave, even though I love new and modern surroundings; and by isolating myself from my friends and simple Brenda basics, like a movie theater and a salad bar.

Friends warned me upfront that, because of these differences, I should reconsider pursuing the relationship. But I didn’t listen, until one day my inner voice me forced me to fess up. Not only was I unhappy; I was miserable.

A good friend of mine has always known who she is, what she wants, and what is a deal breaker in her relationships. She doesn’t date men with kids and, in her words, she doesn’t sleep with Republicans. She’s Aquafina clear on her criteria. To her own self she’s don’t-screw-with-me true.

We’re just plain happier when we know our needs and honor them.

Always, Always Have a Plan B

When I jumped ship to pursue a life with the cabin developer, I just knew we’d be married within the year. To ease the guilt of breaking up with someone I once considered my soul mate, I told myself that he had his chance: I’d given him 14 years to ask for my hand. He hadn’t and he wasn’t going to.

For years I told my friends that I didn’t care about marriage and didn’t want it, but for some strange change of heart and mind, I certainly wanted it now. I could see the finish line, and it had an altar behind it.

However, I had a Plan B if my leap into the developer’s arms proved ring-less. I would move back into one of my rental properties and start another business–something I could be successful doing based on my 20-year entrepreneurial track record.

Turns out Plan B had to be executed. I’m glad I planned for it, because one night I cried out loud, “I want my old life back.”

We can’t know going in whether the things we thought we wanted will make us happy. We can only know we’re willing to walk away if they don’t.

Thank Your Teachers

In Eat, Pray, Love, when Liz Gilbert tells her husband she doesn’t want to be married any more, she plans a one-year journey abroad. Prior to departure, she has a brief love affair with an actor named David.

Halfway through her journey they break up, but she chooses to look back at David as teacher, not a mistake. He taught her about meditation and his Indian guru’s ashram where she learns to forgive herself. David came into Liz’s life for a reason, just as the developer came into mine.

He helped me and my family through hell, pulled me out of a relationship that had plateaued, and taught me to focus on the right goals (mine) vs. society’s (marriage).

Our relationship reminded me everything that I cherish begins with a c: city, culture, cats, camaraderie with girlfriends, creative work, and a contemporary home and office environment to thrive in.

Everyone we encounter can teach us something about the people we want to be. Happiness is recognizing and appreciating that.

Forgive Yourself

Even if you’ve retrained your brain to look at your past as being filled with teachers and life-changing lessons, you may still harbor guilt.

One thing that helped me through my guilt was that I previously understood the consequences of ending a relationship to begin another. I knew I would be closing doors that never could be reopened again—both to a long-term love and friends affiliated with that love.

So, in hindsight, I wasn’t purely out of my mind or in a hormonal funk, as formerly accused. I knew the consequences and accepted them upfront, not after the failure of what turned about to be a two-year love affair.

Forgiveness is the gift you give yourself that acknowledges you’re human, according to Erin Pavlina. We tend to be our own worst enemies when it comes to self-talk, self-blame, and self-wallowing.

I could have returned to Kansas City hanging my head in shame for leaping to conclusions about finding Mr. Right, mercilessly ending a relationship with no forewarning or clear explanation, and losing touch with friends I’d one day sorely miss. But instead I forgave myself for losing my way.

We’re inevitably going to make choices we wouldn’t make in hindsight. Peace is accepting that.

Get Back On Course

I honor myself for being a woman who loves deeply and never settles for a relationship that restricts rather than flowers. This summer, sitting at home alone and relationship-less, I’m happy to have opened that door. Granted it didn’t lead to where I thought it would, but I know in my heart I needed to open it to discover my true self.

In the 1998 movie, Sliding Doors, the main character’s love life and career both hinge, unknown to her, on the sliding doors of the subway. If they close before her and she misses that train, her life turns out one way. If she catches it, her life takes a completely different turn.

I had been on the train, on and off, with my 14-year relationship—far longer than a passenger should sit. The cycle needed to be broken. The only man persuasive enough to get me off that train was the cabin developer.

I know the next door I open will lead to something greater and more powerful. I no longer expect marriage to be the final train station, but I do have expectations of being the conductor, not the passenger. Finding someone to be my co-pilot on this journey would be a bonus.

Forgive yourself for any seemingly useless stops or diversions you’ve made throughout the years. As long as you’re honest with yourself along the way, you are on the right course.

Photo by nosha

About Brenda Clevenger

Brenda Clevenger is a writer and publicist. You can read about her midlife journey at where she shares love and levity with her swinging, soul sisters about starting over with a fresh canvas.

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  • Dreaalberti

    Wow that is an amazing article. Thank you, it really helped me warm my heart to my past ‘preceived mistakes’

  • Truly amazing post that touches the heart somewhere! Yes indeed, to forgive oneself is not an easy task, though if you learn to do that, you sure can achieve a great deal!

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • GB

    Thank you for writing and posting this. I recently went through a similar story. It’s good to know that I’m not alone.

  • Shannon

    WOW. I am moved by your story, thank you for reminding us life gives us lessons, and relationships are lessons, our teachers. your story is wonderful. 

  • soni singh

    Awesome 🙂 I just loved the way you have poured your heart into  this article. This is more than an article now .. Women like you inspire us to take life as an adventure , to dream , to move on , to become the person you are destined to become 🙂

  • Rita

    THis is so beautiful and perfect!  Thank you for sharing your story!

  • “Depressing man cave” lol, that line made me laugh.

    I think you’re absolutely right. The most important thing to me is “to thine own self be true.” If you’re living someone else’s life, there’s no way you’re going to be happy, as you experienced.

    I wish all the best to you. May you always be the conductor. 🙂

  • “We’re inevitably going to make choices we wouldn’t make in hindsight. Peace is accepting that.”This was the line that resonated most with me in this brilliant article. I’ve made a lot of life mistakes, but the one I have the hardest time forgiving myself for is staying too long in a living situation that wasn’t right and that got completely codependent. My choice to keep staying was a combination of weariness, complacency and fear of the future. I chose to shut myself down and live beside (and pay rent to!) someone who didn’t like me and who I came to not respect. But as uncomfortable as I was, I just couldn’t change things. I can pick out the reasons I went into this situation, but I wish I had been able to see more clearly how toxic it was for me. Sometimes we want to believe we are doing the right thing… and stubbornness and pride can get in the way.

  • Guest

    great story, thank you for sharing

  • Lv2terp

    FANTASTIC article!!! 🙂

  • Brenda.

    Wow, have you had a journey and I love hearing about your resilience. Your phrase “I forgave myself for losing my way.” is one so full of self-compassion and understanding. Of course, I would do this for a friend but it’s been harder for me at times to do it for myself. It’s a lovely way of naming the wanderlust that leads us away from our true essence.

    Thank you for such a delicious post.

  • Starbritejane

    Brenda, I read what you have written and I am on the same journey with the same discovery. I read Lis Gilbert’s book and it made me a stronger woman today than I was before. I am moving on..with no plan B..but i know I will be ok , because now I know who I am now and what I want, just like the good friend of yours, you mentioned. 
    Thank you so much for sharing and it’s woman like you that inspired others like me. 
    Thank you, Brenda. 

  • Plan B tends to be a thing on which I know I will fall (or just escape) what what I really want (Plan A) gets hard. I know this doesn’t necessarily fit into context with your Plan B story, but I just had to throw it out there.

    Enjoyed the story and good tips.

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  • Thank you for sharing Brenda! 

  • I don’t think I’ve ever had a “Plan B,” what a luxury that must be.  And I don’t have the guilt gene, don’t feel responsible for others, don’t hesitate doing as I please. I most strongly relate to your statement about your friend–“To her own self she’s don’t-screw-with-me true.”  It’s not just about doing what ya’ please, it’s about being honest with oneself.  Honesty over fear. Putting the needs of others above one’s own happiness and well-being is about fear, a need to control.  It’s easier to breathe around those self-respecting ones who aren’t wishy-washy about who they are and what they want.

    As for mistakes, I don’t believe in ’em. How do you define a mistake?  Something that brings hardship or suffering?  Something that doesn’t last forever? What does? When I think about the supposed mistakes I’ve made, I think about how I grew from them.  My “mistakes” made me strong, kept me from living a life as a cream puff. I can’t imagine being happy without the substance that grew within me because of all my “mistakes.” So, if I’m a better person because of them, how could they have been wrong?  And beyond that, they’ve invariably catapulted me into something better than what I had before–the “mistake” being the seed that grew into something very good.  Mistakes may take us to hell, but I’ve discovered that’s really the only path to “heaven.”

  • Narwhaltat

    “Putting the needs of others above one’s own happiness and well-being is about fear, a need to control.” Thank you – you’ve captured brilliantly something I’ve just been journalling on this evening, and have been discovering recently about some of the patterns I can run in relationships. I’ve grown a lot lately from making a familiar ‘mistake’ but running a familiar pattern with much more of a feeling of forgiveness and curiousity towards my behaviour. It’s been a huge learning curve. I need to learn to be “don’t screw with me true” to myself – I’m getting there! :o)

  • Narwhaltat

    Thank you for a great article – I’ve bookmarked this to re-read. You describe so eloquently some brilliant truths and reminders .. I applaud your self-awareness, your courage to be vulnerable, and your generosity in sharing your open-hearted wisdom and experiences. Namaste :o)

  • Brenda, this is fantastic! Each point is so true and well-illustrated by your personal stories. When I think about being single (as compared to my married peers), the thought that provides most comfort is this: “At least I didn’t marry the wrong person.” You have a lot of integrity.

    Thanks for sharing this! 

  • Anonymous

    There’s a great Russell Crowe movie, The Next Three Days, where he’s buying some stolen identities and the guy selling them to him looks at Russell and says, “You’re going to f*ck this up, you want it too bad.”  I wanted Plan A to work so bad, for all the wrong reasons, it got messed up. The reasons must be pure. Not just to check something off your list like getting married. May all your Plan As and Bs be ideal for you and pure in scope.

  • Gabriella, you are a very insightful woman. I sounds like you are just where you need to be now and I’m happy for you. I have found if I listen to that little tug that’s pulling me upward, it’s time to make a change for the next level.

  • Anonymous

    And so it is. Paint your best canvas, Soni!

  • Anonymous

    Dove, I’d like to hang with you. You sound “Madonna” strong. How can I lose the guilt gene?

  • Anonymous

    Thanks to a new teacher in my live, I’ve chosen to be completely transparent and naked. It feels great. Thanks for applauding my strengths and using my vulnerabilities as lessons.

  • Anonymous

    Delicious post is the kindest, yummiest compliment ever. Love it. Thank you.

    I find we are our own worst critics — except in this case for the friends of my ex who would probably hang me by a noose. 

    We live in a judgmental society so the least we can do for ourselves is to forgive and move on with as much grace as we can muster.

  • thanks for the reminder. forgiving oneself is the hardest. i keep beating myself up for things that don’t go right. but in the end, it doesn’t matter. and actually people dont have all those expectations on me i thought they did. so its ok to mess up. and now i need to learn to forgive myself

  • Ah, you’re welcome, glad you appreciated my comment.  Funny you should mention Madonna, I actually had someone tell me that my website pic resembles her.  I’ve always been a fan of hers for that very reason–she’s strong, does as she pleases, and makes no apologies for it.  Hey, feel free to hang with me on Twitter, Dove11Star 🙂

  • Oops, saw the same pic, thought is was the same person 🙂  Ah, you’re article-author girlie 😉  I don’t know how to lose that gene, but so glad I wasn’t born with it. It’s coming to me how my mom used to tell me that my first word was “No.”  I apparently said it often, loud and proud, lol  Maybe that’s key 😉

  • Beautiful. My favorite part is looking at past relationships as teachers, not mistakes. I strive to do this in my own life.

  • Lahiru

    I actually feel sorry for the 14 year old soul-mate you spoke of and think that it was wrong on your part to be persuaded by the cabin developer but I guess, there is only a limited time anyone can wait. Remember- all good things to those who wait. 

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