Build a Portfolio Career

Building a Portfolio Career

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Tess Hardwick - Changing Career in Midlife

Guest Post by Tess Hardwick

Five years ago I sat in my large corner office in downtown Seattle with a view of the Puget Sound, behind a cherry desk holding business cards with the Director of Human Resources title etched in blue letters under my name.  Outside that office sat my nearly perfect staff, taking care of every detail I asked for.  Down the hall sat my smart and compassionate female manager. I had great compensation, bonus opportunities, and the esteem of really smart people good at their jobs; all a culmination of fifteen years steadily building a career.

I was also pregnant with my second daughter.  Every morning before I entered my corner office, I dropped my three-year-old daughter off at a Montessori, five blocks from where I worked.  Each morning, her enormous blue eyes that were round like a doll, filledwith tears and her arms reached out to me, begging me not to leave her.  Minutes later, as I took the elevator up to the 26th floor of the high rise that smelled of Starbucks and new carpet, I was plagued with guilt and an aching sense that I was living someone else’s life. 

Despite all I had, I was miserable.

I yearned to be with my daughter more, feeling keenly that time was slipping away, that she was growing up while I sat behind that desk.  Also, I yearned to do work that inspired me instead of work that made me feel as if I were shriveling into a mockery of my former self.  The self I was when I was a young woman just out of high school who studied acting at the University of Southern California.  Back then I imagined the world like a tree that dripped with succulent fruit ready for my plucking.  I dreamt of being a writer, joking with friends about penning the great American novel, knowing that buried beneath my normal exterior was a storyteller.  But as the months of the calendar turned, page after page, year after year, the further I felt from that dream.

And life happens.  Bills and marriage, the desire to have a baby that is biological or hormonal, maybe even spiritual, because it is not a choice that makes logical sense.

And that urge to live the life I felt I was meant for, nagged at me.  Maya Angelou says you know what you’re truly passionate about if you’re willing to sacrifice for it.

I was willing.  I vowed to write that novel.

There were finances to think of.  There was my husband, who five years before this, had married a woman that brought in as much income as he did.  Regardless, after my second baby came, I closed the door to that corner office for the last time.  I gave up my power suits for sweats and t-shirts with baby spit-up down the back.  I spent the time I wanted with my children.  I was the mother I wanted to be.  And I wrote that novel I’d dreamt of for twenty years.

How?  By focusing on exclusively on what I wanted to accomplish. We sold our large home and downsized to a town home.  In addition to my own children, for extra money, I took care of other people’s children.  In every spare moment I conjured a keen and determined concentration, until word-by-word, Riversong, was done.

I gave myself the deadline of getting it done before I turned 40.  I made my deadline.  Then I spent another two years trying to find a publisher, which I did, finally, in the most unexpected way. In the meantime, I wrote another novel that will be ready for publication in November.  And now, people are buying and reading my work.  The day it went up on, I knew the dream was real. 

I’m not even close to making the kind of money I made as an HR Director.  But I’m free.  I’m happy.  When I look back on my life, I won’t remember that corner office.  I’ll remember the way my now eight-year-old daughter’s eyes widened and filled with light the first time she saw Riversong in book form.  I’ll remember the comments from my readers the last few weeks, telling me how much they love the book.  I’ll remember the delighted faces of my friends at last Saturday’s book launch party.

So whatever it is that you dream of, think how much you’re willing to sacrifice for it. Next, make a practical plan.Then, go do it.  The world is waiting for you, like baskets underneath that tree of life, anticipating, hoping, for your fruitful gifts to fall, one by one, until it is full.

Tess's novel 'Riversong' is out now. To find out more, visit

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