Inventing and reinventing ourselves during the coronavirus crisis
I was inspired to write this by a friend and occasional colleague of mine, Raquella Raiz, who has written about what had changed for her in a year, going from long-time dance instructor to the owner of a video company called Qreative Edge. In her case, the change was made before corona. But many others are talking about reinventing themselves now, as they were suddenly working long distance, or not working at all.
Sometimes we get frustrated about jobs that don’t go our way, or that we don’t get, or have to leave, especially now. Perhaps this will bring a little hope and perspective to someone going through a difficult time.
Perhaps I can pass on some insights I acquired from my personal experience. Twice in my life when I lost something professionally, I also gained something.
My work career spans more than 40 years, but for the purposes of this column I’m going back only 30 years, when I was offered the job of principal of a certain girls’ school that would have been, at that time, my dream job, due to its areas of specialization. It would also have been a nice culmination of all the creative educational work I had done up until then, both with students, and as a teacher trainer.
But I had just given birth. I knew that the job of a principal would be all-consuming, so I declined the offer, and chose instead to accept a very part-time teaching position in the school. After three years, for various reasons, I left. I was a bit sorry at the time I had not accepted the job of principal.
A few years after that, I was invited by psychologist Dr. Michael Tobin to join in the creation of WholeFamily.com, something I could not have done had I been the principal of a school. This evolved into a dream job. We created a cutting-edge and wonderful family psychology website that won serious awards and got investment. I was the executive VP and editor-in-chief, traveled, met amazing people, had a fabulous staff… and in the summer of 2000, the dot-com bubble burst and we had to close the office.
I was beside myself, even though we stayed online and most of the material is evergreen so it’s still relevant and meaningful to people.
Less than a year after that, some friends and I started Raise Your Spirits Theatre, which has become one of my creative homes for the last 19 years, in addition to other theater companies and projects I began or directed, including Dor L’Dor Theater (which we created from the online dramas in WholeFamily.com), Mikva the Musical and Playback Na’na (improvisational) Theater Dance Troupe. I did theater work with teens at risk, and other projects that I hope have impacted lives.
I also gave more time to journalism and found myself researching and writing important articles and covering historical events, and I took a small detour back into teaching English, part time, to high school yeshiva boys, with a strong emphasis on creative writing.
I could not have done what I did and do in my theater projects, and in journalism, were I the principal of a school, or the VP and editor-in-chief of a website.
This is the conclusion I reached:
Hashem decided that the three years I taught in that girls’ school, my students needed what I gave them, and that the four years I helped to create and administer WholeFamily.com, the world needed what we created, and it is still there, 3000 pages worth, for all the world to learn from.
And then Hashem said, I have another plan for you now. And the rest is history.
In chasidic thought, it’s called doing our hishtadlut, putting in the effort.
But we have a partner.
In these days of uncertainty and reinvention, that thought can help sustain us and pull us through.
The author is an educator, an award-winning theater director and a recent recipient of an American Jewish Press Association award for Excellence in Jewish Journalism.