How do we grow gardeners? We start them young. We intrigue them with our questions about what they’re seeing, what they’re hearing. We let their imaginations run rampant. We celebrate their dirty hands and knees and when they grow up they already love their favorite garden spots.
My grandson CJ taking a break from chasing dinosaurs in our woodland garden on April 26, 2006.
We pass on what our elders taught us that captured our fascination with the world around us. How did we come to appreciate the complexity of leaf edges and the critters crawling under our stumps and stones? We talked with them, we enjoyed the experience of learning and sharing. We made the garden the center of their invented stories, their imagined dinosaurs, the strolling around the paths that led to nowhere but really everywhere.
My Uncle Teddy passed down to me the mysterious and exciting world of nature and the gift he gave me keeps giving. As my grandson CJ completes his Eagle Scout project of creating a woodland path through a nature preserve dedicated to native plant species with the eradication invasive species, we see how we generationally share our knowledge and continue to contemplate our universe.
My grandson CJ Ahern sitting at one of his favorite spots in our woodland garden on April 29, 2018 just before he started his Eagle project to restore a neglected woodland area at an animal sanctuary in Seaford NY.
You would think that if you were given the gift of reinventing yourself into a career which would be more personally satisfying emotionally and without consideration of financial income, you would instantly jump into the deep end of the pool.
Well, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t work like that. When my new husband Dave, gave me the gift of reinventing myself at the age of 50 I felt overwhelmed. What I found was that for all the years as a single parent when I was working without a net, I put my blinders on and just charged forward.
Yes, I had morphed my career repeatedly to keep it tailored to my strengths and to keep it as interesting as I possibly could. Yes, I had given up corporate America to form my own company when I got a concussion on the glass ceiling. Yes, I was more aware than most of what parts of my careers I enjoyed and what parts I did not.
So here you are at midpoint looking for a new career that will fulfill you in a different way than your original career. You may have enjoyed your work and the environment and friends you made along the way. But you may have outgrown it or outgrown the need for the tradeoffs you made in order to pursue the work.
Your children may have grown and college is paid for. Your health status may have changed or you no longer want to be on planes four days a week like I did for many years. Your marital status may have changed for the worse or for the better as mine did when I married Dave after 17 years between my two marriages.
Chasing your dream is not easy. It takes courage to look deeply inside yourself. It takes courage to be honest about your long and shortcomings. It is a long and often hard journey to rediscover yourself.
On January 5, 2008 I was featured in an article in Newsday titled “Dream Chasers.” The subject was the choices and sacrifices some people make when deciding to step off the corporate treadmill in order to pursue more emotionally or spiritually rewarding careers without regard to financial restraints.
The author of the article, Arlene Gross, wrote about the choices, decisions and sacrifices of five different individuals. The various paths we chose to explore in our second careers are as different as our paths in our initial and primary wage earning pursuits.
Noel Rubinton, the editor of the Act Two section of Newsday, however, hit on a different issue when he encouraged people to use the New Year as an opportunity to explore yourself even if you couldn’t at this time make the giant leap of a whole new career.
Noel wrote that, “A line that really resonated in our cover story came from Mary Ahern… finding that switch took work. ‘The hard part at first was trying to find inside myself what that dream actually was. You spend so much time marching forward and doing what you do, you lose the essence of yourself’.”
When my husband Dave gave me as a wedding gift, which coincided with my 50th birthday, the opportunity to re-invent myself you would think I would have immediately jumped into my studio. Instead I whined and anguished for a months over what I wanted to do with this great new vista open to me.
I was so overwhelmed with the immense possibilities I now had available to me that I suffered each day trying to make the right decision with this precious gift. I spent so much time trying to fathom what makes me tick, what intellectually interests me, what direction would support my value system, what new career would be feasible and sustainable for the next 30 or so years, what would not impinge on the home life that we had just found together and cherished so much.
I talked about it endlessly. I beat it to death. I’m sure there were times that Dave wished he hadn’t made the offer since I was so annoying in my pursuit of the “what if’s”. Massage therapist? Lawyer? Chiropractor? Quite frankly, I never even considered Artist.
I knew one thing for sure. I was tired of computers and wanted to become a Luddite. And then one Saturday morning, sitting on our deck having coffee surrounded by the gardens I designed and have worked on for decades, Dave suggested that since we loved the gardens so much and they gave such joy to people, why not design gardens for others.
Ten days later I was enrolled as a full-time student in the Ornamental Horticulture Program at Farmingdale. I knew I wanted to be a landscape designer and this was the best beginning. Two years later I graduated with my degree and a new career.
After seeing the photos and reading the article Dream Chasers, written by Arlene Gross for Newsday, which featured myself among others who have turned in mid-life to careers which are more personally satisfying, I have enjoyed revisiting my journey.
Here is a photo of me with my Award winning oil paintings at the Floral Park Art League in 1976. I painted them all before I began my college Art education. For a year I took oil painting classes on Wednesday evening at the YMCA in Bellerose Queens NY and from this experience I found my life’s calling.
Each year I looked forward to showing my work at this outdoor art show and each year I sold some of my works. What a wonderful experience it is to realize that work you created from your own imagination and from assorted colors in tubes moved others in such a way that they will give you money that they earned so they can hang your vision on their walls. I am still moved that my skill and vision will enhance their lives each and every day.
Thirty-one years later I’ve returned to selling my Artwork outdoors at festivals. This shot of me was taken while I was taking a call on my cell phone at the Washington Square Outdoor Art Festival in New York City in May of 2007. I still enjoy getting out of my studio and meeting people. Speaking to my customers energizes me and personalizes the selling experience. At shows I always enjoy seeing some of my former customers who come by to say hello and tell me where they hung the Art they’ve bought from me and how much they enjoy seeing it everyday.
Today I was featured in a Newsday Business section article written by Arlene Gross. The excerpt focusing on my background and my life choices is copied below. If you’d like to see the article in it’s entirety you can see it on my website in the News section.
At midlife, taking lower pay to begin more satisfying careers
By Arlene Gross
Special to Newsday
11:07 AM EST, January 4, 2008
Mary Ahern had dabbled in art for many years, but had never been able to actually make a career of it. Until four years ago, that is, when she made the switch to full-time artist.
“I had always been a creative artist,” the Northport resident, 60, explained. “Life, however, intervened, and as a single parent, I was never able to create my art on a full-time basis.”
Changing careers at midlife is no small feat, and switching to one with substantially less earning potential is more difficult still. According to Randy Miller, founder and president of ReadyMinds, an online career counseling service, downsizing a career can be a source of great anxiety.
Yet for some people, any fear or hesitation is mitigated by the yearning to follow a dream. Seeking more spiritually uplifting endeavors can be the ultimate challenge, and Miller said any attendant loss of income is often compensated with a renewed sense of purpose and newfound happiness.
“There are a lot of people who go through life and think, ‘What if?'” Miller said. “With a strategic plan, coupled with the new passion and ultimate objective of doing something different, one can more easily achieve their ultimate goals.”
For Ahern, a new husband provided the impetus and financial support to move forward. Income, the couple concluded, was less relevant to the quality of their lives than the legacy they wish to leave behind.
“When we married, Dave urged me to follow my dream,” she recalled. “The hard part at first was trying to find inside myself what that dream actually was. You spend so much time marching forward and doing what you do, you lose the essence of yourself.”
Once their five children — all from previous marriages — were finished with college, Ahern felt it was OK to follow her calling.
“My income from my art doesn’t yet come close to the money I’m used to making in either my career in computer graphics equipment sales or my own graphics design firm,” she said.
One of her greatest sacrifices was a big dip in retirement savings, which now come exclusively from her husband’s salary.
“We have a comfortable nest egg,” she said, “but by coming out of a conventional career, I no longer have the extra cushion to add to my existing portfolio of tax-advantaged savings vehicles.”
Despite her diminished earnings, Ahern says she is happier. “I am living the life I am meant to live,” she said.