New book helps women find true selves
When you were eight years old, what did you want to be when you grew up? A fireman, a baseball player, a zookeeper?
Later in life, those unrealistic childhood ambitions can become valuable, according to Columbia career coach Janet Ruck, author of You Anew: A Guide for the Woman Who Is Ready to Create Her Best Life, published in May.
“If you wanted to be a ballerina and you’re 70 now, that person who is physical and likes music is still there. Reach back and see if there are elements of that you can use in your current life,” Ruck, 66, suggested.
“When you’re a little kid and people ask what you want to be when you grow up…they say, ‘That’s great.’ For the most part, people don’t stomp on a kid’s dreams. As you get older, they start stomping, and you lose sight of your dreams.”
You Anew encourages readers to recapture and re-shape those dreams, using prompts and journal entries. Ruck’s journal-style book takes a cue from Julia Cameron’s classic, The Artist’s Way, which asks readers to write three pages each morning to get in touch with their creativity.
As Ruck put it, “This book is for the woman who’s asking herself, ‘What do I want to do with my life? Who am I? What matters to me as I age? What’s next for me?’”
Existential crisis at 60
Ruck wrote the book for them — as well as for herself. The mother of two grown sons, Ruck realized at age 60 that “I had been diverted from a path.”
Like other empty nesters or retirees, she faced an existential crisis. “I realized there were things that I wanted to do in my life, like write and teach.”
Ruck had worked in the federal government for most of her career. After earning a bachelor of arts in psychology from Notre Dame of Maryland University, she went on to get a master of arts in clinical psychology at Loyola and an M.B.A. from the University of Baltimore.
She started her career as an alcoholism counselor for the U.S. Public Health Service, and then moved on to be a career counselor at the U.S. Department of Labor, where she provided executive coaching until 2010. She coached people who were “experiencing outplacement,” she said — a euphemism for layoff or retirement.
Since retirement about ten years ago, she has worked as a career coach for federal employees and started her own consulting business in January 2012.
Today, in addition to the workshops she teaches, Ruck provides late-career advice via telephone and email for a Pennsylvania-based consulting firm, the White Hawk Group.
Book starts a process
Ruck wanted to synthesize everything she had learned from her career into one book.
“A lot of the work I had done was helping [others] with getting new jobs or finding a new career, so this [book] was an outgrowth of that — thinking about life rather than just work,” she said. “I wanted my book to start a process: Who am I; what do I want?”
Ruck, who has written in her own journals since she was 13 years old, said that for her 60th birthday, she sat down with the dog-eared notebooks.
“I went back and read them all as a gift to myself, and I have to say, I wasn’t that thrilled with that gift,” she laughed. Some of her 20-something ideas were embarrassing, she said. But the overall reading experience was valuable.
“Even though I was cringing, this is who I am. I had to go through all that struggle to be who I am,” Ruck said. “I see who that person was all those years ago, and now it’s time for that person to thrive.”
When Ruck was eight years old, she liked to run, despite the lack of organized sports for girls. She enjoyed racing with boys. Although she’s not a runner today, she’s still a runner in spirit, she said.
“I always wanted to be free and untethered,” Ruck said. “I’m that person when I’m write. There’s nothing in my way. I’m free, I’m moving and there’s no barriers.”
Paperback copies of You Anew are available for $20 on Ruck’s website, youanewguide.com. Those who prefer a digital journal can download the e-book for $16. Free downloads of some exercises — “My Favorite Things” and “What My 24-Year-Old Self Could Teach Me” — are also available on the website.
In October, Ruck will host a workshop at Haven on the Lake, 10275 Little Patuxent Pkwy., Columbia, about the process of finding your life’s purpose. For more information, visit havenonthelake.org.