According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the median age of American men at the time of divorce from their first marriage is 33, and for women it's 31. This is a time when most people are settled in their lives -- they probably own a home, have kids, and/or have a stable career. Divorce can initiate some dramatic changes in this lifestyle, however. It makes you re-evaluate yourself and what you're doing with your life. It may have forced you to realize that the job you've had for 20 years wasn't fulfilling; you only hung on for the money and the insurance benefits for your family. Perhaps you've stayed at home all these years taking care of your children while your spouse worked, and now you have a 10-year-old university degree and no work experience to back it up.
Catherine had been a teacher in Montana for two years when she moved to Chicago to be with the man she would marry. At that time, teaching jobs were scarce, so she settled for office work. "The job wasn't fulfilling; it just filled a hole," she says. "My relationship at the time was much more the focus of my life than my career. But that all changed after we separated and eventually divorced."
Catherine and her husband had had several trial separations over four years. "I was devastated," she says. "I was in therapy for a couple of years, and that really helped me refocus." Then she was "very grateful" to find a job as an executive assistant at a small firm. "I was kind of numb -- a walking wounded -- so I was glad for a nice, safe job that demanded very little of me. I dragged myself to work every day, dragged myself home, and cried. You grieve for your marriage like you do a death, and it takes a long time." After a while, Catherine started to feel better, and she recognized that the work was simply not challenging enough. "I began to feel bored and trapped," she says. "Then one day, I had a revelation: I realized that the only thing stopping me from trying something new and exciting was fear. Fear of failure, fear I wouldn't make it, and fear that I wasn't good enough. At this point, I was in my mid-30s, and I was terrified. I decided at one point that I had to live the next 40 years of my life anyway, so why not do something creative and important to me? Once I phrased it to myself that way, it was like a door flew open, and I went back to school."
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