I’m Mercedes and I live in Toronto. I’m the mom of a nearly nine-year-old, and self-employed Content Strategist, copywriter, and media relations consultant. It’s taken a ride to even call myself that. I went to school and worked in television for 12 years. I loved it. Everything changed when I was part of a mass layoff. My son was very young, I felt like I knew nothing else, and yet, a small piece of me felt relieved. Media was (and is) undergoing its own major shift, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a part of it anymore, at least not in its current form. What I didn’t know was that it was the start of a significant shift that would change, well, everything. I now recognize that layoff was the perfect primer for turning 40.
What would you say has been the biggest shift in your life since turning 40?
When the layoff happened, I was 37. It forced me to take stock. I don’t know that any of what’s transpired since would have happened if I hadn’t lost my job, or if I was any younger when it did. An experience that felt so humiliating and devastating has provided me with insight into my strength, the blessing that is my support system, and the push I needed to develop my voice.
I never imagined myself as self-employed and yet, though I may one day work for another company, I will never give up what I have built. I never thought my love of writing and an eye for helping others find their narrative would be something I could make a living doing. Imagine that.
I’m now 41 and this chapter has given more than a few pleasant surprises. There is a sublime comfort that comes with 40. How silly to have the thought in my 20s, that 40 and beyond meant settling into a final lap. Midlife sheds the overconfidence of youth while embracing a genuine confidence that can only come with time. It’s a chance to change course and to avoid the urge to throw in the towel as we age. I am much more sure of myself and decisive than I have ever been. I have enough life experience under my belt to know that there is so much more to learn and that I can reinvent my life if I like. This is me. Take it, leave it, it’s ok either way. Being 40 means knowing I have no idea what the result is, and that it doesn’t matter. It’s the ride that counts.
When do you feel you are most powerful?
I feel most powerful when I’m being me and contributing to the well-being of others. I’m a complex Black woman, unafraid to be myself because, finally, I realize there’s no other way. Lessening how much you care what others think is so freeing. I believe we’re calling this the “zero f*cks” trend, which I adore. It’s not caring less about things; it’s caring more about fewer things. Roll with it, prioritize how you see fit, learn, and change. Repeat. This period of life means having the space to forgive yourself, others, and cultivating space for growth. This is a privileged spot- we get to look back and forwards simultaneously, with equal parts wisdom and curiosity.
In my career, I’m at my best when the outcome makes a tangible difference for the client. When I can help an individual, business or organization find their own voice, it brings me pure joy. I feel most intentional when I’m with my son, especially when we’re in conversion. We have a lot to learn from children, and he has provided me with so much insight into myself and the human condition. In those moments, I acknowledge what a privilege it is to watch a person develop. It is hope personified and makes me want to never stop improving myself.
What are the top 3 most important things to you right now?
Family and friends, my well-being, my career. That might be four.
How do you make sure your actions are aligned with what’s most important to you?
We attach so much of our self-worth to material things and jobs, but those things are fleeting. If not for my family and friends, my health and well-being, I’d have nothing. Before embarking on any project or endeavour, it’s measured against those priorities. I got great advice once when going through a slow period. I felt I had to either continue to push for my business, or look for employment. They asked me why I felt things had to be mutually exclusive. It was a mind-blowing question. I’ve since learned that many times, I don’t have to give up one for the other. Once acknowledged, simple adjustments are often all that’s needed to make something work for me. You can design your own adventure.
I still work daily on not doing something because I think I should, or how it will look if I don’t. Not to mention, when self-employed, there is always a nagging feeling that you shouldn’t say no to anything, ever. But I’ve learned that attitude only jeopardizes the quality of my output – and that’s too important to me to sacrifice. So, learning to say no is huge. It’s taken this long to learn, but no is a powerful word.
What seeds are you planting today for the future?
I am huge on maintaining my health. To continue on this path, I need to acknowledge that though many things can change, I’ve got one body! Taking care of it from the inside out is a priority.
Next is my kid. What have I done if it hasn’t been to set him on a path to being his best and authentic self? Whatever I can do to pass on knowledge and then get out his way, is my mission.
In the four years I’ve worked for myself, I’ve already had to shift what services I offer. Staying relevant has meant continuing to educate myself and to hone my ability to be in tune with what people need. I’m also building my network. As I take on larger projects and more diverse clients, I’ve had more opportunities to collaborate with others who are strong where I’m not, and vice versa. I don’t know if what I have will grow into traditional business, or if I even want it to. Still, it’s so much fun to discover new possibilities.
What advice would you give someone who is interested in redesigning midlife?
What is it you want to do? What’s stopping you? Is it knowledge of the industry? A level of education? Fear? Lack of funds or a support system? Once you acknowledge whatever may hold you back, it’s a start to designing a game plan for overcoming barriers. I am a planner which is a good thing, but it’s also a trait that can sometimes hold you back. Since I hadn’t considered self-employment, before I set out on my own, I took many (many) free classes at the library on everything from how to register, to taxes, to marketing. I talked to entrepreneurs and consultants, and with my husband and friends about my ideas. I collected great encouragement and much-needed feedback. Find people who can help you realize your potential and keep you up when the inevitable downs come along. Building that support system and knowledge base gave me just enough confidence to feel I had the right to hang my shingle. Start something on the side at first, it’s a way of dipping your toe in the proverbial water. If (and when) you make mistakes or fail, remember it’s all part of finding your stride. Get up and go again.
I continue to take classes and attend events related to my work (online is life). Each experience enriches my practice and opens my eyes to new possibilities. I learn more about people who did extraordinary things in midlife and beyond. This is your life. You get one to live, but many chances to change it. Don’t listen to society when they say you’re halfway done, it’s a terrible, unfounded lie. Go for it.