Back in the Saddle

by Nelia Dingcong Bernabe
October 30, 2010
All it takes is a little spark for the fire to be fueled. It has been a while since I’ve done something that could be described as spur of the moment. Sad as that may sound, a lot of us – including me – go through life trying to get from point A to point Z and unknowingly forget what living and not merely existing truly means.

For almost two months now, my excuse has been my new status – I’m an empty nester! I’ve managed to sulk and mope without even knowing it. A quiet house, other than the yaps of our two pooches when I leave for work in the morning and when they see me in the afternoon, is really not for me. I hate to fess up but it’s true.

My youngest daughter warned me about it before she moved to Los Angeles in September. I simply shrugged it off. How hard could it be, I thought. I could hear her voice now, “I told you so!”

She also made it a point to tell me that now that we’re “childless,” I could pick up where I left off 21 years ago. She then enumerated the things that I could do, should do and must do now that she’s leaving. It was weird to be in the receiving end of things. A reversal of roles and her going mystic on me, I wasn’t sure what to make of her and her orders.

The significance of 21 years, other than a dead giveaway of the demise of my youth (I say that with a big smile), is that’s how long ago I got done with grad school and what was supposed to be the continuation of my big dream of making it in journalism in this country. But like a lot of things in life, I got sidetracked. Reality came calling and for 21 years, my dream as a journalist, a career that started in the Philippines, took a backseat over my role as a mother to three young kids. Everything else played second fiddle back then to four lives that were starting over.

Where did time go?

I looked around and at 3:30 in the afternoon on a weekday, the train platform in Mt. Prospect, Illinois was pretty empty. It was surprisingly cold that day too with the wind gust picking up as I waited for the train to arrive. Standing out there in the element so to speak brought back a flood of memories. A lot of reminiscing happened in that platform that afternoon, I tell ya!

I felt the pangs of excitement as I saw the train approaching. It was a solitary field trip, just my thoughts and I, and a good amount of train ride to the big city. It has been a long time since I’ve ventured out to the city by myself and take the train. Destination: My old stomping ground, Northwestern University at Lake Shore Drive.

Just a few days before my momentous field trip, I chanced upon this symposium on Effective Marketing Communication sponsored by my old college, Medill through its Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) program.

And before I had the chance to find a reason not to go, the words of my youngest daughter started playing in my head like a broken record, “It’s your turn, mom. You can now do what you want. It’s your turn, mom. You can now do…” Ahhhh…stop! So I signed up for it. After all, I had a point to prove.

The event was monumental as it celebrated the 100th anniversary of modern advertising and honored Albert Lasker, the father of modern advertising. The symposium featured six big guns from the advertising world and was attended by over 500 people.

You know, when you live in a quiet house without the noise and the clutter that your children make, you start having deep conversations with yourself. Well, the kind of conversation that happens inside your head and not the kind that warrants a 911 call. Not yet, at least. Going to the symposium was a product of that self-to-self conversation.

As soon as I made the decision and after I mulled over the best way to get there and back, the plan was set in motion. My daughter is right. There is a new day after the sulking and the moping around. An empty nest may be a hard thing to adjust to but, boy, the time has definitely come where I get to pick up where I left off 21 years ago. Now that gets my blood going.

It just doesn’t stop there. Going to the event by myself also meant knowing that there’s a fat chance I will be spending the evening by myself. In my previous life, the thought of that alone would have scared the bejeezus out of me and it would have been the singular reason for me to turn around and cancel my RSVP. Nothing could be more terrifying than walking into a room full of strangers. But this time, the empty nester prevailed!
The evening proved to be momentous in all fronts. Not only did I hear prized insights and perspectives from the people at the helm of six major advertising agencies in the country but also I was able to practice my new found love of simply walking up to people and starting a conversation. I met two ladies that evening, one turned out to be an author from Chicago’s North Shore area and who also candidly introduced me to the dean of Medill, and the other was a marketing headhunter. It was a win-win night for me.

You know that little spark that I mentioned right in the beginning? That has now turned into a conflagration that’s being fueled by all kinds of things. Right at the very top of the heap is the realization that although 21 years may sound like an awfully long time to be sidetracked, getting back on track is not as daunting as I thought. Once the mind has opened up to new experiences and your psyche is finally begging for nourishment, it’s feels like that inbound Chicago train that whooshes on by without making any stops.

Being back in the saddle is really not a bad gig. Throw in the empty nest angle and I’ve gotten myself quite a sweet deal. It may be 21 years later but really, who’s counting? Not me!

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