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Three Kinds of Renewal

by Katie Mahon

A dear friend of mine, who died of AIDS too many years ago, once told me that flight attendants tell you to “put on your own mask before assisting others” for a reason. He knew before I did that I had botched these simple instructions in my own life, and was paying the price. The children, the stressful career, the foundation work—they all got attention before anything, beyond my own basic needs, was met. For a long time, I had lost the essence of who I was and the ability to prioritize what really mattered. When I think about renewal now, to re-new, I think about beginning again, the do-over, seizing the opportunity to hit the refresh button or take the time to reevaluate.

Seems to me there are three kinds of renewal:

The fleeting: the new haircut, or hair color or hot new shoes. It’s always fun to change it up, as long as you know what you’re getting—a shiny new car that as soon as you drive it off the lot, loses some of its luster. I remember the days when I would open my closet doors, thinking for the first time what I should wear to some function I was already late for, and ask myself three simple questions: Is it clean? Does it fit? Is it remotely appropriate to the occasion? Forget fashion and matching shoes. Fortunately, the fleeting type of renewal is the least important.

The absolutely necessary: kind of like those race car drivers who go round and round the track at high speeds, until they have to make a pit stop because they’ve gone out of control, or a tire falls off, or they need gas. This is living in emergency self-preservation mode. I was an expert at this kind of renewal: more sleep, more food, more social life.

The actual: Not skin deep or required maintenance, but a lasting shift in life strategy, which in my case required the discomfort of stillness to find, to stop moving long enough to recognize the possibilities of my own life. This involved risk (I quit my day job), adventure (mostly imagining inside my own head), and reward beyond my wildest expectations. As Goethe said, “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it—boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” For me, the opportunity to imagine differently ultimately led to the publication of “The Miracle Chase, Three Women, Three Miracles, and a Ten Year Journey of Discovery and Friendship” (Sterling Ethos, Nov., 2010) created with two of the most fabulous women I am fortunate to call my friends.

As an added bonus, I not only care if my shoes match, but they do!


Massachusetts Conference for Women speaker Katie Mahon describes stepping away from her fast-tracked career in senior management in banking to be as uncomfortable as it was liberating. She is three-time past president of the San Francisco Chapter of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and the author of “The Miracle Chase: Three Women, Three Miracles, and a Ten Year Journey of Discovery and Friendship.”