Elena Bowes

New York-London design & culture writer of a certain vintage looking for meaning and wholeness in life

Q&A with Alisha Fernandez Miranda- My What If Year

May 27th, 2023
Books & Authors

First off – Happy Memorial Day, Bank Holiday Weekend, Half-term Break, Pentecost and any other holiday I might have missed.

In the spirit of  saying yes to adventure, author Alisha Fernandez Miranda hit pause on her career for a year to sample possible careers missed in the race to be ‘successful’. Her memoir My What If Year raises lots of questions about the meaning of success, fulfilment, careers and pivots, rethinking failure and what it means to be alive. Really alive.

For anyone looking for a change in their life, this laugh out loud book about a harried 40-year-old CEO with eight-year-old twins who decides to become an intern for a year will inspire you to give it a go. And an intern during Covid, no less. A Harvard and LSE grad, plus perfectionist and control freak, Miranda worked as a CEO of a social impact company she had founded with her adoring husband. As good as her life looked, she was overworked and exhausted.

After a drunken night out with girlfriends brainstorming their dream jobs, Miranda took the plunge. With the tentative blessing of her husband and twins, she interned for a Broadway theatre (mostly filling water jugs), a London art gallery (where she learned catalogue raisonné had nothing to do with raisins) a luxurious Scottish hotel where she realised it’s ok to be really bad at something and helping a sassy ‘we got you babes’ on-line fitness class which Miranda compared to oatmeal raisin cookies;

On the outside, you might mistake them for chocolate chip, but once you took a bite, it was clear it was misery masquerading as joy, pain pretending to be pleasure.’

I caught up with Miranda who lives in Scotland on the remote island of Skye.

I loved your straight-talking humour. One of my favourite examples is at the end of your memoir when you compare the need for a new life to a pair of jeans that have become saggy- ‘they no longer make your tush look really cute.” Can you expand on this analogy?

Yes, I love any opportunity to talk about my rear end.

Seriously though, I love this analogy so thank you for noticing it. I remain a devoted fan of skinny jeans (which I realize are the new mom jeans, but I am who I am), but the same thing always happens. They start out fitting great. You look amazing. Everything is working and you walk down the street feeling like a million bucks. But after a while, the stretch in them becomes more of a sag. A fresh wash might do the trick for a day or two, but eventually the fabric stops fitting as well as it did once.

This is exactly what happened to me with my career. There was a point where it was exactly like those brand-new jeans – a perfect fit. But over time, I grew (or shrunk) and eventually it became too comfortable. So comfortable that I didn’t have to try, I wasn’t stretching (neither were the jeans). In the case of my professional life, I wasn’t as challenged as I once was, I wasn’t learning as much as I had before. That’s how I knew it was time for a new challenge. And also some new jeans.

You are a second generation Cuban American, how did your year-long stint change your definition of success?

I had always felt like success was a state I would one day achieve: I would get the job title, or the money, or the house, or the husband. And then that would be it. I didn’t realize that maybe once I had all those things, I would still be craving more.

Growing up, success for me was also about being the best, in every circumstance. It occurred to me during my what if year that I had avoided doing things I might have loved because I couldn’t be the best – singing or painting or stand-up paddleboarding. But in doing so, I narrowed my path so much that I felt like I had nowhere to go.

Now it’s about more than being the best or winning. I tried new things and failed at many of them, and the world didn’t fall apart. Those things are no longer as important metrics to me as things like learning and joy.

Tell us about your spin-off podcast Quit Your Day Job? How did that come about?

My amazing publisher, Zibby Owens, also had a podcast network and she emailed her authors: does anyone have any show ideas? I was not a podcast “person” but I did have an idea for a show called Quit Your Day Job; for me it was basically a way to continue one of my favorite parts of the internship experience without leaving home: learning what dreams jobs were really like by talking to people who worked in them.

I have done nearly 50 interviews and each has been a true joy, and a beautiful opportunity to peek into a different life. I chatted with a former spy for the CIA, a gardener, a pair of ballroom dancers, and a tv director. It was too much fun and never felt like work.

One conversation that stands out was with Bianca Horn, an actress who had been in the cast of Assassins which I interned on. She talked about the challenges of acting, the rejection, the fact that she had kept up a restaurant job to pay bills between gigs, but she never gave up. And now she has just recently made her Broadway debut!

Click here for the rest of my Q&A with Miranda on UK writers’ s site 26. I also highly recommend reading articles by Miranda

They’re funny, topical and wise. She got a pap smear during Covid just as an excuse to leave the house. That article is called  “I Was Desperate to Leave the House and then I Found the ‘Wild Women’.

Happy Reading!

May, 2023

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *