Nine years ago, Leonard Felder was on his way home from a job he hated when the New York subway train he was riding stalled in a tunnel. That event, author and psychologist Felder says, was a major turning point in his life. He made the decision to break out of the meaningless rut his life had become, went back to school and ultimately used his experience as the impetus for his recently released book, "A Fresh Start: How to Let Go of Emotional Baggage and Enjoy Your Life Again."
Felder, 33, recalls the night in the subway vividly: "At that moment I knew I had to go back to school and do what I'd always wanted to do: become a psychologist and writer."
As an undergrad at Kenyon College in Ohio, Felder had majored in playwriting but "chickened out" after graduating and decided to get his MBA so he could have a "safer" career. Instead of listening to his own instincts, he accepted a job with a large corporation.
"I was pretending that the MBA career path was the right one for me even though I knew inside that it wasn't--I was climbing the ladder of success, only it was leaning against the wrong wall.
"But I was afraid to break with what wasn't satisfying in order to move ahead. It took years before I found the courage to break out of my rut."
Even after he made the decision to make a fresh start, he still had doubts.
No 'Overnight Clues'
"There weren't overnight clues that I'd made the right decisions. Every time I've taken a step forward in my life, it's always involved a period of uncertainty. I had difficulty paying the bills. I was used to working 9 to 5 and felt guilty having so much free time while I went to graduate school. I questioned my right to search for a new career."
Felder went on to earn his doctorate in psychology, established a therapy practice and has co-authored four books including the best seller "Making Peace With Your Parents." His most recent book, "A Fresh Start" refers to his own transitions and the insecurity and uncertainty he felt during those periods.
"I wanted to write a book that would help people nurture themselves and get the support that they need to break out of their ruts.
"Most people are raised to believe that you only get one career or relationship in your life. But people in their 30s, 40s and 50s are discovering that sometimes their best relationships or careers aren't the first ones they choose. They feel guilty because they think there must be something wrong with them if they don't get it right the first time, and instead of learning and growing from their past mistakes, they have the strange habit of re-enacting similar traumas over and over again.
"The best way to keep the past from disrupting the present and future, and thus make a new beginning," Felder says, "is to uncover what unfinished business from long ago is keeping you stuck."
Making a fresh start means different things to different people and yet there are common threads to every success story.
Francine Browner, Lucky Altman, Regina Jones, Lou Gross and Jacqueline Phillips are examples of fresh-starters.
Each of them felt it took courage to admit they weren't satisfied with their lives and knew that it would take all their energy to make a change. They all stressed the importance of a strong support system and the ability to live with uncertainty, ambiguity and the likelihood that they would make mistakes. They also seemed to agree that Los Angeles is a great place to make a fresh start.
Historian David Clark corroborates this belief. In his UCLA extension course, titled "Improbable L.A.," Clark describes Los Angeles as a place that has been built because people chose to come here to make a new start in life.
"Los Angeles has been considered the "city of second chances" since the turn of the century," says Clark, whose grandfather came here in 1921. "Like many people who came to L.A., he had no specific reason other than he thought there would be better opportunities here, and he was willing to take a gamble on discovering one.
"The message that you could take from Los Angeles history is that the future is open and anything is possible," Clark says, "that everything's going to be terrific here!"
Francine Browner, 42, had dreamed of moving to California since she was a teen-ager growing up in the suburbs of New York. But the decision to finally do it didn't happen until she was 30 and had been married 10 years.
"I wasn't really conscious that I was unhappy," Browner says, "because 20 years ago people didn't sit around thinking about how unhappy they were."
But then her neighbor invited her to join a consciousness-raising group, and she began to take a closer look at her life. She was taking art classes and realized that the positive feedback she was getting from her teachers was missing at home. The more time she spent at school, the more obvious it became that she and her husband had little in common.
Marriage Is Over