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Ruth E. Thaler-Carter Making Lemonade Out Of Lemons

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, “I can write about anything!”™

February 2008

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You’ve heard the old expression about “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” I’ve been doing that for years, with delightful results. It occurred to me that sharing some of those experiences might help colleagues get past similar difficult moments.

1. When I got turned down for the literary magazine at Brighton High School many (many!) years ago, I didn’t sulk in a corner, despite being both angry and disappointed. I gathered some friends together to start our own magazine. I even got in touch with a few friends from childhood whose families had moved away from Rochester, so it was national in scope; something the school magazine couldn’t claim! It was a lot of fun, and gave me my first intoxicating taste of publication production.

If I had been accepted for the school magazine, I might have had almost as much fun and learned almost as much about publishing, but I might never have discovered the thrill of producing my own publication. The experience also gave me the confidence to volunteer for my college newspaper, first at Indiana University and then at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, which helped me confirm that writing was what I wanted to do with my life, one way or the other (even though a freshman journalism class had bored me so much that I majored in comparative literature instead). 

2. When I got into one of those “I quit/You’re fired” situations at a job in St. Louis that I really wanted to keep, I used the resulting free time and severance pay to take a job-hunting trip to Washington, DC, where – thanks to a number of networking connections, coupled with what my beloved dad called making my own luck – I found a new job with a magazine that launched an exciting eight years in the nation’s capital and, eventually, my freelance writing and editing career.

If I had kept that job, I might never have left St. Louis nor discovered the fulfillment of  controlling my own professional destiny. I could have been very happy in St. Louis – I still have wonderful friends there and go back to visit whenever I can – but the life that came about as a result of leaving there has been great, and I wouldn’t trade it for any other. (And I wouldn’t have gone from DC to Baltimore, either, so I wouldn’t have met my beloved husband!)

3. When a conflict with an association officer led to being bounced out of a speaking engagement for that association’s conference, I turned my notes into a self-published booklet and, admittedly fueled by fury, started actively looking for other speaking engagements. I ended up with several paying speeches – the original engagement would have been pro-bono – and a successful publication that has the makings of a full-scale book, if I can ever carve out the time to expand it appropriately.

That speech would have been worth giving, but the booklet and other presentations have been far more lucrative. I’ve done much better in the long run.

4. When one of my professional associations decided not to have another national conference after its first one in 10 years, which I chaired, was a popular success, I came up with the core structure of a conference, and a new business, in the process of venting over lunch with two Rochester colleagues. That business has now sponsored two conferences with speakers and participants from out of town, making them national in scope, and is in the process of offering a year’s worth of professional-development programs right here in Rochester.

If the association had continued its conference programming, I would have pitched in energetically and enjoyed every  minute, but these programs have been every bit as enjoyable, a lot more fulfilling, and great learning experiences, with the potential for becoming quite profitable over time. If the association ever does decide to host another national event, I’ll be available to help out, and my participation will be more useful because of the business that came out of making lemonade from that particular lemon.

All of these “making lemonade from lemons” moments have begun with or resulted from networking, as well as optimism, energy, a goodly bit of luck – and that “making lemonade from lemons” attitude. Life is likely to drop a few lemons in anyone’s path; maybe a similar attitude will work for you the next time you get “squirted” by one of life’s lemons.



Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is a successful freelance writer/editor and incurable optimist, back home in Rochester after lemonade-making experiences in St. Louis, DC and Baltimore. She can be reached at, or


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