My What If Year: A Memoir

By – October 23, 2023

Like many women in their thir­ties, for­ties, and fifties, author Alisha Fer­nan­dez Miran­da was expe­ri­enc­ing burnout. She felt the weight of respon­si­bil­i­ties and sheer exhaus­tion as she jug­gled her job and fam­i­ly oblig­a­tions. How­ev­er, unlike many, Miran­da made the bold deci­sion to take a sab­bat­i­cal from her suc­cess­ful career in phil­an­thropy con­sult­ing to pur­sue her pas­sions. My What If Year chron­i­cles her jour­ney as an intern in var­i­ous fields — none of which she’d cho­sen as her pri­ma­ry career path — includ­ing aer­o­bics instruc­tion, Broad­way, the art world, and hospitality.

Why intern­ships? Miran­da sought a low-pres­sure way to explore, take risks, and acquire knowl­edge with­out the bur­den of being an expert. She reflects on find­ing joy in seem­ing­ly menial tasks, such as fill­ing water jugs back­stage, fil­ing, and con­duct­ing research for her supe­ri­ors. She won­ders whether any of these intern­ships might lead her to a more per­ma­nent change; she does not want to return to the sta­tus quo.

Through her con­nec­tions, she secured her first intern­ship on Broad­way in 2020. Read­ers will cringe at the dra­mat­ic irony of the impend­ing pan­dem­ic as they see Miran­da begin­ning to find her stride and savor the rewards of her unpaid intern­ships. How­ev­er, her midlife cri­sis did­n’t neat­ly resolve itself because the world shut down. She con­tin­ued to pur­sue her dream jobs.

While Miran­da focus­es on her intern­ships and the free­dom they afford­ed her to exper­i­ment and occa­sion­al­ly stum­ble, she also doc­u­ments her Covid year. Par­ents in par­tic­u­lar will relate to her obser­va­tions about the chal­lenges of remote learn­ing, seek­ing pri­va­cy in the bath­room, cop­ing with exces­sive soli­tude, and grap­pling with the fear of the unknown.

Miran­da’s writ­ing is hilar­i­ous, and she is adept at find­ing the humor in any sit­u­a­tion, whether it con­cerns her love of food or a billionaire’s ter­ri­to­r­i­al dog: “ … and me try­ing to act like I liked this dog who clear­ly want­ed to take a chunk out of my fin­ger.” She also delves into her Jew­ish Cuban her­itage, the guilt and respon­si­bil­i­ties she faces as a moth­er, and her own priv­i­lege. Not every­one, she acknowl­edges, can take a sab­bat­i­cal from their reg­u­lar life, or spend lock­downs in an idyl­lic Scot­tish cottage.

Select­ed as one of the twelve Spring 2023 books by Zib­by Books, My What If Year is a can­did and sassy mem­oir about a woman veer­ing off the con­ven­tion­al path to lead a more exam­ined life. As Miran­da waits tables and slips away from her fam­i­ly to attend exer­cise class­es, she reflects on her high-achiev­ing back­ground to uncov­er the roots of her dis­con­tent. Her insights on youth, ambi­tion, and the nature of hap­pi­ness pro­vide a fun and thought-pro­vok­ing read.

Lind­sey Bod­ner is a writer and an edu­ca­tion foun­da­tion direc­tor. She lives in Man­hat­tan with her family.

Discussion Questions

Book Club Dis­cus­sion Guide Cour­tesy of Alisha Fer­nan­dez Miranda