You Are in the Wrong Place – Please Visit GapYearAfterSixty.com

If you’re reading this post on the gapyearaftersixty.wordpress.com site, you are in the wrong place. This blog has moved to http://GapYearAfterSixty.com. Please visit us there for the latest updates on our year of reinvention and to subscribe to our blog via email.  – Debbie Weil and Sam Harrington

 

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Why I no longer lust after a job at Google

Google_DebbieI’m sitting in a bustling Peets cafe in Mountain View, CA, two miles from Google’s offices. Yesterday we had lunch at the main Google campus with our son, who is newly working there as a lawyer. The sky was blue. The temperature, in the low 70s, was perfect. The campus is marked by green lawns and lush planting, colorful Google signage, giant sculptures outside the Android building and, everywhere, Google bicycles with distinctive yellow frames and green wheels.

Inside each building are “mini kitchens” loaded with every kind of healthy (free) snack you can think of, from farm-fresh cherry tomatoes to crisp fall apples to artisan chocolates and lentil crackers. Oh, and of course, several espresso machines. The push-button kind in addition to a real espresso bar, where, our son explained, a barista sometimes shows up in the afternoons to pull shots.

Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it? At one point, I would have described this as nirvana. How I longed to work in an environment like this.

But let me back up. I’ve been online since 1992 and, since the late 90s, have been enthralled with Silicon Valley and its tech startups. Although it was never realistic, given that I was ensconced in a life in DC to which Sam was tethered, I lusted after a job at Google. Or Facebook, or more recently, Twitter.

Google_T_and_momPushing the envelope, discovering or inventing the next new thing as it relates to the Web – and doing so in an atmosphere of daring and possibility – intoxicated me. I’m not an engineer but I pictured a job in Silicon Valley as a product manager or in marketing or business development. So I expected to feel more dazzled when I stepped foot onto Google’s famed campus.

I was fascinated, even delighted, but I didn’t feel pangs of longing or envy. Something has changed. I’ve moved on. It’s worth a moment of reflection because it also explains why I’m taking a Gap Year with Sam.

Permit me to scroll back to the time I lusted after a job at The New York Times. My first career was as a journalist and print reporter. I grew up outside New York City and regarded the Times as the pinnacle of newspaper journalism. I wanted, specifically, to be a Times foreign correspondent.

After getting a Masters in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin (where Sam earned his medical degree), I worked for The Atlanta Constitution. A reasonable enough stepping stone to the Times, but the logistics didn’t work. I was happily married to Sam and didn’t want to live apart, in a different country. Soon enough, I was the mother of three young children.

That desire and dream passed. The demise of newspaper journalism as a viable career, along with my incompatible life stage, snuffed it out. So be it. Life goes on.

Later, I went to business school to get an MBA. That’s when my Silicon Valley dream began to bloom. I did work briefly for Network Solutions, one of the original “dot com” companies. Headquartered in Herndon, VA, NetSol was about an hour’s commute from our home in DC. So the logistics were fine. The job was not.

I worked in marketing and was confined to a cubicle. My boss was a woman. She stole my ideas and took credit for them. She wouldn’t permit any flexibility in my working hours and had no understanding of my wider life as the mother of three young adults. How I hated her.

As the dot com bubble slowly burst, so did my enchantment with working for a big company. I can remember my visceral desire for a corporate business card that would identify me as a Director or Assistant Vice President (as opposed to the more lowly, Manager). How ridiculous.

My longing to rise through a corporate hierarchy faded. In fact, I began to relish the idea of working outside the system and creating my own business. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past decade as a creative entrepreneur. And it suits me fine. I’m not corporate. I don’t like rules.

Google, for the record, is a very big company. Through our son, I’ve gotten a glimpse of its eccentric corporate culture. There are no “rules” per se. Employees can come and go as they please and you see them everywhere, nonchalantly bicycling to lunch or a meeting. The only rule, it seems, is that good will and good sense should prevail. You can schedule a 30-minute rest in a nap pod anytime you wish. But presumably you won’t nap all day.

As far as the next new thing, there has been an industry shift as well. The changes in what’s new are incremental these days (if you leave out Google glass). Who cares if Facebook changes its algorithms? Or if Google changes the Gmail interface? (Frankly, it’s annoying.) The cool factor is still there but it’s not as insistent.

Of course, many new things are on the horizon as far as real change. The Internet of Things is fast becoming a reality (a car that talks to you when it needs an oil change or a Siri-like presence inside your smartphone that is more predictive and helpful).

Still, I must admit that a part of me has been waiting for something new and shiny to drop from the skies during our Gap Year. Some boltning light of insight about what my work should look like in the next decade. Or how Sam and I will carve out a uniquely flexible, yet still productive, life. It hasn’t come to me yet.

I’m starting to feel more comfortable with that.

Poetry, place and a quiet summer evening

OHA_boatsREAD THIS POST on our new blog.

If you asked me how many poetry readings I’ve attended in Washington DC over the past three decades, I would be hard pressed to come up with a handful. Surely, you say, DC has so much going on there must be poetry readings and live performances every night of the week. But that is precisely the point.

When you live in a big city there is too much going on. It is overwhelming. Our response (and I’m ashamed to admit this) has been to ignore much of DC’s cultural activity except for the occasional play or concert. It was easier to stay home rather than fight the traffic in the evenings.

In Stonington, Maine, it is different. Life is slower. Some things are closer, while many conveniences are much further away. We step out of our cottage and walk about seven minutes down the quiet main street to the Opera House, the locus of cultural activity on Deer Isle. Despite its name, the century-old Opera House (first built in 1893) is a multi-purpose venue, hosting live theatre, dance, music, movies and, at one point, roller skating. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the Opera House board.)

Last night was an evening of poetry. Two Maine poets read their own work and then a handful of local residents read a selection of poems, prefacing each one with brief commentary on “Why I chose this poem.” The theme was “home” and “place.”

Stonington_Aug2013It was a lovely and intensely meaningful evening. Sam and I have been coming to Deer Isle and to our family island for 40 years. And for the past seven summers we’ve come to our house in Stonington. So in some ways, this is “home” in the deep sense of the word, as much as, or more so, than Washington DC.

Let me offer you a few snippets of the poems and tell you a bit about the readers. Poet and author Deborah Cummins was curator of the event. On stage, she began the evening by quoting Irish poet Eavan Boland:

“There is the place that happens,
and the place that happens to you.”
– Eavan Boland

You may have to think about that for a minute. I did. The “happens to you” part makes perfect sense if you’ve been captivated by the starkness and beauty of the Maine seascape, as we have.

Then came Maine poet Dawn Potter. I was not familiar with her work. She was mesmerizing. Her poems are muscular and sturdy, rhythmic and clear and so very evocative of small town life. She lives in Harmony, ME where, of course, things are not always harmonious.

She read First Game, about attending a basketball game at her son’s elementary school. The players are awful she explained in advance. They are too short, clumsy and overmatched. The games are painful to watch. Of course, the devoted parents go anyway.

The poem evokes the moment when, the team losing badly, the crowd shifts in their seats.

Excerpt:

“… and in that instant an alarm, a buffalo instinct, ripples among the parents: an obstinate, unspoken urge to circle their hapless calves.– Dawn Potter.

You can find First Game and other recent poems by Dawn Potter in her anthology, How the Crimes Happened.

Local means heightened intimacy

What was most notable about last night’s poetry reading was the intimacy of the event. As Sam pointed out, reading to a group of people you know, that you’ll run into at the grocery store and on the street, “ups the ante of the emotional exposure” (his words).

Ben_BarrowsThat was particularly true for Ben Barrows, son of the well-known publisher of the local Penobscot Bay newspapers. After a decade working on economic development and crisis response in far flung places (from Antarctica to Azerbaijan), he returned to Stonington recently to take up the position of general manager of his family’s business.

He told us how hard the decision was to return home to live in the place he grew up. Then, after describing a month spent inside a U.N. installation in Afghanistan, his fear of drowning and of being so far from the ocean, he read Inland by Edna St. Vincent Millay, Maine’s Pulitzer Prize-winning poet.

Excerpt:

“… Far from the sea-board, far from the sound
Of water sucking the hollow ledges,
Tons of water striking the shore,—
What do they long for, as I long for
One salt smell of the sea once more?
– Edna St. Vincent Millay

Other readers included the town manager; the lead reporter for the local paper, a seventh-generation islander (retired businesswoman and politician), and a former math professor who now volunteers at the high school. All year-rounders (as opposed to summer people)they were surprisingly funny and eloquent. And a reminder that everyone in a small community wears multiple hats.

My favorite poems, both by Maine poets, weren’t dense or difficult. But they captured perfectly daily life in a remote place on the coast of Maine:

Why I Have a Crush on You, UPS Man by Alice N. Persons

Excerpt:

” …you bring me all the things I order
are never in a bad mood
always have a jaunty wave as you drive away
look good in your brown shorts
we have an ideal uncomplicated relationship
you’re like a cute boyfriend with great legs
who always brings the perfect present… “
Alice N. Persons

I admit I do have a bit of a crush on our UPS man. He brings dog biscuits for our daughter’s dog, either because he’s nice or because he’s afraid of dogs.

And finally, Starting the Subaru at Five Below by Stuart Kestenbaum, poet and director of the nearby and famous Haystack Mountain School of Crafts.

Excerpt:

” …Finger tips numb, nose
hair frozen, I pump the accelerator
and turn the key. The battery cranks,
the engine gives 2 or 3 low groans and
starts. My God it starts… “
Stuart Kestenbaum

If we make it year-round in Stonington (not a foregone conclusion at this point), I expect we may have trouble starting our car in the middle of the winter. And maybe Sam or I will be asked to be a reader at next year’s poetry event.

PHOTO CREDITS: top, Opera House Arts; middle, Debbie Weil via iPhone; bottom, Opera House Arts

Explore a new way of working (one of our Gap Year goals)

100-Startup-Cover-Chris-GuillebeauYou may be wondering why I’m taking a Gap Year when I haven’t given up my work as a publisher and book coach for business authors (cf Voxie Media). Aside from moving to the coast of Maine with Sam for the summer and fall, I haven’t radically changed what I’m doing professionally – at least thus far.

Let’s talk about that for a minute. What does “work” mean in today’s location-independent, 24X7 world where, ostensibly, anyone can work from anywhere, doing anything, as long as there is a market for it?

Some interesting minds have written about this. One of my favorites is Chris Guillebeau, the author and entrepreneur behind the World Domination Summit which Sam and I attended in July.

Chris tells us in his new bestseller, The $100 Startup, that you can “reinvent” the way you make a living if you can find that perfect congruence between what you are passionate about, what your purpose in life is and what people want to buy. I call this being a creative entrepreneur.

This is a way of working that occurs largely outside the corporate sphere. It requires building your own tribe of fans, followers and, ultimately, customers. It requires being intentional about your purpose and your goals (they go beyond making money, right?), it requires a certain transparency and it requires authenticity. It can be very successful.

A few examples are Seth Godin, Jonathan Fields and Pamela Slim. This is essentially the model that I am building. And yes, it is dependent on skillful use of the Internet to spread your work and your ideas and to connect with like-minded people. It doesn’t mean you never interact with clients in person or do live speaking events. But it does mean that you rely on creating useful content on a daily or weekly basis and distributing it via a blog or email newsletter or short video or LinkedIn or Google+ or Twitter or Facebook.

(If you are interested in the new world of self and indie publishing and in writing a short book yourself, you can check out my regular e-newsletter. Subscribe here. It’s free.)

A more basic concept of “the new work” is to be a virtual entrepreneur, meaning you no longer sit in a cubicle. Instead you rely on the cloud to enable you to work for a big company on a contract basis. This is one of the ideas that mega bestselling author Tim Ferriss put forth in The 4-Hour Work Week. It’s interesting to note the subtitle of his bestseller: Escape 9 − 5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich. Whereas the subtitle of Chris Guillebeau’s new, more recent book goes a step further: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future.

There is lots more to be said on this topic. But I wanted to dip my toe into this idea of a new way of working to tell you that I am fine-tuning my own model this year so that I can work less, work more purposefully and have more fun. And to point out that one of the things Sam is doing during his/our Gap Year is to look for his own version of a new kind of work. He pretty much nailed the “make the world a better place” thing by saving patients’ lives for 31 years. Now he’s looking for a “what’s next” that is aligned with his values.

Life on an island: water, rocks, high tide, repeat

Grog_2_Aug2013READ THIS POST on our new blog.

One of the surprising things so far about our Gap Year is what I’m learning about Sam, my husband of 40 years. The most surprising thing, of course, is that there are surprises.

I knew he was a good writer, for example. But I didn’t realize how good until I started editing his posts. He writes with a lovely cadence (short sentences mixed with long), provocative phrases, precise descriptions.

What he says about my family’s island is so spot on that I can’t improve upon it. I’ll repeat so you can enjoy:

An island evokes a kaleidoscope of feelings that is so reproducible from year to year that it acts on the brain like a hard reset on the computer. There are feelings of isolation, power, exceptional independence, safety, danger, vulnerability, and (curiously) a primitive eroticism. >> More.

But I do want to add a few words. I won’t name the island because the privacy and isolation are what my siblings and I cherish the most. My father, with amazing foresight, bought the property in the late 1960s when he and my mother were cruising Maine’s Penobscot Bay. Family lore has it that he moored his sailboat in Stonington’s protected harbor on a foggy day. Then he rowed into the town dock and walked around the, then, largely undiscovered fishing village.

There wasn’t much going on in those days other than fishing (meaning lobstering). But there were several real estate offices along the main street. He wandered into one, sat down and inquired as to whether any of the dozens of small islands in the Deer Island Thorofare were for sale.

There was one, quite small and conveniently located a ten-minute boat ride from town. The price was low. So he bought it. Then he rowed back out to their boat and told my mother. Ha!

July and August are the golden months on the island

Of course there is a lot more to it than that. I must check the details with my dad. It seems there was some dispute over title to the island and it took several years to clear up. Not until the early 70s was ownership firmly established. It was then that my parents built the cabins. They are simple but “modern” in design with sloping roofs and lots of windows. Forty years later they are still in remarkably good repair.

About a decade ago, my dad gave the island to his four children so we could manage repairs and maintenance, pay taxes, etc. I won’t get into the family drama of how we decide who will use the island when during the summer. Suffice it to say that July and August are the golden months and we squabble – despite having a clearly organized rotation of who gets to pick which week first.

Grog_rainbow_Aug2013I was #1 this year. So I called primetime, a stretch that included the first weekend in August. Some old friends joined us.

As is usual on the island, we had every kind of weather from rain and fog to blue skies and hot sun. A double rainbow one evening was stunning but not without precedent.

On the island you don’t think, you feel

As for my reflection on our island, it comes down to this: my scurrying, worrying brain goes into hibernation. I don’t think. I feel. At high tide I drink in the sight of the perfect clear water lapping on the rocks.

We live by the 10-foot tides. High and low are separated by six hours. They occur four times every 24 hours. Low tide is good for collecting mussels. One year (a long time ago) we were awash in starfish. They clung to the rocks so you could only reach them at low tide. My mother paid each grandchild a quarter per starfish. I can still see them, pink and prickly, piled up on the granite blocks.

Mostly, we wait for high tide

Grog_E_RA_Aug2013Mostly, on hot sunny days, we wait for high tide to fill the little cove so that it’s perfect – despite the frigid temperature of the water – for swimming and sunning on the flat rocks. The pure, physical beauty of the island with its pink and gray granite rocks, evergreen trees and mossy paths is a tonic and, as Sam puts it, a reboot.

I can never get enough of it.

Transition: is it the new normal?

New_office_SMALLER_July2013Sam has been writing a lot about measurable sign posts as our Gap Year progresses, week by week. In fact, he’s been writing a lot. Much more than I have.

I’m going to chalk that up to the eagerness of a first-time blogger. I’ve been blogging for a decade and I’ve developed some bad habits. I want everything I write to be original and fresh.

Fuhgeddaboudit.

That isn’t possible. And if you get stuck on that approach to blogging you will quickly become constipated, cramped and cranky.

In other words, there is nothing truly new on this planet. There is only originality of voice and perspective and the occasional gleaming turn of phrase… if you are lucky and in the flow.

Today’s topic: transition

Perhaps because of his 31 years in medical practice with office visits stacked one on top of another, Sam tends to be organized and goal-oriented. He talks about three weeks and six weeks into his Gap Year and what he has – and has not – accomplished.

If he (aka we) can just unpack the boxes… if he (we) can just declutter the house.

For the record, I think the guy is remarkably well adjusted for someone who has gone from 60MPH to 10 or 15MPH in the space of a few weeks. He has moments of anxiety but so far they relate to things like his frustrations with the U.S. Postal Service and Blue Cross Blue Shield. Specific, tangible problems that he can wrestle with, however aggravating.

But yes, we are both measuring progress by whether the boxes are getting unpacked in our new guesthouse. (Yes! See my new office above.) Whether extraneous stuff is being sorted through and disposed of.  Bottom line, whether the level of chaos caused by a semi-move to the coast of Maine is abating.

The grandbabies arrive, bringing new (delightful) chaos

Picnic_July2013But then… the grandbabies arrive and move into the guesthouse (with their parents). And more chaos ensues.

I am beginning to wonder if this kind of transition isn’t permanent. At least for a while. I am feeling much calmer than I was a few weeks ago when I wrote about feeling unmoored. Perhaps I am learning to drift.

Take today as an example. Part of the day will be taken up with the ebb and flow of grandbaby activities. I’m not responsible for constant baby care (thank goodness) but I love to dip in and out of what the little girls (ages one and three) are doing: playing outside, squealing, having a snack, making a mess…

I am so grateful that they are ensconced in our guesthouse next door. And not under the same roof with us. It’s only a separation of a few feet but it affords Sam and me a cushion of quiet and peace. And our daughter and son-in-law seem to love having their own place.

My new office is on the second floor of the guesthouse (see above) so I’m not using it just now. I’ve told my son-in-law, a law professor, to set up a spot for himself and he has happily obliged. The office has a panoramic view of the Deer Isle Thorofare. It’s marvelously bright. But it gets quite hot by the early afternoon. I will have to get shades. Tick. Another item for the To Do list. But I am looking forward to that.

Is transition good or bad? What does it mean?

Back to the concept of transition. What is it? What does that mean? What does it feel like?

Well, there is a sensation of gentle movement and of being carried along but in a not unpleasant way. And I am getting used to it. I know that this particular time is transient – this wonderful visit with my daughter and son-in-law and the babies. And I relish it, knowing that it is so special and that it will end.

But it does call into question: how does one measure time? How do you measure progress? Is it important to have goals? What should they be? Are they different when you are experimenting with how you spend your time?

You will note that I haven’t said a word about my work with authors or about my own writing. My writing on topics other than our Gap Year is suffering at the moment. The interruptions do affect me. I can’t deny it. I can hear three-year-old Dorothea shrieking through my window. I am going to investigate.

And yes, this blog post counts as a chunk of writing for today.

Tapping into the hunger for change at the World Domination Summit

If you can’t see the video above, click here.

After attending World Domination Summit 2013, I was bathed in the glow of connection and acceptance and graciousness of the 2,800 attendees. What a lovely bunch of people.

WDS_debbie_front_rowWe convened in Portland, OR for a carefully curated fest of “community, adventure and service,” as founder Chris Guillebeau describes it. If there is a common denominator for attendees, it’s that they are in thrall to the idea – articulated on Chris’s blog – that you can live a remarkable life in a conventional world.

That may sound overly aspirational. But it is a marvelously sustaining thought and Sam and I are buying into it as we embark on our Gap Year After Sixty.

I want to tell you about my experience doing a short talk from the main stage (that’s me in the orange blouse) but first, a key observation.

WDS was *not* a sea of 30-somethings

From the write-ups of the World Domination Summit in 2011 [recap] and 2012 [recap], I expected a sea of 30-somethings. I was struck and pleasantly surprised to see many 40, 50 and even 60-somethings attending this year. WDS is definitely not just an event for Millennials.

I had been worried about the WDS demographic given the topic of my talk on taking a gap year… 40 years after you are supposed to. So I worked hard to prepare, rewriting my talk a dozen times and practicing at least 50 times.

I worked on it with Sam. And also got some very useful feedback from Ishita Gupta. As Ishita, who has worked with Seth Godin, puts it, “Seth says don’t go out on stage and address an audience unless you intend to change them.”

Hungering for change at the World Domination Summit

I only spoke for two minutes and thirty seconds but I think I succeeded. Let me amend that. I’ll snuff out my usual self-doubt and say it more clearly.

Yes, I changed the audience!

WDS_debbie_talk1I’ve given many, many talks and keynotes over the past decade, but none that resonated more strongly than this one. I was astonished by the number of people who came up to me afterwards to say, “Were you the lady in orange? I loved your talk and here’s what it meant to me… “

That’s the part that was so gratifying. Not that the audience liked my talk but that they wanted to connect and share their own story about a gap year or time out or proposed radical change in their lives.

Either they are planning a gap year now or they know someone who just left their job to explore other options for work or in several cases (Caroline and Josh of Traveling9to5; Brittany and Drew of MrandMrsAdventure) they are traveling around the world for a year.

I tapped into something that this group, and so many other people, are hungering for: CHANGE. One of the main stage speakers reminded us that, according to a recent Gallup poll, 70 percent of U.S. employees are unhappy or disengaged at work.

The three important questions to ask

As I said in my talk,

“You don’t need to live your entire adult life… you don’t need to get to the age of 60 or 50 or 40… before you ask three important questions:

How do you break out of your familiar patterns?

How do you redefine yourself – and explore a new purpose?

How do you embrace the uncertainty of life?”

Huge thanks to Genevieve Santos, who was sitting in the front row, for the informal vid of my talk!