The view from Mountain View: No going back

Lius_Ba_Sept2013When we left the Coast of Maine a few days ago, the goal was to conflate a few disparate agenda items into a short trip. We needed to transport a few fragile items from our DC home back to Maine. The invitation to chair a board-level meeting at my hospital inspired us to revisit civilization, arrange the items for transport and take a non-stop to California to visit my son, daughter-in-law, and grandson. There are no direct flights to anywhere from Down East, Maine. So if you have to get in your car to take a flight you might as well get other things done, or vice versa.

The meeting I chaired went well and I hope will contribute to a small step forward in patient safety and education.

Subsequently, a lunch meeting I had with the former hospital CEO was very pleasant. It concluded with the observation that after a career dealing with systems he wanted to devote part of his retirement energy to helping one family at a time break out of the cycle of poverty. I represented the obverse. After a career helping one patient at a time, I have developed a desire to change the system.

Reflections from Mountain View

I am now writing and reflecting from Silicon Valley where my lawyer son is “secunded” to Google. It is great to see him in action and great to see my daughter-in-law thrive. Currently that is taking the distinctive form of an eight-month pregnant belly. It is the greatest to see my grandson; more about that later.

Silicon Valley is not what I expected but I have not yet seen it all. What I have seen is Mountain View. It is not much of a valley, having true mountains on only the west side.

I have been to San Francisco several times over the years, including side trips to Monterey and Napa Valley, and I am surprised at how like Southern California the architecture and the demographics are here.

Demographically, Maine is the poorest, whitest, and oldest state in the Union. Here the streets are alive with East Asians, South Asians, Central Americans and, if my appreciation of foreign languages is accurate, Eastern and Western Europeans. I suspect I will miss that diversity during the long winter months in Maine so my plan is to soak it up now.

From my modest hotel in a neighborhood of bungalows I have yet to see the evidence of conspicuous consumption that I suspect dot com money has inspired (unless you think that walking your dog at night with an illuminated collar is an unnecessary indulgence), but I am sure it is out there. I am advised that the bungalows go for a million dollars, or more.

The boulevards seem to be unnecessarily wide and every business along El Camino Real, whether thriving or shuttered, is surrounded by near-empty parking lots. Gun shops, massage parlors and beauty salons stand cheek-by-jowl with upscale day care centers. The commercial architecture favors one to three-story structures without eye appeal. It is hard to tell apartment complexes from hotels or brake-and-lube shops.

Although the ethnic diversity is appealing, the services it has inspired – particularly the restaurants – lack the sophistication of Brooklyn, another rationalization to soothe me during the long winter months in Stonington.

Hard to describe the excitement of Google

We toured Google this week with my son. The energy and excitement are hard to describe. The pleasant workspaces, reasonable hours and pro family attitudes make it an appealing workplace. Expectations are set high but with the added comforts of on campus carwashes, haircuts, oil changes, dry-cleaning, etc., employees are inspired to produce.

The best part of the trip was to be recognized by my grandson with whom I had not hugged for three months. It is heartwarming when that happens.

At age 22 months, his grasp of the English language resembles my grasp of French, a language with which I am trying to become reacquainted. We both understand more than we can articulate. We both suffer the occasional catastrophic misinterpretation, hearing and believing the opposite of what was intended. Even when we do understand perfectly there is a problem integrating and then synthesizing a response, resulting in a ten-second delay between instruction and action. Our pronunciation is tortured.

We both view the world with chronic perplexity.

He is great fun.

So where do these reflections take me?

News Flash from GYA60

If you do not have specific plans to go back to your old life, do not try to do so. Look forward.

GYA60 is neither a sabbatical nor a gap year between levels of higher education. Rather, it is a little of both and then some. A traditional sabbatical is underwritten by your place of employment with the understanding that you will recharge your brain cells and return to work re-inspired, re-energized and with improved efficiency. A traditional gap year is paid for, or at least subsidized by, your parents with the understanding that you will return to school re-energized and more mature and that you will apply yourself to your studies with renewed focus.

A Gap Year After Sixty is subsidized by your children…

GYA60 is paid for by your children (with money they will not inherit). The understanding is that you will recharge your batteries and return to the work force as a new person with different motivations. You have looked at your career to date and said, with satisfaction, “Been there, done that.” And gaining maturity has nothing to do with GYA60. Been there and done that, too. Revitalizing may require throwing off a layer of responsibility and maturity to let the inner you grow.

In planning my GYA60 I wanted to maintain contact with DC job prospects. I wanted to hold my options open. I wanted to shelter the possibility of returning to a semblance of my former career. After three months of reflection and active self-redefinition I am realizing there is no possibility of returning to my old work life. I will never be a full time clinician again. No time. No where.

No going back

So do not hedge your bets. Do not waste that time and energy. Change and then make change happen.

With each day forward I am a step further away from my old career. There is no going back.

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.

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.