I’ve been aware of this trend for some time, but it came into clear focus recently when I read the words “Farm Raised” in bold print on the front of a carton of organic milk.
Having grown up in an era when the New England countryside had more dairy farms than shopping malls, my first thought was, “Where else?” But sadly I know enough about how the “food-industrial complex” works to understand that most of the milk in the dairy case comes from places that are a lot more like factories than farms.
What if every time I de-cluttered, picking up shoes, books, dishes, etc., instead of grumbling about it I paused to remember the recent tornado in Moore, Oklahoma and reminded myself that if I lived there I might have nothing left to put away?
What if, after listening to a discussion about nuclear proliferation in unstable countries halfway across the world, I closed my eyes and allowed the realization of the potential we have to destroy one another to inform how I create peace in the relationships in my life?
What if I looked at the opportunity I have to do the work I know how to do as a great gift, like Mike Leahy, the only person to get a job in the PBS New Hours story about the increasing despair of over-55 job seekers unable to find employment I talked about last month.
Last month I talked about the chronic nature of long-term unemployment. But there’s another elephant in the living room—systemic ageism.
In a recent segment on the PBS News Hour Paul Solman reported, “For those 55 and older, it takes at least a year on average to find work, longer than any other age group.”
He then sat down to talk with a group of bright, skilled, articulate older men and women who been unsuccessful at finding work.
Although each of them had tried to appear younger using such tactics as truncating the work history on their resumes, their attempts had ultimately backfired.
“I was coming in for a face-to-face interview,” one person said, “and the HR recruiter saw me, assumed who I was, and his face—I could just see his face almost fall when he saw me and how old I was. After that, I pretty much got pushed through two of the people I was supposed to talk to. The other three got busy and I couldn't see them.”
The others nodded and related their own experiences of losing an interviewer’s attention or being given a perfunctory half hour before being shown the door.
It’s taken me a long time to accept that the signs of spring—green grass, purple crocuses, yellow forsythia—can’t always be counted on to appear on schedule where I live on Cape Cod. More often than not, the dominant color of April is brown and you have to bundle up to take a walk just as you did in February.
But I’m a daily walker and the other day I donned my wool coat and hat to go out right after reading an article in the Boston Globe that said nearly four million people have been out of work for a year or more. Before the recession, 10% of the total unemployment number represented the long-term unemployed. Now it’s almost 30%. There’s no spring for these work-seekers either.
According to the article, long-term unemployment is the “most intractable” consequence of the last recession and because of a lack of political will, despite all the talk about creating jobs in the last election, few resources are being directed toward it. The problem, the Globe said, is “chronic.” They make it sound like an illness.
During the holidays, a senior executive I work with unplugged and loved the time it gave her to think, to enjoy breathing space, and “feel more sane.” At the end of the long first Monday back, her non-stop schedule with too much work and too many meetings left her wanting to do nothing but stretch out on the couch and watch Downtown Abbey. Yet she found herself in work mode, sitting up and tensely typing tweets instead. She had to make herself stop and enjoy the show.
Harper Reed, Chief Technology Officer for President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, was used to receiving thousands of emails a day, but when the election was over, he chose to put distance between the campaign and what was coming next in his life by giving himself a week away from the Internet and 140-character tweets to read a 1,000 page history of the Stalingrad Campaign.
I like these examples of creating a healthier balance between time spent on- and offline because they represent conscious choices that are far removed from all the hype we’re hearing these days about “digital detox.”
My husband and I have a standing joke about traveling Amtrak. When we first started doing it, it seemed like there'd always be someone who would board, take a seat in front of or behind us, whip out a cell phone, make a call and say, “Hello, I’m on the train.”
And so now, whenever we settle into our seats, we look at each other and one of us will say, “We’re on the train!”
This Christmas our little joke took on new meaning. When we arrived in New Haven, our usual point of departure, the long-term parking lot in the station was full and so were all the others in the surrounding area. This had never happened before. It was beginning to look doubtful that we would be able to get on that train.
As the minutes ticked away, my husband drove around like a maniac, hopping from red light to red light, looking in vain for a lot that didn't have a sign that said FULL in front, while I kept saying we needed to pull over, get information and pause to consider our options.
On our third circuit of Union Station, he finally heard me. He pulled into the passenger drop-off area in front where just it so happened that Santa Claus was waiting to give us what we most needed for Christmas—a parking space.
Like most people who live on the outer hook of Cape Cod, where the land juts thirty miles out into the Atlantic Ocean, I've long accepted my vulnerability to howling winds and rising seas, but I’d be less than honest if I didn't admit to thinking a great deal more about it since Hurricane Sandy. When the images of devastation on television look a lot like the beach houses, marinas, and sand dunes you see every day, it's a powerful reminder that it could be your turn next.
So how do you get ready—not physically, but psychologically and spiritually? Whether it’s a superstorm, a professional crisis, or a personal loss, how do you prepare yourself to move beyond your own fears so that you can be a calm and supportive presence to others? What can you do to make it more likely that in a disaster you will be able to offer the best of who you are?
Shortly after arriving at my retreat destination on Skaneateles Lake, I took a walk on Glen Haven Road, a narrow lane cut into the steep hill above the western shoreline.
Just beyond the bend in the road where crimson Virginia Creeper had wrapped itself like a shawl around the arms of a golden maples, I saw a woman jogging up the hill toward me, and then a car approaching from behind her. A moment later I heard I car coming up behind me as well.
Suddenly my walking route, which was normally deserted on an off-season weekday, had turned into a crowded thoroughfare. There was no shoulder, and I thought I might have to leap down a ladder to a boathouse to get out of the way, but both cars stopped, and the driver coming toward me pulled over as far as he could to let the driver coming from behind me pass, and then he carefully proceeded. We all waved at each other and went on our way.
These acts of courtesy felt very special to me. Why? Because they were in sharp contrast to the stories of rudeness I routinely hear about from my clients who are looking for work.
A couple of weeks ago I was sitting at a Board of Health hearing, listening to a detailed description of the advanced septic system proposed for the house being built across the street.
The technicalities were way beyond my grasp, but I got the gist of it—waste would be collected, aerated and filtered through a series of membranes and holding tanks until what was left was potable.
I found the idea of being able to transform discarded matter into something useful intriguing and tried to think of a way I could use it as an analogy in my own area of expertise.
Then I remembered what I learned about feedback from Charlie and Edie Seashore.
Feedback is simply information, and in spite of what we may sometimes think, it's neither negative nor positive.
Like input to the system discussed by the Board of Health, it can be processed through a series of mental “membranes” to eliminate the garbage and refine what has potential for use.
During July and August the bayside beaches of Cape Cod are prime destinations at sunset. It's the best show in town and tourists and locals alike flock to it.
The other day, as sunset was approaching, I decided I would go to Sunken Meadow, the bay beach closest to my house. As I pulled into the packed parking lot and saw groups of visitors socializing, wine glasses in hand, my inner negativity was stirred up and I said to myself "What are all these people doing on my beach?" I had come to view a natural wonder, not watch them party.
I decided to go further up the road to the Wellfleet Bay Audubon Sanctuary and walk one of the trails out to the bay. To my delight, there was only one other car in the parking lot, and I didn't see another soul as I passed Try Island and followed the boardwalk out to the tidal flats. I was able to watch the crimson sun slip into the glimmering teal water in perfect solitude.