Sometimes I’ve just had it with the absurd extremes marketing goes to and I have to stand up and say, "Enough!"
In the window of a convenience store near my house there is a sign which announces, "Cape Cod Ice Sold Here."
The Cape offers many wonderful things—clam chowder, lobsters, glorious beaches, and cranberries, to name a few—but no one ever returned from a vacation here saying, "I can't wait to go back next year for some more of that fabulous Cape Cod ice." Give me a break!
It seems like just about everyone I've talked to lately has commented about the accelerated pace of their lives.
I hear it in ubiquitous phrases, like, "I've just been so busy, flat out, swamped, etc."
I feel it in the genuine regret I experience when I have to say no to something I want to do or find myself postponing being with a friend or colleague whose company I enjoy because I'm booked solid.
Although it's comforting to know I'm not alone, it's also alarming to realize that the goal of living a more balanced rhythm is eluding so many of us.
Could over-scheduling be like global warming, sneaking up on us by degrees and threatening our well-being?
Fortunately, last October, after a period of trying to normalize my overextendedness resulted in failure, I became painfully aware that I was driving myself too hard.
It was cabin fever, the need for a broader view of world than the one of the bird feeder outside my office window, that gave me the idea of going away for few days.
The snow began the afternoon I arrived, and by the next day, over a foot and half had fallen on Salem, with layers of ice and freezing rain for good measure, in effect closing down the town. The new snow fell on top of an already substantial buildup from earlier storms, causing unexpected problems, such as what to do with all the additional "white stuff" (it’s against the law to dump it in the harbor) and roofs that collapsed from excess weight.
Watching people laboring to shovel a path between snow banks almost as tall as they were, or improvising a solution by hanging out a window to clear off a porch roof with a rake, it struck me that their efforts had a lot in common with long-term unemployment. The work is arduous and all too familiar; "caving in," i.e., giving up, is a real danger; and it feels like spring will never come.
Sitting across the table from me is a very bright, articulate, mature woman with an underutilized law degree.
She has a vision—a family law practice to serve an ethnic community with which she has a shared heritage, and for whom she has been a volunteer advocate for years.
She is at a point in her life where she wants to claim her professional status in ways which honor her social consciousness, but the opinions of others have stopped her in her tracks.
"There are so few encouraging voices," she says. Her head droops and she begins a litany of the dispiriting comments she's heard from people with whom she has shared her goal—the economy is awful, you'll be competing with young attorneys right out of law school who will work for nothing, immigration law is very complicated, etc.
Building upon this foundation of negativity, she adds obstacles of her own: "Maybe I don't have the skills, the experience, or the stamina ...."
I have a strong urge to jump in and remind her of her many positive attributes, but I keep quiet and let her finish. When I speak I don’t argue with anything she has said, but softly observe, "It's all about working the process. When we make a choice to pursue a particular goal, our task is simply to do our very best to stay in the process of working toward it, which includes not abandoning it prematurely because of what ‘they’—whoever they happen to be—have to say.”
With his usual talent for organization and clarity, Daniel Pink, the author of Drive, offers the following tweet-sized summary of the book: "Carrot and stick are so last century. Drive says for 21st century work we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery and purpose."
In these challenging economic times, it may seem strange to suggest that people are not primarily motivated by external rewards, but Pink makes a compelling case for the fact that internal motivation is what is really driving us, once basic living needs are met.
If you don't believe this can produce something of real value, he is saying, just consider the many open-source Internet initiatives, e.g., OpenOffice.org, Mozilla Firefox, Wordpress, Linux, etc., with new ones cropping up almost every day, run by volunteers who have chosen to put their energy where their authenticity lies.
Summertime and the living is easy—but not for a Mini-Mart cashier at a rest stop on the Mass Pike.
That was the assumption I made when I stopped there for an iced coffee on a hot, sunny Saturday last month on my way to visit family in Connecticut.
The store was packed. A long line of customers in a hurry to be somewhere else snaked its way around the junk food displays, inching slowly toward the older woman on the other side of the counter.
"What an awfully hard job," I thought, as I watched her selling lottery tickets and sodas.
The weather outside is beautiful, and you're stuck inside. You're on your feet all day, under constant pressure from impatient, sometimes rude people. You're exhausted at the end of your shift and you don't have much of in the way of material reward to show for it.
But even as I was creating this scenario in my head, I still was able to take in the attentive cheerfulness with which she waited on those who preceded me.
All we know about the woman in this photograph is that she was 80 years old in November, 1936, when Dorothea Lange took her picture, and at the time she was living in a camp for migrant workers outside Bakersfield, California.
If we think of her in the context of the times, we can deduce that she and her family were probably among the thousands of farmers forced to migrate from the Oklahoma Dust Bowl to California in search of work. This would mean that she had been enduring dislocation and acute poverty for some time.
Yet the old woman's look is strong and her demeanor is positive. The shadow from the hand that shields her eyes from the bright sunlight obscures much of her face, but we can see enough to know that she is looking straight ahead and determined to keeping moving forward.
Everything about her embodies the courage expressed in the philosophy of life she shared with Lange in a brief dialogue just before the picture was taken. "If you lose your pluck," she said, "you lose the most there is in you—all you've got to live with."
An editorial cartoon recently appeared in the local paper showing a massive traffic jam. In the picture, one driver is standing on the roof of his car, looking off into the distance at lines of cars that stretch as far as the eye can see. Heads are popping up through moon roofs. A sad-faced man leans against his car and looks at his watch. Another grimaces at the viewer. Plumes of steam rise from radiators. A sign with an arrow pointing down the gridlocked highway reads, JOB MARKET, and below the arrow is written, EXPECT DELAYS.
I saved the cartoon in my clip file because, for me, it makes the emotions that underlie today's unemployment statistics accessible.
As much as I would like to, I simply can't relate to a number like 236,000 jobs lost in September, resulting in a 9.8% unemployment rate with a total of at least 15.1 million Americans out of work. But I do know what it's like to sit in seemingly endless traffic.
It's pretty clear to most baby boomers that they will be creating, either by choice or circumstances, a very different kind of retirement from their parents, for whom it simply meant, stop working.
Retirement was first quantified in 1935, when the Social Security Administration gave it the number, 65. At the time, the average lifespan was 68, so it made sense to spend the relatively few years you had left exclusively focused on leisure.
Since then, however, life expectancy has expanded by almost 30 years, adding what some call a "third age" to the lives of those of us fortunate enough to benefit from longevity.
The question is, what do we do with it? And what do we call it?
Exactly what the new retirement will look like is as obscure as some of the new "re" words—rehire, rewire, renew—that have been coined in the attempt to move away from the old word (whose syllable "tire" connotes being too worn out to work).
There are many advantages to living on Cape Cod, especially in August when the weather is glorious and the North Atlantic is finally warm enough that you can ride the waves on a boogie board without succumbing to hypothermia.
You learn to live with it, and if you can get beyond grumbling about the traffic, you can begin to understand how much it means to people to be here for a week or two and how much you take living here for granted. Then it begins to dawn on you that it might be possible to live your life during what local businesses call the 106 day sprint between Memorial Day and Labor Day more as if you, too, are on vacation.
There's also the disadvantage the comes from living and working in a vacation community—sitting in front of a computer knowing you're surrounded by hordes of happy tourists who are freely enjoying the sun and surf while you are working!