I regularly work with clients who have creative goals—making pottery, writing poetry, actually using the sketch pad they've purchased or been given as a gift. Sometimes these aspirations come up almost apologetically: "Of course, it's not practical and I have so little time, but what I'd really like to be doing is—"
Frequently they come to light in an exercise where clients write stories about experiences in their lives which gave them a deep sense of personal satisfaction, e.g., this description of a drawing class written by a woman who manages construction projects: “I loved how I felt when I was doing these drawings. There was a connection between my soul and the paper.”
Occasionally, the need to put hands to clay or pen to paper has become so important to a client that the failure to be able to do it become the focal point of our discussion. This is always exciting to me because it is an unconscious recognition of the link between the artistic urge and transforming a work life.
In my clients' frustration I hear the struggle to claim the creative space which is essential to a genuine transition. The challenge for them (and for me) is to actuate these seemingly non-productive, impractical pursuits to serve the longer term goal of professional fulfillment.
Because October's post spoke to so many readers about the need for renewal, and because the upcoming holiday season offers the opportunity for time off to regroup for the new year, I have decided to share my takeaways from this year's trip to Skaneateles sooner than I had originally planned.
My time at the lake this year was about being in the here and now. I try to do this at home, but being away frames it differently.
There's the packing and the unpacking, the seven hour trip there and back, the joy of arriving and the sadness of leaving. Going to the same place every year has sharpened my awareness of these dichotomies, and I know the alternating rhythm well enough that sway with it immediately.
Recently I was on my way home from a visit to a friend in Philadelphia, and after I boarded the train at 30th Street Station and settled into my seat, I noticed a man in his mid-fifties across the aisle from me.
His well-dressed, distinguished look suggested to me that he was probably a senior executive en route to an important business meeting in New York, with maybe a round or two of golf or an afternoon of sailing in Long Island Sound on the side.
From the weathered, high-quality leather briefcase beside him on the seat, he took out a thick book entitled, Best Resumes, and with a sigh I added “unemployed or afraid of becoming so” to the description of him I had been forming in my head.
When unemployment figures are announced, the media takes up the challenge of trying to show what x% of joblessness looks like in human terms, and the images they choose are predictable—long lines of applicants trying to get into job fairs, rows of jobseekers at computers in job centers busily scanning listings.
These pictures reinforce the message that the right, indeed the only, way to find work is to apply for a job, wait for a response, and hope you get lucky.
Rarely does an alternative approach get noticed, and when it does it is treated as something new and foreign. Take for example a recent story I heard on NPR about a laid-off architect.
Instead of wasting his time standing in line somewhere, John Morefield is making his expertise visible at a booth he has set up at a farmer's market in Seattle. Sandwiched between a fish market and a store that offers locally grown honey, he sells advice to homeowners who are thinking about remodeling—for 5 cents!
He got the idea from Lucy's "5¢ Psychiatric Help" stand in Peanuts, and he is using it to do the best possible thing he can do with potential customers—engage them in conversation about problems they want to solve.
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).
My husband and I were taking Amtrak to Virginia, and in Trenton, a stylishly dressed mature woman boarded the train and took the seat behind us. She dozed until Wilmington in an erect posture with her back against the window. Then she awoke and called her son.
I know this because it's impossible not to overhear a cell phone conversation on a train, and because her opening remark, intended to capture her son's full attention, also got mine.
"God invented cell phones," she said, "so that mothers could call their sons to see if they will be picking them up at the station or if they will be left on the curb like a discarded piece of luggage."
I immediately envisioned a middle-aged attorney or executive cringing in his office. Now I know this was speculation, but given the birthday gift bag on the seat beside her, and her highly organized manner, it was hard to believe that there had been no prior conversations about her arrival and the logistics connected with it. Yet the intensity of her tone made it clear she did not trust the arrangements would be carried out.
Last month the manuscript of my first book, Ground of Your Own Choosing, finally went to the publisher. You can't imagine the relief I feel to be approaching the completion of this intense, time-devouring project.
Putting your voice in the world in whatever form your creativity takes—writing a book, designing a bridge, developing a branding strategy—is exquisite agony. And how long it takes! My journey with writing began fifteen years ago in Bend, Oregon.
I was attending a training with Richard Bolles, author of What Color is Your Parachute? He was leading us in a skills exercise, encouraging us to think outside the box, and at the time I thought I added the word "writing" to my list of skills simply because I had a pencil in my hand and it was a handy response. Today I would be more inclined to see it as divine intervention.
I was standing in line at one of those office superstores to buy a plastic file box as preparation (and motivation) for the annual ritual of cleaning up my files, and I happened to glance up at a huge poster with an incredible promise. There, within that very building, it claimed, was everything I needed to be "wildly organized".
Like all clever advertising, the idea had its appeal, particularly for someone trying to keep a lot of balls in the air, someone who felt just the opposite—confined and out of control.
But is it possible to be "wildly organized"?
In my experience, it’s highly unusual to find a young person just starting out who is able to recognize when his career is not going in a direction that will ultimately lead to work that is fulfilling, and who has the courage to change course early on. Josh Siegel is just such an exception.
A journey is the trip after you've lost you're luggage.—Anonymous (quoted by William Bridges)
This winter marks the official beginning of a book I have decided to write which will explain my approach to work search to the world. For weeks, I’d been trying to come up with an outline that satisfied me, but without success.
I’d been telling myself that I could get it done—scratch it off the list!—if only I had a large block of unstructured time.
A workshop in Chicago, conducted by a mentor of mine, William Bridges, would provide the perfect opportunity: rather than fly out, I booked a sleeper on Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited, because there is absolutely nothing like long-distance train travel for providing large blocks of unstructured time.