2016 is about to become 2017. On the precipice of another personal reinvention,
I thought I would share a decade by decade review of my fearless life.
20 Something – An Ethical Dilemma for a Naïve Idealist
I worked in the Training Department at the home office of an infamous chain store found in every mall. (Think 1970’s, lava lights, incense, and black-light posters.) A catalog preceded storefronts and made up a larger percentage of overall sales.
A colleague approached me about an opening for a copywriter in the Marketing department, creating copy for the mailer. During a preliminary, clandestine discussion with the hiring manager, we talked about job duties and a bump in salary.
To transfer from Training to Marketing, my current boss, Dave C., needed to give his permission for a legitimate interview. To demonstrate his magnanimity, Dave called the hiring manager while I sat in his office and he inquired about the position.
When Dave got off the phone, he told a much different story than what I knew to be true. The move would mean a demotion and pay less than my current salary. I couldn’t say anything. Doing so would be admitting collusion with the ‘enemy.’
My jaw dropped. My boss lied right to my face, his motivation selfish. Two former colleagues transferred or quit within a month of my request. Upper management was asking questions. More attrition would create adversity for Dave.
If Dave wanted to play dirty, I wasn’t interested in working for him.
I gave myself 30 days to find a job and move to New York City. I can still hear the gasp and long pause on the other end of the phone when I told my parents. They lived in a small mid-west town. Once they caught their breaths, they said words they would repeat many times over the years,
“You can always come home. Let us know if you need money.”
I doubt they ever understood my desire to push the limits of what they considered a traditional lifestyle. But they always offered support, allowing me to follow my heart.
I reconnected with a college sorority sister looking for a new apartment and a new roommate to share the costs. By the end of the thirty days I found a job and moved myself to New York.
I lived in New York for less than two years. The experience empowered me to face future challenges with confidence and excitement. Frank Sinatra got it right,
“If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.”
30 Something – Similar Stuff, Different Organizations
Fast forward to 1986, Saint Petersburg, Florida. As Training Director for a department store chain, I created a department from scratch and designed innovative programs, some of my best and most creative work.
After about six years I decided a change was in order. I wanted to see the world. I signed up for bar-tending classes and thought I would get some experience working with caterers before applying to resorts and cruise ships.
About the time I was going to write a letter of resignation, another retail company bought the parent company of my employer. Rumors of our local department store being sold off to the highest bidder ran rampant.
At the upper executive level, I received a lucrative exit package, if I stayed until the end. And so, I did. No idea where the bar-tending would have taken me. I took the other fork in the road.
The exit package included a year of executive outplacement services. A conversation with my counselor solidified my desire for change, but uncertainty about what I wanted to do next. I completed all the paperwork and testing, wrote a new resume and some cover letter samples and set a goal of one year to find the next adventure.
I jumped into my yellow Camaro and hit the road for a few months of visiting family and friends. I fell in love with the freedom to come and go on my own schedule. The gypsy life suited me, a practice I would repeat over and over.
Reality set-in and I returned to the outplacement office to seek new employment. During my time-off, I learned I liked Training and Development, but wanted to change industries.
I collected unemployment, almost enough to live on. To stretch my income, I took a position with a new company, The Home Shopping Club/Network. I worked from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. as an operator answering calls and taking orders.
The evening shift gave me time to search for something else during the day. Working in a highly structured environment reminded me daily of the need to keep looking for a “real” job in my field. I lasted about six weeks taking orders over the phone. I quit to interview in another city. The gamble paid off. I went to work with a regional bank.
Training for the bank gave me the experience of facilitating a series of two-week workshops for branch managers. The workshop included an outdoor day of experiential activities. I climbed over the wall, fell into the arms of my team in the trust fall, and maneuvered across some high-wire challenge every three weeks.
I learned a lot about myself and human behavior. I confirmed I could do whatever I put my mind to.
40 Something – Making It Work, the Hard Way
I spent the 1990’s on airplanes, flying domestically during the first half and all over the planet in the second half. Afterward, ready to leave corporate America, I visited the Peace Corps website and started the application, for the first time. Sixteen years later I completed the application, but that is another reinvention story.
A training design firm offered me a chance to work as a contract consultant. I sold my house and moved to a small community. I lived near the yoga center I managed for over two years. I discovered the perfect place to live and put in the effort to develop the spiritual part of me, ignored for most of my life.
My income dropped. I struggled to keep the lifestyle going. During one conversation with my mother she said,
“I think you are just lazy. Why don’t you get a job?”
“Getting a job would be the lazy way. I’m juggling five part-time jobs. It takes a lot of energy and skill to manage my life.”
I hung on until the next reinvention.
50 Something – Anchors Aweigh
My parents spent twenty-two years as ‘snow birds,’ wintering in Florida and summering in Michigan. My father’s health declined and travelling back and forth every six months ended for them. My mother needed help and I needed to move on. I sold my house and car and moved back to Michigan to assist.
My initial thoughts: find a place of my own and live near my parents. My father spent the last five months of his life in healthcare facilities. I spent those five months monitoring his care and living with my mother. I moved my stuff into their home.
Less than two years after my father passed away, my mother died suddenly and unexpectedly. Against my wishes, she left me the house, the last thing I wanted, an anchor holding me in place.
The economy crashed. I looked for jobs anywhere in the country. In the end, I took a position right where I lived. The non-profit board I served on hired me as Community Development Manager, raising money and raising awareness. The learning curve moved straight uphill. Such good work for a worthy cause.
I loved being near friends and family and seeing the newest generation grow and thrive. But I could no longer say, “I am one of the most interesting people I know.”
The job didn’t pay enough for me to take exotic vacations or pursue interesting hobbies. I made ends meet. No more, no less. Time to shake things up again.
I reopened the Peace Corps website for the umpteenth time in sixteen years. This time my instincts were not telling me to shut down application. Four hours later I completed part one. The next evening I finished part two, the medical history. A year later and after lots of paperwork, I flew off to orientation and my assignment in Botswana.
After six and one-half months, I left the Peace Corps early, for personal reasons. I returned to the United States homeless, no car, no income. Everything I owned was in storage. After two years in Lexington, Kentucky I returned to Florida. That’s where I am now.
60 Something – What to Do? What to Do?
As I said in the beginning, I’m on the precipice of another reinvention. I’m not sure what I will be doing or where I will be living. Stay tuned as the mystery of the next chapter unfolds for all of us.