Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Vacation Photos

OG and I are on vacation, so I thought I'd post a few photos to keep you company while we enjoy our own little slice of paradise on the Monterey Peninsula. These were taken on previous trips, but the scenery is this beautiful every time.
Point Lobos seen from Pebble Beach

Panorama from Point Lobos State Park

Big Sur Coast seen from the terrace at the Ventana Inn

Rocks through the trees at Point Lobos

Friday, January 25, 2013

Portfolio Careers - Do You Have a Split Personality?

In the last post, we talked about encore careers—finding fulfillment in a second career helping others. Today, I want to explore portfolio careers. I first encountered this concept while researching life coaching. I had found my journey of self-discovery so rewarding up to this point that I was considering whether I might enjoy helping others through a career as a life coach. One coach indicated she often recommends portfolio careers to her clients looking for a change. The more I read, the more intrigued I became.

There’s nothing particularly new about a portfolio career—it’s basically a career comprised of multiple part-time jobs. In the early ‘90’s, British management consultant Charles Handy coined the term and suggested that working full-time for a single employer would go the way of the dinosaurs in the twenty-first century economy. His prediction proved prescient, especially with the Great Recession gobbling up so many full-time jobs. Many workers have been forced to piece together employment from several part-time jobs or temporary assignments whether they want to or not. As with encore careers, it can be difficult to replicate the income from a full-time job, and then there’s the issue of benefits.

But what about a portfolio career by choice? The prospect sounded increasingly attractive to me.

Since I had planned to retire early (just not this early), I had already considered the issue of health insurance. I had hoped to wait until OG qualified for Medicare, but since that didn’t work out, we decided to elect COBRA benefits through my former employer. The coverage is expensive, but comprehensive, and will cover OG until he reaches sixty-five. At that point, if not before, I will need to purchase individual coverage. For me, the Affordable Care Act couldn’t have come at a better time.

That leaves the issue of income and the decision about what I want to do with the rest of my life. I could look for another job, but even ignoring the issue of age discrimination, every fiber of my being resists the idea of working for someone else again. I have never considered myself entrepreneurial, but I trust myself with my future more than I trust anyone else. The time seems right to take the plunge into self-employment.

I am lucky enough to have adequate retirement savings but not quite old enough to tap into them without paying a penalty. We have enough in the bank to cover our expenses for a number of months, so I intend to make the most of that time preparing for my next career.

Many people who choose to put together a portfolio career build off their prior professional experience. They might consult in their previous field for a number of different clients or rely on past contacts to establish a new business. I rejected that option immediately. The thought of spending another hour working in insurance gives me chills. But what else do I know how to do?

I know how to write. I’ve written two award-winning novels and a novella and have another completed with several more in the works. But because I know what’s involved, I had to ask myself whether I have what it takes to be a full-time writer. The honest answer is no. I need more variety. To do my best work I need to allow the creative well time to refill. I know I want to continue writing, but that’s only the first part of my portfolio career. Because I have gone through the self-evaluation process described in my previous post, a couple of other ideas have been percolating in my brain.

I love the written word in every form. I love to read; I love to write. I also love to edit. Not many writers can say that, but it’s true for me. I’ve been professionally edited, and I’ve edited other writers’ work. I know I would find it truly rewarding to help independent authors present their best possible work to the world. The second part of my new career will be freelance editing.

I have another love as well—art and design. Along with writing and editing, I’m going to learn to design book covers. I have a degree in Art History from Vassar College, so I’ve been trained to evaluate and critique visual art. Unfortunately, I can’t draw a convincing stick figure, but today’s software makes that unnecessary. I’ve been teaching myself to use Photoshop, and I love it. I also may take a class in the next few months. After so many years spent mastering a technical business discipline, I look forward to the chance to learn something new.

So there you have it: I’m going to become a slasher (as in writer/editor/book designer). If you had the opportunity to create a portfolio career, what would you choose?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Encore Career

After I decided to end my thirty-seven-year insurance career, I started looking for the next step. After all, I’m only fifty-eight and have too much energy to spend the next thirty years sitting in a rocker on the front porch. Besides, I don’t feel done. I may be done getting up at 5:40 a.m. to attend marketing meetings, but there are still many things I want to learn and accomplish. There’s also the financial angle. I’m grateful to have this flexibility, but I’m not ready to abandon earned income entirely.

When I started investigating the possibilities, one of the first concepts I encountered was the Encore Career. The best way to learn about encore careers is to go straight to the source. In its own words, Encore.org is “a non-profit organization working to promote encore careers—second acts for the greater good”. This site is packed with information and resources to help older workers considering a late-life career change who are looking for a way to help others or make a meaningful difference in the world, principally by working for a non-profit organization.

A major survey undertaken jointly by the MetLife Foundation and Civic Ventures (d.b.a. Encore.org) found that a significant percentage of older workers interested in making a job change indicated they still had life goals to fulfill (28%), as well as a desire to make a positive change in the world (21%). Others felt a spiritual calling to a new line of work (12%). Another aspect to consider is how much you want to work. According to the survey, people in this type of encore career worked about thirty hours per week instead of the usual thirty-five to forty. If this sounds like you, Encore.org has information about classes, internship opportunities, and organizations looking for workers.

If this type of experience appeals to you, consider leveraging your existing business skills into a new, more meaningful activity or taking the opportunity to learn something completely new. Depending on your former job, going the non-profit route might not replace your previous income, but it could be an exciting opportunity—if you can afford it and are looking for a way to add value to your pre-retirement years.

As we age, our priorities often change. Considering an encore career is part of the process of finding your passion. If you’ve done some serious interest and career exploration, as we discussed in the last post, and your recommended options include non-profit ventures, now might be a good time to give them a closer look. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Exploring Your Interests

Once I made the decision to leave the world of insurance, I came face-to-face with the big question many of us haven’t considered in decades (if ever): what do I want to be when I grow up?

When I graduated from college with a degree in Art History, all I knew for certain was that I wanted to be a mother some day. I had never really considered what to do with myself until that time arrived. Vassar in the mid-seventies was a hotbed of feminism, and many of my classmates had well-considered plans for graduate and professional school. However, the sad truth is that an equal number of us had no particular career goals. We had more options than our mothers but few role models. Also, the country was in the middle of a recession (remember the gas shortage and lines at the pumps?), and jobs were scarce. I took the first job I was offered, and it set the course for the next thirty-seven years.

Now, however, everything has changed. It’s much easier to get information about every occupation and activity imaginable. The rainbow of choices is literally blinding. The problem is narrowing them down to the best one or ones for you.

The place to start is with self-knowledge. If you’re in your fifties, you probably have a good idea of the things you’re interested in and enjoy doing, but how well do you really know yourself? Now is a great time to do some in-depth exploration. And it’s fun! It may confirm what you already suspect, but it might also present you with new possibilities you’d never considered. To help set you on the right path, I‘d like to share a few books I used to hone in on what I really want for The Second Half.

At this point, you may know whether you want to look for a job in a new field, go into business for yourself, or try a new volunteer opportunity. I didn’t. When I started my search, all I knew was I had to get out. So it’s no surprise I started with Escaping Career Prison: Three Keys toBreaking Free and Finding Work You Love, by Amy Van Court. The title alone is liberating, and the tone of the book is supportive and encouraging—just what I needed when I was in the throes of work misery. The ebook version also includes a link to the author’s website where you can download and print a very helpful workbook. By the time you read the book and complete the workbook, you’ll have a much better idea of what you want from work and life.

Next, I picked up Career Match, by Shoya Zichy with Ann Bidou. Based on the work of Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, and the Myers-Briggs personality-type Indicator, Zichy has devised her own color-coded system she calls Color Q to help match people with compatible occupations. Using a self-assessment questionnaire, she assigns primary and secondary personality types to four color groups then applies the introvert/extrovert filter. I determined I am a gold/green introvert, which was supported by the interesting list of possible job choices at the end of the section.

For confirmation, I checked back with a book we’d had since OG did some career exploration several years ago—Do What You Are, by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger. This classic has been around for twenty years, and with good reason. Also based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, it offers detailed insight into the science of personality typing, as well as the sixteen personality types and suitable occupations for each. I highly recommend it even if you aren’t interested in career guidance. I have used the basic descriptions to help with character development in my fiction writing for years.

There are many other excellent books available in the field of career selection, and I’ll try to bring more to your attention as I come across them. Are there any that have been particularly helpful to you?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

My Hair Has Stopped Falling Out

Well, maybe not completely, but for the most part. There were a few hairs that didn’t get the mass suicide notice last fall when most of their brethren leapt to their deaths over a period of three months, but now the departures are gentle and intermittent. I’m afraid to say it out loud, but I’m beginning to nurse a nascent hope of having a full head of hair again, perhaps by summer.

What I actually want to talk about is the physical reaction to stress. Our bodies all react to stress differently, and I’ve discovered that my reaction has changed over the years. Like most people, I’ve had periods of high stress in my life, and as I’ve aged insomnia has become a bigger problem. I’ve also learned that prolonged stress and lack of sleep can give me sudden episodes of cardiac arrhythmia, so I try to manage the triggers the best I can. Unfortunately, one can’t predict sudden shocks, so I’ve had to learn how to minimize the episodes as well.

But before the “late unpleasantness” at my job, nothing had ever caused my hair to fall out. It’s one thing to hear anecdotally that stress causes hair loss but quite another to see fistfuls of evidence every morning in the shower. Even if we complain about our hair, more is unquestionably better than less. We connect hair loss with illness, and it reminds us that stress is an illness. We become stressed about our stress, and it feeds on itself like a snarling, voracious auto-cannibal.

That’s why I’m so happy to report that my hair has stopped falling out. It means my body is healing. And if my body is healing, it’s because my psyche is healing; my stress is diminishing. A very good omen for forging that new life in The Second Half.

You may be different, but for me, stress kills creativity. I don’t mean the lower-level stress of projects and deadlines; I mean the crushing existential stress that makes you want to run for the hills screaming. In future posts I hope to explore some methods of stress reduction that are new to me, like yoga and meditation. In the meantime, I’ll be peering in my mirror looking for signs of new little hairs sprouting where they should be—on top of my head!

What does stress do to your body, and what do you do to combat it? Please share. As they say on PBS’s The Red Green Show, we’re all in this together.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Sad State of Newspapers

My last post about routines got me thinking about an important part of my day. Like many in our generation, OG and I have a longstanding habit of starting the day by reading the newspaper with breakfast. We trade sections and comment on items of interest. It’s all very civilized. And becoming painfully obsolete.

When we were growing up in Kansas City, there were two daily papers—one in the morning and one in the afternoon—and we read both. As a student at Vassar in the ‘seventies, I had a subscription to The New York Times delivered to my dorm. I’ve always been a serious consumer of newsprint. Now we find ourselves considering abandoning what passes for a modern daily in a major metropolitan area.

Clark Kent and his colleagues at The Daily Planet would spin in their graves if they saw this pitiful specimen. On weekdays, an entire section may consist of only two large, folded pieces of paper—eight printed pages in total. It wasn’t long ago that our paper had a small Washington bureau; now the staff consists of a handful of local reporters. Every article of national or international news is taken from another source—the AP, The New York Times, or occasionally The Washington Post. And worse, the stories are stale, often appearing two days after I read them on the Internet.

Ah, yes, the Internet. The culprit behind the demise of newspapers.

Don’t misunderstand, I love the Internet. I’ve learned important things and met wonderful friends on the web. Readers buy my books from online stores. You wouldn’t be reading this if it weren’t for the Internet, and I would have no venue for my ramblings. But still, it’s hard to accept what’s happened to newspapers. My sister reads her daily Times on her tablet, and I know some day I’ll have to do the same. It’s inevitable, but my mind and heart rebel. Breakfast with an iPad just won’t be the same.

Besides, I don’t want another expensive electronic gadget that requires yet one more monthly fee. Like every member of her generation, my daughter has a smart phone. Many days I feel I’m the only one left on the planet without one. But for myself, I don’t see the need. I reluctantly got a cell phone a few years ago for business trips and possible emergencies, and I’ll admit it’s come in handy more than once. However, OG and I already have a desktop computer and three laptops. We don’t need to check stock prices or find a restaurant on the go—we’re not on the go all that often. And I can’t bear the thought of trying to read on such a tiny screen; I even had to bump the print size up a level on my Kindle.

And then there’s the cost. We’re not destitute, but part of the appeal of retirement is the opportunity to simplify life, not figure out ways to make it more complicated and expensive. Every new “must have” gadget comes with an infinite price tag. There’s no such thing as choosing the item that fits your needs and simply buying it. If you want it to actually do anything, you have to resign yourself to making regular payments. And you can rest assured the manufacturers will do everything in their power to render your choice obsolete as quickly as possible.

Which leads us back to the newspaper. I know there’s a regular cost to my subscription and the quality of the product has deteriorated, but I’ll still miss it when I eventually give up and grudgingly go electronic. How about you? Are you an iPad convert? Give me some reassurance, please.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Importance of Routine

I have now been officially retired for a week, but I feel almost as busy as when I worked full time. The main difference is that I’m fitting my “new life” activities (i.e. writing and related social media duties), as well as my discovery activities (research on future opportunities), into the hours I used to spend at the office. Previously, I would disappear into my writing study after dinner for a few hours several days a week, but at this point, I’m trying to leave my evenings free to spend with OG.

The first major challenge I’ve faced in my new life is figuring out what to do when, and my first decision was to turn off the alarm clock. I don’t make many resolutions, but in 2013, I resolved never to get up at 5:40 a.m. to attend a marketing meeting again. Ever. I have turned my back on that part of my old life with unrepentant glee.

However, I still want to be productive. In fact, it’s even more important now that I’m working for myself than when I was drawing a paycheck. Retirement has not altered my basic psychological makeup. I want to enjoy what I’m doing, but I need to see evidence of concrete accomplishment. And to do that, I need routine; I need a schedule. The schedule can be flexible, but every day needs a framework.

One of my first fears when I quit my job was that I would no longer know what day of the week it was. A prominently placed calendar would solve that problem, but what really worried me was that the days would blend together and time would lose its structure. That might appeal to some, but not to me.

Certain things happen at certain times on certain days at our house. Since OG has been home alone during the week for several years, he already has a well-established routine. He runs errands and exercises in the morning; Monday is trash day; Thursday and Sunday are laundry days, etc. I made a point not to interfere while I was working, and I don’t plan to start now. We both derive a measure of comfort from the constant rhythm of the week. My challenge is to create a structure for my days that complements OG’s yet allows me to meet my own goals.

Afternoons have always been my most productive writing time (OG likes to nap), so I plan to continue to work on creative projects in the afternoon. The business of the day—errands, housework, correspondence, social media, etc.—will be relegated to the morning. I’m used to exercising after work, so I plan to stick to that schedule and work out before starting dinner.

So far, this plan seems to be working for both of us. We’ll see how it evolves as I take on additional new projects and OG develops new interests. The Second Half is definitely a work in progress.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Adventures With OG

As we begin, I thought it would be a good idea to introduce my partner on my journey into The Second Half. Henceforth, for purposes of this blog, my husband shall be known as OG (short for Old Goat – his appellation, not mine).

OG and I have been married nearly thirty years and have been true partners in every sense of the word. Our road has had its bumps and bends as most do, but we’ve stuck it out together and are genuinely looking forward to spending more time in each other’s company. We are the parents of a wonderful twenty-six year-old daughter who is the light of our lives but is now ready to spread her wings and start living her life—leaving us free to devote more time to building our own.

One unusual characteristic of our marriage is the fact that OG and I have never been employed full time simultaneously since our daughter was born (which begs the corollary--we've never been at home at the same time either). I took the first eight years of her life off to stay home, and then we switched places.

OG has shown unflagging support during the recent disintegration of my career, being no stranger to untenable work situations himself. In order to remain employed while I stayed home, he was forced to change jobs several times as employer after employer shut down, was sold, or left town. Ultimately, we moved to the Twin Cities when there was no work left to be had in Kansas City. When yet another job crumbled on him, we decided it was my turn to take my chances on the employment merry-go-round. I struck it lucky, and OG moved into the then-uncommon role of stay-at-home dad.

Our neighborhood is currently teeming with fathers who gather at the school bus stops in the morning dressed in jeans, clutching coffee mugs and chatting with each other after their children depart. However, eighteen years ago it was cutting edge. These men may work at home today, but OG’s job could only be done in an office. So for years he gamely drove missed lunches up to school and responded to calls from the nurse’s office, shopped for groceries and did the laundry.

I tell you this so you’ll understand this is his time, too. We’re both looking for a new challenge, something to make us want to get up in the morning now that we no longer have to set the alarm. We plan to pursue our separate interests, but we’re on this quest together. It makes it so much easier and so much more fun. We'll just have to be careful not to drive each other crazy in the process.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Free At Last

Free at last! Free at last! Thank the Lord, I’m free at last!

I had planned to make these words from the old spiritual my mantra for 2013. Before I left my job (see the About Me page for complete details), I expected to shout them from the rooftops. The truth of my response to leaving the world of “regular” employment after thirty-seven years is somewhat more complicated.

Mine was not the triumphant retirement I’d planned as recently as six months ago. Instead, it arrived a few years ahead of schedule and brought along a niggling degree of economic, as well as emotional, insecurity. My head knows my husband and I have tucked away a comfortable sum, but my heart still quakes at the thought of January 15th, the first payday in decades when no check will arrive.

Although I was able to leave on my own terms rather than being laid off or terminated, my departure wasn't the warm experience I’d envisioned. I gave my notice and was requested to leave the following day—not surprising, but not gratifying either after more than sixteen years.  After a brief, pleasant announcement, a few co-workers stopped by to wish me well, and I slipped away unnoticed during the employee holiday party. As I turned out the lights in my office for the last time, carried my remaining belongings to my car, and drove off all I could think was what an anti-climactic end to one of the most important chapters of my life.

But in truth, I didn’t expect more. During my career, I’ve watched enough people come and go to know that in business no one is ever missed for long. And I don’t intend to waste time dwelling in the past; it isn’t worth the energy. I have a new life to plan. And that’s what this blog is about—planning for and making the most of The Second Half.

I’ve devoted much of the past six months to self-discovery, not an altruistic pursuit but critical at this point. When I graduated from college, I didn’t spend five minutes considering what I wanted (or needed) to do with my life. Like so many, I was simply looking for a job. And that first job led to more than three decades in the insurance business. I enjoyed many aspects of my job, but it probably wasn’t the best match for an Art History major. Now I get a do-over.

I’m at the beginning of an exciting journey, one you may be preparing to make as well. Or perhaps you’re father down the road and willing to share your experiences with those of us who follow. I hope that together we’ll find the good humor, inspiration, and determination to construct a satisfying, uplifting Second Half. Thanks for coming along for the ride.