Ear-to-end

Merry Christmas! 

Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn’t come from a store. 
-Dr Seuss

Maybe identity, Joan thought, doesn’t come from a job.  Maybe purpose, she mused, doesn’t come from a career.  Maybe value, Joan reflected, doesn’t come from money.  

Maybe the best gifts, she reasoned, don’t come with diamonds.

Don’t be ridiculous.

Of course they do. 

Last week I had a couple of very nice retirement parties where I felt super appreciated. It also felt a little weird. If I’d switched jobs in the last couple of decades, it probably wouldn’t have been as strange. But I didn’t. I’ve spent 22 years calling the same building a home. So, for now, there’s a vacuum where accountability used to be. Until it dissipated, the undercurrent of constant responsibility hadn’t been conscious. It makes me feel more untethered than liberated.

No one is counting on me to know stuff. No one will think of me in the future when a question arises from my work. 

It’s not mine any more.  

Unbelievable.

Yay!

How I'm Writing the Book
Getting My Head in the Game: By December 31, I’ve committed to two things to be prepared for 2018 writing: 1) Establishing good habits and 2) setting an attainable goal. The first idea on establishing a good habit is to write one hour/morning (It may be slim but this is just for December and its on top of journaling 30 minutes/day). Secondly, the “attainable goal" is to complete the book’s plot structure. To me, this means to develop the story arc (cause, reaction, consequence) from start to finish. In addition, I’ll complete a two-tier outline of the story arc (one tier is outer action; the other tier is the inner feeling about the action.)

These two commitments should set me up to begin writing pages in January. I'm sure there will be changes as I actually write the book but I'll have an idea of where I'm going. 

As you read this Juan and I are in Kansas City celebrating Christmas with our daughter Cristina and her boyfriend Jay. It's snowy and blustery but we are cozily preparing for a true Kansas City Christmas (barbecue in the menu!)

Back to Dr. Seuss for a closing word:

Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.

 Ear-to-ear!

Signature

Hey, partner!

It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing. 
-Duke Ellington

Oh, wow, two days. Only two more days of work! Unbelievable.

I am swinging between anticipation (freedom!) and trepidation (what will retirement be like?)

The workaholic in me is wringing her hands... will I be bored? Waste my time? I know of other retirees that have struggled with finding a new routine and being happy when their jobs ended. 

Will I procrastinate on my self-promises like cleaning out the storage room, tossing all the mate-less socks, or starting a new workout routine? All are waiting in the wings for "as soon as I retire." 

I've started to think fondly about the revolving-door entrance to my company's building: "Just a few more days of entering here." 

Ha!

This past week I had lunch with a friend I met 22 years ago when I began my first job in the company's equity research area. Chris and I bonded quickly. Behind our titles of supervisory analyst (Chris) and editor of the client newsletter (me) we were both moms, about 10 years older than the majority of the either single or childless research analysts. We could laugh at how our younger colleagues would marvel at our calm in the office. "An emergency is not the fax machine breaking, " we'd agree. "A real emergency is taking the kids to the ER!" 

Over the years our career trajectories took us in different directions. Exchanging stories over lunch Chris reminded me about past conversations when she'd pull up a chair in my cubicle, I'd swing my chair around to face her and we'd talk about our passions. Chris loved volleyball. She went on to coach each of her three kids who all continued with the sport in college, especially her daughter who played internationally as a professional. 

Chris reminded me that I used to talk about writing a book. "I did?" "All the time."

What happened? Somehow, over the years, the dream kept getting pushed to the back of the line. The intellectual and emotional pull of work with its unending gauntlet of planning and projects and politics kept up a constant pressure. Family life roller-coastered. I marveled at my sister's career as a teacher with its miraculous summer breaks. There never seemed to be the mental room to push back against others' expectations in order to find the space to imagine something else. 

And I enjoyed my work. It was engrossing and challenging until a few years ago, when, imperceptibly at first, my interest began to ebb. I started to think about experimenting outside of my job. 

It was 11-1/2 months ago when I took a small step. Earlier in the year self-doubt had brought my writing to a skidding halt. But, in December, I remember thinking, "I can't expect anything to change unless I do something different." So I signed up for a 3-month virtual class dedicated to how to be a creative professional -- whether in writing, music or art.  Each day we'd connect via the virtual meeting platform, Slack, on a daily topic and learn from each other -- how people approached their days, removed obstacles and took practical steps. From January to March I was mostly a listener.

In April - I re-upped for another three months and during this period swallowed my doubts and re-started my blog, telling myself I need to do (write) what I say I want to be (a writer). I decided to do a public 100-day Challenge to write for 30 minutes/day and post proof on Instagram. I bought a selfie stick. 

In our Slack group when I shared the story of Johanna van Gogh and how it was her persistence that brought Van Gogh's art to worldwide recognition and how I wanted to find a story "like that" to write, one of the members cheerfully wrote, "Or you could write that one!" 

I could write that one. 

In July I re-upped for another three months of the virtual class, finished the 100-day Challenge (here's the video) and traveled to Amsterdam and Paris, two of the settings for the book. I started reading and researching about the period of time when Vincent van Gogh lived and the significant people that crossed his path. Images and context for the late 19th century period began to play in my mind - the book started to become more real.

Corporate executive by day; writer by night. With each step my identity felt like it was ever-so-gradually shifting. 

In September I held a "Plot Party," a focus group with historical fiction readers to learn more about what draws them to a good story. In late October, I signed up for a writing "sprint" -- could I sustain writing over a longer period than my usual 30 minutes? At the end of the 2-1/2 days, the intense class left me exhausted and clearer than ever on how hard writing a good book will be. 

Yet, the challenging feedback I received for each of my submissions also felt strangely encouraging. It is a new world of intellectual and creative challenge. 

Two things kept me going: 1) small steps and 2) accountability to others. Day-to-day living is a headwind; self-doubt can feel like a gale force. Against such pressure, big moves were impossible. But a small step - that I could take. This led to another step and another.

Then, it was not enough to have the dream and take the steps without letting others know what I was doing. It helped to be accountable to people outside of myself.

So here we are.

Twenty-two years. It's taken 22 years to come full circle.

Time to write this book. 

How I'm Writing the Book
Books I'm Reading:  I've started The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass. It's a reference guide on writing techniques for connecting with readers emotionally. In late January I'll attend a writer's workshop with Maass so thought I'd begin to prepare. In addition, I've also started author Peter Wohlleben's book, The Inner Life of Animals. Based on research the book demonstrates that animals think, feel and know much more than we tend to give them credit for.(Finally! A book to unlock the mystery of Natasha, our cat!)

Resources: Dan Blank is the professional coach who offers the 3-month classes via Slack. He has three new programs beginning January 1. The writing sprint I took at the end of October will be repeated in January by Jennie Nash and her team of book coaches. Lovely author Teri Case gave me the cheerful push to adopt Johanna as my protagonist. Check out Teri's book, Tiger Drive, coming out in February. 

That's it for this week. Other than journaling every day for 30 minutes my book has slid into low gear while I'm winding up work and taking care of holiday stuff. 

Let me end with Duke Ellington again:

A goal is a dream with a finish line.

Thank you, Jamie -- accountability partner! --  I'm standing by to be one for you.

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Keeper

Every blunder behind us is giving a cheer for us...
-Carl Sandburg

In hindsight, I should have known better. 

"Clueless."

"Stupid."

My eyes start to blur; oh NO, I've touched a nerve.

"Irresponsible". 

"Disrespectful."

The angry words leap off the page. I'm holding a thick stack of papers and am painfully reading note after note of complaint.

"Insensitive."

"Wasteful."

I am numb. A rushing sound begins to build behind my ears and I feel lightheaded. 

"Jerk."

Page after page of negative comments. Later, I would know I've caused one of the lowest points in my career. And, in that moment, I also don't know that before the week is out it will get worse. 

I'd determined to take a risk. For many years the company I worked for ran internal trimester campaigns. Designed to focus the firm's employees on seasonal activities, the campaigns traditionally outlined a set of activities to drive business, such as hold x number of client appointments during a specific timeframe.

High profile, the campaigns were an engine to zero in on specific goals and to generate business. For as long as anyone could remember, they'd always been headed up by a firm partner.

Earlier that year I'd politicked hard to get the chance to run a campaign. Ambitiously, I saw the opportunity to increase my visibility and so solicited sponsors to support my request. I get the ask: I would be the first non-partner entrusted with a trimester campaign. 

Months in advance and with dozens of others we set to work to brainstorm and to design the strategy.

The theme we choose is "Tool Time"; it reflects a focus to encourage adoption of the firm's new financial planning software tools. The seasonal timing is good because the software's customized reports could help both financial advisors and clients, especially in the important financial decisions investors make at year-end.

I present the campaign ideas to the powers-that-be and it's approved. Yay! Now all we need is to snag our busy financial advisors' attention with some clever, attention-grabbing communication. 

At that time, before the broad use of electronic communication, the headquarters mailed a bundle of information to our branch offices twice a week. So, we decide to design a creative packet to mail. 

The clever design looks like a toolbox. As it's opened, and different panels are unfolded, new information pops out as though pulling tools out of a toolbox. And -- icing on the cake -- thanks to our design team and print buyers working together -- the kit cost much less than prior mailers. Yet,  it had a polished, professional look versus previous campaigns’ plain printed folders full of collated inserts.

The kits are produced; we circulate a few internally, then they're in the mail and off!

I can't WAIT for the response!

...

So, there is such a thing as being too creative. 

A few negative comments come in and then an avalanche. It feels like an onslaught. They carry a common theme. Headquarters is wasting hard-earned revenue on expensive, frivolous internal mailers. As the mail arrives at different times across the country, the complaints roll in like waves thundering again and again onto shore.

I meet with upper management. A week later a senior executive publishes a national internal apology to the branch offices across the country. Though I am not named, I am admonished. He states that the mailer is a mistake and that it was "too creative."  I am unknown to the field, but humiliated at headquarters. Worse than this disgrace is feeling the disappointment of the creative team that had worked so hard. 

What did I learn? 

What I should have known as a marketer: Know your audience. Perceptions matter. Get an outsider's opinion -- we loved the design, and I believe that simply asking for feedback would have helped steer us to a more acceptable solution. 

That event was many years ago. Eventually, the negative comments stopped, and the campaign ran successfully. People moved on to new things; the focus shifted and, some years later, I did become a partner. 

I gave this account a few weeks ago on a panel alongside other retiring partners when asked to share a story about failure. The recollection fit; retirement is a natural vantage point for reflection on a career's ups and downs. With 20/20 hindsight I see lots of missteps right next to the successes.

On the retirement panel I shared an analogy I've been thinking about - that a career is like a musical score. Across the measures there are individual exhilarating high notes and disappointing low ones but, over time, they blend together as each measure is played. The point is to play the next measure. A melody is unfolding. Whatever the low note, play the next measure. Harmony reveals itself.  

How I'm Writing the Book
Killer Sentence: Two weeks ago, I listed six killer sentences (one-line descriptions of my book). I've been trying them out to see which ones are most effective. So far, the one that seems to be working is No. 4: "It's the untold true story of the loss of Van Gogh's work and a young woman's journey to resurrect it." I inserted the word "true" since the plot is based on true events. This has piqued interest.  

Books I'm Reading I finished Dan Brown's Origin. As in Brown's other books (The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons) Professor Robert Langdon (played by Tom Hanks in the movie versions) finds himself gripped by a perplexing mystery and unraveling clues alongside a lovely smart woman all while being chased by hidden villains. Brown is a fantastic storyteller who inserts lots of cliff-hanger moments to keep the reader turning the page. 

Well, speaking of true, here’s a confession. I've neglected my writing these past few weeks other than journaling in the morning. This retirement countdown has piled on extra events, a final clearing out of the last office clutter and lots of sweet moments -- lunches and conversations and even a girlfriend trip to Chicago. (This past week's blog got hung up in the hotel's Internet plumbing and, so I apologize for missing last Monday's in-box.)

I'm trying to savor this special time. 

In that spirit, here's writer Carl Sandburg again:

Let a joy keep you. Reach out your hands and keep it when it runs by.

Reach!

Signature
 

Do you Dare?

Congratulations!*
Today is your day.
You're off to Great Places!
You're off and away!

For me, this day, Monday, is a day that’s been a long time coming.

It will begin like lots of other work days. In the morning I will have breakfast with four interns to introduce them to the company, ask them questions and hopefully be engaging enough that they’ll be happy with their decision to work at the company. 

Later I will have a conference call, a planning meeting for another meeting, and lunch with a friend. I will do some short tasks; I will clear and send email several times. Unknown to any of the people I interact with today, I will be marking each of these ordinary minutes. As they tick by, I am being pulled closer to a moment of no return.

You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. But mostly they're darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?

Truth be told it’s not the unknown that concerns me as much as getting so used to the known that resistance to change calcifies.

I am retiring. This transition was a long time coming. Before I could get to this point I had to come to peace with the goals I would not achieve. For while there’s always more to be done, I started to consider that it did not have to be me to do it. As I loosened this personal responsibility and ego, it became easier to allow others in to bring their own interpretation to the work. By letting go, I felt the freedom to explore and to learn more about the personal passion of writing that I’d allowed to play second (or third) fiddle to my priorities and time for years.  

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.

There is more to be done! Look at the examples of those who have preceded us:

  • At 59, “Satchel” Paige became the oldest Major League  baseball player.
  • At 60, playwright and essayist George Bernard Shaw finished writing "Heartbreak House," regarded by many as his masterpiece.
  • At 61, Charles Cagniard de la Tour, a French doctor,  demonstrated that fermentation depends upon yeast cells.
  • At 62, J.R.R. Tolkien published the first volume of his fantasy series, "Lord of the Rings."
  • At 63, John Dryden undertook the enormous task of  translating the entire works of Virgil into English verse.
  • At 64, Thomas Bowdler “bowdlerized” Shakespeare’s works, making them “family friendly.”
  • At 65, jazz musician Miles Davis defiantly performed his final live album, just weeks before he died.
  • At 66, Noah Webster completed his monumental "American  Dictionary of the English Language."
  • At 67, Simeon Poisson discovered the laws of probability after studying the likelihood of death from mule kicks in the French army.
  • At 68, the English experimentalist Sir William Crookes  began investigating radioactivity and invented a device for  detecting alpha particles.
  • At 69, Canadian Ed Whitlock of Milton, Ontario, Canada,  became the oldest person to run a standard marathon in under three hours (2:52:47).
  • At 70, Cornelius Vanderbilt began buying railroads.
  • At 71, Katsusuke Yanagisawa, a retired Japanese schoolteacher, became the oldest person to climb Mt. Everest.
  • At 72, Margaret Ringenberg flew around the world.
  • At 73, Larry King celebrated his 50th year in broadcasting.
  • At 74, Ferdinand Marie de Lesseps began an attempt to construct the Suez Canal.
  • At 75, cancer survivor Barbara Hillary became one of the  oldest people, and the first black woman, to reach the North  Pole.
  • At 76, Arthur Miller unveiled a bold new play, "The Ride Down  Mt. Morgan," free of the world-weary tone of his previous  works.
  • At 77, John Glenn became the oldest person to go into space.
  • At 78, Chevalier de Lamarck proposed a new theory of the  evolutionary process, claiming that acquired characteristics can be transmitted to offspring.
  • At 79, Asa Long became the oldest U.S. checkers champion.
  • At 80, Christine Brown of Laguna Hills, CA, flew to China  and climbed the Great Wall.
  • At 81, Bill Painter became the oldest person to reach the  14,411-foot summit of Mt. Rainier.
  • At 82, William Ivy Baldwin became the oldest tightrope  walker, crossing the South Boulder Canyon in Colorado on a 320-foot wire.
  • At 83, famed baby doctor Benjamin Spock championed for  world peace.
  • At 84, W. Somerset Maugham wrote "Points of View."
  • At 85, Theodor Mommsen became the oldest person to  receive a Nobel Prize in Literature.
  • At 86, Katherine Pelton swam the 200-meter butterfly in 3 minutes, 1.14 seconds, beating the men’s world record for that age group by over 20 seconds.
  • At 87, Mary Baker Eddy founded the Christian Science Monitor.
  • At 88, Michelangelo created the architectural plans for the  Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli.
  • At 89, Arthur Rubinstein performed one of his greatest  recitals in Carnegie Hall.
  • At 90, Marc Chagall became the first living artist to be  exhibited at the Louvre museum.
  • At 91, Allan Stewart of New South Wales completed a Bachelor of Law degree from the University of New England.
  • At 92, Paul Spangler finished his 14th marathon.
  • At 93, P.G. Wodehouse worked on his 97th novel, was  knighted and died.
  • At 94, comedian George Burns performed in Schenectady, NY, 63 years after his first performance there.
  • At 95, Nola Ochs became the oldest person to receive a college diploma.
  • At 96, Harry Bernstein published his first book, "The Invisible  Wall," three years after he started writing to cope with loneliness after his wife of 70 years, Ruby, passed away.
  • At 97, Martin Miller was still working full time as a lobbyist on behalf of benefits for seniors.
  • At 98, Beatrice Wood, a ceramist, exhibited her latest work.
  • At 99, Teiichi Igarashi climbed Mt. Fuji.
  • At 100, Frank Schearer seems to be the oldest active water skier in the world.
And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)

Indeed, today is simply the company-wide announcement of all retirements. I will be working until the end of the year but now I will gleefully be known as “retiree.” And as I gradually transition my work to others, I can continue...

...Taking Steps toward Writing a Book
Instagram posting of writing 30 minutes/day: Today is Day 100! Today I’ll post my nice big, beautiful final 100th day Instagram post. Here are the big happy outcomes: 1) Writing is a habit. I absolutely think about it daily and find the time to write; 2) Sometimes I write crap. I gave myself permission to be nonjudgmental early on because the goal was not quality but dependability; 3) Keeping a promise — a commitment to myself, for myself feels fantastic. Like you, for so long I have put others and work before my own interests, and this is important; 4) THANK YOU if you “liked” the posts or simply thought, “You go, girl!” when you saw my notes about the Instagram challenge in this blog. The support kept me accountable. 

(Next week’s blog will have a little surprise, inspired by the 100 Day Challenge.)

Books I'm reading:  I’m engrossed in Margaret Atwood's, The Blind Assassin. I’m picking up my pace; puzzle pieces of the plot are coming together. She is a master storyteller, leaving bread crumbs that are beginning to connect with suspense and shock.

Finally, a happy conclusion from Dr. Seuss’ book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!*  

You're off the Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So...get on your way!

I dare you!

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