A new year

Winter Limbs

When I was a kid, I wondered what it would be like to live to the year 2000, which seemed far, far in the future. What would my life be like? Where would I live? What type of job would I have?

I recalled those wonderings this morning, as I considered the first day of this new year. 2013. More than a decade beyond that childhood horizon. My early questions have long been answered. Yet, on the doorstep of a new year, I feel a sense that not all has been answered, a sense of the possibility for new direction, a sense of potential.

2012 was challenging for me. I began the year expecting I would be out of a job by summer. Fortunately, when summer did arrive, I had been offered a part-time position doing work I enjoyed, retaining critical benefits. The pace of the role was slower than the frenetic tempo I had lived with for years, allowing for reflection and actual enjoyment of the summer season.

Ironically, and so typical of the vagaries of corporate life, the CEO decided to merge two business units and, by the middle of the fall, I had a new boss — someone I knew from past lives, when both of us were at different companies — who wanted me back full time. The core of my role remains the same, yet is likely to evolve under this new management.

2012 was challenging, mentally much more than economically, as it turned out. I’m still processing the impact to my self esteem and self confidence of losing a significant leadership role. Without a clear understanding of what occurred and why, I’m trying to move beyond the need to write that narrative, to just accept what happened and move on.

While I’ve spent a lot of time pondering the negative, stepping off the treadmill provided time to reflect on what is important in my life. I’ve concluded this forced change is also a blessing. Approaching my 60th birthday, my perspective has shifted from career-take-all to seeking more balance, more simplicity, more time to explore my “one of these days” list, more time to give back.

Fueling my reflections, someone (I don’t recall the source) characterized three  stages of life: learning, earning, and returning. I’m definitely feeling the need to move from earning to returning. While not motivated literally by earning, my earning years have been consuming. My career in “high tech” has been a continuing series of time-driven challenges, typically doing something that hasn’t been done before, in a time that turns out to be too short, and usually costing more money than budgeted. The environment, especially for one motivated by the work, leaves scant time for other interests.

Forced to step off the treadmill, I lost the adrenalin rush and, through the withdrawal, came to see the corporate, market, and technical challenges repeating in an endless loop, year to year, decade to decade. Each success is replaced with a new challenge — as it should be. But at this point in my life, I want to step back from being consumed by the process.

I gave up New Year’s resolutions long ago. Yet it seems fitting to vest 2013 with the goal of a new framework for my living; not necessarily a totally new path or new direction, but at least more balance, more simplicity, more intention — in the spirit stated so well by Thoreau:

 …I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.


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Birthday musing

Last week I turned 59. I took the day off from work and made a pilgrimage to Walden Pond. It’s not far from where we live — under an hour’s drive — yet I’d not been there in the 14 years we’ve lived in New England

Henry David Thoreau made the place forever famous when, in 1845, he built a cabin not far from the shore and spent two years living deliberately. His subsequent book, Walden, tells the story of his experience and fueled the spirit of personal independence — marching to the beat of one’s own drummer.

While Walden Pond is bordered by roads and commuter rail tracks today, my walk on the path along the lake was quiet and reflective, seemingly like what Thoreau experienced, although he had to create his own path, no doubt.

My trip to Walden Pond was indeed a pilgrimage: I went for inspiration, to hear the echoes of Thoreau. As my birthdays have slowly yet inexorably brought me to this point in life, my perspective has shifted from a nearly infinite sequence of tomorrows to a limited number of todays. How I spend these days is important. Do I continue to let the river of life carry me along or is it time to pick up my drum and set my own cadence?

For the past three years, I feel I have been on a treadmill, each day a marathon with a faster pace. My days have been filled with meetings and administering the flow of  activities among corporate functions. The cartoon I imagine is a little man with an oil can, lubricating a series of interlocking gears. I yearn for time for listening directly to customers, reflection, and strategy formulation, those items that both energize me and where I feel I most contribute to the success of a company.

This treadmill and my dilemma are ending within a couple months, and I need to choose the next path. I know what Henry David Thoreau would say. Do I have the courage to take his advice and blaze an independent trail through the woods? Or should I find a more secure path, one that doesn’t expose my family to the risks of an uncertain future?

Grateful that I have a choice. Anxious about choosing.

Do not worry if you have built your castles in the air. They are where they should be. Now put the foundations under them. — Henry David Thoreau

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