Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Progress Report: 6 Months Til 40!

It's been about 6 months since I turned 39 and whipped myself up into a tailspin around life goals, work/life balance, physical fitness, writing the great American memoir, and various other hallmarks signifying the passage of time. A lot has happened in those six months, some of which I've written about here, and much of which I haven't since I don't want to 'overshare' about everything on the Internet.

Essentially, in terms of what's happened: I took most of the summer off, quit my job, have reduced my body fat from 37% to 25%, am making steady progress on my book, saw my mother through some serious health issues, have dabbled with doing consulting versus having a full-time job, and perhaps the biggest change is that I have acquired an amazing boyfriend who has two wonderful teenagers, and I've become part of his family.

For the first time since I began working in my 20's, I unapologetically put my personal life first during the last six months, and it has paid off beyond any expectation I could ever have created in my mind.

Along the road, my entire worldview has changed, and things that have always seemed most important (steadily progressing career with more responsibility, money, and bigger titles) now seem unimportant.

Why did I need to essentially quit working in order to find a fulfilling personal life? Maybe normal people are able to do this whilst maintaining their job, but I've always been a person prone to extremes. My friend Ruth calls me a "verbal cutter." Everything is either "the best EVER!" or "a complete DISASTER" in my world, with no middle ground. I think this passion is part of what's made me successful in my career. I can easily sell what I feel passionate about, and I don't hesitate to very candidly dismiss what I'm, uh, not so excited about. I boil things down very quickly to their essential elements, which is a great talent for a marketing person to possess (there is bestselling book about this trait—thin-slicing--called Blink that Malcolm Gladwell wrote).

So, it seemed logical to me to boil down my personal life to essential elements – or in my case the almost complete lack of the essential elements required for a personal life. For me this process started in September of 2005, when my personal life hit a low point, which ironically coincided with the highest point in my career: I went through the breakup of a seven year relationship, after having moved across the country to be with this person; I had no friends in my new town to help see me through; and I had a new, high visibility job that required I walk into work every day with a huge smile on my face ready to revolutionize the company. How could I be doing so well at work and so horribly in my personal life? I pondered this question through the very long winter that followed…

Many of my friends have asked how I've come so far in such a short time, but they are only seeing the actions that have unfolded since I decided to take a sabbatical in June. In actuality, it has taken three years from the time my personal life was at the low point in September of 2005, until now. Along the way there have been the 8 moves I wrote about in a previous blog, making the difficult decision to leave a great job to return to San Francisco, and a lot of introspection as to what I want my life to look like on both sides of the aisle (personal/professional) as I approach 40.

With six months to go, I'm beyond pleased with my progress, and now the next hurdle is to combine the two sides successfully. I've redefined what work looks like for me, and I've finally, at the age of 39, reached a successful definition of what my personal life should be. The next six months will be about putting them together to see if they can create a cohesive whole…

Wish me luck!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

My Fat Kentucky Home (Part 1)

A few weeks ago I went to Owensboro, Kentucky to visit my mother, who has lived there for 39 years. She's been ill over the last few months, and in and out of the hospital. During her last hospital stay, doctors advised her that if she doesn't radically alter her diet – ie: no salt, low fat, restricted liquid intake – she won't live much longer. She's 64. I've been telling her this for YEARS as I watched her health continue to decline, but it seems hearing it from a hospital bed was impactful. So, she's supposedly been following this new diet, complaining loudly every step of the way, but adhering nonetheless. So far she's lost about 25 pounds and has been able to go off almost all of her literally dozens of medications. Her kidneys and heart, which were showing signs of failure, have reversed themselves, and she has more energy than she's had in years. She has a long way to go, but these are miraculous results in such a short time.

Results that occurred after just a few weeks of diet changes that essentially cut out all processed, high fat, high salt foods and replaced them with lots of fresh vegetables, fish, and whole grains.

I had several revelations while visiting the town where I grew up about diet, good health, my childhood exploits, and even a juicy one about my mother's love life (she divulged that over the course of her life EIGHT men have left their wives for her!). However, it was certainly not a revelation for me to hear the positive health impact diet changes can have on health. It probably isn't much of a revelation for those of us who live in California or other big cities, either. It has been quite a revelation to my mother, and data would suggest it would be a revelation to others in the state, as well.

While I was in Kentucky, the 2008 Fattest States Survey was released with much media fanfare. Kentucky came in as the seventh fattest state with 70% of adults overweight and almost 30% classified as obese. Just over the river from Owensboro, Indiana was celebrating the 'good news' that they moved from 9th to 11th place.

As I look down the list of statistics for all 50 states, I don't see much reason for any of them to celebrate. The least fat state is Colorado where 56% of adults are overweight and 19.3% are obese. Every single state has seen an increase in their adult obesity rate over the last year (except for D.C. with a decrease of -.1).

I place this study alongside my mother's recent efforts to change her diet, and I worry over her ability to be successful in the long term—because as bad as the news is from the Fattest States Survey, the news is even worse for Owensboro in particular. In the 1980's, Owensboro was dubbed the "Fast Food Capital of the World" because it was found that the city consumed more fast food per capita than anywhere else. 60% of the adults in Owensboro are obese.

A quick drive up Frederica Street, the main artery of the city, will take you past about 100 fast food or chain restaurants within a two mile span. This stretch was also famous in the 1980's for the sheer volume of fast food restaurants packed into such a small geographical space. It has become less famous now because so many cities in our country have duplicated this kind of fast food strip.

Another point of fame for Owensboro, which has proclaimed itself the BBQ capital of the world, is the International BBQ Festival which takes place each year on the city's riverfront. When I was growing up, this was a small local festival where church groups would turn up to compete in Burgoo (BBQ stew) contests, and the city's famous Moonlight BBQ restaurant would have a large booth for serving mutton and BBQ ribs. I went to the festival a few years ago for a dose of nostalgia and it has grown into an event of 50,000 people (the population of Owensboro is 55,000). The entire downtown area is taken over with BBQ pavilions and Funnel Cake stations, and smoke from miles of cooking meat pervades the entire city for days.

Again, that is a 60% adult obesity rate in Owensboro…

When fast food restaurants dominate the landscape and the biggest cultural event is a three day food-glut, how can a city like Owensboro ever hope to make progress, and what are my mother's long term chances to change her way of life? The entire city seems to conspire against her as the holy trinity of Cracker Barrel, Olive Garden, and Denny's beckons, visible from her living room window. Meanwhile, the produce at the local grocery store is tasteless, only frozen fish is available, and organic is relegated to the bottom shelf in the back of the store.

Still, she's making progress. And, I'm daring to be hopeful.

Stay tuned…

Monday, August 4, 2008

Haunted Ancestors

Real life has interfered with my blogging a bit recently--between moving, attending to family matters, suddenly finding myself with a new boyfriend(!), and helping start a new business, I'm finding this whole "change my life thing" has strangely enough resulted in a whole new life! But, I have managed to find time to continue working on my book and researching family history.

Family history I continue to be amazed that I never knew about before!

I recently discovered that famously haunted buildings and fervent, virginal religious missionaries all factor largely into my mother's upbringing.

When my mother was three years old, living with her parents and six siblings in a
three-room coal camp house in Eastern Kentucky, her parents gave her away to two missionary women who were traveling through the region, on their way to set up an orphanage in Salyersville, Kentucky. Thus, my mother became the first child of the Dora Lee Children's home, which operated in Eastern Kentucky for more than 35 years and served as a weigh station for hundreds (maybe even thousands) of children from the early 1950's until the late 1980's. I spent summers there as a child, so am very familiar with the experience of being in an orphanage, and I met some tragic, interesting, wonderful, troubled, mentally/physically disabled children during my times there.

The missionary women, who I knew as my "grandmothers" were in their early 30's when
they "acquired" my mother, and were long-standing members of the Gospel Workers Society -- a group of fervent missionary women started by Mennonite church elder Rev. William Brunner Musselman in 1895. The group's purpose was to do outreach to homebound people or communities that were not served by local churches and encourage them to accept Jesus Christ as their savior. Rev. Musselman strongly encouraged the women to pursue a life denying their own wants and devote themselves entirely to the missionary work.

In 1907, the group set up headquarters in Cleveland's Tremont area after purchasing a historic 15-building complex.

The oldest part of the complex was an imposing red and brown brick Gothic structure, dating from the 1830’s that was built to house Cleveland’s first university, which closed in 1853. The complex was rumored to have been used as a makeshift hospital during the Civil War.

In 1907, after Rev. Musselman purchased the building, he brought in groups of his missionary women to live in the building’s upper floors and print bibles. The women, called “Sallies” by the neighborhood kids, wore blue uniforms with straw hats and tall boots. They were zealous in their faithfulness to the mission and publishing company, and kept completely to themselves. Having severed ties to the outside world, the women almost never left the complex.

This rich cast of inhabitants combined with the stark Gothic architecture of the complex led to widespread modern-day rumors that the buildings, abandoned until recently, were haunted. In 2004, a Clevelend Free Press reporter toured the building with a local psychic for a feature story on haunted Cleveland, titled “Spirits of the Gospel.”

As the psychic walked through the vacant buildings, dark deeply shadowed crevices, and underground passageways, she asked, “Did you ever have cults (here)?”

My mother always referred to the Gospel Workers as “some kind of cult your Grandma belonged to when she was a young missionary.”

No research indicates that the Gospel Workers were a cult, but the Rev. Musselman was an intense man who taught that service to Jesus was best achieved through rigorous self-sacrifice and isolation from the world. His missionary women, whether living in the Union Gospel Press complex, or going out into the world on various missions, embodied these teachings.

My mother was raised under this type of fervent religious influence in an orphanage in Eastern Kentucky...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Enjoy the view, even when there isn’t one.

Don't hate me because I will soon have an unobstructed view of downtown SF in my master bedroom. And living room. I've gone through a lot to get to this point. I am moving this week. AGAIN. In fact, since 2005, including this move, I've moved eight times. Yes, you are reading that right. Eight times in three years. From San Francisco to Baltimore in early 2005. Through two temporary housing apartments, two houses that I owned and sold in Baltimore over a two and a half year period, and one apartment in DC that I rented. Then back to San Francisco last year. And now, this move, to my new house with the much deserved view. Hopefully I'll stay put there for a while because frankly I'm exhausted.

With all the changes I'm making in my life, this move to a more permanent dwelling being one of them, I've been reflecting on the lessons that have (hopefully) come out of so much moving and disruption over the last three years. Here are some of them:

-Home is where the dog is (or for a dog, where the couch is). Dogs often have a difficult time adjusting to moves. When I made my first move from SF to Baltimore, my dog was nearing 6 and had lived her entire life in one house, so I expected some trauma after flying her across the country and bringing her to a new place. After sniffing diligently around the new house, she watched the movers bring her favorite couch in, followed them as they placed it in its new position, and then assumed her usual position on the couch and napped as the rest of the move unfolded. That was the extent of her needed "adjustment" for all my moves. I've tried to follow her example in adjusting myself to each new situation that moving brings.

-Making huge mistakes is necessary and empowering, so don't regret them. For several years prior to leaving San Francisco, it was my dream to own an old farmhouse on a few acres of land. I dreamed of the dog roaming free, mildly terrorizing deer and other animals, and of a wonderful garden to occupy my leisure time. This dream came true when I purchased a farmhouse built in the 1700's on five acres of land in the beautiful Greenspring Valley area of Maryland. Without boring everyone with the details, suffice to say that in the sixteen months I owned this property, various nightmares ensued which all left me wondering what the %&#$ I was thinking when I made the decision to buy this, uh, "oasis." The smiling fool pictured here on the day the house closed had absolutely no idea what she was getting herself into. And, selling as the housing market went south was NOT a financially beneficial transaction. Still, I'm not the least bit sorry I briefly owned the wonderful property. Despite the difficulties of that year, I enjoyed passing through such a historical place (at one point it was a general store where Indians came to barter). I was also able to firmly put to rest the notion that my "dream" was to live in the pseudo-country and manage several acres of land. If I hadn't given this a try, I'd still be dreaming of doing this "some day."

Don't be a slave to stuff. I've always had a ridiculous amount of stuff. Starting with shoes and clothing, and extending to furniture and dishes. I mean, how can someone who has never been married have two sets of china, a complete set of Waterford crystal, and three sets of silver flatware? Because someone (ahem, mother) learned this lesson a few years before I did and shipped these "inheritances" to me via FedEx so I would have to deal with them instead of her. Moving so often has given me ample opportunity to go through my possessions again AND AGAIN. I'd say I've reduced my "stuff" by 60% over the last few moves and donated some wonderful items to charity or given them to deserving people on Craig's List. Craig's List rocks. To get rid of something, just post it and an hour later someone pulls up with a truck and takes it away. As I left Baltimore last year, I gave a whole set of bedroom furniture to a woman from Craig's List whose boyfriend had beaten her up so badly she was hospitalized, so she was starting over and had no furniture. As I start the packing process for this move, I know for sure that if it is in my house right now I either love it or need it. No middle ground. Somewhere between houses 2 and 5, I surrendered the notion that I have a responsibility to lug around grandma Sally's china, which I know I will never use (I don't have a grandma Sally, but until recently I had her china). I also stopped keeping things "in case I want them later." It's now or never for using all this crap. I've decided my only obligation is to make sure it gets recycled to a good home. I don't need it, but other people do. Pretty simple. And liberating.

Leave each place better than you found it, and improve yourself in process. I drove past the first house I owned in San Francisco a few weeks ago. The garden I planted out front was thriving – well maintained, and completely unchanged. My Myer lemon tree stood ready to offer up a dozen lemons to the current owners. I remember being distraught over leaving this garden that I'd worked on lovingly for six years. Little did I know that this was only the first of many gardens I'd be leaving. All in better shape when I left them than when I found them. I was also a different person moving out of each place than moving in. I was an excited farm owner starting a new job in a new town, a disgruntled commuter trying to live in DC and work in Baltimore, a homesick San Franciscan realizing I needed to head back home. After living in San Francisco for ten years, I had to move away to truly become a San Franciscan. We owe it to the places we pass through to leave them in better shape than when we found them, and we owe it to ourselves to evolve and become better as well. Now, as I prepare to leave this house, I'd say I am a self-aware woman about to turn 40 who has decided to prioritize my personal life and seek better balance.

I didn't realize I had so much to say on this topic when I started this post, but I guess all this moving has taught me some important life lessons along the way.

Back to packing.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

My Food’s Carbon Footprint

I made the decision many years ago not to eat processed or artificial foods. I spend a significant amount of time at the grocery store reading labels, and if I don't recognize an ingredient, I don't buy the food. Period. Call me crazy, but I just don't fancy ingesting propylene glycol (an ingredient in jet fuel), and high fructose corn syrup (which I believe is almost singlehandedly to blame for our nation's obesity epidemic). I also buy mostly organic foods and try to only eat whole grains, so no white bread, white pasta, white rice, etc.

Slowly, this line of thinking has crossed over into my household products. If I don't want to eat chemicals and hormones, I shouldn't be cleaning with them either. Or feeding them to my dog. Or using them on my face or body (I really struggle with this one, and often lose. I mean, Chanel makeup is so chemically fabulous).

At the same time, for the last few years, I've run marketing for various companies who offer "green" products, either to help clients monitor and offset carbon emissions or reduce fuel consumption through safer driving. It is amazing how far green marketing can catapult companies these days, but that is a separate topic…

Very slowly over the last several years, I've been becoming an environmentally conscious consumer—largely without my knowledge. I did not deliberately set out to make the greener product choice. I just wanted to be healthy. I didn't seek to work for companies who offered green products, but having spent the last several years seeing the huge impact corporate green initiatives can have on the bottom line and the environment, it is hard not to be impressed and start thinking about what I can do to help at an individual level. Gradually, the responsibility I tried to incite in potential clients through my marketing messages has seeped into my own mainstream thought process.

So, suddenly, I find myself crossing over from green by chance to green by choice. One (albeit small) factor in quitting my job this week was the opportunity to nix my commute and work in San Francisco, thus being able to take public transportation more often.

As I am solidifying what this means for me, I luckily picked up Barbara Kingsolver's wonderful book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which introduced a new concept I had never before considered: the carbon footprint of my food. Yes, my food. Barbara Kingsolver is an acclaimed novelist (The Poisonwood Bible) whose family of four decided for one year to only consume what they could get locally, either by growing it on their farm, or getting it from one of their neighbors. She spends considerable time in the book talking about the environmental impact (and cost) of trucking tomatoes from California all the way to Virginia or Tennessee in the off season (not to mention flying in bananas from South America). Not only are tomatoes completely tasteless when they are out of season, but driving them across the country is a fuel guzzling waste which becomes a tax write off for the large food conglomerates who are doing the trucking. And, to add insult to injury, often the large food conglomerates undercut local farmers on price, so fresh produce from Tennessee sits and rots while stores choose to buy cheaper, lower quality produce which is trucked in from thousands of miles away. Wow.

Why are Americans so keen to eat tasteless tomatoes???

For the last three years or so, I've been increasingly drawn to the concept of eating seasonally – a diet that consists of eating fruits and vegetables that are available at that time. I also realized that buying as close to the harvest area as possible was a plus given the short shelf life of most fresh produce. I was pro small farmer. Pro local production. Pro obtaining the freshest produce possible in order to optimize taste. But I never considered the environmental impact of trucking food across the country. In this era of global warming warnings and hyper sensitivity to fuel prices, why aren't more people talking about the inherent waste in this system???

I grew up, as did many of us, in a household where vegetables were canned or cooked until dead. Tasteless. Monochrome. Mushy. These adjectives are the polar opposite of what vegetables should be, as anyone who has ever shopped at a local farmers market for dinner ingredients certainly knows.

So, as I move towards a consciously greener lifestyle, I am looking at where my food came from. How far it had to travel to get to me. Who got paid in the middle. At a farmers market, I hand cash to the person who cared for and grew what I'm having for dinner that evening. It costs me less money and the grower makes more money.

Many people would say that it is easy to think this way when you live in California with such easy access to fresh produce for the majority of the year, and that is certainly true. But, I cut my teeth on this line of thinking while living in Baltimore and frequenting their many wonderful farmers markets.

To find a farmers market near you, click here.

Stepping down from the soapbox now.


Monday, July 7, 2008

Free Falling Into Simplicity

It probably isn't surprising to anyone who's been following my blog during my sabbatical that I quit my job today. It certainly wasn't surprising to my (former) boss, since he'd also been following my blog while I was out. Gotta love the power of Google.

I've been silent these last few weeks as I really settled into the rhythm of being away from the daily grind, worked on my book, and sat quietly on sunny afternoons in the backyard contemplating my next move.

I've never left a job without having the even higher paying 2.0 version already lined up. But in those quiet moments I became sure it was the right thing to do for a variety of reasons. Taking a risk right now feels like the path to a greater reward – and not a monetary one for a change (although I would like to continue to live in San Francisco, one of the most expensive cities on the planet, so I'll hopefully eke out SOME cash along the way).

So, as of tomorrow I'm going to be joining a friend as a partner in the marketing business she started a few months ago. Working for myself for the first time, my goals are simple: have passion for my work, focus on the areas of marketing I really care about, and help build a fledgling business with a worthy mission.

At the same time I want to have a level of flexibility in my life and not lose the natural rhythms I've discovered in the last few weeks. Again, simple things such as continuing to work on my book, driving less and consuming less fuel, practicing yoga and meditation to enhance my spiritual life, and spending time with my quickly ageing canine best friend.

Maybe this is my own personal version of having it all.

If not now, when?

Monday, June 23, 2008

I Have Roots?

I've never understood the fascination with family history.

I guess that is to be expected, since my mother was raised in an orphanage, and my father pretty much disappeared after my parents divorced, leaving more questions than answers on his side of the family. My stepfather adopted me (hence his O'Neill surname is not really my own), but he passed away 12 years ago, taking any semblance of family with him. Today, my family consists of my mother and myself (and my dog, of course).

Given this muddy family history, it's always seemed prudent to be content not knowing too many details. I knew, for example, that my mother's father was a coal miner in Kentucky, and I'd sometimes trot this factoid out at dinner parties, but otherwise I never gave it much thought. Until recently.

As I might have mentioned in one or two of these blogs, I'm writing a book, and in pursuit of this cause, I've been researching my mother's childhood in the Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Kentucky.

I've discovered, among other things, that she lived in a three room "house" provided by the coal company (they called them coal camps, and shotgun houses) with no electricity or running water—with her parents and six brothers and sisters. That's a lot of people "per room…"

Suddenly I'm enthralled with sites like Kentucky Coal Miners: Where They Worked and Lived, and blogs like Appalachian History. I spent the entire day scrolling through images in the Kentuckiana Digital Library, and reading archived journals with titles like "Mountain Life and Work" from the 1940's.

This, I gather, is what can happen when you are on sabbatical and can free up the space to focus on something other than job, commute, and daily stress.

I've posted a tab on my website titled "My Kentucky Family History" to start highlighting some of the interesting tidbits I'm discovering. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

What's For Dinner?

I'm now halfway through my sabbatical, having spent the last two weeks writing, doing yoga, and even starting to meditate for the first time in my life (I'm sure I'll have more to say about that later). During this time, I've been increasingly drawn into a simpler plane of life, facilitated no doubt by the above activities. I've stopped the constant shopping for shoes and new clothes that I don't need, have cleaned out every single closet and gotten rid of accumulated things that I don't use regularly, and am even taking public transportation whenever I can.

Hardly radical actions, but for me a marked change from the frenzy of work and mindless accumulation. A conscious stripping down to a simpler, stiller, more contemplative core.

In pursuit of the simple, I've been frequenting the Alemany Farmers' Market for the last few weeks. We are so lucky to have access to so many wonderful farmers' markets in the Bay Area, and this is truly one of the best.

I would argue that many important life lessons can be gleaned during the simple act of walking from stall to stall while quietly contemplating: fresh cherries, green beans, the season's first figs, ripe, red organic strawberries and raspberries, bundles of basil with the roots still attached, an entire stall devoted to mushrooms (with a hand painted mural of a mushroom lady to match), and beautiful summer squash in green, white and yellow.

Simplicity. Stillness. A conscious decision about the kind of life I want to live, versus simply adapting to a life full of stress, unfulfilling work, and unhealthy choices necessitated by lack of time.


So, what's for dinner tonight?
-Farmers market salad with fresh greens, squash blossoms, Japanese cucumbers, and balsamic marinaded figs
-Grilled wild Alaskan salmon marinaded in ginger and soy
-Baby yellow squash, cooked whole with organic olive oil, sea salt, and some oregano from my backyard
-Fresh raspberries and peaches

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

An Unquiet Mind

Day six of my sabbatical, and I keep waiting to get down to business and start enjoying myself. Sink into relaxation. Feel a sense of inner peace. But, instead my mind is whirling with: plot ideas for the book I'm NOT working on, self-ministrations as to how exactly I should be spending this time off, annoyance for not feeling more relaxed, a mental to-do list which I couldn't possibly accomplish in just one month, and a sense of foreboding about that day about 3 weeks from now when I either have to go back to my job or NOT. Today at one point I was literally standing in my living room frozen for two hours wondering if I should garden, write, clean out the closet or just give up and have a glass of wine.

As I continue to berate myself for my seeming inability to just relax and enjoy, I am increasingly mindful of the difficulty of quieting all my inner voices, each vying to tell me what to do next.

Is it really surprising that stillness is hard to come by? Most of us are constantly on the go between jobs, commutes, errands, families (or dogs), and countless other pressures in the course of a day. To do a "full stop" on that life for a month is like suddenly coming to a standstill on a New York street during rush hour. Your feet may stop moving, but the crowd will continue to abruptly jostle you along, and many people will give you "strong verbal feedback" to indicate how they feel about your decision to stop moving.

So, I'm going to accept the swirling thoughts for now and stop trying to get to a place that I'm not yet fully ready to inhabit. I have faith that I will find my stillness eventually.

Those same New York streets are always quiet at 6am on Sunday morning...

Friday, June 6, 2008

What’s Next?

I was having dinner last night with some smart, amazing, highly successful women. They own their own thriving business, started a few years ago after reaching the pinnacle of their profession. As the wine flowed freely, the conversation turned to my sabbatical and the reasons behind it. I explained how dissatisfied I felt with my career, which was surprising to me given how hard I had worked to achieve professional success. Surely, I surmised to myself, it must be so empowering and energizing to work for yourself. To be your own boss. To be so personally invested in the work you do everyday.

But, to my surprise, I found adamant nods of sympathy as I described my feelings of ineptitude and boredom, despite the fact that my marketing jobs have become increasingly interesting and challenging over the years. Turns out that each of these women are in the exact same place that I am. Wanting some unnamed, intangible "more" that can't be articulated, and feeling ungrateful for being dissatisfied when we are the generation that is supposed to be having it all. Some are married, some are not. Some have children, some do not. So what is the common denominator leading to these feelings pressing down upon us all?

My generation of women (mid 30's to mid 40's or so) seems to be in a tight spot. We weren't the ones who had to crash through the glass ceiling like our mothers did. It was always assumed that if we wanted to have careers and families, or just careers, or just families – or neither – our choices were our own. Any choice we could conceive of was available to us. Ours for the taking. We rose quickly through the professional ranks, many of us achieving our definitions of success at younger ages than any generation of women before us. In my own case, I was an SVP by age 35…

So we find ourselves in the middle of these lives we've crafted, scratching our heads and saying to ourselves:

"OK. So now what? What's next?"

Add to that dilemma, a phenomenon which certainly isn't particular to women: our generation grew up with remote controls and hundreds of channels, we have short attention spans, high IQs, and the expectation that if we become bored (which we easily do), we are entitled to just change the channel. The expectation of changing the channel seems to have crossed over to our entire lives.

Staying in the same job for 25 years like our parents did seems like a death sentence. We need constant change.

Previous generations reached the pinnacle of their careers, and soon after it was time for retirement.

Achieving our goals is happening earlier and earlier in life. We are living longer, and able to be young and active for much longer. When my grandmother was 60, she had blue hair, wore orthopedic shoes and support hose, and walked with a shuffle. When I'm 60 I will still be wearing 4 inch heels, have a low percentage of body fat, and practice bikram yoga daily.

Maybe it is the new norm that the mid-life crisis happens not because we fear the aging process, but because we've achieved our goals early, our choices seem endless, and suddenly we are unsure what to do next.

What's next????

Today I don't know, but I look forward to figuring it out.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Gift of Time

Starting tomorrow, I will be taking a one month unpaid sabbatical from work to focus on my writing. It feels like such a generous gift to give myself. Even as someone who is relatively accustomed to self-love--whether at spas, shopping for shoes, or enjoying an enviable San Francisco dining experience with friends.


Judging from the reaction of friends and colleagues, the gift of time to focus on a neglected passion must be the most lavish and coveted gift of all. Over the past few weeks as I've mentioned at social gatherings that I'm taking a month off (or possibly longer) to write, many people got a faraway look in their eyes, lowered their voices, and leaned in to whisper conspiratorially about their fervent desire to step away from the day to day. To fulfill a lifelong dream of writing, traveling, doing nonprofit work, or just doing nothing.

Online friends have emailed me encouragement, or shared their own dreams of focusing on that long-neglected thing they know they'd be brilliant at – if only there were enough hours in the day.

For me, like so many others, there never have been enough hours in the day. Creative writing is always something I've wanted to do, but I've been on the career express train for the last 15 years, and it has taken up all of my creative energy. Now, I find myself at 39 wondering whether I want to arrive at the destination I set out toward when I boarded this train.

What does an alternate life look like? Can I really step away from the whirlwind pace of my life in high tech marketing to find some inner stillness that I think must be required to really write well?

Hopefully this month will be a step towards finding out, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Losing Control of Marketing

As I’m thinking about what might be next for me, I’ve been spending a lot of time on social networking sites like Digg, Facebook, StumbleUpon, You Tube, and a variety of blogs.

It is amazing how much marketing has changed in just the last year or two. You Tube is barely three years old, and yet it has become the holy grail for marketers. Almost no corporate blog goes back more than 1-2 years, yet having one (or not) has become a symbol of whether a company “gets” the new rules for customer interaction (or not).

Every day innovative companies are tapping social networking sites to speak directly to their customers – and more importantly to allow their customers to speak directly back to them, completely unfiltered.

The best marketing campaigns have now become relay races where a company tosses out an idea or discussion point – which may not be fully formed – and then customers react...Hopefully start passing the idea-baton themselves within their online communities, and in a best case scenario, the company completely loses control of the idea and it emerges 10 million views later as the top video on You Tube.

The entire campaign could play out in one day.

One sign of success is the company completely losing control of its own marketing, freeing it to take on a life of its own.

Losing control of marketing must be a scary thing for many companies, and is certainly a departure from the old days of careful corporate image management, sanctioned talking points, and endlessly tweaked key messages. I wonder if companies can afford to take time to be scripted anymore, with things moving so quickly in the online world.

For young startups, or unknown companies trying to establish themselves, the inherent risk of losing control online is a no-brainer. Social channels are a low cost way to reach a wide audience, and unleashing the right content can catapult a company out of obscurity. Gone are the days when it takes millions and millions of consumer marketing dollars to build a brand.

I wonder how much You Tube and Facebook spent on marketing in their early days? Not much.

These companies have transformed viral marketing into social networking.

With the right blend of interaction and contribution of authentic content, people will agree to become your online “friend,” and when you say something, people might listen, talk back, and pass it along with their own spin. Loss of control.

Despite the seemingly pervasive nature of blogging, You Tubing, etc., a quick survey of the Fortune 20 showed that they haven’t dipped more than a pinkie toe in the water – only 3 of the 20 have blogs on their corporate websites. You Tube fared slightly better with 4 out of the 20 having their own channels. However, most of the top 20 have RSS feeds and several offer podcasts. This is a step towards the direct information access that is much-valued in the online world, but it is a one-way step. A way to keep control over marketing.

You have to hand it to the brave companies who have dived-in and put themselves out there. Some of the comments posted to their online blogs are brutal. From telling GM that their car concepts suck to hammering on IBM that their customer service is nonexistent. Customers are definitely talking back. It must take a brave PR person not to hit the delete button on some of these comments. I think the smarter companies realize that creating a company-sanctioned space for this honest feedback will enhance brand loyalty. A topic for a future blog might be to ponder what companies should be doing with these comments.

Some companies may feel compelled to try to keep control to protect their brand, but I’d argue that marketing control might be gone forever, and this is a good thing for the customer. Smart companies are figuring out how to embrace this. It is also worth noting that the majority of the companies who may think they are holding onto marketing control are the inspiration for independent You Tube channels and blogs of their customers making fun of them...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Are You In Debt to Oxygen?

There are some sleepless nights that go along with thinking about big life goals to be achieved before one turns 40.

I was at the gym working out with my trainer Naz after a particularly sleepless night, since getting into athlete shape is high on my list of things to accomplish in the next year. I’d barely slept the night before, so I was dragging my flabby abs sluggishly across the gym floor, as Naz urged me to continue on between sets with no rest.

“Don’t rest, keep going, tough it out!” he urged, not knowing how seriously I was contemplating murder.

”50 squats. 50 jumping jacks. 25 push-ups. As fast as you can,
no rest. Go. Go. Go!”

Since he’s a bit of a hottie, and I wanted to impress him, I pushed hard through the sets until I was completely out of breath.

As I stood gasping to suck in more air, he suddenly exclaimed,

“Yes! That’s what I want! Oxygen debt!”

“Oxygen what?”

Oxygen debt. A phrase I’d be willing to bet most dedicated gym-toilers have never heard of. I’ve been working out consistently for at least 15 years, and consider myself to be knowledgeable on fitness, how the body works, and what to do to stay in shape. Yet the science behind this simple phrase was completely unknown to me, and when I searched for information on the Internet, I could only find one obscure article about the myth of the Fat Burning Zone that explained it in laymen’s terms. On Amazon, the only books about it were written for hardcore weightlifters, certain not to be read by average people just looking for the best way to stay in shape and maximize workout time.

So, here’s how oxygen debt works, in simple terms: We’ve all learned through bestsellers like “The Fat Burning Zone” that supposedly it is better to work out at a low intensity for longer periods of time. This causes the body to start converting fat into energy. Unfortunately, since your heart rate is staying relatively low, as soon as you stop working out, you stop burning calories.

However, when you work out at an extremely high intensity for a short period of time – say 20 – 40 minutes – and work out so hard that you are literally out of breath, you create a situation where your body is out of oxygen and has to “borrow” it from other places in the body. This is known as “oxygen debt.” Having borrowed the oxygen from other places in the body, it has to then pay it back. Which it does for the next 24 hours after the workout stops. And, this is the key aha moment: while it is in the recovery period of paying the oxygen back, you continue to burn about 10-15% more calories than you would at a normal resting rate! For 24 hours you are burning 10-15% more calories than normal.

For me, this means that after a 45 minute session with my trainer, during which I’m probably burning between 500 calories at a high intensity, I’m burning another 400 calories or so in the 24 hours after the workout ends just sitting on the couch. This kind of jump in metabolism can lead to dramatically increased results in the gym with shorter workouts. Maybe I’m the only one late to the party on this, but I just don’t think many people understand this.

I'm sure hardcore fitness buffs, weight-lifters, etc. are aware of this, but I'm talking about the average gym-goer who is dutifully doing their 45 minutes of low-intensity cardio a day. As I looked through Amazon, I found a few books on boosting metabolism, which is certainly not a new phenomenon, and they briefly covered high intensity exercise, but for me understanding the link between being out of breath during exercise and the resulting increased calorie burn afterwards was the motivation I needed to work out much harder.

If I were in the fitness business, I’d be working on a book on this pronto. This is the kind of information that fitness phenomenon’s are made of!

In the two weeks since I learned how this works, I’ve lost 5 pounds and increased my muscle ratio by 3% while working out for less time and eating more! This totally works for me.

You could argue that it is really hard to workout at a higher intensity, which is true, and that is why it is easy to buy into the myth that lower intensity workouts burn more fat—lower intensity workouts are easier! However, as with anything in life, if you want to achieve a goal you have to power through with no excuses, so go for it!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Is Turning 39 More Daunting Than Turning 40?

I recently turned 39, and it has set off a flurry of both mental and physical activity. Suddenly there is a backlog of things to be accomplished before I hit the big 4-0:
  • Finish the novel I've been working on for 8 years
  • Get in amazing physical shape before all my body parts start to head south
  • Figure out my next big career milestone or...
  • Decide to quit my job altogether and see where that leads
  • Have more and better sex...ahem...

I'm not dreading turning 40. I look and feel fabulous, I'm successful professionally, and am pretty happy overall. But still, I feel frenzied to finish these and other items on my list before the big day, like a report card is about to be issued for my life and I'm going to have to pull several all-nighters to get a passing grade.

I felt similar when I turned 29. I was renting a studio apartment in the Marina neighborhood of San Francisco, and suddenly after that birthday, I became frantic that I DID NOT want to turn 30 living in a studio apartment. As I recall, my pre-30 checklist looked like this:
  • Buy a house
  • Get a dog
  • Get promoted to Director
  • Have more and better sex...
Turning 30 was about entering the adult sphere more fully. Taking on more responsibility, and leaving behind the transitory existence of renting to put down roots and focus on an advancing career.

Now with almost a decade of adult-living behind me, I dream of quitting my job to work for myself and throwing financial caution to the wind, doing bikram yoga every day, getting my novel published and discussing it on Oprah, and seeing if I can get my body fat down below 20%.

Obviously the stakes get higher as each decade of life passes, and even though I will probably not abandon my hard-earned career, it feels like for me the 40's need to be about exploring alternative opportunities.

I have several women friends who are also taking a hard look at what an alternate life would look like for them. Some birthday inspired, others just restless, all of us wanting some unnamed, intangible "more."

I believe that you have to make things happen in your life, so that is what I'm about to do. Yesterday I had a random thought that if I bought www.publishingpaige.com, it could serve as a public inspiration and repository for the actions I'm taking to achieve this new life. Today, the web site is live, and my inspiration feels more directed.

Can I get there? What does it look like? I have no idea, but that is the inspiration for this blog, so stay tuned.