As some of you know, I’ve been writing a professional blog, Minding the Workplace, for over six years. A lot of the material is heavier stuff, looking at employee relations, workplace bullying, employment law, psychological health at work, and so on. But on occasion I’ve written pieces with a lighter touch that may be of interest to readers here. I thought I’d dig into the archives of that blog and share a few of them:
Taking stock at midlife: Time for reading assignments? (2014) — “So, in the absence of these colleges for 40-year-olds (and beyond), how can we think and reflect upon our lives to date, our lives right now, and our lives to come? For those who, like me, sometimes turn to good books for guidance, let me introduce a thick anthology, Leading Lives That Matter: What We Should Do and Who We Should Be (2006), co-edited by Mark R. Schwehn & Dorothy C. Bass, both of Valparaiso University, my undergraduate alma mater.”
What now, not what if (2013) — “Currently stored on my DVR are a PBS program and a National Geographic docudrama about President Kennedy, both produced to coincide with the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Although I’m a devotee of history, I have a feeling that I won’t be watching them….That lesson was reinforced to me in Stephen King’s 2011 time travel epic, 11/22/63, which takes us back to the years leading up to the assassination of President Kennedy.”
The perils and pleasures of nostalgia, even about work?! (2013) — I get especially nostalgic about two work experiences. The first was my initial year as a Legal Aid lawyer in Manhattan, following my graduation from NYU’s law school….My second nostalgic focus: Returning to NYU after six years of legal practice as an instructor in its innovative first-year Lawyering Program….Both clusters of memories, however, gloss over the fact that I was years away from discovering my true passions as a teacher, scholar, and advocate. I was clueless about a lot of things, and not exactly on the leading edge of emotional maturity.”
August 1982: Next Stop, Greenwich Village (2012) — “This month, I find myself particularly nostalgic over events of 30 years ago, when I moved from Hammond, Indiana to New York City to begin law school at New York University, located in the heart of Greenwich Village. This was a pretty big deal for me. Although I had benefited greatly from a semester abroad in England during college at Valparaiso University, I was far from worldly and had never been to New York City before applying to NYU….Within a few days of my arrival, I would start classes in Vanderbilt Hall, the main law school building, on the southwest corner of Washington Square….”
Collegiate reflections: Studying the liberal arts (2012); Collegiate reflections: Working on the campus newspaper (2012) — “With Commencement season coming to a close at colleges and universities across the nation, I beg my readers’ indulgence as I use a short series of posts to reflect upon my own collegiate experience….”
Ch-ch-ch-changes: Some books to guide toward good transitions (2012) — As we turn the calendar to a New Year, I wanted to gather together some recommended titles for those who are engaged in or contemplating a major work or personal transition….If you’re in the midst of big changes, these books may prove a worthy investment in terms of your livelihood and well-being. I hope you find them helpful.
Does life begin at 46? (2010) — “Conventional wisdom, according to research, is wrong. True, we start off our adulthoods pretty happy and become increasingly disenchanted as middle age approaches. However, our outlook then gets better as we age. The Economist cites research studies to back up its proposition, overcoming the presumption that this is more Boomer-inspired babble about how 60 is the new 40.”
Embracing creative dreams at midlife (2010) — “Dreams die hard is something of an old chestnut, but having entered the heart of midlife, I am thankful that this often is true. I think especially of creative energies waiting to be tapped and unleashed, perhaps after some of life’s other priorities and responsibilities have been addressed, and pursued with the benefit of experience and maturity. Two long-time friends come to mind when I ponder this. Hilda Demuth-Lutze is a friend from college days at Valparaiso University (Indiana) who is the author of historical novels for young adults. Mark Mybeck is a friend going back to grade school in Hammond, Indiana, whose band, Nomad Planets, is creating a niche for itself in the Greater Chicagoland indie rock scene.”
The term “bucket list,” if you missed its pop culture origins, is drawn from the 2007 motion picture The Bucket List. The movie features Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson as two men who, after receiving dire assessments from their doctors, ditch their hospital beds for a whirlwind road trip to places they’ve never visited and to do things they’ve never done.
Very quickly, the term became popularized by comparatively healthier middle-aged adults (among others) to describe their wish lists of to-dos and must-sees, many of which are associated with travel.
Now that I’m well into my fifties, I find a curious twist occurring: My own bucket list, at least when it comes to travel, is narrowing rather than expanding.
What’s on my list? As far as new places outside of the U.S. go, I’d like to see Athens and bear witness to the sites of ancient Greek history. Maybe I could squeeze in a visit to Italy as well. I’d also like to tour some of the famous historical and religious sites in France, ranging from First World War battlefields to ancient cathedrals.
Otherwise, I’d like to revisit a cluster of old haunts. Even traveling, I’m a creature of habit, and once I discover something I like, I’m drawn to go back. London, for example, has long been one of my very favorite cities, so much that I feel very comfortable there without losing that feeling of wondrous discovery. (Someday soon I’ll write about my visits there.)
For a someone with only a modest travel bug, I’ve been fortunate to see a lot of interesting, fascinating places, and I’ve experienced first-hand how travel can expand our minds and worlds. So especially to those whose bucket list dreams have yet to be fulfilled, I wish for you many opportunities to make them a reality.
As for The Bucket List, I give it maybe 3 or 2.5 stars out of 4. I’ve long been a fan of Morgan Freeman, but Jack Nicholson — in just about every role he plays — reminds me of too many of the egos I’ve encountered in the legal profession and in academe! Nevertheless, it’s a good movie, and it leaves us with some points worth thinking about.
I wanted to highlight three websites that I keep going back to for information, advice, and wisdom. All give us information and ideas about how to live with more meaning and even happiness. They’re especially useful for folks in the second half of life who may find themselves more receptive these notions, but I’d recommend them to virtually any adult.
All of have excellent newsletters or e-mail bulletins that you can subscribe to for free.
First up is Next Avenue, a site hosted by public television staffers:
You’re aware that many years of life lie ahead of you and, very likely, you have a different set of expectations for these “bonus years” than you had for earlier adulthood. You sense that you can somehow apply your knowledge and experiences in a meaningful way. Yet you may not know exactly how to achieve this new vision or see all the many possibilities available to you as you navigate the physical, health, work, and financial shifts that inevitably accompany this phase.
Enter Next Avenue. We’re a group of public television people and journalists who, for the most part, are experiencing the very same things you are. Like you, we see both challenges and opportunities and we recognize that what we could all use right about now is an abundance of reliable information that can help us figure out what’s, well, next.
Beyond its home page, Next Avenue has major sections on health & well-being, money & security, work & purpose, living & learning, and caregiving. I’ve highlighted it before on this blog, and I’m happy to do so again. For me it has become a “go-to” site.
is unique in its commitment to both science and practice: not only do we sponsor groundbreaking scientific research into social and emotional well-being, we help people apply this research to their personal and professional lives. Since 2001, we have been at the fore of a new scientific movement to explore the roots of happy and compassionate individuals, strong social bonds, and altruistic behavior—the science of a meaningful life. And we have been without peer in our award-winning efforts to translate and disseminate this science to the public.
On this site you’ll find pages devoted to family & couples, education, work & career, mind & body, and Big Ideas. It’s a great example of how academic researchers can translate their findings and insights that inform all of us on how to live better lives.
Brain Pickings is my one-woman labor of love — a subjective lens on what matters in the world and why. Mostly, it’s a record of my own becoming as a person — intellectually, creatively, spiritually — and an inquiry into how to live and what it means to lead a good life.
…The core ethos behind Brain Pickings is that creativity is a combinatorial force: it’s our ability to tap into our mental pool of resources — knowledge, insight, information, inspiration, and all the fragments populating our minds — that we’ve accumulated over the years just by being present and alive and awake to the world, and to combine them in extraordinary new ways. In order for us to truly create and contribute to the world, we have to be able to connect countless dots, to cross-pollinate ideas from a wealth of disciplines, to combine and recombine these pieces and build new ideas.
The site is “full of pieces spanning art, science, psychology, design, philosophy, history, politics, anthropology, and more; pieces that enrich our mental pool of resources and empower combinatorial ideas that are stronger, smarter, richer, deeper and more impactful.”
Note: This article is a slightly edited version of a piece posted several days ago on my professional blog, Minding the Workplace.
I worked into the evening at my faculty office today, and after a quick assessment of what I might find in my fridge at home, I decided to grab a bite to eat before hopping on the subway. I settled on Chipotle because it’s quick, inexpensive, and close to the subway entrance.
As far as fast food goes, it also happens to be relatively healthy and tasty. I opted for a burrito bowl consisting of brown rice (I’m trying…), shredded pork, black beans, salsa, corn, a bare sprinkling of cheese, and shredded lettuce. Not bad, seriously.
I’ve gone to this Chipotle around a half dozen times this summer (actually, it’s the only one I’ve been to), and during each visit I’ve noticed that I am just about the oldest person in the place. Most of the customers (not to mention the workers) are in their 20s or younger. I’ve also noticed in random blogs and commentaries by Millennials that Chipotle pops up in their conversations, like it’s part of their generational culture.
So when I got home, I searched “Millennials” and “Chipotle,” and up came a fistful of articles saying that Millennials are opting for places like Chipotle over usual fast food suspects like McDonald’s and Burger King. Furthermore, the company’s marketing efforts are targeting Millennials, especially with appeals based on sustainable food practices.
I guess my observational instincts were pretty good!
In terms of quality and healthier casual eating, the Millennials have it over the Boomers and others on this one. Chipotle isn’t exactly health food, but it’s much higher up on the gustatory chain than a Whopper and onion rings.
To close on a brief historical note: The Chipotle I patronize is housed in a historic, old Boston building that once was a well-known bookstore. It does break my heart a little to think that a chain restaurant now inhabits this historic site. I’d be very surprised if many of the other weekday evening customers are aware of its provenance.
The Huffington Post just ran a terrific five-day series, “50 over 50,” profiling 50 individuals who significantly changed their lives after reaching age 50 and beyond. In partnership with the TODAY Show, they’re looking at how people have reinvented themselves later in their lives, often after experiencing major challenges. Here’s a piece of Shelley Emling’s introduction to the feature:
We recently asked readers to submit nominations of people who’ve reinvented themselves for the better after age 50 as part of an initiative launched with the TODAY show called “50 Over 50.” We were overwhelmed with submissions. We heard stories of people who’d changed their lives after losing a partner, getting divorced, or suffering financial hardship or a health concern. We heard from many people who nominated themselves — something they said they never would have done before turning 50.
Here are links to the five main stories posted this week:
The Risk Takers — 10 people who took risks after 50
Career Reinvention — 10 people who reinvented their careers after 50
Following Your Passion — 10 people who followed their passions after 50
Health and Wellness — 10 people who pursued health and wellness after 50
Giving Back — 10 people who gave back to their communities after 50
Whatever your age, you’ll find inspirational stuff here. Especially for those over 50, this may speak directly to you. But even if you’re under 50, perhaps by many years, you may find this valuable, or at least worth tucking away until later.
This is drawn from a slightly longer version posted to my professional blog, Minding the Workplace.
When I think about the cultural and historical markers in my life, I quickly reach the conclusion that I’m a 20th century kinda guy. Born in 1959, and given my appreciation for history, the last century is my default lens on the world.
My personal culture
My pop culture worldview is still partying like it’s 1999.
If not earlier! For example, when it comes to popular music, my tastes stop somewhere in the mid-80s, and I’m more drawn to composers and performers of the early and middle 20th century — the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Sinatra, the Big Bands, Rodgers & Hammerstein, etc. — than any other era.
And while current television dramas are generally superior to most of their predecessors, I’ll take yesterday’s classic sitcoms — “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “MASH,” and yes, even “Hogan’s Heroes” — over “Two and Half Men” and other popular shows today. As for the big screen, I’ll gladly opt for a rich array of oldies, while passing on the dreck coming out of Hollywood now.
As far as my Chicago sports fandom goes, give me the 1985 Chicago Bears, the 1990s Chicago Bulls, the
1969 Cubs, the 1984 Cubs, the 1983 White Sox…okay, it’s a mixed bag.
In terms of technology, I’ll take DVDs over streaming, CDs over MP3 (closer call), real books over e-books (though I get the convenience & cost factor), and Word Perfect 5.1 for DOS over anything to do with Microsoft Word. I’m not that crazy about cellphones, and I don’t permit my students to use laptops in my classes. (In a big bow to the 21st century, I believe the iPad is one of the most brilliant devices ever made.)
And what of the bigger picture?
Centuries are marked by the turn of a calendar, but their essence is defined by core events. For me, the 20th century era — at least from an admittedly American perspective — began in 1903, when the Wright Brothers successfully flew their primitive airplane in the dunes near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. It ended with the attacks of September 11, 2001. (Hmm, both events centered on the use of airplanes…)
When it comes to grasping history and current events, I see how we’re still strongly influenced by decisions and events of the last century. World diplomacy in 2014 has the scary look & feel of Europe in 1914, and the two world wars continue to shape international relations. And if you want a milestone year for understanding the path toward America’s present domestic and international political status, then take a close look at 1980: The election of Ronald Reagan and the Iranian hostage crisis captured the nation’s conservative turn and anticipated its post-Cold War preoccupation with the Middle East.
Somewhere a place for us
I happen to believe there’s still a place in this world for those of us whose outlook on things reaches back into the last century. If not, whatever. I’ll just pop that best-of-the-80s cassette back into my Walkman and try to get over it.
In the course of a life, can we really have it all?
The YouTube video above — featuring a song from the 1980s Broadway show “Baby” — captures our wishful thinking, especially when we’re younger. In this scene, three women of different ages and life circumstances — but all on the south side of 40 — meet by chance in a doctor’s office. In a sweet and clever number performed by Liz Calloway, Catherine Cox, and Beth Fowler at the 1984 Tony Awards, they share how they want it all.
Way back in 1985, Norman Redlich, the dean of NYU Law School, referenced those Broadway lyrics in his remarks at our graduation convocation. His message: It sounds great, but most of us can’t have it all. There are choices to make and realities to navigate in a life that moves all too quickly.
So there we were, sitting among family and friends in beautiful Carnegie Hall, feeling a bit heady about ourselves, while thinking that the world was ours to conquer — and here’s our dean throwing cold water on us and suggesting that it’s probably not going to happen in the way we’re imagining it.
Among the sea of forgettable graduation speeches that I’ve heard over the years, I guess it means something that I remember this one.
Instead…how about a meaningful life?
Rather than chasing such an elusive goal, let’s focus on what makes for a good and meaningful life, while respecting the fact that we’re not able to control everything.
For some, that meaningful life may be grounded in raising a family, caring for a loved one, or pursuing an avocation. For others, it may mean devotion to a career or a cause, or perhaps creating something artistic or delicious. And still others may find meaning in overcoming significant personal or family challenges.
A lucky few may achieve a zen-like blend that allows them to check all the boxes. But for most of us, it will involve some juggling, choosing, compromising, and hopefully succeeding more than failing.
And if we are fortunate and play our cards well, we will get to do a lot of good things during the time we’re here.
Sorting through clutter
For some, sorting and tossing clutter — objects, emotions, experiences, what have you — may be a key to that meaningful life, especially when we reach a certain age. (Fill in number here.)
Okay, I’m the last person in the world who should be talking about reducing clutter. I’ve been a saver and collector all my life. (I’m a classic Cancerian in that sense.)
But that’s what I’m doing now, tossing a lot of stuff. You wouldn’t know it from the current look of my office or condo, but believe me, this year I’ve been offloading!
And you know something, it feels good. I have a pretty clear sense of what brings meaning to my life, and I am jettisoning or recycling the stuff that doesn’t connect with who I am and where I want to go.
These thoughts are especially pertinent to many Gen Jonesers. As I’ve written before, for our generation, it’s game time. As a group, we’ve still got a lot of fuel left in the tank, but we need to be open to how we can create really great years ahead and define our personal legacies.
This is a considerably reworked and augmented version of a 2011 post from my professional blog Minding the Workplace.
Like birthdays, end-of-year holidays can be a time for taking stock. However externally provided, these recurring milestones give us opportunities to look back, assess the present, and peer into the future.
…I heard Julia’s voice, stronger and more confident than mine: “I’m gonna live forever. I’m gonna learn how to fly. (High.)”
And one of those all-too-frequent choke-in-the-throat feelings came over me.
This was her song now. Not mine.
The sense of limitless possibility: hers. Vaulting ambition: hers. Anticipation, excitement, discovery, intensity: all hers.
Later in the piece, she laments, “This is the cruelty of middle age, I find: just when things have gotten good — really, really, consistently good — I have become aware that they will end.”
I hope that, for Warner’s sake, she was writing her blog post at a time when she was briefly caught in a down mood. But even her attempt to locate the silver lining sounded a bit sad:
There are trade-offs: intensity versus contentment, exaltation versus peace. And perhaps the best exchange of all: you trade in an idea of yourself for a reality that, if nothing else, can make you laugh.
Ack. Even the top benefit of her “really, consistently good” life today is the ability to chuckle at her current self.
I’m not quite sure why I’m using Warner’s piece as the foil in a holiday reflection (of all things), but obviously it has stuck with me. Although I won’t claim immunity from all of Warner’s lamentations about getting older, I now feel ready to write my response.
For me, among the genuine blessings of the passing of time have been authenticity and self-definition. I have been afforded the extraordinary privilege of being able to make choices — hundreds of millions of people in this world are not so fortunate. I have squandered some of that privilege, but thankfully a kernel of inner wisdom has helped me to narrow down the limitless possibilities, rather than struggling to keep them open.
As I see it, in making the right choices we find the “(a)nticipation, excitement, discovery, [and] intensity” that Warner has now reserved for her young daughter. When that happens, the would’ve beens and could’ve beens — i.e., the roads not taken — simply don’t matter as much.
I do know of those youthful feelings that Warner writes about. That sense of the world being your oyster, wrapped in a seemingly boundless optimism of things to come. I remember those days well, and sometimes I get nostalgic for them.
However, if I’m being honest with myself, I also must acknowledge piles of anxiety, insecurity, immaturity, and posturing (a kinder way of saying inauthenticity) that were very much a part of my twentysomething self and, umm, beyond. By no means do I assume that everyone of this age range is similarly afflicted, but those qualities were very much a part of me.
Okay, so today I’ve got a lot less hair, more paunch, and my knees creak, but I have a sense of what I’m supposed to be doing and that feels good. I now understand Joseph Campbell’s sage advice, follow your bliss. Campbell (1904-87), whose writings and lectures on mythology, faith traditions, and the world’s societies made him a singular authority on the human experience, suggested that following our bliss will lead us to the life paths that have been awaiting us. When we reach this point, opportunities and connections seem to materialize.
In a popular PBS series of interviews with Bill Moyers, Campbell replied to a Moyers question about whether “hidden hands” guide and facilitate our work once we’ve found our path:
All the time. It is miraculous. I even have a superstition that has grown on me as the result of invisible hands coming all the time — namely, that if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open doors to you. . . .
As I suggested above, many people are not afforded this opportunity. If life is largely a fight to obtain food, clothing, and shelter, then it’s awfully hard to pursue one’s higher level aspirations.
But I’m guessing that most folks with the ability to read this have a degree of choice. Some may be struggling to find their purpose in life, or to recover from setbacks. For those dear readers, especially, here is what I wish for you at this holiday season: Opportunities to discover and follow your bliss, and the wisdom to do so.
Cross-posted with my professional blog, Minding the Workplace.
Recently I showed how I’ve accepted the identity of “middle aged” when I bookmarked the Next Avenue website on my computer.
Click & add. Call it a form of Digital Age self-therapy.
Hosted by PBS, Next Avenue is a content-rich source of articles and blog posts containing information and advice especially for folks who have reached the age 50 threshold. Its main menu includes categories such as “Health & Well Being,” “Money & Security,” “Work & Purpose,” “Living & Learning,” and “Caregiving.”
I first clicked to the site with the grudging ‘tude of every 50+ guy who thinks of himself as being 25 at heart. Once I discovered what was there, however, I kept going back.
Finally, after repeated visits, I realized it was time to make the ultimate digital commitment: I bookmarked it, on multiple devices, no less.
Now and tomorrow
Next Avenue maintains a healthy focus on the present and the future. Its contents are immediately relevant to me. I can’t say that I follow all the sage advice provided — witness the cinnamon roll I polished off for breakfast the other day — but it’s there for the taking.
In addition, as someone on the younger end of Next Avenue‘s intended base audience (an increasingly unusual situation), it provides me with a preview of the years to come. We Americans, especially, are socially programmed to resist, even dread, anything to do with aging. But one welcomed aspect of my creeping emotional maturity is the realization that the experiences, insights, and stories of folks a generation ahead of us can yield a lot of helpful lessons.