Jumping Off The Precipice

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Several years ago, actually more than 30 years ago, I went to see the movie “Flashdance.” If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a young woman who works as a welder by day and an exotic dancer by night. Her dream is to be accepted into a prestigious ballet school. As far reaching as that was, by the movie’s end she realizes her dream.

A few days after I saw the movie, I was driving to work and a driver on the other side of the road swerved into my lane and nearly hit me head on. I was shaken up, but I wasn’t hit and continued on to work. It was then and there that I decided to quit my job. I knew that my life was destined for more. I walked into work and resigned. A bit rash, I know, since I didn’t have any idea what I would do next. It wasn’t the first time I had left a job without a plan and it turns out it wouldn’t be my last. I have taken many giant leaps into the abyss of the unknown, describing myself as a person who leaps first and, on the way down, begins to think of what the landing will be like.

Coming to Korea knowing I would lose my job in a year and a half , based on a mandatory retirement rule, was a giant leap. I took that risk and had a ball. I was able to get another job, as an adjunct, based on my status as a wife with a spousal visa. Last semester I had a grand time teaching classes that I loved, to students who wanted to be there. I assumed that this position would last for the final 3 semesters we planned to stay until Steve would be forced to retire; an advantage of marrying someone younger than me. I returned to Korea in early September after a wonderful summer in Maine only to discover that the program I taught in is struggling to stay alive and my position was cut back to less than part-time. My first reaction was frustration that I had to, once again, figure out what to do next. Then I remembered that movie and the dreams and hopes that the young woman had. True, I’m not a young woman and, at 66, most of my career is behind me, not in front of me, but that shouldn’t stop me from having a new dream and a new direction and a new focus for the future. I’m about to jump, once again, off that precipice and I do wonder what the landing will be, but that isn’t going to stop me from jumping. It’s a choice and I plan to take that leap to find the next adventure that awaits me. I remember a friend who was dying saying to me once, “You know, I’m alive until the day I die.” We don’t know when that time will come and I know for sure that I’m not waiting around for that day. With age and experience, comes wisdom. That wisdom has taught me that every day counts and my happiness is key. There are many cute sayings about living in the moment. We hang them in our offices and in our homes and we hope to be reminded that the day we are in is all we have. I know how hard it is to live in the moment but I also know that when I focus on the day before me, it brings a smile to my face.

There are so many possibilities for the future. I may not choose the perfect one, but it surely will bring me joy and that is really important. When friends ask me when I’m going to retire, I laugh to myself knowing my life has always been a balance between work and retirement, so I imagine I won’t ever stop.

So, here’s to the next jump and knowing that life really does begin at the end of my comfort zone. The precipice awaits and I’m hoping for a smooth landing.

With love and gratitude,

Marsha

The Biggest Loser

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I must admit that over the years I have watched The Biggest Loser.  I cheer for the people who lose amazing amounts of weight and inches.  I watch them work out each week, weigh in and witness their transformations.  I’ve often wondered how I’d do at those intense workouts. I’ve never been a person who’s gone to a gym and worked out. In fact, I barely stretch before or after running.  It never appealed to me.  I just lace up the sneakers, go out, run, come back, and get on with my day.  In fact, I really haven’t been able to even touch my toes in spite of years of yoga classes.

In February, I  returned to Korea after an 8 month break from teaching.  I spent most of that time travelling to places around the world.  I took a look at what eating, drinking and minimal exercise had done to my body.  It was not a pretty sight!   I must also admit that I enjoyed every bite of food, every glass of wine, and the occasional martini.  My body seemed tired and weary.  My first instinct was to say that it’s age and this is what happens to people as they get older. What’s a few pounds and several inches in the big picture of life?  I was still healthy wasn’t I?  I also know that as I have aged, taking off weight and inches and getting into shape is a major ordeal and one to be pondered carefully before embarking on that journey.  I remember when I was in my 20’s and 30’s and even my 40’s, losing weight was a breeze.  I would stop eating and drinking in quantity for a few weeks and the pounds would fall off.  Not this time!  Those pounds had settled in and had made themselves quite comfortable on my hips, stomach and just about everywhere.  The contemplation of possibly starting a new exercise and weight loss plan was taking place over a glass of wine and some cheese and crackers.  I tried convincing myself that my once a week run and swim was enough.  The rationalizing took hold and I finished my wine and cheese and committed to continue on the path I was on. 

The next morning when I got up I decided to get on the scale and see if the damage of the time away had any bearing on the pounds.  YIKES!!!  I went from the scale to the internet and quickly joined Weight Watchers, not for the first time.  In fact , I’m a lifetime member who strayed far from her goal..  This was serious, no more defending that this is what happens when you get older.  It’s never too late and I’m certainly not too old.  The very same day a friend called to say that there was an “opportunity” to join a “Boot Camp” class once a week with 2 at home workouts.   I signed up without even knowing  what that meant.  Drastic times call for drastic measures. Four women showed up for the first class.  We all know each other and that was the reassuring part.  They didn’t know anymore than I did about what we were headed for.  The other three women are in their 30’s.  Our boot camp instructor is also in her 30’s.  She was in the military and in incredible shape.  Before I had a chance to talk myself out of this we were on the ground doing sit ups and push ups and contorting our bodies into shapes I hadn’t even imagined.  After about 30 minutes of this, Jennifer,our fearless leader, told us to run a mile on a track.  It was a relief!  Finally something I can do.  We were measured and tested in that first class and told we would have another assessment at the last class, 10 weeks later.  I left that class feeling exhausted and knowing that I would hurt the next day in places I had never hurt before. But, I was also committed to come back and do this again without letting my age  or anything else get in the way.

That was 10 weeks ago and I am stronger today than I have ever been.  My stamina for running has increased.  In early April I ran a 10k race and a month later I ran another one decreasing my time by 10 minutes.  I’m still slow by anyone’s standards but 10 minutes!!!!!  It even amazes me.  My clothes all fit and I’ve lost about 20 pounds.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell because I’m not exactly a petite person, but I know the weight is gone and the inches are melting off and it’s been replaced with strength and confidence.  Jennifer is leaving Korea in a few weeks and returning to the States with her husband and children.  Her husband is still in the military and being transferred home.  We,the original 4 women, are continuing with the weekly workouts.  Jennifer will  send us 3 workouts a week.  We will meet once a week, share the facilitation and continue the two at home workouts.

This week was our final assessment and I am the Biggest Loser.  I lost the most in inches and cut 2 minutes off my mile run.  We all lost pounds and inches and increased our strength by more than I could have imagined.  We laughed as Jennifer reported how many push-ups and sit-ups we did the first week as compared to now.  For some, it went from 2 to 60.  Amazing! 

So, what have I learned?  So many things!  I have certainly learned that it’s never too late and I’m never too old.  Life is short and it does pass quickly.  I certainly am not stopping the great food and the great wine and martinis, but I’m doing it all with a new awareness about how I want to live the rest of my life.  I said in a past blog, that in the end, I want to come screeching in, used up and worn out.  I hadn’t imagined that that would also mean that I would be strong and fit.  The most important thing I’ve learned, again, is that you can never underestimate the power that a small group of women can have on each other.  This was all possible because Jennifer,  Michelle, Suzi and Lindsay, also chose to commit to this.  I am once again forever grateful to women in my life, these 4 women.  You are true HSBARS (Hot Shit Bad Ass Rock Stars).  My age was not a factor and never is.  I may be last when we run the mile, but all that does is allow the other 4 women to stand and cheer for me as I come racing across the finish line.  Not a bad way to end the day!

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In the World, Not of the World

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Early on in my relationship with Steve he gave me a copy of the Alan Watts book, Psychotherapy East and West.  In the book Watts talks about people who are “in the world, not of the world.” Steve thought that described me.  He was right. I have never followed the path well travelled.

Recently, I was in Mexico walking along the beach with two women I had met, one in her 70’s and the other in her 80’s.  We were talking about travelling and adventures we had had.  The woman in her 70’s turned to me and said ”You must have had parents that instilled this sense of adventure in you.”  The truth is, my parents never left the U.S.  My father died when he was 49 and my mother worked two blue collar jobs and had no time for dreaming about much more than a few minutes of relaxation and a good night’s sleep.  My mother was smart and very well read.  She knew there was more out there in the world than what she had experienced and although she never traveled anywhere, she somehow gave me the courage to have an adventurous life. 

From the time I can remember I always had an entrepreneurial spirit.  When I was young I often tried to convince my friends to go along with my “business” schemes.  I have always marched to the beat of a different drummer and somehow, I knew that I wasn’t cut out for a traditional life. In retrospect, I must have known that I was in the world, not of the world.  My grandparents, my mother’s parents, were entrepreneurs.  They came to the US in the early 1900’s to escape the threat of anti-semitism in Russia and made a life for themselves by buying a building with apartments on the upper floors and commercial businesses on the street level.  They lived in one of the apartments and operated a bar/restaurant below. They didn’t read or write English and yet, they had the courage to do this.  They never got rich but they did do it their way. 

When I got my first “real” job, I realized that the 9-5 life was not for me. That’s when I began my first real entrepreneurial adventure and started a business called WEARE (Women’s Educational and Resource Enterprise). I had a business partner and the business lasted about 5 years.  It was an amazing experience and, like my grandparents, I didn’t get rich.  I needed to make money, so I landed a corporate job that had me in the role of “intrepreneur.”  That was someone who worked for a corporation but created a kind of business within the business.  It was a great ride and I stayed for more then 10 years. During that time, I got married, had two children, and eventually gave it up, moved to Maine with my sons and my husband, and together, we started a business, The Greenshoe Group, that lasted more then 20 years.  We never got rich but we did travel all over the world and met amazing people and lived a life of dreams.  It was wonderful.

At the age of 63, I moved to Korea with Steve, and went to work for a university.  I thought my days of entrepreneurship were behind me. NOT!  I lost my job last June because of a mandatory age law and I wondered what I would do.  I need to work and although I am soon to be 66, retirement, at least full retirement, seems far away.  So what does a 65-year old expat woman in Korea do?  She starts a business!  I launched my newest venture this month called “Coaching To Go.” I’ve taken all my expertise in consulting, counselling, teaching and life experience and I’m coaching expats who want to either return home or change the current circumstances of their lives. I was interviewed by the local expat magazine and I have already gotten clients. 

All this to say that life is filled with surprises, adventures and risk.   I probably won’t get rich in this business either, but I will have fun and isn’t that what life is all about?  I learned a long time ago that security is overrated and trying to predict and plan for everything in the future is futile.  Jumping out there and doing what I love is more important than knowing what tomorrow will bring.  I do plan and I’m not cavalier, however life happens and I don’t want to miss it. I sometimes find myself worrying about the future, and as I like to say, the committee in my head is often working overtime, but mostly I go with the excitement of what each day will bring.  Getting older does bring new challenges both physically and emotionally. I try to keep in shape and keep up with the young friends I have in Korea.  They keep me young in so many ways.  I realized that’s one of the secrets of staying young: being around young people and learning from them and absorbing the hopefulness of their lives and their futures.  It’s easy to forget your aches and pains when you’re around people who are focusing on the joys of the day. 

I don’t know how my business will go, or even how long I’ll stay in Korea, but I do know that as long as I’m here, I’ll have some fun and let the next adventure unfold as it will.  Being in the world, but not of the world, has its advantages.

Stay in touch and I will too.

With love and gratitude,

Marsha

Unplugged and Uninformed: A possible state of bliss

IMG_1542When Steve and I were first married, we each travelled abroad for business. In those days, the 80’s and early 90’s, technology was in its infancy stages. When we traveled we would communicate with each other through hand written faxes that, at the time, was really high tech. I still have every one of those faxes that we shared. There were very few phone calls, the cost was prohibitive, and email was unpredictable. We managed, and I remember waiting with great anticipation for those hand written “letters” to arrive. We couldn’t keep each other informed with phone calls twice a day or emails recounting the days activities as they happened. Things have changed and now we have email, SKYPE, Facetime, Facebook and IM. We can contact each other at any moment. Until now! Ubud simply is not plugged in. Although there is Internet access at my cottage it hardly comes in and I realize that I’m used to instant gratification of staying connected with the outside world. That includes reading and seeing the news around the world as it‘s happening which, these days, can only bring stress and sadness. The absence of that stress and sadness might account for some of the joy these people seem to have. I had a friend who once said she doesn’t read or listen to the news. I asked her how she stays connected and informed; she responded that if there was something she really needed to know she would hear about it. I thought that was a rather unsophisticated way to exist but now I’m not so sure. I haven’t read a paper or seen the news in more then two weeks and I still know about the tragic shooting of a 12-year-old black boy in the US. and some of what’s going on in Ferguson. In one of Andrew Weill’s books he recommends, I’m sure to western audiences, not watching any news for one day a week. He espouses that this small change can bring more peace to us. I guess he thought that asking us to stop watching the news, even for a week, would throw most people off.

Is my experience diminished by this lack of connection? At first I was so frustrated, being so used to instant gratification of high speed Internet. But now after a few weeks I have settled into a wonderful routine of self-reflection and self-reliance. I send emails when I can and SKYPING is a rare and wonderful moment for Steve and me to share an experience long after it’s happened. Has technology enhanced our lives? I know on so many levels that it has. I love the idea that in the midst of a conversation with someone if we are unsure about a fact or a name we “Google” it. I know that I can talk to friends and family and see them even when I’m 1000s of miles away. I wouldn’t want a world without it. It has made the world smaller and so much more convenient. What price have we paid for this? I walk by cafes and restaurants all over the world and I see the same thing; people on their cell phones, computers, iPads and whatever devices they have, people sitting with friends, no one making eye contact or talking, just checking email and who knows what else?

Once I return to the high speed, high tech world of South Korea, I wonder if I’ll be right back at it- maybe not with the same need I had before I left. Each experience brings a new awareness and the lessons come faster as my time on earth diminishes. I simply can’t put anything off.

IMG_1536Each morning, the elderly man who owns Sama cottages, now run by his son, comes by my cottage with a burlap bag and picks up all the flowers that fell to the ground the night before. These flowers are then placed around each cottage when the rooms are cleaned. I doubt that he races back to his cottage to plug in to technology. He smiles and greets me every morning and I am humbled by his “work.” I head back to Korea in a few days and I hope the lessons come with me.

Stay in touch and I will too.

With love and gratitude,

Marsha

The Lonely Planet Guidebook to Life

urlIn late October I returned to Korea after an amazing month in Europe, ready to spend the next few months figuring out what to do next. My job ended and I was told if I got a spousal visa I might be eligible to teach as an adjunct at the university. My first week back I went to immigration only to discover that without my marriage license I couldn’t obtain a spousal visa. Who travels the world with their marriage license? Certainly not me! I was married 31 years ago in Jefferson, Maine. I called the town hall assuming they could simply send me a copy. No such luck! After several phone calls I found a clearinghouse in Texas that sends vital records all over the world, for a large fee. Ten days later it arrived. I returned to immigration and secured my visa, but by then, I had decided that 2 months in Korea, without work could possibly drive me insane. Time for a new plan!

Over tea with a friend, I lamented my situation and she suggested that I use this precious time to travel. She suggested Bali–Ubud to be exact. I had never even heard of Ubud. It turns out, Elizabeth Gilbert found “love” in Ubud in her book “Eat, Pray, Love”. The next thing I knew I was on Kayak buying a plane ticket. I got on line and searched Ubud for a place to stay. My only requirements were centrally located, safe, clean and cheap. Sama’s Cottages fit the bill. With little information and no time to waste I booked it and, once again, I packed my carry-on bag. Was it adventurous or completely insane? After all, I had traveled in Spain and Italy just the month before, mostly by myself, but three weeks in a place I had never heard of? I didn’t even have a Lonely Planet guidebook to Bali.

I arrived in Ubud a week ago. In the taxi on the way to my cottage, I wondered why in the world I had done this, but here I am. I got out of the cab and found myself in, what looked like, paradise. It was a small complex of 10 cottages and I was escorted to mine. The nice gentleman handed me a small sheet of paper with breakfast choices and asked what time I wanted my breakfast delivered. Was he kidding? I really hadn’t done my research, breakfast delivered to me in the morning? I went to sleep in my cozy, hot, cottage with a ceiling fan, a floor fan and a bed covered with mosquito netting. Sure enough, the next morning breakfast arrived as promised and my time in Ubud began.

Did I really need to know everything about this place in advance? Did I need my days planned out with all the necessary tourist attractions? Could I really relinquish all control and let my time in Ubud unfold before me? I have been here for almost a week and I have been to yoga classes, where I am likely the oldest person by possibly more than 30 years, and meditation classes that I thought would be relaxing and turned out to be vigorous cathartic breathing for an hour and a half. I’ve eaten amazing food in places that I simply walked by and went in, not having read the Trip Advisor reviews. I have had massages and facials, and even a reflexology massage that I had no idea what it would be and didn’t bother to ask in advance. I signed up for a cooking class and a one-day bike trip. Each day is a new adventure. All without a Lonely Planet guidebook! I suspect I’ll miss some of the sights that are recommended and that will be just fine. My days are mine. Filled with wonder and exploration. No pressure to do just be.

I have pondered some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past 6 decades and what things have changed both subtlety and obviously. For one, I stopped trying to control the universe. That lesson came in my later decades, learning that I can’t control anything. Life happens and although I can take steps to plan and be proactive I know that things can change on a dime and I need to go with the flow. I’m learning that not knowing everything and sometimes not knowing anything can be a treat. I smile more and worry less. I’m not sure I need a guidebook to get me thru the adventures that lie ahead. Have you ever wondered why they call it the LONELY planet guidebooks?

Stay in touch and I will too.

With love and gratitude,

Marsha

ALONE, BUT NOT LONELY

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When I was in my early 20’s I rented an apartment alone. I was both excited and a bit nervous; having no idea what living alone would be like. I loved it and I never had a roommate again until I moved in with Steve, more then 10 years later.

During those years I did all sorts of things by myself. If I couldn’t find someone to join me at the movies on a rainy Sunday afternoon, I went alone. When I was in my early 30’s I started traveling for business and found myself going all over the world, alone. I worked all day and saw lots of people, but at night I was on my own. Room service only works for a few nights and I began to venture out to restaurants. I started by bringing all sorts of things with me, books, notebooks to write in, and magazines, anything that would distract me from feeling awkward sitting at a table alone. As I aged, those feelings dissipated and now I love going to a new city, alone, exploring, eating in restaurants and not bringing a thing with me.

This past month has been a true joy. The mixture of being alone and being with my sister and friends has been a great balance. The walk was amazing, talking and engaging with other “pilgrims” during the day and solitude to reflect on my journey at night. It couldn’t have been better.

I just spent 4 days alone in Florence and Lucca and I loved every minute of it. The flexibility to get up when I want, go where I want, eat when I want and see what I want, was wonderful. I got lost a lot and didn’t have to feel the least bit bad about it. I ate at wonderful restaurants each night. The reservation was for one and each restaurant took care of me as if I was an old friend. The waiters were attentive and brought half portions of the dishes meant for two.

I am reminded that we live in a world of couples. When people would engage with me, they were often surprised to hear that I was traveling alone. Sometimes they seemed sad for me but sometimes they had a bit of envy in their eyes. Women would often ask me questions, wondering if they could do this. “Of course you can”, I would reply. Being alone does not mean being lonely, it simply means being alone. Often people would invite me to join them or at least have a conversation with me across the tables. I often realized that, other than placing my order, I probably hadn’t spoken all day.

I’m now in Rome spending my last week with my dear friends of more then 45 years, Mame and Cliff. They have been in Rome for the past 3 weeks and are welcoming me to share this time with them. I’m not alone and I have comfortably become part of a threesome and not a third wheel. The amazing joy of being with old friends, who know me, makes me grateful.

I head back to Korea in a week and I will once again make my way back into the life Steve and I share. I really look forward to seeing him and I also know it won’t be as it was. It can’t be. We have been apart for 9 weeks and a lot has happened for both of us, as it does in life. I love the idea of sharing my experiences with him and hearing about his. Each experience I have, takes me closer to the person I want to be. The person who can go it alone and relish in the time I have with Steve and with good friends. The person who can live in the moment and not worry about all the unimportant details that really do take care of themselves, The person who is loving and caring to other people and nurturing to myself. The person who lives with love in my heart and not fear.

I love my life and I am already planning my next adventure. The other night when I spoke to Steve he asked me if I knew about Annapurna. Only from a book I read years ago. He said he thinks it may be on the “list”. If it is, I won’t be doing it alone, but with Steve. Here’s to the joys of living life to the fullest, whatever that might look like, to not waiting for anything or for anyone but realizing our dreams and making them happen. Right now I’m off to see the Sistine Chapel, alone.

Stay in touch and I will too.

With love and gratitude,

Marsha

CH CH CH CHANGES

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I spent most of my adult life working with individuals and organizations making change. Most of the time the changes were short lived at best. There were those few occasions when the changes that were implemented actually stuck. Those were usually times when the people or organizations were in enough pain to make things happen. Most times people would feel exhilarated during the process and vow to integrate the changes into their lives or organizations, leaving the experience with a renewed sense of living life as a lighter and more fulfilled person. Then life would take over and lessons learned would be lost. Often I would hear from my clients years later that they had finally made a change in their lives and were relating it to some of the things they learned from our time together. Those learnings were put in the back files of their minds and brought out when the time was right.

When I embarked on this journey I came with little expectations of learning profound new life lessons. I was right. The lessons, so far, are ones I knew, had learned before but hadn’t really put into practice. The Camino walk was wonderful, even the two days walking in the rain. One day in the pouring rain! The people I met were incredible. The time alone was relaxed and joyous. Every moment, in fact, was incredible. The lessons of letting go and just seeing life unfold each day was easy. Sure, I didn’t have the pressures of a job or having to consider anyone else’s needs. That is the luxury of growing older. The awareness that the experience before me is the only one I have. Living in the moment seems real because the moments are no longer endless. There isn’t the luxury of thinking, “Oh, I’ll probably be back here again.” Instead it’s the reality of knowing that I may not return to these places in this lifetime.

After my walk I felt a sense of disconnection with the world I was stepping into. Getting to the airport, two flights, and a train to the hotel in Brussels. I realized that I barely spoke all day except for the necessities of getting on planes and trains. I met my sister for a long overdue birthday celebration. Our familiarity with each other was a comforting relief. We spent a few days catching up and headed to Bruges. In the cab to the hotel the driver asked how long we were staying and we replied, just a day and a half. “Oh well, “ he said, “you’ll be back.” We looked at each other with that knowing look that this probably wouldn’t be. We are headed to Barcelona tomorrow, a city I have been to before, with an excitement of seeing it again for the first time. Another wonder of aging, not really remembering all the details of trips past. I have noticed that a layer of film that encompassed me has melted away. That layer that seals in worry and expectations and keeps me from the moment. It’s gone. I’m certain some parts of it will return just to help me get through tough times in life but for now it’s gone. The lessons of living in the moment, at least for this moment, are real. It seems a little foreign to me. Yesterday on the train from Brussels to Bruges, I was not the least bit concerned about when we would get there, how we would get from the station to the hotel, where the hotel was, what the hotel would be like, where we would eat dinner or any details of the day. Instead I listened to my book on tape and looked out the window. I was surprised when we arrived so quickly. Everything worked out. We took a cab, the hotel is so charming, we had a great day exploring Bruges and a wonderful dinner. All this happened without me having to do any more than show up.

These are lessons I’ve know for a long time and wanted to integrate into the fabric of my being. So far, on this trip, it seems to be happening. Maybe it takes the right amount of life experience and the wisdom of age to resurrect the files in my own mind.

I have a little more then two weeks of traveling ahead of me. After 4 days in Barcelona I leave my sister and head to Italy, to Florence and Lucca for a solo journey, then off to Rome to meet my dear and long time friends, Mame and Cliff for a final week of exploring with them. Life is full of wonderful changes at this age. A time of knowing that each moment really does mean something and filling the days, weeks and months with joy and wonderment feels a whole lot better than trying to control any outcomes.

I miss Steve like crazy and that even feels good. To love someone so much that the longing for their presence brings joy and not sadness.

Stay in touch and I will to.

With love and gratitude,

Marsha