Change is Certain

Crystel - Age 6. 2008

Crystel – Age 6. 2008

Whether it’s our kids growing up right before our eyes, the seasons changing, snow needing to be shoveled, or Christmas coming. It’s happening whether we embrace it or not.

Change is certain in all that surrounds us. Work people coming and going. A new job, or a new assignment. People moving in or out of the neighborhood.

I’ve decided to embrace change. It doesn’t mean that it is without tears.

A couple of weeks ago, I learned that my boss was leaving for a new assignment within our corporation and would be returning to his home in Texas. Later that evening I cried. I was still crying in bed when Crystel ran upstairs to jump up and down on me. I explained to her that I was having a personal moment. That didn’t deter her exuberance. It gave her more fuel.

I was crying because this boss was so healing for me. The company I worked with prior to this one was nothing short of terrible. It was a challenge to make it through each work day. I started laughing during the day because it was the best way to get through the hours. I became an observer of what was going on around me. For many reasons, I chose not to quit the job but to see how long I could last.

Crystel - Age 14. 2016.

Crystel – Age 14. 2016

My goal became to keep my dignity, my truth, and to be proud of my actions, regardless of what was happening.

It almost seemed like the company wanted me to quit. What I said to myself was, you people don’t know who you’re dealing with. Where I’ve been. Where I’ve gone. You could never make my work environment as bad as what I have lived through.

My current job is all that that job wasn’t.

By the time Crystel got done jumping up and down on me, I had decided to be thankful for the 1 ½ years I had with this boss. With that decision, I felt lighter, happy, and joyful. I went to work with a bounce in my step, and a smile on my face.

If nothing else, change is certain.

Celebrating Retirement

Last week I celebrated one year of retirement. “Celebrated” is a key word. While I was happy to retire last August, I felt a little undercurrent of worry—I didn’t exactly have a plan. For many people, not having a plan sounds like what retirement is all about. But to me, making such a major and irreversible move called for a blueprint. As in what I am I going to do for the rest of my life? Which suddenly seemed more finite.

Retirement is an Identity Change

Retirement is a major identity shift akin to starting a career, marrying a spouse, or becoming a parent. You see yourself differently. A wise friend advised that it might take up to a year to figure out retirement, and it has.

Who Am I Without My Profession?

Americans often identify with our professions. I have worked since I was 16, and I babysat before that, so paid work has been part of my life since I was 11. I went to some effort (getting a graduate degree, moving across the country three times) to launch my career—first as a teacher and then as a copywriter. In 1979, when I started teaching college full-time, the working world wasn’t welcoming to women, and I had to fight to belong. By the time I started copywriting five years later, I had toughened up and the workplace was less openly antagonistic. My early experiences shaped me, and having a career became an integral part of who I am.

My other roles—wife, mother, sister, and friend—have remained constant in retirement. But last August I wondered, “What does it mean to let go of the career I worked so hard to have? What happens to all the experience and skills I’ve gained?” Today, the answer is that I’m still a writer—an essayist and blogger, and I volunteer as a marketing communications copywriter.

Me in retirement--just kidding--it's Rose Totino

Me in retirement–just kidding!

That’s how I see myself, but early on when I mentioned my new status, I learned that the word “retiree” conjures up someone who’s out-of-touch and lives for coupons. Now when I meet people, I simply describe the work I do.Ellen in Hawaii

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

People Openly Wonder, “What do you do all day?”

It’s a legitimate question. A year ago, I too wondered how to create a life that is fulfilling and fun. What exactly was I going to do with my time? The answer is more of everything I did before. I sleep half-an-hour longer. Most days, I walk for an hour because now exercising doesn’t have to be a trade-off (i.e., either I exercise or I have fun).

Housework, cooking, and grocery shopping still exist in retirement. I’m determined not to become obsessive about any of that, but now I might take an extra five minutes to dry the pots and pans after I wash them instead of letting them air dry as I did before. Why not? I have time.

Camping in WI

Camping in WI

Today, I read, write, travel, socialize, and volunteer more. Probably the main difference is that now I have more time to explore or learn new things in classes at the University of Minnesota, the Loft, or community education.

I wasn’t planning to retire last August at 61; I expected to work two-and-a-half more years. However, when a stroke of luck gave me the opportunity to leave early, I did. I am very grateful to be retired now. Eventually old age will find me. But for now I’m enjoying the gift of retirement. I want to use my time well.

When Small Talk Isn’t Enough

Have you ever attended a work outing (holiday party, going away lunch, happy hour, etc.) only to be stricken with a compete lack of conversation starters?

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You recognize that you should make an effort to be friendly and get to know the coworker sitting next to you who’s twice your age/half your age. But aside from work, you have nothing in common. Maybe he’s a vegan and you like meat. Especially bad-for-you meat like bacon and sausage. Or she’s a fashionista and you’re hopelessly wardrobe-challenged. Moving next to someone you do know and like would be too rude . . . especially if you’re trapped in the middle of several tables that have been shoved together at the bar.

Small talk is easy. Weather and sports are perennial favorites, but weather can be dissected to the point of boredom in less than five minutes. Sports talk can be stretched to last 10 minutes, or 15 minutes—tops—if you filibuster about your favorite team’s merits and shortcomings. But then what? It’s time for ‘medium talk’—conversation about a moderately interesting but inoffensive topic that can fill the next 15 minutes. Not politics. No controversial current events. Nothing you care deeply about.

If you’re both parents, you can ask about your coworker’s children. If you ask enough questions, that could be good for 15 minutes, as long as you avoid the advice giving or getting landmines.

Vacation plans might be a topic, unless you’re talking to the youngest person on the team who gets paid so little that he can’t afford to go anywhere.

If there’s a big difference in your ages, weekend plans are a nonstarter. Middle-aged people are likely to be going to their kids’ games and mulching the back yard. Yawn. Young parents are usually chasing toddlers, catching up on laundry, and hoping to have one grown-up moment alone together. Been there, done that. Or not ready for that world. Single twenty-somethings are probably hitting the bars or doing a gaming marathon. Snore.

Pets are a good topic, if both of you love and own animals. After you’ve covered the particulars of his or her pet (Dog? Cat? Breed?), ask what’s the best or worst thing their pet does. That leads to storytelling and you may not even have to talk—just nod and laugh.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “Why am I torturing myself with these tedious conversations? Next time I’ll be sick or have some vague ‘appointment.’” While some conversations with coworkers will never be fascinating, people can surprise you. I recently discovered that a coworker likes craft beer as much as I do and he told me about a new brewpub. Someone else had been to a city I’m hoping to visit. Maybe you’ll find someone who’s as geeky as you are about vintage clothes, gardens, music or whatever you’re interested in.

Take heart. Next time there’s an office event, you might find that medium talk will lead to a genuine connection.

Have you ever faced this dilemma? How did you handle it?

Reflecting on the Business of Being in Business—Ellen Shriner Communications 1993-2011

In 1993, I launched Ellen Shriner Communications when my sons were 1 ½ and 4 years old. I had been looking for full-time work as a marketing communications copywriter and was offered freelance projects. That simultaneously answered the questions: “What should my next job be?” and “How could I spend more time with my boys?” Eventually, I discovered an additional benefit—I had time to take Loft classes, write personal essays and finish a book-length memoir. stacked hat logo

Initially, having my own business was a means to an end. During the next 18 years, it became a huge part of my identity. However, by 2011, I was ready for different challenges, and I gradually shut the business down. Today, as I dismantle what remains of my office in preparation for moving, I’m reflecting on what the business meant to me.

Days when it was great to be self-employed . . .

  • Over the years, I wrote a lot of ads, brochures, direct mail, newsletters, training materials, videos, websites for national clients like Radisson Hotels, Hallmark, Target, US Bank, Medtronic, Sears, Capital One Auto Finance, Eli Lilly, and Pillsbury—work I’m proud of.
  • World Headquarters for Ellen Shriner Communications ;)

    World Headquarters for Ellen Shriner Communications 😉

  • I had the pleasure of teaming up with many talented graphic designers at firms including, InMind Design, Grand Ciel Design, Matt Shimon Creative, Zetah Design, and Fuego Design. We functioned as virtual ad agencies and delivered loads of smart creative work.

 

 

  • Some of my work won awards.
Awards

Midwest Direct Marketing ARC Awards

  • Being my own boss meant that I could flex my schedule so I could attend my sons’ field trips and Halloween parties.
  • Similarly, I had the flexibility to run errands and manage car or house repairs.

    Tasha, my faithful office mate

    Tasha, my faithful office mate

  • On sunny summer days, I could take a walk or do a little gardening over my lunch hour.

Days when being self-employed wasn’t as great as it sounds . . .

  • Dozens of times I went on sales calls and left them shaking my head at how clueless and cheap some prospects were. More than a handful had to be told “No” when they asked me to work for ridiculously cut-rate prices.
  • Plenty of my clients were so small that you’ve never heard of them—an African entrepreneur, a wedding singer, and a manufacturer of knock-off beauty products—and they had the budgets to match.
  • Sometimes I was in a panic trying to hit my client’s unreasonable deadlines. I’d stay up too late, get up too early, and be jangled by too much caffeine as I tried to power through projects to deliver them on time.
  • No one paid me if I were sick or wanted to take off on vacation.
  • Often I took on projects even if I was too busy or it was inconvenient, because turning down work from good clients drives them away.
  • Equally nerve-wracking were the times I had no work and nothing on the horizon. My billings were bleak after 9/11, when the Great Recession began, and plenty of times in between.
  • Working alone was isolating—an unintended consequence of being a sole proprietor.

After 18 years, I was growing restless. My guys were in college and I was ready for something new. So when a client offered me a part-time job writing marketing communications, it seemed like the perfect solution. I could continue my writing career while maintaining my part-time flexible lifestyle. I’d be paid every two weeks (no more scrambling for billings!) and receive paid vacation and holidays.

At first, I couldn’t get used to the idea that when I left my desk at the end of the day, I was done—no more working nights or weekends! I thought I would miss my home office, but having professional colleagues has more than made up for it. Besides, working in your bathrobe is over-rated.

I was incredibly lucky to have professional work and the flexibility to be with my guys as they grew up. I’m grateful, too, for the time to pursue my literary projects. Today, Ellen Shriner Communications is a proud memory, but Ellen Shriner, Writer is alive and thriving.

The World Headquarters for Ellen Shriner, Writer is wherever I carry my laptop

The World Headquarters for Ellen Shriner, Writer is wherever I carry my laptop

Come for the job. Stay for the walk.

Today it is 71 degrees in Hastings, MN. Over my lunch hour, I can head in any direction for an uplifting three mile walk with a good chance of spotting an eagle.

The Mississippi River and the Vermillion River run parallel to one another and are separated by a 17-by-2.5-mile tract of floodplain forest.

I’m within walking distance of Vermillion Falls. A paved walking/biking trail follows the river in both directions.

Last fall during one walk I found myself at Mill Ruins at Old Mill Park and felt just like I had when I used to skip high school. Happy. The path to Old Mill Park also leads to Adams Park and Bullfrog Pond and to the rest of the 15 mile trail system that loops around town.

Mill Ruins

Mill Ruins

If I head behind the manufacturing plant where I’m a Human Resources Manager, I am in Veterans Athletic Complex and can take a right to follow a paved trail past a plowed field down a hill overlooking a valley.

Walking south takes me to Hastings Sand Coulee identified as one of the most biologically important sites in Dakota County. I came upon it all of a sudden. The 2.5 mile long coulee is a former

Hastings Sand Coulee

Hastings Sand Coulee

glacial stream valley. It is registered as a Scientific Natural Area. I walked a grass path that ended at an old cemetery that sits on top of the western bluff. 69 bird species have been recorded at this site.

 

Recently I started using Runkeeper during my walks. Runkeeper is a free app for your iphone that 28 million people are already using. Track your runs, walks, bike rides, hikes and more using the GPS in your iPhone.

I like the Runkeeper so much – It’s so EASY, so I’ve been using that instead of the pedometer I’m in charge of introducing to our employees next Monday.

Whatever your activity is today – Get Out and Enjoy.