Work/Life Hacking

Self-Transformation in 100 Minutes?

Posted on: Thursday, August 13th, 2015
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | Leave a comment


Can you change your life by taking 10 minutes a day to “slow down and soak life?”

In June, a group of wired young women posed that challenge to their online communities—and got 200 participants in 185 locations to take the plunge. They report that “97% met their pre-challenge intentions.” Many were rich in “aha moments.”

  • The endless roots of SM

Our kindred friends at offer the ever-relevant reminder that even ten minutes a day can change your perspective, mood, and (maybe) life. From “daydreaming on purpose to lying on the ground for 10 minutes to dancing in the kitchen,” turning off the relentless life loop can feel as freeing as flying.

So imagine the magic that happens from three (or 12) months away from the I’m-so-busy routine. The Career Break community and the BreakAway Fan Club preach that potential, yet live at least 97% of our lives as heathens—obsessed by our own to-do lists and called to various screens that look nothing like long-term travel.

The four BreakChanger gurus appear to lead rigorous online lives. Indeed, the 10-for-10 premise and audience roots itself in social media—a great way to find participants while also marketing one’s personal brand and, in these cases, professional services.

  • Good for them!

So this idea is basically a win-win-win; it’s good for the Breakers, good for business, and good for the world. I love the simplicity of the challenge: Can YOU take a 10-minute break for 10 days? If so, how does it change you? There’s no word on whether fall holds a new opportunity to chill out for, say, 15 minutes for 15 days.

  • Is the 10-minute meditation next?

While some folks worldwide meditate as a way of life, others dabble in it, rather like workouts and diets. And this dabble-practitioner (of all the aforementioned, I suppose) has learned one overarching fact about meditating: It’s hard work.

Achieving the discipline for the daily “sit” can become unattainable, annoying. Taking months-long classes can seem to drag on for years. The group quiet time can make one’s brain howl while the body craves a recliner. Outdoor walking meditation includes risks like boredom, insensitive panhandlers, and disdain for one’s climate. As for the full-day retreats: Those can compare to interminable experiences in hospitals (yourself or a loved one) and yet, at times, the blissy euphoria more often obtained from catching a nice buzz. Both may happen, over and over, during the same day-long retreat.

Yet those days are unforgettable, and certainly mind-opening. Even though nothing happened. Perhaps that’s the point.

So if our BreakChanger friends can approximate those lessons and find refreshment in 600 seconds a day, more power to them. I may be older, from Mars (not Venus), and less committed to online living. But having mostly fallen off my meditation wagon (as I do every summer, when I seem to “need” it less), that 10 for 10 program sounds pretty good right about now.

I bet it will work. In fact, I guarantee it.

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Workation vs. Vegecation…

Posted on: Monday, January 26th, 2015
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | Leave a comment

Well, the Vacation Revolution we announced in the last post is confronting resistance already. The NYT reported last week on the trend of “workations.” That’s when high-wired, workaholic types travel to exotic, “all-inclusive” destinations decked out with cool necessities like wifi, tech gear, office space, new coworker-pals and, of course, killer coffee.

  • The next big co-working thing

Early adopters, entrepreneurs, and idea-mongers are showing up in droves—to places like Surf Office (in California and the Canary Islands), Mutinerie Village (a restored farmstead near Paris and, soon, Coconat, a bucolic retreat near Berlin.

Why not? Why not go hang out somewhere suave where you can work, network, and surf both waves and webs 24/7? If you’re young, worldly, and omni-connected—and you hate unplugging (and love working)—then this is for you. Oh yeah, it may help to have deep pockets or a generous expense account.

The idea further validates the co-working movement, which is uplifting news for local pioneer, CoCo. Maybe the next expansion for CoCo is a space in a retired Minnesota lake Resort!

  • The next big un-working thing

Speaking of lakes, folks are also coming in droves (and pickups, ATVs, and snowmobiles) to vegetation retreats atop frozen lakes. Some call it ice fishing. Some just seem to meditate for hours, staring at a hole in ice. Some, though not all, catch bottle bass. They also collaborate, as in, “Catchin’ anything?” But very few of them require laptops, cell phones, or wifi.


To be sure, these peaceful people most likely return to work the next day. So their vegecation is temporary—unlike our workation friends who never seem to shut down.

To each his (or her) own. But every single soul I’ve invited to the Ice Shanty has loved their retreat into the comfortable, low-stim sanctuary. Things like giddiness, games, candles, and singing happen. Things like work, worry, and selfie-importance don’t.


When I ask my friends, “Why is this old, little trailer so magical and fun?” They usually say something like, “Because we’re away.”

A BreakAway comes in many forms. That includes 1974 ice-fishing campers on ice, and maybe even surfing workations by the sea.


Still, I’ll take the vegecation over a workation. Work will wait. Chilling out in the present moment won’t.

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Travel Joy Is 52% Anticipation

Posted on: Thursday, January 26th, 2012
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | 5 comments

Survey sez:  52% of the happiness we derive from travel is experienced before we even arrive at our destination.*

If that’s true, then why not always have a getaway in the planning stages just to boost your spirit?

I witnessed such a “joy of anticipation” at a BreakAway Meetup on Monday of this week.  A good 25 people showed up out of the gray to talk travel, share memories, and say hey to Sherry Ott (of Meet, Plan, Go! fame)—who shared amazing laptop pics of her Mongo Rally journey.

A joyful time was had by all—really!

  • Big bios, big plans

The most eye-opening part, though, was listening to strangers talk with palpable commitment about their travel dreams.  Dreams?  Make that Realities.  Most of these new friends have already been to exotic places—and most have specific plans for more.

In a few days, one leaves for an extended stay in South America.  Another flies out next week for annual school-building work in Haiti.  One is scheming to restore a storm-damaged catamaran and start a kite-sailing charter.

  • $5 days in Europe, $5 burgers, and the Battery Killer too

We were also fortunate to host published travel heavy-hitters like Doug Mack (just back from Cuba) and Leif Pettersen (soon off to Romania to write for Lonely Planet).  High-5s to the good service and $5 burgers from Wilde Roast.  And many thanks to the friendly travel enthusiasts whose energy and synergy felt contagious.

To quote the old cliché:  Getting there is half the fun.  That’s worth remembering when a BreakAway seems far away.  Keep the faith—and 52% of the joy can set in before you even set sail.

*according to TravelSupermarket

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11 Q: Sherry Ott Rallies (in Mongolia!)

Posted on: Saturday, January 21st, 2012
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | Leave a comment

If the career-break movement really ever does catch wildfire, some of us will get so rich that we go on perma-break, right?  Until then, the people provide a rich enough payoff.  Like meeting Sherry Ott, who’s graced these web pages before and motivates thousands through Meet PlanGo, her own travelblog Ottsworld, and more.

Although she’s highly inspirational, she also may be crazy.  I mean, who else signs up for a 10,000-mile car race through remote Mongolia’s deserts and mountains—all for charity, chills, and thrills—that in the end leaves her wondering,

What will I ever do to top this?”

Why not ask her yourself…when Sherry guest-stars in our Breakaway meetup on Monday night (1-23-12), and tells tales taller than Mongolian mountains.  We’ll be at Wilde Roast, on the river, sipping wine and spreading the career-break gospel (and gossip).

Meantime, please enjoy Sherry’s responses to the BreakAway 11Q.  You’ll get a taste of Sherry’s unique travel genius—and of what it’s like to take an outlandish journey with three veritable strangers.  Just for kicks and craziness.

We hope to see you Monday night!

  • Biggest getaway challenge

Getting out of a Kazakhstan police station I was being held in.  (you need to come out and meet me on Monday to hear the rest of the story!)

  • Grandest arrival

Our first day arriving in Brussels to stay with my friends there.  When we arrived at 11PM after driving all day from the kickoff party in London, we walked into their apartment and they had champagne, wine, cheese, and a grand feast for us all prepared!  We ate like kings and stayed up until 2AM giddy with excitement from the beginning of the rally.

  • Favorite place

Camping in the middle of nowhere in Kazakhstan under a full moon.  I have no idea where we were, but drinking beer until midnight sitting on our little camp stools under a full moon was perfect.

  • Logistical nightmare

Navigating Mongolia.  Geez – where do I start?  There are no roads in Mongolia, there are only dirt paths that spread out like tendrils of a complex spider web.  We used a compass and an out of date map to attempt to determine our way.  And consider this, with no roads, that means there are no bridges either.  Water crossings were an adventure and a nightmare at the same time!

  • Most meaningful moment

The first glimpse of Ulaanbaatar (exactly 5 weeks after we left London) sent chills through my body.  I was overcome with emotion – a giddiness and sense of accomplishment that is unparalleled.

  • Worst disaster(s)

Knock on wood – we didn’t have any major disasters.  But here’s the ones that sort of qualify:

Mechanical – busting our exhaust system and muffler, as well as our front shock in Mongolia.

People – There were some pretty major fights in that little car.  Tears, yelling – you name it.  One that ended in the car screeching to a halt in a cloud of dust and people getting out screaming at each other.

Technical – The day we left London we ‘bricked’ my iphone and it no longer even booted up.  Since I’m a travel blogger I rely on my smart phone for staying connected while traveling.  We had to try to get it repaired along the way and ultimately I had to buy a new one while in Germany!

Administrivia – We didn’t have the right paperwork for our car’s title which is a big issue when crossing borders in this part of the world.  We were able to forge a copy of our title while in Kiev and we’d hold our breath through every border crossing hoping they didn’t realize it was a copy and not the real thing.  Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.

Other Teams – A team we had been caravanning with were out at a nightclub in Russia when someone drugged their drinks.  They were taken out in the forest outside of town and robbed.  Even after the incident – they kept going and made it to the finish.

  • Serendipitous experience

In Aktobe Kazakhstan while stopped at a stoplight we were lost as usual trying to read maps and make guesses on which way to turn.  A man pulled up next to us in an old, white car and beeped.  We all looked and he started to try to speak to us; he simply said “Tourist?”  We said yes, and then he gave us a little heart shaped key chain and drove off.  It was an odd encounter, but we attached that key chain to the headrest of one of the seats, and after that moment our luck started to change.  When we turned in the car for the auction in Ulaanbaatar, the key chain was still there.  Despite that fact the many children were asking for it, we always kept it for good luck.

  • Strangest encounter

Once we arrived in Mongolia, everyone wanted to buy our car; our beat up, dirty, sticker-filled, falling apart car.  Locals would stop us at gas stations, accost us at a stop light or ride up to our camp site and try to communicate with us to find out what we were doing there.  We’d try to explain through charades that we were driving to Ulaanbaatar for charity, but they’d always ask us if they could buy our car.  Some would also ask if they could buy our tents, camping gear, and headlamps too; they wanted to purchase every last bit of stuff we owned.  We were like walking billboards to these people who had money, but didn’t have products to buy.

  • Requisite health dilemma

Nothing major on this front.  I think all of us are full time travelers and were pretty used to ingesting foreign bacteria!  Our biggest health issue was that early on while in Europe one person had a cold and inevitably we all got the cold since we were stuck in a small space together coughing and sneezing.

  • Profound take-away

Traveling by car in this manner, completely independently, was some of the most challenging travel I’ve done.  Every day you are faced with decisions and you have to make decisions based on the unknown (road conditions, language barriers, mechanical issues, where will you next find food).  But I was once again taught the lesson that people will always try to help you when you need it.  We relied on locals along the whole route; they gave us food, directions, parts, did repairs for us, brought us gifts, and took care of us.  The more unknown you have to deal with, the more you have to simply surrender control and rely on others.

  • Re-entry vibe

I was left with this post-event low and lingering question of “What will I ever do next to top this?”

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11Q: Julie DuRose Blooms

Posted on: Friday, October 14th, 2011
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | One comment

When Julie DuRose speaks at our panel of five at Meet, Plan, Go MSP next Tuesday (10-18-11), you can expect stories of escaping academia, exotic foods, and solo travel. As a women.  In outlandish lands.  With nary an itinerary.  Not only did she survive, she thrived—and can’t wait to fly away again.  (See bio below.)

These traits alone make her a perfect panelist.  But her clever demeanor and gift of story will light up the room, and enlighten fellow dreamers and schemers.  The world is ready for her book, Wake Me for Meal Service.  But alas, we’ll have to wait until it’s finished, published, and perfect.  With her talents, the wait won’t be long.  And after that?

My best guess is we’ll be needing a go-away party—to wish her Godspeed before she embarks on a book tour, or perhaps more urgently, another big BreakAway.

So see her while you can.  Meantime, thanks to Julie for taking on the 11Q challenge.  Take a read.  Soak in her courage.  And please join us at Honey on Tuesday night.

  • Biggest getaway challenge

My then partner (and travel-mate) and I are both planner types and have a head for details and problem solving, so the multi-country itinerary was not a big deal at all. What was difficult, though, was agreeing about what all to save (or not save), and what to get done (or leave unfinished) – which lead to the challenge of picking a date. This was likely more about the fundamental ways we were incompatible, though, than it was about the nature of the tasks at hand. (May you all have an easier time of it!)”

  • Grandest arrival

My father & stepmom bought us two nights at Le Meridien in Kuala Lumpur over New Year’s. We went from backpacking through leech-infested jungles to sipping European wines in fluffy white bathrobes. I hadn’t seen a bathtub in months, and this one was magical.”

  • Favorite place

When I was riding my motorcycle through Alaska, it was Alaska. When I was in New Zealand, I thought it was New Zealand. When I was in Bali, it was Bali, and when I was in Rajasthan . . . well, you get the idea. The only place I didn’t think was worth the trip was Invercargill, whose claim to fame is that it is the southernmost city in the world. That was pretty much the most exciting thing about it, too.”

  • Logistical nightmare

Buying five train tickets as a woman traveling alone in India was a three-day project. You can pay a travel agent to help you with things like this, of course, but I don’t find that nearly as satisfying or memorable. (Oh, and whenever possible, take the train.)”

  • Most meaningful moment

“Most” is again an impossible designation, but I often think about a time when a young Cambodian man got on his scooter and rode through the streets looking for me to apologize that his father had displayed anger in the restaurant where I had just eaten. We had never met before.

I also think a lot about the grand hospitality I received over the course of a year, and in particular, this amazing couple in Anchorage that shared their home and their lives with us for three weeks, and included us on a trip into the Arctic.”

  • Worst disaster

I can’t think of any “disasters” really, but my (initial) traveling companion and I fought a lot – and often publicly, since our “homes” were basically on our backs. (There is definitely a loss of privacy on the kind of trip I took.) At the tail end of a particularly long – and silent – flight, it became apparent that the man next to us had no idea that we were even together. That felt like something of a disaster at the time, if only on a relationship level.”

  • Serendipitous experience

Serendipity is the rule when you give yourself over to travel. One of my favorite moments of serendipity was meeting two amazing guys from Dayton, Ohio, near the Taj Mahal. I was putting out a table fire at the time, but that is a long(er) story.

You know, it got to the point that whenever something went wrong – when I got horribly lost or sick, or my vehicle had broken down, for example – I was overcome with this wonderful kind of calm anticipation about what remarkable thing or person was waiting for me just around the bend.”

  • Strangest encounter

Firing an AK-47 in Phnom Penh, I suppose, or a forbidden taxi ride through Bangkok when the city was on fire and under lockdown in April of 2010.”

  • Requisite health dilemma

You name it: Jellyfish attack in Indonesia, dysentery in India, Chikungunya in Thailand, bedbugs in Cambodia . . . Each time I needed medical care, though, I was profoundly amazed at how much easier, more accessible, and more pleasant it was then any healthcare experience I’d had back “home.”

  • Profound take-away

For “profound,” you’ll have to buy the book.”

Re-entry vibe.

Honestly? America feels like a forced labor camp – except the “labor” is willingly participating.”


Julie DuRose When Julie quit her teaching gig at The Ohio State University to travel the world for a year, she let her appetite guide her. She shucked oysters at the Russian River; picked cranberries in the Arctic; tried stingray in Malaysia; ate jellyfish in Singapore (that was revenge); popped oven-roasted tarantulas in Cambodia, and ate fruit she’d never heard of – jackfruit, salak, rambutan, and the sexiest of all, the delicate mangosteen. All of it surprised her, as did the hospitality of her fellow humans. From Carmel to Anchorage to Kona, HI, throughout New Zealand, India, and S.E. Asia, she never imagined how many folks would be part of her extended travels – not to mention her life thereafter.

Julie DuRose is former chef and current M.F.A. candidate in nonfiction, currently writing a memoir entitled Wake Me For Meal Service. She lives in St. Paul, though she dreams of Myanmar.


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11Q: Intrepid traveler Doug Mack

Posted on: Friday, June 17th, 2011
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | 2 comments

“Wouldn’t have regretted a single penny.”  “Overthinking it.”  “Things went downhill quickly.”  “The city of lights earned its title.”

In 11 quick questions, Doug Mack serves up just a taste of his bold trip through Europe with no guidebook—except a dated (as in 1960s!) gem he found at a book festival.  His idea was so clever, and his trip so epic, that a publisher picked it up immediately.  (But you’ll have to wait until 2012 to buy your copy.)

To hear more—live and in person—please join Mr. Mack and me next Thursday, 6/23, for a MeetUp at Ginger Hop in Nordeast Minneapolis.  Meantime, read on to learn more about the bottom line of his big idea:  “Travel is more fun when you’re a bit ignorant.”


  • Biggest getaway challenge.

Well, I suppose money and vacation time are always the biggest hurdles, and they were for me, too. I had a small  travel fund built up, but also put a fair amount on a credit card, considering it an investment that would, I hoped, pay off in the long term in the form a of a book deal. I’m very lucky that things really did work out that way, but even if they hadn’t, I’m a big believer that experiences are more valuable than stuff, and I wouldn’t have regretted a single penny.

I also didn’t have much vacation time built up at my day jobs (yes, jobs plural), but I was fortunate to have accommodating bosses who were willing to let me take a fair amount of time without pay.

I’d been thinking about a big trip for years. Over-thinking it, actually—trying to find just the right time, just the right circumstances. Worrying about the details of the journey and wondering who would fill in for me at work. There came a point, though, when I decided to just do it. I traveled to Europe for a couple of weeks in 2008, and then came back and thought about how badly I wanted to return … and then, the July, I just decided I was going back for six weeks, in August. Just told myself I was going to do it with minimal preparation. Possibly the best decision I’ve ever made.

  • Grandest arrival.

Venice. Seriously, the sense of arrival there is without peer: you step out of the train station and you are on. The Grand. Canal. And it looks exactly like you think it looks: the water teeming with gondolas and dinghies and delivery boats; the elaborate stone bridge leading to the other side; the elaborate and slightly crumbling historic buildings. I got there just after sunrise, when the soft amber light and long shadows made everything seem all the more dramatic and impossibly picturesque.

Unfortunately . . . that was the best part of my time in Venice—things went downhill quickly (a long story in itself). But the arrival. My God. Amazing.

  • Favorite place.

Hmm . . . I hate this question, to be honest, because I have a hard time answering it. (Actually, I just blogged about this problem.) Depends on the day. Lately, I’ve been craving gelato and on a historic-building kick, so right now I’ll say Rome. If you’re ever there, go to Gelateria del Teatro. Thank me later

  • Logistical nightmare.

Well, when you travel with a 45-year-old guidebook, every day is full of minor annoyances—logistical headaches if not nightmares. Beyond that, though, there was a train ride from Munich to Zurich. Should be simple: You get on in the first city, then off in the second. But if the person at the ticket desk in Munich gives you specific instructions that turn out to be wrong, the journey is a bit more complicated. My friend Lee and I ended up riding five different trains, with a brief detour through Austria (which was not included on Lee’s Eurail pass, although the attendants never noticed when the checked our tickets). There were a few moments of minor panic and several long hours of unnecessary train-riding.

But I really can’t complain. I mean, we were riding a European train (safe and comfortable) through the Alps, so we had a front-row view of countless chateau-lined villages and towering peaks and sparkling lakes with crumbling castles on the distant shores. Not bad scenery to stare at, slack-jawed, for a few hours.

  • Most meaningful moment.

Sunset at Montmartre in Paris. My outdated guidebook said I should go there at dusk, but didn’t explain why or what you’d see—so I went without any expectations.      Now, apparently most people already know this, but it turns out the reason you go there is that it’s a hill with a view of the whole city. So I get to the top and I there it is: Paris laid out below me, sprawling to the horizon, the street lamps just switching on as the City of Lights earned its title. It wasn’t meaningful for the amazing view, though (at least not per se) but for the fact that it was such a powerful example of the (occasional!) benefit of a bit of lowered expectations and willful ignorance. I’m certain that if I’d known what was up there, I would have looked for photos on Flickr beforehand and built my day around getting there at precisely the right time for the ideal light, and generally built it up in my mind such that it could never live up to the hype. Instead, I saw it without that filter of expectations, and it was all the more enchanting and revelatory, a discovery rather than just something to check off my list.

  • Worst disaster.

I almost feel guilty saying this, but I really didn’t have one. I could stretch the definition and talk about some frustrating experiences getting lost or having hilariously awkward conversations with restaurant workers and hotel desk clerks who couldn’t understand why I was toting around this old guidebook. But no real disasters. They make for good stories, I realize, but I’m content to avoid them.

  • Serendipitous experience.

So many, starting from the moment back in Minneapolis when I happened upon this old guidebook at a book festival. That night in Montmartre might not have been truly serendipitous, but it definitely had an element of accidental discovery. And in Zurich, which is by far the most expensive city I’ve ever visited, Lee and I were feeling broke and exhausted one afternoon, when we stumbled upon a long line of locals outside a hole-in-the-wall cafe. It turned out to be a genuinely cheap (and not just by Zurich standards) takeout joint with excellent food.

  • Strangest encounter.

In Paris, there was this one restaurant that my guidebook (have I mentioned it was a bit outdated?) described for a good half-page—it’s incredibly cheap, it’s a hidden gem with no other tourists, the décor is classic Parisian bistro, all tile floors and wooden booths and plants in massive urns.

So after several frustrating days of bumbling around Paris, I go there, thinking, sweet, a cheap, quiet meal—finally! The first thing I noticed upon arrival was a huge poster in the window, advertising the Jack Nicholson/Diane Keaton romantic comedy “Something’s Gotta Give.” There’s an article with the poster, noting that part of the movie was filmed there. Meaning it’s now a huge tourist magnet. And not at all cheap. I walked in and the maitre d’ gave me this horrified look that basically said, “Ah, merde, another one of those Diane Keaton groupies.”

You’ll have to read the book for the full story (sorry!), but it was a spectacularly strange and awkward meal.

  • Requisite health dilemma.

I had a really bad cold in Vienna and wandered around the city in a haze of sinus pain and cold medicine. Add this to the fact that this was about two-thirds of the way through my trip and I was getting jaded and tired, and you have a recipe for some serious grumpiness and ennui. I moped and sniffled my way through Vienna, although I did at least try to cough in 4-4 time, in keeping with the musical spirit of the city.

  • Profound take-away.

Travel is more fun when you’re a bit ignorant. By that, I don’t mean culturally unaware or ill-equipped to travel but rather trying to do as much as possible relying simply on your own wits and common sense. I’m typically a control freak and a technology-addicted over-planner, but traveling without much research or planning forced me to just go with the flow and also to learn constantly, to be forced to be tuned into the place/culture and try to soak it up quickly because it was the only way I could survive.

I doubt I’ll travel abroad again without a modern guidebook and some internet research, but I’ll also try to remind myself not to be constrained by all of that information, either, and to get lost and rely on good old-fashioned serendipity as much as possible. There’s nothing wrong with being a bit confused—in fact, I think it makes travel all the more delightful and rewarding.

  • Re-entry vibe.

Jarring, particularly since a week after I got back from Europe, I went on a cruise with my parents, my sister, her husband, and their year-old twins. After solo backpacking around Europe, being on a cruise ship was like mainlining American culture in all its excess: Endless buffets! Cheesy comedians! Cabin attendants! Duty-free shopping at every turn! It was refreshing to see familiar faces and hear a familiar language and sleep without being woken up by the students in the hostel room next door . . . but still: deeply, inexpressibly jarring. My own country felt entirely foreign.

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Ottsworld Rocks Our World

Posted on: Friday, November 12th, 2010
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | Leave a comment

BAThe Minneapolis BreakAway branch proudly hosted Sherry Ott, travel guru extraordinaire, for a merry meetup on Wednesday.  Some 30 souls showed up—representing everything from experienced around-the-worlders to die-hard dreamers and schemers. 

People mingled comfortably; we even ran out of name tags.  Many stayed well after our two hours of informal presentation and Q&A.  In fact, Sherry and I barely got our dinner order in before the kitchen-closing hard-stop of 11:00. 

As usual, a host like myself leaves an event like this exhausted, inspired, and humble.  After all…

  • At least half the people there have traveled at least as much as I have, and many have lived overseas and become fluent in other languages. 
  • Many are proud budget vagabonders—wearing backpacks, surfing couches, and conquering third worlds with the ease some of us do Oslo. 
  • The tales of woe—illness, accidents, stolen passports, holdups—make this tough gang only more stubborn and fearless. 
  • This crowd was delighfully diverse.  There were Uptown natives and travelers from other countries, old and young, couples and singles, edgy urbanites and dolled-up suburban moms.

Thanks to all who showed up—literally and metaphorically.  Big ups and high-fives to my friend and collaborator, Sherry Ott.  We’ll keep our eye on her—if we can!

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Stuck at Work?

Posted on: Sunday, October 24th, 2010
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | Leave a comment

DSC_0512I couldn’t be happier that the career break movement is finally getting legs.

But I’m also acutely aware that many people who used to be racing toward retirement are finding themselves stuck in an increasingly tangled web.

New research shows that small business owners—often called the future of America—are planning to put off retirement in shockingly large numbers.

On one hand, this might suggest that they are feeling more connected to and rewarded by their work–with less need to escape it.

More likely the statistics reflect the sticky economic predicament that so many people now find themselves in–with depleted savings accounts and escalating costs for healthcare.

Here are some highlights from the recent Gallup survey:

  • 47% of small business owners plan to never retire until forced to do so for health reasons—up from 4 in 10 in 2005 and 2007
  • 41% plan to cut back on work but stay involved with their business when they retire.
  • 10% plan to stop working in their business altogether, a drop from nearly twice that level in 2005.

These are sad facts, perhaps, but they support the case for taking some breaks along the way. We’re all likely to be living (and laboring) longer than the generations that preceded us.  Career breaks are one way to ensure that life doesn’t become all work and no play.

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Minneapolis Family Takes Flight

Posted on: Friday, October 1st, 2010
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | One comment

Woychicks_April2010v2Speaking of career breaks and work/life hacking, here’s a true story about the Woychicks, a Minneapolis family that’s a shining example of the sabbatical mindset.  This intrepid family is embarking on a one-year (or longer) adventure—and new way of life.  I’ve been pleased to meet (dad) Dan via some meetups and speaking gigs and through our intersecting professions.  Now it’s their turn to BreakAway.  Quick—meet them before they take flight! 

  • What inspired you to leap beyond dreaming and actually make a sabbatical happen?

Life is short. This point was tragically brought into focus when my parents were killed in a crosswalk by an impaired motorist as they walked home from church on August 19, 2009. In 2010, we said goodbye to our two good dogs, Buster and Ray. And, before they lose interest, we want our boys to discover the joy of learning and trying new things. We had often talked about a sabbatical year, and the time felt right to make a change.

  • How do you define and describe what you’re doing—year off?  Sabbatical?  Career break?  What do you tell the people in your life and how do they respond? 

Rebecca is taking a year off from her job. Our boys are taking a year off from school. And I plan to continue working wherever the family happens to be – working less often when we’re traveling.

Everyone who hears about it is very interested and excited about it. Common responses include:

That’s great! Good for you guys! I’d love to do that! You’re going to have a great time!”

  • This is a family journey, obviously.  Tell us about the steps you went through to make this happen, and if home schooling is part of the picture.

Rebecca and I have been married for 11 years. We have two bright and imaginative boys, Lucas (9 years old) and Eli (7 years old). I’ve been self-employed as a graphic designer for 20+ years. Rebecca is an experienced elementary school teacher.

We’re both inveterate list-makers and planners. We have saved and inherited money, and share a vision for how we want to live as a family and as individuals.

Rebecca quit her job at a parochial elementary school. They have hired a long-term substitute for the year and would welcome her back (no promises, though).

Home schooling is definitely part of the picture, and another big motivator for embarking on this adventure. Both our boys test in the highly gifted range (top half of the top one percent). They liked their school, but it was increasingly difficult for the school – any school – to meet their needs. We liked the idea of home schooling better than any of our other options.

  • What have been (and will be!) the toughest obstacles—and how are you getting around them?

We feel both excited and scared, but well-suited, to challenge ourselves. While we’ve had far more good fortune than most, some of that comes from a willingness to take calculated risks:

What’s the worst thing that could happen? What are the potential benefits?

Everyone thinks money is the biggest obstacle, but frankly, I’m more concerned about the changes for Rebecca than I am for the kids (or our bank account). The boys may miss some of the day-to-day contact with friends, but they’ll be fine. Rebecca loses contact with work colleagues, and adds the role of teacher to her already established role as mother. I’ll try to help with curriculum ideas and teaching as I’m able, but it’s much less of a change for me.

  • Most important:  What are you and your family planning to do with the time; what are the goals and dreams, missions and visions?

We’ll be traveling more often and for longer periods of time. To start the school year, we’ll be in the Pacific Northwest – Seattle, the San Juan Islands, Olympic National Park, and the Northern Cascade Mountains. In Spring 2011, we’re planning a 2–3 month trip to Europe. Likely destinations include France, Italy, and Spain. In between, we expect more trips to our cabin near Hayward, Wisconsin.

Our goals for the year include:
–      Giving more time to things that are important – family, rest, exercise, food.
–      We want our boys to discover the joy of learning and trying new things.
–      Rebecca would like to spend more time doing photography.

–      I’d like to spend more time writing.

We often enjoy time at our cabin because it’s simpler. Less to do. Less stress. We’d like to find more ways to make that the rule rather than the exception. By stripping away conventional ideas about how one is supposed to do things, I’m hoping we find that this way of living is not only healthier and preferable, but sustainable.

What an inspirational story—full of adventure and dreams, but practical thoughtfulness too—and it’s only beginning.  We’d love to check in later and hear how home schooling, road working, and Euro dining, is going (even if it makes us green jello).  Have fun and godspeed!  

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TrendMaster Robyn Waters Tells Her Story

Posted on: Sunday, March 14th, 2010
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | One comment

Robyn WatersRobyn Waters has done it all—and she’s not done yet!  That’s why this month she’s off to Spain and Morocco.  But not until she’s made a speech at a major New York design show.  Taken some “test drives” to explore where she might want to live next.  And enjoyed shifting more of her time and energy into the “give-back” mode. 

Indeed, when it comes to energy—and generosity—Robyn is rich.  First, she gave a powerful, 80-minute presentation to my Advertising class at St. Paul’s College of Visual Arts.  Then, we met over lunch to talk life and leisure.  And finally, she promptly penned these wonderful insights to my Sabbatical questions. 

We are so grateful!  In fact, countless people are—since Robyn’s career in trend and design has filled the world with tasteful goods, and her appearances and books have moved and educated countless professionals. 

It would take a book, frankly, to properly introduce Robyn.  But here’s just a snapshot…

  • Her 30+ year career includes a long stint as VP of Trend, Design and Product Development at Target.
  • During that time, Target became a major fashion and home-goods destination—introducing products from many revered designers. 
  • As blog star Seth Godin states it, she “revolutionized what Target sells and helped them trounce K-Mart.” 
  • She’s written two successful books, “The TrendMaster’s Guide,” and “The Hummer and the Mini.” 
  • Today, she makes appearances and runs a consultancy, RWTrend, while admittedly also relishing some downtime, giving back, and sneaking away on Sabbaticals. 

 So it’s no wonder Seth Godin featured Robyn in his uber-viral manifesto, “What Matters Now.”  As you will see, that’s a question Robyn is ruminating, with inspiring and thoughtful results.  

As the original TrendMaster, you stated in your 2002 book, “The Hummer and the Mini,” that sabbaticals may be a growing trend; has that trend grown—or how do you view the state of Sabbaticals today? 

The sabbatical trend has perhaps grown in a back-handed (and mostly unhappy) way, as the result of forced lay-offs in the workplace.  I would seriously doubt that there are many companies offering or encouraging sabbaticals to their employees, especially in this economic crisis.  I’m sure there are some exceptions, but they are probably rare.   Given that scenario, one could always choose to make lemons out of lemonade.  If you’ve been laid off and aren’t sure of your next step, it may be a good time to create your own version of a sabbatical—either physical or ‘mental.’  

Physical might be that trip you’ve always wanted to take that you never had time for, provided of course that your financial situation allows for that.  (I’ve been a saver all my life….you never know what opportunities may present themselves in inopportune times.) 

You can also take a sabbatical and go inward, and take what I call a ‘mental’ sabbatical.  You don’t even have to pack a suitcase.  There are a lot of local places (a yoga studio, meditation center, nature preserve, library, life coaching centers) that you can take advantage of with the time you find on your hands.

Our world moves so fast—it’s important to take time occasionally to slow down.  I am a student of paradox and one of the ultimate ironies I’ve discovered is that we don’t get our energy from going faster, multi-tasking, and doing MORE.   Rather, we find our energy in slowing down, taking time to think and to breathe. 

It’s also important to occasionally take time off to ‘get healthy.’  Eat better.  Work out.  Sleep more. Get fit.  Lose weight.  Mostly to FEEL better, but also to LOOK better.  It’s a great confidence builder, but it also sets you on a healthier course for the rest of your life.  It gives you back a sense of being in control of your own destiny.  Most professionals I know put ENORMOUS effort and energy into their jobs—but nothing close to equal measure of effort into their non-work lives and personal relationships.  I think that’s a formula for unhappiness.

Here’s another approach that worked for me at a crossroads in my life.  I had a great job at the time, but the work environment had gotten very toxic and I had become very unhappy.  I couldn’t imagine leaving the corporate world after 28 years, but I knew something would eventually have to change.  I borrowed a page from Jim Collins (author of Good to Great) and, (while still gainfully employed), created a “Personal Board of Directors.” 

It was composed of 8 people (not all close friends—each member had a specific talent or skill that I admired and wanted to try and develop further in myself.)  I invited them to my house for the initial meeting.  The purpose was to creatively brainstorm the next phase of my life.  I hired a facilitator and we conducted the day just like a design brainstorm.  We worked out on my back deck one beautiful Saturday summer day.  It was a festive atmosphere:  I had inspirational thank-yous as gifts and I fed them lobster salad and champagne. 

At one point in the brainstorm session one of the members asked me:  “Robyn, what do you REALLY want to do?”  After all the creative exploration we had just done, I blurted out, without thinking: “I want to write a book.”  I honestly don’t know WHERE that came from…it must have been a latent urge deep inside of me.  I had always admired authors’ presentations at the many business conferences I attended—I loved walking in other worlds and being inspired by their experiences.  Well, everything just took off from there.  Here I am today, a published author and professional speaker, doing what I love, and doing it on MY terms.

By the way—in exchange for their time, I offered each of the board members a ‘give-back’ of my time in equal measure.  Over the years, I have honored my commitment—speaking pro bono at their companies, for their favorite charities, or participating in a similar event of their own.  An interesting side benefit of the day was the networking that resulted from bringing together 8 dynamic people who, for the most part, didn’t know each other beforehand.  Several ended up creating lasting connections and friendships.

In that book’s chapter, “Sabbatical:  Time for a time-out?” you note that some companies were offering semi-paid leaves of absence instead of firing employees.  Given that uncertainty, do you think those individuals are able to make the most their unexpected “time off”? 

I think they would be crazy NOT to make the most of it.  But you must PLAN for it.  Nothing good ‘just happens.’  We make choices every day about how to spend our money, what to buy, when to treat ourselves.  It’s really just a matter of re-prioritizing.  We can all pretty much live on less.  I advocate that, with thought and effort, we can actually do MORE with less.  But it requires planning, and saving ahead of time.

You’ve enjoyed a handful of Sabbaticals, right?  How do you personally define what makes a Sabbatical (versus, say, a vacation) for you? 

A sabbatical is more about ‘what’ than ‘where.’  New learnings are critical.  Also, vacations are “outward.”  They’re about “Look at me—here I am at the Grand Canyon, sailing the Caribbean,” whatever.  Sabbaticals, as I’ve already said, should be more ‘inward.’   They can still involve all of the outward trappings of a vacation, but there is more depth, more reflection, more exploration, and more personal insight involved in a sabbatical. 

Another way to characterize it:  On a vacation, you typically send postcards to others.  On a sabbatical, one should keep a journal, just for yourself. Outward versus inward.

From your vantage, can you list some of the reasons that someone might take a Sabbatical?

Reasons for taking a sabbatical:

  • Adventure
  • Balance
  • Challenge
  • Define next steps
  • Excel at something new
  • Find the courage to leave an unhappy situation
  • Get motivated
  • Heal your mind, your body, and your spirit.
  • Inspire yourself to higher levels of insight
  • Just DO it!
  • Keep growing
  • Leverage your talents in new ways
  • Make new friends
  • New perspectives
  • Open your mind and your heart
  • Push your ‘magic button.’
  • Quit feeling sorry for yourself
  • Rest, relax, reflect, rejuvenate, rejoice!
  • Stave off future regrets “If only I had…..”  “If only I could….”
  • Take time for yourself.  Fill your own buckets.
  • Undo the ‘bad’ parts of your life.  (We all fall into habits that we wish we didn’t have.)
  • Vindicate yourself….prove to yourself that you CAN.
  • Why NOT?
  • X-treme learning opportunity
  • Yourself, your family, your friends, your co-workers, your boss.
  • Zen—peace of mind is the ultimate gold standard.

Is there one that’s your favorite—why?—and what did you do? 

Finding the courage to leave an unhappy situation.  (See above.)  All of the other letters fell into place once I found the courage to change what was making me unhappy.

Where are you now—literally—but also in terms of career, Sabbatical, or retirement? 

I believe I am somewhere between the 3rd and 4th level as the Buddhists define life stages:

  • 1st stage = childhood (we play, we learn)
  • 2nd stage = Householder (we accumulate things and build our families)
  • 3rd stage = Freedom seeker (we seek to free ourselves from ‘things’—we concentrate more on ‘inner’ growth.)
  • 4th stage = Preacher-hood (we seek to inspire others by sharing our wisdom.)

Career:  I have had 2 marvelous careers.  I think I may have yet another one—but at this point I have no idea what it will be, or when it will happen!

Retirement: I’m not planning to write a 3rd book at this point, so I would say I am about 80% retired.  I work whenever the opportunity presents itself.  My husband and I are enjoying a life of more leisure, more learning, and more giveback. 

I call it a “portfolio” life.  If you divide a circle into thirds….a balanced portfolio life would be 1/3 work, 1/3 leisure, 1/3 giveback.  At this stage in my life I am probably 20% work, 20% giveback, 60% leisure.  The proportions are always in flux.  At some point I anticipate it moving more heavily weighted to work and giveback.

 When we last talked, you mentioned you are enjoying taking “test drives.”  Can you explain what that means and share some examples of your excursions?

“Test drives” are short, time-intensive experiments that take you out of your box and your comfort zone. After leaving the corporate world, and before writing my books, I did some consulting test drives consisting of a wide-range of freelance projects and a short stint as a contract trend consultant for a design agency.  I learned a lot during those months—as much about what I DIDN’T want to do as what I DID want to do. 

The test-drive concept also applies to my personal life.  My husband and I are sure that we want to eventually live in a warmer climate.  We’ve spent the last 5 winters trying out different locations; going to live in other parts of the country for anywhere from 1 to 3 months, to ‘test-drive’ what our lifestyles would look and feel like if we were to move to a different location.  We’ve been to the desert, the mountains, the beaches, and on the road everywhere in between.  We ideally want to craft a life of being 70 to 80% ‘set down’ and 20% to 30% roving, sabbatical, travel, exchange.

If I may, your career in Trend was phenomenal; your writing and speaking skills are remarkable; do you have any suggestions for people who have a Big Idea that they’d love to turn into something “trendy?”

Why not create a “Personal Board of Directors” and stage your own creativity summit for your Big Idea?  No matter who we are, we all have tunnel vision in some aspect of our lives.  It’s important to get additional perspectives and to generate ideas around and beyond your original Big Idea.  My advice:  choose your members carefully, make the day fun, and take good notes.  You many not act on everything immediately, but down the road, some event may spark a reminder of that day and that may just be the creative push you need to head in a new direction.

Any other parting thoughts? 

A quote from Mark Twain:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.  So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor; catch the wind in your sails.  Explore. Dream. Discover.”

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