Freedom Day Comes and Goes without Notice

If I didn’t have it on my calendar, I’d likely forget its significance entirely.

Freedom Day
You can see how I missed it; it’s just a tiny note on the calendar.

It was Tuesday, July 30, 2013 that my very favorable divorce decision came through. Although I thought at the time that it would be the end of the bullshit my wasband was sending my way during our crazy divorce, it was just the beginning of a new chapter. Some people are seriously delusional and make all kinds of bad decisions based on their delusions. My wasband is a textbook case of this for the period starting around January 1, 2012 through (likely) today.

I called it Freedom Day because I was finally free of sad sack old man who was holding me back from moving forward with life. I didn’t realize how much I’d been held back until I was free to make my own decisions without having to compromise or, worse yet, wait for a risk-adverse “partner” to provide input. In the four years since, I not only bought the land for my new home — which I did the very next day — but built a custom home to my specifications on it, doing much of the interior work myself. I’ve tripled the amount of contract work I do each year, building my flying business far beyond I ever thought I could. I’ve met new people, made new friends, and traveled to new places.

In short: I’ve accomplished far more in the past four years than I had in the previous 10.

I’ve since settled into the kind of laid back and flexible lifestyle I always imagined having in my later years of life, free to do what I want with my time. I’m living life on my terms and if that isn’t freedom, what is?

Freedom Day is on my calendar as a recurring annual event. I put it there back in 2013 because I was so happy to finally have my poisonous relationship behind me. But unlike other people who hold significant dates close — often too close — to their hearts and minds, my Freedom Day is little more than that calendar reminder. This year it came and went without me even noticing it.

And I think that speaks volumes about where I am in my life today.

Thriving in Midlife

Tired of my tips? Take some from the folks at NPR.

[Note: How weird is this? I was going through a list of unfinished and unpublished blog posts on my desktop computer in November 2017 and found this post from September 2016. It sure looks finished to me — why didn’t I publish it? I’m not sure, but I think it has something to teach so here it is, slotted into the blog chronology with its original date.]

8 Tips from author Barbara Bradley Hagerty

Want an idea of what the article says? Here’s the gist; I refer to these points throughout this blog post. I recommend reading it and thinking about how it might apply in your life.

  1. Aim for long-term meaning.
  2. Choose what matters most.
  3. Lean into fear, not boredom.
  4. Always be a rookie at something.
  5. Add punctuation to your life.
  6. A few setbacks are what the doctor ordered.
  7. Don’t left boredom and neglect threaten a marriage.
  8. Happiness is love.

This is a quick blog post to showcase an article posted by NPR — that’s National Public Radio — on its website.

I’m a big NPR listener (and supporter) and usually have the radio tuned in at home when I’m working around the house or in my shop/garage. Conservative Americans will tell you that NPR is a left wing propaganda machine, but I think they do a good job of staying in the center — too good, at times. But beyond politics — which are difficult to get away from these days — NPR offers a lot of programming on general topics of interest. I especially recommend All Things Considered, which airs in the afternoons here.

The article I want to recommend came out way back in March 2016. I missed it then but, for some reason, NPR tweeted a link to it the other day and I caught it. Titled “8 Ways You Can Survive — And Thrive In — Midlife,” It’s a brief piece with numbered tips. I can’t tell you how absolutely on target this article is.

But I’ll try.

This List and My Life

As regular readers know, I went through an extremely difficult time in my life back in 2012 and 2013. The short version is that the man I’d spent 29 years of my life with and had made the mistake of marrying back in 2006 lost his mind, left me for a woman old enough to be my mother, and attempted to use the divorce court to separate me from everything I’d worked hard for my whole life. He dragged us through an ugly and expensive divorce and then — believe it or not — an appeal. Along the way, he harassed me regularly with legal action and unreasonable demands and made a lot of stupid decisions that made him look like a selfish idiot. In the end, I won (twice) and got to keep what was mine. That’s the short version.

Out My Window
How can I not be happy when this is outside my window every day?

They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and I can vouch for that. I came away from a really crazy and sometimes painful experience feeling better than ever about myself. I rebooted my life in a new place with lots of new friends. And because I was now fully in charge of my destiny, I made decisions that enabled me to build a home that was perfect for me in a place I loved and to grow my flying business bigger than I ever thought possible. I now have the lifestyle I’d once envisioned for myself and my wasband — I tend to business responsibilities five months a year and play/travel the rest of the year. I started my seven month “vacation” on August 1 this year and don’t need to get back to work until late February.

A few more words about my crazy divorce…

Although I listened to divorce-related advice from friends and family members, I also consulted with my lawyers and made decisions that made good legal sense. And despite the abuse my wasband and his old whore threw my way, I didn’t lower myself to their level and give them a few doses of the same. I did blog a lot about what was going on, but even then I minimized what I shared.

After a while, their harassment became a real source of amusement for me, my family, and my friends — especially when they did idiotic things like trying to get an injunction against harassment on me (which I fought in court alone and won; I still wonder how many thousands of dollars they wasted on a lawyer for that) or sent a private investigator to photograph my neighbor’s home under construction, claiming it was mine and I’d lied about it in court (more money comically wasted).

After all, it wasn’t my goal to make them suffer; once I realized my wasband was a lost cause I only cared about keeping what was rightfully mine and getting on with my life. Even today, more than four years after it all started, I don’t hate them. Instead, I pity them — especially my wasband, who could have shared the amazing life I’ve made for myself. And how can you not pity an old woman who uses 30-year-old lingerie photos to seduce men she meets online? Another reason to pity my wasband, perhaps?

I’ve written numerous times in this blog about my thoughts and feelings related to my success, most recently here. I’m proud of myself and what I’ve achieved and I want readers who visit this blog to see how they can succeed, too. I believe that each person is in charge of his or her own destiny; our decisions and efforts will mold our lives and futures. One stupid decision can really screw things up; I’m sure you know at least one person who will regretfully agree. My mistake was getting married and it cost me dearly. I was able to pull myself back up from what seemed at the time like an abyss because I was financially secure, had a decent brain in my head, and was able to make decisions and take actions that moved me in a positive direction.

That’s where some of this NPR article’s advice comes into play. I wasn’t looking just at the short-term goal of ending my marriage quickly with minimal financial loses. I was also looking at the big picture: my next home, my new friends, the future of my business. Long-term meaning? I’d been thinking about that since 2008 when my friend Erik got sick. That’s when I started planning for the future — a future that originally included my wasband, fueled with his input and promises. Fortunately, I was able to salvage and rebuild those plans when he left my life and the crazy started in 2012.

I also realized that what matters most is my time. Other people will say family, but I have no kids and my family, which is small, lives on the other side of the country. My friends are important — some more than others — but I’ve learned that friends come and go and even the ones you thought were good friends sometimes change and fall from your life. But time — well, that’s a valuable commodity. Being able to spend as much of my time doing the things I wanted to do became a real driving force in how I shaped my work and business. A perfect example: starting in 1998, I wrote Quicken: The Official Guide for Osborne/McGraw-Hill. It was a bestseller and, along with another bestseller I wrote around that time, helped me put a lot of money away for retirement and invest in my future career as a helicopter owner/operator/pilot. The book was revised annually and became, over the years, a bit of a frustrating grind. After the 11th edition, I threw in the towel and asked them to find another author, which they did. The simple truth is that I wanted my summers back. And on a micro level, ask my wasband what I often wanted for my birthday when I spent summers at home; if he’s honest (which is unlikely), he’ll admit that I wanted the day for myself, to do whatever I wanted to do. (He never did understand that.)

If there’s anything on the NPR article’s list that really pops out for me, it’s the third and fourth points, which talk about getting out of your comfort zone and exploring new things. I think I began doing this when I first struck out as a freelancer in 1990, leaving a good-paying job in corporate America for an uncertain career as a writer. Talk about leaving your comfort zone! It would have been easy to stick with that job and continue my climb up the corporate ladder, but I wasn’t happy. Making the change was risky and tough, but I did it better than I expected. As for learning new things, well, I’m often accused of being an overachiever (as if that’s a bad thing) and a lot of people notice my hobbies, like beekeeping and photography. I’ve been fiddling these days with up cycling glass, making wine and cider (and possibly more potent potables), mushroom hunting, astrophotography, and dying fabric using natural materials like lichen and flower petals. I’m a rookie at all of these things and I love learning from them from the ground up! Maybe that’s part of the punctuation referred to in the sixth point, too? The courses I take to learn about mushrooms and photography and wine? The dance lessons I took last year? Soloing in a gyro two winters ago even though I know I’ll never own one?

Setbacks are what make life interesting. Obviously, my divorce was a huge setback, especially with the amount of time and money it took to finally conclude. But as I said earlier, what doesn’t kill you does make you stronger. Working through setbacks help us learn to work with others and solve problems. They also help us appreciate the days when we don’t have troubles clouding our world.

And it’s pretty clear that I failed completely at the seventh point. My marriage went downhill almost from the moment we exchanged vows. After 23 years together, did he really expect things to change? For me to settle down and be the homebody wife and mommy he apparently wanted and needed? I didn’t want a change; hell, I didn’t even want to get married. (Long story there.) In any case, there was plenty of boredom and neglect on both sides. I felt as if I was perpetually in a holding pattern, waiting for him to keep promises he’d made to me to move forward in our future together. He likely felt that I was neglecting him by going off to my summer job in Washington every year. I’ll never know, though, since he lacked the courage to talk to me about it, even after the marriage counsellor he wanted us to see recommended it. Honest conversation probably could have saved what was once an amazing relationship, but some people respect the value of truth and others don’t. Enough said.

Happiness is love. Hmm. Not sure what that’s supposed to mean. I do know that I’m happier now than I have been in a very long time. There’s no new love in my life and frankly, after all I’ve been through, I don’t think I want one. Some people are meant to be part of a pair and others aren’t. Unless I find someone with the same outlook in life that I have — a real love of the outdoors, a desire to try and learn new things, an understanding of the value of time, and a willingness to drop everything for a spur-of-the-moment adventure — I’ll stay single and be very happy that way. I’ve learned that I’d much rather be single than in a relationship with the wrong partner. I’ll take the happiness; you can keep the love.

If there’s one thing on this topic I’ve learned in my life, it’s this: Happiness might be love, but love isn’t necessarily happiness.

Now Look at Your Life

But I didn’t share this article to talk about my life. I shared it to help you — the people who read this blog, many of whom have contacted me privately to tell me how I’ve inspired them. (A special thanks to Meghan, who emailed me just past weekend to tell me I was “rad.” You’re rad, too; work hard and smart and you’ll be even radder.) It’s within your power to survive and thrive not only your midlife years, but the years leading up to them and those beyond.

Read the article. It’s short. Or better yet, read the book it’s extracted from, Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife. Think about how its advice might apply to your life. Make the changes you might need to move forward and be happy.

It’s not always easy, but it is so worth it.

And if you get a chance, use the comments to share how the tips listed above might apply in your life to make you happier. I’m sure we could all learn from your experience, too!

What’s Wrong with Being an Artist?

My reaction to a Wells Fargo ad that has my creative friends outraged.

One of my creative friends on Facebook posted the following ad image:

Wells Fargo Ad

His comment: “Oh, Wells Fargo, fuck off.”

His friends had similar comments voicing similar outrage.

Now if you were born and raised on the east coast — as I was — you might not understand the problem. I think east coasters are raised with a different set of values than the rest of the country. I suspect the person who created the ad and the one who approved it didn’t get it because if they did, it never would have appeared. While it plays to a certain group of people, it’s downright offensive to others.

I get both sides and want to explore them briefly here.

Career-Focused Parents

The ad creators were likely tapping into the hopes and dreams of parents who simply want their kids to achieve on a career path that they can be proud of. Back east, at least in the household I grew up in, that meant having a job title that could be equated with a good living. In other words, money.

I get this, possibly a lot more than women in my age group do. When I was in high school and was good in math and showed an interest in accounting, it was a given that I’d go to college and eventually be a CPA. My (lower) middle class family was all over that idea. They saw a CPA as someone who makes a lot of money. There was even talk of me eventually becoming an actuary — the folks with accounting degrees who made even more money.

For the record, none of that talk came from me. I didn’t want to be an actuary and, as my college time progressed, I didn’t want to be a CPA, either. I admitted to myself, in my junior year, that what I really wanted to be was a writer. (I’d been writing since I was 13 and still have those notebooks.) That’s when I got up the nerve to phone home and tell my mother I wanted to change my major to journalism. I’m sure seismologists are still talking about the minor quake caused by the fit she threw at me over the phone that day. Writers don’t make money, she told me. Do you want to be poor for the rest of your life?

Of course I didn’t — I’d had a good taste of that life when my father left us and we were trying to survive on my mother’s waitressing pay. So I stuck with accounting. Two years later, was working at the first of three jobs in auditing that made my first eight years out of college the nine-to-five grind I grew to despise.

I should point out that a lot of women my age were never pushed into careers the way I was. Although the ones with financial resources did go to college, it was understood that they were there for an “MRS degree.” (That was the big joke around campus.) So many of the ones I knew in the very expensive private university I went to — Hofstra on Long Island, if you must know; I got scholarships — hooked up with a male counterpart on a solid career track, got married, and put their BA or BBA or BS degree aside, never to be used. It was a given in the 70s and 80s that women got married, had children, and let their husbands take care of the finances. But my family never pushed me that way and when I was old enough to think for myself, I knew it wasn’t for me.

Neither was being a CPA.

My mother freaked out again when I left the last of those three jobs — where I was a financial analyst for a Fortune 100 company making more money at age 28 than my father ever made — to start a freelance writing career. But within a few years, I was making a good living and a few years after that, I was making an incredible (even to me) living. Doing what I wanted to do, building my own unique career path, making my own life outside corporate America.

But you see, the parents the Wells Fargo ad are appealing to don’t care what their kids want to do with their lives. Like my mother, they just want their kids to have potentially lucrative careers that they can brag to their friends about. After all, which sounds better:

  • Maria’s article about the new zika virus prevention measures being tested in Florida was just published in the New York Times.
  • Maria was just promoted to Director of Auditing at Wells Fargo Bank.

What I don’t think my mother counted on was my ability to succeed as a writer. I suspect “Maria just published her fiftieth book” satisfied her need to brag. And I don’t think “Maria just bought a helicopter” hurt either. Touché.

From the Creatives’ Point of View

To be fair, this Wells Fargo ad seems to take a slightly different tack. They’re pushing careers in science. It’s as if they’re saying to parents, “Sure, your kid might want to be a ballerina or actor now, but we can help you get him or her on the right track to a great career in the sciences.” It doesn’t take much to walk away with the message that a career in the sciences is much better than a career in the arts.

And that’s what’s offending my creative friends.

What’s wrong with wanting to be a ballerina or an actor? Or a writer? Or an artist?

In my opinion, if a kid has a real natural talent for dancing or acting or writing or painting or any other creative thing and loves to do it, he or she should be encouraged at every step. Nurture that love. Provide lessons and moral support. Help him or her succeed in doing something he or she loves.

Sure, a lot of kids will “grow out of” their love for a creative endeavor. But what about the kids who don’t?

Kids like me? I began writing stories when I was 13 and did it until I was deep into my 40s. Writing is in my blood, as it is with most writers. Blogging is an outshoot of this, a creative outlet for me — even though the stories I tell here are deeply rooted in fact and/or opinion. I never grew out of my love for writing. I was just smart enough to jump the tracks when I realized my career train was taking me in a direction I didn’t want to go. How many other people aren’t brave enough to do this? And get stuck with a career and possibly a life that they really don’t like?

Why would you pull a kid away from something he or she loved doing — and might actually be good at — and push him or her into a career they might not like? A career that would leave him or her feeling unfulfilled? Always wondering what life had been like if they’d stuck with the thing they really loved?

Imagine if the world’s great creatives had been pushed into “practical” careers and stayed there: Fred Astaire, Martha Graham, Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut? And countless others? Can you imagine how dull and empty our world would be without the creatives that make us think and wonder? Who entertain and enlighten us?

Are any of these people worth less than an engineer or botanist?

Success Trumps Happiness?

To me, the Wells Fargo ad represents a sad truth about today’s American society: It’s more important to be successful than to be happy. And sadly, success is measured by what you do, what you earn, and what you own.

Parents should want just two career-related things for their children’s futures:

  • The importance (to me) of financial security

    Because of my past, financial security is very important to me. I don’t want to be poor, I don’t want to move back to my mother’s home — even if it were possible. And I take great pride — which fuels my happiness — in my ability to make a decent living in my current career as a pilot. My financial security also helped me in my costly divorce battle, making it very easy to rebuild my life alone.

    I’m also very happy with the life I’ve made for myself, especially these past few years. I’m happy with my work and the amount of time I have to travel and play and spend with friends.

    None of this was handed to me; I worked hard to get where I am. The feeling of achievement I get almost every day also adds to my overall feelings of happiness and well-being, as I blogged in July.

    My parents should be satisfied, even though I never became the CPA they wanted me to become.

    Financial security. Can they support themselves, especially as they get older? No parent who cares about a child really wants that child living at home because they can’t support themselves. But under no circumstances should a child be pushed into a career because its earning potential is greater than the career that child wants.

  • Happiness. The way I see it, if you can wake up every morning — or nearly every morning — looking forward to that day, you’re happy. (I’m there now, but I certainly wasn’t there when the alarm went off at 7 AM and had to make a 30-mile commute to a job I hated. The memory of those mornings has scarred me for life.)

Note that is a bulleted list, not a numbered list. That means you can take those two points in any order. I guess the order you take them in determines, in part, the kind of parent you are.

Now where’s the Wells Fargo ad promoting careers as dancers or actors? You know, you can send a kid to a costly school for that, too.