Thursday, April 30, 2009

Decorating Whiplash

I find it intriguing that along with our early retirement life change, came a pretty drastic change in our taste in interior decorating. In my 18 years of marriage with Ron (21 years together including cohabitation), we’ve decorated 3 homes before moving to Chicago. Until we bought the condo, we always decorated in a very traditional style.

Color schemes changed from home to home as I went through very distinct phases, and as different houses seemed to call for different colors. In Las Vegas, I selected a pale green carpet throughout the house because it was visually cool. Moving to Memphis, the house seemed dark after the large windows and ever-present sun of Vegas, so almost every room was painted a different hue or shade of yellow.

Early on, we bought furniture from Bombay Company – lots of dark wood, Queen Anne style, and green marble table tops. When the budget was a little more accommodating, we added Thomasville. Since our combined taste remained pretty constant, we merely incorporated a few new items when we moved into larger homes.

The Chicago condo required new furniture for rooms much smaller in scale. When we began to shop, we discovered a drastic change in the design style that attracted us. Suddenly, we wanted contemporary furniture with clean lines. We bought a simple cherry wood Scandinavian bedroom suite. Next we added an ivory leather sofa with chrome legs and an entertainment cabinet and coffee table of recycled wood. The office desk/tables/shelves are aluminum with frosted glass tops. Everything we selected was 180 degrees from where our taste had been before. What a heady feeling of freedom!

So what happened? To begin with, I believe we were enthusiastically embracing the shift in our lives to more simplicity, and wanted an outward manifestation of that change. And we were (and still are) enamored with the idea of adopting a modern urban lifestyle, after so many years of suburban dwelling. But it’s amazing to me that both Ron and I would feel the desire to make these changes to our living environment at the same time. It made the whole process so fun and satisfying. We put this new home together exactly the way we wanted it, and everything about it gives us pleasure.

Did I tell you about the new color scheme? Apparently I am going through a distinctly orange phase, complemented by splashes of red, grey and ivory. The living room and the office are “Calypso Orange”, while the hallway and kitchen dining area are a lighter, almost peachy color. At Ron’s bequest, I relented and provided him some relief from orange by painting the bedroom pale denim blue. The Calypso Orange feeds my spirit in a way that’s difficult to explain. It just makes me happy! Even Ron reluctantly agrees that in the depths of the cold winter, it provides visual warmth.

( Memphis vs. Chicago living room comparison in the photos above.)

Beginning a new chapter of your life brings some unexpected changes. Enjoy them! Tell me…what changes would you make?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Embracing Simple Pleasures

When I was working, sometimes I felt upset (to tears) about not having enough time for myself. I’m not sure that I even knew what I would do with that luxury, because I was so bound up in battling the resentment. Now I know! I needed to have more fun, relax, take up a hobby, be more giving to my friends and family, and pamper myself.

Consider the appealing prospect of pampering yourself and a wide range of thoughts or mental images will emerge – potentially very different for all of us. Now that I have more time, I am discovering deeply satisfying pleasures in pampering myself in these simple ways:

· Taking a leisurely bubble bath instead of a shower
· Reading a few chapters of a novel before going to bed
· Exploring a new software package
· Splurging on olive oil and coriander-scented dishwashing liquid
· Savoring fresh raspberries with my Greek yogurt at breakfast
· Washing up with lavender and chamomile-scented foaming hand wash
· Napping with a golf tournament on TV (those commentators have such soothing voices)
· Shopping from my sofa by looking through the latest catalogs
· Reading books that help me explore myself
· Sending greeting cards to family and friends
· Going out for an extended lunch, accompanied by good wine
· Treating my feet to a luxurious softening crème as I slip into bed
· Calling a friend out of the blue just to chat
· Cooking an elaborate new dish for a meal
· Chatting casually with a neighbor
· Taking a walk in the park or on the beach
· Writing this blog

It’s telling that these fairly normal things qualify, in my book, as self-pampering. It’s not good to get to the point where Job = Life. When I had any free time while I was working, I would too often become a zombie in front of the TV, or go to the mall and shop for things I didn’t need (aka “Retail Therapy”). Not surprisingly, neither of those activities made my leisure time more fulfilling.

Be kind and take time to pamper yourself – not only will you be happier, but so will those around you!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Just A Year Ago

It was just about a year ago that we sold our house in Memphis and readied ourselves for the big move to Chicago. Ron and I are thankful how well everything fell into place – although the pace was fast and furious. Planning and execution are critical. Adding your energy and tenacity (sprinkled with a little luck) will help you achieve your goals.

We worked HARD to prepare our house to go on the market. You know how this happens… All the things you meant to do the years you lived in the house now must be done immediately. We refinished stairs, painted the hallway, renovated a bathroom, replaced the front door, added baseboard molding in the guest bedroom – and those are just the projects I remember off the top of my head. Personal clutter was packed away to depersonalize space, avoid distracting potential buyers, and make rooms look bigger. The house was carefully staged to help people imagine living there. We cleaned everything until the house was fresh and sparkling. The day of the Open House was beautiful and sunny, so we flung open windows to let the spring air in. The lawn was lush and green, azaleas and dogwoods were blooming, the birds were singing… You get the picture. We had a good turnout and accepted an offer on the house that evening. Planning and execution paid off quickly!

Takeaway: Sweat equity invested in house prep and staging is CRITICAL to a fast sale. (We watch a lot of HGTV.)

The next big step was divestiture! We planned to move from a 3200 sq ft home to a 1500 sq ft condo with a 500 sq ft basement. Simplifying our life meant brutally paring down our belongings, which turned out to be spiritually liberating! We sold most of our furniture to friends, the family that bought the house, and our housekeepers. There were numerous trips to Goodwill and the Hazardous Materials disposal center (for paint and old electronics), and a satisfying stop at the Memphis Music Academy to donate Ron’s trombone. Then, the Moving Sale extravaganza in our driveway, where we sold whatever was worth selling. When the sale ended, we had $1600 in cash and a pile of unsold items to put by the curb for trash pickup. Another step in the plan had been successfully executed. Exhausted, off we went that evening to the farewell party thrown by our friend Dave Byerly. Champagne, anyone?

Takeaway: Simplifying your life means letting go of “stuff” you don’t truly need.

Movers arrived just a few days later and helped us finish packing and getting out of the house. When we drove away for the last time, we breathed deep sighs – very cognizant of closing one chapter of our lives and stepping into a new and exciting one that we had to freedom to write for ourselves.

Takeaway: Be sure to budget for professional movers. This process is physically and emotionally exhausting, and you have a hard deadline to vacate your home.

Memphis looked good in our rear view mirror when we left on May 31, 2008. I was glad we had the 8+ hour drive to Chicago to decompress and let reality sink in. In a 6 week timeframe, we had quit our jobs, sold our house and many belongings, said goodbye to friends, and moved. Our heads were spinning, and everything felt a little unreal. Our carefully nurtured dreams had begun to come true. It wasn’t magic and it wasn’t all luck. It was the result of more than 15 years of planning – and it felt AMAZING!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

When One Door Closes...

By departing our corporate work life, we allowed a door to close behind us. Instead of assuming that another door would open, what we envisioned was an open field where we could run in any direction, pick daisies, swing at golf balls, or even lie down and take a nap. The feeling of freedom was heady. Still is.

For months, we have gloried in our ability to relax and enjoy ourselves. We are healthier and happier than we have been in a long time, because we are not working and have more time to spend taking care of ourselves and each other.

But in the midst of the relative isolation of a Chicago winter, I began to reach out to friends and former colleagues by networking online. I’m frankly surprised by the joy and satisfaction I’m experiencing as a result of this contact. Connecting with close friends in a different way, finding lost friends and catching up, reconnecting with former colleagues whose careers have taken fascinating paths, and making new acquaintances based on mutual interests – all of these things are now easier as a result of social and professional networking on the internet. Personally, I am tuned in on Facebook and LinkedIn. The more I put into these channels, the more I seem to get back in return.

For example, let me tell you about this week:

On Monday, I had a delightful and stimulating lunch with an admired colleague I worked with 20 years ago at Hilton. She now works for a strategic meeting, incentive and event production agency headquartered in Chicago. We reconnected via LinkedIn just a few weeks ago (because of a mutual connection). She showed me examples of some of the work her company does, and we talked about the possibility of me doing some freelance writing for them on proposals. We have decided to meet for lunch on a monthly basis so we can share stories and ideas. I’m thrilled!

Wednesday, I headed to Evanston to meet a Northwestern student for whom I have been providing some pro bono Marketing consulting. He has an eco-friendly office supply company, and is looking for ways to grow his business. On Monday, he distributed a press release I wrote on his behalf, and is currently hoping for responses that will result in some exposure in the local media (including WGN TV). Our relationship also came from meeting up through a Northwestern group on LinkedIn.

After meeting with my new entrepreneurial friend, I moved on to a Career Day sponsored by Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism – an opportunity extended to me via email as an NU Alum. I was a bit of an anomaly in the crowd of attendees (because of my…ahem…experience), but I made two great new contacts. One is a producer at WGN TV, who is now interested in the story about our eco-friendly entrepreneur. The other is a “Creative Web Director” for a company who uses freelance writers to develop content for web sites. With my love for writing, this is something I’m interested in exploring. It was a great visit to campus – and I got to see the purple and white crocuses blooming in full force on my walk from the el station to the student center by Lake Michigan.

What a stimulating week I’ve had! Being retired doesn’t mean I’m lying on the couch watching Oprah. To me, it means I have the freedom to explore my passions and to live the next chapter of my life.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Other Side of the Coin

Last week, in my entry title “Early Retirement vs. A Boot in the Ass”, I wrote a little about how I am feeling about the corporate transformation underway at Hilton. My friend and former colleague, Jeff Kirwan, told me, “I thought you may have judged our new executive management a bit harshly.” Jeff shared with me that the company is providing Employee Assistance Counselors to offer advice on coping both personally and professionally when faced with uncertainty and change. I agree that this indicates some level of care for the team members in the midst of so much turmoil, and I hope people take advantage of the offering. You just never know what contact will turn a light bulb on in your head. Think of it as a networking opportunity as much as a counseling session.

Let’s look at the other side of the coin, and separate the emotional storm generated by re-organization from the need that drove this transformation in the first place.

Just like individuals, corporations should always be striving to improve. The Hilton brands have been good at making changes to stay current with changing markets and customer needs. For example, Hampton recreated itself just a few years ago with the Make It Hampton initiative, and Embassy Suites redesigned their hotel design to make development of their all-suite product more affordable for owners, thus boosting their pipeline.

There were unquestionably some aspects of HHC’s corporate operations that needed to be re-evaluated and overhauled for the better. The brands have proven that drastic change is hard, but can result in a stronger path forward. Hilton’s IT organization was not immune to the need for change. If we Hilton team members and alumni are honest with ourselves and each other, we know that change was needed. There are organizational, staffing, and cost issues festering that need to be addressed. There is always room for evaluation and improvement. Executed properly, it’s healthy.

But change is hard. When jobs are eliminated, the faces of those affected are real to us, and we question the decisions made. My fervent hope is that our friends and colleagues will move on to find rewarding replacements to their lost jobs, perhaps changing their lives for the better. We probably all hope that the company being transformed comes out the other side of this successfully. Time will tell.

Even though I am retired from Hilton, I’m finding it impossible to disassociate myself from what’s going on. I care deeply about my friends and what they are experiencing. Oddly, I feel something like survivor’s guilt that I successfully bailed before all this happened. I truly hope that the Hilton of the future will be better than ever and a great place of opportunity for its team members. At the same time, I am grieving the loss of the daily camaraderie of long-time colleagues and the familiarity of “the good old days”. So I will shake my head in sorrow and learn to look forward instead.