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Category Archives: Essays

Bill’s essays (postcards) on life, values, passions, and what truly matters are filed in this drawer. Enjoy!

R E S P E C T

Suggested song: Respect, Aretha Franklin (written by Otis Reading)
Suggested drink: Shot of Respect cocktail: tequila, rum, tabasco

I love that my partner believes in past lives and future premonitions. She buys gemstones of various colors and shapes – agate and garnet and bloodstone – some for protection, some for energy, others for healing. The spiritual resonance of vintage jewelry and clothing can overwhelm her emotional antennae; the histories of ownership, the echoes of lives and loves. Phases of the moon and astral alignments can swing her moods and appetites. This embrace of mysticism is just a small part of her beautiful complexity, and often leaves me both baffled and enlightened.

I studied physics and worked in finance. I’m the son of a no-nonsense country doctor and was taught to believe in logic and the observable, in the need for empirical evidence, the credibility of proofs and statistical significance, and to call bullshit on bullshit. Grounded, predictable.

Do I share my partner’s faith in a world beyond our world? Does that matter? No, it doesn’t matter. What matters is respect.

I respect beliefs of all stripe and persuasion and allow that someone, most anyone actually, may have a better handle on the bewildering mysteries of life than me. I accept that emotional states like heartbreak and love may inexplicably induce or remedy our physical ailments, and wonder openly if universes parallel to our own might be humming along at this very moment, shifted in time and frequency. With the greatest admiration for the principals of solid science and Neil Degrasse Tyson, I respect that not all cause and effect can be proven through scientific method (although that’s a great starting point).

Respect for the beliefs and priorities of others is not a virtue promoted widely across the globe these days, particularly by our political leadership. There has been a decidedly my-way-or-the-highway approach to governing and diplomacy since George W. declared in 2001, “Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

This type of narrow, self-centered bluster, which proved highly effective at rousing patriotic fervor (and voter support), has been co-opted by every aspiring strongman worth his or her spittle: Putin, Jong un, Trump, and Le Pen are just four headliners making the most racket at the moment. National mandates are paramount, compromise shows weakness, and those with opposing views are twittered as morons, frauds, and liars. Respect for opposing opinions? That’s for losers.

 

Now here I sit, a loser with his pint of beer at Le Grand Café in downtown Fontainebleau, a beautiful French city (aren’t they all?) just an hour southeast of Paris. Macron’s win last week is the topic on everyone’s tongue. I’m guessing he was widely supported in this upper class enclave, home to the regal Fontainebleau Chateau where Henry IV (the very coolest of French kings), Napoleon, and various Louis entertained in the gardens, hunted in the forest, and generally carried on with the local beauties.

The election outcome reflects to me a story of 2 conflicting global movements, the first based on hope despite the very real risks, the second based on fear in light of the many challenges. France has emerged as the best example of #1, showing again that it cuts its own stubborn path. Liberté, égalité, fraternité: these are uneasy times to honor such honorable principles. The US is the best case study for #2. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. This is another tough invitation to honor for a nation terrified by the bad hombres under the bed.

It surprises me. The The Home of the Brave has been so quick to surrender its principals and self-respect to the threat of terror, despite having almost no instances of domestic terror in the past 15 years. Respect for the hopes and dreams of others, … the American DREAMers for example? Désolé. Look at the man they’ve elected. Meanwhile their Surrender Monkey counterparts have hung tough and shown real bravery, despite suffering the highest incidence of Allah Akbar-screaming lunatics spraying their cafés and clubs with deadly fire. You think life is dangerous in Paris, think of the genocide in Aleppo. Come, come. Look at the man they’ve elected.

It surprises me. At this moment of global upheaval both countries have placed their bets on mavericks with no political experience. The similarities end there. One married a schoolteacher 25 years his wise senior; the other a model 24 years his long-legged junior. (I give her big points for avoiding the White House these days, however. She’s growing on me.) On election eve one spoke of hope, humility, and the imperative of a proud country to coalesce around ambitions for a brighter future and respect for all cultures, creeds, and religions. The other spoke in dark tones of enemies at the gate, a country in crisis, and himself as the single sole savior able to counter the nation’s impending doom. Who deserves your respect?

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2017 in Essays

 

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More Dispatches from the Magic Kingdom

Suggested song: San Francisco Days, Chris Isaak
Suggested drink: tremblement de terre (earthquake) cocktail: equal parts absinthe and cognac, attributed to the late great French painter Henri Toulouse-Lautrec

san-franciscoAgain I descend from the clouds over San Francisco for a 10-day visit to this kingdom of magic. It’s an interesting time to take the pulse and gauge the temper of America from a very unconventional American assemblage. And few cities are more interesting to write about than Bagdad by the Bay.

February can be an unpredictable time to visit and indeed the rains this winter  have been biblical. Reservoirs are flooding, dams are bursting, avalanches are sliding, and all the anxiety over drought concerns seems suddenly quaint, … for the moment.

But Provence weather has followed our flight all the way from Marseille and our first 2 days in country have been sunny and warm. Not quite tee shirt weather yet, but the umbrellas and raincoats are safely tucked away. Fingers crossed for the rest of the stay. Onward!

Dispatch #1 – Something in the Air

The veneer of life in San Francisco is largely unchanged from my trip here last fall. It remains a city of hyper-active super achievers. You can’t swing a cat without hitting a jogger. Lululemons remain le vigueur for Saturday morning café garb (a yoga matt over your bony shoulder earns extra points). The dinner talk we overhear at a communal Nopa table centers on innovation and investors and the fortunes possible if stars align before the bubble bursts. (Great meal by the way.)

womens-marchDespite the indefatigable positivity that defines this kingdom a destabilizing uneasiness is seeping in below the surface. Trump is not popular here. Signs of resistance are evident in the windows and walls of businesses and homes scattered across the city: Not our President! and Why I Marched and Make America Love Again are just a few examples of the sentiments expressed boldly and widely across this 49 square miles. The new president is an unapologetic technophobe and his economic policies introduce uncertainty into no industry more than Tech, with his promises of lower taxes on repatriated profits (very good) to higher tarifs on Chinese imports and harder limits on immigrant visas (very bad).  74% of Silicon Valley-employed computer and mathematical workers ages 25 to 44 are foreign-born, according to the 2016 Silicon Valley Index.

While the Bay Area still remains The Big Show to brilliant innovators and startup dreamers across the globe, it’s eminence is under attack by other, smaller centers of innovation. America is closing its borders to the best and brightest, and other countries stand to gain. In just one example, the new French Tech Ticket Program awards each year 70 foreign startups (no, they CANNOT be from France) financial support (a 50,000€ grant for starters), free incubator space, and active mentoring for moving their budding operations to the land of great wine and cheese. One of these countries is closing its borders despite no real history of immigrant driven domestic violence. The other is opening up, despite having one of the highest incidences of this particular brand of horror.

It all makes one wonder if the golden sun will continue to shine here for years to come, or rainclouds are forming.

February 13, 2017

Dispatch #2 – Across the Gate of Gold

The SF Bay Area is of course much more than just a center of technology innovation and startups. It’s home to some of the nation’s largest banks, most creative artists and giants of literature, some of the world’s most innovative chefs, … and then there is the wine. We set the compass north and head across the Golden Gate, up through the Marin headlands and past the Sonoma frontier, then point east and into the mecca of American wine: Napa Valley.

napa-valleyThe wine industry commands an emotional center of San Francisco history. The Italians, Germans, and French all journeyed here in the late 1800s, impressed by its rocky rich soil and moderate climate that rivalled any region in the old world for making fantastic vino, wein, du vin (mon dieu c’est bon!). The Valley covers about 42 thousand acres and hosts 450 immoral havens of the fermented grape, the wineries. The biggest names in industry have their roots in this valley: the Mondavis and Krugs; the Beaulieu and Montelena families.

None were greater than the house that Jacob and Frederick Beringer built, established in 1864 and considered the oldest continuously operating winery in the Napa Valley. It is here that our best efforts at sobriety for an afternoon end, led through a private tour and then generous tasting of the really good stuff by a great friend and shameless corrupter, Hubert. After leading us through the nuances of Beringer’s top flight reds, and they were top, we sobered up over Champagne at the ranch of my old pal Chris, followed by dinner and more amazing cabernet at the All Seasons Bistro in sleepy Calistoga. (Yet another great meal.) I slept well.

Addendum: We had braised gently in piping hot, smoothy thick tubs of stinky brown mud, then had our baby pink bodies cleansed and bubbled in artisanal spring water baths, cool cloths over our beading foreheads. The final act at the Roman Spa in Calistoga was a relaxing one-hour massage with lavendar oil, and truth be told I may have snoozed through a bit of that. This early afternoon pampering had been our prep for the wine immersion at Beringer and I’ll offer as my excuse for the wobbly performance by evening’s end. It’s my story, I’m sticking to it.

February 15, 2017

Dispatch #3 – The Great Cheesecake Hunt

How hard can it be to find a great slice of cheesecake in San Francisco? It’s pretty damn hard I’m here to attest, and that’s a reflection of how this town has changed. Apparently the nouveau rich of SF don’t stoop to that pedestrian dessert level.

Cheesecake is one American recipe that the French enjoy. They don’t try to hide its origin or claim some adaption as their own. They list it as cheesecake américaine when offered, not gateau au fromage. Attempts at it – mostly mediocre – are not uncommon on bistro menus across the hexagon, and I have been tasked with finding the real American deal while here in the magic kingdom. “Not to worry,” I’ve assured my traveling companion, cheesecake is as American as apple pie. Try finding that too.

A cheesecake from Zanze's in SF.

A cheesecake from Zanze’s in SF.

There are a lot of innovative, delicious desserts on the menus throughout San Francisco. Nopa, for example, offers cream cheese doughnuts and huckleberry buttermilk panna cotta as 2 options. The doughnuts ingredients: shinko pear butter, nocino raisins, cinnamon honey syrup and fried walnuts. And for the panna cotta: white chocolate labne, puffed grains, cacao nib and candied meyer lemon. We loved our meal there and the desserts were indeed scrumptious, and it’s great to have this kind of creative gastronomy across the city. But some nights I just want a simple (and cheap) scoop of ice cream or slice of cheesecake; something with ingredients I can pronounce and afford. Honestly, I don’t know my shinko from my nocino, but I do love how they fall off the tongue.

Does Bar Crudo serve cheesecake? No. Does Cafe Claude or the Bean Bag Cafe or Mario’s or Napa Valley Burger in Sausalito or the 2 to 3 dozen places I tucked my head into and asked, “Hey, do you guys have cheesecake?”? No. My promises of a quick cheesecake fix were starting to sound hollow, my reputation as an expert SF guide tarnished.

San Francisco has become a thrilling playground and gastro destination for the newly minted techno-rich who don’t blink at paying $3 for a cup of Indonesian bean drip coffee each morning, or $50+ per night on a Nopa dinner capped with huckleberry buttermilk panna cotta, or $60 on 12 pieces of nigiri at Tsunami Sushi across the street. Are they worth it? Your call, but that’s not the point. For the rest of us seeking more humble options that won’t break the bank, like cheesecake, the availability is getting thin. It’s been encouraging to walk along Divisadero street each night this week and see the bars and restaurants humming, people paying, the local economy hitting on all cylinders. But something is being lost in the excess. It’s called diversity, and San Francisco doesn’t want to lose that part of it’s amazing charm and distinction.

Did we ultimately find our cheesecake? Yes, by paying a visit to Zanze’s in the outer reaches of the city’s southwest corner; the fogbelt along Ocean Avenue. Sam Zanze has been making one thing and one thing only here for the past 30 years: cheesecake. And any SF foodie worth their toque will tell you it’s the best in the world, … not only in this city. We would have to agree: light, fluffy, divine. Assignment completed and my reputation salvaged for the moment.

February 18, 2017

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2017 in Essays

 

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Of Gifts and Giving Back

Suggested drink: Champagne (your favorite, it’s the holidays!)
Suggested song: You Get What You Give, The New Radicals

What is your big gift for the holidays? No, I don’t mean what are you getting, I mean what are you offering? We each have a special gift and an obligation to share it with the world. I believe this, do you?

The self-improvement aisle is lined with books on finding purpose in life. The authors treat its fulfilment as a key to happiness and benefit to you, the seeker. But isn’t it more importantly your obligation? If you’re like me you’ve sucked a hell of a lot more out of this world than you’ve put back: a half-life of durable and consumable stuff, art straw-artand music, food and wine, the love and generosity of others, …everything that nourished your life and gave it definition. Now is the time to reverse the net flow.

It’s an ugly, uncertain time we live in today where ignorance is celebrated and consumerism is king. Bigger, faster, harder, wrapped in a tidy bow of obliviousness. These hallmarks of the moment will end soon enough, one through the will of the many, and one by the hammer of nature. But it won’t be pretty.

More than ever we need enlightenment and beauty to counter the tide, … and this is where your obligation begins. You have an amazing, inimitable gift to offer the world. It’s unique, a result of your one-of-a-kind DNA predisposition plus singular history of upbringing, education, experience, and personal community of friends, family, and colleagues. No one else has the exact same set of resources, skills, and interests. Align that with an ambition of deep personal meaning and you are better prepared and motivated than anyone else on this planet to do at least one incredible thing, to offer at least one amazing gift.

Sunsets are for Sissies

I wrote an essay with that title in 2015 (to read click here) in which I argued we are better prepared at 60 to pursue something truly significant and life defining than at 25. We have more time, more experience, more money, and a lot more maturity, as summed up in the following table.

age-table

If you are at midlife and considering retirement and what next?, now is not the time to downshift into a recliner by the sea, comparing daily golf scores and evening sunsets. You’re better prepared then ever to leave your mark on this world, and that’s not just a pleasant dream to imagine over icy margaritas, that’s your gift and obligation. Allez!

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2016 in Essays

 

Thriving in the Trump Era

Suggested Drink: Chateau Simone. Any year, any color will bring a smile.
Suggested Song: Deeper, Ella Eyre

Are you feeling exasperated and powerless during this current baffling political season? Events in Britain, America, and soon France leave us questioning core beliefs about our communities and the greater world at large. It’s a weird time full of strange characters and unpredictable outcomes. Unsettling.

hillary-donaldMany of us have been passing through the classic 5 stages of grief since early November: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Okay, perhaps we’ve managed to navigate just 4 stages but it’s still early. I’ve been trying out different coping mechanisms and arrived recently at the following simple approach: less looking out, more looking in, drink better wine. I’m letting go of what I can’t control and focusing on what I can control, and then there’s the wine thing. Let’s take a closer look.

Less looking out

Embracing the wider world requires an effort in reading, watching, listening, discussing and debating. Despite my best efforts to be enlightened I have come to accept these realities in the new era:

  • I no longer understand the greater electorate and its true tendencies.
  • I have zero control over who gets elected.
  • I have no control over the policies and actions of the newly elected.
  • The press has no idea about what they write in this political season.
  • The pollsters have no clue about what they survey at the moment.

I am not planning a crawl to the cave just yet but have stopped considering the public discourse online or in print as somehow rational and informed. I can’t help myself from engaging in debate and the dinner table discussions with my local Provence cabal remain spirited. But I accept that all our righteous pontifications over delicious meals and endless bottles leads us no closer to understanding the new reality.

It feels like a good moment to unplug.

More looking in

We can’t dress the greater world in our own wishful designs – or even understand the fashion season at the moment – but we still dress ourselves, thank goodness. Physical, emotional, and educational growth still remains 100% under own purview and control.

This is a fantastic opportunity to get good with our personal development. Get the body healthy and balanced, the soul nourished and full of zest, and the mind exploring new and esoteric endeavours.

Where to start:

  • Physical: Listen, we’re all going to be adopting a new fitness regime come January 1 (as goes the custom of grand resolutions) so why not get a one-month head start. Run, swim, bike, gym, yoga, tai chi, paddle board, … you decide. These are all good for the body and 100% under your control. Start today.
  • Emotional: I believe in the merits of meditation and consider it essential to our emotional balance and durability. And meditation can come in whatever form that works best for you; whatever provides the easiest release from the daily grind and stress, like the current political season. The classic lotus position stuff or a good walk along a peaceful lake, painting, dancing, music, anything that stops the gears in your loopy grey matter from spinning on everything except the moment. This is essential healthcare for the soul and 100% under your control. Do it now.

Another topic of emotional wellbeing is happiness. You want more of it in your life. There are plenty of ways to create and strengthen your positive emotions. Way too much to discuss here but join my Interprize Group (click here to go to my website and join) you’ll find endless readings, resources, exercises and more, … and you can always call me. Start today.

  • Mental: What a perfect moment to educate yourself in a deep topic – historical, scientific, philosophical, …whatever – outside the myopic minutia of the daily media. If you missed today’s news you wouldn’t know Trump’s latest cabinet pick (who will be fired shortly) or Taylor Swift’s plans for a TV channel. However, you could take, just as an example, that time to start a journey into the 20th century’s most influential philosophers (I’m reading Sartre and Michel Onfre at the moment, both of whom leave me fascinated, but more winded than a morning run with Jill Finkle). You could alternatively seek out books on China’s Zhou dynasty, or take a deep dive into the dynamics and dissimilarities of human societal advancement by reading Jared Diamond (GJ&S is a good start, but anything he writes is golden). Any of these undertaking and an infinite list of others will create a richer and more interesting you. This is essential gymnastics for the brain and 100% under your control. Do it now.

simoneDrinking better wine

Only this will I say about that: life may be shorter than anticipated given the ongoing turn of political events. It’s a good time to clean out the wine cabinet and toast your good fortune. If it all blows up tomorrow you’ll be toasting me, and if we’re lucky enough to be still breathing in 20 years, you’ll still thank me for enjoying those special wines with very special people. That is 100% under your control, so enjoy them now.

My french girlfriend jokes that our occasional disagreements can be explained through our choices of favorite authors. She reads Proust and de Beauvoir and I read Hemingway and McMurtry. She prefers dandy and ambiguous. I prefer cowboy and direct. Maybe she’s right, not sure, but this much is indeed true: I prefer a debate on any given evening over literature, philosophy, recipes, and a great bottle of of wine than a sterile discussion about a boring rich guy who’s never had a drink and wouldn’t know Chomsky from Camus.

And now I step off my soapbox.

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2016 in Essays

 

Only Love Can Break Your Heart

Suggested song: Falling In Love, Elvis Presley
Suggested drink: Broken Heart cocktail: vodka, Chambord, orange juice, grenadine

A secret to happiness in our later years is through acts of creation; showing yourself and the world that you can still produce something amazing. Giants in the field of positive psychology like Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi have written about this extensively. Wind down and kick back and you’ll ossify right into a fossil of your former impressive self.

We are at our most creative when emotions are hot and high. I write my best music when provoked by something beautiful or terrible, something blissful or sad. I prefer inspirations of the beautiful and blissful varieties, but life doesn’t always let us choose.

heart_and_sea_by_onelifeoneartPainful experiences are also emotionally charging and nothing hurts more than a broken heart. The ache can collapse you in tears of distress and desperation. You want to wake up from this very bad dream, but it’s not a dream. Want to hear that they were only kidding, but they weren’t kidding. Your mind spins with memories of tender moments. And the plans you had dared imagine together singe black and curl like pages of a book thrown to the flame, the ash slowly drifting away.

They call it heartache because it truly aches in your heart. There is a physical pain in the center of your chest that feels like an iron grip around that precious organ, the same organ that fluttered and thumped when you used to think about her or him, the one that walked away.

All you can do when brokenhearted is treasure the times you shared and be grateful for having loved so richly. The more precious the memories and splendid the plans, the deeper the cut. If it feels fatal then you know it was good. It’s hard, but that’s the risk you take when opening your heart for the deep, deep dive.

I’m running on a very raw set of emotions as I write this piece tonight. I can’t curl up in a ball on the bed because my mind will flood with beautiful, painful memories. I can’t drink myself to sleep because I’ll wake up feeling even worse about things tomorrow. But I can be creative. I can grab my guitar or sit at the piano and turn this dark emotional burst into something beautiful, like a soulfully sad song. The cause for my pain was an experience so very, very beautiful. Why should its legacy be anything less?

Life is short. You can play it safe and just paddle around in the wading pool, or you can venture to the deep end. You can be reckless and foolish and if you’re lucky taste the most beautiful, heartbreaking thing life has to offer: to be in love. Now where’s my guitar?

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2016 in Essays

 

Quit Your Job, Leave Your Spouse, Move

Suggested Song: My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue), Neil Young
Suggested Drink: Jackhammer cocktail: Jack Daniels whiskey, Amaretto

“Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.”
– Pablo Picasso

I want to destroy your life. No, actually I want you to destroy your life. I want you to quite your job, leave your spouse, and plan your move, today.

Stick with me for one reckless moment.

We tend to frame major life changes – professional, personal, geographic, and other – from the inertia of our current situation. Like planets in a universe, each of these big things has a distinct and defining rotation, but orbit around a common core called our life. If any one of these big things gets out of orbit our whole universe can wobble out of control. So we focus on keeping things in safe (even if less than stimulating) trajectories. Knocking them out can initiate a chain of unpredictable consequences after all. Reckless.

planets_orbitsConsidering this astro-emotional dynamic, we ponder change through an inventory of impacts to our safe and predictable cosmos. If I left this job/spouse/location how much upheaval would it create in my entire universe of orbiting things? It’s a focus on the negatives and how to manage them. It’s a calculation that most often encourages inaction.

Let’s flip this conversation on its head. Imagine that for some reason – because Bill says so – you are required to leave your job, spouse, or location. Can you defend why you want to stay, why you are ready to defy that expectation? Tell me now, because as I said above, I want to destroy your life. Now the conversation leans toward positives. What do you so love about your job, spouse, location, and other big things? Remind yourself why the compromises are worth it, make a quick list. Is there enough good stuff there to fight for?

Now here’s the reckless part: stop treating this like a silly exercise. Do it, act on it. How’s the list coming along?

“It takes a long time to become young.”
– Pablo Picasso

Picasso was a big fan of child-like liberation, of creating art without the constraints of convention and expectations. Life imitates art with respect to our compliance to an ever-expanding collection of rules and etiquettes as we age. We grow up. We get properly tamed.

Did you ever “run away” when really young? I remember rolling some provisions into a cloth sac tied to the end of a wooden pole, tossing it over my shoulder like Huck Finn and heading out. I was probably 7 or so, and with no hand to hold that small Pennsylvania town felt like a wide-open universe. I didn’t consider my parents’ reaction, didn’t think about how I would buy stuff, wasn’t worried about my safety. I was limitless and unbounded. Untamed.

RunawayThe older we get the more we consider the consequences of our actions. A high priority is paid to risk aversion and fitting in, of not making waves. We gain a sense of responsibility at the surrender of possibilities and our autonomy. It’s also the start of the blame game: jobs, partners, and locations. My job is killing me. My marriage is boring me. This town is stifling me.

I wager that the single deepest source of frustration in our lives is the loss of self-determination; believing that our personal options and identities have become compromised. We sign contracts, make vows, and take on debts (financial and emotional) that we come to regret. But all of these obligations can be cancelled with a little steel in the backbone. Isn’t being honest and authentic more important than some hell-or-high-water cling to desires and ambitions long since faded? Kids are the only obligation that demands honor: you created them, now raise them. But, even kids don’t expect you to honor that until-death-do-we-part stuff if you’re unhappy and being a fraud. Ask them, I did.

We tiptoe around life like cowards. Most all of us. We limp through our second half and ask, why did I spend my best years with someone whom I no longer loved? Why didn’t I leave that crushing, pointless job when I still had the energy and time to pursue something of real interest? Why did I waste my life in city X instead of trying my dream on island Y?

I’ll tell you exactly why: money, security, feelings, and judgment.

Money

A lot of us drive career aspirations off income potential. I know I did. I was a failing physics major who loved the wine industry, and UC Davis had one of the best departments in the world. There was no money in that though, so rather than changing my major to wine and oenology I moved over to economics and had a decent career in finance and business. I was a square peg in a round hole but a couple of the jobs paid well. No regrets.

money worriesMaybe I’d make the same choice again at 25 and would be dishonest to suggest otherwise. I wasn’t living a passionate life, but managed to woo a great wife, buy a comfortable home, raise 3 terrible kids, and establish some savings. At 25 these are strong considerations for most of us, and that’s understandable. Be a good boy now, just a small dose of lithium and off you go to work.

At 50 I become uncooperative. Step 1 was to stop making life choices based on income. You should too. Our fixation on money is the single biggest source of bad decisions we’ll regret at the tail end of life; choices that pad our bank accounts and provide security to the detriment of true happiness and sense of authenticity. It’s a corruptive influence that pushes us to take on certain work, stay with certain people, and live in certain places that leave us feeling drained and compromised.

Doubt me? Just google “top regrets when dying” and compare the many, many various articles. The biggest common laments:

  • not being authentic to oneself (at the top of every list)
  • not pursuing one’s passions and purpose
  • not taking more risks
  • not finding real love and the right partner

Interesting that no one wishes they had worked longer hours and made more money, yet we make most of our big life decisions around their impacts to our finances. How odd.

Want to reclaim yourself? The single toughest but most immediate step is to vow no more decisions based on money, zero. Damn the consequences.

Security

Ever hear this: I’m not really happy with life and would change it tomorrow, but how would I survive, where would I live, what would I do? Maybe it’s a friend confiding over a glass of wine, maybe it’s a pesky voice in your own head.

We get comfortable in our bubbles of habit and security. Maybe life isn’t a soft bed of fragrant roses, but at least it’s not full of anxiety. Change and uncertainty make us anxious.

Consider for one reckless moment that it’s time to be a bit untethered and noncompliant. You can choose to face the unknown as a set of risks or list of possibilities. It can be how would I survive, where would I live, what would I do? Or it can be what new skills can I develop, new people can I meet, new horizons can I discover? Most importantly, you can approach change for what it is: the chance and excuse to reinvent and rediscover.

We are packrats with our bad tendencies; I know that I am. Only a disruptive move or change dislodges them from my routine. There’s no better time than midlife to question what’s important, go grab it, and leave the rest behind, despite the risks. (As for the anxiety that may result from your rash and reckless disregard for security I suggest meditation, sex, and the occasional joint.)

Want to reclaim yourself? A big step #2: no more safe decisions based on security.

Feelings

We stay too long in relationships, personal and professional, out of concerns for peoples’ feelings. It’s honorable to consider others’ happiness but serves no one to dial in a performance that is insincere, apathetic, and prolongs inevitable closure.

I’ve let people down at inopportune times and have been troubled by my betrayal and own egoism. I’ve quite rock bands and startups and corporate positions where my positions were key and the timings of my departures were disruptive. I recently broke up with a woman who loved me deeply. Feelings get hurt, colleagues and lovers feel betrayed, and we feel horrible. But life in all its unpredictable beauty is full of uncertainties and risks. Interests and priorities can change. The greater sin is remaining in expired situations and blaming others for our unhappiness and sense of entrapment. We have to be adults about this.

picasso giftWe also have to acknowledge that our gifts are unique and there is an obligation to share them to the best of our abilities. Each of us has a Picasso-sized gift waiting to be uncovered, developed, and shared. This can require life pivots that cause real damage.

Your inception was a miracle and your genetic inheritance was unimaginably unpredictable. Consider that going back just 10 generations all of the sets of parents in your inception line managed to survive wars, famine, plagues, terminal disease, premature birth, and other unpleasant forms of nasty demise before siring. Somehow each survived long enough to forward their genes, some of which are floating around your corporeal vessel at this very moment. The 10 male forbearers each produced about 250-300 million sperm per day if healthy and each and every one had a unique DNA profile, some elegant piece of genetic code that on some enchanted evening made it upstream through the generational spawning ladders to you. There is no one on this planet with your unique profile of education, experience, and talents and you have a responsibility to offer them up. Right? Should you let the fear of hurt feelings get in the way of this obligation?

Indeed everyone deserves kindness and respect in these situations. But that respect extends to you as well. In fact, you are your first priority.

Want to reclaim yourself? A sometimes painful step #3: no hesitations out of a fear of hurt feelings.

Judgment

No one enjoys being judged poorly. If I quite my job, leave my spouse, or move away what will my parents think, my friends think, my boss or colleagues think, my kids think? We waver over our actions and defer to the comfort of group acceptance, suitably tamed and compliant. What a terrible impulse.

judgedIt is patently unfair to blame others for our own unfilled desires and ambitions. Yet we hear it constantly, particularly in the final years. The what could have beens if I didn’t have this or that commitment to meet. As mentioned above, one of the common regrets in later life is not pursuing our real passions and much of that stems from a fear of judgment. But as also mentioned above, there is only one obligation: raising our kids responsibly, and that doesn’t require staying in dead-end jobs, expired marriages, or same cities. Think about the examples those decisions set for your impressionable brood. My mom sacrificed everything for me, and I’ll be a good mother and sacrifice all for my kids because I want them to be the best that they can be. But wait, based on your example they will feel obliged to sacrifice for their kids, who sacrifice it all for their own, and on and on. Who the hell gets to benefit from this solarium system of martyrdom?

If your actions are self-serving you will surely be judged, but who better to serve than yourself at the most fundamental core? If you live through the lens of others’ expectations, how will you align with the most authentic sense of yourself and be truly understood and appreciated? Who knows and appreciates that identity better than you?

Want to reclaim yourself? A courageous step #4: no hesitations from the fear of judgments (which are surely to come).

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
– Dylan Thomas

Taking a jackhammer to your secure life foundation sounds horrifying, but here’s the good news. If your list in defense of inaction is long and convincing, the hammer can be safely tucked away (for now). If not, there’s no better time for disruption than midlife. You’re maturity, self-awareness, skill set, and helpful connections have never been stronger. You probably have some financial buffer to see you through a gap, at least more now that at 25. And it’s been shown that we start to lose this constant anxiety over money at midlife and focus more on happiness and self realization.

Grow old gracefully, compliantly? To hell with that.

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

 
2 Comments

Posted by on July 29, 2016 in Essays

 

Admiral for a Day

Suggested Song: Sunny Afternoon, the Kinks
Suggested Drink: 2015 La Rose Des Ventes rosé, Cotes de Provence

Your author hard at work.

Your author hard at work.

It’s Wednesday afternoon and hopefully someone is working. Are you? Because I’m floating around a placid lake in the south of France with a few friends, enjoying the Mediterranean sun and warm breeze and a bottle or two of Provence rosé. We forgot to bring plastic cups so have dissected small water bottles into goblet pairs. Amazing how creative one can get with a bold thirst and Swiss Army knife.

We’ve rented two small electric powered boats; one for the adults and one for our teen daughters. They’ve set out up the gorge in search of flirtatious mischief and a discreet cove to probably smoke something tucked into a bikini bottom. They would deny all of this of course.

We watch from a receding distance and putter along leisurely, recounting our own tales of youth and sharing details that only great friends care to hear. There is no rush, … to go where? … to power aggressively through one of the most stunning river systems in Europe, the beautiful Gorges du Verdon at the southern base of the French Alps, with its limestone cliffs carving dramatically down into the cool turquois-green water? The good lord was having a inspired day when she cast this spot.

It is a small boat, a lazy pace, and a best-of-friends moment. The sun is bronzing our shoulders from a pastel blue Cezanne sky. Are you working, keeping the wheels of industry turning, the flows of the economy flowing, craving that rush hour drive home in your fabulous gleaming Tesla or BMW or whatever the driven class drive these days? I truly hope so, because the world needs you. We float in our 15-foot rental and praise you, we toast you with another pour of the bottle. God bless you.

First mate with an engineered goblet

First mate with an engineered goblet

We’ll gather with our girls in an hour to share a simple late lunch of smoked salmon and lettuce sandwiches in poppy seed baguettes, and local Provence cherries and strawberries from the market this morning. It’s hot but we have lots of water and plentiful ice for the wine, and now the carved-up plastic cups. All is good. All is really good actually.

This makes me think about the goings on in my old stomping grounds of San Francisco. Tom Perkins died there last week. He was an originator and titan of Silicon Valley’s venture capital industry and amassed a great, great fortune investing in companies like Genentech and Tandem Computers. Perkins was a man of big appetites and had commissioned the 289-foot clipper the Maltese Falcon (at that time the world’s largest private sailing yacht). He must have enjoyed some amazing times on that massive beast, champagning the biggest celebrities, wooing the hottest models (just saying it’s possible), traversing the oceans blue. Well perhaps not too much free time for traversing blue oceans. That high-gain, high-burn vc lifestyle doesn’t tend to pair well with extended, low-stress getaways. Unlikely he’d have been caught dead on our dingy, drinking discount wine out of MacGyvered cups. We would have enjoyed having him aboard I think. What an exchange.

I think about Perkins and his accomplished life while bobbing around on this warm serene day, chilled rosé in hand. I hope he died a happy man, with that keen knack for moneymaking and great talent for toy buying: the boats and Bugatti collection and massive homes. He probably did, what do you think? Maybe he got buried in one of his Bugattis, that would be cool. Who said you can’t take it with you? He did get touchy about his wealth status near the end, writing that the rich in America were being unfairly persecuted in a manner last visited on the Jews in Nazi Germany. It’s a weird paradox: the more we have, the less willing we are to share it. Money is like that, cocaine is like that, rosé with good friends isn’t like that.

How’s that commute going?

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

 
2 Comments

Posted by on June 11, 2016 in Essays

 

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