Suggested Song: The Real Me, The Who
Suggested Drink: Deep Dive Wet Hopped Ale, Boulevard Brewing Company

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. 
–  Maya Angelou

This is #3 of 12 experiments for the year, offered to get you inspired, thinking creatively, and organized in the pursuit of bold life ambitions of deep personal meaning. Experiments 1 and 2 concentrate on the big question of WHY (aspire to live and leave a life respecting your greatest gifts and passions). They provoke you to think about life – your ideal versus the current version – and death – those things for which you want to be remembered as you pass into the great goodbye.

This March Experiment starts the migration of WHY to WHAT. If you’re still reading these essays then you’re likely loath to the idea of retirement years spent in the wading pool. That deep end of the grand basin feels risky, but damn if that diving board doesn’t look fun. WHY make the effort to mount the board, muster some courage, and take the leap? WHAT will you find at the bottom of the pool? Onward.

Is it important dive deep, especially if after a life of impressive achievement? I argue that it is for at least 4 reasons:

1.     Midlife is the best moment to dream big and realize your authentic self. You likely have some stores of savings, the kids are gone, your network is extensive, health is still good, mind is still sharp, time is available, and your life experiences have a bestowed a wisdom to which your younger self had no access. Are you going to waste this golden moment?

2.     Your accomplishments to date, impressive as they may be, may not reflect the untold story inside you. Amazing mom, corporate CEO; both and many titles in between are impressive laureates. If that’s all that needs be told and you’re fine with that résumé on your stone block, god bless and job well done. If not, there’s no better time to start on a new epithet. (See point 1.)

3.     You’ll likely live a longer, richer life. Study after study of repeatable, empirical evidence reveals that pursuing authentic life purpose is a key to happiness, good health, and more days on top of the dirt. Just a few sources include centers of research led by Martin Seligman (UPenn), Sonja Luybomirsky (UC Riverside), Barbara Fredrickson (UNC Chapel Hill), and the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.  The results of an 85-year Harvard study published just last month show that the essential ingredients to longer, happier lives orbit around positive relationships. And one key component of these is the personal growth enjoyed from the pursuit of purposeful life goals, shared with those you love.

4.     The world needs your gift. There is so much beauty and so many problems in the world today. Perhaps your gift is artistic expression, perhaps it’s helping people in need, maybe it’s retracing the voyage of Kon-Tiki in a balsa log boat. Regardless, we all benefit. Jimmy Carter stands at the gate to ascension as I write this note, in hospice care back in Plains, Georgia. He was President of the United States; the most powerful man on earth. Now that’s a colossal accomplishment on which to call it a day and retire to the Palm Beach club set. But Jimmy’s legacy had only begun. Nobel Prize recipient, tireless human rights and healthcare advocate, green energy pioneer, Habitat for Humanity founder, and loving husband and dad. We’re going to need a bigger headstone! He will leave this world a much, much better place for all of us to live.

What to do, what to do

Some of us know well our deepest passions and where purpose resides. We understand our gifts, have dabbled with daring projects, and hold a solid sense of how to make a difference. Some of us have no clue. The most of us are somewhere in between.

There are an endless number of books available on uncovering your purpose (see additional reading below). I offer here 3 exercises on Options, Motivations, and Activities that will be helpful in surfacing possibilities should you be in that not really sure category.

Exercise 1: Options (let’s boil the ocean, shall we?)

1.     List all previous existing ideas of hobbies, passions, or curiosities that you’ve considered pursuing when you had more time.

2.     Identify enjoyable activities from your career. What parts of your jobs did you love doing (as opposed to those you dreaded)?

3.     What activities put you in a Flow state; that is, when engaged in them your strengths are challenged and mind 100% immersed, numb to other distractions, and you lose all sense of time.

4.     What’s on your bucket list if you have 12 months to live?

5.     What types of roles, activities, or responsibilities do you want to avoid?

6.      Compare these lists and look for themes.

Exercise 2: Motivations

What is driving you develop a greater sense of purpose? Why commit your energy, spend your savings, and abandon the easy life for a more deeply engaged life? What are your motivations?

This is a short list of 33 possible motivations that may be driving you, just a slice of total possibilities. Create your own, select 5, and look for themes.

Exercise 3: Activities

Create a table of activities from your career or life roles and identify those that you enjoyed and those that created the greatest discomfort. The table should include your job/role title, activities performed in each, and focus of those activities. Circle the activities you enjoyed and strike through those that you did not. Look for themes.

In my professional career I was an analyst, investor, and professor and I present my own table here as a sample.

Your Mission

These exercises may not uncover a specific project, but should be effective in setting your North Star. In the business world this is referred to as a company’s Mission and revealed through a Mission Statement. (Some life coaches refer to it as a Vision Statement; take your pick.) It has little to do with what a company actually produces, but succinctly encapsulates its core customer value. Three examples:

To create happiness for people of all ages, everywhere.

To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.

To encourage and enable the pursuit of bold ambitions of deep personal meaning.

Nowhere here are specific products or services mentioned. Nothing about theme parks or electric vehicles or life leaping programs. But everything these companies do will align with their Mission Statements. If not, either the statements or the offerings must be reconsidered.

You should be ready to take a first pass at your Mission Statement if you’ve worked through the exercises above. What value will you offer the world and how will it tell that story inside? Focus on value not product or specific project. Think about your customers. There may be millions, there may be just 1: you. This is your life, your bold ambition, your interprize. What will it give us? Where will it lead you? What’s that North Star?

Additional reading

There is an endless list of books written on the topic of finding life purpose. No single one is considered the definitive work. I’ve read just a few and these are some titles I found particularly helpful:

Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life. – Ken Robinson

The Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life. – Marci Alboher

At the Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion. – Elle Luna (I absolutely love this book)

If you have come across books on passion and purpose that you find powerful, please share in a comment or contact me. Thanks!

Bill Magill

Suggested Song: That Was Me, Paul McCartney
Suggested Drink: Guinness Extra Stout (The Irish have mastered a good sendoff)

This is the second of 12 experiments I’m proposing to readers this year; one per month. If you’re intent on making 2023 a pivot year toward more purposeful ambitions, or perhaps just asking that post-Covid question – okay, what now and how? – these experiments will help draw maps, uncover truths, enhance motivation, strengthen resilience, and be fun. All are part of the Life Leap Workshops we run in Provence (more about those here). Please give them a try and let me know what you learn and how they can be improved. Comments and critiques are encouraged.

I need to start this essay by highlighting the good fortune we all have, those of us in a position to think about passion pursuits and life purpose. Close to a billion people on this planet are too damn hungry to think about self-actualization. Double that number when including conflict and war zones. Where do I find my next meal and how do I keep my children alive? There are a few Ukrainian families here in Aix – mostly moms and their kids – trying scrape together some way of paying rent while avoiding bad news from the front. What would the hungry and harassed give to be at the peak of Maslow’s pyramid? So, with much humility and respect, onward.


Damn it all, plunked in.
On the gravestone of Andy Loy
(A colorful character from Bill’s childhood)

The January Experiment (Missed it? Click here.) dealt with the Wheel of Life. It’s a helpful tool to examine how well your current life aligns with the ideal life you imagine. For February we fast forward the reel and talk about, …. death. I don’t mean to be darkly provocative. After the final pulse, there will be a day for others to a cast warm light on your life. Your eulogy, the Cliff Notes version of greatest hits; if you die tomorrow will it recount the legacy you want to leave? What does this say about the life you’re living now?

She started a soup kitchen that fed 100s of homeless and hopeless a day.

His films made viewers rethink the black experience in America.

They restored by hand an old, dilapidated French farmhouse into a world-class BnB.

You will have a eulogy, a moment for friends and family to have a final say on your final day. Maybe even an obit! If there’s one thing we all agree on: no one gets out alive. The question then is, do you want some influence over said commemoration? Specifically, do you care about how you will be memorialised by those at the pulpit for them in the pews?
Artist unknown

The only option for that input is the legacy of material you leave behind. How you lived your life, whom you touched, and what you created: that’s what will be so fondly recalled, not necessarily the same how’s, who’s, and what’s you hoped for. Others – family and close friends – will be climbing the sanctuary to sing your praises. They’ll want to spin some magic. So give them your magic. Make their job fun.

This experiment, then, is a valuable tool for considering purpose, potential, and progress (gotta love the 3 ps). Why you’re here, why you want to be here, why you mattered. And we all want to have mattered.

How is your eulogy lining up? Here’s a quick, back-of-the-envelope experiment for a quick gauge.

The My Eulogy Experiment

Step 1: Your ideal eulogy.

1.     Calmed with a warm cup of tea (or chilled glass of rosé) imagine the contented end. Slipping peacefully into eternal slumber, your purpose has been realized, deepest passions fed, your legacy secured. Yes, that WAS a life lived richly, with little left on the plate. And you’re confident that those things that mattered most will be mentioned at your funeral as a true reflection of who you were, how you served, and why a glass raised in your honor is well earned. (If you practice mindfulness this step is a perfect meditation for that zen state.)

2.     On a piece of paper list 10 highlights that most merit mention. This is your ideal life list, so include endeavors and achievements from the past for which you are proud and ambitions for the future to which you are committed. Rank them from 1 (essential and non-negotiable) to 10 (important but less critical).

3.     Look at the list. Are these truly the 10 highlights to include? Are they authentic and possible (your memorializers will sympathizers, not fabricators)? Ranked properly? Come back to the list later in the day and then again tomorrow, and each time check for correctness. As with the Wheel of Life, don’t consider the ideal eulogy highlights finished until you’ve had a chance to review them over a couple of days, at different times of the day, in different moods.

Step 2: Your current eulogy.

1.     In a similarly calm state take a second piece of paper. Rank the high points of your life to-date most likely to be mentioned should you die tomorrow, from 1 (almost surely) to 10 (possibly).

2.     Review the list a few times over a couple of days to make sure you’re not forgetting something and have a proper ranking.

Step 3: Compare the lists.

1.     For highlights that are on both lists and at similar levels, bravo, your attention and energy are being directed appropriately to those things most important for your life legacy.

2.     For highlights on both lists but at notably different rankings, what can you do now to start a correction?

3.     For highlights included on your ideal list but missing from current, what’s the plan to get something launched? (That’s our specialty at the Interprize Group, you should ping us!).
Hachiro Kanno

The toughest part of this experiment will be coming up with your list. At first you may think that 10 things about you don’t need to be mentioned, and then you may feel that 10 isn’t nearly enough. Grand passions and life purpose and big achievements are all amazing to pursue, to have on our final resumé. But in the end we just want our lives to have mattered. Helpful grandmother, acclaimed author, much-loved and trusted kindergarten teacher, national champion, …. How did you matter?

Bill Magill

Suggested Song: Find Yourself, Brad Paisley
Suggested Drink: Virgin Mojito (staying in theme with my dryish January)

With this year’s series of essays I’m going to offer 12 experiments; one per month. For readers intent on making 2023 a pivot year toward more purposeful ambitions, or perhaps just asking that post-Covid question – okay, what now and how? – these experiments will help draw maps, uncover truths, enhance motivation, strengthen resilience, and be fun. All are part of the Life Leap Workshops we run in Provence (more about those here). Please give them a try and let me know what you learn and how they can be improved. Comments and critiques are encouraged.

Each new year starts with our best intentions. Less of this, more of that. Back to basics, forward to the unexplored. Revived projects and new ambitions. Reinvention.

You may be sketching out plans now. They may get realized, maybe not, perhaps not even launched. One thing is assured: nothing deserved of your very limited time and energy – which are infinitely more precious than money – will magically self-organize. If you want to do something purposeful and grand this year, if that’s a resolution, then you need to organize a plan, even if futile.

Start with your foundation.

The Wheel of Life

It’s been over a decade since I left the cable cars and golden gates of San Francisco for the lavender fields of Provence. For 30 plus years I had been living the dream in the Bay Area’s tech and investment industries, as a laser jock and analyst and banker and venture capitalist, and I absolutely loved it until I didn’t. When that unsettling mid-life question – is this it? – began to itch in places I couldn’t scratch it was time dig deeper, beyond the surface stuff like money and security and title and possessions, and seek out genuine authenticity.

Pablo Picasso, Girl Looking in Mirror.

San Francisco State University had an executive ed program on life coaching back then and the night courses opened up a whole new universe of questions for me. Are you happy? Does happiness matter? Who is in control of your life? What are your core nonnegotiable values? What is your personality type and why is that valuable to understand? Most importantly, what tools are handy to disassemble and reflect on considerations such as these, and to help ferret out some answers?

On the first night of the first class we were introduced to the Wheel of Life. It provides a graphical segmentation of how your finite stores of time and energy and attention are being parsed. You can fill one out for your current situation and another to represent the ideal life. Comparing the 2 is particularly insightful in understanding how truly offtrack your life has become (perhaps not at all, but then again…), and where adjustments should be concentrated; that is, assuming you want a life most closely aligned with your core priorities and interests. (You do.) By the end of this first class I was feeling feverish and plotting Life of Bill v2.0 on the MUNI streetcar ride home. Within 12 months I was living in Provence.

The Wheel of Life is a circle segmented into 10 slices that collectively represent how your time and energy is being consumed; at least with the 10 most pressing elements. The following chart is an example, but your elements might be different. Some slices are common to most people: Health and Friends/Family, for example. Other slices may be critical to you, not so much to others. Step 1 to using the wheel involves identifying your 10 most critical life components. Take time to get them right, then run the experiment.

The Wheel of Life Experiment

Step 1: Sketch your ideal life.

  1. On a sheet of paper sketch a Wheel of Life similar to the diagram above: a circle segmented with 10 equal slices.
  2. Create a list of the 10 most defining components of your ideal life; those activities when combined would consume most all of your time, energy, attention, and other resources. It’s critical to get the right components, so take time here to think this through. (Your favorite café or wine bar might be an inspiring workspace for this exercise.) In your ideal life you are in control, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have obligations. Include major commitment that you may not particularly enjoy but that are inescapable (caring for an aging in-law could be an example). It’s also the moment to consider what is and is not truly inescapable. (This can lead you into dangerous territory. Go with it for this experiment.)
  3. For each of the 10 elements, assign a weight as to the attention it would consume in your ideal life on a scale of 1 (very low attention) to 10 (very high attention).
  4. Assign each element to a slice. Write the 1-10 weighting under each element label, and fill in the slice with a crayon or marker reflecting that weighting starting at the center. An allocation of 10 will fill the slice entirely. An allocation of 1 will barely fill it at all.
  5. Look at your chart. Are these the 10 critical components to include? Are they weighted honestly? Come back to the chart later in the day and then again tomorrow, and each time check for honesty and correctness. Don’t consider the ideal wheel finished until you’ve had a chance to review it over a couple of days, at different times of the day, in different moods.

Step 2: Sketch your life now.

  1. On a second sheet of paper sketch a Wheel of Life that reflects your life now.
  2. You must use the same 10 elements as included in your ideal life wheel.
  3. For each of the elements assign a weight to the attention it consumes in your life today, from 1 to 10.
  4. Fill in the wheel to reflect this weighting, as in number 4 above.
  5. Review the chart a few times over a couple of days to be comfortable with its completion.

Step 3: Compare the 2 life wheels.

  1. Place your 2 wheels next to each other and contrast the profiles.
  2. For twin slices within 1 point of difference, bravo, your current and ideal situations are well aligned. Keep it up.
  3. For twin slices between 2-3 points of each other consider what can be done to move your current situation closer to the ideal. Small tweaks may work wonders in lowering the weighting tension. Experiments that we’ll be running in future essays this year should be helpful.
  4. For twin slices that are 4 points or more apart, danger ahead. The tension between your ideal life and current situation may cause serious complications in the future (emotional, physical, relational); they may already be giving you an itch that can’t be scratched. Some things in life are out of our control (I argue that this list is smaller than most believe), but seeing your misalignments visually is valuable should they provoke an effort to ease the friction. (At a minimum, toast yourself for soldiering through the inescapable.)

The following chart could have been my Wheel of Life experiment 15 years ago (with the slices colored in). Some misalignments created alarm, then determination, then action. What will yours incite?

Bill Magill

Suggested Song: Changes, David Bowie
Suggested Drink: Shapeshifter cocktail: vodka, crème de violette, lemon juice, bitters, egg white.

I had an essay on psychogeology planned to drop this week (yeah, it’s a thing!), but two new biographies of Anthony Bourdain have provoked me to the point of making a last-minute swap. Extracts from the biographies are making the rounds, their authors giving interviews.

Bourdain had a large fan base to which I subscribed.  Kitchen Confidential was an irreverent exposé of restaurant kitchen culture; a raucous reveal behind the twin swing doors. He reveled in shining a light on the soiled underbelly of something carefully manicured and disneyfied. Bourdain was the essence of punk insolence and I was punk rocker at the time. I ate it up.

Bourdain’s own brand was manicured as well: culinary rapscallion; acute observer of the absurd; globetrotting seeker of the strange and spicy; unapologetic provocateur; cool older dude with hot younger girlfriend. I can imagine that this fun stamp could be exhausting to maintain. We all evolve, sometimes to our friends’ and fans’ resistance. Schwarzenegger’s bodybuilder begat terminator begat governator. The Beatles graduated from Can’t Buy Me Love to A Day in the Life. Fans were unhappy, but the Fab Four were done with holding hands and love me do. Happiness is a warm gun. Transformation is essential for staying fascinated by ourselves.

Bourdain was reportedly excited about a new project that would be decidedly un-Bourdainian. Even pirates pull down the black flag at some point. One can imagine how liberating it would be, and befitting of his style, to shock the devotees with something unexpected and completely out of character. I spent 20 years cultivating X and now I’m Y. Trust me. Join me!

In an earlier incarnation I had a privileged life in San Francisco. It was the greed-is-good Gecko era and cred was built around possessions and title. My wife kept me grounded but every peacock loves to spread the feathers from time to time.I found my wings when I severed the strings (a lyrical couplet from the 2021 MASSIVE HIT To Say Goodbye) and moved to slow-and-sunny Provence from fast-and-foggy San Francisco. I knew that my professional repute and financial surety were about to become irreparably unwound, and was elated. For I was moving towards a more natural, authentic version of myself; correcting course towards a north star I had always seen brightly to the side and too long denied. At a certain age denial is a very unhealthy choice.

My sense is that Bourdain was a mostly authentic guy but yearning to evolve. He was an undeniable creative and creative types don’t like being boxed in. The slightest tinge of I’m starting to feel fake elicits the hives x10. Maybe he was finding it difficult to shape the shift, given the heavy momentum of his much-loved brand. Certainly his open history of substance issues and depression wouldn’t have helped, and his relationship was reportedly on the rocks. He loved her deeply (according to the new bios) and must have felt it slipping. That can push one into embarrassing behavior. I can relate more than I want to admit, and perhaps is why I felt compelled to pen this rumination.

We all need to be aware of the gravity of our brand and the effort required to escape said pull, if indeed that’s what is needed to grow and thrive. It’s a very healthy thing, mandatory I’d suggest, to question our identity regularly and tweak where needed; destroy when required. If surrounded by people who love you in a place that nurtures you then you’ll be fine. Actually, much better than fine, you’ll be alive.

Ch ch ch changes…..

Bill Magill

Suggested song: Leap of Faith, Bruce Springsteen
Suggested drink: Paternel Rosé, AOP Côtes de Provence (any pale Provence rosé should do!)

“Make your life a lot more fucking awesome.”

I was reading an essay on Medium this morning, hovered over a bowl of Special K, muesli, and local strawberries. Nitin, a full-time programmer and part-time purveyor of millennial wisdom, was offering his 8 rules on “how to rewrite your life as you want it to be.” It was a slow news day. I was looking for distraction.

Rules 1 through 7 were the trite pulp one tends to find from the newly enlightened: honor yourself, follow a healthy diet, appreciate nature, yada yada. (Fair admission: I’m guilty of dispensing similar banal obviousness on occasion.) But Rule #8 struck a chord, and it wasn’t just the F bomb. Here’s why.

Every single one of us wants an f-ing awesome life. At 50 I was incredibly blessed and more than a little lucky to have had this: money, security, job, home, spouse, kids, grill. It was pretty damn good, but not f-ing awesome.

When my mid-life wobble met my inner narcissist there was little resistance to the axiom your life is not a dress rehearsal (so grab it). I bade my goodbyes to all above (except the kids) and went in search of my Shangri-La, El Dorado, Elysian Fields. I wanted more than money, more than stability, more than bliss. I’d trade all this and more (a great Dead Boys song, Spotify it) for a truly authentic life of deep personal meaning in an enchanting, inspiring locale: now that would be pretty f-ing awesome.

(Note that nowhere in that last sentence do you find the words affluence, comfort, or happiness.)

I found my Shangri-La in Provence, France. Yours will call too should you pursue the quest. Please trust me on this. Beyond the seductive splendor of its lavender fields, turquoise seas, and perched village cafés serving chilled rosé on hot endless days, I found my tribe in Provence. Seekers, most with impressive career and personal credentials, who will tell you that yeah that thing before was pretty damn good, but not f-ing awesome.

Sometimes we take it for granted, those of us who’ve washed up on these shores, but then a jealous friend on holiday or tourist at the next table will ask how one makes it all work. The language and legal and financial and family barriers and considerations.

You just have to figure it out.

A fellow runaway here once answered it quite simply like this: you just have to figure it out. This is what he meant: few of us here are independently wealthy; most of us have kids; all of us have/had aging parents back home; visa issues are rampant; and our language isn’t native. This further complicates already complicated things like tax regulations, wi-fi outages, parent-teacher mediations, and ordering that second rosé bottle (no, it’s not another please, it’s one more of the same!). You just have to figure it out.

My friend Dickie ran a high-stress, high-pay trading desk in Hong Kong for 10 years. These days he gives leisurely walking tours around Aix-en-Provence and fronts a local rock-n-roll band, while helping raise 3 teen daughters. Life? Yeah, pretty awesome, just figure it out.

Tilly was a BBC producer in London traveling across the globe to film nature documentaries. Now she’s at home in her small Aix workshop, turning out beautifully delicate ceramic bowls and creative pieces of jewelry. That’s when she’s not parked by the sea in the vintage family travel trailer, book in hand and watching her daughter paddle board across the placid Mediterranean blue. Life? Yeah, pretty awesome, just figure it out.

I abandoned my profession, divorced my wife (and closest ally, still), and moved to France in 2010. I had no real plan and no backup. A Wallenda moment. A part-time teaching job and a bit of advisory work helped, and I found, finally, the time and energy to develop my real passions: workshops on life change, a book, an album, and a musical.

Don’t expect all confetti and champagne in your pursuit of a life that is pretty f-ing awesome. It’s not the goal. My financial plan was never sustainable and remains tenuous. My creative projects have gone largely unnoticed, some have failed. Face plants can be humiliating. You soldier on. No regrets.

I’ve been scolded for the irresponsibility, most heatedly by myself. I’ve worried about the impact on my kids: a year or 2 with dad in French lycées, then back to mom and San Francisco schools, and then back to dad. But, 12 years later I’m where I belong. And each of my 3 little bumpkins have grown into fascinating, multicultural young adults of amazing potential. Life? Pretty awesome, just figure it out.

Here is the takeaway.

Your life now is indeed not a dress rehearsal. Forget all that stuff about heavens and reincarnations and molecular transmogrifications into other forms of pixie dust existence. It’s all wishful hooey. This is it, your one single shot.

You can do at least one thing better than any other individual on this planet.

So, to do what? Well, you can do at least one thing better than any other individual on this planet. This nonpareil gift is enabled simply by that unique blend of genes, upbringing, education, friends, and experiences that make you you. Finding your Shangri-La – geographically and emotionally – will help release the potential.

If you can pair that unique mastery with your deepest passions, then we all gain in your amazing gift. And you get to live a life that is pretty f-ing awesome. Now go grab it.

Bill Magill

Suggested Song: I Won’t Miss You – Demo, Bill Magill
Suggested Drink: Continuum cocktail: Gin, Vermouth, Chartreuse, Cynar, Curaçao.

A good friend stopped by the apartment yesterday for a glass of rosé (okay, a bottle) and a bit of catching up. I pulled out my trusted Martin D35 and played a new song – “I Won’t Miss You” – that will make it onto the upcoming EP, and I asked for his thoughts. Through the years I’ve gotten invaluable feedback from this practice; a living room debut with some work-in-progress tune still half baked. Maybe it needs another verse or change in tempo. The suggestion yesterday was about dynamics: perhaps bring it up a bit here, take it back down there. The song is suddenly immeasurably better.

(Note to artists of all stripes: inviting criticism is essential. Know when to accept it; know when to stick to your creative instincts.)

Where does the creative flame come from; Van Gogh’s glowing starscapes, T Monk’s jumpy piano rhythms? A magic well of inventiveness deep inside our grey folds of neurons, peptides, and proteins? Neuroscientists see synapses sparking in the anterior cingulate cortex and left inferior parietal lobule when artists get their grooves on. That reveals the brain regions being aroused, but what does it tell us about the true source of inspiration? Is it chemical, physical, …. some kernel of protein pre-programmed before birth?

The Gods of Song

The Law of Conservation dictates that energy, whether thermal, electrical, mechanical, or other, can neither be created nor destroyed, simply transformed (first postulated by Émilie du Châtelet, a brilliant mathematician and close companion to Voltaire. … ah the French and their love of entangled affairs!). Can creative energy be governed by the same law?

Imagine that the gods of song lord over the reallocation – but not creation or destruction – of all musical creativity. They glean the energy burning off musical dynamism – the teenage frenzy at a Beatles concert; the rapture of baronesses swooning at a Mozart recital – blend it with other tuneful emissions of emotion at any given moment, recycle it, distill it, reshape it, then gaze down from upon high for the best possible artist at that particular moment to reinterpret it.

This process steps through a lot of conversions, as does power from original source to your wall outlet, but the principle of conservation remains inviolate, honoring Madame de Châtelet’s original premise.  No mystical origination deep in the limbic system at debut, no final extinction in the cemetery-of-song at end.

Antennas Up

As a creative you need to keep the receptors up at all times. The gods above are constantly surveying the flock for the perfect agents of delivery: who to best capture these water lilies in Giverny, the stars over Saint Rémy, to take this newly formed bundle of musical melancholy and write something tender about love lived and lost. The energy is floating in the ether. It just needs the right channel for conveyance. And that just might be you, if your creative soul is pure and open to divine inspiration.

A final note that I’m not the first musician to believe in the gods of song. You can find interviews with some of our greatest lyricists, the Dylans and Caves and Cohens, who claim that the process is as mysterious to them as anyone, that when inspired they are just a medium for the message and spill it out. The key? Stay inspired, live deeply, keep the heart open to joy and pain and all emotions in between, and always keep that figurative brush and palette close at hand.

Bill Magill

Suggested song: The Real Me. The Who.
Suggested drink: Curtain Call cocktail. Rum, champagne, lemon juice, simple syrup, bitters.

Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.
– Mother Teresa

June is Gay Pride month. The San Francisco parade has been cancelled this year and that’s a shame. I have colorful memories of that brilliant cavalcade: the vibrant floats and flamboyant dance troupes and butch bikers tattooed up in black leather and blue denim. Loud and proud.

I was called into a group-wide meeting one morning while working at Livermore Labs back in the 80s. Our area supervisor announced (paraphrasing) that from this point forward John should be addressed as Joanne and will be dressing accordingly. Expect female attire and makeup. She’ll also be using the ladies’ toilets. Any questions?

This coming out was one of the most startling and bravest things I’d ever seen. The John I had known was a burly guy’s guy and husband with kids. To be considered for reassignment surgery he first needed to live full time for a year as Joanne. I couldn’t imagine the courage it took to share that decision with family, friends, and now coworkers.

We all have our closets. We perform on an open stage and let our hair down with the cast and crew when the curtain falls. A very few good friends get invited back to the dressing room, but then there is the closet. I’m hoping that I’m not the only one with a scary closet.

There are few resentments worse than feeling like a fraud, of being inauthentic. Real honesty requires a precarious journey from closet to stage in full drag, and that can be a tough walk. The good news is that as we get older this gets easier. A certain “let the chips fall where they may” settles in with age. The urgencies that guided our earlier years – career and vows and status – become the lesser priorities to authenticity; leaving this world with a history that reflects our truest selves.

Martin Whatson: Behind the Curtain

Being honest with oneself is of course step one, and often the most difficult of conversations. I lived most of my adult years in San Francisco and didn’t bat an eye (or even a heavily mascaraed lash extension!) at people being true to their sexual and gender orientations. But professional orientation was a different beast altogether. It is convenient to suppress misgivings over career choices when those positions are filling the bank account and feeding the ego. Damn I’m special! I was front and center of that line but in good company, particularly in the investment banking and venture capital industries.

There’s no shame in pursuing pay over passion when young and in one’s prime income-generating years (I’m happy to debate this over a glass of rosé). There’s great dishonor when continuing to shelter in the closet post mid-life, to oneself primarily. What you do, where you live, and whom you love. The legacy you leave. Are you getting these right? Are the what, where, and with whom choices you are making now reflect the most authentic and beautiful you? Will your eulogy be delivered by people whom loved you most, reflecting on things for which you wanted to be celebrated, in a setting that defined your spirit?

That is a lot to consider.

A final note. I founded the Interprize Group in 2013 to help people, mostly at 50 plus, pursue grand life ambitions of deep personal meaning. If I’m being honest, I’ll admit to using these workshops as much for self-discovery as for guiding others. Authenticity and purpose are 2 topics that get a lot of attention in these workshops. For the past 3 years I’ve been focused on a grand ambition of my own and the workshops have been on hold. We are offering a new and completely redesigned Life Leap Workshop this October in Provence. You can find more information here. If you are curious to know more please get in touch and we’ll set up a time to chat. Let’s get you out of the closet.

Suggested Song: Mad, Bill Magill
Suggested Drink: Caribbean cocktail: Bombarra rum, cointreau, fruit juice, grenadine syrup (for my island friends, who’ve just survived a date with Irma)

Madness is close to everybody.
Carol Rama

I decided to take a gap year when I reached 50, to rediscover the world around, to reassess the man within. That year bled into a decade of exploration, an end to a marriage, a change in career ambitions, and a move across the globe. I sought out alternative beliefs and states of being, how to create, how to eat, how to love, how to live. Those first 50 years had brought me security, certainty, and predictability; things that kept me well anchored in a safe harbour. That all changed.

I’ve gotten to know the stranger within much better these past years in Provence. I came looking for an authentic life, a daily quotidian more genuine and rich than I could afford in the tech and investments worlds of Silicon Valley. And by afford I don’t mean with money. You cannot buy genuine. All the treasure of Zuckerberg and Gates and Bezos cannot buy genuine. You find it in the people whom love you, the dreams that seduce you, and the enchanted places that complement your own rhythms and energy.

I’ve learned that Easy Street is not my address of envy. Passion Avenue is where I look to squat. This can be a difficult neighbourhood, noisy at times, unstable, brilliantly sunny then ominously dark, rarely dull. Unpredictable lovers, impossible dreams, and impractical locales are what arouse my emotions. And aren’t emotions fully aroused the essence of a rich life?

I also value a good drink with trusted friends.


The weekends of my youth were spent with buddies wrenching on our cars, racing at the strip or on the streets. You had this keen and uneasy sense when your hopped-up, bored-out, over-torqued muscle motor was about to blow. It would roar down that last quarter mile run like a wild banshee, pushing your aggressive assemblage of custom painted steel and polished chrome seconds faster than ever before, gear after gear, eerily so. And then, in a scream of twisting rods and scorching valves, all of that mighty horsepower would explode in a crescendo of oil and fuel and flame.

You knew the risk but still pushed it hard. It was a mad drive to that wild edge. And at my point in life, again, … this is where I choose to live.


Time is elemental. Quality time. Time spent with people who forgive (and perhaps even appreciate) your madness, doing things that define it, in places that provoke it. More time is more important than more possessions. Possessions are the enemy, actually. They require investment, maintenance, and energy; have to be placed or stored; and apply a brake on our ability to move quickly, to be fleet and flexible.

Gustav Klimt, The Kiss

Is there someone, something, or some place that you are mad enough about to pay for with time? Two years cropped from the end of your life for one more with them now, doing that, or living there? Four fewer final years for 2 now?  We would all pay for more time if we had the money, because money is a worthless, limitless currency. But time, now that’s a precious exchange in the extreme.

It’s a hypothetical question of course, but worth considering.  For if you have no one or nothing worth sacrificing your precious stores of time for, are you living a passionate life? Is it important to live a life of passion? I’m provoking, yes, but not leading with an answer. If you knew you would die in a year would you want the next 12 months to be mad and full of unpredictable passion, or choose comfort and security? It is very possible that you could die in year, in a month, or in week, so this particular question is not hypothetical. Right?

I want to know what my readers thinks about the merits of a mad life. I love to preach – my Scots-Irish grandfather was a fire and brimstone healer of the unholy, so please excuse the genetics – but I am sure of nothing except my own convictions. And I am immensely curious about your own.

Bill Magill

Postscript: This essay is dedicated to a close friend who, at 64, has suddenly found himself unmoored and adrift in an unpredictable sea of life possibilities. Where he will be and what he will doing in the next months and years; it’s all green field territory. He is a true pirate and has provoked me to question much about my own priorities and ambitions over these past years. A toast to you, Dada. One of a mad kind.

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.


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!

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.


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.


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.


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.


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