Posts Tagged With: Reinvention

Is This All There Is? Nope! Courage, Creativity, & Commitment (reinvention)

Most people have hidden in their souls—“I always wanted to…”


When I was fourteen, while living in France with my parents, we attended a Formula One championship automobile race at Spa, Belgium.  The roar of the cars, the beautiful girls, and the international jet set congealed into a full-fledged teenage fantasy for me.  I wanted to grow up to be a race car driver.  I eventually outgrew that dream and many others along the way to adulthood, career, and now ‘retirement.’  Most, if not all of my childhood dreams turned out to be fantasies, not grounded in the real world. How many people can actually be an NBA star or have a hit record?  Like it or not optimism and hope can only take you so far, after all the hard work and discipline as noted entrepreneurial expert, Joe Robinson says, “Luck always factors in.”

Most people give up those fanciful dreams and accept the received values, tastes, and activities of society to define their life.  They find a tribe or group to identify with (often sold by the media) and then emulate those opinions, tastes, and values.   But they don’t renew or inspire, because they can’t.  They came from someone else.  Renewal later in life compels shifting goals from the extrinsic (money, status) to the intrinsic.  Unless some kind of lightning bolt from the Pollyanna’s Secret hits me, I probably won’t write a number 1 best seller, so it behooves me to focus on inner goals for satisfaction and achievement.  But inner goals are inherently squishy, so I look for metrics to confirm I’m succeeding, but not for fame or money, but to confirm I reach people.  I still want achievement, just like back in the career days, but of a different kind.

Occasionally, a certain mood descends on me.  Recently, I woke up at 3 am and stared at the ceiling.  Thoughts bombarding the stillness:  What is the point in writing and publishing?  Who really cares?  Later that day, I went to my local non-chain coffee house and looked out the big picture window and watched people in business attire scurrying around.  I once played that role and quit when the suit became too small for my soul.  I don’t want to go back, but keeping on the path of renewal and reinvention isn’t easy either.

I’ve achieved a lot of my inner and outer goals since retiring (art exhibition, publishing three books, Victoria Falls, getting up late every day, and more), but not all.  Some goals elude me. I either don’t have the perseverance (learning guitar) or the courage to start over (move to the tropics).  I still have a bucket list, but at times the will to pursue disappears.  Then it is time to renew and like this season, autumn, let the dead bury the dead.  As this season demonstrates, leaves fall and a new cycle begins.

Reinventing takes work and like a job requires time, effort, and maintenance to sustain it.  I chronicled my initial reinvention journey in Living the Dream Deferred and at times it was tough, at least as tough as advancement in my original career in education.  Now that I’ve been into it for a few years, I can report that real re-inventors are few. Most retirees settle into some long time leisure interest and occasional volunteer work, traveling, or continue their original career.  For brave or crazy few that strike out into the brave, new world, it is an on-going process.

Real reinvention demands courage, creativity, and commitment–courage to take risks, creativity to find your own path, and commitment to mission.  But different from the first half of life, my goals have become more intrinsic, less extrinsic.  The extrinsic markers, (in my case; sell a few books, get some hits on the website) don’t sustain without an underlying purpose or mission.

Courage is not about being fearless or getting rid of fear.   It takes heart to pursue a dream and look silly, stupid, bad and then get up and do it again.  As the renowned teacher Osho says, “Courage does not guarantee you get what you want, but you WILL grow.” In my life, I’ve always welcomed the excitement of the unknown whether traveling to foreign countries or transferring to a new job—the novelty effect.  Courage opens the door to learn new stuff, meet new friends.   In other words—grow.


A crowd

Expression Is Liberation Reception 2009

Creativity works symbiotically with courage.   We’re all creative all the time, albeit usually unconsciously.  But a consciously creative life fulfills a deep longing.  I never knew how much I wanted to express myself creatively, until on a whim I took a painting class and experienced the joy of thought-free expression.  After a few years of painting abstracts, I was invited to have a show of my work.  (Don’t get too impressed, the venue was a hair salon).  Rummaging for a title to the show it hit me, what does painting do for me?  Liberation.  When painting I break out of my constant stream of thoughts, and give form to feelings without words.  I called the exhibit Expression As Liberation.  If I can do it anyone can.  I have zero natural talent in painting.


Creativity provides an intrinsic reward.  When I focus on writing or painting, time flies.  Neurotic fears and anxieties fade and the muse/ creative flows.  And once awakened, the muse doesn’t like to go back in the bottle.  The muse can be a jealous lover.  At times inner resistance arises and I miss several days writing and my mood goes south.  On the other hand, when the muse has had her due; the traffic doesn’t bother me so much, the cloudy day doesn’t seem so dreary, and I expect good news from those I encounter.

Sustaining creative endeavors at any time takes commitment, but even more for older individuals who learn slower.   After the thrill of ‘beginner mind’ expression wears off, even minor intrinsic goals of progress often elude the older learner. How does one persevere through the inevitable doubt and failure?  I found it helps, when the form of expression lies embedded in my early years.


Former high school principal seeking  freedom


In my twenties, I wanted to change the world through writing investigative exposes like Woodward and Bernstein, but quit writing (except for the occasional barroom poem) due to the profession’s inherent instability.  Five years ago I picked up my poetry again, did some open-mikes and eventually published.  The creative wheels greased, I then pontificated on local politics from my blog SM Babylon.  My blog exploring reinvention, Living the Dream Deferred, followed.  Now, when my commitment fades, I remember my young and idealistic self who wanted to change the world through writing, and then put hands to keyboard.

As a youth I imagined freedom would be behind the wheel of a Formula One car.  The road course of life has taken me through many detours, dark tunnels, and box canyons, even now in post-career life.  Dead-ends may slow me down, but I don’t stop.   Freedom is an inside job with outside activities.  If a roadblock appears then I make a pit stop for support and recovery, then get back in the race.  The power to persist comes from deep seated, sometimes unconscious passions, desires, and talents.  I regularly ask myself:  Can I self-validate?  What are my intrinsic goals and values?  How do I detach from external pressures?

Retirement from the career world is a chance to reinvent, maybe take on a new identity, and rekindle the flame of life.   Dig down and release your creativity, find the courage to experiment, and make the commitment to cross the river to renewal.

Categories: Creative Expression, Reinvention | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trading Missile Silos for Thatched Roofs: Gary Miller of Placencia, Belize (Reinvention)

Barefoot Bar Placencia

Barefoot  Bar, Plascencia, Beliz

Scratch, scratch and then silence. Mysterious sounds on the aluminum roofing punctuated our first night in Belize. No more white noise of car traffic and ear-drum blasting by over head private jets, we had arrived. Picked up at the airstrip by the proprietor of Miller’s Landing Eco-Resort in his old, gray, no a/c pick up, we shared the place with a German couple, a big dog, and the owner/ builder/ operators— the Millers.

Raised in the shadow of Vandenberg AFB, Gary Miller has engineering in his DNA. Growing up in Santa Maria, California, the protests that roiled the college campuses in the mid Sixties didn’t penetrate this town about three hours north of Los Angeles. Even these days in Santa Maria, pick-up trucks far out-number the BMWs, Audis, Mercedes, and Porsches typically seen in West LA. Down home conservative, my country right-or-wrong values in these parts.

Drafted into military service in Vietnam, Gary returned to the war-weary, fast-life 70s America that has frequently been documented in films and stories. But eschewing the anti-Establishment attitude of the day, Gary Miller attended UC Santa Barbara and received a degree in engineering, a rarity in the70’s. The counter-culture of rock and roll eventually got under his skin and he found himself  living in the fast lane in LA. He found work as a recording engineer for performers like Ike and Tina Turner and Chicago and soon was burning the proverbial candle at both ends. Fueled by the ever present drugs and big money he frequently worked 24 hours in a stretch. He eventually hit the wall after he almost got killed through-no-fault of his own in a moment of road rage on the San Diego Fwy. Heeding that clear warning that his life was out of control, he returned to aerospace with Rocket-Dyne. From then on his engineering career took off with positions of increasing importance posting at a variety of military sites around the country.

But as is common in aerospace, he endured periodic lay-offs between contracts. One of those lay-offs changed his life’s course. Taking a promotion with a firm working on missiles on Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands, something shifted. Gary found the peace of tropical islands. All went well for several years, until a dispute with a superior and a dream began to take form.

Feeling fed up with the usual constraints of institutional jobs like military contractors, he decided to quit and take his retirement savings and build and run a resort on a tropical island. First he planned to stay in the Marshall Islands, but nixed that when he learned that foreigners may not buy land. He and his wife (who was a sea captain in the Marshalls) took a tour of the Caribbean and tried out several islands, but nothing fit until he got to Placencia.

Placencia is a small, but growing village in the south of the Central American country of Belize. Belize’s biggest resort areas are Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, which specialize in the pseudo-idyllic island vibe common to destination tourist resorts. Placencia doesn’t have any of that comfort seeking ersatz paradise vibe.  Yet!

Needless to say  I went in the back door

I used the back  door, Plascencia, Belize

But like many tropical places I’ve visited, it is poised for a big blow out with stone-still boat marinas and super modern, luxury villas and moored yachts, but very few patrons. A kind of ghost town in reverse, not old and empty, it is new and empty. The village itself houses several souvenir shops specializing in over-priced Mayan textiles and conch shell jewelry. Progress has made an appearance with a juice bar on the waterfront and one coffee bar with a sardonic sign that says, ‘Hippies go around the back.’ A few restaurants, guest houses, car / golf kart rental, and banks mark Placencia’s status as an up and coming tourist town. Serving traveler’s needs, but not in excess, it reminds me of quaint places I visited thirty years ago (Caye Caulker among them); casual and comfortable but ruined when the cruise ships arrive. Let’s hope that sordid fate never falls on Placencia.

But Gary Miller is ready, if it does. He and his wife bought prime-ocean fronting acreage and built their resort, long before the coffee lounge with the vituperative sign and the yoga massage offered in Francis Ford Coppola’s chic, low-rise hotel. Being an engineer, Gary designed all of the buildings and the pool and did much of the hammer swinging. Simple, yet comfortable with the necessities, Miller’s Landing, stands out as an old school tropical resort—family run and owned, small, friendly, and quiet. The loudest sound is the leaves scrapping on the aluminum roofing at night.

Rhino on the spot

The Millers & the author

Over twenty years ago Gary reinvented: Freed from the pressure of supervisors and bureaucrats, he spends a lot of time pondering how to improve his kingdom. Challenges abound other than the obvious, attracting customers and fulfilling their petty needs. While we were there a new visitor came into the restaurant with an insect in a paper cup and asked Gary, “I found this thing running around the room. What is it? I’ve never seen anything like it.” Miller gazed at the creature in the cup, about one inch in length, and said, “That is a cockroach. It won’t hurt you. They are common in the tropics.” Being from Silicon Valley in California, the young man had never seen a cockroach. I guess they hide out from the techies.

Trials and tribulations are inevitable with such a radical reinvention: About ten years ago, the whole resort was submerged in a hurricane. Fortunately, it did not blow down but everything was under water and required replacing or major cleaning. A Mennonite friend of Gary’s rebuilt the place—for free. And before the next high season they were up and running.  The power of community.

With major problems like the hurricane and minor problems like keeping the sewage working, quitting and going back the ‘civilization’ can be tempting. About five years after leaving aerospace, his old employer called and offered him a job with a promotion at double his old salary. What to do? Quit the dream and go back to the pressurized life of an aerospace engineer and make big money, or keep stepping forward living his dream?

Demonstrating commitment to his reinvention, Gary Miller said to the military contractor—No thanks. These days he spends a lot of time reflecting on improvements to his resort, fixing rum punches for pseudo-adventurous tourists, and playing guitar at the weekly open-mike bar called ‘Pigs in the Wind.’  I asked Gary if he plans to return to California: He declared, “I only go there when I have to, like my mother’s funeral about five years ago.”

Our era offers almost unlimited of options of how and where to live, but moves like Gary’s require awareness, courage, and perseverance. And for Gary Miller it includes dealing with naïve tourist encounters with wild animals and apolcalyptic hurricanes. Getting out of LA and checking places like Placencia reminded me that reinvention wears many costumes.

Categories: Reinvention | Tags: , , ,

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