Planning for Future Decades

Of course, I could be dead tomorrow.  Hopefully this won’t happen.  I’m so hopeful, in fact, that I think about the future as though I’ll be around for 2-3 decades.  Imagine being around for another 20-30 years.  Wow.  What on earth will I do with that time, if I’m lucky enough that it materializes?  What would you do with that time if it were there for you?

Well, I currently have my Tapas Life, which you’ve read about in this blog.  It’s quite full with Family, Start-up, Exercise/Sports, Friends, Board, Piano, LifeCoaching, Volunteering, Home, Cooking, Finances, Wine, Travel, Learning, writing about the Tapas Life, and more.  And I periodically wonder whether it will be up to the challenge of keeping myself vital until near the end.  This is a combination of wishing to not be a burden to kids and of wishing to live an engaging life.

I find it fathomable that some of these Tapas will run out of gas over time, gradually diminishing.  I don’t imagine that my work at a start-up will continue more than another few years:  either it’ll be a success or it won’t, and that’ll be that.  I imagine that the amount of far-flung travel my wife and I have been enjoying will be more difficult to carry off over time:  will we still want to take 17-hour flights with 12-hour time changes, and then walk 10-12 miles/day at our destination — even when we’re in our 80s?  Probably not.  I’d like to think we’ll still be going to Paris for a few weeks or months now and then, but we might not find ourselves walking from the Luxembourg Gardens to the Bois de Boulogne and back like we do today.  Likewise, Board work and Volunteering (unless it takes some new form) are likely to decrease for me over the coming decade, as my interest in same is waning.

The rest of my Tapas Life, I hope will remain intact, especially the “anchor tenants” of Family, Friends, Exercise, and Learning.  And, for better of for worse, I’ll still be working on Finances every month, willy nilly.  Lest I starve or die of thirst, best to hang on to Cooking and Wine, as well!

I’ve been pondering what main activities might have the “legs” to last decades, along with the anchors.  In a sense, this is trying to foresee what my life might look like, or more to the point, what I want my life to look like over the next 2-3 decades.  Three main activities resonate for me.

First, piano.  I’ve gotten to the point where I can play the piano well enough that it is really a rewarding activity.  This is especially the case because I’m now able to play pretty difficult stuff — and this is music I love.  OK, I’m certainly not professional nor within a country mile.  But I’m good enough that now my drive to learn more is accelerating.  I’ve lately started to entertain the idea that I will seek out a way to earn a music/piano degree over the coming decade, maybe getting started in a couple years as some other Tapas dwindle.  I sure as hell don’t want to go back into Psych101 or Freshman English, so I’m hoping I can work something out (Stanford would be ideal, or perhaps the Conservatory in San Francisco) where I can just take all the music and piano courses:  Theory, Composition, Appreciation and the like.  Truthfully, I haven’t yet investigated what such a path would entail, but I know I want to get in deeper. I want to better understand what my favorite composers were doing within a given piece, so I can find the hidden fullness of the music and bring that out at the keyboard.

Second, LifeCoaching.  This meaningful Tapa of mine is one which benefits from experience.  It seems very likely that I can be doing this for at least another couple decades, assuming the universe continues to bring me clients as it so helpfully has.  Moreover, it is an activity that can be titrated in line with need:  one can have more or less clients as suits the circumstances of the moment.

Third, maybe French.  This is really Learning and Travel wrapped together.  My wife and I love Paris and hope to enjoy chunks of time there for many years.  So I’m contemplating getting serious about becoming reasonably fluent in French.  I can read it decently now, and speak enough to handle the quotidian basics, but can’t understand the spoken language much at all, and am a long way from speaking it well.  This, too, is an activity that can continue to be engaging and can continue yielding pleasure for decades.  My wife studied French for many years, and is surreptitiously fluent;  so my pursuing French fluency is something that we can work on together, which is fun.

Don’t know if these things will come to pass, but they inhabit my musings these days.

What’s your thinking about the decades that you’re rolling into???  If you lay it out, you can live it.  If you don’t, you can just experience life as it comes at you.



This evening I gave my first public presentation on the Tapas Life.  This necessitated putting together a PowerPoint deck, which I do with pretty much all photos — not a bunch of text slides.  After the 6th draft, it was almost there, and then I chewed on it for about a week before tonight, tweaking here and there, changing the order of a slide, and so on.  And the feedback is that the session went well.  At my wife’s suggestion, I included a couple of activities for the attendees, and this got folks engaged with the topic from the get-go.  I was a good public speaker while in my long career, but haven’t done that in over 10 years.  It was good to find out that I haven’t forgotten how!

My second speaking event is on September 10th, and I’ll be working to line up a steady stream of these.  It’s all part of getting the word out about the Tapas Life, so people can realize that there’s a new type of life that can be assembled and lived fully and richly.  Getting the word out, as you may recall, culminates in a book, with some magazine articles along the way.  And hopefully lots of speaking engagements.  My talk is an hour long, including the activities and a bit of Q&A — if you know a group that might enjoy having me in, please put me in touch with them.  Thanks.

A benefit of the talk tonight is that I got some feedback — and it’s always helpful to get feedback.  A couple of people were talking and had an “Aha!” moment when they realized that at-home parents (mostly women) who become Empty-Nesters are in many ways in the same boat as people completing their long careers.  In fact, these parents have completed their own form of long career:  raising children — likely 20+ years worth.

How many times have you come across a parent who’s been primary caregiver to kids for a couple decades who is thoroughly lost when the youngest heads off to college?  A friend was in town a couple months ago and he said his wife is exactly there —  no idea what to do with herself.

Indeed, this is a demographic group for whom the Tapas Life is a wonderful possibility.  Just as the person at the end of any long career, they can decompress, catch up, introspect and figure out who they are after all these years, what their identity might be going forward, what they value, what makes them happy, and what they want out of their remaining decades of life.  And they may have more life left, too, because they may be closer to 50 than to 65.

They’re numerous, too.  There are over 5 million at-home moms (less than 200 thousand at-home dads) in the U.S.  And over half of them are over 35 years old.  This seems to me to be the pool of folks who will need to figure out what to do as Empty-Nesters.

Of course, some will need or want to find full-time work, either in the for-profit world or the non-profit world.

Others are excellent candidates for assembling themselves a Tapas Life.  (Which may well include part-time work of some sort.)

If you know people who are in the neighborhood of the challenging transition that attends becoming an Empty-Nester, please have them peruse this blog to become acquainted with the Tapas Life concept and to find some ideas about how to get started (e.g., Do Something You Like).  In fact, I started my quasi-random walk to my own Tapas Life (without knowing I was doing that) when I myself became an Empty-Nester, after being a housedad for 5 years (which in turn came after my long career).  I guess what they say is true:  necessity is the mother of invention.


p.s.:  My wife and I formed an Empty-Nester dinner group with two other couples whose youngest had just gone off to college.  We got together for dinner every six weeks and shared notes about our experience, how things were going for our kids off in college, and life in general.  It was a very helpful support group for me while my Tapas Life gradually fell into place.  And it was a very helpful support group for my wife, notwithstanding that she was working full time.  If you’re an Empty-Nester or are soon to be one, you may want to consider such a thing, or a coffee group, or a dog-walking group, or whatever — just something to make that difficult transition a little easier.  A dividend is that we still get together with that group, just to enjoy each other’s company, six years later.


With folks waiting a little later in life to get married these days, there’s a good possibility that one parent, usually a Mom, will suspend or give up her career to be at home raising kids for 20+ years.  When she emerges on the other side of that invaluable calling, she is likely to be 47-57 years old.  And like the person who’s completed their long career, she has the opportunity to enjoy another 25-30+ energetic, productive, fulfilling years.

She has available to her whatever she knew before having kids as well as the extensive learning that comes from being a primary caregiver to sponge-like minds that are ever-changing.  And the seasoning that those intervening decades of life bring.

If she’s like my wife, she may have discovered an entirely new passion.  My wife was a big-time sales manager in the high-tech world before stepping into the even bigger-time world of raising our two kids.  Along the way, through volunteering at our local grade school, she discovered the world of Organization Development.  She had a lot of the needed skills (the so-called “soft skills,” which are actually the HARD skills!) innately and from her years as a manager.  And she went back to earn an M.A. and Ph.D. in the field, which prepared her for a whole new life — one she looooves!

Or she could be like a friend of ours who discovered career consulting/coaching and went back to school to receive a degree in that.  She now has her own business and is thriving, helping others, doing good in the world while feeding her soul.

Or a re-entering Mom maybe can’t wait to get back to the career she stepped out of, and is able to renew contacts (which may have been kept alive over the years) and jump back in.  After all, people of this stripe have a lot of energy and are raring to go and can make a really good addition to a team/organization.

On the other hand, another form of re-entry may well be a Tapas Life.  The empty-nester has the freedom to recreate her life from a blank page.

Maybe it’s a bit of work, whether for pay or as a volunteer.  How much is enough?  Half time?  One or two days a week?  A few hours here, a few hours there?  Hard to know without giving it a try.  Just go for it and see what feels right.

And maybe it’s some play!  A sport, a hobby, travel, the arts, doing fun stuff with the spouse.

Maybe some learning — always wanted to be able to speak Spanish, play piano, etc.

Maybe more socializing, having friends over more often, weekend getaways with close friends, meeting pals for coffee or tennis or a hike or a concert or a movie.

As with any Tapas Life being assembled, it is a process, it is a somewhat random walk, it is some trial and error.  Do something you want to and keep it if it’s tasty.  And then add something else.  By and by, perhaps after months or years (4-5 years, in my case, although I didn’t realize that what I was doing was building a Tapas Life, because nobody had yet illuminated the concept!), the Tapas Life is built.  Tapas can still be added and deleted at any time — lots of flexibility.  So one can continue tuning, overhauling, augmenting, attenuating — whatever’s needed at the moment.

After the incomparably wonderful role of raising kids, the Tapas Life can be a terrific and rewarding way to spring from the empty nest, and one hopefully envisioned and adopted by more as time goes by.

Journey to Retirement: Arriving at the Tapas Life Launchpad

Since around 30, I’ve always believed in pursuing what one wants in life, rather than waiting for it to show up.  After business school, this took me to Dallas in 1980, where the weather is warm (a want) and it seemed the economy would be growing.  It turned out that I had joined a weak company, a poor choice.  So I moved out to Silicon Valley in 1984, which was a much better choice, and enjoyed 18 years there in the microchip industry.

When I got married in 1985, my wife and I discussed and agreed on some life goals.  These include one that I’ll share with you now (and another I’ll share in a future post).

This particular life goal was that we both wanted to be breadwinners and we both wanted to be caregivers to the children we hoped we would have together.  We decided to live these roles serially.  Carole quit her job at a big tech firm as sales/marketing manager for a large region of the U.S.  We had kids and she stayed home with them, giving them what they needed.  When the kids were 13 and 15, we swapped roles:  I quit my job as Marketing VP at a big company and became an at-home dad;  Carole (who had gone back to school along the way and earned a PhD in Organization Behavior) became partner in an organization development consultancy.

It was informative how people reacted to this swap.  Carole’s friends wanted to know if I’d had a nervous breakdown.  People at the office wanted to know if I had cancer.  Fortunately, neither was the case.  We were merely executing the plan we’d set in place 17 years earlier.  But it was a window into how set people can be in their thinking.  Nothing could’ve been farther from people’s experience than a successful exec leaving the work world while earning well and with a bright worklife ahead.  That’s because there’s a sort of “normal” path to life, and that’s what people are used to and expect to see.

My agreement to swap roles with Carole was another instance of pursuing the life one wants, rather than waiting for it to show up.

Carole thrived back in the workplace, and I loved being a housedad.  The next five years brought a lot of life, in all of its forms.  And then our youngest went off to college.  I had achieved all the life goals I’d set for myself back in 1983 and now had no clue what to do next.  What on earth would I do next??

If you are approaching the end of a long career;  or if you have retired, you may have the same question:  What on earth will I do next??