Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Gentler Stroke for Swim Coach Shoulberg

Shoulberg coaching in 2001. Courtesy Philadelphia Inquirer
For those of us who know the anger and hurt of a demeaning end to a productive career, the news today from Germantown Academy is a relief.

Acclaimed swim coach Dick Shoulberg, 74, will come back in a new role, as "Coach Emeritus," before retiring in spring 2015.  His sudden departure from his top coach job this fall -- announced through an email to parents -- had stunned the nation's competitive swimming community and spurred a national letter-writing campaign. As of this morning 1621 people had signed a petition to have him reinstated. 

According to Swimming World, which obtained a copy of the letter issued by head master Jim Conner,
"Both Coach Shoulberg and GA feel it is unfortunate that during this transitional period, when we have been sorting out the logistics of his new role, certain inaccurate information has circulated both within and outside the GA community."  
If a rumored incident involving rude behavior or worse between two students was to blame, no one is talking right now. 
The full letter can be read here. And stories in the Philadelphia Inquirer, here and here.
I find it scandalous that companies and institutions that now usher departing employees out of the office within seconds of their dismissal and cut off their email haven't figured out how to treat with respect those employees who gave their creative and intellectual energy -- and their total allegiance -- to them for decades.
Recently, a friend of mine suffered the humiliating "escort" and email lockdown after 13 years of devoted and energetic service to Columbia University's School of Journalism. Academic institutions seem to be following the harsh footsteps of corporate America.
No wonder younger generations feel little-to-no commitment to their employers. 
No good deed goes unpunished.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Hot Time with Sweet Potatoes

What do baked sweet potatoes on a cold winter day have to do with retirement? Not much, really.
Except, perhaps, for the opportunity for a good laugh.
That comes via someone I connected with through my blog. She is the author of "The Frugal Scholar" blog and I learned about her when, some time ago, I decided to volunteer in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans while my husband attended a meeting there. The Frugal Scholar, as you might have guessed, is an academic. She and her academic husband are still working, but with frozen salaries and the threat of job eliminations, she is determined to pinch pennies.
And so, on a chilly New Orleans day, this is what she did.
Anyone have some good sweet potato recipes?

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Pissing Match at an Elite Private School

The truth is slowly emerging surrounding the removal of famed swim coach Dick Shoulberg after 44 years at his post at Germantown Academy, outside Philadelphia. An incident two years ago between two teenage boys appears to underlie Shoulberg's leave for "personnel" reasons. It's alleged that one youth urinated on the other. Not surprisingly, the boys reportedly still don't get along. How Shoulberg, a coach to numerous Olympic athletes, handled the matter is still not clear. The Philadelphia Inquirer tonight posted a more complete story.

For previous blogs on the developing story:

Swim Coach Story is Not Yet Over

Pressure is building to reinstate in some fashion Dick Shoulberg, the nationally renowned, much-loved swim coach at Germantown Academy, whose dismissal this fall became public in the last few days.  It had to come out. Too many people are upset. On Nov. 26, just before Thanksgiving, GA held a very private, closed- door, meeting with parents of swimmers who were outraged by Shoulberg's leaving.
"They had a meeting because the kids were so upset. They love this guy," one parent of a high school swimmer coached by Shoulberg told me today. The school has been "absolutely unfair to him." Shoulberg is "one of the "biggest influences in my daughter's life. My daughter is getting heavily recruited because of him."

According to this parent, those at the meeting "ripped" the current head of this prestigious private school. And some of them are very influential people in the Philadelphia community.
What triggered this fiasco? According to this parent, it was a verbal student-on-student hazing incident that Shoulberg reported "up the line." And while there was a "gentleman's agreement" for Shoulberg to come back, that's been mired in lawyer-speak, apparently.
Is this version of events true? I have no idea.
Meanwhile, a letter writing campaign in support of Shoulberg has launched, some of which appears on the website Chuck Connor, former president of the American Swimming Coaches Association writes with passion of his long connection to Shoulberg.
"What I find so unique about how Dick Shoulberg does his work, and lives his life, is that he is an open book. He can be abrupt and perhaps you are feeling challenged by this. His emotions are worn on his sleeve. I’ve seen him tremble and cry in embarrassment over receiving yet another national award, and generate a similar emotion calling his wife to tell her of the achievements of your students. I’ve watched him greet your students for swim classes with a booming voice that shakes them. And they love it."
It's had nearly 1,000 "likes."
Clearly, age plays a role in the outrage. I'm not sure how to parse it exactly. Shoulberg -- at "74 1/2," as he puts it -- is clearly an "elder" in the way that Indian societies used the word: revered, deserving of respect, wise. Many still want to sit at his feet (or in the pool) to learn from his lifetime of experience and success. 
Perhaps GA will find a way through this public relations disaster to figure that out.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Is Acclaimed Swim Coach Dick Shoulberg at the Finish Line?

Richard Shoulberg
Dick Shoulberg has had a long and storied career as a swim coach. As the Philadelphia Inquirer reported today, over four decades at Germantown Academy, he “sent 16 swimmers to the Olympics, coached U.S. teams, centered two halls of fame, and won five national coaching awards.”
And now he’s suddenly out.  
For no other reason, he says, than age and speaking his mind.

“I haven’t done anything wrong, other than being 74 ½ and looking people in the eye and telling them, ‘You’re wrong,’” Shoulberg is quoted as saying.
Claire Crippen stepping in for former coach Shoulberg
We don’t know Germantown Academy’s side of the story. School officials emailed parents recently saying others would be coaching this year.  The head of the Fort Washington, Pa. school told the Inquirer, it was a "personnel issue," that Shoulberg was placed on administrative leave. Maybe the school wants to give Claire Crippen, named one of two acting coaches to replace Shoulberg, a chance for the limelight. She’s a champion University of Virginia swimmer in her own right, former captain of their team. Her sister Maddy was a 2000 Olympian. Another sister, Teresa, nearly made the 2012 Olympic swim team. And her famed brother, Fran, tragically drowned in 2011 during an international race in the too-warm waters of the United Arab Emirates.
All the Crippen siblings grew up coached by Dick Shoulberg, so for Claire to step into his shoes must be a decision rife with conflicting emotions.
Maybe Shoulberg is no longer at the top of his game. It happens. Or maybe he really ticked someone off.
Still, is there no place for the role of “elder” for such a man, one widely regarded by his protégées as a father figure, a “class act,” a man who “changed me as a person in addition to a swimmer.”
Shoulberg says he has asked Germantown Academy if he could come back as “coach emeritus and only help if needed.” Even teaching preschoolers. “My life is not just coaching world-class athletes. It’s teaching all aspects of aquatics,” he says.
The school this morning said it was an issue it hoped to resolve soon.
Whether or not news stories raising questions about Shoulberg’s departure change the course of anything, we know one thing for sure:
It is harder to pick up the pieces of a long career and move forward when the leaving is so bitter.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

On Her Tractor: Wisty Sows New Jobs

Wisty Rorabacher: Working to create work

At a children's Halloween party in Northampton, Mass, the only two women of a certain age gravitate towards each other.
I like how Wisty Rorabacher is dressed – plaid shirt, corduroy overalls and a brown tweed  British newsboy cap. Our conversation is as relaxed – and as surprising – as she looks. Because Wisty has accomplished something in her so-called retirement that, in two years of interviewing people,  I had not found:
Wisty has created jobs. She puts a lie to the idea that older people are draining the nation financially and taking jobs from the young. In fact, she’s done the opposite. How?
Six years ago, Wisty found herself, like a lot of retired people, moving to be closer to a son and daughter-in-law. She and her longtime partner arrived in Greenfield, Mass. from the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, with no jobs, no friends, no history, no connections.
 “Part of it was, I just retired. I don’t have 20 years to slowly make friends.  I had to hit the pavement. And I decide I’m going to do something, right here, right now. I really wanted to work on being physically healthy. So I joined the Y and worked out three hours, three days a week there. You gain friends in the locker room. Women didn’t used to do that, But you get your locker room friends. So there were those people.
“I really wanted to get involved in the community.” Greenfield “is like 18,000 people and if you want to get involved, you get involved. One of the things I read about Greenfield before I moved was that there was a national sustainable energy organization. I called them up and said, ‘I’ll do whatever you want. I’ll help out.’
Plowing Greenfield's community garden
“They had some gardens in their solar park. They needed someone to work those gardens. I had just come off the land in Arkansas. I know how to garden and I missed it. So they gave me the best gift and they were thrilled to find somebody who felt good about doing that.”
“Meanwhile,” she continued, “I was meeting all these people in the sustainable energy community. So I got onto some committees on energy.  One thing led to another and it was real easy to start an identity from being active in that community.”

Soon, she was helping to pull in federal and state grant money and large donations for the community farm to sustain open space and grow crops for local residents.  Low-income families pay just $5 a week. And she was garnering press for Greenfield Community Garden, driving a tractor, plowing 20 acres of the 60-acre tract that she’d helped preserve in perpetuity. Suddenly, there were jobs to be filled: a full time farmer, a full time person who does education, an executive director and assistant director to oversee media and volunteer work. Others are hired seasonally, including an apprentice who helps weed and harvest and work in the farmers market.
If that weren’t enough, Wisty, who spent her career in education – teaching special ed and early childhood education in Minnesota and then gifted students in Arkansas--also is creating jobs in the Greenfield public schools.
In a permaculture gardening class, she met a woman who wanted to get YMCA members to volunteer in the public schools. “Nancy said, ‘How bout if we work together on it?’ Wisty recalled.  “So we made a proposal; the superintendent liked it and asked us to run with it, so we did. It quickly became apparent that we needed to hire somebody” to coordinate the volunteers.
“It was one of those things in a smallish community, if you see a need and you can show that you’re reliable,  responsible, you’re gonna follow through, then people will give you leeway. And it happened.”

Next for Wisty:  Her work to tie the community farm program into the schools, with students coming out to the farm and educational programs, got her doing some research. She found that none of the agricultural courses in the state’s tech or vocational schools focused on small organic farming, despite growing demand. She’s now intent on creating such a program with the high school.
“If that happens, “ she says, “it will open up more jobs.”
Wisty told me all this because I asked. She doesn’t usually wear her accomplishments on her overalls that way, even though those who’ve left careers often yearn to be acknowledged.
“One of the things that I learned to treasure,” she says, “ is to just walk around with that knowledge myself. Maybe nobody else has a clue about [what I’m doing] but it’s like part of the whole of me. You know what I mean?”

Friday, November 22, 2013

Looking for Work?

Project Renewment's Helen Dennis (center)
Looking for work? Here are some tips from columnist Helen Dennis, who launched the Project Renewment movement and recently attended a conference entitled "Work@50."
Among the issues she addresses:  the value of skills vs. experience; the importance of a strong CV vs a cover letter (likely not read); and the need for perseverance, perseverance.
Considering that the U.S. government reported that it took about 49 weeks before a workers age 55 and older could find another job last summer, perseverance is key.

Here's her article.
And here are other job hunting resources she recommends:
Life Reimagined
AARP's job search link.
Career Builder
Retired Brains 
And while she doesn't list it, know that LinkedIn offers a great way to connect to jobs through your longtime network of friends and associates. Many people say that the only way they get interviews these days is by someone putting in a word for them. That's how LinkedIn works. Even though you may not know someone at the company you'd like to work at, a friend of a friend might  know someone or even work there. (That would be a 2nd degree connection on LinkedIn, which takes you out as far as 3d degree connections).
Employers also troll LinkedIn for people with certain skills, so spend some time loading up your profile.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Sue Carson: An Intention to Love

Finding focus, finding depth: Sue Carson

Sue Carson and I went out for a cup of coffee and, let me tell you, it was no ordinary cup of coffee. For a very moving reason that I’ll explain later in this blog, Sue is determined to go through the rest of her life not just mindful of others, but connecting with others. Indeed, she is working on what she calls an “intention to love.”
It may sound corny to you, but that may be because there's fear and risk in opening yourself up to such an extent. And vulnerability.   
But back to our coffee. We stop in at a little shop and Sue doesn’t just order.  She talks with the young woman behind the counter. She engages her. She looks her in the eye. She finds a way to connect.
Why? Because Sue has learned that such small gestures can lead down paths never imagined. Paths you never had time for when you worked fulltime.
“When you’re so engaged in full-force throttle and into a job where you’re getting there at 7 in the morning and your to-do list on your plate is never clean, you don’t have time," she explains. "You don’t have time to have those small interchanges. I think that that’s the real beauty of that gift  of time. The smallest thing can become so significant and that’s what I’m really beginning to realize every day. That the smallest gestures are not just little things."
Late in her mother’s life, small gestures transformed their relationship, after decades in which Sue had felt resentment and anger. After her father’s sudden death when Sue was in college, her mom “became the lady in black,” depressed. Sue transferred home and, she explained, “I ended up being her care giver.” After college, Sue fled to Europe for two years, but “I ended up coming home to be with my mother and I would always say -- and I know it’s terrible -- when my mother’s not here, I’m free to go, to run. I always felt she was my anchor and I resented it. So we had a very tumultuous kind of relationship. I never really let her love me. I was always pushing back. I always had this anger thing that never let me hug or kiss her and be warm with her, though I saw her all the time.”
Fast forward. Her mom is in her 90s and dying. And Sue is complaining to a friend: “I have to be there all the time. She doesn’t feel good. She’s not nice to me. She yells at me… Same thing as when I was a kid. I can’t do anything right in her mind.”
Her friend tells a story of her own mother’s death and suggests that Sue “go to her house, rub her feet, wash her legs. Make her feel better. Show her how much you love her. You’ve been taking care of her all this time and never feeling love but it’s coming from love. Have it recognized.”
Sue continues, “I drove over to my mom’s house that day and I sat on the bed with my mother and I was rubbing her legs. She kind of just melted into me touching her. That evolved to me crawling in bed with her, with her head against me.”
Soon, she says, her anger, too, melted away. Their relationship shifted.  “I truly, truly, began to love her.”
After her mom died (during a night when Sue held her in her arms belting out show tunes), a vision came to Sue at the end of a particularly meditative yoga class, with a live singer.
“Her song took me somewhere,” Sue said, her eyes welling up over our now cold coffee. “I was on a hill, the wind was blowing, my hair was blowing, there were warm breezes. It was a dreamy kind of a state. And on the top of the hill was my mom. I was walking toward her, carefree, like in a dance.
"Afterwards I was just crying, I was just so moved. I thought how grateful I was that I really learned what love was at this moment. And how sad it was that I lived for 59 years with my mom and I never walked over to her with those open arms. Ever. And it made me really sad.
“I asked myself, ‘If I did this with my mother, where else am I doing it? Maybe I’m doing it with my children, maybe I’m doing it with my husband.’ When I really began to look at it, I was. I was pushing everybody away. I’m the strong person who doesn’t need anything. I didn’t let people do for me. I only would do for somebody else. I had to be the knight on the shining horse for everyone and I realized that I was keeping people at arm’s length and I decided at that moment that I was going to really work at opening up to love. 
"I decided I would be a more loving, devoted person, particularly to [my husband] John.  Because I realize he’s my core. He’s who I’m with.  If I can love him more, that’s the place to begin.
“Some days are easier than others. Some days are hard. But there’s this huge change and shift in my relationship with him.
"Because as I’ve worked to be more giving, less judgmental, more mindful… not rolling my eyes, letting him be who he is without trying to change him. it’s just opening up so many doors. My relationship with my kids. My relationship with my friends. I’m really trying to be here. I’m really trying to stop the chatter that takes me to places I don’t want to go. You don’t change overnight. That’s for sure. It’s bit by bit and piece by pieces. We’re all works in progress. Again because I have time, I have the ability to contemplate. [In my job] I was too filled and absorbed with columns and numbers and deadlines and have-tos and to-do's. I never had time. I now have the moment to pause, to ponder what I did and didn’t do with my life. I was just doing it. I was on autopilot.
I love that I’m not doing that now.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Grandparenting: Truly, A 'Next Great Thing'

Over the last two years, I've talked about the transition of dozens of people out of their careers to "the next great thing."  There are questions about identity, the hurt of being fired, being too busy (rarely not busy enough), getting out of sync with a still-full-time-working spouse, finding new adventures, and learning to say no to the many ideas and offers that bubble your way. And much much more.
What I've barely written about is the Greatest Next Thing that most of us wish for -- or cherish if we are lucky enough to already have it. The elephant in the room. Namely, grandkids. Perhaps almost subconsciously,  I've largely avoided touching on the grandparent role, though I now have four delicious grands, including one born just 8 months ago. Why has it been such a small part of this blog, yet such a big part of our lives?
I think because self-identifying as a grandparent is an admission of age. And also a window into the soft side of ourselves, the side that is not striving for an independent identity, continually on a path of discovery. Yet grandparenting, especially for those who step in on a regular basis, requires tremendous energy, as I discovered and did write about -- once -- in  Grandmalympics earlier this year.
For now, here is a wonderful essay by Sally Friedman, a writer who is tackling the deeper meaning of grandparenting and its own challenges. For instance, relating to children and young adults who are two generations behind you, especially when the buffer generation of their parents (your children) is not present.
Enjoy her insights and wisdom.
And let me know your thoughts on the challenges and self-discovery grandparenting brings and how to balance time with grandkids with time for yourself, to pursue other ventures.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A New Survey: Work is Us

Here's an astounding statistic from a new survey on work after age 55:

"By 2020, an estimated one fourth of American workers will be 55 or older, up from 19 percent in 2010."
Which, of course, raises all kinds of questions. If one-fourth of workers are 55 or older, are they valued for the work they're doing? Is their wisdom and experience being put to good use? Are they being forced out of their jobs? And when do they really want to retire? 
In the just-published survey by the AP-NORC Center for Public Research, some of what I've been writing about in the last two years is quantified. 
This chart, showing the rising age of retirement,  from the report ("Working Longer, Older Americans Attitudes on Work and Retirement") says a lot: 

Here are a few nuggets from this phone survey of more than 1,000 people age 50 and over.
On feeling valued -- or devalued:
54 percent of retirees under age 65 feel they had no choice but to retire compared with 23 percent of retirees 65 or over.

 * 20 percent of people 50 or older say they have personally experienced prejudice or discrimination because of their age in the job market or at work since turning 50, including being passed over for a raise, promotion, or chance to get ahead; receiving certain unwanted assignments; or being denied access to training or the opportunity to acquire new skills because of their age.

* Having an older or a younger boss makes a big difference in how you see your value. 
Thirty-nine percent of people who have a boss older than themselves consider age an asset to their careers compared with 20 percent who have younger bosses. And those with older bosses are more likely to report that they feel they have the respect of the company, are more likely to get desirable assignments, and that their experience is valued by colleagues, who turn to them for advice.

 *But a majority -- 62 percent of adults age 50 and older -- say their age is not or was not an issue in their work life and career. However, that response varied with their occupation. Those who work or worked in professional services are most likely to consider their age an asset (28 percent) compared to those who worked in  sales, retail or clerical (13 percent). Very few of those in construction, manufacturing, and farming felt age was an asset.  

* Age is a major factor in the technology industry, where 42 percent of those 50 and older considered age a liability to their career. 

On working for pay:
*Among those who are working and not yet retired, 47 percent say it is very likely or extremely likely that they will do some work for pay during their retirement and another 35 percent say it is somewhat likely. Only 10 percent say it is not too likely and only 7 percent say it is not at all likely that they will work for pay during retirement. 
(Note, nearly 40% of those surveyed said that not counting pensions and Social Security, they only have $100,000 or less in savings and investments stashed away for retirement -- so work, for them, may be critical.)

*Half of Americans 50 and older report that most or almost all of their friends and family members who are around their age are still working.

On the joy of working: 
*90 percent of those who are working and not yet retired report that they are somewhat or very satisfied with their jobs.

On delaying retirement:
* In the five years before the Great Recession starting in 2008, the average reported retirement age was 57; since then it's risen to 62. 

On the mental aspects of work:
* 18 percent of workers age 50 and older say it is much more or somewhat more difficult to
complete the mental aspects of their job compared with when they were younger, 30 percent say it is much or somewhat easier, and 51 percent say it is about the same.

On being "old."
Finally, the survey explored the definition of "old." As I've written before in "A Rant on What You Should Call Me," calling someone "old" is a fraught.
While on average, adults 50 and older think a person becomes old at 71.5 years, that idea vanishes the closer you get to it. Only 15 percent of those 65 and older agree that that's "old." And those with more money think "old" is further and further away.

Here's the full report.