Weekend Reads: Driveway Moments, Second Acts, and a Long-Lost Recipe
Not long ago, I found myself enjoying a “driveway moment” while listening to a wonderful story on the radio. Actually, it was more of a “garage moment:” I was so engrossed in a segment from The Moth Radio Hour on National Public Radio (NPR) that I sat in my car, keys in the ignition, until the episode finished.
For those of you who don’t know what a Moth story is, it is a true story, told live.
I happened to tune in as Cynthia Riggs began telling the story of “The Case of the Curious Codes” and her second acts: publishing her first murder mystery at the age of 70 (to date she has published 12 books in the Martha’s Vineyard Mystery series, featuring 92-year-old poet Victoria Trumbull) and reconnecting with an old friend more than 60 years after they first met. This time at the tender ages of 81 and 90, and only after she solved a cryptogram that had arrived, somewhat mysteriously, in the mail.
I happen to love stories about second acts — the starker the career change, the better. Although in Riggs’s case, characterizing her mystery writing career as a second act is a gross understatement: She spent many years as a boat captain before opening a bed and breakfast with her mother, poet Dionis Coffin Riggs, that catered to poets and writers. At 68, she found herself “at loose ends” and decided to get a degree in creative writing. The rest, as they say, is history.
Riggs’s story and her remarkable reinventions brought to mind a Weekend Reads I wrote last August in which I asked: What does it take to thrive in your chosen profession? To be happy and content? What does it take to make the leap and reinvent yourself in a second or third career? As I said then, I’ve seen talented people wither in one career and then thrive in another. What was it that emboldened them to make the leap? Many people labor for years in misery because they lack the conviction to make a change. Yet others find what they love to do and can’t believe their good fortune that they get paid to do the work they do.
Perhaps the answer has something to do with attaining a state of “flow” while working.
In “The Incalculable Value of Finding a Job You Love,” economist Robert H. Frank describes flow as “one of the most deeply satisfying human psychological states.” As he explains, “It occurs when you are so immersed in an activity that you lose track of the passage of time. If you can land a job that enables you to experience substantial periods of flow, you will be among the most fortunate people on the planet. What’s more, as the years pass, you will almost surely develop deep expertise at whatever it is you’ve been doing.”
The Leading Brain: Powerful Science-Based Strategies for Achieving Peak Performance by Friederike Fabritius and Hans W. Hagemann explores flow — the “powerful state that’s hard to describe but easy to recognize when you’re in it” — more thoroughly. A short excerpt, “Get Your Flow On,” is published on Quiet Revolution. Very briefly, “to achieve flow, you need a well-defined goal, an optimal challenge, and clear, immediate feedback. The goal supplies acetylcholine to help maintain your focus, the challenge triggers noradrenaline, and the feedback provides you with a rewarding burst of dopamine.”
Here are some other interesting reads and talks, in case you missed them:
- In keeping with the theme of work, do you know why employees stay (or conversely, why some leave)? Employees remain and grow in their existing organizations, not because of the quality of senior leadership or work-life balance, but rather if there is a clear career path. “One of the drivers of turnover is easy to overlook: allowing workers to stagnate in their current role. . . . The likely reason is that workers who don’t see a clear progression from their current role to a better position in their company ultimately turn to opportunities elsewhere.” (Harvard Business Review)
- Like Cynthia Riggs, I solved a mystery of my own last week — one that had been vexing me for the better part of the past 15 years or so. I was living in New York City on 11 September 2001, and in the subsequent uncertain, frightening days, I clearly remember reading an article about the therapeutic effect of cooking a stew. Over the years. I have thought about that article countless times, but try as I may, I could not find it. Sam Sifton, the founding editor of NYT Cooking, likes to remind readers that cooking is so much more than recipes, it is an act that helps bind friends and families together. I agree. I often find a state of flow when I’m in the kitchen. For me, cooking is a meditative, restorative act (a friend says she is a “therapeutic baker”). Sifton provided the clue to my mystery. All these years, I had been searching in the archive of The New Yorker when I should have been searching the “Gray Lady.” “Black dogs are everywhere, biting. There is no better time to cook,” Sifton wrote recently. “Regina Schrambling wrote a recipe for just such a state back in the dark days that followed the attacks of 9/11: beef stew with Dijon mustard and cognac. ‘Long before there were antidepressants,’ she wrote at the time, ‘there was stew.’ So maybe give her recipe a run this weekend as a kind of meditation, labor therapy over the stove.” The full article, the one I have been hunting for years, is: When the Path to Serenity Wends Past the Stove (published 19 September 2001). (The New York Times)
- I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time hanging on to new facts. Olga Khazan sat down with author and education researcher Ulrich Boser to discuss his new book, Learn Better, and what people can do to boost their memories and skill set. (The Atlantic)
- If you happened to catch my Weekend Reads last month, you may recall I mentioned an article about precise words for emotions, including l’appel du vide, or the sudden urge to leap off the edge of a cliff or onto train tracks, and ilinx, also a French word, for “the ‘strange excitement’ of wanton destruction.” Well, I had an “Aha!” moment a couple of weeks later when a speaker at our Wealth Management 2017 conference played a brief video clip — an advertisement, it turns out — of people giving in to some of these impulses, including ilinx. Give it a quick watch . . . you may recognize yourself in one or two scenes. (New York)
- “. . . in an age of acceleration, nothing can be more exhilarating than going slow. And in an age of distraction, nothing is so luxurious as paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is so urgent as sitting still. So you can go on your next vacation to Paris or Hawaii or New Orleans; I bet you’ll have a wonderful time. But, if you want to come back home alive and full of fresh hope, in love with the world, I think you might want to try considering going nowhere.” From Pico Iyer’s TED Talk, “The Art of Stillness.”
- Speaking of stillness, here’s a truly astonishing story about a man who hid in a forest for 27 years. (The Atlantic)
- And finally, I’d like to leave you with the words of the poem “Kindness,” by Naomi Shihab Nye:
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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.
Image credit: iStockphoto.com/JLGutierrez