Strategies & Tactics

Breaking Away: How an Exercise Class, a Puppy and a Beach Vacation Helped a PR Pro Find Her Purpose

August 1, 2018

About 18 months ago, a friend who hated to exercise told me about a new workout that she had discovered and absolutely loved. She described it as a “spiritual” experience. Since my knees had long since talked me out of running — and being out of shape was depressing — I decided to try my first SoulCycle class. And then I promptly decided my friend was crazy.

I couldn’t figure out how to get the clips on the shoes to fit into the stationary-bike pedals. I didn’t know what “turn it up” meant (in SoulCycle parlance, it means challenging yourself to complete 10, 20 or 30 of the indoor cycling classes in 30 days). I was the oldest person in the room by far. I was also exhausted and dripping wet with sweat. Spiritual? Maybe she meant spirit-ed?

But I went to the 5:45 a.m. class again, and then again, and kept going back on as many mornings as I could. After a while, instead of feeling intimidated, I felt great. Better yet, the spiritual part was actually taking hold — and as a result, I felt empowered.

I have always felt empowered to be all that I wanted to be. But after a successful and intense 36-year career in advertising and public relations, for the first time I wasn’t feeling empowered anymore. In fact, I felt marginalized. And it didn’t feel very good. 

If there is an antonym for empowered then that is what I was feeling. And I didn’t like it. I even (for the first time) started to feel something new. Old perhaps?

I really struggled with what to do about that feeling but fortunately during every SoulCycle class I heard something that helped me get closer to figuring it out. I literally have a notes section on my phone labeled “Lessons from SoulCycle.”

SoulCycle’s instructors make everyone feel like they belong. And it was in that class that I made the decision to leave my high-powered, high-paying job without the safety net of another one to replace it. SoulCycle taught me to not let anyone “dim my light,” that if “something doesn’t feel right on your ride, make a change” and to open my mind and my heart to whatever may be in store for me.

Perhaps one of the reasons I always felt empowered to be successful was because I worked so hard. My husband’s nickname for me is “Dyno,” short for “dynamo.” I intended to attack this “What’s next?” chapter of my professional life with the same urgency and zeal as when I first started.

As I have throughout my career, I sought counsel from a few trusted mentors. Their advice was invaluable — but some of it, I thought, surely was intended for someone else. “Take your time deciding what to do next,” they said. “Don’t rush into anything; take some time for yourself.” Their advice made sense in theory, but was difficult for me to grasp. I was going to hit it hard! 

A pup lends purpose

I love dogs, especially golden retrievers. Until the fall of 2016, we were a two golden household, with our dogs Wrigley and Rose. When Wrigley died, Rose seemed a bit lost (in retrospect, maybe it was I who was feeling a bit lost), so I wanted a golden puppy for Christmas. Crazy or not, we brought Rizzo home on Dec. 27. 

Well, it turned out that my husband really did not want the puppy. And my son left to study abroad 30 days after we brought home Rizzo, so he wouldn’t be around to help take care of the dog. It also turned out that Rizzo has a bit of the devil in him. So I knew it was in my best interest (and in Rizzo’s) for me to be the primary puppy parent.

Energetic puppies need lots of exercise, so in spite of the frigid weather and 14 inches of snow on the ground, I bundled up and took him for long walks. Often.

At home, when he would blessedly fall asleep, I didn’t want to stray too far, in case he woke up (remember housebreaking?). So I sat on the couch. I can’t remember a time when I ever just sat on a couch. Ever. In that situation you can’t help but think. So in spite of myself, I followed the incredibly smart advice I’d been given to slow down and reflect on what was next for me. 

A trip to Tulum

About 18 years ago, I discovered a bohemian part of the Mexican Riviera called Tulum, and it’s been calling me back ever since. Tulum is breathtakingly beautiful, with white-sand beaches that appear to stretch all the way to Belize. Mayans who discovered this paradise hundreds of years ago are still there, and determined to protect what is special about it. In Tulum, five-star hotels are situated next to youth hostels, and fine dining and taco stands are equals.

For my husband and me, our favorite part is not the beach, but the little town of Tulum Puebla — where locals still live and spill out into the streets with their families every night to enjoy street food and music. The smile of a Mayan child will melt your heart.

For us, no trip to Tulum is complete without a stop at Batey, a mojito bar where musicians play all day long and juice for the cocktails is crushed out of sugar cane with a hand-turned press mounted atop the back of a vintage VW “bug.” Batey is the soul of Tulum, where locals and visitors alike gather.
 
My first time there I declared it (perhaps unkindly) “the land of misfit toys,” but after meeting and talking with the people I realized that if they are misfits, it’s by choice. Each of them has landed in Tulum for reasons as varied as the continents from which they’ve come. But what they share is a mutual belief in the power of following your purpose and doing what makes you happy.

So, after our fourth or fifth night at Batey, I decided it was time for me to answer that question for myself. SoulCycle had given me the courage to ask, and Rizzo had forced me to slow down and ponder: What is my purpose professionally? What makes me happy? 

I am not entirely sure. And that is entirely OK. But I can think of a few possible scenarios of what’s next for me.

Someone may want to hire me. I have always improved every place where I work. As long as a company is focused on growth and values the experience of someone like me, then I know I would be an essential part of its future. Being offered such a job would make me happy. 

Perhaps multiple “someones” will want to hire me, and consulting will be my calling. I have shed my biased notions that consulting is only for big management consultancies.

I’ve also realized that after 36 years of professional and life experiences, I have figured out a lot of things and can help others do the same.

I have learned how to solve problems, find and create opportunities, and lead people. As a former client so graciously said of me, “You are a ‘followship’ leader — you lead in a way that is strong and loud enough to be heard, and you are liked and trusted enough to be followed.” I’ll take that definition of leadership all day long. Doing more of that kind of work would also make me happy.

All I know for sure about what’s next for me is that #I’mNotDone — not even close. Never let anyone make you feel sidelined or undervalued. Unfortunately, it happens to many people — regardless of their gender or race — who are in their 50s and 60s. Baby boomers now represent 50 percent of the population and are living longer and staying healthier than any previous generation. Even setting aside how ageism makes people feel, why are so many businesses too slow to comprehend, or blind to the considerable upside of taking advantage of, this large segment of employees? Personally, I think there is a better way.

So, in addition to focusing on my own next act, I also want to help businesses change. I plan to write and talk about the larger issue of ageism. Sadly, it seems to be one of the last socially acceptable forms of discrimination.

I believe #I’mNotDone should be a movement for older workers. Helping businesses see these issues more clearly would make me happy. 

Thanks to SoulCycle, I felt empowered to make the right decision for my future. Thanks to a golden retriever puppy named Rizzo, I was forced to slow down and be alone with my own thoughts. Thanks to Tulum, Batey and its land of misfit toys, I was reminded to think about my purpose.

Now the rest is up to me.

Patti Temple Rocks

Patti Temple Rocks has held senior leadership positions in PR agency, advertising agency and corporate/client-side settings. She speaks and writes on the topic of authentic leadership and the need for a broader view of diversity and inclusion that extends to ageism. Connect with her and share your story at patti@pattitemplerocks.com
 

Comments

Crystal Howard says:

Bravo, Patti! Excellent article and good luck with your self discovery.

Aug. 6, 2018

Jamie Roark says:

Could not have said it better, Patti. Thanks!

Aug. 8, 2018

Andréa Shiloh says:

One of my Linkedin connections posted your article and I am so glad that I decided to read it. I too have begun a new career after 42 years in banking. It's exciting, even exhilarating to know that I will finally working on my greatest strengths. Thank you for sharing your story. #I'mNotDone

Aug. 8, 2018

Linda Halleran says:

Patti, I love your article. I refer to this as “not dead yet”. I think I prefer #i’mnotdone! I live in Maine, oldest state in America. A lot of opportunity for this conversation.

Aug. 8, 2018

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