Personal Reinvention in Park CityApr 09, 2009
by Susan Crandell
photo by krakenimages
Two fast-track New Yorkers find new careers and a more civilized pace in the Wasatch mountains
Barbara and Jon’s Lesson: Their reinventions were sparked by an ill-fated early retirement that, by providing a reflective period, led them to appealing new jobs. Sometimes you have to quiet your life down so you can really listen to your heart.
Pam Crowe-Weisberg and Jon Weisberg earned the envy of their colleagues and friends when he took early retirement from his job as a senior public relations executive at Bristol-Myers Squibb, Pam quit her job, and they moved out to Park City, Utah, when Jon was fifty-five and Pam, fifty-two. Pam had grown up in Salt Lake City, and she and Jon both loved to ski, so the location was ideal. But retiring didn’t work out. Jon quickly decided to establish a freelance PR business, but Pam had a harder time finding her way. “We moved in 2000, and then 9/11 happened. The stock market crash that followed definitely had an impact on our savings,” Pam says. “Even more than that, I realized I wasn’t ready to retire emotionally. It’s hard to get off the fast track when you’re a type-A personality who thrives on routine and challenges.”
Back in the New York area, where they lived and worked for thirty years, Pam had enjoyed a glamorous career as a buyer at Bloomingdale’s, and later launched her own buying office, which allowed her to control her schedule and spend more time at home with the couple’s two girls.
In her fifties, Pam left a job at Christian Dior to return to school full-time. “I was burned out, and fashion is a young person’s industry.” She’d always wanted to go to graduate school, and she found a program at the Fashion Institute of Technology in museum studies, where she could major in costumes and textiles. Pam took courses full-time for a year, then got an offer she couldn’t refuse to run a fashion business in New York City. She plunged back into work, taking grad school classes at night.
As if that wasn’t enough to juggle, Pam and Jon decided to move into Manhattan from the Westchester suburb where they’d raised their girls. Neither of them had ever lived in an apartment before. It was a brutally hot summer, the city was dirty and smelly, and it cost $450 a month just to park their car.
Without regret, they decided to move on. Enter Park City and the ill-fated retirement plan. “I was really depressed,” Pam says. “I had no clue what to do with myself. I played for almost two years, skiing fifty days the first winter, sixty days the second, but feeling very unfulfilled.”
Pam had taken yoga classes for years, and when one of her daughters suggested she try Bikram (a type of yoga that’s practiced in a very hot room to allow the body to go more deeply into the poses) it really clicked with her. Deciding to earn certification to teach Bikram, she enrolled in a nine-week course in Beverly Hills. It was one of the hardest, most rewarding experiences of her life. “It was nine weeks of torture–twenty-two hours of yoga a week, plus learning twenty-six pages of teaching dialogue verbatim.” Of the 270 students, only five were over fifty, and two of them dropped out. “I thought about leaving, too,” she says, “but every time I finished a day, I would think, Wow, I really accomplished something.” Back in Park City, though, she never opened a yoga studio. “I didn’t feel teaching Bikram was creative enough. There were twenty-six postures, and you had to do them the same way, using exactly the same dialogue, every time.”
Then came a fateful phone call. “I knew a man on the board of the Kimball Art Center here in Park City. He asked if I’d be interested in the director’s job.” It was a dream come true–a job in her field, museum studies, with a heaping serving of that challenge she so craved. Pam had never run an institution before and, she says, “I inherited a real disaster. When I came in, they were almost ready to close the doors.” She reduced payroll costs, hired an enthusiastic new staff, and got lots of exposure for the crowd-pleaser exhibits she was mounting. Last Christmas, the center exhibited work by a world-renowned glass artist, William Morris, and this spring the museum staged a six-week celebration of Latino art, the first such program to recognize this growing segment of Utah’s population.
“We’re working our butts off,” Pam says, “but I don’t have the added pressure of making an early train to put the kids to bed. I’m fifteen minutes from the office, and I don’t work most Fridays, which I negotiated.”
While Pam was struggling to find a new direction, Jon was going through a more evolutionary change. He left Bristol-Myers with a continuing consulting role on his favorite project, an AIDS relief effort in southern Africa. Adding other clients, this longtime Fortune 100 company employee figured out how to run his own business from an office in their Park City home.
When the head of the communications department at a local college took him to lunch and asked for some ideas on how to teach public relations, Jon walked out of the restaurant with a new job. He now teaches four classes, which he loves. And for a few years, he worked part-time as a ski instructor.
“My life has been on boil since I was a little kid,” Jon, who’s now sixty-one, says. “When you dial the heat back to simmer, things happen. When you’re not waking up at five thirty, race-walking for forty-five minutes, getting the suit on and catching the commuter train, you find out things about yourself.” At Bristol-Myers, he’d while away the hours in long, dreary meetings sketching caricatures of his co-workers. “I’ve always liked to draw, but never took the time to do it,” he notes. “A few years ago I met a painter here who invited me to a figure drawing class. Now wherever I go, I take my sketchbook and pencils.”
It's Not Tidy, But It Works
Pam says she’s always been brave about making changes in her life. “It’s a credit to my father, who says, ‘Don’t give up, try something else, move forward.’ I can’t sit back and tell myself, Okay, that’s the way it is. Some days I wish I were more laidback, but Jon and I are both doers.” Jon quarrels with the idea of getting it absolutely and finally right. “Our lives have never been perfect. There’s always been a little edge. It’s not tidy and it can be frustrating, but it works because we’re always in the process of learning and becoming.”
Susan Crandell, the former editor of More magazine, is the author of the book Thinking About Tomorrow: Reinventing Yourself at Midlife.
Republished with permission of Hachette Book Group. Copyright © 2007 Susan Crandell. All rights reserved.