I Used to Be Somebody: (Un)Retirement Lessons Learned

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Dat Truong Interview: High Tech Exec to Best Pho and "Grandma's Secret"

Diana Landau | September 07, 2023

Dat Truong
This week Carl interviews Dat Truong, a former Silicon Valley Techie who left the big paychecks behind in search of something new, something fun, something more meaningful. Dat, who currently owns Lela's Bistro and Grandma's Secret in Portland, OR, started his career on Wall Street, working with the likes of Wall Street Systems, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, and others. He then pivoted to Silicon Valley where he contributed to several software start-ups that were later acquired. Now at age 53, Dat says he's living life on his own terms and is loving his new endeavors as an entrepreneur and restaurateur.
 
When Dat was 5 years old, his family immigrated from Vietnam to New York, just days before the fall of Saigon in 1975. He says his father, who he aspires to be like, was the most selfless, hard-working person he has ever known, working as an engineer while Dat's mother managed the family. After college in New York, Dat lived in Manhattan and worked on Wall Street.
 
Dat felt like the black sheep in his family. He was always very social and outgoing, as opposed to his studious siblings. These qualities served him well in his high-tech career in management. "You have to learn to work with people; communicate tactfully, be a good listener and know your audience." In 1997, ready to escape the hectic lifestyle of NYC, a friend encouraged Dat to move cross-country to Silicon Valley to join an internet security start-up. 
 
After 20 years in Silicon Valley high tech, Dat moved to Portland to leave the hustle and bustle of the bay area, searching again for something new, something more meaningful, something that would fit with his healthy lifestyle. He wasn't sure what he wanted to do next. "It was a real struggle contemplating different directions I could take." In Portland, he found Lela's Bistro and loved their Grandma’s beef pho so much he ended up going there 4-5 times a week. "Their food is so clean, so deeply flavorful." 
 
After several weeks, Lela's owner asked Dat if he had a job, because he was there so much. After telling her he was contemplating a new career that aligns with his healthy lifestyle, she told him to buy Lela’s and they'd work for him! Never owning a restaurant before, Dat's "Aha" moment came when he decided to take his own advice and embrace his sense of curiosity, of which running a healthy restaurant was one of them. And the rest is history. "It was one of the best decisions of my life. We provide honest wholesome meals, made from scratch by Grandma Chef, to a lovely community.” 
 
Dat learned to hire genuine, kind -hearted people. "If you surround yourself with good people, a good team, good things will happen," he says. Grandma, (Co Ngan, who makes the amazing beef pho), told Dat she used to sneak out in her 20's to underground bars in Saigon to satisfy her curiosity and sense of adventure. Another "Aha" moment came for Dat. He wanted to celebrate Grandma’s younger years. He created this wonderful subterranean mid-century cocktail bar, reminiscent of a French Colonial bar in Saigon, with vintage glassware, black and white photos of a young Grandma, soft music and conviviality. At Grandma's Secret, a blue light shines when they're open but there's no sign, relying on bringing in patrons by word of mouth. It's no surprise that the bar has already been featured in Eater Portland.
 
Dat says two things have helped him in his new endeavors. "I've let go of my ego and I stopped caring how others judge me. Removing those two aspects of who I am has been liberating. I can just be myself!" We think that's great life advice too.
 
Dat Truong's (un)retirement advice:
  • Pursue your curiosity. What drives you inside? Stop saying "What if?" and try it!
  • Pursue aspects of your lifestyle that are important to you. I love healthy eating and meeting new people. Lela's and Grandma's Secret are part of that.
  • Surround yourself with good-hearted souls. This is important in work and in life.
  • Have genuine intentions. It's a reflection of you!
   
• More about Dat Truong
Lela's Bistro
• Sponsored by How to Retire and Not Die
• Sponsored by Capital Advantage
• Sponsored by Mike Ownbey, COMPASS
• I Used to be Somebody World Tour: First Stop -- Tuscany
 
Diana Landau is the Content Wrangler for Pickleball Media. After 15 years in corporate marketing, in 2012 she pivoted to write and wrangle content for Niche Media's weekly blog. She now manages the "I Used to be Somebody" blog.

 

Tags:    Blog   Dat Truong   Interview   (Un)Retirement   I Used To Be Somebody   Pho   Business Owner   Bistro   Grandma's Secret   Carl Landau  

Steve Israel Interview: Eight Term US Congressman Now Cool Bookstore Owner

Diana Landau | August 09, 2023

Steve Israel
Carl has interviewed CEO’s, entrepreneurs, artists, and athletes, but this is his first interview with a U.S. Congressman. In this episode he talks with former U.S. Representative Steve Israel of New York. After leaving office in 2017, Steve has been a political commentator on CNN, MSNBC, HBO and more, is a frequent author for many media outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post and The Atlantic. He is also Director of the nonpartisan Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. In addition, he has written two books, (Big Guns and The Global War on Morris.) Then in 2021, he became an entrepreneur and launched a new dream job—as the owner of an independent bookstore, Theodore’s Books, in Oyster Bay, NY. “Independent bookstores have always been my sanctuary. They make me feel good, safe and optimistic.”
 
Steve was born in Brooklyn and raised in Levittown on Long Island. He had the classic, middle-class family. “I took those valuable lessons with me to Congress,” Steve says. “It was tough to meet bills but there were plenty who struggled more than we did.” He started writing as a boy. (Does anyone else remember typing away on a Smith-Corona?) In high school, he worked for the student newspaper. “It put me on the path to being able to communicate.” He eventually became very interested in news and politics and knew even then that he wanted to work to make a difference in the world.
 
Carl asks Steve what it felt like to walk into Congress that first day in 2001. “It was the most extraordinary and surreal experience of my life. When I raised my right hand for the oath, I felt goosebumps—still do!” Steve ran for office 8 times and won 8 times. Carl asks him what most of our listeners would be surprised to know about Congress. “Congress is a far more civil and tranquil place than you see on television. There are people working together on both sides to create solutions. The news media is conflict entertainment, but there’s another story to be told.”  
 
The scoop: You’ll have to listen to the podcast to hear Carl and Steve talk about Steve’s successor George Santos, the huge void of local, investigative journalism, voter complacency, plus big disaster relief antics from Florida Governor Ron De Santis.
 
Steve started thinking he was ready to move on from public service but got some good advice from a mentor to postpone his retirement for two years, in order to make sure he was making the right decision. "Best advice!" Steve says. When he did retire in 2017 at the age of 59, he began political and media consulting, teaching at Cornell University, wrote two books,  and more. "I think one mistake I made at first was to take on a bit too much." Since 2021, Steve is passionate about his bookstore. "It's hard, it's a challenge and I love it." In addition to running Theodore’s, Steve still does ALL the other things he does and is now working on his third book.
 
Steve Israel’s (Un)retirement Advice:
  • “The transition to (un)retirement wasn't easy, it took a little time to get used to it. Opening my own bookstore gave me a sense of empowerment in a different way than before. Try to take that risk, focus on the one thing that will be fulfilling.”
  • (On filling up the daily schedules) “I’ve had to struggle with the discipline of saying, "No.” I’m still working on it.”
  • “Accept the fact that we're not put on this earth to do one thing forever. Try something new and be courageous. You can do other things with your life—you can pursue different passions!”
 
• More about Steve Israel
• Sponsored by Mike Ownbey, COMPASS 
• Sponsored by How to Retire and Not Die
• Sponsored by Capital Advantage
 
Diana Landau is the Content Wrangler for Pickleball Media. After 15 years in corporate marketing, in 2012 she pivoted to write and wrangle content for Niche Media's weekly blog. She now manages the “I Used to Be Somebody” blog.
 
Tags:    Blog   Interview   Steve Israel   Carl Landau   Pickleball   I Used To Be Somebody   (Un)Retirement   US Congressman   Bookstore Owner  

Maxine Clark Interview: Build-A-Bear Mega Founder Turns to Social Entrepreneurship

Diana Landau | July 07, 2023

Maxine Clark Interview: Build-A-Bear Mega Founder Turns to Social EntrepreneurshipCarl interviews Maxine Clark, a true catalyst and inspirator. After a two-decade career as a successful executive in retail, Maxine pivoted at age 48 and founded Build-A-Bear Workshops, which has sold nearly 250 million stuffed animals worldwide. In 2004, Maxine orchestrated the company's highly successful $170 million IPO, the first St. Louis woman to do so. Maxine, a woman of boundless energy and enthusiasm, continues to be a driving force for positive change in the world.
 
Maxine grew up in Coral Gables, FLA. Her father was an electrician and her mother had quite a remarkable career in the non for profit realm. Maxine tells us her mother graduated high school at 14 and went to work as a secretary for Eleanor Roosevelt. Fun fact: Roosevelt urged the women who worked for her to go out in the world and advocate for positive change. Her mother did so, first as a big fundraiser in the community and then started a school for children with Down's Syndrome. Maxine tells us, "My mother was very creative. No problem can't be solved. I like that."
 
Although she first thought she wanted to go into law, after college she began an illustrious career in retail, working her way up the ranks of the May Company. She became President of Payless ShoeSource in 1992. In 1996 at the age of 48, she moved to St, Louis and started thinking about a new business. Sparked by the idea of creating personalized teddy bears, she tried to buy a couple companies, which didn't work out. Everyone told her she was crazy.
 
But you guessed it--only nine months later the first Build-A-Bear Workshop opened in St, Louis. Carl asks Maxine how she could go from creating a concept to opening a store in record time. "I'm pretty good at planning and execution. I had experience and resources. But I also had a vision." As Founder and CEO, Maxine led her Build-A-Bear team to the pinnacle of growth and success just seven years after start up. She was the first woman to bring an IPO to Wall Street, managing critical relationships for the company to be publicly traded on the NYSE.
 
After 17 years with Build-A-Bear, Maxine wanted to pivot again, but this time in the not for profit world. In 2015, she launched a ground-breaking project to create positive change in her community. The "Delmar Divide" was an area in St. Louis historically known for segregating poor black neighborhoods from white neighborhoods. Maxine's team bought the old St. Luke's Hospital and is developing an innovative hub and collaborative space dedicated to helping not for profit creatives to work together, to improve the lives of children and families in the metropolitan St. Louis area. This once-neglected dividing line in St Louis is now being transformed into The Delmar DivINE. Maxine says, "This is joyful work. Dream the dream-- supreme!"
 
Maxine Clark's Inspirations:
  • "Your experience is so valuable to somebody else. There's always something you can do to strengthen your community."
  • "Look around at what interests you, whether its non-profit or volunteering and just meet people around it. Network!"
  • "I like to bring experts to the table, and I also sit at the table, to make sure we find solutions and continue to move forward."
 
• More about Maxine Clark
• Sponsor by Capital Advantage
• Sponsor by Mike Ownbey, COMPASS
• Sponsor by How to Retire and Not Die
 

Diana Landau is the Content Wrangler for Pickleball Media. After 15 years in corporate marketing, in 2012 she pivoted to write and wrangle content for Niche Media's weekly blog. She now manages the “I Used to Be Somebody” blog.

 

Tags:    Blog   Social   Entrepreneur   Pickleball   Maxine   Clark   Build-A-Bear   CEO   Interview   How To Retire and Not Die   Carl Landau   UnRetirement   I Used To Be Somebody  

Donna Apidone Interview: Popular NPR Host Now Helps New Audience Find Purpose

Diana Landau | June 06, 2023

Donna Apidone Interview: Popular NPR Host Now Helps New Audience Find Purpose
This month Carl has a conversation with popular public radio host and talented interviewer Donna Apidone. After four decades in radio and most recently 21 years as host of CapRadio's Morning Edition, Donna is exploring her next stage of life on her own terms by writing and producing national content for "America's Heartland" and Next Avenue.org. Donna is also the author of two audio books, "Drive-Time Meditations" and "TransForMission", both on Amazon. She teaches classes and speaks to community groups on finding purpose. (We're still not sure when she sleeps.)

 

Donna grew up in Cleveland and by the time she was a teen, she knew she wanted a career in radio. At Ohio University, she worked at the student radio station, honing her skills and stoking her passion. After graduation she pursued her dream and eventually moved to California. She had a respected career in radio for 40 years and along the way interviewed Madeleine Albright, Linda Ronstadt, author Frank McCourt and more.

 

Her commitment to her work became a lifestyle, waking at 1:30am and getting to the studio by 3:00am. "You get used to it and once I stopped, trying to unload that schedule was just as hard as when I started doing it 21 years ago," Donna tells us. Now moving onto her new work path, she says, "I love interviewing people. It's my favorite thing to do."
 
Taking listeners around the country and the world with two hours of multi-faceted stories and commentaries every week can be all-consuming. Donna became drawn to meditation. "Meditation was not a way to escape but to keep me feeling grounded and I wanted to convey that to the listening audience." In addition to public television writing, teaching meditation and speaking engagements, Donna is also developing a new podcast around helping people find their core purpose. She says the best part of this new phase of life is "...living who you are in a way you've never been able to do before. I'm excited to see what's next!"
 
Donna Apidone's next stage life tips:
  • Retiring/transitioning: "Don't be afraid--there's so much out there that I hadn't even thought about doing and now I can explore it."
  • Timing: "Do it now, do not put it off for any reason. Life is short. We always say, some day I'll do that, in five years I'll do that."
  • Travel: "I love solo travel. Sometimes there are places and things that only I want to see and do. I put together my own trips and I always meet interesting people along the way. It's a great way to get to know yourself and what you are capable of doing."

 

 
Diana Landau is the Content Wrangler for Pickleball Media. After 15 years in corporate marketing, in 2012 she pivoted to write and wrangle content for Niche Media's weekly blog. She now manages the “I Used to Be Somebody” blog.

 

Tags:    Blog   pickleball   NPR   Host   Donna   Apidone   Interview   UnRetirement   Hot to Retire and Not Die   I Used to Be Somebody   Carl   Landau  

My Three Years of (Un)Retirement -- Chance to Reinvent Yourself

Carl Landau | May 30, 2023
I just went past my 3-year mark of what we like to call (Un)Retirement. It's about no longer having the big job and now you have the time to freestyle and figure out what you want to do with the remainder of your life. There are just a few times in your life that you can naturally reinvent yourself. The biggest opportunities for that are; 1) after you graduate from high school or embark on a career path, and 2) life after the big job, aka NOW (for some of us).
 

 

The normal benchmarks for success previously come to us as annual reviews at work or if you're an entrepreneur, it's a profit/loss company statement. At this post-career stage of life, those metrics don't apply anymore. Not a all! It's a total self-examination that's completely wide open and even a bit challenging. Don't compare yourself at this point in time to your friends and peers. You can be totally subjective and it's all up to you if you want to evaluate how you're doing.


The one universal thread that rings true (and I know it might sound obvious) is we all need purpose when we wake up in the morning to get out of bed. It doesn't matter what that purpose is-- whether it's spending time with a grandchild, starting a new company, volunteering for a cause you are passionate about or playing a sport like pickleball. You've got to have that drive. And for extra credit, if you create a diverse set of passions, all the better!
 
What I've learned
It takes time to figure out this (Un)Retirement thing. Like most people, it's not so easy in the beginning. Getting used to this sort of wide open yet vague new world is weird! I spent the first year worrying that I should be doing more things and in the back of my mind, I felt like I was forgetting something from my work. I was so used to running a business for my entire adult life that it was ingrained in me that I always had to be super busy.

 
Work PTSD
Once I slowed down, I realized that I actually suffered from some sort of PTSD from the event business I ran for 20 years. For years I would have bad nightmares about the event I was working on. I think it was from the pressure of getting enough attendees to sign up for the events. And my recurring nightmare was that we aren't ready for attendees, lots of scrambling. It makes no sense because we were always ready. But, it took me two full years until the nightmares finally faded away. 
 
New Stuff
What I really enjoy doing is creating new projects and businesses. I started my (Un)Retirement during the pandemic. I love listening to podcasts and I decided to start working hard to create a new podcast business with me as the host. On a whim, I called my new company Pickleball Media (because l also love pickleball) and our target audience is Baby Boomers who are at the forefront of the (Un)Retirement AND pickleball wave! 
 
When I started researching the pickleball industry, I realized that there were incredible business opportunities. There were no real business-to-business conferences or a tradeshow in this emerging sport. Maybe I could seize the opportunity and make a ton of money and get that high from creating another new event. But, instead.......
 
Learning to say NO 
I said "no" to the pickleball opportunity because it would have taken me right back to where I already had been. I decided to move forward into the new with my life and not go back to the stress and anxiety of the event business (remember the nightmares). So now I have a new rule for my (Un)Retirement. "If it sounds like so much work, I don't want to do it." I'm not afraid to work hard. But I don't want to be consumed by work ever again. I've moved past that now.

 
Changing course
During the first year of (Un)Retirement I started the I Used to be Somebody podcast and newsletter every week. I truly love doing it. But after 10 months I realized that this weekly schedule felt like real work again (see above rule #1). I used to fill out my Google calendar with all the interviews and deadlines for the podcast and newsletter and if I had any extra time available, I'd play some pickleball.
 
Once I noticed this trend, I reversed my work / play agenda. I went to a monthly podcast and newsletter and would first fill my calendar with pickleball 4 times a week, and then fill in the fun things with friends and family and what was left over time-wise went to work. I reversed my priorities......and I'm so much happier!
 
Getting out of your comfort zone
Probably the most difficult yet satisfying thing I've done so far in (Un)Retirement is to take a stand up comedy class and perform before 100 people. I've always been interested in stand up and saw a new class taught by a very talented comedian Jack Gallagher, here in Sacramento. I saw an ad on Facebook and signed up immediately for the workshop without even discussing it with my wife or anyone else. I was afraid if I told someone and thought more about it, I'd chicken out.
 
We've all seen stand up comedians. It looks easy. Trust me, it's not easy! Not only do you write your own material but you need to deliver it as well. (Which are entirely different skills, btw.) I have so much respect for comedians now. We only had five classes, two hours a week and then on the sixth one, we performed live before a big audience. The last thing I wanted to do was embarrass myself and bomb. I took the whole thing very seriously. I probably practiced my set 80 times. (Just ask my wife.)
 
Jack's goal was for each of us to do a five minute set. My set ended up being 12 minutes and I fully expected Jack to cut it down at the end. At our dress rehearsal one week before the show, I asked Jack what I needed to cut out. He said, "No cuts. It's great! You're going to do it all."  At the show, I nailed it. It was one of the highlights of my life! Carl's 12 minutes of Comedy Gold
 
Taking risks reaps rewards
So the decisions I've made so far in (Un)Retirement have given me a new perspective on what matters most: 
  • Sleep matters. With less stress in my life, I sleep so much better. I used to sleep on average about 5 1/2 or 6 hours a night. Now I get my full 8 hours of sleep plus a short afternoon nap sometimes. Sleep is so important for  overall health.
  • Exercise matters. I play pickleball 4 days a week now. And I walk 10,000 steps a day on the non-pickleball days. I've lost about 8 lbs. this past year. I stretch / meditate (with my cat Felix) 20 minutes every day and love it!  I feel much better physically and mentally.
  • Friends matter. I've reconnected with several friends from my childhood and 20's and visited them. Since my career took me out of town a lot, I didn't have much time to meet people locally. Now I've got more local friends than I've ever had. Just joining a pickleball club gave me a dozen new friends that I see all the time. As you get older, an active social life makes a huge difference in your state of mind.
  • You matter. Learn how to say NO. I simply avoid negative people and things I don't want to do. No more endless zoom calls and I've stopped doing online presentations. (Do people really want to watch 3 talking heads on a Youtube video?) I spoke at a live, in-person conference last month in New Orleans and loved it. I don't want to live in an only-virtual world. I want to make real connections with inspiring people and I don't need to do it only online.
 
I think the biggest thing I've learned so far is not to worry so much about stuff.  Most of our worries aren't something that we can control or influence in any way. Somehow I've developed a new mindset that allows my worry quotient to go down. 
 
Of course, I don't have all the answers to my life all figured out yet. But, after 3 years of (Un)Retirement, I feel like I know some of the questions and I like the newly reinvented me.
Tags:    the carl diary   unretirement   comfort zone   pickleball   stand up comedy   second act   reinvention  

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