Boomer Career Pioneer: Retiring to a Life-Long Dream

A heart attack “wake-up call” convinced Alan Zawacki to retire from his work in corporate America and academia and reinvent himself as an author and professional artist.

His story is an inspiring tale with useful tips for anyone who dreams of “doing what you love” regardless of the job or career.

In his own words, Alan shares his story.

Here is Alan’s story:

“I’ve always been interested in art. As I went through life it was always something under my skin, tapping at me. Eventually it needed to break out and becomes full blown, which it did. My brother, who is 5 years older, is an artist, so I knew what the life is like. In college I studied business.”

Choosing a life well lived

“I started working at Penn State University, recruiting engineering students from the corporate community, then left to manage Training and Development for an international manufacturing company. There I watched companies come in and out of business, hire, reorganize, and lay off employees. I was training managers and front-line people and saw no real job security as when our parents were working. Back then you would work for a company for forty years, retire, and get your gold watch and pension. Now corporate America is evolving and morphing constantly.

“Many people go through life doing jobs that they really don’t like. They’re working for the paycheck. They’re putting bread on the table and a roof over their heads, but they’re miserable, and some people are so miserable that they lose their health. From my perspective, the real job security is in developing depth and breadth of skills in whatever you’re interested in. If you choose a path that you are powerfully interested in, that suits your values, you are more likely to be successful. Most people are best at what they are passionate about.

“Whether we’re working for an employer or working for ourselves making values-based choices is one of the most powerful things you can do. Where we are today is based on the choices we made, every step of the way, throughout our lives.

“Identify your values and whatever is important to you and take some committed action in that direction; it could be small steps, it could even be baby steps. If you are afraid, if you build a plan and keep moving toward your values, that fear will start to dissipate.

“After twenty years I returned to Penn State to head up the adult continuing education division. Throughout those years I continued to paint, and even sold some paintings. I never studied art formally, I’m basically self-taught, but I’ve tried to absorb as much as possible from the renowned artists I admire. Practice, practice, practice, just like anything else.

“If you want to be an artist, or a musician, writer, or whatever you want to be, in your spare time, rather than watching television, get out your materials and keep practicing. When a workshop is available on the evening or weekend, enroll. That’s the way to really start the ball rolling. There isn’t a magic pill. Identify what you’re interested in, what’s important to you, and take baby steps forward.

“You don’t have to earn your living as an artist if all you want to do is paint. Just get out a pencil and paper. If you want it as a livelihood you’re going to have to learn to create some buzz around yourself and your art or no one will see it. I spend half of my time painting on location, plein air painting, and painting in my studio, and the other fifty percent marketing.

“When I had an art reception at the Sarasota Orchestra Harmony gallery the Arts Director for Living on the Sun Coast magazine said to me, ‘99% of artists know how to create art but they don’t know how to market themselves. I wanted to meet you because you do.’ I had reached out to her prior to the reception and said ‘I’d like to make you aware of my show and send you information about me.’ She put images of my work in the magazine, and then came to the reception. That was very flattering, and helped me grow my art business.

“The key to success is to focus our conscious mind on things we desire, not things we fear.” Brian Tracy

“The trigger point of my life was when I had my heart attack back in 2008. I started asking myself, ‘Do I really want to be in the office, then come home and kick the bucket? What do I want to be doing with whatever time is left on this earth?

“Prior to that every winter my wife and I would always vacation in the Caribbean. We’re warm weather people, ocean people, water people. . . There is something about the tropics that is very soothing to my soul. We started talking about doing something really different and not looking back.

“Before going into the office at Penn State I’d watch an HD program that I’d recorded of the sun coming up at Homosassa Springs, Florida. It showed a lagoon with manatees and fish and tropical birds singing in the background. I played that every morning before I went to work.

“I truly believe I imagined us into our current home in Florida. The mind is so powerful that we can make something happen if we think about it often enough and hard enough.

How did you get to this point in your life?

“I often ride my bike around the neighborhood here, and on really beautiful days, which are most days, I pinch myself. How did I get to this point in my life?”

“It really comes down to what’s between your ears and not compromising your values when making life and career choices.”

To see Alan’s art, visit his website, Alan Zawaki Fine Art: The Tropical Artist. If you want to learn more about his journey from corporate America to artist, read his book, Choosing a Life Well Lived: How to Recreate Your Career and Life Through Value-Based Choices.”

Phyllis MufsonAbout the author…

Phyllis Mufson is a career / business consultant and a certified life coach with over 25 years of experience. She has helped hundreds of clients successfully navigate career transitions. You can learn more about Phyllis and her practice at PhyllisMufson and follow Phyllis on Twitter @PhyllisMufson.
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