I first met Stephen Nobel when he was president of the John Widdicomb company and we entered into a licensing agreement with my client the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. I immediately liked his energy and “joie de vivre”. His zest for a life well-lived informs Stephen’s life. He is loyal, tenacious, creative and as successful in his business as he is with family and friends. He is resilient and keeps a positive view in both good and difficult times I was very impressed with his commitment to Retime when he turned 60. I hope his journey will inspire others as well.
Name: Stephen Nobel
What you do to earn (work) now? I am a consultant, a catalyst, a change agent and connector of people in interior design and the home furnishings field.
What you did before you Retimed? I was in executive management at Baker Furniture, and President of the John Widdicomb Company.
Age or generation: 64
Married/Single/divorced/widowed: I’ve been divorced and am now married for the second time.
Children: I have two children and two grandchildren.
Nationality: I’m American
Where do you live? I split my time between New York City and Montana.
Are you a Retimer in fact or in process? I am a Retimer in fact
MA: What motivated you to change how you spend your time for living, earning and having fun?
SN: I would say that I am a serial retimer, if what you mean by “retiming” is reassessing and reallocating how one spends their time over the course of his lifetime. I have done that most of my life. Turning 60 (what I call the “third trimester”), however, was a big motivator to Retime. It was a much more intentional retimement than other times in my life.
MA: What do you mean by “third trimester” and how is it different than other times in your life when you made career and personal changes?
SN: It’s a metaphor I like to use. My daughter is a PA in obstetrics and she talks about trimesters, referring to having a baby. I feel that during my first trimester of life, from zero to 30 years old, I was sort of building my persona, my values, my beliefs and my career. In the second trimester, 30-60, I created a business and made a couple of adjustments. Now, in my last trimester, I am determined to create again, and not just repeat the second trimester.
MA: I have more questions around your last trimester but I am also interested in your personal and work shifts that preceded it.
SN: My first dramatic shift as a Retimer was going from a corporate environment with all the security, structure and benefits that come with that, to starting my own business. I jumped the corporate ship without a safety net, and I went overboard! I had to rethink priorities and create a life around them.
Starting in 1995, when I was 45, in the middle of my “second trimester.” It was not without risk, not without some anxious moments, stomach gurgling and late night awakenings.
It just so happened that several friends and business associates were doing the same thing, each starting a different business, so we called ourselves the “over-boarders”; meaning we were leaving the corporate mother ship and jumping without much of a safety net, except for courage of our own convictions that we were going to land on our feet. All of us ultimately did, and there’s still a loosely knit confederation of those of us who stay in touch. We still call ourselves the “over-boarders”.
MA: I imagine having that support system of the “over-boarders” was important as you moved from the safety of the corporate world to the uncertainty of establishing your own business – especially considering that you were married and had two children. I would imagine the security you had in the corporate position weighed heavily on your decision to risk it all.
SN: Yes, that loose knit support group was important. Before I went overboard,I was President of one of America’s finest old furniture companies, The John Widdicomb Company, and before that was an executive with Baker Furniture.
During those years, I always felt an enormous responsibility to the employees and also to the needs of the company. I was not paying close attention to my own aspirations.
In some ways it felt self-indulgent, selfish, to be putting my own personal and professional aspirations ahead of my more conventional responsibilities.
I finally decided, however, that not pursuing my passions was more risky than sticking with a job that felt limiting, so I “went overboard.”
MA: What was it like to build a business from the ground up starting at 45 years old?
SN: It was exhilarating, scary, gratifying, humbling and not without sleepless nights. I built a consulting business focused on the home furnishings and interior design worlds. I also got divorced which added to significant change in my life. It also influenced where I would spend my time. I made a commitment to live near my children until they were ready for college; that meant that I did a good deal of travel, mostly back and forth from Michigan to NYC. Eventually, I moved to NYC full-time.
MA: When did you start thinking about changing things up in your last trimester?
SN: I was approaching 60 and I was determined that I was not going to simply repeat the second trimester, not continue doing the same work, the same way, with the same outcomes. You know, the same calendar and the same places, everything the same. I have a large appetite to explore and discover, and maybe even discover things about myself along the way, so I am intentionally trying to Retime my own life experience. I looked at 60 as the point that I would draw a line in the sand from “what was” to “what will be.”
MA: The “line in the sand” meant that you established a finite time period when certain changes would be put into effect. How did that work?
SN: The line in the sand wasa metaphor I used for turning 60. I started thinking about this when I was 58. I didn’t want to repeat thesecond trimester in the third, so I drew a somewhat arbitrary line in the sand to give myself a goal to begin to put in place what I call “difference”: Different place, people, ways of doing things.
MA: What motivated you? Was it a pivotal moment, insight, or confluence of life events?
SN: I was happy with my life but I had been thinking about turning 60 for a few years before and what I might do differently. In fact, 2010 –my 60th year – was a big year marked not only by my birthday, but my daughter was turning 30, she was pregnant and I was about to become a grandfather. I was in the early stages of a significant romance that ended up in a marriage. It was an eventful year; big changes intersecting. Lots of pivotal life moments.
MA: It seems as if you looked at 60 as a marker to change things up, shake up the comfort zone, and at the same time you got married and were soon-to-be a grandfather. That seems like a lot of changes. What else did you want?
SN: I thought to myself, I can either respect the power or message that there may be in the convergence of all those things and see it all as an invitation to look at the future differently, or simply say: those things happened, now what will happen next year? No, I chose to see them as pivotal moments in how I work, live and who I spend time with; my new role as father, grandfather and husband. I didn’t want to glide along, becoming old or irrelevant.
MA: It sounds like you wanted to be proactive, to have a new beginning instead of a last chapter?
Yes, and to do that I needed to aim at something. I had to define the goal in terms of time. I couldn’t say someday, maybe if. If I didn’t put a finite time period to it, it might not happen.
Up until now, life had taken a certain momentum although I didn’t sit back and wait for things to happen. I was intentional, ambitious, wanted a family, a career trajectory, I wanted all those things. It wasn’t always smooth sailing; there were obstacles and setbacks along the way, but mostly I was happy with what I achieved. So I thought, what is the point now, going forward?
MA: It sounds like you chose to be more mindful of your opportunities. How did you change your business?
SN: I am using my expertise, wisdom and knowledge of the design world to consult, connect, educate, write/blog and mentor. I am repackaging my skillsets and knowledge. I am “chunking”time in a way that allows me to have more than just a regular daily routine, which suits my new lifestyle better. Also, technology makes it so easy to work from just about anywhere.
It’s not without risk. I am an Aries, a leader, a risk taker. It suits me to be in uncharted territory, rather than following from the back when I am doubtful of where leadership is taking me. I tried that once before.
MA: Not everyone has the stomach for the kind of risk and uncertainty that you do. Do you have advice for people who want to make a change but mitigate the risk?
SN: I would offer for others to consider that you never really know unless you plan to do it. My tolerance for risk may be different or frightening to someone else. How do you know what your life can be unless you make a plan for it, take some action and eventually move toward it? That can be done within anyone’s risk tolerance.
MA: Is money a factor for you in what you do or plan for?
SN: Yes, and even with great plans we never know how things will work out. I continue to work both because I have to, and also because I want to but I am doing it differently.
I am prepared to make less money to afford me the choice to spend more time exploring personal and family objectives. We are building a house in Montana near my son with access to horses and riding which is a passion of mine, and a studio for me to spend time painting. We plan to continue to travel from New York to Germany, where my wife is from, to the lakeshore of Michigan where I am from, and other places as long as we can. If money becomes an issue, we’ll cut back. If I can’t afford something, I don’t acquire it. I adapt.
MA: In sum, you have redesigned your business to integrate seamlessly with a lifestyle that allows you to travel, see family and have new experiences with a vigilant eye to “earning” and managing expectations accordingly.
SN: Yes, I was able to do this because I believe that wealth is quality of life, and as you always say Michelle, more about well-being than the trappings of luxury. There is richness in a calm state of mind. I am not a yogi, or mountain top philosopher, but I have always been “of the moment.” I can define my wealth as a state of mind, a composite of confidence, self respect, integrity, a little money in the bank, finding love again with my wife and the joy of children and grandchildren. Most of all believing in choice, in change and being flexible. I don’t think having choices has to be connected to great wealth.
MA: Stephen – thanks so much for sharing your Retimement lifestyle. Now I’d like to ask, what do you do for fun?
SN: I paint pictures, ride horses and hang out with friends and family.
MA: What is more important to you: well-being or money?
MA: If you had one more hour in the day what would you do?
SN: I would spend it reading.
MA: If you had one less hour, what would you give up?
SN: Working out!
Do you dance: You bet.
What music to you dance to? Rock’n’roll.
“Life is the dancer and you are the dance.”
―Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose