Career Shift: Living the 'Tapas Life'

How one man learned to savor a mix of new activities that provide fun and fulfillment

By Andy Robin
Originally Posted On December 26, 2013

A
A
Thinkstock

Many people think of their careers as the equivalent of a 64-ounce porterhouse steak hanging over the edges of their plate — crowding out side dishes such as vacations, time with your family and friends, hobbies, the arts and so on.
 
But six years ago, at age 55 and after 28 years in high tech and five as a housedad to our teenage son and daughter, I decided to start living what I now call the "Tapas Life."
 
What the Tapas Life Is

In contrast to that 64-ounce porterhouse of a long career, the Tapas Life is a collection of small plates, just like the Spanish appetizers and snacks it is named after. It’s about filling your life with an assortment of activities and ways that let you live your values and enjoy meaning.

Today, my Tapas Life mix includes family, travel and day trips, piano, cooking, friends, life coaching, learning, wine, being a part-time CEO, sitting on a nonprofit board, managing family finances and more. 
 
I love this rich collection of activities and the varied, engaging, fulfilling weeks it yields. If you’re nearing (or have arrived at) the end of your long career, I think you might want to consider assembling a Tapas Life of your own. If you require income beyond your savings and Social Security checks, one or more of your tapas can be some form of paid work.
 
How I Came to the Tapas Life

I didn’t really decide to live the Tapas Life. 

Rather, I was clueless about what to do after our youngest went off to college. After stumbling around aimlessly, I simply started doing things I like. 
 
I took piano lessons and spent more time cooking (which I first learned under fire, so to speak, when my wife went back to work as a consultant and then as an MBA prof) and tending to my wine cellar. 

Giving back felt important, so I did a six-year stint on our synagogue's board and executive committee. And, since I how had a goodly amount of white space on my calendar, I started taking day trips around the San Francisco Bay Area, where we live.
 
One day, I ran into a woman I had worked with and she asked me what I was up to. “Living the Tapas Life!” I responded. 
 
The words appeared as a fully formed concept. This lifestyle was really the result of nothing more than a random walk, ambling around for several years accumulating activities that were fun, rewarding, enjoyable or in some other way attractive to me. 

Semi-Retired but Very Active
 

I suppose you could consider me semi-retired. But I hate that R word, with its connotations of quietly going to seed somewhere. I count myself still young, very active, eager to challenge my mind and much more social than at any time since college.

I’m back in the salad days (as Shakespeare called them, of my 20s) with opportunities all over the place and enough freedom, time and experience to exploit them.
 
I was helped in my random walk by taking the VIA Survey of Character Strengths (free online from the University of Pennsylvania) to understand more about what was important to me. 
 
I learned that my Top 5 strengths are: curiosity and interest in the world; gratitude; appreciation of beauty and excellence; judgment, critical thinking and open mindedness and humor and playfulness. So I seized the opportunity to learn more about myself and selected my tapas based on those five assets. If a tapa fed one, I gave it a try; if not, I passed.

An exercise tapa came to me after researching life expectancies. I realized that, at 60, I might be around another 25 to 30 years. I could enjoy almost all those years living a vibrant, interesting life or I could gradually fade into poor health and a meager existence.
 
So now I do cardio by riding my bike to lunch and errands, pedaling at top speed, usually for 30 to 60 minutes a day. I also use weight machines to keep my nerve connections in good shape. And, to top things off, I’m on The Zone Diet. I may still keel over dead tomorrow, but I’m doing what I can to stack the deck in my favor — and I feel good!
 
Throw in some golf with my son and our friends, lunches with interesting people, socializing and travel and it’s a fine lineup indeed. 

Tossing Your Tapas

One of the great things about living the Tapas Life is that tapas can be tried and kept or tried and discarded.
 
You’ll see that for perhaps the first time in your life, it’s OK to fail: it’s just a tapa, after all. 
 
After I went to work part-time in the solar industry and discovered I didn’t like the work world much anymore, I tossed that tapa. I also studied to become a part-time AP environmental studies teacher at our local high school. But when I didn’t find the situation I wanted, that tapa evaporated.
 
What Was Missing
 
After putting together my Tapas Life, I felt something was still missing. I wasn’t doing anything that felt especially meaningful to me. More time wandering eventually led me to life coaching.
 
After a few hundred hours of study with a terrific group of professionals in 2010 and 2011, I added a tapa with no more than five coaching clients (it’s a tapa, not a new career). I work with these people to help them get clear on what they want and to go get it.
 
These days, my dance card is full. I’m finding that my mix of family, artistic, hedonistic and meaningful tapas is rich and rewarding. I’m loving its combination of structure and open time and the balance of social and alone time. 
 
I know that I’ll surely add and drop tapas from time to time. That’s how you assemble a tasty Tapas Life!
 
 
® Tapas Life is a registered trademark of Andy Robin
 
Andy Robin is a life coach and executive coach based in the San Francisco area and President/CEO of Ascenium, a technology company targeting the digital signal processing market. He blogs at Tapaslife.com and writes for Next Avenue.