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Reimagining Your Life

Ready to jump off the career track and onto a path of your own choosing? Here's how a few people did it.

Ariel Meadows Executive editor of Lotus magazine

Bob Dickerson, Volunteer tutor, Washington Literacy Learning Center

Al Chase, Founder and director of the Institute for Culinary Awakening

Roberto Maestas, Executive director of the El Centro de la Raza

Lise Zeiler, Guitarist with the Rebecca Riots

Ariel Meadows
Executive editor of Lotus magazine
College graduates of the late ‘90s, flocking into beige cubicles by the drove, eager to tap into the New Economy — when I graduated from the University of Washington in 1998 that was my plan too. I found, however, that my pet project — a growing rave culture magazine — demanded too much attention to allow me to work a conventional full-time job. What had started as a small newsprint fanzine in California was spreading nationwide, and when I was promoted to executive editor in the fall of 1998, I knew there was no way I could put on “business casual” clothes in a cube.

When I first picked up Lotus magazine in 1996, I was deeply touched by its rave culture coverage mixed with consciousness content. It seemed to me that the magazine had an ability to touch open minds that were ready, including my own. As editor, I try to bring that inspiration to others, balancing flashy interviews with DJs and musicians with articles about health, activism, and spirituality. Many of my writers are people who have inspired me, who I'm excited about introducing to others. Rev. James Conn (a United Methodist Minister and former mayor of Santa Monica) writes a rave spirituality column, and Sharif M. Abdullah (director of the Commonway Institute and member of the Positive Futures Network board) contributes regularly.

My work with Lotus creates a loop of energy from my mentors to my readers and back again. Its sense of soul-nourishment is balanced by the reality that, as a skilled editor and writer, I've found myself a valuable commodity. To support myself, I freelance for the biggies (Microsoft, Oxygen, and Amazon.com). While many ogle at the high wages web writers are paid and suggest “if you worked all the time you'd be rich,” I think about how nice it is that I can work so little to pay my bills. If I can get by on 20 hours monthly of freelance work, leaving me weeks of time to do the work I love — why would I ever work more? My financial needs are met, and my soul is satiated doing something that makes a difference in young people's lives.

Bob Dickerson
Volunteer tutor, Washington Literacy Learning Center
On September 18, 1999, I went into the hospital for emergency abdominal surgery. Although the surgery successfully removed two cancerous tumors, it left another. The surgeon predicted a future for me of between one and 20 years. I didn't want to die having failed to make my fair contributions. And I didn't want to collapse at work. So I quit my job as an attorney, and began volunteering in activities that I felt would make a difference.

I enjoy reading. Some books, like the Lord of The Rings trilogy, open up magical worlds. But if you can't read, you can't enter those wondrous worlds. You can't even understand the warnings on stoves, medicine bottles, and extension cords. So I thought that it would be worthwhile to teach others to read and write.

I am currently tutoring adults at the Washington Literacy Learning Center.  One of my students is a native born (i.e., American) man who no longer wanted to be embarrassed by his inability to read even simple things. Now he reads the newspaper and can understand billboards and street signs. My other student is an Ecuadorian-born man who recently got his US citizenship. He wanted to work as an auto mechanic and be capable of communicating in English with employers and customers. Never mind that he is nearly 68 years old! Now he works two mornings a week at an auto shop owned by another foreign-born man.

The time I have spent tutoring has been much more valuable than the equivalent “billable hours” I would have spent at law. It has been a great joy to help these students learn to communicate with our fellow citizens, and it has made a dramatic difference in their self-esteem. 

I was never trained to be an English teacher. But I am a college graduate, and I can read and write.  Many skills I practiced as an attorney have been helpful for tutoring, too. It seems to me, the key to being a successful tutor is an understanding and patient heart. I have a fair supply of those qualities, particularly since my surgery has helped me focus on the value of each minute of my life, and what I can do with that time.

Al Chase
Founder and director of the Institute for Culinary Awakening
I've always enjoyed cooking, from helping my mother bake rolls in our home kitchen through my training at the Culinary Institute of America. But my true calling became clear when I made the switch to cooking organic, plant-based cuisine.

After many years of working for others, I decided to take a major step in my life and career by leaving a chef job and starting my own business — a vegan organic catering company. The central motivation at that point was seeing my family's poor health — heart disease, osteoporosis, etc. Having changed my own diet to vegetarian in 1985 and to vegan in 1990, I felt it made sense to put my heart and talent towards offering others healthy alternatives to SAD (the Standard American Diet). Alongside the catering business, I developed a private chef service for busy people who desired gourmet vegetarian fare on a weekly basis. In 1993, I also added a 60-hour training program for people interested in switching to a vegan diet.

Initially, this step toward entrepreneurship was challenging, especially on the financial end. I was used to receiving a regular paycheck, and success took time, teamwork, dedication, and clients who are hungry — for food and for information. It was nice, though, to be able to cook what I wanted, create my own hours, and choose my clients.

What I enjoy most about my work is providing information, tools, and skills to people wanting to make changes in their personal and business lives. As a chef, teacher, and consultant to the public, I am passionate about sharing a way of cooking and eating that is good for personal health as well as the health of the Earth. Teaching is great fun, and I've seen a positive impact.

The challenging part has been riding the wave and growing a business. As the public becomes more aware of organic, plant-based foods, they increasingly seek out the kind of education I provide. They also encourage traditional chefs to embrace more healthful cuisine. I am able to consult and teach these traditional chefs across the country. The chefs feed a big portion of the world three times a day, so the ripple is vast and dynamic!

Roberto Maestas
Executive director of the El Centro de la Raza
I was born in San Augustín De Valles de Lourdes, a beautiful New Mexican village of 30 farmsteads or so. While poverty forced me into the migrant scene at the age of 14, the sense of community that I found in that remarkable place has been one of the strongest forces in my life. It led to the work I do today — running El Centro de la Raza, a community center in Seattle for Latinos, African Americans, and other groups in need of advocacy.

“El Centro de la Raza” means, literally, “the center of the people of all races,” and our educational, cultural, and human services bring together people of many races. Though a variety of multi-racial and multi-generational programs — including a food bank, a hot meals program, and a children's education center — we aim to set an example of grassroots community power by involving people in community organizing.

The center grew out of a Latino/Chicano ESL program I was involved with during the War on Poverty in the 1970s. Just when the students and staff felt like things were getting off the ground, Nixon froze adult training programs. I didn't want our fledgling learning community to scatter but to find a permanent home. We tried to talk the public schools into letting us gather in an abandoned elementary school. When they rejected our idea, I proposed that we occupy the building. We ended up living there for 3 months. Eventually, the school district gave into our proposal and offered us a five-year lease. At first, the building was a terrible eyesore: it had a decaying roof and no heating system. But together, our staff and students, and supporters of all races transformed it into one of the busiest, most active, most unpredictable and inviting community centers in the nation.

Keeping El Centro de la Raza running for 28 years has been a demanding job. I have given up economic security and many luxuries, and my five children have had to pay the price of my not being home much. But the rewards have been infinitely greater than the sacrifices. There is nothing more amazing than looking in the eyes of black, brown, red, and white children and knowing that our organization is preparing them to stand up for their rights. Our children are learning that the most beautiful way to be happy is to be useful to others, that the deepest longing is one of belonging to their community.

Lisa Zeiler
Guitarist with the Rebecca Riots
My dad pulled a guitar out of our neighbor's garbage when I was six and said he thought it'd be a good idea if I started playing. I'm not sure that I had a burning desire to play at that age, but by the time I was in junior high, it was all I wanted to do.

For the past eight years, my fascination with the guitar has led me to a life of playing music for social change with two fellow schoolteachers in the Bay Area, Andrea Prichett and Eve Decker. Our trio, named the Rebecca Riots after an 1843 women-led grassroots tax riot in South Wales, gave its first concert in my living room for some enthusiastic friends in 1993. Since then, we've released four CDs and signed with the politically active indie label Appleseed Recordings.

As former teachers, I and my fellow trio members saw various injustices and have been moved to not only stay aware, but to respond. So we sing about the homeless, gay rights, police misconduct, women's rights, and the prison industrial complex. I can't imagine living in the world and not being concerned with social issues.

Our lives as musicians can feel almost carefree — on the road it sometimes feels like we're playing hooky from our teaching jobs, having wonderful adventures, and meeting inspirational people. It's the most perfect creative life that I could imagine leading. At other times, though, it's difficult and full of challenges. The “business” of running our band takes an enormous amount of work, and we have no financial security. Sometimes we're just plain grumpy from sleeping on floors for the last 10 nights, and not seeing our partners for weeks at a time is difficult for us all.

I think, though, that all the challenges have come with growth. Going farther and farther with the band has been a natural progression for us, born out of our love and enjoyment of each other, the music we make, the support of the audiences that follow our music, and our commitment to doing meaningful work in the world.

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