What I did during my “Gap Year” that turned into a “Gap Week”.

(FYI, while this post says it was written by Teri, it wasn’t. Much like an 8 year old driving the tractor for the first time I am pretty sure she wants to keep her hand on the wheel that is Marty blogging.)

For the last 17+ years I have done the same thing for work, I have been a Worksite Benefit Consultant (your reply, what the heck is that?) providing financial and retirement savings education to Wisconsin public school educators and managing relationships with approximately 80 public school districts in Wisconsin. A few of those districts are the largest school districts in Wisconsin such as Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha, and others. 17 Years doing the same work, I struggle to understand how that came to be. I can remember one day when a veteran colleague told me how he had “forfeited” unused vacation days, I was baffled because I had never worked for the same employer long enough to get more than 2 weeks a year and I would use that as soon as possible. Ultimately, I would somehow forfeit over 100 hours of vacation time myself….how the heck does that happen?

You see I have a bit of undiagnosed attention deficit issues, it has helped me to be a very productive individual who can manage many tasks simultaneously. I am constantly on the search to meet new people, try new things, and experience new places. I have had careers in radio, retail sales, membership organizing for a lobbying group, in a casino, real estate sales, foundry production and industrial engineering, insurance brokerage and retirement and investment services. But strangely for the last 17-ish years, I have managed to work at the same place, doing somewhat the same thing. Fortunately, my work at Member Benefits was multi-faceted and working with Milwaukee Public School members always brought a new challenge each week. This work also gave me the ability to feed the one skill set that I have to use. I absolutely love presenting to a group of people. I have presented to groups in varying sizes from 600 to 6. I am in the .00005% percentile of Americans who actually love to publicly speak to large groups.

In the past 3-5 years  I have become restless, I wanted to do something else. I swore I would never continue in a career which started to get stale or I didn’t fully enjoy the work. Unfortunately the past couple of years I could feel the staleness settling in and the need for a new challenge. Back in early October, with encouragement from my wife of 31 years Teri, I let my employer know that I would be leaving the first week of April 2019.  There was the usual celebration you would expect from the folks at Member Benefits, (hey, I apparently wasn’t the easiest guy to work with?) but what was a little unusual, I didn’t really have the next step ready. We seriously did not know what I would do next. I have never had a problem finding something to do, I have an internal mechanism that doesn’t allow me to sit around very long, so I didn’t worry about it. The most enjoyable careers I have had typically find me, I haven’t had to look for them.

I had planned a “Gap Year”, you know just like college students. I even had listed 3 options:

#1. Backpack across Europe. Teri and I have had 6 German and Swiss exchange students over the years and they have become very much family, our daughter Laurel lives in Italy and I could have made an easy trip from Italy to Finland to visit everyone over the course of several months. (I actually might still do this, but only if Teri can find the time to join me.)

#2. Emerge from the basement of my Son-in-law and daughter’s home in Spokane everyday at noon, scratch my belly, and ask “whats for lunch”, after sleeping off a Devils Lettuce induced haze. (Marijuana is legal in Washington after all, all the cool kids are doing it, but I will struggle to grow the required dreadlocks to go with that lifestyle apparently?)

#3. Live on a beach in Puerto Rico, finish that “Relationship Management” book that I am working on (seriously) and try to drink the Bacardi folks out of rum. (This idea too is still a viable option for the winters, still selling Teri on it.)

However, somewhere between October and December, as we talked about the different opportunities and possibilities, there were a couple ideas and thoughts that consistently came up. First, I was adamant that whatever I do next must offer the ability for me to tell stories or to publicly speak to groups. I love telling stories (some factual, some embellished, I will let you figure out what’s true and what isn’t but my personality has put me in some situations that some pretty unusual events have occurred. )

Secondly, we don’t need to get rich doing it, we just need to cover the expenses and pay for my Old Fashioned’s and other drinks. Ok, that cost is pretty substantial so yeah, we agreed it needs to have some financial reward. But really, more importantly, we needed to make sure it was something more flexible than my current work. With all of our daughters aiming to locate in the Pacific Northwest, that naturally is where the Grandchildren will be. I have learned that one of the greatest roles I will get to enjoy in the back half of my life is that of a Grandpa. The work will need to be somewhat seasonal and allow me to schedule as the need arises, with the girls and more so with the expanding ranks of the Grandchildren.

Through this process of discussion, it became clear that owning our own business of some sort would make sense, and I started to think about what I have enjoyed the most as we have traveled all over this country. I quickly remembered many of the local tours we have taken in Seattle, Washington DC, San Diego, as well as the international tours we have taken in Japan and South Korea. These local tours gave us an excellent taste of the area and brought out some hidden features and history that we wouldn’t have found on our own. I also remember how the Seattle Walking Tour guide we had was the owner and following our tour he gave me a standing offer to come work for him, (his tour was very historically accurate and several times he was asked a question he didn’t know the answer, after he couldn’t answer I offered several explanations that always started with, “Its a little known fact……) 

So with that in mind, we have decided to start a tour company in Southwestern Wisconsin. While that may sound a little strange to residents of SW Wisconsin it was obvious to me there is a call for this type of connection to the biggest draws in this area. Through my discussions with people in Milwaukee, Madison, Racine, and Kenosha areas, many people know of Carr Valley Cheese, but they couldn’t find the place unless they get lucky. Many are surprised to find out there are two wineries within 20 minutes of each other and there is a microbrewery knocking it out of the park another 20 minutes away. 

But the real draw, that 90% of those I talk with say, “It is so beautiful in that part of the state”. They go on to talk about the different cattle on the rolling hills, the crops, and people. However, when I would ask them if they have ever been to the area many mention they simply haven’t gotten off Hwy 14 because of the intimidation factor of navigating town and county roadways, specifically with the hills and the lack of trustworthy cell service for reliable turn-by-turn navigation. Those of us who were born and raised here take it for granted, but yet many are intimidated by traveling on public transportation when we visit (if we visit) the city, imagine someone very familiar with public transportation and city streets coming to an area void of the population and business density of the bigger city. We also take for granted the beauty of the Driftless region, it truly is relaxing and beautiful here. We have noticed in recent years an expanding group of people escaping Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Chicago to find the peace and quiet of SW Wisconsin. Try to look up at the stars some night anywhwere in the city, it is impossible due to the light pollution.

Our goal is to connect those from outside of our area with the hidden gems of the Richland County area. We will deliver a true farm-to-fork experience with visits to farms, to the cheese factories, fruit producers, wineries and micro-breweries. We will also work to connect visitors with the history of the area and the families who farm and produce for the nation. The major uniqueness of our offering, we plan to connect visitors with on-the-farm experiences through visits to cow and goat dairy operations. Every year between 3-4,000 visitors come to the Richland County Dairy Breakfast, I know because for the past umpteen years I talk to most of them as I guide them off the bus and to the food. There is a love of farming and an enjoyment of seeing the process. We hope to bring an education to those who don’t understand, or have never seen, a dairy operation up close. 

So, it is somewhat a dream come true for me, I will have a captive group of people who have to listen to me, but I get to tell them all about the features of an area I have called home for 55 years. I will also get to connect them to some pretty interesting and friendly people and their products. Look for more information as this moves forward, we intend to share the victories and the challenges along the way. We already have had some very interesting discussions and meetings as we met with our business partners along the way. I look forward to helping you meet them as well.

3 thoughts on “What I did during my “Gap Year” that turned into a “Gap Week”.”

  1. Awesome!! Let me know if you ever need any employees. I may be interested 🙂 Totally serious! Sounds totally fitting for you! And a definite need in the area.

    Like

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