Mid-2015 Life Review

[stag_intro]What do you do when 2015 has been kicking your ass? Write about it.[/stag_intro]

Typically I write end-of-year reviews about my life, work, and travels (like this one), but 2015 has been kicking my ass in novel enough ways that a 6-month reflection feels deserved.

Let’s talk work, relationships, and creative inspiration.

Work: Trip-Leading, Hogwarts, Podcasting & More

I kicked off 2015 with a three-fold work resolution:

  1. to take a break from offering Unschool Adventures international trips and writing retreats
  2. to run a pilot program for my “Hogwarts for Unschoolers” semester school idea, and
  3. to explore & create new online offerings.

[stag_dropcap font_size=”50px” style=”normal”]1.[/stag_dropcap]Why did I want to take a break from international trips and writing retreats: the programs that have fueled my self-employed lifestyle for the past 6 years? Partially because I wonder how healthy such trips are for my personal life: leaving for 4-7 weeks isn’t awesome for relationships, leases, pets, and other such luxuries. But mainly, I chose to do it because I finally could. In 2013-14, I managed to put away enough money to let myself live comfortably in 2015 with only minimal income (i.e. from a single program + monthly book royalties). I felt damn proud about that and decided that a sabbatical (of sorts) was in order to figure out the next big steps in my life.

The trouble is: leading groups of self-directed teens is kind of awesome. As soon as I take time away from it, I miss it again. So the past 6 months have been a sort of self-induced torture as I deny myself the pleasure of doing work that I feel I’m good at, makes a real impact on the lives of a handful of young people, and offers an excellent value for a highly competitive price (IMHO).

The key seems to be moderation. Personally leading one long trip a year feels reasonable. Last year included two international trips (which I led) and a Writing Retreat (which I organized but didn’t lead)—that was definitely too much time away for the balance I’m seeking.

It took me until May to finally crack and throw another international trip out there: Simply New Zealand, a 6-week adventure in living simply on New Zealand’s South Island from Feb-Mar 2016. (As of this writing, a few spaces remain. If you know any awesome self-directed teens with fast-paced lives, wanderlust, and the need for a tan, encourage them to apply.) 

[stag_dropcap font_size=”50px” style=”normal”]2.[/stag_dropcap]”What’s happening with Hogwarts?” is a question I get a lot lately, undoubtedly because I spent so much of 2014 talking publicly about it. The answer is: things are happening, but slowly. The Roddy family—the owners of the 400ac property in Mariposa, CA—are pushing forward with development plans for a 3000 square foot facility, but they haven’t broken ground yet; such is the nature of construction, permits, and contractors. I helped organize and lead a week-long manual work party on the property in March, bringing together a great group of hard-working teen unschoolers to build trails and tent platforms. The family and I further agreed that starting with smaller, trial-run programs at first (like a weekend or week-long retreat) is better than jumping straight into a multi-month arrangement. So the Mariposa property continues to be a potential site for a future “boarding school for unschoolers,” but it’s not happening overnight.

I knew from the beginning that 2015 wouldn’t be the right year to launch Hogwarts, so in January I collaborated with my friend Dev Carey to create an experimental pilot program for what a future Hogwarts might look like. What emerged was the Adventure Semester: a 10-week program in Sep-Oct-Nov 2015 for 22 teens that’s longer, more structured, and more expensive ($4750) than any U.S.-based program I’ve offered before.

To my pleasant surprise, Adventure Semester received a huge number of applicants: roughly double the number of available spaces. This meant that Dev and I could pick and choose from a deep pool and offer enrollment only to the most qualified and motivated teens. The program is now fully enrolled and I’m looking forward to a deeply immersive adventure in the fall, which will surely teach me some important lessons about where to take the Hogwarts idea.

[stag_dropcap font_size=”50px” style=”normal”]3.[/stag_dropcap]Exploring new online mediums has attracted me for a while. Two years ago I added “Publish 10 original audio or video episodes online” to my goal list, and during this little sabbatical I decided to finally give it a shot. Inspired by EconTalk, my all-time favorite podcast (and most significant post-college educational influence), I spent the first few months of 2015 teaching myself how to podcast, putting together the Real Education Podcast, and doing my first big batch of interviews. Now I’m on episode 15, and I’ve published some interviews that I’m really proud of, most notably the recent episode with William Deresiewicz.

Podcasting turned out to be a ton of fun, but like trip-leading, I realized I need to moderate my output or risk burnout. After reflecting on my process I decided to downgrade from weekly releases to every-other-week, which means I now have enough pre-recorded episodes to finish out the summer. This fall I plan to interview members of the Adventure Semester group for the podcast, and after that, we’ll see where I take it. I’m not attached to continuing the show indefinitely; I met my original goal of 10 episodes, and now I’m just operating on feel and feedback.

Beyond podcasting, I’m very curious about how I might deliver useful services to teens + families over the interwebs in a way that doesn’t suck. I’ve been thinking about this in terms of personalization. On one end of the online-deliverable spectrum is one-on-one coaching, which I’ve done for years, but the price I need to set to protect my free time nowadays ($85-$150/hr) makes it unfeasible for most families. On the other end of the spectrum are traditional, unpersonalized, but much less expensive online courses. For a long time I’ve been feeling like there must be some middle ground in there.

Late last year I tried to offer (and ultimately failed to launch) a hybrid online course for 18- to 22-year-olds who aren’t going to college. Now my mind is reeling again with plans and schemes for ways to create a semi-personalized online experience for 14- to 18-year-olds, the demographic I know best. I’m in the middle of working with a test group right now to develop these ideas. The ultimate dream, I think, is to have the option of running an online business from anywhere in the world, and not have to necessarily run long in-person trips to earn my living. (Yes, I was just writing about how much I love those trips, I realize that… but I also don’t think I’ll want to do them forever. Online businesses are more kind to tired old men—and relationships, too.)

Relationships: Oy Vey

I don’t have much to write here, except that the past year has been a strange and tumultuous one for la vida romantica de Blake. In a nutshell:

  • I was dating a nice young woman in Oakland for about four months in late 2014, until…
  • I met a traveling science educator in Nepal who stole my heart and convinced me to move to Boulder, until…
  • She broke it off right before my trip out to Boulder, but I went anyways, at which point I met…
  • Another awesome outdoorsy educator woman who convinced me to stay in Boulder for the rest of the spring, until…
  • That fell apart, leaving me with the resolute feeling that it’s time to be single again for a while. (Who wants to date a dude going away for a 10-week Adventure Semester, anyways?)

That’s the story (and the real origin of the “2015 is kicking my ass” line). If you want more details, you can ask me in person. And if you want to find me on OkCupid—you can if you try hard enough.

Creative Inspiration: What Do You Do When the Well Runs Dry?

Finally, 2015 has been a tough year for finding my creative voice.

Last year I published my third book, The Art of Self-Directed Learning, packed with all the stories that I still needed to get out of my brain and onto paper. It felt like a “final hurrah” for my current literary life, and now I don’t have another book in me. For someone who’s been writing fairly consistently since 2005, this is a tough pill to swallow, and it leaves me with pent-up creative energy that needs an outlet.

So how does one find new creative inspiration when the well runs dry?

When I answer this question by thinking back to the most creative times in my adult life, I think firstly of solo travel: most notably my trips across South America in 2007 and New Zealand in 2010. (I include “traveling with a friend who doesn’t demand your full-time attention” in the “solo travel” category.)

When I throw myself into a foreign landscape with few preoccupations and a lot of time on my hands, I’ve found that I tend to react positively: by analyzing life, prioritizing what’s important, and rediscovering a sense of focus. I proactively make new friends and connections and I have conversations that force me to better define my life’s purpose. So perhaps it’s time to get out there and travel solo again. New Zealand in March would make a good jumping off point!

What will I do with a rediscovered creative voice? Perhaps I’ll dive into that online business idea, create a kick-ass semi-personalized online course that I can run from anywhere there’s wi-fi, and finally join the “digital nomad” club.

Perhaps I’ll realize that I’m old and tired and have had enough international travel for a lifetime and come back to settle down in Tahoe or somewhere else.

Perhaps I’ll throw all my energies into building the Hogwarts for Unschoolers and live there year-round, Dumbledore-style.

Perhaps most likely, I’ll figure it out as I go along.


That’s the review. Thanks for reading. And please do leave me a comment or email me (yourstruly@blakeboles.com) with any brilliant—or even modestly helpful—life advice.


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