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BOOK:  THE QUARTER-LIFE BREAKTHROUGH:  Invent Your Own Path, Find Meaningful Work and Build  a Life That Matters

AUTHOR:  Adam Smiley Poswolsky

PUBLISHER:  Tarcher/Perigee (Penguin Random House imprint) [2016]

It has always confused me, the propensity of the media and other folks to pour hate on the generation of youngsters born in the two decades before the century turned.

The Millennials (born around 1980 to 2000) have been called, “the lazy generation,” “the entitled generation,” and “the me-me-me generation.”

For real, it sounds a lot like sour grapes to me.  Gee, wow!  What expectations have we older ones put on this group of youngsters that they must be made to feel like they have disappointed us so badly?

It’s been said that this generation is doomed.

Shackled by huge personal debt, shaken and pounded by the falling debris of the tectonic-plate shifts of recessions and other economic “adjustments,” and haunted by a real lack of single-job options that can actually cover their costs of living, this supposedly techno-addicted crowd of privileged, me-centered youngsters with the attention spans of gnats are going to sink into mediocrity and gloom, eking out their dismal existence in their parents’ basements…it says here.

Micah Tyler sings an a capella song. “You’ve Gotta Love Millenials,” that is bouncy, cheerful and teasing about the very real problem this generation (and the rest of us) face.


The doom-and-gloom predictions and all that bugaloo-ing “awfulness” story-telling just do not jibe with the young people I know.

As far as I can see, the young ones of my acquaintance do not match the much-bugled stereotypes.  The labels plastered all over their cohort group by the assorted haters are lies.

They are bright, these young ones.  Some of them are even brilliant.

They are eager to get their hustle on.  Some of them work 18-hour days to make ends meet as they master some discipline, trade, or profession.  Often they take on side-gigs that expand their skill-sets or they invest in their own continuing education.

Some of them have taken off on adventures that expand their view of the world, tasting life in other places, looking for a place to land or trying to clarify some vision they are pursuing.  Others delve into their roots, looking for wisdom in the ways of the ancients.

Some of my young friends band together to make some grand scheme fly, cobbling together constructs that often fall short of their aims.  Their failures do not keep them from trying again.


These young friends of mine are a rowdy and boisterous crew.

They are the freedom-runners. 

They have abandoned “career ladders,” choosing instead to forge new trails through the uncertainties of a world that does not hold still, a world that seems to be falling apart….the very same falling-apart world that every generation before us all have lived in.

The Millennials I know are often unsure of where they are going, but they try to keep running on with hearts held high.

They are filled with confusion and doubt about their direction.

They are almost never sure how to answer the inevitable questions about where they think they are headed.

Many of them are looking for a direction that makes sense to them, one that has meaning for them.

Others of my young friends (as well as many older ones) who followed more conventional road maps now feel trapped by their earlier choices.  They may want to make a change, but are reluctant to chuck out the good things they have already built.

Often they have taken on obligations and responsibilities that hold their feet to the fire.

They, too, are looking for a way to move in a direction that makes sense to them towards a life with more meaning and mana.


Comes a book, THE QUARTER-LIFE BREAKTHROUGH, written by a fellow Millennial.  The author, Adam Poslowsky (who prefers to be called “Smiley”) is a young professional who paid attention as he worked through the daunting process of re-inventing himself.

Smiley learned to ask the Big Questions that helped him find his own meaning and mana as he re-made himself from a professional administrator/facilitator at the Peace Corp headquarters in Washington, DC into a writer, public speaker and career-change couch living in San Francisco.

In the book, Smiley focuses on the process of finding work that aligns with your own life-purposes.  The goal, he says, is to “find a job or opportunity based on your purpose now,” that pays the rent and allows you to:

  • Share your gifts
  • Make a positive impact on your world
  • Surround yourself with believer
  • Live your desired quality of life

The book is packed with real-life stories of people who are succeeding in making the transition to more personally fulfilling lives and work choices.  Smiley also draws on his own experiences to point out new ways of looking for paths to reach the over-riding goal.

He does not hand out the easy, clichéd advice that says you have to quit your job and go chasing after your “passion.”

He points out that passions change.

He points out that while you are making the shift, you do still have to eat and keep a roof over your head.

What Smiley does in this book is hand you a tool box of questions and exercises and head-games as well as a dollop of resources to tap as you figure out who you are and what moves your heart now, the gifts you hold, and the impact you want to make on the world.

From there he helps you take a look at your available options and suggests ways to beta-test your ideas and your potential directions without blowing up your world.

After that, it’ll be up to you to make your moves.

Working Hands by aaron gilson via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Working Hands by aaron gilson via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
This book was a crowd-funded, self-published work that made good.  It was successful enough on its own (with a lot of hustle and thought put in by Smiley and his crew) to be picked up by a more traditional publisher.  The author includes that story in the book as well.

I found THE QUARTER-LIFE BREAKTHROUGH to be an extraordinarily honest, down-to-earth and heartful book.

If you work it, I am convinced that it can guide your own Inner Smarty-pants to find the Life Answers that can work for you…even if you are NOT a Millennial and have lived way past your own quarter-life mark.

Here’s a poem…


Ya know….

I really thought it would be

DIFFERENT somehow.

I thought that as I got older

I’d develop…well, BOTTOM, I guess,

A sort of weight

That would let me float around

Without floating away…

Like…those little weight-buttons

Holding down supermarket helium-filled

Happy Face balloons.


That doesn’t seem to be happening.

Here I am, well-nigh unto being ancient

And STILL I feel like an airhead

Blowing around in a world of heavy winds.


Somehow, I thought that by now

I’d have found SOME sort of all-purpose Swiss-knife answers

That you could pull open and use to twiddle this

And twist that,

To break down all these head-scratching puzzlements

Into component parts of exceptional elegance and grace.



Instead, here I am,

Still dragging around all these kluge-solutions

Cobbled together out of various bits and dribs and drabs

That happened to be sitting around at the time.





All these kluges I’ve devised

Are actually the weight-buttons

Holding down BALLOON-ME?

Wouldn’t THAT be a kick in the head?

By Netta Kanoho

Picture credit:  (book) via

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The dreaded “BLOCK”.  It’s a mind-thing that plagues every creative person that ever was.  Whether you are a writer, a scientist, an artist, or a business person, there comes a time when you reach for an idea and there’s nothing there.  For some reason the well has gone dry.  Not even mud comes up.

You are pounding on a stuck door that, for whatever reason, is closed and locked to you, a door that used to swing open easily at a touch.  Your idea factory has been shut down and you can’t see anything but that fool door.

Locked Out by Watchcaddy via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
It is a frustrating time, especially when you are used to having ideas parading up and down like models on a runway at a fashion show.  You can feel the eyes and expectations of all the people who are looking at you, watching and waiting for SOMETHING.

Hell!  YOU expect something of yourself and it is just not jelling.  ARGH!

There are many stories of how this one and that one overcame the BLOCK.  Often being locked out of your idea factory seems to be a prerequisite of the Breakthrough, the beautiful time when all at once, after you’ve thrown yourself at a problem over and over again, some switch turns on and the light just shines on your bruised and battered self, bathing you in its glory.

The Breakthrough by Phillip Hickman via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
The Universe has heard you.  The sacrifices have been made and the price has been paid.  Things start click-click-clicking and the row of dominoes that you’ve lined up start falling down and down and down into beautiful patterns all over the floor.

If you’re a brilliant genius of a Maker, the whole world changes then.  Not just for you.  For everybody.


In 1965, Bob Dylan (born Robert Allan Zimmerman) was exhausted and disheartened.  He was the crowned prince of the protest folk song circle and the poet laureate of the counter-culture, famous for his serious lyrics on the serious topics of the day — wordy lines chanted over a bare-bone melody and accompanied by an acoustical guitar and maybe a harmonica.

Dylan had dropped out of the University of Minnesota to head straight to New York where he hung around Greenwich Village with his hero Woody Guthrie in the emerging folk music scene.  He became a popular performer in the Village coffee houses and night clubs and his ability to compose his own melodies and lyrics at an amazing pace won the respect and admiration of his peers.

Woody Guthrie mural in Okemah, Oklahoma by Uyvsdi (own work) via Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain]
He quickly amassed an army of fans and was dubbed the Shakespeare of his generation.  His fans apparently elected him “their” media mouthpiece.

It was not a role with which the songwriter was comfortable.  By the time he was 24, Dylan had become quite vocal about his disillusionment.  He was no longer certain, it seemed, that the counter-culture of the time could actually effect any kind of lasting change in the blatant injustices perpetrated in this old world.


Dylan had just returned to America after a grueling, four-month solo acoustical tour that spanned the Northeast and the West Coast of America before crossing the ocean to Europe and ending in England.

He was physically spent.  One commentator said he looked like an “underfed angel.”  He was mentally depleted after months and months of being crammed in with crowds of people always around him, always needing him to do something.

By the very end of the tour everybody knew that Dylan was feeling pushed and overwhelmed, struggling just to soldier on through the nonstop gotta-do dance, getting it all done and done and done.

He retreated to a little cabin in Woodstock, New York, and he swore that he was done, totally tapped out.  He was teetering on the verge of quitting. He told his manager he was going to spend his time at Woodstock “writing a novel.”


While on tour Dylan had begun compulsively writing what he later called “this long piece of vomit.”  It was, among other things, a diatribe and excoriation of the illusions and delusions of his generation.   At Woodstock the word-vomit continued to pour out.

In a 1966 interview, Dylan told journalist Jules Siegel, “It wasn’t called anything, just a rhythm thing on paper all about my steady hatred directed at some point that was honest.  In the end it wasn’t hatred, it was telling someone something they didn’t know, telling them they were lucky.”

“I had never thought of it as a song,” he told Siegel, “until one day I was at the piano, and on the paper it was singing “How does it feel?” in a slow motion pace, in the utmost of slow motion.”  The impulse to write his poetry was reborn.

From that first wild and wooly outpouring, Dylan extracted and crafted four verses and the chorus of “Like a Rolling Stone,” a song that was a radical departure from anything he had ever written before.  It was also very different from the popular songs of the day.

For one thing, the lyrics were brooding, nuanced and ambiguous.  The lines did not insist on making sense, but somehow they “felt” right.  The music itself could not be easily categorized.

Sometime after the song took the music world by storm, British music critic Michael Gray would describe the resulting track as “a chaotic amalgam of blues, impressionism, allegory and intense directness in the central chorus:  How does it feel.”


A week after he’d arrived in Woodstock, Dylan’s new song, “Like a Rolling Stone,” was mostly finished and he headed off into the city to get the thing recorded.  A bunch of musicians, most of whom had never played together or with Dylan, were brought into the cramped space of Studio A at Columbia Records.

None of the musicians had seen the song before.  In fact, Dylan wasn’t even sure how he wanted it to sound.  (The song had been written on an upright piano in the key of G sharp and was changed to C on the guitar in the recording studio.)

The musicians and the songwriter fooled around with the tempo and the instrument mix trying to make what they were doing match the music in the songwriter’s head and somehow the record’s producer Tom Wilson got the song cut on acetate.

It took two days and four very muddled takes plus lots of do-overs.  The thing had a powerful, raucously edgy snarl of a sound.  There were hot licks from an electrical guitar and major chords from an organ in it.  By the time the song was cut, the backing musicians were just starting to learn their parts.

At almost six minutes, the recorded song was more than twice as long as most of the popular songs of the day, which were all less than three minutes long.

It was “different” and the difference was a cause for bean-counter concerns.  The marketing and sales departments at the record company relegated the newborn song to the “graveyard of canceled releases.”  The song was apparently stillborn.


In the days following its rejection by the money guys, however, release coordinator for Columbia Records Shaun Considine, a Dylan fan-extraordinaire, took a discarded acetate of the song to a New York club “Arthur” – a newly opened disco popular with celebrities and media.

Considine asked a DJ to play the thing.  The sophisticated music-lovers in the place were entranced.  Here was something new.  At the crowd’s insistence, the demo was played again and again until the vinyl finally wore out.

In the Mix by Mario Fernandea via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
The next morning a disc jockey and a programming director from the city’s leading top 40 stations called Columbia Records and demanded copies of the song.  The company caved in.  Shortly afterwards, in late July, the song was released for sale as a single with “Gates of Eden” as its B-side.

Dylan performed the song live for the first time within days of its record release on July 25, 1965 at the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, Rhode Island.  He and his backing musicians started to perform an uncertain rendition of their new single and were booed off the stage by the unappreciative crowd.  It is a well-worn story retold by entire books.

The copies that the record company released to disc jockeys were truncated at first.  Promotional copies had the first two verses and refrains on one side of the disk and the rest of the song on the other.  DJ’s flipped the vinyl over to play the whole thing.  The public demand dictated otherwise.  Both Dylan and the fans wanted the whole, uninterrupted  thing.  Their wishes were met.

album cover for the 1965 French single “Like a Rolling Stone” By Source via Wikimedia Commons [Fair Use]
Like a Rolling Stone” remained on the US charts for 12 weeks.  The record reached number 2 behind the Beatles’ “Help” several weeks after its release.  It was a Top 10 hit in other countries including Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and France.


The hoo-hah surrounding the song was massive.  Reviewers and other experts as well as fellow musicians weighed in with their opinions about the effect of the song on the American and international music scene.  Speculation was rampant about what the song “actually” meant and who was being referenced in the vitriolic and cynical but ultimately compassionate lyrics.  The artist never “explained” his work.  He wrote it.  He had done his job.

Dylan’s contemporaries like John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Frank Zappa were in awe.  They almost universally felt that the dark and brooding song went far toward freeing them from the saccharine and lightweight clichés of the tried-and-true same-old of the popular music of the time.  The song simultaneously startled and challenged them.

Younger musicians who grew up with the song like Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello were tremendously influenced by it as well.  With that one song Dylan rewrote the rules for popular music, more than one commentator said.

Dylan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 by Bruce Springsteen, who said, “When I was 15 and I heard “Like a Rolling Stone,” I heard a guy who had the guts to take on the whole world and who made me feel like I had to too.”

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Mark Goebel via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
Rock and roll had come into its own. Bob Dylan and “Like a Rolling Stone” led the way.

[Note:  Anyone who would like to check out Bob Dylan’s music can have a lot of fun exploring  Discogs is a user-built database with information about artists, labels and their recordings.  They’ve been around since 2000 and have an absolutely amazing collection of records and CD’s  available.]

Seventy five-year old Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature by the Swedish Academy in 2016, touching off a bit of a controversy among assorted commentators.  It was not until March, 2017 that he accepted the award.


In his 2012 book, IMAGINE:  How Creativity Works, science writer Jonah Lehrer re-tells the story of Dylan’s radical breakthrough and delineates how being stuck and frustrated and on the verge of giving up can result in new insight and major innovation.   He calls the work that Dylan did to produce the song “a textbook example of how the imagination is unleashed by constraints.”  (The emphasis is mine.)

Lehrer goes on to suggest that perhaps this possibility of achieving a breakthrough may be the reason why many poets deliberately choose to allow themselves to be limited by traditional poetic forms like haikus and sonnets that other poets from other times and places made up.

Trying to find the words that sparkle when they are fitted into these literary forms that have strict and obtuse rules and requirements can produce new ways of seeing that can transcend the hackneyed, easy clichés that surround us.  It can imbue the work with meaning and mana.

As Lehrer puts it, “You break out of the box by stepping into shackles.”

In this TED talk video, “How Frustration Can Make Us More Creative,” English economist and journalist Tim Harford tells more stories about how being frustrated by challenges and life conditions does lead to greater creativity.


My own thinking on all of this is that just bravely facing that blank piece of paper is a mighty big challenge already, and getting those fool words to act right is a chancy thing.  Muttering a lot helps.  So does whining.

Here’s a poem….


Whenever confusion strikes

Making it hard to separate

The Real from the World,

I sit with pen in hand, thinking.


The blank page sticks out its tongue at me,

A challenge….

Troll-words limp and hobble,

Grunting and grousing as

They stumble out of their dark hovels.

I grab a few – just corral them as they pass.

Soon there’s a crowd of them,

Milling about and muttering,

Becoming a multitude.


The blank page slurps them up,

That jittery, jabbering throng.

It’s Godzilla attacking Tokyo

As the little guys scatter screaming….


Slash goes my deadly pen –

Snicker-snack, skidoo…

Annihilating, mutilating,

Cutting swaths through all the troll-word masses.


A few survive that onslaught,

A decidedly tattered crew.

More come stumbling out.

(There’s got to be a billion of them:

A rising tide that pops out of thin air –

Extra-dimensional travelers, all.)


I know.

If I can keep from drowning in that cacophony,

In the sound and the fury,

The clamor and the claptrap,

And if I’m really blessed, kissed by Lady Luck,

Maybe, just maybe,

I can touch that clarity that comes roaring up

Like the sun at dawn,

The one that turns the troll-words into stone.

(Sure is cool when it works!)

By Netta Kanoho

Picture credit: Bob Dylan Mural in Minneapolis by Jenni Konrad via Flickr [CC By-NC 2.0]

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