There comes a point in our lives when many of us ask three tough but simple questions: Who am I now? Where do I want to go? How do I get there?
For Marylove Thralls, a writer and adjunct professor of marketing at SBCC, those questions have come up more than once during her extensive career in human and public relations, most recently with Opera Santa Barbara.
“The idea for the book started years ago when I lived in Tulsa and I was home on a medical leave,” Thralls said. “I was a director of communications for a big international equipment company and here I was stuck home for six weeks. It was the worst time.
“One morning ... I looked out the window and my street was completely empty. There was not a child, not an adult, no cars, nothing, and I stood there — it may have been hormonal — but I just wept. I felt so out of touch with everything.”
Thralls said the disconnect from her corporate career that she felt at that moment has never left her.
“Fast forward about 20 years and I’m here in Santa Barbara, working at Opera Santa Barbara,” she said. “I had sung with the Music Academy of the West for its summer operas; they had invited a few people from the community to fill out their chorus ...
“There was a volunteer who had been an opera singer, and my curiosity got me. I was wondering, how do you step back from the applause on the stage and all of that to being an audience member? How do you make that transition?”
The woman explained to her that she had prepared for leaving the stage for her entire career.
“She knew, like a dancer might, that her time was finite because of her instrument,” Thralls said of the woman’s voice. “There comes a time when ... you have to take a step back and evaluate where you are right now, and the future.”
That fascination with how people deal with career and life changes continued to engage Thralls as she contemplated her own future.
“In the landscape of the business world, it’s kind of delineated how you will progress,” she said. “I think pragmatically (for men), having that pressure gone and maybe what their values are, what they want is to relax and do nothing.
“Women fought really hard — at least my generation — to be able to be in a position of some respect and authority. ... They didn’t come by it as easily as your generation today, which makes it hard to give up.”
Thralls, who has a Master’s degree in Human Relations, has been friends with Bannon since their involvement with the American Society for Training & Development years ago. They were both interested in exploring how women were “carving a path for the future” and the idea of coming to terms with the emotional impact of leaving an important phase of their lives.
Bannon, who lives in Tulsa, brought in Chemers, an executive/retirement coach based in North Carolina, and the three began an extensive cross-country collaboration via email and Skype.
They interviewed a wide variety of women, from an “accidental traveler” who was forced out of her Fortune 500 position after 31 years to “the comeback kid” who retired from her law practice to take care of a husband dying of cancer and “the dream catcher” whose ambition to own her own business met the reality of running a small farm.
Each interview includes a series of “survival questions” and author observations at the end, making the book a thought-provoking read. Thralls wrote up most of the interviews while her co-authors put together a section called the “Empty Desk Survival Toolkit” based on the lessons learned from the interviews, additional research and their own experiences.
“They are the experts in that area; I’m just the curious busybody,” said Thralls.
“I feel like this book has legs and, guess what, now the men want one,” she laughed. “I’ve had several men read this book and say, ‘Well, why don’t you do one for the guys?’”
Of course, Thralls has plenty of things to keep her busy. She and her husband, Michael Hackett, have three grown children — Deirdre, David and Gillian — and she has a stepdaughter, Shannon, who is studying for her doctorate at the University of Oklahoma. The opera aficionado also has a 6-year-old granddaughter named Aria.
When she and her husband moved to Santa Barbara nine years ago, Thralls said, “the first thing I did was audition for the opera and I got in; that was my immediate new family. Then I joined the Choral Society and I’ve been on the board of the Choral Society now for about six years. Singing has been one of my passions and one of my joys.”
Thralls is writing a screenplay and she’s excited to teach an SBCC class she’s developed called “Gender Issues in Marketing.” Of course, she’s also marketing The Empty Desk Survival Guide.
“It’s really important to get across that ‘survival guide’ was a very intentional title,” she said. “These are tough times and people, like some of our interviewees, had no choice in leaving their careers or professions of longstanding.
“I hope that this is a valuable tool to really help them make these transitions.”