111. Breaking the Blueprint with Amy Palmer

Events of the past few years have created space for many people to question their concept of how things should be.

I speak often of the “sabbatical life” and how taking a step back can help you see things that have been right in front of you all along, but you missed them because everything was moving so fast.

The pandemic brought the world as we had known it to a sudden halt.

Amy Palmer was one of those who had the fast pace of her life hit a sudden standstill. Raised in Central New York, she had a traditional upbringing that gave her a clear expectation of what life would be like. She’d do well in school, go to college, get a great job, fall in love, get married, have a couple of kids, and start a career.

Amy went to college, got a theater degree, moved to New York City, and pursued an acting career. To pay the rent, she took on sales jobs. She found she was pretty good at it, which led her to a new career that took her into operations and other corporate leadership roles. To her surprise, her acting career helped prepare her for this.

Everything seemed fine, but she didn’t feel motivated.

A career coach opened her eyes to the world of entrepreneurship – something she had never thought of, because she didn’t come from that sort of background.

This led to her starting a consulting firm and then accepting a leadership role with an education company that had an entrepreneurial culture.

Once again, everything seemed fine – but fine is a 4-letter word.

When COVID came along, she found herself needing something new – but what?

To find it, she had to go on sabbatical.

Could she afford it? Could she pull it off it in a culture that views any break in your work history as a red flag

In a moment, when you meet Amy, you’ll discover how unrooting herself to travel across the country, starting a podcast, and meeting people in her situation opened her eyes to a fundamental societal and cultural shift that’s taking place today.

It goes beyond “quiet quitting” or “The Great Resignation” and delves into the core of what we’ve been taught to believe.

Amy’s hype song is “Let’s Get Loud”, by Jennifer Lopez.


Invitation from Lori:

Like Amy, you may have the career and life you have because “they” say you’re supposed to do it that way. But are you really supposed to?

To see it for yourself, you may need to take a step back. This means resting, reflecting, and exploring, regardless of whether your current situation lets you just walk away from everything right now.

In my special guide, 5 Easy Ways to Start Living the Sabbatical Life, you’ll discover five steps to exploring this journey and finding something you haven’t seen before.

Take a moment to visit https://ZenRabbit.com and download it from the home page.

Slow down. It’s the only way you’ll gather speed.


Lori: Hello and welcome to Fine is a 4-Letter Word. My guest today is Amy Palmer.

Amy: Thank you, Lori. So good to see you.

Lori: Before I hit record, Amy and I were trying to remember how we originally met, because it was several years ago and Amy used to live in Washington, D.C. We couldn't figure it out actually. I think it was Washington Network Group, but we were also both super networkers so we did a lot of stuff. Our paths crossed.

Amy: Yeah, and I'm glad that they're crossing again all this time later.

Lori: Yeah, exactly. I was just going to say, so right, because this was several years ago and then we kind of tangentially stayed in touch like through LinkedIn and stuff because that's what LinkedIn is great for. And yeah, then I was a guest on Amy's podcast a little while ago and then here she is on Fine is a 4-Letter Word.

Amy: Well, I'm happy to be here and talking about being fine or not.

Lori: Being fine. Fuck being fine is what we're talking about. Yeah, I forgot to tell you at the beginning, but you probably already knew, we're not editing for language here. So start out by telling me what were the values and beliefs that you were raised with that contributed to you becoming who you grew into as an adult?

Amy: Okay, well, I would say I had like a very, quote, traditional upbringing and a very traditional family in upstate New York, Syracuse, New York to be exact. And I think what I learned, I learned a lot about family and loyalty and tradition and connection, and really, the value of working hard. I definitely got my work ethic growing up. I went out and got my first job when I was 11 years old without my parents knowing. So they wouldn't have said yes. I was 11 years old.

Lori: Okay, what was your first job then?

Amy: Well, I was called to be a paper boy, paper girl. I called them directly. And it was funny because this regional distributor guy, he was like some 40-year-old-man, shows up at the house asking for me. My mom's like, "What the hell?"

Lori: "What is this predator doing here?"

Amy: I wanted a job. I wanted my own money. I wanted to do my own thing. And I did it for years. And I outsourced to my little brother, you know. So yeah, I learned a lot about that. So I think a lot of those values contributed to a lot of my positive traits and the positive things that have happened in my life. And there's sort of like both sides to that coin too. There was also, in my view, I thought there was a lot of expectation, whether verbally expressed or not, of what my life was supposed to look like. Like in my head, I was supposed to do well in school and then go to college and get a great job and meet a young man and fall in love and get married and have a couple of kids and then do the whole trajectory thing. So I definitely learned all of that and internalized that a lot as well. And a lot of those things did not come to fruition for me. So I spent a big chunk of time sort of unlearning some of it, like just sort of reframing some of that as well.

Lori: Yeah. Did you intentionally reframe it, or it didn't happen that way so you had to reframe it because that's not what happened? So what I'm asking is, did you not want it to work that way or it just didn't work out that way?

Amy: Great question. It didn't work out that way. I wanted to have a more traditional path. Particularly you know, I wanted to meet a partner and get married. You know, still could be possible, but growing up, that was number one. Having kids was sort of number two, like a second-tier priority, but still a priority. And when those things started to not happen or it seemed more and more likely that things weren't going to happen, I struggled with that identity and I struggled with those feelings and I had to figure out how to reframe it. I had to be able to look at things differently and had to find another way to find joy and purpose and fulfillment and all of those things.

Lori: What was the career path that you took?

Amy: So here's where I've fought back and forth between tradition and non-tradition. I started out pursuing a career in acting, so not really traditional. So yeah, I went to school for theater and got my degree there and moved to New York City and pursued an acting career and did that for years. Loved it, but didn't love the business of it. It was really difficult, especially for someone with no connections and very little financial resources. Even back then, this is back in the '90s, and it still required a lot of resources, a lot of connections, all that. So while I was pursuing my acting degree or career, the way that I paid the rent was I started to take on sales jobs. So I would do different sales roles for different companies. And eventually, I started to sort of rise up on that side of things. I started to like earn more money and then I started to climb the corporate ladder and explore different industries and realized I liked being able to support myself financially.

Lori: I like being able to pay rent and buy food.

Amy: That was a good thing. So I continued on that path, pursuing a corporate career for many years.

Lori: This is interesting, because I think a lot of times, we feel like it's a tangent, but maybe it's really a better use of your skills. Like you are called to do that because that's really—I'm not saying you weren't a talented actor, I don't know, but I'm just saying maybe that the universe was redirecting you because that was where your skills were more needed.

Amy: Who knows? I think one helps the other. So like when I started out in sales and I went into operations and other corporate leadership roles, I learned that my training and experience as an actress absolutely prepared me. Because one of the things, when you're studying acting, you're studying how and why other people are motivated, like what motivates people to do things and what inspires them to do things. Those were all key learnings that I then fed into my corporate career. Plus, just the aspect of perseverance and dealing with rejection, all of those things from my acting experience absolutely played into my corporate experience and then later into my more entrepreneurial experience as well. So like you said, it all kind of goes together.

Lori: Yeah. I could totally see how acting would play into being better in sales and in corporate roles, for the reasons you said, but also because that whole like fake it till you make it—and we can debate whether that's like a valid thing or not. But when you aren't feeling confident—like I've read a lot of or heard podcasts or wherever I've heard this, but like stepping into that role of superwoman or putting on—not really a facade, but your alter ego. There's actually a book called The Alter Ego. I can't remember his name, who wrote it, but cool book. And he talks about when you're faced with a situation that's challenging, that feels scary, to take on this alter ego. It's still you, but it's a braver version of you.

Amy: Exactly. Yeah.

Lori: So I could see how acting would help with that. Do you ever regret not going down that path further?

Amy: No. And I've still done a little of it, like more for the fun part of it over the years. And I would love to do it again. I always envisioned myself like when I retire, whatever that means, I was like, you know what? I'm probably going to be like one of those old lady actresses at some point. So you can always go back to it.

Lori: You're playing the grandma. Well, here's the scary thing. People our age are actual grandmas now. Some of them.

Amy: But you know what's cool about now? I can fool myself into being young because I don't have kids making me face where I am. But we have peers not only that have older kids, but I've got friends with really young kids too in our age group. So it's like this wide variety. So I think that's pretty cool.

Lori: Yeah, exactly. Like my nephew is 13. That's where it should be.

Amy: Let's keep it that way.

Lori: Exactly. Our friends' kids getting married and having their own kids, no, not ready for that. I'm not ready for it. So don't you do it. All right. So take me further down the path of—because then you became an entrepreneur. And how did that come about? Like what was the impetus for that, where you went, "You know what? The money I'm making in corporate, I'd rather ..."

Amy: It always seems so silly. It's something I know you can relate to. It's not like I was deeply unhappy. I was just fine, just kind of going through the motions. It wasn't really doing anything for me. So I actually went to a career coach because I wasn't sure what I wanted to do next. And I never thought entrepreneurship was going to be the answer, because my family—I don't come from an entrepreneurial family. I come from a, "You get a great job with great benefits, hopefully a pension," that kind of thing.

Lori: Working for the same company forever.

Amy: So I just wanted to figure out, okay, which industry am I going into? And it's the first time I ever hired a coach of any type, so it was my first exposure to that whole world. And through that process, it slowly became evident to me that I was really excited about the prospect of building something of my own and creating it. Instead of trying to fit into somebody else's thing. And my coach sort of—she started to suggest it. And my first response was, "Oh, no, I couldn't do that."

And then the more we started talking about it, I just got really excited about it. So that was back in like, I don't know, 2004, something like that. So I did that for a good decade. I did sales and consulting. I had a training, coaching, and consulting business that I did for about a decade at that point.

Lori: In sales, like training, coaching, consulting around sales?

Amy: Sales and leadership. It was a little bit of both, but very business focused. Growing companies, scaling, all that stuff.

Lori: And then you went back into working for someone else. Which is cool. I want to emphasize that, because people think they get into entrepreneurship and then they can never go back and like it's a failure. Did you feel like you were failing to go back into working for someone else?

Amy: No, because I felt like doing it for a decade and doing it well and living a good life, that was good. But what was happening is probably the last two years that I was doing it—I was still a solopreneur at that point. I had independent contractors and people that I partnered with, but it was basically myself. And I started to get just a little lonely. Like I wanted to be part of a team again, but I didn't want to hire, like I didn't want to do employees.

Lori: You didn't want to be in charge of the team. I got you.

Amy: So yeah. And then I took a long time just sort of being open to opportunity. Like I wasn't going after it real hard. I just was open. And I had a company come to me that was based in California. It was an education company with a concept, and I have some background in education. It's a really cool, exciting concept that just excited me. So it was more like, oh, this is cool. And they wanted to grow their schools and expand nationwide and do all of those things. And that I was like, oh, this is cool. I could move to a new place, have a new era of life. So that's what I did. And that was in 2014 that I did that.

Lori: Right. So you stepped into a role on a team of an entrepreneurial company.

Amy: That's true.

Lori: Because I think it would be really hard for people like us who have been doing their own thing, have been entrepreneurs to step back into like a really traditional kind of company. Like we could never go for like IBM or something because it's too much structure. But you're talking about an entrepreneurial—And I talk about this too, like you don't have to be an entrepreneur out on your own doing your own thing to have an entrepreneurial spirit.

Amy: Yeah. Exactly right. And even when I was in that role, when I was hiring leaders—and that's what I was looking for. I was looking for other people with entrepreneurial spirit, for sure. Because we were trying to grow a new business.

Lori: It's a whole different mindset, that kind of business. Those are the kinds I've always worked for too. When I was working for someone else, it was always like smaller entrepreneurial ventures.

Amy: Exactly.

Lori: I love that energy with that. So how long were you there? Because you're not still in California now.

Amy: And then COVID doesn't help, right?

Lori: True. Nothing was fine about that.

Amy: It was a factor, for sure. So yeah, things were fine. We actually got acquired by a larger company just before COVID. So during COVID—Now, mind you, I was a leader and an executive of a network of schools. So leading schools during the pandemic was really rough. So that, plus the fact that we had just been acquired, so we were trying to navigate all of that. It was just a really, really intense time, and all my energy went into that job 24/7 through the pandemic, because it had to be. It required that. So as things started to open back up and everything, probably early 2021-ish, all of a sudden, I felt like I had nothing left and I just needed something new. I just needed something fresh and new. And I knew I needed a break, and I knew that like a vacation wasn't going to do it. I knew it had to be more substantial. So that's when I started planning for my sabbatical. I took probably a full year, almost, to plan for the sabbatical that I took in 2022.

Lori: Okay, so what were you doing in 2021 while you were planning it?

Amy: I was still in the job.

Lori: And when you say planning, explain that to me a little bit more. And I'm asking because I know that people who are listening are like, "Well, how exactly did you do that? I can't afford it, I don't have the time," whatever. The people who are listening have a reason, an excuse, of why they can't do it.

Amy: Listen up, because you can. Well, I knew that I had to financially prepare myself for it. I had to figure out, okay, well, how much money do I need? And how much time do I need? So what period of time do I need to like prepare financially? And in doing that, while I was doing that, I looked at my expenses and started going line by line and really trying to cut back wherever and however I could. And while I was still collecting a nice paycheck and saving pretty significantly. So I did a lot of financial preparation. At the same time, while I did that, I realized that if I just took time off while I was living in California, in my apartment that I was in, that was going to put a lot of financial pressure. It's really expensive in California. I know it's expensive in D.C. too, it's expensive in New York. But it was cost prohibitive. For me to stay there. I knew that I wouldn't feel as free and relaxed as I needed to be. So I need to start thinking about what I wanted to do about my living situation. Took a look at when my lease was going to be up, which was spring of 2022, and started to think about where can I live, how can I live, and what am I going to do? And all I was focused on was the sabbatical. I wasn't focused on the after the sabbatical, because I just took it like one thing at a time.

Lori: It's virtually impossible to plan what happens after the sabbatical, because the sabbatical changes who you are.

Amy: Yeah. So, so that's what I did. And luckily, my brother- and sister-in-law were generous enough to let me come stay with them for my sabbatical. Before we started recording, you and I were talking about getting rid of belongings. I sold or donated 80 to 90% of my belongings and shipped the rest cross country to New Jersey where my family was and put it into storage. I was giving myself permission to take three months where I did not have to think about what was next. I didn't have to make definitive plans. My whole goal in those three months was to be still, to heal, to get healthy again physically, mentally, and in whatever way I needed to, and give myself the space to do that. Which is not in my nature. I'm like a planner. I have to have action plans or what's next. So would that took a lot, just to give myself permission to let go of all that, just immerse yourself into that three months and leave it at that.

Lori: Yeah. I like that you just said that you gave yourself permission. We feel like, "I can't do this." And it is about giving yourself permission. No one else is going to give you permission. You have to give it to yourself. And that's okay. I think to your point, as high achievers—you are firstborn, right? But you don't have to be firstborn to be super high achiever. But we have this, "I can't give myself that permission." And if we're not being productive and accomplishing things, then we are total losers.

Amy: You hit it right on the head. And that takes time to get over that or even to like to let that go and to reframe it.

Lori: Reframe it is exactly what we need to do and what you were able to do. Because again, it's just a belief. It's not even true. It's just a belief that we've been instilled with and it can be changed. What I was going to say before too was I think it's the high achievers like us who need it the most.

Amy: Yes. That's why I've been preaching it ever since I've done it. And I was so glad to see your book on it and how you talk about sabbaticals and the importance of it. I've been like preaching it for a year now.

Lori: It's like the new study abroad. When we were in college, everybody was doing a study abroad semester. Now it's all about taking sabbaticals. We're at the other end a couple years later. We'll go with that. It's a couple years. Now it's about taking sabbaticals and giving yourself the time to, again, explore. Because that's what it was about when we were doing semester abroad. It was about exploring new cultures, who am I now as we were coming into adulthood? Now that we've been through a few years of it, it's like, okay, again, who am I now? What did you find out? What did you do? You said you went to New Jersey, but you didn't stay in New Jersey.

Amy: I traveled around. Just like you were saying, I definitely stayed on the east side of the Mississippi. I saw your post mentioning about that. Most of my friends and family and closest loved ones are all on the east coast. And there were a lot of people that I haven't spent quality time with in quite a few years, again, because of the pandemic. So I spent some time with family and friends that I haven't connected with, like really good quality time, which was amazing. But didn't put pressure on myself in terms of like a timeline or a schedule. It was pretty loose. And it felt good to be embraced by everyone. Like I really needed that at that time. I might have been initially worried about being faced with judgment of what people would think. I left my job and it was a good paying job and all that. So there was a little bit of worried about getting judged for that, but it felt good and validating how many people who I love and care about were so supportive. They were so there for me and welcomed me into their homes, basically, during that time.

Lori: Is that what you did, is you stayed with friends and family as you were traveling around during your sabbatical?

Amy: During those three months, I don’t think I had trips. I think I just went from place to place.

Lori: That's another way to do it, is when you know people and you can stay, it cuts down on some of the costs of having to stay in a hotel all the time. And then what happened after those three months?

Amy: I had a lot of clarity. I tried not to put expectations on the sabbatical about what I expected to happen. I was hoping some sort of transformation would occur, but I was trying not to expect it because I think in some ways that sort of defeats the purpose of the sabbatical. I was able to take enough time and space and stillness and get back to things that I love that I was able to just really clear out my thoughts and get clear on what I wanted to do.

So I realized, number one, I didn't want to work for somebody else again at this time. So that was very, very clear. I wanted to give back and help women and women similar to myself and of our age group. So that was really clear. I wanted to do something in that way. And I wanted to continue this nomadic lifestyle for as long as that was feasible and as long as that was still enjoyable and doing good things for me. And I wanted to just sort of be in the moment and enjoy the journey a little bit more. So that was really clear. So that's what I started and continued doing after the sabbatical was over.

Lori: So you're still out on the road traveling around.

Amy: It's a little different now. I found that for me, because I'm a very introverted extrovert, or a very extroverted introvert, one or the other, the perfect mix for me is to spend about half my time with other people around and half my time by myself. So I sort of designed my life that way. I've been hopping around different Airbnbs or hotels. I've done a couple of international trips. And then I sprinkle in visits with family and friends and going back to California and all that. I usually do it like month by month, figure out what's going on. And I've loved it. It's been fantastic.

Lori: It's really interesting. I started talking about the sabbatical after I did mine a year ago, and found so many people who were doing that. And now I'm about to embark on the nomadic life as well. And I'm finding so many people who are doing that. I think there's this movement or something. I don't know. Maybe it's just the people I'm hanging out with, but it's interesting because like you and I were not hanging out before we reconnected a few months ago, and yet we're still on similar paths in terms of what we're doing. So somehow the universe is bringing people together. Like when you start down a path, the people who are doing something similar to you start showing up so that you can find your tribe and band together.

And I say that because, again, anyone who's listening and who's thinking, "Well, I don't know anybody who's doing this," once you start moving towards it, the other people who are doing it—

Amy: You're absolutely right. And part of it has come from launching a podcast so launching a podcast and having a more consistent online presence, putting out there a lot of what I've been doing and how things have been going. That's what started to connect me with more and more and more people who are on similar paths and doing similar things and learning from them and finding out from their experience and seeing that people are doing it in different ways. Like they're just designing ways that work for them. But it's really exciting.

Lori: It really is. And it's so cool. I like that you said that everybody's doing it in different ways, because it's about finding what works for you. In life in general, it's about finding what works for you and not really caring and paying attention so much to what other people are saying about that. Like you were saying in terms of taking the sabbatical, like you were afraid people were going to judge you for it, but you did it anyway. And then you found that they weren't judging you.

Amy: No, they were supportive. Up until that point, I had never taken a break from work, like ever. I'd gone on vacations, but like between jobs or between opportunities or whatever, I never took downtime in-between. I always went from one job to the next or one job to a business. You know what I mean? From 11 years old. But as I talk to other people—and I think it's a generational thing for us, because I think the younger generations are getting better at that, the taking the break and taking the time and all that kind of stuff, but our generation, I do think struggles with that.

Amy: Yeah, absolutely. Because it's like, "I've got it. I don't need any help. I've got it." But there's no shame in asking for help or accepting help or even just taking care of yourself on your own. Like just doing what you did, to saying, "I can't or I choose not to." You can. We did it. "I choose not to do it this way anymore." There's a power that we have to accept and step up and take to do this for ourselves and for the people who have families for them. You're not taking away from that. It's fueling it. It's making you better so you can be better for them.

Amy: I agree wholeheartedly. And even as I talk to other women and men, even that have like more—because they have kids or because they have a partner, I still feel like it's so critical to just take that time. You might not be able to do like a three-month move across country thing, but I just feel like taking some sort of time for yourself is just so critical in order to just be still.

Lori: Yeah. It absolutely is critical. And that's also why I created the handout thing that I have. Handout, it's like we're in school. No, the download of the five easy ways to start living a sabbatical life, that it doesn't require you to take a month off or a year off, or like, how can you incorporate this sabbatical life into every day so that you're not burned out at the end of the week and you're like, all you can do is sit in front of Netflix with a bottle of wine? Not that there's anything wrong with that. I'm just saying you don't want that to be your whole default every single week. What's your hype song?

Amy: Let's Get Loud by J.Lo. I've actually used that as a walk-on song before for an event that I was one of the speakers at. They asked me for like, "What's your walk-on song?" You can't not get pumped up when you hear that song.

Lori: Absolutely. Great song. I will put a link to that in the show notes. Okay. And then the next question I was going to ask you, because we've mentioned it a couple of times, is about your podcast. So what's it called and where can people find you aside from the podcast if they want to continue a conversation with you?

Amy: Well, the name of my podcast is Blueprint Breakers and we celebrate empowered women in midlife and beyond. We cover a variety of categories, dating and menopause and retirement and travel, career, all the things. And I love to highlight the women who are living a life outside the traditional lifestyle blueprint, whether they're single or don't have kids or whatever. So that's my podcast. It's on all the platforms where you normally find podcasts. And you can reach me on Instagram at amypalmer.today. You can find me there as well.

Lori: All right, cool. And I will put links to those things in the show notes as well. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Amy: Thank you. It was so fun talking with you, Lori. Thank you.

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