Meet Quest Maker Kathleen Bohn
Quest Makers are women in their 40s and beyond who've declared
"now it's my time," and then set off on their own journeys to realize their dreams. Every month a Quest Maker is featured in the FREE e-newsletter, Your Next Quest Chronicles. Click here to enjoy archived issues.
Quest Maker Kathleen Bohn
From high-tech traveling executive to
broadening what she loves in her life
I first learned of Kathleen when one of my mentors, Valerie Young of Changing Course sent an email with this subject line: "Someone for you to interview." Included was a link to the Austin Civic Orchestra's website where I saw this picture along with: "And the donkeys brayed, 'Bravo!' Kathleen Bohn, winner of the Austin Civic Orchestra's Member Concerto Competition, is known to serenade her donkeys and her neighbors on her ranch..." Valerie was right; I did want to hear about her quest!
Kathleen knew she wanted to retire early from her high-powered job in high tech. In her 40's, she started to plan ahead. By her early 50's, she had reconnected with her passion - playing the clarinet - and had moved from the city to a ranch in Dripping Springs located in Texas Hill Country. Last year, when the company she worked for was purchased, she - along with 30,000 others - was laid off. Early retirement had come to her and she was more than ready to broaden the things she loves in her life.
When did you decide to embark on your journey?
In 2004, I was approaching 50 and was very engaged in prepping for retirement. I began thinking about it at 40, but reality starts setting in as you approach 50. I wanted to retire early so I was reading a lot about it and making a lot of decisions guiding me toward that part of my life. I was thinking about what I would need to do to live on a more limited fixed income and how much was I going to have to put away.
What gave me a whole new perspective on retirement was a very interesting article I read and one statement in it: “You need to think of retirement not as retiring from your job, but what are you going to retire to?” At that point, I began thinking a lot differently.
In my 20s and 30s, my job was basically my identity. For 27 years, I had little time for much else. I was a consulting manager with EDS, a company which no longer exists. It was a high-powered job and I was traveling all over the country. My specialty was business intelligence and data warehousing in the health care and pharmaceutical industries. I also managed a team of consultants and technical people to help set up business intelligence for our clients.
With retirement, it was going to be gone and what would I do? The more I thought about that it made me realize, boy, there was a lot out there I really wanted to do. That perspective got me thinking about where I wanted to go after I stopped working.
At the end of 2004, an old high school friend had talked to me about playing with the 2005 Texas All-State Alumni Ensemble, a reunion of All-State High School musicians that happens every five years during the annual Texas Music Educators’ Association.
At that point, I hadn’t touched my clarinet in 25 years and I was very doubtful. Once I dusted it off and started practicing again, it all came back and I was so totally hooked. I had been very, very passionate about playing my instrument. I have a Masters degree in clarinet performance. So after the convention I came back to Austin and I joined the Austin Symphonic Band and the Austin Chamber Music Center. From there, I auditioned for an opening in the Austin Civic Orchestra and now play with them as well as the Balcones Community Orchestra.
In August 2008, EDS was acquired by Hewlett Packard and soon after, the company announced that there would be more than 30,000 U.S. layoffs. I was laid off officially in June 2009. By then, I was about 4 ½ years back into music. I had already been looking closely at retirement. At that point I knew: OK, I am going to retire back to music, my original occupation.
What led you to leave a career in music?
Money – there’s not much money in music. I taught private clarinet and did gigs whenever possible, but it wasn’t enough to live on. I took a part time job in a bank and became interested in computers. I went back to school to study computer science, business, and accounting. Then I got a real job with EDS.
The layoff meant I could really turn up the fire underneath my practicing. I had a lot more time to do that. Now I study clarinet with Steve Girko, the principal clarinetist with the Austin Symphony Orchestra. It gave me all the time in the world to practice for the Austin Civic Orchestra's Member Concerto Competition in which any orchestra member can compete by playing a piece of their choosing.
Kathleen enjoying applause after her solo performance with the Austin Civic Orchestra.
The layoff happened at the end of June and the competition was held the first week of August so I had good six weeks to really just practice. When I won the competition, I got to solo during the fall concert on November 7, playing my competition piece, Norman Dello Joio’s Concertante for Clarinet and Orchestra.
When did you buy the ranch?
By the beginning of 2005 I was a few months into deciding to retire to music. Then I started really looking into the finances of retirement. I had my dream house in Austin on 1 ½ acres of land right off Lake Austin. I had spent 6 years renovating it to get it just exactly the way I wanted it. I started really crunching the numbers and I realized that between the mortgage and the taxes I wasn’t going to be too comfortable financially in retirement. I had to make a very, very hard decision to leave the house. I cried when I left, but it came down to logic: is the house more important than having a life beyond paying your taxes and a mortgage? I decided: Yes, I want to have a comfortable retirement. I sold the house in October 2005 and I started searching for something more affordable.
Texas bluebonnets in bloom
I had always been interested in Albuquerque, but at that point the houses were more expensive than they were worth and I decided to look around in the Texas Hill Country, just west of Austin and north of San Antonio. It’s just gorgeous country. When I lived in Dallas, I camped out here all the time and in the spring did bluebonnet viewing as well. I used to think, boy, wouldn’t it be great to own a little hunk of hill country? It came true.
I told my realtor I just wanted to take a look at the property I own today. I didn’t think I wanted 20 acres of land but I was curious. It was the first property I looked at and I returned twice more because after I saw it I couldn’t get out of my head. The price was right. It only had this itty bitty cottage with one bedroom, one bath, a barn, and a small lean-to. I just looked at and said, well, why not?
|South side view of the property|
I’ve always wanted to live out in the country. Each time I bought a new house it was with a little more land and I didn’t ever set out to make this big of a jump but it was sitting right there and talking to me so I went for it. I call it Loma Brisa II, Breezy Knoll, which is just so appropriate for this piece of land.
|Fall color on the ranch|
After I bought it, I renovated the entire cottage, doing a lot of the work myself. Many of the rooms were taken down to the studs. I had walls pushed out, some removed, and porches enclosed. After 3 years of hard work, it is now a much more comfortable place with 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, and an acoustically treated practice room.
How did you make time for your dream?
Getting laid off! I was toying with idea all along but when you are working full time and trying to keep the ranch up, it doesn’t leave time for practicing. An hour a day isn’t enough time to play proficiently but when 8 more hours during the day open up that definitely gives you enough time to play well enough to win a competition.
What helped you stay on your quest’s path?
Setting goals: Before I die I want to be as good on the clarinet as I can possibly be. That isn’t going to be what I could have been if I had stuck with the clarinet from my 20s on. I never will be the symphonic orchestra player that I wanted to be. But I’m playing in a couple of different orchestras and chamber groups and I’m having fun and I am still improving. I know I still have quite a bit to do. And I know as I do get up in my 60s and 70s, I’m probably not going to be able to play the clarinet anymore. To be as proficient as I can be on the clarinet is a big goal of mine. As competitions come along I’m going to enter them. As I get chances to do more musical stuff with different kinds of groups, I’m going to take them. I’m going to do everything I can do. That’s a big passion in my life and a big drive for me. And that’s just something I’ve just made up my mind I’m going to do.
The other things in my life are—all but one—are kind of secondary to that. My relationship with my partner Sherry is a huge drive in my life. Music and my relationship are right up there together. Beyond that I have lots of interests.
What are some of those interests?
I’m very interested in wildlife. I’m a big camper and have backpacked most of my adult life. I just love being out in the wilderness and now I get to live in it. That’s just amazing. The property came with an agricultural valuation which is why the taxes stay so low.
|Lucio is in rear, Lorenzo is on the left, Ms. Twinkles is on the right.|
The previous owners had goats and donkeys and that’s when I fell in love with donkeys and ended up with three donkeys of my own. I love those critters. I wasn’t interested in agriculture per se, but in Texas the state allows people who have 20 or more acres to keep it wild for wildlife in a program that helps curtail suburban sprawl. I worked with the Texas Parks and Wildlife and with the Hays County appraisal district to switch the valuation from agriculture to wildlife management.
Now I have a certain set of activities that I have to perform on an annual basis. With this program, the landowner can decide what to protect, whether it’s turkeys or deer, whatever is out there. I love, love, love birds, so my choice is song birds or any kind of bird. There are hundreds of different kinds of birds and thousands of birds on the land. I can be sitting on my back porch and a little gaggle of 15 turkey toms or a family of quail will walk across the yard.
|Scott's Oriole sneaking a drink
from a hummingbird feeder
I supplement the birds' food, water and housing. I do predator, erosion, and brush control. The donkeys are part of that. They keep coyotes and snakes off the land and away from the birds.
|Kathleen with her tractor, Yolanda|
I purchased a tractor and am learning how to use the different kinds of implements. I never thought I’d be doing any of this. All of this has been a whole new world that’s opened up to me in last 4 years that I’ve been out here and it involves a lot of physical work and now I have a lot of time to do it. I’m loving every minute of it.
What has bee the secret to reaching your goals?
I’d probably just say a certain quality of fearlessness that I have combined with curiosity and basically having the kind of personality where I have to be busy, I have to be working. It’s why it worked out so well in my job. I don’t procrastinate and I’m not afraid to try new things. I had so many people say, “I can’t believe you just bought that piece of property and went out there not knowing anything.” Well, I had every confidence I would learn so I was fearless about it and I was curious about it. I find when I just maintain that sense of curiosity and not be afraid, I usually discover wonderful things that make me very happy.
What changes has this brought to your life?
I think of it in two different modes. I think of it as the music mode and the ranch mode.
From the music perspective, I’ve gone back to where I used to be and I'm doing the thing I‘ve always been most passionate about in my entire life. I never stopped listening to music. When I was working and didn’t have the time to practice and perform but I was making money, I became a little bit of an audiophile. I became very curious about the whole electronics thing and became very enamored of creating that perfect sound through electronic means. It took me on an amazing journey of electronics going back to pre-WWII technology and trying out tube technology and stuff like that. I kind of pushed my passion into that world and continued to listen but it’s nothing, nothing like practicing it and performing it and doing it live. It’s just not the same. I’m back to actually making the music myself and it’s much more active and that has been major change.
Kathleen doing brush management
The other thing is now I am on a ranch and I’ve always loved the outdoors but I spent 16 years doing an average of 50% travel with months on end of 80% travel. I’d fly out on Sunday and come back on Thursday. I saw airports and office buildings and I dressed in suits. Now I’m in my comfy jeans and I’m outside and I sweat, I shovel donkey poo out of barns, I’m out in the sunshine and in the rain and in the cold and the heat. I’m now where I spent my vacations when I was in the office. I’ve broadened the things that I love in my life. You might be able to tell that I am happy. I’ve never been happier than I am right now.
What's the best advice for your quest that you've ever received?
The thing that I always say - and my partner points this out to me all the time – something goes wrong and I look at it and I just say: “It’s always something.” And it took my partner a couple of years of me saying that for her to understand what I truly meant.
The phrase comes from Gilda Radner saying it as Roseanna Roseanadana. Was that advice given to me particularly? No, but it struck me at a very young age and I’ve carried through my life. The whole thing about that sentence is that it IS always something and you know what? It’s OK that it’s always something. Things go wrong. And the faster that you accept that and fix them and get past them, the happier you are going to be. That’s kind of my little motto that I have gone by, “It’s always something.” [Click here to see a clip of Gilda as Roseanna from Saurday Night Live.]
It isn’t that I don’t go through all the emotions when things go wrong; it’s just making a decision to see what we can do with this. Where’s the lemonade? I’m not going to sit around and be depressed about it and I’m not going to let it stop my life. I’m just going to get over it, around it, or through it.
Looking back, what's one thing you wish you had known as you set off on your journey?
No. I feel like I have all the tools I need for life; is there some fact that helps me? I don’t think it’s so much knowing facts. Who would have known that in 2008 that we were going to have such a horrible economic time and who knew I would be laid off because of it? Would I have changed anything I did based on that knowledge? No, I wouldn’t. The thing is, do you have the tools to help you live the way you want to live?
What is the one essential quality that you'd tell women to pack for their own path?
It’s important to be fearless. Something breaks and it needs to be fixed. Why not try it yourself before you call a professional? It has to be fixed anyway. Don’t be afraid to try new things, go new places, meet new people. Fearlessness, maybe mixed with a little curiosity. But I think a lot of people don’t get to where they want to be because they are afraid of things along the way. There are certain things you have to be afraid of in life. A dark alley for example -- that’s something to be afraid of. That’s something I’m not going to try. I know better.
Can you describe how you dealt with any obstacles on your adventure?
It’s always something! Be prepared for obstacles, not that you can prepare specifically for this obstacle or that obstacle but knowing that there are going to be obstacles and accepting it up front. When I get to one then it’s not like I knew something was going to happen, it’s what will I do next? Look at from a few different views. I think you get better and better at that as you go along.
Is there a particular quote, a movie, a book or a person that has sustained you?
I love movies and books but I don’t put that much weight into them. But four people stand out:
My parents, oh my God, did I have a good set! They gave me life, they taught me how to love, they loved me. One of the most important gifts they gave me was an outstanding education. That can never be repaid in any way, shape or form.
Carol Allen, who was my first band director and who still is a good friend. We’ve known each other for 33 years. I can’t give enough credit to her.
And my partner, Sherry, who just sustains me at this point in my life. I don’t know howI got so lucky. It is just the most amazing love I have ever known.
Kathleen and Sherry
Do you have a new quest around the corner?
You betcha! This quest is one with my partner. I came out to Dripping Springs alone. It’s hard work out here in the country. I’m going to be 55 this year and I know I won’t be able to be out here for the rest of my life so the next quest is the golden years. It’s beyond retirement and the age where you are going to need some help and be set up differently because life will change.
We both love golf and we want to be able to do that. With that in mind, my partner has purchased a home on Hilton Head Island, S.C. that she is renting out right now. The house is right on a golf course in a retirement type of community. It’s independent housing with all of the medical facilities that you need nearby. There’s every activity in the community.
We’re thinking that when we are about age 65 we’ll be ready to change our lifestyle. In the meantime after she retires, we will start splitting our time between the ranch and that house, mostly because we want to get away in the summer. While the rest of the year it’s gorgeous here, in the dog days in central Texas – it’s 107° for 50 days of the summer. In a few years we’ll begin making the transition to move out there permanently. That’s at least what is in the plans right now.