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Transitions—There Are Surprises To Be Found Along The Road From High Tech To Small Town America

By Peter Golden
Posted October 8, 2014.

It’s taken a while, but slowly I’ve begun to transition my professional practice and thinking into new areas. Where in the past I focused my efforts toward developing a marketing communications firm in the Greater Boston area, I now find my work and thinking is directed toward historic preservation and gaining a better understanding of suburban communities and how they operate. It was not always that way.

In 1984, after a stint producing and marketing tradeshows for the computer industry, I went to work for a large technology manufacturer for whom I was a regional sales manager. I then went on to launch my own business, The Golden Group. At the time we offered marketing consulting, public relations, advertising and direct mail services to computer industry clients.

It’s been an interesting three decades working with information systems companies, real estate and financial firms, a parklands conservancy, a number of tour operators and an education foundation.

While the business is still challenging and rewarding, I’ve become active in other areas as a writer and commentator. In the early 2000s I contributed a single column to the Op-Ed pages of the MetroWest Daily News, one of the better regional newspapers in New England. While I’d been ghostwriting editorials, position papers and speeches for clients for decades and in a previous life wrote regularly about the pop music scene, I rarely published under my own name at The Golden Group.

Positive reader response led me to write more columns while exploring a variety of areas in which I had limited experience. Soon I was investigating a host of political and policy issues ranging from foreign affairs and the economy to transportation and energy solutions. And while the thinking behind those early efforts may not have changed a lot of minds, I found that work undertaken in education policy earlier in my career allowed me to pursue new ideas with relative ease.

Around the same time I began to publish a series of articles on managing residential communities for a Community Associations Institute affiliate in the Greater Boston area, where I live and work. The result was that my understanding of capital budgets, facilities maintenance and hands-on governance increased appreciably. Another “regular turn,” as we say in the world of freelance writing, led me to the pages of glossy consumer magazines serving upscale communities.

There I began to write about history, culture and the environment—three areas that have held a life-long fascination for me and which have allowed me to consolidate whole realms of disconnected thinking from earlier in my career. And then one day I found myself dozing through one more, interminable session of my community’s town meeting, a form of local governance common to smaller New England communities.

I’ve been involved in local affairs as a neighborhood representative for over 25 years, so while I have no particular affection for politics, I have enormous respect for the grassroots form of democracy that has allowed the town in which I live, and thousands of American communities like it, to endure and even prosper for literally hundreds of years.

I am, by the way, a great fan of catnaps, a trick I learned from my wife early on in our marriage that has served me well over the years. I never sleep on the job, but while I can doze even in social situations without anyone really noticing (no mean feat), I use such occasions in a way you may never have considered: I meditate, and most decidedly not on my navel.

The trick is to let your subconscious off the leash, and then pursue it as it begins to wander across the landscape of your imagination. It was in the course of such a brief respite (town meeting can be a most rewarding experience, but if you’ve ever attended one you may have noticed how some speakers tend to drone) that “the big idea” came to mind.

I have had a somewhat out of the ordinary life. While in college and on into my 20s I worked in the theater as a stage manager and producer; later, I became a reporter, photographer and editor, covering the glory years of rock and roll from such vantage points as the stage at Woodstock (yes, the original one, with Janice Joplin and The Who). I also reported on the Democratic National Convention in Chicago (yes, that one) and the French General Strike of 1968. Those were dangerous, but fascinating times and they gave me my first opportunities to be published.

Then, I became a teacher in the Boston schools, working with inner-city kids through a horrendous time when a desegregation order was in force and the city was in crisis. You’ve already heard the rest of the story, but here’s what’s important: While drowsing my way through a late-night session of town meeting I had a bit of an epiphany: after decades of writing my way quite literally around the world (if only from my study) and marketing scores of companies, I realized that one of the most misunderstood and underrated parts of American life are communities just like mine.

Subsequently (it’s been a few years since that “ah-ha moment”), I’ve been able to elaborate on that idea, while always hewing to the notion that when thinking about history, the environment and culture when expressed through the agency of town government (and the more grassroots the better), one can begin to understand and even participate in the process of making life better in a very personal and meaningful way.

I’ll be back to tell you more, but in the interim take a moment to think of the ways you give back to your community. Whether you’re a corporate CEO, an entrepreneur, or just a freelance writer and marketer like me, the act of community building is as timeless and rewarding as life itself.

 

See earlier Blog articles by Peter Golden.

 

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The Golden Group is a marketing, creative and Web services firm located in the Metrowest area of Greater Boston, Massachusetts.

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