Season 1
37 Minutes

Ep. 22 | Marge Schiller | What Radical Authenticity Looks Like At 83

Marge Schiller Ph.D., 83, is an Appreciative Inquiry thought-leader and professional grandmother. Marge has been an Appreciative Inquiry practitioner, consultant and collaborator for over 30 years, with a passion for intergenerational learning partnerships. Marge is the co-author of 2 books, Appreciative Leaders: In the Eye of the Beholder and Stan and the Four Fantastic Powers, a children’s book which she co-wrote with her grandchildren Sarah and Max Schiller.

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Marge Schiller  00:00

My big learning is who said the body was going to be in charge? Who said that? Who put that one up? I always thought my head was in charge and that I understood my heart. But not only is the body in charge, it turns out the body is very smart. The body is very, very smart. And I did not understand that the body was very smart.

Achim Nowak  00:30

Hey, this is Achim Nowak, executive coach and host of the MY FOURTH ACT podcast. If life is a five act play, how will you spend your Fourth Act. I have conversations with exceptional humans who have created bold and unexpected for that, listen, and to be inspired. And please rate us and subscribe on whatever platform you’re listening on. Let’s get started.  I am just delighted to welcome Marge Schiller to the My Fourth Act podcast. March is an appreciative inquiry thought leader and professional grandmother. She has been an appreciative inquiry practitioner, consultant, collaborator and writer for over 30 years with a passion for intergenerational learning partnerships. Margie is the co author of two books, Appreciative Leaders and the Eye of the Beholder, and Stan and the 4 Fantastic Powers. The first appreciative inquiry children’s book, which he co wrote with her grandchildren, Sarah and Max Schiller, when Marge and I first met, Marge was 76 years old, and well into her fourth act. Marge is now 83. As part of our chat today, I plan to explore with Marge, what stays the same, and what changes what goes away and what emerges on this leg of the journey. Welcome, Marge.

Marge Schiller  02:11


Achim Nowak  02:14

It is wonderful to have this conversation with somebody who I consider a friend. Before we go to the now, the 76 to 83 part of the leg. I started every podcast with the same question, which is who Marge did you want to be? Or think you want it to be when you’re a young girl or a teenager?

Marge Schiller  02:38

Absolutely nobody. I ride with the tide and I roll with the punches. And if there were one thing that I would say has served me well, but is changing is saying: Why not? And I only remember one problem with that. I’ve said okay, fine, why not? I’ll try it over and over and over. And it has almost always worked out. Except when I had a boss who said, you know, I’ve given this to a lot of people and they’ve not been able to do it. Would you like to try? I said, why not? I came back and you know what? Nobody else could do it. And I can’t do it either.

Achim Nowak  03:23

Here I are heard your answer. But I want to push a little harder. All right. I feel like you’re giving me the adult perspective on a childhood question. And and what interests me is, did mom and dad ever asked you who do you want to be?

Marge Schiller  03:41

Not really, and I want to go back to you use the word adult, I’m going to use another word. I’m going to say a person with learning differences. So it was unclear to me whether I was really smart or stupid. Because there’s stuff that I got and stuff that I didn’t get. I was out of school when I was in part of kindergarten in the first grade. Yeah. So it wasn’t quite clear. Should I have been held back what was going on. And it was not until my mid 60s that I found out that I have a DD and dyslexia. So the business of I want to be as something I can tell you things I didn’t want to be at one point I thought I wanted to be an artist and I did commercial art and advertising. And I was only pretty good. I wasn’t terrific. So I would say I might have spent more time the old Michelangelo there’s a there’s a statue in there. I think I spent more time figuring out things I didn’t want to do.

Achim Nowak  04:49

Yeah. But one basic question that most of us get asked, which is do you want to go to college? What do you want to study? I had a brother who didn’t go to college because he wasn’t deemed academically gifted enough. That’s part of my family’s story. Tomas isn’t smart enough to go to college. And then when you go to college, what do you study? Do you do something practical? That’s going to be a good job, or is this some passion you follow? Like, did you go to school after high school? Did you study? What did you study March?

Marge Schiller  05:24

All right after high school. I spent one semester at Clark University, I work university because my best friend in the world was an Maslow, whose father was Abraham Maslow. Cool. At one point, I thought, well, I really like Dr. Maslow, maybe I want to be a psychologist. I didn’t like college. I didn’t like Clark. I didn’t like the experience. And I got married. Now what I was going to do is I was going to go to Colombia. Yeah. But I and Simon said, if you go to New York, we can’t we were not going to get married. And I said, Okay, let’s get married. And that was another why not. But my university experience has to do when I was director of education for the Massachusetts State Senate. And I eaching, both at Radcliffe, and at Harvard at the Kennedy Institute. I never told anyone I had a degree, but I never told anyone I didn’t. So at one point, I don’t even remember how it started. But I applied to a master’s program at Harvard University, and they accepted me because they can anybody they want.

Achim Nowak  06:40

Since you brought up education, and I know that part of your professional career, you spent some time in government, you spent some time in business, you spend some time in education. Please give our listeners a snapshot around something that you just loved or love about being in education, but also, to everything wonderful. There’s often a dark side, what is something about education that is as somebody who has taught and studied that drives you crazy? Can you give us a snapshot of each?

Marge Schiller  07:15

Well, I love learning. I adore learning, education, not so much. My experience in higher education was I went on to her graduate school learning learning faculty. And I was blown away, there was only one other woman in the department. She said to me, these guys don’t play nice. And I said, I’ve been with the messages as legislature for 10 years. I’ve been involved in politics for 15 years. Come on. They didn’t play nice. And your system in higher education is troubling. The rules, regulations, constraints testing in the education system.

Achim Nowak  08:06


Marge Schiller  08:07

Is distressing. It’s distressing. So I am very jazzed about learning. And one of the things I think about is in this extraordinary time, during the time of the pandemics roll more than plural, multiple. It is a different time in the world. Every time I hear somebody say, oh, we’re gonna get back to normal. It’s like, Are you serious? And then I hear people saying, well, let’s get back to a new normal, not, we’re going to get back to the next normal, next normal. And within that next normal, there are possibilities that I am just overwhelmed by the opportunity to learn and to learn outside of the traditional educational structure is tremendous. So if what you care about is learning, the world is your oyster. If you care about his education, Go carefully.

Achim Nowak  09:18

So is real learning. And you can define that any way you want March. Is that possible in formal learning settings, because you know, some people go it, I need to get that Master’s, I need to get that PhD or I feel like I needed to be able to get to the playgrounds where I want to play. So is real learning possible there and what might that look like in those settings?

Marge Schiller  09:43

Of course, it’s it’s possible. My major professor was Chris arduous, who was an icon in organizational development. And when I was at the university, Chris would say it Chris believes in direct observable data. And he would say to a student who would get up and say, well, you need to understand the black experienced or you need to understand a woman’s experience. It’s a no I don’t know, I don’t. If you cannot bring me directly observable data, I don’t have to listen to you at all. people walked out, they flocked out. And what I said in my head was okay, I’ll play your silly game. Now. They’re their games to play. Games have rules. You want to play in the game, you have to play by the rules. I was thinking when we started our conversation, one thing that I have always done is gone on time and under budget. It’s, you know, the things that make you who you are. And when you ask the question about what changes what doesn’t change. There’s been an interesting, opening up in this time people have used the word blurs day that things are kind of blurred. But it’s beyond that. It’s a calm, it’s under a time of such dramatic, dramatic stress. People are saying, What do I need to do now? What can’t I do now? There’s been a fluidity around commitment. That’s not the way I roll. But it’s also making me think, is doing this going to be giving energy having positive benefit? Or is this something I check off that I said, I do it?

Achim Nowak  11:37

Yeah. You just went to a question that was formulating in my mind. And I love for you to try to answer from two perspectives, which is, how does Marge at 83 decide what games she’s willing to play? And what games she’s not willing to play? and contrast that with? Younger Marge, maybe in her 30s and 40s. At that time in your life? How did you decide what games you were willing to play? And what games you were not willing to play?

Marge Schiller  12:09

Wow, that’s a big one. Well, I’ll start with now. I want to do things that give me energy, and I don’t want to do things that deplete energy.

Achim Nowak  12:21


Marge Schiller  12:23

I want to do things that I’m good at. And with certain exceptions, I don’t want to do things I’m not good at. I remember, but I often take a dare remember very good friend of mine, who understood my learning differences. That be I couldn’t do a sudo call. It took me almost an hour. It was horrible. It was horrible. He paid me the $100. So you want to know about when I was younger? Yeah. Because of the learning differences. I didn’t have boundaries to sposta. I had what we think might have been the first feminist television show in the country. And it was a live show and that good. It was a PBS show, talking heads etc. And my mother said, How can you do that? What happens if you can’t think of something to say? And I said, You know what, maybe I’ll suck my thumb. And I can live with X number of several 1000 people watching me suck, make a big honkin deal. So I do think that the standard can you live with the consequence is pretty. It’s a pretty good one. But because my experience was or so non traditional, I just figured I’d try it. And almost all of the time, it worked out just fine. And that is partially because I did say I’ll play your silly game. Yes, I did things that I thought were unnecessary or maybe even foolish, but it didn’t.

Achim Nowak  14:17

Word from your sponsor. That’s me. I invite you to go to the website associated with this podcast fourth you will find other equally inspiring conversation with great humans. And you will also learn more about the my fourth act mastermind groups where cool people figure out how to chart their own fourth acts. Please check it out. And now back to the conversation.  There’s so many wonderful dots you just connected to me with that answer. That was cool. You mentioned earlier and I’m curious in our our audience might be as well that You spent 10 or 15 years in, in government in Massachusetts. Similarly, if you had to think of something that brought you joy or energy from that time, what was it? And if there’s some, I hope there’s something that did. And if and if there are things that didn’t, I’m curious about that as well.

Marge Schiller  15:24

Well, first of all, during the time I was active in politics, it was a quest. It’s not, in certain ways, quite similar to what’s going on right now. I believe the Vietnam War was wrong. I worked for Eugene McCarthy, who had that belief set. I met many, many famous people and got to work with a lot of interesting people, because of politics, and because of the belief, because they believe it’s very exciting to do something that you’re passionate about. What’s better, what could be better?

Achim Nowak  16:05

I agree.

Marge Schiller  16:06


Achim Nowak  16:08

One of the things I know you Marge are passionate about his field called appreciative inquiry, you are considered a thought leader in that space. Before we go deeper into it. For our listeners who don’t know what appreciative inquiry is, could you give us a little introduction to appreciative inquiry?

Marge Schiller  16:34

Why don’t we just take the two words, the first is appreciate appreciate would be the value appreciate would be in the financial sense to grow. And appreciation for me, has always included appreciation of the difficult or challenging, because resilience only comes if we’re challenged. So we I suspect, anybody who’s listening to this can say, Oh, that was lousy. But boy, I sure learned something. And it’s that ability to learn from and appreciate. I didn’t like it, but I’m different today because of it. So that’s what appreciative means. And inquiry means asking questions to find out to be curious. But I want to say something about inquiry, which says, taken me a long time. And that is to be sensitive to people who are not curious, because questions can feel like assault. Yeah. And we’ve all had the experience of feeling assaulted by a question. The old one was, are you Do you still beat your wife was that was sort of the classic of it’s an unanswerable question. You watch news conferences now with ananth? Those questions can’t be answered. So that the inquiry is I maybe we should call it appreciative invitation. Because when it’s an invitation, you can say No, thank you.

Achim Nowak  18:07

Yeah. I had to chuckle as you were talking, because I’m the notion that not everybody, you know, wants to inquire is really interesting. I’m in the role right now of asking your questions. You’re my guest. And some questions you might go, gosh, I’m glad he asked that. And some you might go, I wish you would get the heck out of that one, because I have other things I want to talk about. And we know each other. So I know, that’s not the dance between you and me. But I’m relating it to the experience of being questioned because questioning, no matter how well intentioned can be a way of controlling your conversation, right? And it goes into control dynamics and all of that stuff.

Marge Schiller  18:58

That we are because I think that there is a dance of collaboration and co construction. Now, if you always want to lead and you want me to follow, I don’t know whether I want these sad dance. But the idea of playing off of one another’s energy, there’s not a question that I mind. Because there’s always going to be something interesting. Even if even if my I can’t even think of I can’t think of questions. I can’t you know, what else? I suspect it also has to do with emotional state. Yeah. And relationship to the question. Yeah, yeah. Imagine Okay, let’s go back to the news conference. Do you really want to hurt me? Yes, I do. I’m a reporter, and I want to hurt you. So that’s a different response to a question. But another sense of a question that’s unexpected. It’s walking down a road you never walked down before. Right? No. T shirt in my life. I never thought of it that way. Wow.

Achim Nowak  20:18

I think once we get to the place, this is subtext that I hear from your limit tested where we’re fine with being asked any question. That’s a beautiful place, especially when we know that we can always say no, I don’t want to answer that question if we don’t want to. But the question can open a door to something that we discovered the unknown and all of those things. Am I hearing you correctly as I articulate? Absolutely.

Marge Schiller  20:45

One other thing that I would add to that is it’s not a no, it’s a no thank you. Yeah. And to be right now, in a space that is more gentle. Yeah. This is such a time of anger and stress and fatigue. Come on, people now smile at your brother, let’s be nice to one another couldn’t hurt.

Achim Nowak  21:15

So Margie, you and I had an accidental meeting, on a cruise ship. And what interests me about that story is just because you were definitely at the age of 76, when I met you, so you were in what we would call the fourth act. And you were, you had a certain kind of life, but you were busily engaged in work and passions and interests. And you still are at 83 in some ways that are similar, some are different. So I love to, because the name of the podcast, fourth act, look at this stage of your life. Can we start by I’m going to invite you to tell the story how we’ve met. cure to do that, because it’s we sort of met cute, like you willing to tell that story?

Marge Schiller  22:04

Of course, and you’ll correct me if I forget something. We were on a short cruise from Florida. Yes. On a big cruise ship. No, we’re sailboat people. So the whole thing with the cruise was, frankly, a little bit weird, just weird. Why are all these people doing this? Why are they just like, I don’t know, I don’t get it. But my husband was in a wheelchair. He’s 88 now and he was having some mobility issues. And so we were to get off of the cruise ship at a particular time. We sat with a few other people. And the two people that I remember best. Were First of all, the woman who was on the phone and saying you don’t seem to understand I’m a gold silver Platinum diamond person. And I want to get an okay, fine. And then there were two, there were three people, two women and a man in a wheelchair. And the man was I forget what he was complaining about. And one of the women whipped around and said, if you don’t stop complaining, we’re going to go on another cruise because it’s cheaper than the nursing home. And I did not want to sit there. I wasn’t amused. It was like, I’ve been on this cruise. And with that thing. It’s enough already. So I walked over to you. And you were sitting with your partner, your colleague whose name I’ve now forgotten, and I yeah, flash flash. You were sitting with flash and you work on the door. Maybe you were on your cell phone or something. And I walked over to you guys and I said, Is this the no complaint zone? Yeah, it was. And it was. And then we found out we had things in common. And we all liked one another. And we went out to dinner and you came over the house and so on and so forth. And the lesson from that is something else that I’m not doing is sometimes something wouldn’t feel right. And I would just go forward. Give me some men who were so hard and then you know, march forward, you got to do it. That’s my mission. That’s what I said I would do. I’m much more interested in what things feel like energetically at the Beach Boys had the song vibe good vibrations. You feel I feel good vibrations with somebody. I’m ready to march if the vibrational field feels like it’s a giant sucking sound of your energy. I don’t want to be there. Yeah, I have a choice. I’m not going to

Achim Nowak  24:58

is this the no complaint zone is a wonderful opening line. But choosing to live in the no complaint zone is also a wonderful way of being and creating or co creating our existence, isn’t it to use the language of are we used before? I have a distinct memory of a conversation that you and I had where you introduced a word to me that I had not heard before before. And the word is Plurk. And you talked about how much you love working, and I’ve grown to love the word myself. So can I entice you to talk a little bit about the value of parking at any stage in our lives?

Marge Schiller  25:40

Absolutely, I first thought about this, Oh, I love being able to say this in Barcelona, because when I was in Barcelona, I was working with someone who explained to me that there is a word in Catalan that does not exist in English. And that is Apollo and Dionysus together. So the play and the work. Wow, that, that really hits me. And when I thought about it, first of all, I thought, Well, I’m not going to call it porking. Because that sounds like your feet are in the mud, sort of, but working is kind of an up. And the backstory on this as I mentioned, I, I had a television show of my own but then I became the Friday commentator for a five day a week TV show on the CBS affiliate. Scratch that it may have been the NBC affiliate, I don’t remember. But what I do remember is I was asked to debate phyllis schlafly Lee is the was the head of the eagle forum. And I would say pretty much single handedly managed to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment seriously. So I was fairly freaked about this experience. And in order to show my mommy chops, I brought in seven year old Andy Schiller with me. And he sat there and afterwards he met Mr. schlafly. And she asked him about his daddy. And Andy said, well, Daddy, work works. And mommy play works. Oh, nice. Oh, yeah. Oh, nice. Oh, my gosh. And as with many experiences in life, and this is something that I have learned, there is a deeper meaning. And once you’ve had a chance to step back from it, you understand something you didn’t understand. After that first reaction. My husband hated his job. He hated the experience. He hated going to work. I loved my job. I loved going to work, I was bubbly and happy and so on and so forth. So Plurk is when there is an energetic play in the work, when there’s a lightness in the work, when there’s an okay acceptance symbol work. It is not a lockstep March. It is not just a transaction. There is something when you Plurk that is transformational.

Achim Nowak  28:34

Can any body work in any circumstance? Because I’m hearing, as you’re talking that working is a choice? Or are there just some jobs or some circumstances where the answer is get the hell out of there, so you can work somewhere else?

Marge Schiller  28:52

Two reflections. The first is I do believe in Okay, I’ll play your silly game. I do believe that there are things that will still exist in systems that require you to do things that may strike you as silly or foolish or a waste of time, but that’s what you do. On the other hand, one of I’ll come back to this because it’s so big to me. If I am in a place, or in a relationship, or in a situation, where there’s this giant sucking sound of energy, and I don’t belong there, and that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad place. Yeah, it’s a bad place for me. Yeah. Beautiful.

Achim Nowak  29:42

Now, this is called the my fourth act podcast. And you are the oldest guest I’ve had on the podcast so far. Marge Schiller. And I love talking with you because when I met you, you were 76. And in my mind in your fourth act, and you asked me this provocative question, well, when does The fourth act and and when we know our fifth act, and I want to throw it back at you like, how do you make sense of that for yourself?

Marge Schiller  30:11

Well, first of all, because I know you are steeped in theater, and I am a lover of theater, I thought about it not as a fifth act, but as a coda, as what something that brings things together at the end. And as it is my nature, I deconstructed the word, a co CEO, da. And this, this is a refresh of some of the things I’ve said before, but it’s really where I want to leave the conversation, because important. Anything that I think about, there’s a caveat. Right now, there is a wonderful opportunity that I would love, I would love to take advantage of. And I can’t do it right now, because my husband needs too much care. And so there’s a caveat. What is the it’s sort of like, it’s sort of like, when you go and look at the cherries in the supermarket. And when they’re 795 pounds, you say I don’t like cherries that much. But at 495 or 395, I want those cherries. So what’s, what’s the cost? This second. So that’s the See, then, oh is opportunities and they look different now. In in the eye steepings is opportunities that never struck me as opportunities before. And then I see opportunities that I would have been ecstatic about in my fourth act, that I no longer I don’t see them as opportunity, I see the opportunities to lay aside. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to be a player. Yeah, it means that the nature of the opportunity is changed. Because if D is discerning, everything now is about what’s in the background. And what’s in the foreground. My big learning is who said the body was going to be in charge. That went up, I always thought my head was in charge and that I understood my heart. But not only is the body in charge, it turns out, the body is very smart. The body is very, very smart. And I did not understand that the body was very smart. So I would say that one of the things in the coda of this play is listening to my body and saying, oh, you’re tired. You know what you could do? You could sit down for 20 minutes, you could take a nap. What a concept. I never took a nap in my life. So that’s Cod, but the A is the most important one. And that is about authenticity. I cannot say enough for get real, be real, particularly in this extraordinary time that we’re living in right now. Probably the most interesting time for re examining. So much has gone on during the time of COVID and the multiple pandemics. I believe that I do not feel defined by this time. And I hope you don’t feel that way either. But I do hope that the pandemics multiple pandemics are a time where we can redefine ourselves. So in the Kota you’re playing let’s redefine.

Achim Nowak  34:17

I love that you used Kota as a pure wealth framework for your current play of life. But everything you said is relevant for every stage of life. And maybe part of it is that where you are right now, you know it’s informed by a wisdom that says stop already and pay attention. And if you based on what you know if you were to give wisdom guidance suggestion to other folks who are in maybe they’re 70s or 80s and want to explore or want to do whatever what what suggestions might you have for them.

Marge Schiller  34:59

Come on over. Let’s Have a glass of wine and we’ll talk about it. I don’t know. I can’t imagine giving advice. No, I, I have no advice except, you know, okay. I do have one piece of advice. I’ve never had therapy. And therapy is a very good thing. And I was trying to figure out why I’ve never done therapy. And the reason I’ve never done therapy is I have friends that I talk to, on a regular basis all the time. All the time. Once a week is dead. She’s Mondays at a labarbara is 7am on Tuesdays. Marsha is as needed. And these are hour long conversations that some might call Cole consulting. I like to call them friendship. Yeah, friendship with people that whose opinions you value and where it is at a relationship of equals.

Achim Nowak  36:08

What a beautiful way to end our conversation on the note of friendship, since I consider you a friend. Thank you so much for the gift of your time and the conversation March. Thank you I keen. Like what you heard, please go to my fourth act calm and subscribe to receive my updates on upcoming episodes. Please also subscribe to us on the platform of your choice. Rate us give us a review and let us all create some magical fourth acts together. Ciao


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