Lisa Weldon, ’74, decided last year she needed something different in her career. A lifelong advertising executive based in Atlanta, she felt she was missing out on the newest trends in the business, primarily social media. She set out to change that by enrolling in a course at Parsons in New York City. She found an apartment, budgeted for food and started a blog. But 10 days before she was to leave for her 30-day city adventure, the class was canceled.
“I already had my apartment and my ticket, so I designed my own curriculum, found short classes around the city and implemented the classes as I walked the city,” Weldon said.
She spent 30 days learning about social media and walking every square mile of Manhattan.
“I divided up the miles between the 30 days, then I blogged about it, Facebooked it, Tweeted it and put it on YouTube,” she said. “I believe I learned more the way I did it than being in a classroom all day.”
Weldon walked anywhere from 4-10 miles a day while not in class, ending the day in her apartment downloading photos, researching and writing. Some days, she added her work from Atlanta into the mix. As exhausted as she felt some days, New York gave her an energy unlike any other place she’s been.
“When I step off the plane in New York, my body becomes electrified,” she said. “No other city in the world affects me like that.”
Some days, Weldon said she’d wake up and 6 a.m. and have to make herself stay inside until it was light outside.
“It was the most glorious 30 days of my life,” she said.
But what started out for Weldon as a social media jump start for her career quickly turned into something entirely different.
“Instead of just going to learn and figure out the second half of my life, I began to motivate others with my life,” she said.
Not long after the journey began, she realized many of her followers were women in her same age group.
“I had a lot of women log on with sad stories, and they started sharing them with me,” she said. “One woman wanted to go back to school and after reading my blog, signed up for classes.”
Other women shared similar stories about how life happened and their dreams were cast aside.
“I started building relationships with these women,” Weldon said. On her website, Weldon shared a story about a woman battling cancer with a dream of going to Ireland. “What I’d really love is to open Facebook one day and see my friend in a photo in Ireland,” she writes. “That’s what I’d really love.”
Weldon, who has three children in college – two at Auburn – has set her sights on two more cities to navigate by foot. She hopes to make it to New Orleans in March and Paris in September. The New Orleans experience could be an all-expenses paid trip courtesy of several organizations. The organizations are footing the bill for 25 people to spend a month in the “Big Easy” walking and enjoying the city with the agreement to share the experience through social media.
“They got a grant to do this,” Weldon said. “It’s a great idea. I don’t know why more cities don’t do it.”
September’s trip across the ocean will be a bit trickier. Through websites and the help of friends, Weldon has started navigating the hunt for an apartment and is slowly beginning the planning for the month-long move.
“If you can live in Manhattan, you can live in Paris,” she said. “You run into people, and you just get to know people; the grocer, the people next door.
“Part of the beauty of going by yourself is you are forced to talk to people,” she said. “I’m kind of shy when it comes to meeting people, but this forces you to talk to others.”
Aside from seeing sights off the beaten path, learning new things, discovering new foods and seeing the underbelly of a city, Weldon said the freedom is truly liberating.
“You can wake up every single morning and decide what to do,” she said. “There’s a freedom to that. You can think, and plan and evaluate your life – it’s healthy.”
Before leaving Atlanta for the “Big Apple,” she asked her daughter to buy her an Auburn T-shirt to wear in New York.
“I wanted to try and plug out some Auburn folks,” she said. “Sure enough, the first day I wore it, a guy walked out of a coffee shop and said, ‘War Eagle.’ It’s so cool to hear.”
She plans on taking the same Auburn shirt to Paris.
Victoria Cumbow is a 2008 Auburn graduate. She’s a Communications Specialist with HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville and a freelance journalist. Find her online at victoriacumbow.com and follow her on Twitter @victoriacumbow.
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