Inspired to Change in Midlife

Whether you lost your job in midlife or feel the need to change/reinvent yourself for more benign reasons, it helps to see what other people our age are doing. In this article, a half-dozen older workers describe how they picked themselves up off the floor and created new work lives. I felt inspired by their stories. Maybe you will, too.

Joanne Hardy

Joanne Hardy

Sometimes success takes a while. Author Charlotte Rogan got her first book contract at the age of 57,  but she’s a baby. My friend Joanne Hardy is from the generation ahead of Charlotte’s, and Joanne just published her magnum opus, The Girl in the Butternut Dress.

I asked Joanne how she learned to write so well. She described persevering, and said:


The best class I ever took was Robert McKee’s three day seminar called “Story.” It is so dense and so thorough…I have taken it three times. He is just fantastic. When you go there you will see a block of seats reserved for well-known media groups, like Disney; they send their writers to him…I thought it well worth it. I came home and restructured my novel.

Not all of us are climbing career ladders. Some are struggling to figure out who and what we are at this stage, which can be intriguing in itself. My friend Ellen Cole created a blog, 70Candles, where women share their thoughts about aging mindfully. My own reinvention took the form of letting go of my corporate identity, and refusing to be judged for shedding my power suit. I decided I was good enough as a person, without the trappings of career to prove my worth to the world. One of my proudest accomplishments at this point in my life is providing day care for my grandbabies. It’s a big shift for a gal who never got to be a stay-at-home mom, but I think I’m at a point in my maturity where I can appreciate it better than if I were younger. Except for my aching back.

Yes, we’re getting older, but there are definitely some great benefits.

More Magazine surveyed 1200 women age sixty and up, asking them to rate their lives. What were they happy about? What did they regret? What have they learned about finding their true paths? Here are the high points:

  • The Betty White Boost: A distinct spike in confidence occurred at the uppermost end of the respondents’ age group. Quite simply, the older the women were, the more likely they were to give themselves high marks for life decisions. Women age 80-plus were the most likely to feel satisfied with their life choices. (Although More only surveyed women, this phenomenon has been documented in men, too.)
  • Know Your True Path: A majority of respondents said they found their true path in life after age forty.
  • Cool with Not Being Superwoman: a majority said having it all is a crock. Do what you can and pat yourself on the back, and that it’s okay to ask for help or to say NO.

I’m curious about you. Are you starting over in any way, with work or family or personal truths? If so, what did you change, and is it working? Are you feeling stronger or are you drifting? Do you have any bits of advice for us? I’d love for you to share your thoughts if you’re so inclined. (And now the baby is waking from his nap so I have to run!)

Morgan babies Xmas pic 2012


  1. says

    Hmmm….well I’d like to be succinct. Torturous marriage to an abusive cop for 13 years. Found the strength to leave when I saw it affecting my son. The three years following the divorce were hell as he spun out of control. I walked the tightrope of fearing for my son and not wanting to insight his father. Mercifully, although that might sound terrible, he took his own life…..and didn’t take anyone along with him….although he had considered it.

    Recovering from that was hard…five years later the dust is starting to settle. I am writing again. I up and moved out of NY down to Florida and am busy building a new life,…by the beach…with the pelicans…and my son….life is good!

    • says

      Cydney, sorry I didn’t see this sooner. Was away at a conference and had trouble signing in on my Android to WordPress. But YIKES! What hell you’ve gone through, and your son. So glad you are both safe now.

  2. says

    Lynne – you’ll appreciate this one. So today is my youngest son’s 17th birthday (youngest of 4) and we all went out to brunch where I shared last night’s dream. Of course my oldest son, Will, listened carefully & then looked me straight in the eye and said, “Mom, the only subject worth writing about will be someone the Chinese government won’t let you near.”

    Whoosh is right! Dream deflated.

  3. says

    Love this post Lynne & love your blog. I’m still in my early 50’s and have a long way to go before I can think of retirement (if I want to keep this house/”hotel” we’re running until our twenty-somethings are off the ground). But last night I had a dream I figured out a way to get to China – a daydream I’ve had for years. I dreamt I had a book contract that took me there, all expenses paid! Ha! It could happen, right?!

    Coincidentally, a good friend of mine whose had a lifetime career as a career coach just came out with a book about “second-act careers.” She used to specialize in careers for moms but now we’re at “that age.” Your readers may find it worthwhile:

    Here’s to dreaming, night or day, until we all get to where & who we want to be…

    • says

      Oh, Lisa! What a fabulous dream. Yes, who’s to say it WON’T happen?! And you’re more likely to achieve it than I am mine: flying by just lifting up my arms, peddling a bit and whoosh! I’ll check out the link, and thanks.

  4. says

    As usual, Lynne, your posts inspire me. It’s just wonderful to see how many women in our age group have given up the rat race to pursue their dreams.

    I quit my job in May 2011 to persue freelance writing. I really wanted to write fiction, but thought I’d make more money writing articles. Then in December 2011, eye pain, cloudy vision and a diagnosis of Corneal Dystrophy threw a wrench in my plans. I had two corneal transplants in 2012 and a much longer recovery time than I ever expected. Needless-to-say, poor vision and eye surgery can really slow a writer down.

    I had stopped looking for writing gigs and the online sites where i was already writing started drying up as well, so on top of vision problems, my old depression and anxiety kicked in with a touch of agoraphobia sprinkled on top.

    But, on a positive note, my vision is close to perfect now (or as perfect as it ever will ever be) and I go for my final post-op exam next week.

    The good news from of all this funk I was in is that I’m writing fiction again. That was my dream in the first place. Luckily, my live-in boyfriend is a great supporter both financially and mentally and I have a retirement account that I’ll use eventually so I won’t end up homeless. :)

    Congrats to all you and all your commenters, and me. We’ll keep reinventing, pursuing, and living the dream on our own terms. Who knows, maybe we’ll become inspirations for younger women to follow. :)

    • says

      Oh, man, Vonnie, YOU are the inspiration! You got a real kick in the teeth and didn’t let it flatten you. As we go into this later phase of life, we’re going to have more physical and emotional challenges, making normal life even harder. So we MUST encourage each other – we’re all we’ve got! Thanks for sharing your story, and I am so happy that you are recovering and that you’re able to pursue fiction again.

  5. says

    loved reading this post Lynne. The examples you shared and the stories from readers. I got divorced at 48. I closed a business with my new husband, we both sold our homes, and we have been traveling in an RV since last May. We make about 1/4 of what we did, but both felt an overwhelming need to regroup. To figure out what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives. This is not to say I’m not enjoying life right now. I don’t think we can live for, you know, that fulfillment out there somewhere ahead of us. Good to work toward goals and dreams – but not to the exclusion of appreciating and celebrating today. And like a few of your readers commented, I took up blogging and photography and so, so enjoy both. Don’t know where else I’m going to go with things and a means of better income, but have to allow myself time to figure that out. I think it will come….as I continue to do things that bring joy. And a slower pace? that’s been priceless.

    • says

      Barbara, I crave a slower pace. I’ve gone thru several stages since my first retirement and at first I stayed busy to avoid downtime. As I learned to relax, I began to treasure the days on which I had absolutely no requirements or appointments. I went from fearing downtime to enjoying it. Priceless is the right word.

  6. says

    OK, I’m an artist, but I wanted to expand my world. Loved the computer, loved reading blogs, loved the connections that people formed with each other. So I decided to become a blogger. I’m now writing, which I have NEVER done in my life and I’m now taking photographs, also something I’ve never done in my life and I’m loving it. So this artist is now writing and photographing and having a wonderful time.

    Age, probably older than all of you!

  7. says

    I’m in my late 50s and feel like I’m living my life in reverse of most women I know. My early years were spent working my life away in a career that felt like a dream come true. I loved going to work just about every morning. I spent 50 – 70 hours each week keeping up with a commanding work load and rarely felt over-stressed; I was just too much in love to notice. Never had kids, moved to various cities and friends were the people I worked with – rarely socializing on weekends.

    3 years ago I stopped working, motivated by a job that was yielding more frustrations than satisfactions and decided to discover who I was and what I wanted to do outside the confines of my professional title.

    Since then I haven’t discovered 1 over-riding passion or 1 compelling calling that beckons me. I’m playing with myriad directions, all of which constitute an engaged personal life for the first time in my life.

    It’s fun, meaningful and, surprisingly, fills me with a sense of achievement that I thought only professional work could do. I’m actually proud of myself that I’m able to enjoy a life that’s not driven by responsibility to a job and a boss. Odd — but true.

    Good topic Lynne. Thanks

    • says

      Joyce, thanks for the affirmation and best wishes with your quest. For me, I needed to escape a domineering dad and victimized mother – it made me crave financial independence. Now that I’m retired, it’s harder to come to grips with the lack of a corporate identity. Or it WAS, but I’m thrilled now with my lack of visible power in that world. All they need do is make the mistake of underestimating me and – FUN!

  8. says

    I loved this bit of inspiration. Here is a short vignette of my journey: At 58 years old I went back to school to recreate myself and freshen up my knowledge base. Not a bad goal. I received a 2nd master’s degree in library & information science (MLS) with a 4.0 GPA (had a previous master’s in biology). I thought I would fit the stereotype of ‘the silver-haired mature wise woman sport a tight bun’ who could help the community with their information needs. NOT! Even though I had a solid handle on research and the latest library computer technology (in addition to teaching experience, a bubbly personality and a decently attractive exterior), i was NEVER hired by a library in my hometown (not even part-time). Agism? Perhaps. Lack of connections to the important people. Perhaps. Waste of money and two grueling years studying. Definitely. [Warning to all who think a degree will open doors at this age–unless you are looking to be self-employed, then perhaps an MBA, MFA or MSW may be a benefit]. It was not my karma.
    Today, I have lessened our household budget by $700/mo. to make up for my lack of “hirability” and I blog, quilt, garden, cook, and babysit too.
    I am in bliss anyway, and as for the libraries, they don’t know what they missed by not using me!!

    • says

      Hedda, what a bummer that so much excellent scholarship didn’t result in $$$. But thank God you are balanced enough to figure out how to enjoy life anyway. I grew up very blue collar; not poor but close. After a couple of false starts, supporting layabout husbands, I married a man with an actual job and, frankly, wealth. But I was never comfortable. I sensed his wealth depended on the good graces of his family and their business. In the end, we left the family biz to achieve mental health and independence. Our lifestyle was greatly reduced, but coming from my side of the tracks, I knew how to enjoy life on a budget. My husband happily adapted, and we are less well off economically now but proud of our flexibility and resilience. Life is better now.

  9. says

    At 57, after teaching high school English for 28 years, I decided to retire early and write full time. It meant living on less, but it also meant living my dream. For years I’d gleaned early morning hours to write before going to teach at-risk teens – how I had the energy, I do not know – but in 2004 I took the leap. Four months later my novel, HOT WATER, sold to Berkley/Penguin, and the fun began. Soon I was commissioned to write GLADYS AND CAPONE (about Silent Screen star, Gladys Walton, who was Al Capone’s lover – what fun channeling Hollywood in the 1920s). On weekends I researched and wrote in a room at Two Bunch Palms. Late at night I’d slip into the grotto pool alone, naked. OMG! I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
    In 2009 I tackled the “main book I ever wanted to write,” a story that grew out of my years teaching at Cairo American College in Egypt. I returned twice to Egypt for “research,” and now, finally, my magnum opus, IN THE TIME OF APRICOTS, is being read by NY editors. I’m in that awful, nail-biting stage of waiting for my agent’s call that we have a deal. There has been doubt and angst, but I would do it all again. Age? Who cares? There is no retirement from a dream.

    • says

      Just prove you are never old to start life anew, Kathryn. Good for you, really. I have a friend who is writing her first work of fiction. It’s a knock out SCI FI piece that I know will sell. She’s 83 years old, for goddess sake! Why not? My agent, Denise Dumars from The Ashley Grayson agency in San Pedro retired and at 58 I’m searching for a new one, but even if I don’t land another (I think I will, though), I’m finally doing what I love. In the last year, I’ve written two books, have started a third, and can’t stop. Who knew writing popular fiction could be so damned fun!!!

    • says

      No retirement from a dream – words to hang on a poster on my wall, Kathryn! And everybody, Kathryn let me read the MS for Apricots, and it is just drop-dead fabulous. Cross fingers it gets the mass attention it deserves.

  10. says

    Love this post, Lynne. Nice job. I’ve always written, but it wasn’t until I was 57 that I tried my hand at popular fiction (I was always too snooty to have any interest in anything but high brow non-fiction, literary fiction or the classics before), but I’m loving writing satirical fables and supernatural mystery-thrillers. Bug bit me for sure…but I had NO idea I had a talent or even a desire for this kind of lit until damned near 60. They may or may not be picked up by an agent and publisher, but I feel like a happly little kid while writing these books, and I’m having the time of my life.

  11. says

    I left the IT world behind to concentrate on my writing. I could have probably worked there for much longer but could not take the red tape, the changes to off shoring and the politics. Sometimes you are tied to a position simply for the paycheck, and I decided not to do that any longer. The only thing I regret is the, um, paycheck. It was a good decision for me.

    • says

      Lynn, yep, that paycheck thing can be addictive. You know, eating and having a roof over your head? BTW, my friend was in commercial printing. She managed projects like menus for big chains and checks for banks. That went away, so at 58 she had to find a new job, but did: managing sales and shipping of all kinds of pipe for the energy sector. Less money but gets to keep the house. It’s life in the 21st century.

  12. says

    I’m in my early 40’s and as your post states, this is when many women find their true path. I think this is true for me as well. I’m working hard to get out of the 9-5 this year, and pursue art. No telling how it will go, but I’m willing to take the risk. I didn’t feel confident enough before now. Thanks for the post.

    • says

      Good luck, Denmother. I had a passion for writing, and although I couldn’t pursue it seriously until I was about fifty, I still did whatever little things I could during the “waiting time.” If you’re bitten, it’ll never let go of you. Have fun.


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