Big changes in career, vocation and lifestyle in midlife or the years leading up to it are more often an evolution than a radical change.
I went back to journalism school at 35 because the writing degree I’d started at 18 — and never finished —nagged at me for years. Going from full-time college counselor and teacher to graduate student was intimidating — financially, intellectually and emotionally. It was also one of the best, richest experiences of my life, and, no matter how many zeroes got added to my student loan balance, I have never regretted it. I traveled to Vietnam to cover business growth there. I was a reporter in the arena on the night Barack Obama accepted the nomination for President of the United States. I helped to run a student digital newsroom and emerged as the de facto den mother of several classmates a decade or more my junior. I now have a degree that means I can teach writing if I want to (because I loved teaching too much to leave that option behind), and I have built a new — sometimes messy, always fascinating — career.
Here, meet eleven women, each called to bust her own status quo — to take new roads, build businesses, earn degrees and perfect new skills. They are all living out the joy, creativity, risk, hard work and chance for fulfillment that a second act can bring, and the best news is that they are nowhere near finished.
Eva Greene Wilson
Writer, videographer, law student socamom.com
“Entering this second act has been tough for me, but I am truly loving it. Sometimes the guilt of not doing it earlier gets to me, but I push past it and try to enjoy learning new things and meeting new people. My dad took the bar exam when he was about my age; it takes some of us a little longer to get where we are meant to be. He’s still practicing law today. I’m in my third year of law school, and I am so ready to be a lawyer. Will I still be a practicing attorney in my 70s like my dad? I don’t know — I may have moved on to my third act by then!”
Food blogger, Kalyn’s Kitchen
“I loved teaching elementary school, and during the 30 years I was doing it I never dreamed that when I retired I’d go right into a second career and be working even longer and harder than I ever did as a teacher. But now I’ve been running my low-carb recipe site, KalynsKitchen.com, for more than 10 years, and I’m happily spending hours every day cooking, shooting photos, editing photos, writing posts, doing social media, replying to comments and tackling all the little tasks it takes to run a successful website.
I think the skills I’d developed as a teacher helped me become a successful blogger. And when I think of what my retirement years might have been like, I’m grateful beyond words to have meaningful work and more financial security during this time of my life. But those aren’t the only benefits I’ve gotten from my second career as a blogger. The experiences I’ve had through blogging and the people I’ve met (both online and in real life) have expanded my world in a way I could have never imagined when I was back in the classroom.
I have no idea why the internet gods smiled down on me the way they did when so many bloggers struggle to find a following or keep up with the demands of online life, but I’m grateful. Every. Single. Day.”
Author, organizational consultant and coach
“My path to second and third acts has been a circuitous adventure. I was in my fourth year of a five-year doctoral program when I fell out of love with clinical psychology. I went ahead and finished my degree, but, while working after grad school, I embarked on a quest for my new passion. This quest led me back to my art for a time when I painted and sold my work. Then I was led to start an organizational consulting firm, which I still run, then to create Vision Quest Retreats, through which I help women clarify and achieve their visions of success for their life’s work. I’m also writing a series of fairytales for women that chronicles the life of an adventurous princess named Isabelle. So the route has had many twists and turns, but to me it’s one big adventure. I know I’m doing the work I was put on this earth to do, and that’s what matters.”
Author and entrepreneur, Crafty Chica
“What happens when you finally score that “dream job?” When I became a syndicated columnist at one of the country’s largest daily newspapers, I loved every moment. It was everything I expected and more. But at the same time, CraftyChica.com became my late-night passion project. Never in my wildest dreams did I think it could become my full-time gig. Then I figured, if I landed the other dream job, why couldn’t I do it again? So I pursued the option with all my will and business skills, and it happened! I left my wonderful newspaper job in 2007 to take on another wonderful job — running my own business sharing inspiration. I used all my experiences to help me grow my brand. From book deals to licensed product lines, speaking engagements and daily blogging, all the pieces came together.
Life goes on, and there are so many opportunities. Why stick to one career for the rest of your life? Pinpoint your dream gigs, then make a plan to make them happen. Where you focus your energy and intention is where you will see the activity! You have the power to make it happen.”
Karrie Myers Taylor
Videographer and coach, km-taylor.com
“As a director, videographer and video editor, I’ve always been a “behind the camera” chick who was just good at coaxing performances out of talented people. Now as a Self-Care Coach, I get to move out from behind the camera and help people focus the lens on themselves. In a way, I was always looking to help people make that connection and transformation, we just started out with a Canon between us.”
Writer, speaker and social media consultant, vikkireich.com
“For 15 years, I worked as a county Adult Protection worker investigating abuse and neglect of vulnerable adults. It was, in many ways, an impossible job and certainly not one I could talk about at dinner parties since most people can’t handle a conversation that begins, “You’ll never guess what I saw in this hoarder’s house yesterday!” I planned to spend the entirety of my professional life there, but burnout sneaks up on you. It took a long time for me to see how the work had changed me, how cynical and unhappy I had become, but once I could see it I could see nothing else. So, I gave notice and walked away from my career at end of 2012. Some people start over because they want to, but I started over because I had to. Since then, I’ve worked as a freelance writer and have a built a creative life that feeds my soul. I have less money for shoes but don’t worry about bringing bed bugs home from work, so I think that’s a win. I never pictured the life I’m living and have no idea what lies ahead, but I’m learning to sit with uncertainty in companionable silence.”
Farmer and writer, secondchanceranch.com
I spent most of my life living in large cities — Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver — working as a communicator (reporter, publicist, blogger, improv teacher) and now live much of the year on a remote farm in North Dakota, communicating with plants, animals and other farmers. Taking this huge cultural leap at age 45 — from a downtown penthouse office to a prairie trailer on family land — has been a humbling adventure. After many years of fantasizing about becoming an organic farmer, I finally called my own bluff and it has been exhilarating. I thought I knew what a “crazy boss” was, but NOTHING compares to the manic love/cruelty of Mother Nature — her moods and whims (drought, floods, hail, bugs) can make or break your crops. Not much one can do about it except learn how to listen better.
Cancer survivor, author and artist
I could write a book on this subject. I’ve always embraced risk and change, but I wouldn’t say that’s how I approached getting breast cancer when I was diagnosed with stage III in my early 40s. I also wouldn’t say cancer is a gift. But it did turn out to be the biggest game changer of my life. Work was part of that. After a lifetime lack of talent or interest in any form of art, I discovered an obsessive passion after cancer and spent the next 10 years making mosaics. Since then, I’ve had several more career reinventions — including my latest: After turning 60, I wrote my first book and I’m working on my second. Getting older has been another game changer and a surprise. I would have expected to ease up workwise. But with less time ahead, I feel more of a need to contribute. I place a much higher priority on the meaning and value of how I spend my time, and I place a much lower priority on what anyone else thinks. In a world that changes so constantly, I think adaptation is the most important skill we have. So I think all my career pivots reflect resilience, curiosity — and maybe a little ADD.
Nailah Blades Wylie
Entrepeneur, business and marketing strategist, nailahblades.com
Five years ago, I left my full-time corporate sales job to pursue my own thing full-time. Nothing could have prepared me for the ups, downs and roundabouts that come with entrepreneurship. Along those five years, I’ve pivoted my business twice, gained a business partner, smashed revenue goals, lost clients, had a baby, lost a business partner, laughed, cried, panicked, rejoiced and so much more. Leaving my cushy corporate gig was a huge leap, but I knew that even if things didn’t work out the way I planned (it never does) taking the risk was a far better choice than sticking it out in a job where I felt stuck in a rut. Even though it’s easy for me to forget it when I’m facing down the fire drill of the day, I still get that twinge of excitement in my belly when I sit down at my desk and start working on projects I really care about with people who I respect and admire greatly. If there’s one thing the past five years have taught me, it’s that I’m much more resilient than I could have ever imaged. And when the time for change starts knocking at my door again, I’ll be ready and willing to jump in, feet first. Here’s to following your heart.
Attorney, Author, Speaker, Radio Host mariaolsen49.com
I went to law school straight out of college, because I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life and it bought me three more years to think about it. Plus, it made my Asian mom proud. I got a job at a big law firm and made loads of money, but it felt soul-draining. When a colleague got a big appointment in the first Clinton Administration, I jumped at the chance to be her Special Counsel at the Justice Department for a few years. After I had my second child, I became an at-home mom. I grew antsy being at home full-time, so I began writing for parenting magazines, then general interest magazines and newspapers. I’ve since published two children’s books and a non-fiction adult book, with a second in the pipeline. As a divorcee and an empty-nester, I’ve added co-hosting/co-producing a radio show, teaching writing workshops, speaking on diversity issues, book-selling at author events (and a bit of part-time lawyering, to pay the bills) to my repertoire. I appreciate our generation’s ability to chapter our lives and feel fortunate that I have found a way to make my dilettante lifestyle work.
Attorney and founder, Justice Fergie Lifestyle Media
This ‘”second act” of my life is really about making my own choices. In hindsight, when I was headed toward (and then practicing) law, I really felt like I was swimming with the current of what “made sense” professionally, financially and that provided a certain level of accomplishment. Now? It’s all about my sense of personal fulfillment, time and space for my family and getting closer to what I am best at. I bet it’s no coincidence that this new chapter is coinciding with the approach of my 40th birthday; they say the best years — the ones that are unapologetic and lived out loud — are right around the corner. I’m here for it!