Suggested Song: Mad, Bill Magill
Suggested Drink: Caribbean cocktail: Bombarra rum, cointreau, fruit juice, grenadine syrup (for my island friends, who’ve just survived a date with Irma)

Madness is close to everybody.
Carol Rama

I decided to take a gap year when I reached 50, to rediscover the world around, to reassess the man within. That year bled into a decade of exploration, an end to a marriage, a change in career ambitions, and a move across the globe. I sought out alternative beliefs and states of being, how to create, how to eat, how to love, how to live. Those first 50 years had brought me security, certainty, and predictability; things that kept me well anchored in a safe harbour. That all changed.

I’ve gotten to know the stranger within much better these past years in Provence. I came looking for an authentic life, a daily quotidian more genuine and rich than I could afford in the tech and investments worlds of Silicon Valley. And by afford I don’t mean with money. You cannot buy genuine. All the treasure of Zuckerberg and Gates and Bezos cannot buy genuine. You find it in the people whom love you, the dreams that seduce you, and the enchanted places that complement your own rhythms and energy.

I’ve learned that Easy Street is not my address of envy. Passion Avenue is where I look to squat. This can be a difficult neighbourhood, noisy at times, unstable, brilliantly sunny then ominously dark, rarely dull. Unpredictable lovers, impossible dreams, and impractical locales are what arouse my emotions. And aren’t emotions fully aroused the essence of a rich life?

I also value a good drink with trusted friends.

Madness

The weekends of my youth were spent with buddies wrenching on our cars, racing at the strip or on the streets. You had this keen and uneasy sense when your hopped-up, bored-out, over-torqued muscle motor was about to blow. It would roar down that last quarter mile run like a wild banshee, pushing your aggressive assemblage of custom painted steel and polished chrome seconds faster than ever before, gear after gear, eerily so. And then, in a scream of twisting rods and scorching valves, all of that mighty horsepower would explode in a crescendo of oil and fuel and flame.

You knew the risk but still pushed it hard. It was a mad drive to that wild edge. And at my point in life, again, … this is where I choose to live.

Time

Time is elemental. Quality time. Time spent with people who forgive (and perhaps even appreciate) your madness, doing things that define it, in places that provoke it. More time is more important than more possessions. Possessions are the enemy, actually. They require investment, maintenance, and energy; have to be placed or stored; and apply a brake on our ability to move quickly, to be fleet and flexible.

Gustav Klimt, The Kiss

Is there someone, something, or some place that you are mad enough about to pay for with time? Two years cropped from the end of your life for one more with them now, doing that, or living there? Four fewer final years for 2 now?  We would all pay for more time if we had the money, because money is a worthless, limitless currency. But time, now that’s a precious exchange in the extreme.

It’s a hypothetical question of course, but worth considering.  For if you have no one or nothing worth sacrificing your precious stores of time for, are you living a passionate life? Is it important to live a life of passion? I’m provoking, yes, but not leading with an answer. If you knew you would die in a year would you want the next 12 months to be mad and full of unpredictable passion, or choose comfort and security? It is very possible that you could die in year, in a month, or in week, so this particular question is not hypothetical. Right?

I want to know what my readers thinks about the merits of a mad life. I love to preach – my Scots-Irish grandfather was a fire and brimstone healer of the unholy, so please excuse the genetics – but I am sure of nothing except my own convictions. And I am immensely curious about your own.

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

Postscript: This essay is dedicated to a close friend who, at 64, has suddenly found himself unmoored and adrift in an unpredictable sea of life possibilities. Where he will be and what he will doing in the next months and years; it’s all green field territory. He is a true pirate and has provoked me to question much about my own priorities and ambitions over these past years. A toast to you, Dada. One of a mad kind.

Suggested drink: Champagne (your favorite, it’s the holidays!)
Suggested song: You Get What You Give, The New Radicals

What is your big gift for the holidays? No, I don’t mean what are you getting, I mean what are you offering? We each have a special gift and an obligation to share it with the world. I believe this, do you?

The self-improvement aisle is lined with books on finding purpose in life. The authors treat its fulfilment as a key to happiness and benefit to you, the seeker. But isn’t it more importantly your obligation? If you’re like me you’ve sucked a hell of a lot more out of this world than you’ve put back: a half-life of durable and consumable stuff, art straw-artand music, food and wine, the love and generosity of others, …everything that nourished your life and gave it definition. Now is the time to reverse the net flow.

It’s an ugly, uncertain time we live in today where ignorance is celebrated and consumerism is king. Bigger, faster, harder, wrapped in a tidy bow of obliviousness. These hallmarks of the moment will end soon enough, one through the will of the many, and one by the hammer of nature. But it won’t be pretty.

More than ever we need enlightenment and beauty to counter the tide, … and this is where your obligation begins. You have an amazing, inimitable gift to offer the world. It’s unique, a result of your one-of-a-kind DNA predisposition plus singular history of upbringing, education, experience, and personal community of friends, family, and colleagues. No one else has the exact same set of resources, skills, and interests. Align that with an ambition of deep personal meaning and you are better prepared and motivated than anyone else on this planet to do at least one incredible thing, to offer at least one amazing gift.

Sunsets are for Sissies

I wrote an essay with that title in 2015 (to read click here) in which I argued we are better prepared at 60 to pursue something truly significant and life defining than at 25. We have more time, more experience, more money, and a lot more maturity, as summed up in the following table.

age-table

If you are at midlife and considering retirement and what next?, now is not the time to downshift into a recliner by the sea, comparing daily golf scores and evening sunsets. You’re better prepared then ever to leave your mark on this world, and that’s not just a pleasant dream to imagine over icy margaritas, that’s your gift and obligation. Allez!

Suggested Song: My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue), Neil Young
Suggested Drink: Jackhammer cocktail: Jack Daniels whiskey, Amaretto

“Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.”
– Pablo Picasso

I want to destroy your life. No, actually I want you to destroy your life. I want you to quite your job, leave your spouse, and plan your move, today.

Stick with me for one reckless moment.

We tend to frame major life changes – professional, personal, geographic, and other – from the inertia of our current situation. Like planets in a universe, each of these big things has a distinct and defining rotation, but orbit around a common core called our life. If any one of these big things gets out of orbit our whole universe can wobble out of control. So we focus on keeping things in safe (even if less than stimulating) trajectories. Knocking them out can initiate a chain of unpredictable consequences after all. Reckless.

planets_orbitsConsidering this astro-emotional dynamic, we ponder change through an inventory of impacts to our safe and predictable cosmos. If I left this job/spouse/location how much upheaval would it create in my entire universe of orbiting things? It’s a focus on the negatives and how to manage them. It’s a calculation that most often encourages inaction.

Let’s flip this conversation on its head. Imagine that for some reason – because Bill says so – you are required to leave your job, spouse, or location. Can you defend why you want to stay, why you are ready to defy that expectation? Tell me now, because as I said above, I want to destroy your life. Now the conversation leans toward positives. What do you so love about your job, spouse, location, and other big things? Remind yourself why the compromises are worth it, make a quick list. Is there enough good stuff there to fight for?

Now here’s the reckless part: stop treating this like a silly exercise. Do it, act on it. How’s the list coming along?

“It takes a long time to become young.”
– Pablo Picasso

Picasso was a big fan of child-like liberation, of creating art without the constraints of convention and expectations. Life imitates art with respect to our compliance to an ever-expanding collection of rules and etiquettes as we age. We grow up. We get properly tamed.

Did you ever “run away” when really young? I remember rolling some provisions into a cloth sac tied to the end of a wooden pole, tossing it over my shoulder like Huck Finn and heading out. I was probably 7 or so, and with no hand to hold that small Pennsylvania town felt like a wide-open universe. I didn’t consider my parents’ reaction, didn’t think about how I would buy stuff, wasn’t worried about my safety. I was limitless and unbounded. Untamed.

RunawayThe older we get the more we consider the consequences of our actions. A high priority is paid to risk aversion and fitting in, of not making waves. We gain a sense of responsibility at the surrender of possibilities and our autonomy. It’s also the start of the blame game: jobs, partners, and locations. My job is killing me. My marriage is boring me. This town is stifling me.

I wager that the single deepest source of frustration in our lives is the loss of self-determination; believing that our personal options and identities have become compromised. We sign contracts, make vows, and take on debts (financial and emotional) that we come to regret. But all of these obligations can be cancelled with a little steel in the backbone. Isn’t being honest and authentic more important than some hell-or-high-water cling to desires and ambitions long since faded? Kids are the only obligation that demands honor: you created them, now raise them. But, even kids don’t expect you to honor that until-death-do-we-part stuff if you’re unhappy and being a fraud. Ask them, I did.

We tiptoe around life like cowards. Most all of us. We limp through our second half and ask, why did I spend my best years with someone whom I no longer loved? Why didn’t I leave that crushing, pointless job when I still had the energy and time to pursue something of real interest? Why did I waste my life in city X instead of trying my dream on island Y?

I’ll tell you exactly why: money, security, feelings, and judgment.

Money

A lot of us drive career aspirations off income potential. I know I did. I was a failing physics major who loved the wine industry, and UC Davis had one of the best departments in the world. There was no money in that though, so rather than changing my major to wine and oenology I moved over to economics and had a decent career in finance and business. I was a square peg in a round hole but a couple of the jobs paid well. No regrets.

money worriesMaybe I’d make the same choice again at 25 and would be dishonest to suggest otherwise. I wasn’t living a passionate life, but managed to woo a great wife, buy a comfortable home, raise 3 terrible kids, and establish some savings. At 25 these are strong considerations for most of us, and that’s understandable. Be a good boy now, just a small dose of lithium and off you go to work.

At 50 I become uncooperative. Step 1 was to stop making life choices based on income. You should too. Our fixation on money is the single biggest source of bad decisions we’ll regret at the tail end of life; choices that pad our bank accounts and provide security to the detriment of true happiness and sense of authenticity. It’s a corruptive influence that pushes us to take on certain work, stay with certain people, and live in certain places that leave us feeling drained and compromised.

Doubt me? Just google “top regrets when dying” and compare the many, many various articles. The biggest common laments:

  • not being authentic to oneself (at the top of every list)
  • not pursuing one’s passions and purpose
  • not taking more risks
  • not finding real love and the right partner

Interesting that no one wishes they had worked longer hours and made more money, yet we make most of our big life decisions around their impacts to our finances. How odd.

Want to reclaim yourself? The single toughest but most immediate step is to vow no more decisions based on money, zero. Damn the consequences.

Security

Ever hear this: I’m not really happy with life and would change it tomorrow, but how would I survive, where would I live, what would I do? Maybe it’s a friend confiding over a glass of wine, maybe it’s a pesky voice in your own head.

We get comfortable in our bubbles of habit and security. Maybe life isn’t a soft bed of fragrant roses, but at least it’s not full of anxiety. Change and uncertainty make us anxious.

Consider for one reckless moment that it’s time to be a bit untethered and noncompliant. You can choose to face the unknown as a set of risks or list of possibilities. It can be how would I survive, where would I live, what would I do? Or it can be what new skills can I develop, new people can I meet, new horizons can I discover? Most importantly, you can approach change for what it is: the chance and excuse to reinvent and rediscover.

We are packrats with our bad tendencies; I know that I am. Only a disruptive move or change dislodges them from my routine. There’s no better time than midlife to question what’s important, go grab it, and leave the rest behind, despite the risks. (As for the anxiety that may result from your rash and reckless disregard for security I suggest meditation, sex, and the occasional joint.)

Want to reclaim yourself? A big step #2: no more safe decisions based on security.

Feelings

We stay too long in relationships, personal and professional, out of concerns for peoples’ feelings. It’s honorable to consider others’ happiness but serves no one to dial in a performance that is insincere, apathetic, and prolongs inevitable closure.

I’ve let people down at inopportune times and have been troubled by my betrayal and own egoism. I’ve quite rock bands and startups and corporate positions where my positions were key and the timings of my departures were disruptive. I recently broke up with a woman who loved me deeply. Feelings get hurt, colleagues and lovers feel betrayed, and we feel horrible. But life in all its unpredictable beauty is full of uncertainties and risks. Interests and priorities can change. The greater sin is remaining in expired situations and blaming others for our unhappiness and sense of entrapment. We have to be adults about this.

picasso giftWe also have to acknowledge that our gifts are unique and there is an obligation to share them to the best of our abilities. Each of us has a Picasso-sized gift waiting to be uncovered, developed, and shared. This can require life pivots that cause real damage.

Your inception was a miracle and your genetic inheritance was unimaginably unpredictable. Consider that going back just 10 generations all of the sets of parents in your inception line managed to survive wars, famine, plagues, terminal disease, premature birth, and other unpleasant forms of nasty demise before siring. Somehow each survived long enough to forward their genes, some of which are floating around your corporeal vessel at this very moment. The 10 male forbearers each produced about 250-300 million sperm per day if healthy and each and every one had a unique DNA profile, some elegant piece of genetic code that on some enchanted evening made it upstream through the generational spawning ladders to you. There is no one on this planet with your unique profile of education, experience, and talents and you have a responsibility to offer them up. Right? Should you let the fear of hurt feelings get in the way of this obligation?

Indeed everyone deserves kindness and respect in these situations. But that respect extends to you as well. In fact, you are your first priority.

Want to reclaim yourself? A sometimes painful step #3: no hesitations out of a fear of hurt feelings.

Judgment

No one enjoys being judged poorly. If I quite my job, leave my spouse, or move away what will my parents think, my friends think, my boss or colleagues think, my kids think? We waver over our actions and defer to the comfort of group acceptance, suitably tamed and compliant. What a terrible impulse.

judgedIt is patently unfair to blame others for our own unfilled desires and ambitions. Yet we hear it constantly, particularly in the final years. The what could have beens if I didn’t have this or that commitment to meet. As mentioned above, one of the common regrets in later life is not pursuing our real passions and much of that stems from a fear of judgment. But as also mentioned above, there is only one obligation: raising our kids responsibly, and that doesn’t require staying in dead-end jobs, expired marriages, or same cities. Think about the examples those decisions set for your impressionable brood. My mom sacrificed everything for me, and I’ll be a good mother and sacrifice all for my kids because I want them to be the best that they can be. But wait, based on your example they will feel obliged to sacrifice for their kids, who sacrifice it all for their own, and on and on. Who the hell gets to benefit from this solarium system of martyrdom?

If your actions are self-serving you will surely be judged, but who better to serve than yourself at the most fundamental core? If you live through the lens of others’ expectations, how will you align with the most authentic sense of yourself and be truly understood and appreciated? Who knows and appreciates that identity better than you?

Want to reclaim yourself? A courageous step #4: no hesitations from the fear of judgments (which are surely to come).

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
– Dylan Thomas

Taking a jackhammer to your secure life foundation sounds horrifying, but here’s the good news. If your list in defense of inaction is long and convincing, the hammer can be safely tucked away (for now). If not, there’s no better time for disruption than midlife. You’re maturity, self-awareness, skill set, and helpful connections have never been stronger. You probably have some financial buffer to see you through a gap, at least more now that at 25. And it’s been shown that we start to lose this constant anxiety over money at midlife and focus more on happiness and self realization.

Grow old gracefully, compliantly? To hell with that.

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

Suggested Song: You Only Live Once, The Strokes
Suggested Drink: Forever Young Cocktail, gin, cranberry juice, club soda

It’s been sobering start to 2016 for the bulletproof believers amongst us. You know, we flag bearers of the centennial club, confident that at 100 we’ll still be kicking on most cylinders and fully engaged, and then softly, painlessly fail to wake up one sunny morning.

David_Bowie-06It’s a comforting fable for Big Idea procrastinators like me. Why do today what we have 40 more years to achieve? Zen, relax. And then we hear that certain ageless celebrities of our youth – David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Dale Griffin, and Alan Rickman, just this month alone – are dying from the frightening unmentionables like cancer, Alzheimer’s, and colitis before the age of 70. It’s a deflating jab to our comfort bubble.

The centennial club thrives on 2 fundamental deceits: when and how we’ll die. In reality we shouldn’t expect to tick past 83, which remains the average lifespan for the much of the western world. And we won’t likely expire peacefully in our sleep. We’ll probably succumb to the kinds of disorders and diseases that snatched the headline names mentioned above. It won’t be pretty and it will rob us of a few final years of fun and frolic. We won’t be supernovas, expanding in unbound potential until a final blinding flash leaves us scattered to the ashes. Damn.

So let’s get real. Let’s assume that our productive years wind down at 80, after which we’ll drool over endless rounds of bridge, shuffleboard, and acceptable wine on decks of the Carnival Cruise Lines. How many months are left then to do something grand, to pursue a legacy ambition that leaves us feeling accomplished and complete, that our unique purpose for being on this beautiful planet at this amazing time has been served? At 50 we can expect 360 more months and at 60 just 240 months. Sounds like a lot, sounds like so little.

Anxiety over our lack of effective runway can also be debilitating. Why try to take on something ambitious if there is insufficient time to implement it? Bowie and Frey were wasting time in rock bands in their teens, a time when we were planning responsible careers. They had decades to experiment, fail, perfect, and establish their genius. What hope is there to start at midlife, regardless of our ambitions, music or otherwise?

dont just standThe fact is we’re never better positioned to pursue quixotic adventures than at midlife. You probably have more disposable income at 50 then 20, are less impulsive and smarter about the world, have established a helpful network of support (even if 1-2 degrees removed), are no longer distracted by childrearing (although child-funding never ends!), and are driven less by considerations that are purely financial (that corrupt your vision), more by self realization (which distills your vision).

For a lot of reasons we can’t expect to launch a stellar career at 50 like Bowie’s, but we can still find success, recognition and respect, and establish a more authentic self, whether it’s as a musician, writer, artist, restaurateur, winemaker, nonprofit director, extreme athlete, teacher, yoga instructor, life coach, or whatever represents that grand ambition of deep personal meaning to you.

The point is this: there is no better time than now to get to it. The real prize is the journey and self-discovery as much as the final creation of our endeavors. In a few years someone will be writing your obit; perhaps the same person who summarized the lives of those above. Give her something to smile about.

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

Suggested Song: When I’m 64, Beatles
Suggested Drink: Accelerator cocktail, cherry brandy, peppermint schnapps, vodka

It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams. – Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

porchswingsWe humans are a curious species. Half of our lives are spent developing into interesting, capable creatures. We get degrees, build careers, save money, acquire knowledge and experience, hone interests, learn from mistakes, gain compassion and learn to love. From molehill to mountain we slowly, steadily grow our possibilities and potential. And at the peak of our prowess we downshift to the “good life” and atrophy into a retiring sunset.

Wasted potential is everyone’s loss. We harangue the young about squandered time when their hourglass is mostly full, and then become the worst violators when ours is half empty. At a time when creativity in all its forms is most needed and appreciated on this planet, the surrender of our talents to the porch swing and wine cave is a communal loss.

How do we stack up at midlife against our younger selves in the capacity to achieve great things? The following table displays a brief summary.

Screen Shot 2015-08-23 at 11.01.19

Oh to be young again, just starting out and facing adventure, pursuing such promise, the exciting unknown of the roads ahead. Most of us were balancing a host of obligations and still seeking our balance. We were finishing studies and starting careers, probably the first of a series as we pinballed through different ideas and experiences. We were discovering ourselves and uncovering new interests, but generating income was the primary concern and motivator. Time was consumed with work and kids, and the emotional child inside lingered well past the twenties (speaking for myself). Our time and resources for pursuing grand ventures outside conventional careers were limited in all manner of ways: our finances, support networks, bases of knowledge, and emotional maturity.

pool diveThese factors that hobble our passion plans start to dissipate by midlife, leaving us well armed for the pursuit of grand ambitions. Kids graduate from our daily lives at about the time our core careers are winding down, leaving us with more time, fewer distractions, and more disposable income. We have been well educated, trained and retrained through our university and working years, gained knowledge, and as importantly gained perspective and balance. Our rolodexes are full of people who can help, or people who know people who can help. At midlife we have the time and resources, the maturity and experience, and we have interests that are blossoming into real passions. This is when we retire to porch swings and sunsets?

We humans are a curious species, it is true. Our interests shift to the deep end of the pool with age, the lure of the profound not marked firstly by splashy income, but personal achievement, meaning, and the possibility of leaving something big behind. We’re taking better care of physical and emotional selves than did our parents; 60 is the new 40; interpreneurs are the new entrepreneurs. Now is the moment to accelerate into the experience, to dive deep. There will be time for sunsets down the road.

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

Suggest Song: Something New, Nikki Yanofsky
Suggested Drink: Bee Tea cocktail, Bärenjäger honey liqueur, tea, lemon wedge

Judy Freedman writes a wildly popular blog called A Baby Boomer Woman’s Life After 50 (click here to go there). She’s a featured blogger in the Huffington Post and has also been published in HealthWomen.org, Midlife Boulevard, VibrantNation.com and others publications. You don’t need to be a woman to enjoy Judy’s wit and wisdom and I have been a fan for a few years now.

Judy lives of what she writes and her past few years have seen significant change and growth, a classic interpreneurial journey from core career to reinvention and new ambitions of deep personal meaning. She had also lost her husband during this time. We reconnected recently and I asked Judy for an interview and a few suggestions for others traveling the same path. I’m confident that you will find her experiences fascinating and lessons being learned inspiring. We cover a lot of territory in the interview, perfect for rosé reading on a summer afternoon. Enjoy!

BM: What did you do professionally for a core career Judy and what precipitated your decision to consider a new direction?

JF: I’ve always been in communications. I started my career on the editorial side as a magazine editor. A few years later, I moved into public relations at General Foods (now Kraft) and then joined Campbell Soup Company, working my way up the corporate ladder over 30 years. I held many jobs including overseeing brand PR campaigns, writing annual and corporate social responsibility reports, executing CEO and executive communications, building employee communications and creative services and multi-media departments, and more.

It was a wonderful career and I really enjoyed my time at Campbell. However, as I approached my 50th birthday, the year became a major turning point. Professionally, I started blogging and really enjoyed writing and hearing feedback from my virtual community of readers. Personally, my husband became ill that year and passed away shortly before my birthday.

Losing my husband at such a critical time in my life and then emptying my nest shortly after when both my children left the house – my daughter graduated from college and left for a job in NYC, and my son graduated high school and left for college – really jumpstarted my transformation.

I spent the next five years strategically preparing to leave my full-time job. I became more introspective as I worked with a personal coach. I studied mindfulness meditation and began a yoga practice. I expanded my blog, which began to be recognized with accolades from publications such as The Huffington Post and a Webby Award Honoree.

When I was given the opportunity to retire early from Campbell, I took the leap and I haven’t looked back.

Judy freedmanBM: You’ve had a truly accomplished and fulfilling career. How do you wind down from that? What are you doing now and what does it provide that your core career did not?

JF: My biggest challenge in the beginning was channeling all my interests – there’s so much I want to do during my second act and I’m immensely curious about many areas. I’ve spent the last two years trying to look at my passions and what brings me joy. Another focus has been bringing greater balance to my life. I take my work very seriously, yet I also take time to play.

I’ve continued to grow my blog at aboomerslifeafter50.com and become a contributor to The Huffington Post, HealthyWomen.org and other midlife publications. Along with blogging, I’ve expanded my reach as a social influencer working on campaigns with brands and causes I believe in and have a desire to support, such as positive aging, caregiving, eldercare, and health and wellness for boomer women.

My mindfulness and yoga practice greatly helped me to process my grief and transition after losing my husband. As I continued to explore my interests I realized that yoga was extremely fulfilling. It provided me with the physical movement I needed (after years of sitting at a desk and even now as a blogger), mental acuity (doing poses really requires you to focus and strengthen your core being), and spiritual understanding (through stillness and the Sanskrit teachings). I wanted to learn more about yoga and began to research teacher training programs in my area and other locations.

This winter I registered with Lourdes Institute for Wholistic Studies not too far from home and started a 200 Hour Yoga Instructor Training program. I love being a student again and look forward to sharing my knowledge with others once I receive my certification in 2016.

BM: So some major changes then. What do you see yourself doing in 5 years, living where, working with whom?

JF: Five years is a long way off. Yogic philosophy reminds us to live in the present moment, so I’ve been trying to enjoy each day and each hour of my day. My hope is that I will be practicing and teaching yoga to other mature adults so they can age gracefully and live a long healthy life.

I’ve had some job opportunities, but I don’t see myself working full-time in a corporate environment again. I enjoy my flexible lifestyle after years of having such structure. I want to continue to give back to my community and more broadly pass down all the knowledge I have learned to help others achieve their dreams.

Traveling is a favorite – so I hope I remain healthy so I can explore all the places on my bucket list.

BM: What were your primary motivations then and how have they changed?

JF: When I was younger, my primary motivation was to provide for my family. I was partially driven by the paycheck because I was the main breadwinner. Once my children were born, my husband and I decided he would be a stay-at-home dad. His health issues made it more conducive to this lifestyle.

I was a highly competitive type A person – went to an Ivy League college, went into a corporate environment afterwards and climbed the ladder. I thrived in large, complex organizations.

However, spending so many years under fast-paced, high-stress conditions takes its toll on the body and the mind. Plus, after experiencing the trauma of my husband’s illness and death, it’s a reminder that we are only on this earth for a short time and life is finite.

present-momentToday, I am more motivated by my passions and all the things that inspire me rather than the paycheck. I don’t need much – the big house, the expensive clothes and accessories – they aren’t necessary. I’ve learned to live on a lot less and with a lot less, but I feel like I have so much more. My relationships are richer and my experiences deeper because I am living in the present.

I’ve become more introspective and in some ways more selfish, but in a good way. I still give to others, but I also take time to stop, breathe and be. As the Taoist Proverb says, “No one can see their reflection in running water. It is only in still water that we can see.”

BM: Did you follow any particular process to structure your thinking and create a plan for change?

JF: I worked with a wonderful coach/therapist after my husband died. She encouraged me to study mindfulness and yoga as a way to live in the present. It helped me get through the grieving process. I also reached out for guidance and love from my friends and family members.

On the professional side, I was getting restless shortly before I turned 50 and my world turned upside down. I knew I wanted to make a change, but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do or how I was going to do it. My husband was older than me and we had always talked about my retiring early.

Sometimes when you put yourself out there, the universe responds. I never dreamed that my little blog would become the center of my life after 50. It was so fulfilling to hear the positive comments each week and to develop my writing skills– skills that I always had, but used in different ways. Going to blogging conferences opened me up to a whole new group of talented midlife women from all parts of the country. Many have become good friends.

After my children left the nest and both finished college, I had more flexibility financially. I sold my house and moved into a smaller townhome. I also bought a small property at the shore – my condo on the corner – was a perfect place to refresh and renew. The ocean waves are very calming to the senses.

I also started budget planning to see how much I needed on a monthly basis. It’s a really good eye-opener. I still keep track of my budget each month to see where I’m spending and if I’m in line with my goals. If I go over one month, I try to conserve the next month.

Through my blogging I connected with AARP (American Association of Retired People) and did some work with their Life Reimagined mapping. It provides six guideposts to make change:

  • Reflect: pausing before you start the journey. Mindfulness and yoga offer very beneficial exercises for reflection.
  • Connect: getting feedback and counsel from friends and guides. After leaving my full-time job, I worked with a career coach (different from my therapist/coach) to look at my strengths and interests.
  • Explore: this is the discovery and testing step – curiosity and courage are essential to finding the way forward. This step was exciting and at the same time challenging for me because I have so many interests.
  • Choose: narrowing of options. As my work/life played out I saw that while I enjoyed my blogging, it wasn’t something I wanted to build a new business around. I don’t want to blog 24/7 or hire people to blog for me. I enjoy my writing and want to spend some of my hours pursuing this work, not every waking hour of every day. Whatever small amount I earn from my blogging I reinvest in my blog and in my knowledge building, such as going to social media conferences or investing in my blog design.

Judy freedman 2At the same time, I realized that yoga was becoming a bigger part of my schedule. I knew that I wanted to spend some part of my day and my work in a more active space of health and wellness. That’s when I decided why not bring it a step further and pursue yoga instructor training.

  • Repack: deciding what to let go of and what to keep. I had to let go of all the baggage that was holding me back from moving forward. Part of that was selling my house – which I loved but was a financial, emotional, and physical drain on me after my husband’s passing.

My heart has mended after such a significant loss. The love never fades for a lost spouse – the hole just gets smaller. About two years after my loss, I decided I wanted more companionship. I tried online dating and was lucky to meet a fellow New Yorker living nearby. We had lots in common and today he is the new love of my life – it’s a different kind of love the second time around.

I’ve changed my diet to better address my health issues. I am on the FODMAP diet, better known as the “tummy diet” and I no longer have heartburn or take any medications for heartburn. I’m eating more mindfully.

  • Act: a first step toward making things real, releasing the energy through the optimism that comes with choice, curiosity, and courage. I did make choices when I sold my home, left my job, and committed to yoga instructor training.

follow dreamsThese six steps are an iterative process and once you finish, you likely will be ready to start all over again. I’ve learned from my yoga training that life is always changing but flowing with the river is a more positive way to move forward.

*Note: More details about these steps can be found in the book Life Reimagined: Discovering Your New Life Possibilities (click here to go there)by Richard J Leider and Alan M Webber.

BM: We’ve talked about different resources you’ve found helpful. Any additional books or articles that you found particularly enlightening or inspirational during this phase of consideration?

JF: As I mentioned earlier, I read the NY Times every day and learn so much from so many articles and stories. Plus, the Life Reimagined book was thought-provoking.

The last leadership meeting I organized at Campbell included one of my all-time favorite speakers and authors, Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell is a great historian and researcher. He takes simple concepts and turns them into big ideas that can facilitate change within individuals and organizations. The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, David and Goliath – all are excellent.

I like to listen to podcasts while I ride on my stationary bicycle each morning. On-Being with Krista Tippet. Tippet has a soothing voice as she interviews fascinating experts on various topics such as mindfulness, psychology, and philosophy.

Plus, I highly recommend subscribing to Dr. Deepak Chopra’s email newsletter. One of my favorite posts was “For the New Year, Do Something Better Than A Resolution.” He describes “The Four Intentions” to follow for the year. As he says, “There are countless things a person can want, but being consistent for a whole year with four basic intentions gives you a greater chance for success, because these intentions don’t run into inner obstacles – – they fit every lifestyle, belief system, personality, and individual situation.

I keep “The Four Intentions” on my bulletin board in my office and re-read them every so often. They are:

  1. I want a joyful, energetic body.
  2. I want a loving, compassionate heart.
  3. I want a restful, alert mind.
  4. I want lightness of being.

These simple intentions are an approach I aim to master during my second act.

BM: What advice would you offer for anyone considering a new and grand ambition, a dramatic shift toward a new direction?

hospiceJF: Let go and take the first step. Sometimes change happens because we make it happen. Sometimes it happens when we least expect it. Flow with the river, not against the current – it’s too hard to paddle backwards.

Do some planning in advance. Look at your values, your goals, your monthly and yearly expenses (if that is something that is going to be impacted by your new direction). What do you have to give up to get what you want? Sometimes you have to make compromises.

Don’t rush. Remember the Taoist Proverb, ““No one can see their reflection in running water. It is only in still water that we can see.”

When I lost my husband and turned 50, I realized that life is short. If I wasn’t going to make changes now, what was I waiting for?

BM: Clearly, plans for your amazing website have changed. What was the original objective and where is it heading? Will it continue?

When I started this blog I had just turned 50, my husband had passed away. My kids were both leaving the nest. My entire world had changed. I wanted to share my reinvention that was unfolding with the virtual community of women who had followed my countdown to 50 (my original blog was ayearto50.blogspot.com). They wanted judy freeman 4to know what was going to happen to me.

I was inspired to capture in writing what I was going through and how I was evolving and transforming in mind, body, and spirit as I entered the second half of my life. My goal was to reach other boomer women who were going through the same or similar experiences and show them that they are not alone (and show myself that I am not alone either.) I also wanted to address aging in a positive and fun way. The second act can be a time of great experimentation, discovery, and joy. We will all face loss in our life – whether it is a parent, a spouse, a job, a pet – it is how we manage after that loss that is our defining moments.

Looking back on the past seven years, I had a great fear of being alone when my husband died and my kids left the nest. Now I’ve conquered that fear as I’ve reinvented myself and I want others to share in the experience in the hope that I can inspire them to not be afraid.

For now, I plan to continue to keep my blog going. I usually write weekly on a wide variety of topics including health and wellness, fashion and beauty, aging and reinvention, and travel and leisure. I am curious about so many things and like to share what I learn.

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence