We’re on the doorstep of 2014 — the Year of the Boomer — when the youngest Boomers turn 50. I think it’s a great year to be looking forward to how our generation is going to successfully move forward into what Nora Ephron dubbed our “third act.” Many of us have already made this transition, and there are some dramatic and not-so-dramatic (but equally meaningful) examples of reinvention that can help inspire us forward as we cope with an increasingly unpredictable, changeable and not necessarily friendly world. Starting with this post, I’ll be focusing on 50 individuals (including some couples) who have reinvented themselves for their third act – over a wide range of pursuits, passions and professions.
A roster of reinvented Boomers has to start with Al Gore — perhaps the most publicly reinvented Boomer of the generation. After all, one can’t get more “downsized” than losing a presidential election by a 5 – 4 Supreme Court vote. But rather than simply retire to the world of lobbying and think tanks, Gore followed his concern for the issue of climate change and took it on the road, working to change people’s minds about climate science, a role (among others) that continues to this day.
As reported in the New York Times in 2007, Marc Freedman, the head of Civic Ventures (now Encore.org), a non-profit promoting civic engagement as the second act for boomers (and the organizer of the annual Purpose Prize) said, “Gore found himself by losing himself — literally losing — and being liberated from ambition, the idea that there’s a particular ladder you have to scurry up and if you don’t make it to the top it’s all over. Essentially he found a different ladder.”
Gore occupies his own category as a sort of ‘grand marshal’ of this survey — a truly inspiring example of someone whose sense of purpose far outweighed his background — or his baggage.
Each of the following 5 profiles in this post — and the 5 in the upcoming Part 2 — are examples of the ten professional categories I’m tracking across the Boomer reinvention process.
1. Social Change/Service/Spirit: Vicki Thomas
Speaking of the Purpose Prize, Thomas, Purple Heart Homes’ Chief Communications Officer, is actually one of the 2013 recipients of the Prize. A former PR/Marketing exec for ABC, who also worked in the credit union field, Thomas saw a CNN report on the organization and called up to offer her services. The group supports wounded and disabled vets in finding and renovating homes. It is encouraging that many Boomers are called to give back to their communities, often giving up the trappings of their earlier lives to answer these calls.
2. Inventors: Jeffrey Nash
Nash invented the Juppy, a sling that helps children learn to walk. After his nearly 6-figure career in retail sales took a 30% hit in the Recession, he came up with the idea for this product, outsourced its manufacturing, and hit the road to promote it, successfully betting his savings on its success. His income is back up to where it was, and he’s his own boss. The Juppy, and Nash’s story, have taken off, and have been covered by all the major news outlets, including the Today Show and the New York Times.
Boomer inventors are taking the kinds of risks typically taken by younger people. But clearly entrepreneurship can work at any age — and may even be better when built on years of hard-earned experience and wisdom.
3. Nature/Environmental: Patrick Althizer
Many in our generation have yearned to live a simpler life working in nature. After all, we were the first to raise awareness of environmental issues. Althizer spent his career in Finance, but was not interested in slowing down in retirement. At 65, as reported by USA Today, he melded his passions for photography and the outdoors and launched Photo Safari Yosemite, a tour service to take would-be Ansel Adamses through one of America’s most picturesque Parks.
Like Althizer, many of us want to get off our desks, out of our offices, and into less urban, more natural environments where we can perform meaningful service, have fun, and live healthier lives connected to the planet.
4. Entrepreneurship: Gary Bodley and Lili Batista
As reported last year in the Palm Beach Post, “Boomerpreneurs” Bodley and Batista were a couple completely wiped out by the real estate bust in Florida, losing millions. Their reinvention involves running their dream furniture store, and edging back into real estate: “When you’ve lost everything, you realize that it’s important to do what you want to do,” says Bodley.
5. Travel/Hospitality: Dev Stern
Many Boomers dream of becoming “innkeepers in Paradise,” and while it is an achievable goal, anyone who has read Peter Mehl’s classic “A Year in Provence” knows the trials and tribulations of getting established in a foreign country. Still, Texans Dev Stern and her husband Chuck found the perfect property in Merida in the Mexican Yucatan, and began restoring it as a luxury inn starting in 2002. Today, Hacienda Petac is an ongoing vacation destination. As Dev explained to NBC News, “Having a home in Mexico was a lifelong dream for us.” But she also cautions that having a clear vision and intention for the business is vital: “We just saw something there that nobody else saw.”
In Part 2 of this post, I’ll explore the five remaining categories of Boomer reinventions: folks who have changed their lives as Consultants, Health/Wellness caregivers/entrepreneurs, Franchise owners, Artists/Performers/Authors, and Culinary Arts/Restaurateurs.