50 Over 50: Career Reinvention

08/05/2014 07:53 am ET | Updated Aug 05, 2014
Robyn Mackenzie via Getty Images

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Huff/Post 50 recently asked readers to submit nominations of people who've reinvented themselves for the better after age 50 as part of an initiative launched with the TODAY show called "50 Over 50." We were overwhelmed with submissions. Every day this week we will roll out 10 more nominees. Today we focus on "Career Reinvention."

  • Pegi Burdick, 65, Los Angeles, CA
  • Pegi Burdick vividly remembers sitting in a beach chair in 2007 and watching the sun set over Cabo, Mexico. It was almost a metaphor for her life. Her business -- selling mortgages to Americans for their Mexican vacation homes -- was tanking. Her marriage was on the rocks, and her beloved dog was dying. She got a call from her landlord back home saying he planned to sell her rented beach house. “[Life] was unraveling as if I were in a slow motion movie,” she said. “The fear I felt was beyond anything I had known before.” She said, “I had no money. I was on a financial cliff. The years of overspending caught up with me. My husband and I had racked up debts we could no longer cover. “I felt hollow, lost and afraid,” she said. “ Getting another job at 57 seemed daunting.” It took a career coach to get her to see that the real problem was her relationship with money. “For the first time, someone asked me what made me feel whole and valued, what provided me self-respect," she said. Burdick launched a coaching business -- thefinancialwhisperer.com -- and began teaching others (especially women) how their emotions impacted their finances. She wrote a book, It’s NEVER About The Money…Even When It Is, which she offers for free on her website. In addition to coaching, she runs workshops for homeless female veterans through Operation Welcome Home. “What I learned on my journey of financial recovery was that it was never about my money, it was about my self-esteem," she said. "You must have gratitude for yourself.”
  • Richard Fahey, 69, Santa Fe, NM
  • Returning to Liberia in 2009, decades after his first look at the country as a college-aged Peace Corps volunteer, Richard Fahey saw a real need. He couldn't believe the country had not changed after years of civil war. Fahey noticed that come nightfall, entire towns would go dark, as access to electricity is unreliable. “Life stopped at night,” Fahey said. “To go back and see things were worse than when we were there in the ‘60s, it wrenches your heart.” After returning home, Fahey retired from his 40-year career as an environmental and energy law lawyer and decided to throw himself wholeheartedly into a program to bring light back to Liberia. The Liberian Energy Network was founded and since then, has provided thousands of solar lights to homes, business, and hospitals across the country, allowing professionals to do their jobs, students to do their homework, and businesses to operate when they normally wouldn’t have been able to. In the next five years, Fahey hopes to reach a goal of 200,000 lights. He said, "One of the nice things about being over 50 is that you can take a bunch of risks you can’t take when you’re a kid.”
  • Karen Love, 68, River Rouge, MI
  • For 34 years, Karen Love worked in news media, first at the "Los Angeles Times," then at the "Chicago Tribune" and, most recently, as the chief operating officer (COO) at the "Michigan Chronicle," a minority newspaper in Detroit. But at age 65, Love decided she needed a change. This grandmother of three and great-grandmother of one returned to college and completed a degree in sociology at Eastern Michigan University before going on to earn a master's degree in gerontology from the University of Southern California. Wanting to put her new degrees to good use, she applied last summer for the position of outreach coordinator for a new organization called Community Connections designed to enhance the lives of seniors -- and she got it. Love is now doing exactly what she's always wanted to do: help get senior citizens active and involved in their communities. "I wanted to show my grandkids that you can go back to school, that you can do anything you want, when you are in your 60s and beyond," she said. And she said she wanted to show seniors that they can take belly dancing at 75 or go to a community college and earn a degree and not have to pay. They need to know they have a voice in the community, she added, and that they don't have to sit back and let people and government officials run all over them. "I want seniors to know that you don't have to stop. I'm an example of that," she said. "You can go back to school and repurpose yourself. I did it and anyone can do it."
  • Robert Mansfield, 64, San Francisco, CA
  • Robert Mansfield's wake-up call came in 1995 as he sat on his bunk in California's San Quentin State Prison, a place he called home for the better part of 10 years. Determined to put his life of drug addiction and crime behind him, he found his way to the Delancey Street Foundation, a residential self-help organization for substance abusers, ex-convicts, homeless and others who have hit bottom. For him, it was the beginning of a new chapter. Meet Bob Mansfield today: program analyst for UC San Francisco Global Health Sciences and a guy who turned a life of waste into one of usefulness. Upon reentering the workforce after an absence of 20 years, he was understandably apprehensive. But now he's just happy that he can do what he can to ensure others have the same opportunities he's been given. "I am a living example that people can change," he said.
  • Janice Marturano, 57, Franklin Lakes, NJ
  • Janice Marturano grew up in Clifton, N.J., a second generation Italian woman whose mother was a school nurse and father was a teacher. From a modest beginning, she went on to become a business lawyer working for Panasonic, Nabisco and finally as a senior officer of General Mills, Inc. After a pivotal event involving a complex deal, and the death of her parents, she hit a wall. She needed a place to regain her strength and health and stumbled upon a workshop taught by Jon Kabat-Zinn (the MIT Ph.D. credited with bringing mindfulness to health care). As she began her own mindfulness practice, she started to see the intersecting points between the development of leadership excellence and contemplative training of the mind. With a goal of sharing her own experience, she developed Mindful Leadership training for her colleagues (employees at all levels) at General Mills. In 2008, this Mindful Leadership training was opened to leaders from other organizations. The impact of this training on individuals was transformative. Demand for Marturano’s teaching made it clear that leaders worldwide were actively seeking ways to develop their own potential to lead more effectively, with greater focus and with compassion. Marturano chose to leave behind her career as a corporate vice president at the age of 54. In 2011, she founded the Institute for Mindful Leadership, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing mindful leadership training to employees around the world. “I knew that leading anything today -- whether it is a global organization or a family -- is complex, chaotic and often puts us in autopilot mode," she said. "My experience with mindfulness showed me that this training could unlock the potential for each of us to be present for our lives and more able to make conscious, compassionate and creative choices.”
  • Raymond Maxwell, 58, Washington, D.C.
  • In his 40s, Raymond Maxwell was well established in his career with the State Department, working as a Foreign Service officer, on the management track. Yet, he couldn’t help but miss his days as a teen, working at a library in Greensboro, North Carolina. A few years away from considering retirement, Maxwell started researching master’s programs in library sciences. Though he already had a master’s degree, he said he started to “feel a bit stale” with his academic foundation, having been out of school since the late 1990s. “I felt the need to retool. Part of that is just the sort of seeking of lifelong learning,” he said. Maxwell started working towards his Master’s degree in library sciences last May, and said it has been a fulfilling and challenging experience. The field has evolved considerably since the early 1970s and being an older student can mean putting in more work. “There is a slight humility you have to achieve,” Maxwell said. “My classmates are brilliant and not only are they brilliant, they are native to all this new technology that I have to adapt to constantly.” He expects to graduate at the end of this summer term and said he looks forward to working in the field, which empowers people by giving them information.
  • Armenia Nercessian de Oliveira, 69, Rio de Janeiro
  • When Armenia Nercessian de Oliveira was in her 50s, she was at the peak of her career with the United Nations. For decades, she served as a UN Human Rights Officer, helping refugees and negotiating deals in war-torn countries. In the 1980s, her group at the UN earned a Nobel Peace Prize for its work. Then, one day, she decided to make a huge change. Nercessian de Oliveira decided that she wanted to be on the other side of things. She wanted to stop conflicts before they started by giving communities the means to pull themselves out of economic hardship. So she left her career (giving up a great salary, her retirement benefits, and social prestige) and co-founded a company called Novica that connects artisans all over the world with American shoppers. But instead of buying products and warehousing them in the U.S., she established a completely new system for artisans, opening offices in Peru, Mexico, Thailand, Brazil, Ghana, Bali, India and elsewhere. She’s racked up millions of airline miles traveling country to country for more than a decade. She ventures to shantytowns, breaks bread with rural craftspeople, and stays with artisan families. She is even a character in the book and movie "Eat Pray Love" -- the only one identified by their real name. “For me, all of this is very exciting, and it is rewarding to hear each new story of how Novica is changing lives," she said. "That is what counts in life. Not money. Not a career.”
  • Peter E. Rice, 56, New York, NY
  • At age 51, after 25 years as a practicing surgeon, Peter E. Rice made a big change. He had grown increasingly frustrated with being a physician and realized that what he liked most about practicing medicine was the teaching aspect. And so he did precisely that: He got a teaching degree at night and is now a high school science teacher in Brooklyn. And yes, it is a significant pay cut. And yes, he did it with the support of his family. "You should not take something that you are good at and try and love it. You should take something you love and try and be good at it," he said. Even so, he admitted that "teaching adolescents is harder than operating."
  • Debbie Tyson, 55, Lake Mary, FL
  • Debbie Tyson is mom to seven. She was the valedictorian for her eighth grade class, but then dropped out of school to get married when she was 15. She got her GED when she was 18 but never lost sight of what she knew was important: Getting an education. A college degree is validation, she said. And so she went back to school when she was 49, made the National Honor Society and after graduating Seminole Community College, transferred over to University of Central Florida where she expects to graduate next year with a degree in Psychology. She is Summa Cum Laude and in the top 5% of her class and -- best of all -- will be graduating with her daughter. Tyson spent years doing “Mom things,” she said. But not even a neurological disease could stop her from fulfilling her dream of a college diploma. She is losing her ability to walk, but the one walk she says she will absolutely make is the one with her daughter to the podium to pick up her degree. “I always felt like I had more intelligence than some people I dealt with but I always lacked the degree -- and the validation that it gives you. It made me feel ‘less than’ and stopped me from doing what I wanted to do,” she said. Her current husband encouraged her to go back to school. The first two weeks of college were so difficult, she said, “but I just put everything I had in to it.” What’s next? Maybe law school. “We live in a time where you need credentials to open doors," she said. "Don’t be afraid to go and get them.”
  • Devon Wickens, 57, Las Vegas, NV
  • At 53, and being well established in her radio career, Devon Wickens never thought she would have to start all over from scratch. Her employer had a round of layoffs and suddenly she found herself jobless, and having to roll up her sleeves and working hard at a job paying a measly hourly wage. It was an eye-opening experience, but one that helped Wickens revisit her passion for comedy and drawing. The same year she was laid off, Wickens decided she should put her talents for cartooning to good use. She started a comic strip called “Baby Bummers” to provide comic relief to people of her generation, struggling with the same issues as her, ranging from joblessness to retirement to aging. Wickens has since also started doing stand-up comedy, given her affinity for one-liners and making others laugh. “It was cartoon therapy. That’s how I was dealing with job loss and self esteem issues... by losing my career, it really forced me to go back and think... let’s do something I’m passionate about,” Wickens said. “If other people in my situation read this and smile, that’s what it’s all about... laughter is the best medicine.”

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