For the Year of the Boomer -- 2014 is the year the youngest Boomers turn 50 -- here is another installment in my survey of 50 Boomers across 10 career categories who have reinvented themselves within the last 10 years.
Let's assume that we're all going to hit a wall in our careers sooner or later. If we're 50 or over, and it hasn't already happened, be on the lookout. This installment is a personal story about a longstanding friend of mine, a New York lawyer named Janet Scully who worked for 22 years as an attorney for Travelers Insurance. She was bought-out of that position in 2009 at the age of 55 -- prime Boomer downsizing time for many executives and professionals. Her reinvention story didn't make the news, it didn't win any awards. The only life it changed was her own, but that's the point: we don't have to aim any higher than our own happiness, our own equanimity, to be successful in the reinvention process that many of us are called to at this stage in our lives.
Janet's story also reflects the idea that reinvention is a state-of-mind issue, not necessarily a job issue. It's not necessary to pivot 180 degrees, open up your own business, earn another degree etc. etc. Sometimes, reinvention is a rediscovery of the reasons why you chose your career in a particular field in the first place.
Janet and I had been in and out of touch since our high school days in Westchester County, NY. She had gone to law school, gotten married, moved to Larchmont, and worked downtown in the financial district for years. Since the late '80s, she had been at Travelers and, as Senior Counsel, litigated cases across the full spectrum of insurance work.
When the end came, she actually realized that for the final two years, the job had bored her to tears, but she had been hanging on out of... habit? With the cash from the buy-out, she spent a couple of years in what she calls "faux retirement," but never came up with any ideas for something else she wanted to do. For a while, she parked herself in a boutique law firm, what she describes as an "allegedly part-time, semi-retired job," but her heart wasn't in it.
When we reconnected in the summer of 2012, she had just seen my TEDx speech about reinvention, and was contemplating getting out of law altogether and maybe opening up her own small business. An opportunity came up to take over a gourmet food shop, but after spending time investigating the business, she realized that it held no interest for her.
It occurred to me that she might consider shifting into mediation -- a career that could draw from her legal experience, but from a fresh perspective. I set her up with an experienced mediator friend, Stephen Strick, who advised her that, despite all her doubts at the time, she "wasn't through with lawyering." She kept an open mind, polled her network, and received an offer to work in a pro-bono position as a "Special Master" for the NY State Unified Court System. Even though the position was unpaid, she felt drawn to it, following her gut feeling that there was something to learn. On her first day, walking into the fabled courthouse at 60 Centre St. in lower Manhattan, she felt a sense of exhilaration, and was greeted with welcoming smiles from many people who had known her in a different context (Travelers). She says that she got home that night and felt like she had been to a spa. Much to her own surprise, she excelled at this work. As she wrote to me at the time: "I'm getting the hang of it and I'm happy to report that there is life after 59, particularly when you show up without a lot of preconceived notions. Having been around for so many years just doing my best at the work at hand, I have war stories that amaze everybody, including me. Who did all this?"
She quickly realized, however, that while she was doing great, developing additional credibility, and making a difference, this was likely a stepping stone to something further. "I still don't know if it's something I want to do permanently because I think I am an advocate at heart." She just didn't know what that "permanent" gig would be.
After a little more than a year as Special Master, Janet sent me an email just the other day: "John, on the subject of reinvention, I decided "There's no place like home." On Monday I start at ... a small, insurance defense firm with the kind of culture that first drew me to work for an insurance carrier back in the 80s. Reinvention? Yes, but it [has been] a journey in consciousness, the Buddha's spiral. If you hadn't suggested mediation, I would never have worked for the court which is where I realized I was envious of the trial lawyers and sad that I wasn't trying cases anymore. I had to change a lot before I could see [that]. I am back to my roots, but seeing it all from a very different perch."
Full circle can equal reinvention. The key is to flush out all the accumulated experience that has distracted us from the enthusiasm that fired us up in the first place. As we get older, we need life to work better. We set a higher bar for what our quality of life (and career) should be. As Janet says: "Life's going so fast now that it's getting more and more difficult to justify bad choices." Persistence, faith and an open mind can lead to small miracles of success.
Several larger corporations such as Starbucks, Target and Land's End are able to offer even their part-time employees benefits such as health coverage and paid vacation time (head over to ABC for a full list).
For those with an entrepreneurial spirit and computer know-how, the Internet offers opportunities to bring in some cash from home -- at any hour of the day or night. Take Jose and Jill Ferrer, a retired couple profiled by AARP for supplementing a freewheeling retirement with their website, Your RV Lifestyle. By highlighting certain products related to RV living, the pair earns $700 a month, AARP reports. "And we know the potential is there to grow our website business further," Jill Ferrer says. Other ideas: Etsy.com allows the crafty to turn a profit from their hobbies.
Personal care and home health aid topped the Bureau of Labor Statistics' list of the fastest growing occupations in America. The time commitment may vary (between 10 and 30 hours per week, according to SmartMoney), but the median annual wage is around $20,000 for both occupations, according to the BLS.
Bartending is not just for twentysomethings -- and for social butterflies, this part-time gig offers opportunity to rake in extra cash, not to mention tips, with a minimal initial financial investment (a 40-hour certification course at the New York City Bartending School costs a little less than $600, for example).
Age discrimination is less of a problem in government agencies, reports The Fiscal Times. In fact, agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Transportation Security Administration actively seek older workers. Visit USAJobs.gov to search for available positions.
If you've got an artistic flair or an interest in theater, makeup artists can make up to $40 an hour, and only work 20 hours a week on average, AOL Jobs reports. Disclaimer: qualifications may include formal training in cosmetology or theater, and a license is required to practice in several states.
What better way to scratch that globetrotting itch? If you're up for an on-the-go lifestyle, flight attendants also earn up to $40 an hour, making it a very well-paid part-time job.
The nonprofit sector can offer more than volunteer opportunities for retirees, and may be particularly appealing to those who "thought they wanted to change the world ... [but] put that on the back burner for 20 or 30 years while they climbed the corporate ladder," as Tamara Erickson, author of "Retire Retirement: Career Strategies for the Boomer Generation," told The Wall Street Journal. To get started, Idealist.org offers listings for available paid positions in addition to volunteer opportunities: applicants with years of experience under their belts are sure to be met with open arms. Even cooler, Encore.org offers paid Encore Fellowships to "match skilled, experienced professionals at the end of their midlife careers with social-purpose organizations" -- while earning a small stipend for part- or full-time work, midlifers can get their foot in the door to a fulfilling retirement job.
The pay may not be great, but if you're an arts lover, a history buff or a sports enthusiast, the perks certainly are!
"I studied hypnotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy 3 years ago and now I have my own business, couldn't be happier" -- Huff/Post50 reader Lee Adley It's certainly a challenge, but as our amazing readers -- and the many men and women featured on our page -- can attest, going back to school and pursuing something totally different can be well worth the investment of time, money and energy.
Follow John Tarnoff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/johntarnoff