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A Natural Work in Progress Live Chat Transcript

If you missed the online chat with Jane and her guests, Catherine Zimmerman and Betsy Werley, you can catch the conversation here.

Jane Pauley: Hello everyone! Thanks for joining us. I hope you enjoyed our TODAY Show segment this morning featuring Catherine Zimmerman, an award-winning camera-woman who is becoming a burgeoning expert on designing sustainable landscapes and making meadows.

Zimmerman’s story is a testament to her remarkably independent spirit. She was a pioneer for women in the television industry, and she’s recently put herself through school and self-published a book – all while fulfilling her role as a single mother of three. Today we’re going to discuss the unique challenges that women face on the road to reinvention and the support we can offer one another along the way.

Catherine joins us in the chat this afternoon, along with Betsy Werley, executive director of the Transition Network. TTN is for women age 50+ who help each other navigate every step of the reinvention process with local chapters and resources throughout the country.

Hello, Catherine and Betsy! Welcome -- great to have you with us.

Besty Werley: Thanks, Jane.  It's great to be part of this national conversation about "what's next."

Catherine Zimmerman: Thanks, Jane! I loved the TODAY Show piece!

Comment from Barry: I'm not looking to retire for another 20 years or so, but as a videographer /photographer, I could seriously relate with your story that ran on the TODAY Show. What, if any, mentoring programs are there around that can help focus that "life calling?"

Pauley: Great question, Barry. There is a wealth of information in our Your Life Calling web chat archives. Last month Marc Freedman and Marci Alboher of Civic Ventures each had terrific ideas, and I think Betsy here with us today might have some useful insights as well.  Stay with us at the web chat proceeds and we will see what Betsy has to say. I appreciate the opportunity to alert all our web chat participants to those archives. A lot of great questions and answers, so check on that later and stay with us for the next hour.

Werley: Barry - it's an important question. I would check into local programs - at your Y, JCC, continuing education organizations at local colleges. There are so many of us baby boomers who are asking the same questions and all of those groups are offering workshops to help you figure out your next step.

In terms of online resources, the website has terrific resources too - stories and advice for people looking to make career changes.

Comment from Lauren: Wow! This story hit home. I am 46 and following much the same path in my life as Catherine. I would like to know more about the USDA classes she took. I am involved with Sustainable Agriculture & Permaculture but have not heard about USDA courses on this topic.

Zimmerman: The USDA has classes around the country. Their horticulture and landscape design program has classes during nights and weekends, that helps someone who's trying to work and go back to school. The classes are really affordable and taught by people in the field of horticulture. Check out for more info.

Comment from Barry: Thanks Jane, thanks Betsy. It's great to hear. Any/all resources are great to have.

Comment from Solange: How do you address age discrimination when applying for a position fit for your qualifications?

Werley: Think positive! You bring a wealth of talent, contacts and communication skills to any potential employer. Convey your excitement about the job and the company, give examples of learning new skills and working with diverse groups, and you'll put yourself in the best possible position to be hired.

I also recommend that people over 50 target small and mid-sized organizations. They need people who can come in and get the job done, as well as having flexible skills.

Comment from Fool on the Hill: We're always told to follow your dream, follow your Zen. What if we can't afford to? It’s easy for Oprah to say it, but not Jane Sixpack, like myself.

Pauley: I tend to be pretty practical in my approach to reinvention, which is why you may have noticed each of our segments comes with a reality check. Today, for instance -- the fact that Catherine Zimmerman, despite her hard work and her degree from the USDA program, has yet to see what she called the big paycheck.

But not all of us have the time or resources financial or otherwise to go back to school like she did. So I like to start with the small picture not the big picture. Many people resonate to the word dream, which is why Oprah has so many admirers. But not all of us (myself included) have an identifiable (or realistic) dream -- so don't be distracted by other people’s big plans and focus on small steps that might begin a journey toward reinvention.

Comment from Jean: I saw the segment on the TODAY Show this morning. I loved Catherine's story for 2 reasons: it is inspirational, and it did not end with "she lived happily ever after." Yours was very much grounded in reality and how transformation is a process, and a journey! Thank you for sharing this reality.

Pauley: That is exactly what I was just talking about. Thank you, Jean!

Zimmerman: Jean, I never knew I could be this happy with the process. The journey seemed really hard in the beginning, but it's evolving as I am.

Comment from Terri: Where is the book being sold from? Any national chains, Amazon…?

Zimmerman: You can buy it at my web site, -- be sure to specify who you want it autographed to! You can also buy it at Amazon or any other national chain (but it won't be autographed.)

Comment from faygokid:  Now that I'm close to 60 and unemployed for 9 months, how can I approach getting a job I'd be satisfied with, but at a lower level than my previous career? I seem to be "overqualified."

Werley: "Overqualified" is one of the big hurdles for people over 50 to overcome. The way to prepare for that is to learn a lot about a future employer, figure out what you can do to move the organization forward, and convey enthusiasm for the work. Small and mid-sized organizations are going to be more receptive to talented people who can help the organization grow - and possibly grow into larger roles.

Comment from Tish: I was so excited to learn about TTN. Just recently joined and then learned that my division was purchased. Trying to decide to retire and do consulting, get a new job, or just volunteer. TTN has shown me that I can try all of them if I want.

Comment from Barbara: I am married to a farmer and stay at home. I take care of our parents and my brother with cerebral palsy, but I feel like I am missing out on my life. I don't have any special talent that I am aware of. Any suggestions?

Pauley: Barbara, my mother was an invalid for 15 years and my father was her sole caregiver, so I have an idea about how it is. This may not be the reinvention story that people aspire to, but your ability to focus your talent and love where and when it is most needed – that is your gift. So you may not be living "a dream", but you are living an admirable life and I feel confident in predicting later in your life you will have no regrets.

Comment from Bob: Jane, I have a wild suggestion that you or Catherine might try. Catherine’s demeanor and background and lifestyle seems so similar to Martha Stewart that if she knew about this she might help her financially or better yet joint venture something to alleviate her money issues. Go for it. Nothing asked, nothing happens.

Zimmerman: Bob, you must be reading my mind! She's next on my list. Believe me, my philosophy is "just ask."

Comment from Flying Solo: It's hard for women who are supporting themselves to take such a risk, don't you think? Yes, it is a dream, but we have to be practical too. You can't pay a mortgage with dream. It's depressing just thinking about it.

Werley: Finances are definitely part of the "what's next" equation. Catherine's story is about "keeping your day job" while building a next career. I did that in my own career, working for a large bank while getting very involved with nonprofits and eventually moving to my fulltime job with The Transition Network.

Another example is a Transition Network member who was an actress and felt that her roles were limited as she got into her 50s. She went back to school and got a Masters of Social Work; she now has a fulltime job counseling actors on their careers. So her finances actually got more stable as a result of going back to school and making a career change.

Comment from Linda: Two notes: One to Catherine Zimmerman. Thanks so much for your books and your belief about healthy meadows. I have been fighting with my city about my lack of a short grass lawn for years and wanted it to have wildflowers. Their attitude is that they’re "weeds.” Also, I can't use pesticides and a couple of years ago I had the vector control people come out to figure out why I had so many honeybees. They discovered a hive with beautiful golden honey in a tucked away corner of my yard. I was sorry I asked them to remove it when I saw how beautiful it was. I was the only one in the whole neighborhood who has "problems" like this because I would rather accommodate wildlife than kill it.

Zimmerman: Linda -- this is the good fight. Changing attitudes doesn’t come easy. But here's a resource, a Pennsylvania Wildlife 10 article on Neighborly Natural Landscaping:

Comment from Lauren: Sometimes I feel I don't have the energy to work a full-time job and go to school too. Catherine, how do you keep your energy level - and your motivation up?

Zimmerman: Lauren, eat a good diet, and learn how to compartmentalize so you can focus on one thing at a time and enjoy it!

Pauley: Lauren, let me jump in with an observation about Catherine's schooling. She was able to go at her own pace. It took her three years to complete the program juggling her freelance filmmaking and kids. She does have more stamina than any ten people that I know. So, 'at your own pace' might be slower than hers happened to be. Sign up for a class and see what happens.

Comment from Lori: Lauren, surround yourself with like minded people as well. Find people who have your energy and enthusiasm or more.

Comment from Karen: I watched the segment this morning with tears because I too changed my life recently. I am now 50. At 46, I went back to school to finish the degree I'd never finished. I didn't see divorce coming, so now, with twins in college, I have to support myself for the first time in my life. I found myself unemployed in February. I couldn't sit around waiting for a job that didn't exist in my area of fashion design. I can't move right now as I have elderly parents and my 2 kids in school. I used the money I got in the divorce to open my own clothing boutique. I'm now in a catch-22: I need to advertise to get people in the store, but I need people in the store to afford the advertising. I still have a little money I can use, but I'm approaching the desperation point. When & how do I know if it's time to throw in the towel? Are there any other things I can do?

Werley: Karen, you definitely need a supportive group - to cheerlead for you, give you fresh ideas and just be there to talk to. If you're near a Transition Network chapter, welcome (check out our website link above.) If not, check for local entrepreneurs or women's support groups. Another great resource on the business side is SCORE - a group of business professionals who provide free advice for businesspeople

Comment from Linda: Is there a way we can keep these links without writing each of them down?

Pauley: Linda, we archive everything. So go to the Your Life Calling website at and on the left side of the page click on Archive!

Comment from Heather: Ms. Zimmerman, I noticed that you were walking through the Andre Bluemel Meadow at the AHS River Farm. Is that a particular point of inspiration?

Zimmerman: Heather -- beautiful that you caught that! The AHS meadow was absolutely my inspiration to focus on meadow habitats. I filmed the meadow over a two year period while it was being installed and have done a video about it.

Comment from Linda: The Transition Network (TTN) started in NYC and we have a large and growing TTN membership here in the DC metro area. Betsy, how fast is TTN growing for people outside of major metropolitan areas?

Werley: Thanks for asking, Linda. TTN is adding four new chapters this year, so we're definitely growing - in Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston and Boulder.

Those are big cities, but TTN grows wherever there's a group of women who want to explore what's next. If there's not a chapter in your area, we can help you start one.

Comment from Laurie: Thank you for the segment this morning. It is so encouraging to learn how women have re-engaged in life. I worked part-time to stay home and raise my kids and am in the midst of trying to re-enter. The women who have not had a full-time career, and are starting the empty nesting process -- are we reaching out to them? The stories I seem to hear a great deal of (which are fabulous stories), are women that were full time execs and looking to engage in life differently. What about just starting?

Pauley: Laurie, point taken. Though our story a month ago was a man who, with his social security check, has created a life of service after many jobs you would not describe as “fabulous.” But, I think about women in your position all the time because I know the feeling of reaching in the dark for an idea.

My personal advice is to keep reaching, identify your own comfort zone and then deliberately do something to reach just outside it. It doesn't need to be a job, it might be a life of service to community, family or a next door neighbor. I do fear we are sometimes blinded by "fabulousness.”

Comment from Pat: I am over 50 and recently retired (before I was ready) because of a supervisor that drove me over the edge! I recently became involved in a home-based business but I miss the workplace relationships (although not the ones I left behind.) How do you develop those kind of relationships? I miss the feeling of "connectedness."

Werley: Hi, Pat - we have a lot to talk about! I strongly recommend that you get involved with a networking group like The Transition Network that brings entrepreneurs together to help each other. We have a number of peer support groups who do just that.

In addition, you could build your network by getting involved with a nonprofit in your community - taking on a leadership role that will offer new connections, expand your horizons and help you make friends with a new group of people.

Comment from Lauren: Do you have a link somewhere to TTN?

Werley: Absolutely - just go to We look forward to welcoming you.

Comment from Judy: Jane, I was so excited to see your segment on the Today Show today. You have truly reinvented yourself and are an inspiration to me. I am 60, recently "retired" and reinventing myself as a long-distance caretaker of my mother since my father's death, and I have recently taken up gardening. Catherine, what are some inspirational gardening references? I can't wait to read your book.

Zimmerman: Judy, I really had a revelation when I read Doug Tallamy's book "Bringing Nature Home." His research shows that native plants are very important to our ecosystem and to support our native insects and birds -- the reason being our insects specialize on certain plants that are native and they don't recognize non-native as food. I changed my whole plant palate after that.

Comment from Stephen: Betsy, does your organization have any resources off the top of your head that would be helpful for me to transition into a new career? PS...I'm a guy!

Werley: Yes, there are some very good resources:

North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement: (Asheville NC) – continuous learning, transition workshops

Shift: (Minneapolis/St. Paul) – focus on career transitions through programs and peer support

Coming of Age: (Philadelphia, Delaware, Kansas City, Bay Area) – resources, speakers, connections to volunteer opportunities.

Discovering What’s Next: (Boston area) – a network of people and organizations that helps people over 50 navigate transitions

There are lots of groups operating locally – check with churches, temples, Ys, JCCs and continuing education programs in your community.

Comment from Lori: Betsy, I can support your comment. I am seeing very qualified companies offering networking at no costs to you with experienced support.

Comment from Lori Ann: I really appreciate and applaud the tone of this conversation; it's both realistic and hopeful. I lost my husband to cancer four years ago, just when I was planning my re-invention, so my focus naturally remained on my then 14 and 16 year-old sons. There were many days when I gave myself four stars for getting out of bed in the morning, putting two feet on the ground, and dressing myself. I highly recommend the four star approach for small steps under adverse circumstances! Now, I am looking forward to helping others who face a similar crisis, as it is often extremely useful to look to someone who is ahead of you in the process and who has survived.

Pauley: Thank you, Lori Ann. Five stars for you!

Comment from Lori: Catherine, why self-publish? Did you consider not turning this into a hardbound book and perhaps downloadable for a fee?

Zimmerman: Lori, I self-published because my book is about sustainability, and all the publishers I know print four-color books publish in China because it's cheap. And I found that to be very un-sustainable. I published in North America. I also wanted more control over the final product. The book will be available in an e-book form soon, including video inserts.

Comment from Midwestern Midlifer: I'm not only in the midst of a career transition, I'm also in a marriage that seems pretty much DOA. Part of my new career search involves trying to figure out if I can find a job that will allow me to actually live apart from my spouse, who retired last year and has no interest in earning a living again. I sense that a lot of women are in the same boat. Any advice on how to tackle this two-headed beast?

Werley: Ouch...but I read recently that divorce rates are rising among older people, with a high percent initiated by the wife. The Transition Network's book "Smart Women Don't Retire - They Break Free" had a chapter called "Why Is My Spouse Driving Me Crazy?" - so you're not alone!

This is a time of life when many women are still moving ahead, just getting into their stride career-wise, and their partner is ready to stop. (Pardon the generalization.)

In our over-50 years, we start to realize that life is finite, and we also don't care as much about what people think. That's liberating! Sounds like you're close to defining your priorities and taking the next step. A good book on the subject is Abigail Trafford's "My Time - Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life."

Comment from Heather: Catherine, are there any particular meadow makers who inspired you or who have influenced your beautiful work?

Zimmerman: Heather, three meadow makers were my inspiration and also helped with the content of the book: Mike Nadeau at Plantscapes Inc. in Connecticut; Larry Weaner of Larry Weaner Lanscape Design Associates in Pennsylvania; and Neil Diboll at Prairie Nursery in Wisconsin. They're all fabulous meadow and prairie designers.

Comment from Erin: Wonderful segment! My family is so proud of my mom for all of the effort and time that she put into this!

Zimmerman: To my daughter Erin and the rest of my kids: because you guys pitched in so much I was really able to do this, and I thank you for that! Love you!

Comment from Beckie: I have a great career coach…outplacement support…what’s the extra value of joining an organization like The Transition Network?

Werley: When you’re making a transition, a supportive community is a big help. They’re the people who are with you day in and day out, for the duration. They give you a fresh perspective, they expand your network, they’re cheerleaders and role models - - so they complement your coach or outplacement support.

At this stage of life, our old communities may disappear –work friends or people whom you knew through your kids. Other communities, including our families, may have a one-dimensional picture of who we are. So it’s really important to find new people going through similar transitions, who want to support each other. That’s what brings so many women to The Transition Network. They meet women from different backgrounds with a common interest in learning, supporting each other…and having some fun!

Comment from Gwynne: Jane, you talked about small steps towards a journey of reinvention, which certainly makes sense to me. Do you have examples?

Pauley: Gwynne, one example comes right to mind. A friend of mine, a full-time mom, eager to get something going when her kids were growing up, enrolled in a certificate program at a local college (not a degree program).

It happened to be in environmental science -- updating her long ago college undergraduate degree. This certificate would not have been a ticket to a job, but it gave her credibility and confidence to volunteer with a non-profit environmental organization.

While volunteering, her latent gifts for organizing and getting things done bubbled right to the surface; she was given more responsibility, gained more confidence, had a resume item with a 21st century postmark, and with that, went into the labor market and found herself a paying job. So, it began with a small step.

Comment from Delia: I love the metaphor of being a "late bloomer." I also love the concept of meadows. Can you comment on how landscaping really evolved as your mission and purpose before you decided to go back to school?

Zimmerman: Delia, it really started when I realized I was assaulting the earth with pesticides and planting a bunch of monocultured lawns. When I realized that my landscape practices were detrimental, I went back to school to see what I could do about it.

Comment from Kathy: Regret is a regrettable four-letter word. How can I flush out the regrets in life? Sadly, I have a few.

Pauley: Kathy, big question! I guess make amends when and if you can and then commit to your future. You may want to go to our Your Life Calling website and look for an interview with author Lee Kravitz who wrote Unfinished Business.

Comment from Lauren: Thanks Catherine & Jane! Also, for Catherine, having gone through the effort of self-publishing (I can't imagine...), do you have some recommendations about that.

Zimmerman: Lauren, do your research. Plan for it to take longer than you think. Try to get some financial backing beforehand because some of the costs of printing and distributing can be crushing. I went to Greenleaf Book Group in Austin, TX and they distribute the book, and they also ended up giving me a lot of good advice.

Pauley: Lauren, take a look at the articles accompanying Catherine's story on our website where you will find a summary of tips and suggestions for self-publishing a book. Here is the link:

Comment from Delia: “Unfinished” is a wonderful word to contemplate. Like the used furniture I bought and painted with landscape flowers. I love the “finished” part of used. I am turning 66 Sept 30th and truly my late blooming is happening now.

Comment from Anise: I like the variety of questions and comments on the subject of transitioning into what's next. I'm getting good feedback from all of it. Thanks Jane, Catherine and Betsy! Very valuable exchange.

Comment from Carol: Looking for something that I enjoy. I work part time and volunteer at a site working with the disabled. I have a M.S. degree in counseling I am currently looking for something more, but haven't been able to find employment. I returned to school when I was 40ish and obtained my BS and my MS degree. I have finances, but afraid if I live a long life of 80 or more I will run out! I love working with the disabled.

Werley: One of the biggest issues for many of us is figuring out what we really want to do. A great book on the subject is Jeri Sedlar and Rick Miners' "Don't Retire - Rewire." Whether you're retiring or looking for your next job, it has terrific worksheets that help you identify your "drivers" and figure out how to turn them into a job. Kerry Hannon's "What's Next" also offers stories and resources for career changes after 50.

I strongly recommend that you complement your reading by finding a networking/discussion group, or join a professional association working with the disabled. Those groups will help you explore ideas, and connect you with people who are doing jobs you might be interested in.

The good news about working with the disabled is that it's part of the growing health care field - there will be plenty of jobs in that field.

Comment from JoAnn: Speaking to Jane's comment "see what happens"...that's the key. That's what I talked to my students about when approaching their artwork. It takes courage to operate that way, but I believe the pay-off is big.

Comment from Carole: It seems to me that if you look back at those years before 50 (I'm almost 70 and still changing), we were transitioning throughout the whole time, or evolving might be a better word. I don't believe it is any different after age 50, we are still growing and evolving, but perhaps in a different direction. Thanks for the opportunity to participate in a round of excellent questions and answers. Very inspiring.

Comment from Christina: I reinvented myself because I, like Catherine, feel very strongly about the need to educate the public about the loss of biodiversity and what it means to the planet. I have a for-profit called Native Return, LLC that deals with these issues and I have even started a non-profit to try to save and enhance habitat for wildlife. I am not setting the world on fire from an income point of view but it is certainly satisfying knowing I am helping our native wildlife which have lost so much of their territory to development. This is a great industry to get into.

Zimmerman: Christina, I don't believe there's any going back to the old landscape techniques, because people are starting to get it. It's a movement, and we just need to get the word out. Thanks to AARP and the TODAY Show, more people know today than they knew yesterday!

Comment from Beegirl: Where can I find a clip of the "Today Show" segment?

Pauley: You can find our Your Life Calling segments at our web site: We archive all of our segments here, and they are actually a little longer than the Today Show versions, with more information about the subject's reinvention process.

Comment from Susan: I just got laid off from my job, and am trying to figure out what I want to do next.  What advice can you give me on how to get started?

Werley: First, look at this layoff as an opportunity.  It’s a time to take stock of who you are now, and what your options are.  As Catherine’s story shows us, a new path can be very life-enhancing.  

Next, do a realistic financial assessment.  How much money do you need to live – at your current standard of living or a lower level that allows you more financial flexibility?  (Chris Farrell’s book The New FrugalityHow to Consume Less, Save More and Live Better is a great resource.)

Other nonprofits that can connect you with a new group of women (and men) are:  Project Renewment (primarily southern California), WomanSage (primarily Southern California, Shift (co-ed, based in the Twin Cities) and Discovering What’s Next (co-ed, based in the Boston area).  You can also check with local Ys, JCCs and continuing education programs to find groups who are thinking about reinvention after 50.

Comment from Lori: THANK YOU ALL! Jane & AARP these are great segments you do, so very inspiring! Jane, you set a good example.

Comment from Lauren: Catherine you are AWESOME, and thanks Jane, for bringing this kind of story to us!

Pauley: It looks like the hour is upon us! Great chat today everybody...loved all of the great questions and responses.

Zimmerman: Some final thoughts on the future: this is just the beginning. My mission is to plant, or inspire others to plant, a million meadow habitats across America in the next 10 years. My main focus will be in schools where our future stewards of the environment can plan their own meadow eco-system and explore the natural world.

My book, Urban and Suburban Meadows, Bringing Meadowscaping to Big and Small Spaces, is a complete guide to help anyone create a meadow habitat and restore their patch of earth. Join me in the movement to make natural landscapes the new landscaping norm! Go to

Werley: It was a privilege to be part of this wonderful conversation. We accomplished a lot today!

Catherine and Jane are really inspiring role models - we need all the role models we can get. The Your Life Calling site has excellent resources to refer back to. And I hope I've inspired many of you to check out The Transition Network ( and local groups in your area, so you build your own community of learning and support.

Pauley: Thank you so much for participating in this chat as a part of our “Your Life Calling” series on the TODAY Show and here on Catherine and Betsy – thanks for being with us! I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as I did. See me again on October 12 on the TODAY Show where I’ll be bringing you another great story about someone who is hearing their life calling in a new and different way.

Also, on Thursday, September 30 you can catch me “live” in Orlando when we take Your Life Calling on the road as a part of AARP’s member event, Orlando Life@50+.

Stay tuned to for more resources and inspiring stories on reinvention!

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