When Michael Clinton was preparing to step out of the day-to-day work world after a 42-year magazine publishing career, he found a wealth of information about getting older but little on reimagining what a 50-plus life can be. And so he wrote his own book, ROAR: into the Second Half of Your Life (Before It’s Too Late).
A guide for anyone contemplating a midlife change — whether in work, relationships or lifetime goals — his new book offers practical advice for those who wish to “rewire” or “refire,” instead of retire, when they can still enjoy an engaged and passionate life. Clinton shares 40 interviews with people who have done just that (the book editor who decided to become a doctor at 51, the marketing executive who founded a horse sanctuary) and breaks the process down to four steps, which make up the acronym of his title:
- Reimagine yourself.
- Own who you are.
- Act on what’s next.
- Reassess your relationships to get you there.
“The magic that we’re beginning to see is that people who are living longer are more dynamic and engaged than any generation before them,” says Clinton, 68, who is an avid photographer, pilot, marathon runner and winemaker. “So the big question is, What do I do next? Your first career does not have to define what a second or third career might be. If you’re 70 and healthy, you have a good shot at living to be 90-plus.”
AARP asked Clinton what else he’s learned.
Q: How has the pandemic made us more aware of time?
A: I think it’s created an incredible sense of urgency, in that people are saying, “Oh, my God, I’d better do the things that I want to do. I’d better make the decisions I’ve been holding off on, or the lifestyle or relationship or work change, because this is such an existential moment.” I’m finding that more people are going through that process than being stuck and frozen in inertia. A lot of people thought that they were supposed to be winding down. But now they’re saying, “Gee, I’ve got another 20 or 25 years of productive living. Maybe I should be winding up.” But you have to have the imagination, the drive, the motivation to do it.
Q: What if you don’t know what you want?
A: The one common thread that I found with all the people that I interviewed was, they made a dedicated commitment of a year-plus to reach deep down into themselves and mine their lives. Doing that work is really important. Then you have to try something new and different, and that sometimes takes us on a path, which will then lead us to another path. I always say, “Go back to your younger self. What was it that excited you but you put on the shelf because life took over? Go back and reclaim that.” It might have been music or photography. And so many people say, “I wanted always to be a writer.” Well, create a schedule and start the process. We have an opportunity in this new 50-plus world for a second chance at things. Follow your own North Star. And live the life of the person you want to be.
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Q: You say to celebrate your age and own it as a badge of honor.
A: I hate the expression “Seventy is the new 50.” That’s an ageist thought. Become what the new 70 is about. And celebrate the role models we have who are 70, people like Sting, who you look at and say “Wow!” Or become what the new 80 is about, like Jane Fonda. She’s 83. I mention a fellow in the book who was the first 100-year-old man to cross the finish line in a marathon. Obviously, not everyone can run a marathon at 100, but those are the inspirational goals to show us that this is what the new 80 or the new 90 and beyond looks like.
Q: Some people find their worlds shrink as they age, especially if they’ve left the workforce. How can we guard against that?
A: I think a lot of it is taking things that you think we’re supposed to do and turning them on their heads. Well, how do you do that? One thing is that you have to get outside of your own social group. We all tend to congregate in our tribes, the same people that we’ve known forever or that are our same age. That’s not good. We need to get perspectives from 20-year-olds and 30-year-olds and 40-year-olds. Building a social network that incorporates people of all ages helps keep one engaged and active.
Q: What do you see as the future alternatives to retirement villages or nursing homes?
A: I’m hoping that we will redefine what we call today senior living or assisted living in a way that has all of us moving forward. Over the next decade you’re going to see a dramatic change in how people cohabitate and live in place. More people will choose to be in their home, supported by their friends, or with the aid of technology and medical assistance. It’s just a question of how the models will develop. And instead of downsizing, why not upsize if you have the means and resources? Why retrench when you can expand? Instead of leaving your home state to go to a so-called retiree state, stay in place and build a rich life where you are.
Q: You also believe in the die-broke philosophy.
A: Over the next 20 years, the boomers are going to pass on more than 61 trillion dollars of assets. That will be the largest transfer of generational wealth in the history of the world. Open up your life and put those resources to work now in ways that keep your life engaged and involved, as opposed to just keeping them for your children’s inheritance. There are so many things that you can do. Put that money into the nonprofit sector to make a social impact, or start a new business, or create scholarships for underserved communities. And have these experiences with your family now. We just did a family trip to Ireland. That’s a gift that has a lot more meaning than squirreling the money away for some inheritance.
Alanna Nash is a contributing writer who covers celebrity and entertainment. She has written 10 books, including several on Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton. She received a Country Music Association Media Achievement Award and a Charlie Lamb Award for Excellence in Country Music Journalism.