Jane Pauley, AARP's Brand Ambassador
Tripp Hanson, acupuncturist
Deborah Russell, AARP’s Director of Workforce Issues
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Jane Pauley: Hello, everyone! Thanks for joining us. I hope you enjoyed our Today show segment this morning featuring Tripp Hanson, a former Broadway performer who reinvented himself as an acupuncturist.
Like many aspiring performers, Tripp spent so many years focused on getting to Broadway, but it never occurred to him what would happen next after he finally made it. Tripp got some great advice from an acting coach who told him to feel comfortable “stepping into questions, not answers,” which I think is such a valuable way to think about reinvention. The answers aren’t always so apparent to us, but we have to feel comfortable living in that ambiguity.
Tripp joins us in the chat today, along with AARP's Director of Workforce Issues Deborah Russell. She’s an expert on aging workforce and employment issues, in particular how these issues affect 50+ individuals. We’re very excited to have them both here.
Hi, Tripp and Deborah!
Tripp Hanson: Hi, you guys — so happy to be here!
Deborah Russell: Good afternoon! It's a pleasure to be here to discuss successful ways to transition into new employment opportunities!
Comment from Ben: The company that I work for is consolidating offices, and many of us know that a round of layoffs is looming. I’m almost certain that I will be one of the unfortunate ones. The announcements will be made in two months, but in the meantime what steps should I take to prepare myself for a transition to a new job or career? Thanks!
Pauley: Cue the orchestra, Ben. Your question will get this show on the road!
Russell: Ben, unfortunately this is a common occurrence in this economy. You're smart to get started on your job search in anticipation of perhaps being part of the layoff exercise.
I would begin by thinking about what kind of job you're looking for next. If you wish to stay in your current profession, it's time to start looking to see what's available in your area. How far are you willing to commute?
If you're looking to transition into a new career, you might want to identify your transferable skills. How can your skills be used in a new line of work. What happens if there are gaps? Perhaps you need some training to fill that gap.
Next, it's time for the application process. Make sure that your résumé reflects the requirements of the job. Perhaps a functional résumé makes the most sense. AARP has a wealth of resources in this area. Go to AARP.org/work.
Comment from Gwen: Hi, Jane! People have suggested I take a series of assessment tests to find my aptitudes and interests. It seems like a good idea — for someone under 50, but shouldn't I already know? What do you think?
Russell: Assessments are good at any age. It helps organize your thoughts around what you're good at, what you like to do and the skills that you bring to those areas. Particularly for those who are looking to transition into new employment opportunities, this opens up your thinking around what's next! Go for it! Give it a try! I think you'll find it helpful.
Comment from Elizabeth Craig: Hi, Gwen. Most over 50 haven't ever experienced the excellent assessments available today! Like Deborah has said I encourage you to give them a try! People find assessments to be a very useful start and then move with that information to "career research interviews" with people actually in the positions they are interested in.
Comment from Dr. Debra Weiss: You could start by volunteering at a place you might want to work. Connections are important.
Hanson: Hi, Debra. I think that our journey of "storytelling with our bodies" (i.e., dance/theater) is the beginning of a natural transition to understand how our bodies work, and thus how we can keep them working better longer. That was certainly part of my journey — and like you, it involved many facets: looking at massage, at yoga, nutrition — and still include those items/topics in my practice. Our bodies and our health are indeed our greatest assets.
Comment from Elizabeth Craig: Hi, Ben. Tripp's comment — "Put your periscope up and look around! Pay attention! It won't happen when you are looking for it!" — was also great advice in addition to the excellent advice Deborah has provided!
Comment from Robert: I have a son who is heading to college this fall. He plans on declaring a theater major, although he will minor in graphic design as a backup option. How realistic is it for him to have a successful career as a Broadway actor, and is a theater career something he can quickly shift out of to launch his design career? I’m just afraid that the theater life will be all-consuming and that he won’t have the time necessary to stay sharp on his graphics skills, or realize that it’s the right time to make the transition.
Pauley: Robert, have we met? I know a young man who sounds like your son, who by his 30s, was no longer active in theater. But the combination of theater and graphic design seems to have been foundational for a happy career (wish I could say specifically what he’s doing now), but the point I would make is that this is true for both our children and ourselves.
It seems if you prepare, then appropriate opportunities appear — and I don’t mean that in some spooky way. I just mean that as you go through life your antennae are aware of opportunities that suit your training. I certainly sympathize with your anxiety and can’t help but remember my poor father wondering how Janie’s poli-sci degree was ever going to produce a paycheck.
Hanson: Robert, I know so many who have figured out how to cross-reference their creative fields. It's not unlike for me, the cross-discipline of theater, dance, piano, acting — these often feed and fuel each other. Plus, he's going to follow what he loves.
Russell: Creative jobs such as theater, art and acting are challenging areas. Most people who enter into these professions have other jobs because the thing they love to do most is not sustainable (until they get discovered!). In the meantime, it is critical that he stay on top of the graphic design industry. This is an industry that goes through rapid change on a regular basis. The longer he is out of the industry, the harder it will be for him to get up to speed. Perhaps he can combine both — theater as a passion but graphic art as a trade.
Comment from Janice: I’ve been hearing of these so-called recession-proof cities such as New York, San Francisco, D.C. and Seattle for some time now. Does it make sense to relocate to an area with a strong and sustainable job sector, or do you think that these regions are the ones most primed for contraction?
Russell: Unfortunately, there is no city that is completely recession-proof. I think the most important thing here is that you are willing to be flexible and relocate for a job. That makes you a lot more marketable. A good website to go to that will help you research this in more depth is Indeed.com, where you can find out more information about jobs in cities across the country as well as information about the city (transportation, etc.).
Comment from Elizabeth Craig: Hi, Tripp. Terrific segment on the Today show! Congratulations! One of the lessons in your segment was opening up to be more receptive. Can you speak more about how you did that?
Hanson: Hi, Elizabeth. Interesting question! Becoming more receptive was, for me, about letting go of many of my expectations and pushing to figure out what was next. Instead, my periscope going up was my reference to some of that. The process of becoming receptive? Well, that took life kind of "having it's way with me" and knocking some of that resistance out.
Comment from Dr. Debra Weiss: Deborah, I'd like to address the question of age discrimination in the workplace. How does one get around that when starting a new career in midlife?
Comment from MaryAnn: Over the past year, I've had numerous interviews — as they like my credentials for insurance CSR — but once they find out how old I am (I don't look 61 years of age), everything seems to go down the flusher! What can I do or say at the interview to get myself hired?
Pauley: Deborah, both Dr. Debra Weiss and MaryAnn ask questions about the reality of age discrimination in the workplace. How do you “get around” that? Is there a way to approach a job search that, in a sense, goes around it?
Russell: Age discrimination in the workplace continues to be a challenge for older workers. This issue gets complicated as we see the workplace becoming more multigenerational with younger workers who will have to manage older workers and older workers who will have to manage younger workers. Focus groups that AARP has conducted with younger managers find that they have the following perceptions about older workers:
- "It would be like managing my mother/father"
- Older workers are inflexible
- Older workers don’t want to answer to younger bosses
- Older workers aren’t up to speed with respect to technology
These are issues that can be addressed in the interview and even before the interview, with your résumé. Make sure the employer knows that you have an e-mail address, that you have a LinkedIn account, that you frequent the Internet. That takes care of the technology issue. With respect to the rest, give the interviewer examples of how you were successful in your last job and how you made the company successful. A company is more interested in knowing if you’re the right "fit," not just about your credentials.
Comment from Thomas: Deborah, about those assessment programs. Can you recommend any? I wouldn't know where to start. Thank you.
Russell: Thomas, try the Department of Labor’s website at DOL.gov and go to their job board area.
Comment from Rachel: Tripp, how did you know you’d be successful at acupuncture and that you’d be able to support yourself on it?
Hanson: Rachel, I know! How in the world did I find the confidence to dive in like I did? It's not that simple. Truth is, this was an exercise in faith. I'd spent a long time, truly, considering different ideas. But this was the particular career that spoke to me in many different ways: I had a longstanding interest in alternative medicine; I was intrigued by the results that I'd seen in my experiences with acupuncture; and I'd heard acupuncture was a burgeoning field and as a branch of alternative medicine was an "up and comer." Everything after that was just jumping, and trusting that I'd landed on my feet. Maybe the years of seeking Broadway shows, which was such an uphill climb.
Comment from Elizabeth Craig: Tripp, that makes me think of the quote by Helen Keller: "Life is a daring adventure or nothing!"
Comment from Dr. Debra Weiss: Yes, Tripp, I teach health education to college students at CUNY and I tell them that taking good care of your body through healthy eating and exercise is like putting money in the bank. You'll reap the benefits later. I've been giving a talk called "Keeping Your New Year's Resolutions: Eat Smart, Get Fit in 2011," which uses the Stages of Change Health Model to help people change their mindset. Health begins in the mind.
ĈComment from Vanessa: New York a recession-proof city? Really? I live in New York and companies are laying people off left and right. Companies are consolidating offices (several colleagues in one office, which makes it a challenge getting work done).The landscape of interviewing has changed. You are now required to "brand" yourself and prepare to give the interviewer your "3 second commercial.” A good assessment tool is a book called StrenghtFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath.
Comment from Lisa: Does one résumé fit all? I've heard that you should tailor your résumé to the job. That makes sense, but can you give an example of how that "tailoring" looks?
Russell: Lisa, you should have a tailored résumé for every job you apply for. Every company and employer is looking for something unique and different. There are different résumé styles:
- Chronological résumés provide dates of employment and are typically used if you’re planning on staying within the same industry and profession.
- Functional résumés organize your skills by function that is articulated in the job announcement. This is usually the preferred style of résumé because it also does not highlight your years and therefore suppresses your age.
At the end of the day, it's about the skills you bring to the job, the successes you have had in your past job that you can apply to this new job and how you think you are the right fit for the job. If you want some great examples of résumés, go to AARP.org/jobtips.
Comment from Nicole: Hi, Tripp, I stopped dancing a few years ago but often feel lost without it. Do you find yourself missing performance?
Hanson: I do, but I find myself always finding ways to include it — just not as the primary focus!
Comment from Ann Marie: Hi, everyone. What advice can you give to a recently downsized corporate someone who has taken all the assessments, is spending the time to assess/demonstrate how skills are transferable and trying to find what one really wanted to be when they grew up — but still feel so utterly clueless as to a direction? And yes — add the age thing on top of that too (late 50s).
Russell: Ann Marie, you are not alone with respect to not being clear about what’s next! It sounds to me like you might want to reach out to a professional career coach who might be able to provide you with some feedback and help you work through some of these issues. Some career coaches can be expensive; however, there are other options that are more cost-effective. Community colleges certainly have career counselors that will work with you; there are certified career counselors that might also be of assistance. If you go to AARP.org/jobtips, we have more information that will give you some direction. Good luck!
Comment from Elizabeth Craig: Hi, Vanessa, Nicole and others on that chat. You might want to check out the book Working Identity by Herminia Ibarra.
Comment from Maggie: I'm in my mid-40s. I make six figures and am miserable. I want to work with animals. Selfishly, I'm used to a six-figure lifestyle and fear quitting my job to work with animals (which doesn't pay six figures). Thoughts? Am I being selfish?
Pauley: Maggie, I think this is a question you need to take some time answering and probably with the benefit of someone who knows the right questions to ask you. So I’m going to ask Deborah to take a look at your question because I know that part of her portfolio at AARP includes career coaching.
Russell: Maggie, you are absolutely not being selfish. Money is not always what drives people at work. Loving the work that you do is always more important. With that said, I’m assuming you’ve done some financial planning to determine whether you can afford to take that kind of a pay cut. Can you still live the quality of life you are accustomed to? What sacrifices you will have to make in order to move into this new profession? Are you willing to make those sacrifices? If in fact your financial responsibilities have been addressed and you can afford to make the transition, do it! You will be happier in the end, and that matters most.
Comment from Dr. Debra Weiss: You're right, Jane. One never knows where a person is going to wind up. Every student should be allowed to follow his or her own dream. I know people who didn't and spent a lifetime regretting it.
Comment from Maggie: Thanks, Jane and Deborah. I've been contemplating it for a year. So miserable. I still don't know what the right answer is.
Pauley: Maggie, just a thought: get out of the house and be miserable. Don’t stay at home. If you find something "to do" — being a helpful neighbor in some structured way or volunteering at church or in a community group — I predict you will feel less miserable and you are far more likely to discover your special affinities, like we’ve been talking about. Not to mention being more likely to stumble over opportunities. And I enthusiastically refer you to CreateTheGood.org.
Comment from Nicole: Hi, Tripp. Were there any people or groups that helped you make the transition?
Hanson: Hi, Nicole. There's a tremendous organization in New York called Career Transition for Dancers. They specifically work with dancers who are seeking some sort of change and financially help you begin the exploration. Great group!
Comment from Gregg: Tripp, how long was it between your last show and your epiphany about acupuncture?
Hanson: Hey, Gregg, it wasn't after, it was during! I was on Broadway, dancing in the musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, and I'd recently read something about the fact that acupuncture was a career to watch in the future — a great potential growth curve. Plus, I'd also read during that time in some of Paul Zane Pilzer's The Next Trillion about the health industry growth for baby boomers. So I began taking classes part time to see how it might fit — eight shows a week and two classes was exhausting, but it proved to be a fit. And the rest as they say — history!
Pauley: I’d like to underscore a point you may have missed in this morning’s segment on the Today show. When Tripp was a little boy, he was really serious about being a doctor when he grew up. Theater, dancing — nowhere on his radar until high school chemistry proved an insurmountable obstacle to his dreams of being a doctor.
But he told me that he had this sense on stage that there was a healing quality to a show — that audiences left feeling better. The point I want to make is that Tripp had a strong affinity for “healing.” He is more insightful about himself than most of us are but finding common affinities in very different categories is, I think, the secret of successful career transitions.
Comment from Elizabeth Craig: Tripp, I noticed the thread in your life — desire to be a doctor; when your Broadway audiences left they felt better — helping people was consistently coming through. Thank you for having shared more about how you figured that out! Congratulations on your new career!
Comment from Bill: Hi, Debra, Trip and Jane. How old is too old to go back to school, do you think?
Pauley: Bill, I’ve seen surveys that say that lifelong learning is one of the hallmarks of my generation and that going back to school for the sheer sake of being intellectually engaged is something a person would never outgrow.
But one thing a person might do before enrolling in school, particularly if it involves significant expense, is to do some homework and find out if the program you’re considering has a track record of matching graduates to actual work.
And by the way, I use “work” instead of “job” because not everyone, as we get older, is looking for a paycheck. Many of us want to remain involved, productive and engaged in life.
Comment from Dr. Debra Weiss: Bill, It's never too late! There was one 92-year-old student at my master's graduation from Teachers College in 2007. I think it depends on your intention. My focus was so much stronger this time around than when I was an undergraduate.
Pauley: I wanted to talk about that this morning on the Today show. I so admire Tripp for not just going back to school, but taking a pretty demanding program. I think it would be harder for me to learn today, but my ability to focus is so much better than when I was an undergraduate. And now I’m not looking for a boyfriend.
Comment from Dr. Debra Weiss: Bill, you could start with one class and see how you like the subject and the workload.
Comment from Carol: I have sold my investment business and now am seeking a second career. For over 20 years I have offered financial advice (investement education, budgeting, planning, etc.). I would love to continue this aspect of my business, but don't know how to make a living at it. I almost always offered these services for free (making my money from the investments themselves). Any suggestions?
Russell: Carol, wow! You offered this service for free? Well, now it’s time to make money off of your vast knowledge. There are a few different directions you could explore:
- Do you want to become a certified financial planner and become an independent contractor?
- Do you want to work for a company as a budget analyst?
The Department of Labor's website has information to help you determine transferable skills as well as jobs that would take advantage of your skills. Go to DOL.gov and look in their employment section.
Comment from Frustrated Worker: My boss refuses to admit that we're in the 21st century and doesn't want to listen to my ideas about promoting our company through Facebook and Twitter. What do I do to get him to reinvent himself? It’s frustrating.
Russell: I can relate to your frustration! I had a similar kind of boss. I find that people are unwilling to learn technology out of fear of the unknown. Perhaps if you were to put together a demonstration of Facebook and its application so that he can actually see what it would look like. You might even consider putting together a “mock” profile page of your boss. Again, if he could see the application in “action” he might get a little more excited about it. Also make sure that you let him know that you are willing to teach him about using these technologies. Be patient, it’s not easy pulling the unwilling into the 21st century but it can be done through persistence.
Comment from Elizabeth Craig: Hi, Tripp. Do you feel asking yourself the question while you were acting, "Maybe I don't love this?" really assisted in your "putting your periscope" up and looking at other options?
Hanson: Elizabeth, I wish I could say it was that linear, but truth is that the sense of panic and disappointment that I felt when I was realizing that maybe it wasn't quite the right fit — that was surely a motivating factor. Whether good or bad, it was a long time before I found my way to acupuncture, and so it wasn't a direct leap. My 'inner happiness' o-meter wasn't willing to settle for something less than what really felt genuine and authentic. I'm not sure if that's good or bad! But it's how I view my journey from here!
Comment from William: It's reassuring to see how many of us are rowing our boats the same direction. Thanks for your encouragement!
Comment from Nicole: The current market is difficult, but I am a firm believer that if you stick with your passion it will lead you to the most viable place to live it out.
Comment from Marcia: Tripp, do you know if your classmates were as successful learning acupuncture — and getting a business established? That's a lot of money to spend to find out you can't make a living.
Hanson: Hi, Marcia. Very good question. It's why I agree with Jane who speaks to the need to really consider going into something brand new; to really consider just what fits you — your temperament, your interests, your readiness to shift gears. It sounds so simple, but it can be quite stressful. To answer you directly: there are some who have — like myself — done very well. But that has taken commitment, dedication, working through some fear, for sure. Also, I had a very specific "target audience" in mind! Additionally, something that might sound trite perhaps, but is key in my book: an unwavering dedication to succeeding. Period. Not taking no! And those are qualities that you have to develop in every area of your life. And not everyone has. Thus, I have to admit, there are those who aren't doing as well as I am. But frankly, that's any industry, any career — it has to do with the individual. And changing careers isn't going to be a magic wand.
Pauley: We didn't have time to tell you everything this morning. Just for your information, Crazy for You (Tripp's first Broadway show) won the Best Musical Tony Award in 1992. And if you'd like to see more of Tripp in his first act, here’s a link I think you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.
Well, it looks like it’s already time to wrap things up. 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 AARP.org. Tripp and Deborah — thanks for being with us!
I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as I did. Stay tuned to AARP.org/Jane for more resources and inspiring stories on reinvention.
Hanson: Thanks for hanging out with us! This experience with Jane, the folks at AARP and the Today show has been an experience in gratitude for me. No one here underestimates the challenge of changing lanes midstream — but if you're compelled, if you're motivated, at the very least I hope you'll give yourself the permission to "put your periscope up" and see what grabs you. Best of luck!
Comment from Dr. Debra Weiss: Tripp, congratulations! All of us transitioned dancers should go out dancing one night!
Russell: In the midst of this difficult economy, I have found that many older workers are reflecting upon their current situations and rethinking their career opportunities and possibilities.
It's never too late to make a change, whether that means getting additional training, starting your own business or starting a new career.
The most important thing is making sure that you are working every day toward making the transition. There are so many resources out there for you to take advantage of for free. Here are some things to consider on your quest:
- Make sure that you have signed up for LinkedIn. Networking is critical and you never know if there's someone who knows someone else who can help you in your quest.
- Take advantage of the resources that are available on the AARP.org/work and AARP.org/jobtips pages.
- Follow my monthly column that will address older jobseeker-related issues on AARP.org/work.
- Identify someone who you can bounce ideas off of and can give you feedback.
Best of luck to you all!
Pauley: By the way, if you ever want to have a look at any of our past Web chats, you can find them archived here. They are a great resource for reinvention advice and topics from a variety of experts and people who have successfully transitioned into new careers.