A year ago, Jane Pauley returned to the Today show to investigate a question that seemed to be on the tip of every boomer's tongue: What's next?
"We're going to live longer than our parents' generation, and there comes a point when you ask yourself, 'What am I going do?'" Pauley says. "You can only play so much golf."
In the first season of AARP's series "Your Life Calling," Pauley told the stories of 12 persons 50 and older who took bold steps into the unknown and reinvented their careers, their retirement and their lives. She traveled the country talking with all kinds of people — from Tripp Hanson, a Broadway dancer turned acupuncturist, to Anthony Tata, a retired Army general turned chief operating officer for a public school system.
As Pauley wraps up the first season and prepares for the second, here's a look at what some of the people you met on "Your Life Calling" have been up to since their stories aired on the Today show.
• You might remember Trudy Lundgren, who left the bustle of Manhattan for a life on the road, doing graphic design work with her partner, Lisa Wade, out of her 320-square-foot RV. The pair recently traded in their original vehicle (which they had aptly named "The Catbird Seat") for a Monaco Diplomat with just a bit more breathing room ("We can dance in the living room!"), but Lundgren assures that they have no plans of slowing down anytime soon. "The open road continues to beckon, and we have no regrets about our lifestyle change," she says. "If anything, we like it even more."
• Maryland well driller Ken Wood continues his humanitarian mission in Ghana, where he drills water wells for villages that lack basic sanitation. Working with his small nonprofit, Wells for Ghana, Wood returned to Ghana this winter. He has now drilled 550 wells (and counting) in Western Africa, and he's hoping to expand the project as he raises money to begin drilling projects in impoverished areas of India and Tanzania.
• Betsy Lee McCarthy — who Pauley dubbed a "knitting rock star" — spent much of the summer accompanying her daughter, best-selling author Rebecca Skloot, on Skloot's European book tour. McCarthy says it was an unforgettable experience, and it even influenced her knitting: she's begun to incorporate into her teaching repertoire "souvenir socks," like the pairs she's designed inspired by the colors of Berlin. McCarthy's book Knit Socks! was reprinted last year, and she's kept busy helping other knitters hone their craft and teaching at such prominent knitting festivals as Madrona FiberArts and the upcoming Sock Summit. McCarthy admits that when she first got the call to appear on "Your Life Calling," she was "terrified" at the thought of being interviewed on TV. But looking back, she's glad she seized the opportunity: "Like other experiences in my life, when I recognized that I was living in fear of something, I wanted to make myself embrace and get over it — and grow in the process."
• After her Today show appearance, chocolatier Antoinette Little's business has been booming — so much so that it nearly crashed her website. Online and in the store, Little's New Jersey shop, Antoinette Chocolatier, saw its busiest holiday season yet — and Little says that the "Jane truffle" has become one of her big sellers. In the rare moments when she's not filling orders, Little has enjoyed personally answering all the letters and emails she received as a result of her "Your Life Calling" appearance. "I have made so many friends all over the USA," she says. "Many, many people have shared their stories with me — wishing they could change, too, but afraid to take that first step."
• A former real estate broker who reinvented himself after the housing market crashed, Robert Rudolph found a higher calling as the music director of Messiah United Methodist Church in Virginia. "The music program here is on fire," he happily reports. Later this spring, his parishioners will welcome a new addition to the church: a custom-made $425,000 Dutch organ that Rudolph helped research, design and fund. Plus, his Today show appearance helped him spread the good word to an even wider audience: After seeing him on "Your Life Calling," the Sirius XM radio show "Seize the Day" invited him on the program.
• Anthony Tata, a retired Army brigadier general, keeps moving up in the ranks of the education system: He recently took a new assignment as the superintendent of the Wake County School District in North Carolina. Now in charge of the largest school district in the state, Tata aims to provide parents and students the same focus on budget and academic achievement that he brought to D.C. public schools.
• A few other "Your Life Calling" veterans continue to influence their communities. Support from the Walmart Foundation has allowed Lawrence McRae (better known as "The Prostate Man") to implement a patient navigation program that will help the McRae Prostate Cancer Awareness Foundation further its efforts in promoting prostate health among black men in rural Alabama. Social worker Sylvia Abrego-Araiza is lending a hand to even more kids in need, having recently taken on an additional part-time job working with Texas teens at a local halfway house. Abrego-Araiza continues to stay active in the Women's Ministries group at her church.
• Catherine Zimmerman's landscape design business is blooming, and she's also busy with plenty of other projects. She recently shot a video on sustainable landscape practices with the U.S. Botanic Garden, and she is gearing up for the second printing of her successful book, Urban & Suburban Meadows: Bringing Meadowscaping to Big and Small Spaces. Zimmerman's so much in demand that she notes, "The biggest problem I have these days is finding a moment to work in my own garden!"
• Former art teacher Joe Liles is still on the move. He's gone back to hike parts of the Appalachian Trail, including a recent trip to the Grayson Highlands section in Virginia. He also says he's inspired some of his 50-plus friends to attempt a thru-hike next year. Like Zimmerman, Liles is also dabbling in publishing: He's illustrating a children's book about the Seven Prophecies of the Ojibwe people, combining his passion for Native American art with his past career as a teacher. "In my life these days, I find that the lessons I learned on the trail are still with me," he says. "I continue to be a more optimistic person and am much more appreciative for everything that is in my life."
• Like Liles, all of the people profiled on "Your Life Calling" say they've found more fulfillment and some much-needed serenity in the aftermath of their reinventions. Alpaca rancher Connie Betts says, "We love the peacefulness of living in the country, the low stress of the business, and making and selling a product that we can be proud of." She and her husband, Thomas, are still raising alpacas on their picturesque Oregon ranch, where the only news to report is that Thomas has taken up knitting alpaca rugs. "Our life doesn't sound exciting and glamorous," Connie says, "but that's the way we want it."
These people put a new and inspiring spin on work and aging, proving that our so-called retirement years can be a time of thrilling change, daring risks and endless possibilities.
So, boomers, what's next? Anything you can imagine.