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What's Next?
by Barbara Hannah Grufferman

Excerpted from The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts' Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money, and More by Barbara Hannah Grufferman Copyright © 2010. Excerpted with permission by RunningPress.

What's Next?
Get Ready 'Cause Here We Come....

What will you do with the rest of your life?

Our generation has always been known as adventurous and ready for whatever’s next. So it is natural that at this point in our lives, a lot of us are reflecting on what we’ve done, and thinking seriously about what we’re going to do next. We’ve spent decades accumulating skills, experiences, knowledge, and wisdom. What do you want to do with yours?

I can’t quit now.

While fifty is about the age that our parents started firming up their retirement plans, I’ve always believed that I would die with my boots on—working either for money or psychic rewards, or both. The concept of “retiring” seems quaint to me, as if it’s from another time and place. It’s a good thing I feel that way because I may not have a choice. A lot of us cannot assume that we will walk off into the sunset in our late fifties or early sixties, but probably can count on working into our seventies. In 1935 when Social Security was established, the average life expectancy was sixty-one. Today, most of us can expect to live many years beyond that. Let’s make those years worthwhile.

Maybe you love your career and plan to keep doing exactly what you’re doing until you’re ninety. Maybe you’ve been a lifelong homemaker or are busy as a full-time grandmother. Maybe you’re poised to retire. Or you already did retire but you’ve decided to get back into the work force because you’re feeling a little financially vulnerable or you miss working. Maybe you’ve been thinking about making a whole new start, like leaving investment banking to join the Peace Corps or become a teacher. Maybe you don’t need to earn money anymore, but you want to stay active. Even if you never work again, it is in your own best interest to stay engaged in life. We all need to feel wanted, productive, and involved—especially as we age. While some of us find our latelife passion in reaction to something out of our control (like getting laid off), it’s usually better if we take the initiative in planning our own futures. Don’t go another twenty years only to realize that you never pursued your big dream.

Does the world need me?

It’s easy in our youth-centric society to convince ourselves that once we are over fifty, we are obsolete and should sit quietly, out of sight. But that is the wrong thing to do. Read today’s paper and you’ll see a growing list of problems and issues that would benefit from your experience, knowledge, skills, and compassion—all of which are the result of your years on this planet. One of the most important aspects of healthy aging is being involved and active. Yes, the world most definitely needs you.

Start Where You Are

Wherever you’re going, your path depends on where you are now. So start by taking stock.

Assess your finances and update your financial plan.

Your current financial status and obligations will affect your future. How much money you have, how much you owe, and how much you will need all factor into your decision about whether you work full-time, part-time, volunteer, start your own business, go back to school, or play tennis all day. Review Chapter 11: Money and consider this:

• Social Security benefits will be reduced the earlier you start receiving them. Wait to collect as long as you can before you officially retire.

• If you are still working, or return to work, be aware of your employer’s medical insurance benefits, because they could compromise your Medicare benefits after you hit sixty-five.

• Discuss your plans with your financial advisor to make sure you’re taking advantage of tax breaks and other benefits.

Once you’ve gotten your finances straight, you’re ready for the exciting part.

Name your passion—Start by thinking about what gets your juices flowing, your brain cells percolating, makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning. What can you see yourself doing for many years to come? This is your passion, and being able to name it will help motivate you to formulate your plan.

What will your legacy be?—By the time you’re fifty, you understand that life is not unlimited, so if you haven’t left your stamp yet, maybe now’s the time. Answering the question “How do I want to be remembered?” can help to clarify your deepest priorities.

What’s your motivation?—Money is one motivator for engaging in work, but ideally you can find work that will make you happy as well. This could mean helping others or supporting a cause you believe in.

Who are you anyway?—It’s important to have a good understanding of who you really are—your character, your nature, your true self. How hard do you want to work? Do you want to sit behind a desk or work with tools? Would you like to chat with people or be outdoors all day?

List your skills—We’ve all got something that we can offer. Every one of us. We need to take stock of our talents, skills, experiences, knowledge, and contacts. Can you speak another language? Are you patient enough to train others? If you don’t feel like you’re using your skills now, what could you do that would let you really shine? Perhaps it’s time for a major change, or maybe you’d be happy where you are but with a redefined role that better uses your talents.

Once you’ve made your list, you’ll have a better handle on what you are uniquely qualified to do.

Do you need new skills?—It’s always smart to keep your skills up to date, but if you’re switching careers or moving within your field, you might need to add new skills to your list. Once you’ve figured out what they are, find out how and where to get them.

(Re)think your theme—Think about where you are now, decide what your vision is going forward, and then declutter your life of all the stuff that doesn’t fit into this vision—but hold onto everything that does. Review Chapter 12: Lose the Clutter, Find Your Life and put those principles into place. Make sure your passion is firmly implanted in your brain and be willing to re-evaluate your priorities once in a while. Once you take time to consider all of these—your passion, motivation, true nature, skills, and intended legacy— you’ll get some ideas about the right path for you.

Many paths can lead you to what’s next.

Looking for inspiration about what to do with the rest of our lives, I met with a few incredible women over fifty. They each had different backgrounds, financial situations, passions, goals, and talents. They each took different paths, but had one thing in common: they took charge of the rest of their lives.

Here are a few ideas.

The New Radical Path

Julia Moulden’s dream didn’t materialize until she was almost fifty. At that point in her life, she figured that, barring some unforeseen disaster, she had over thirty productive years left in her. She had gone through a divorce in her late forties and made the transition from “do I want to work” to “I have to work.” But after twenty-five years as a successful speechwriter, Julia was getting restless. She found herself thinking about an earlier time in her life when she was still in college and talked with friends about changing the world. She realized that the other women she knew—most of them in their early fifties—had the same questions. She decided to combine her expertise with her dream of making a difference, and created a new business. The New Radicals movement was born. Julia’s book, We are the New Radicals: A Manifesto for Reinventing Yourself and Saving the World, encourages individuals to turn their passions into meaningful and financially rewarding work. Julia consults with companies who want to foster more creative thinking, especially as it pertains to integrating public service with corporate profits. Recently, she told me, “There are endless possibilities for experienced women to use their well-earned skills to support the things that matter to them, whatever that is.”

If you are looking to make a change and share Julia’s commitment to changing the world, you might be a New Radical. Julia describes three different categories of New Radicals: activists, entrepreneurs, and innovators. Your vision, needs, temperament, and financial situation all factor into deciding which of these paths you might follow.

Activists seek out work which will let them serve others or promote a cause, and often put a greater emphasis on doing good than on their own personal finances, working pro bono or at a lower salary.

Entrepreneurs start new enterprises to address a problem, but are also interested in making a profit. Entrepreneurs recognize an opportunity to use their skills, knowledge, experience, and contacts to help make the world a better place. Suzanne Seggerman, for example, was a documentary film producer before she founded Games for Change, a company that develops entertaining digital games that teach players about social issues.

Innovators stay within their current firms or industries to initiate change and innovation from within. Lawyers who convince their firms to take on pro bono cases or corporate employees who search for environmentally sustainable ways of doing business are examples of people who do good within the work they do. Julia feels that more companies are looking for ways to meet two objectives: 1) long-term profitability instead of shortterm quarterly results, and 2) ways to contribute to the public good. These shifts will create enormous opportunities for workers to develop more meaningful jobs. The fastest growing sector of Julia’s business is working with corporations to introduce programs and initiatives that will add value to the company, increase profits, and contribute to the betterment of the world in meaningful and sustainable ways. We can do the same things in our own lives.

The Back-to-School Path

My friend Peggy was almost fifty when she asked herself the “Alfie Question”: What’s it all about? A very successful media advertising salesperson, Peggy felt she wasn’t contributing anything to the world. A good income and many other perks had kept her trapped in a career she no longer loved—especially after she had a baby at age 40 and felt she needed to be responsible to keep things stable. After twenty-five years in the business, she had built her reputation and contacts, and it was too hard to just walk away. Then came 9/11. The crisis had such a profound impact on her that she quit her job without knowing what she would do next. For the year it took her to figure it out, Peggy became one of the most involved parents her daughter’s school had ever seen. She volunteered for so many things that people sometimes mistook her for a teacher. But the time she spent at the school led her to “what’s next.” Peggy went back to college to get her master’s degree in psychology, and then earned her PhD in Educational Psychology, coming up with fresh ways of looking at how children learn. Peggy says, “I’ve never worked harder, felt more tired, made less money, or been more passionate about what I’m doing.” Peggy had enough money saved that she could go to school full-time. Another woman I know went to school at night for several years while she worked full-time during the day. She got her master’s degree in accounting and now runs a successful business, taking care of the books for small firms. There are myriad ways to kick-start a new career or add value to an existing one by going back to school—no matter how you do it.

The Business Owner Path

Sometimes necessity really is the mother of invention. Let’s take my good friend Wendy who loves chopped salads. Her way of making a chopped salad used to be that she’d throw everything into the bowl all at once—chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, dressing, whatever—and then she’d take out her scissors and cut it all up. The scissors didn’t do the best job, and she’d still need to take her salad fork and spoon to mix it all together. One day she thought: there’s got to be a better way to do this. With her husband Michael, Wendy invented the nowfamous “Toss-n-Chop,” which is sold in stores all over the country, and is a best-seller on QVC. They formed a successful company that continues to grow. All it took was a need, some creativity, and the courage to put it into action. You don’t have to invent something to start a business. You could turn a personal passion into a service or a storefront. Perhaps you’re great with animals, and your area has a lot of dogs which need to be walked and played with while their owners are at work or on vacation. If you don’t want to start a business from scratch, consider franchising opportunities like the ones profiled every week in the Wall Street Journal. Most of them require an upfront financial investment, but some of this country’s millionaires got their start with a franchise. If you want to start your own business—however you do it— you have to fill a need. What you have to offer, people must need or, at least, they must be convinced they need it.

The Sabbatical Path

If you’re burned out, or not sure of what to do next, and you think a little time off will give you some perspective, then take it. With enough advance notice, many companies will let their employees take an unpaid—or sometimes paid—leave for extended periods of time. If that’s not possible, roll over your vacation time until you have a good block of time. Use your sabbatical to write a book, take classes, volunteer, spend time with an elderly or sick parent, do some serious soul-searching, travel, or relax. Time away from your work routine can help you prioritize and give you a better understanding of your goals. You might not return to your job at all, but instead do something completely different. A sabbatical can be a smart way to help crystallize your vision.

The Volunteering Path

One of the most inspiring people I have ever met is Gretchen Buchenholz. Gretchen saw inequality and injustice in her own backyard of New York City and decided to do something about it. She started the Association to Benefit Children to help educate disadvantaged children and their families with programs and services, with the hope that these children would be placed on a level playing field. I know many people who volunteer at ABC, including my daughter, Sarah, and the sheer joy they get out of knowing they might be making a difference in one child’s life is priceless. Organizations such as ABC have a huge impact on those who need their services most, but with the downturn in the economy, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to raise the funds that are necessary to keep programs and facilities like ABC going strong. But, there is something you can do, even if you don’t have a lot of money to donate— give yourself. Even if it’s a few hours a week or month, giving your time and skills to others who are in much greater need than you are, is rewarding, and could possibly help you figure out what your next career path should be. According to a recent government report, almost 62 million Americans volunteered at least once in 2008. There’s a lot to be said for volunteering your time and services—you feel good about yourself, you get to do something you believe in, you get out there, and you help people. But there are other perks, too. Non-profit organizations benefit by tapping into a talented pool of educated, experienced, and highly skilled workers. If you’re job hunting or considering changing jobs, volunteering offers impressive benefits. You can:

• test the waters for a possible career move into a new field or into the nonprofit sector.

• learn new skills, and keep current skills up to date.

• build your resume, especially if you’ve been out of the work force for a while.

• network with other volunteers, administrative leaders, members of the board, and employees at related organizations, any of whom might lead to something new.

• stay engaged and active, and feel really good about the fact that you’re working to help others who are likely in greater need than you.

There are many different volunteer opportunities with a range of time and talent needs. Here are a few ideas that run the gamut from a few hours a week to two full years:

• Peace Corps (there is no upper age limit for Corps volunteers)
• Senior Corps (for Americans over 55)
• National, state and local parks
• Zoos and botanical gardens
• Hospitals
• Public libraries
• Arts and cultural groups
• Schools and educational organizations
• Boys and Girls Club
• Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts
• Mentoring
• Charitable organizations
• Soup kitchens
• Animal shelters
• Your church, synagogue, or mosque

These organizations can use your skills for everything from home construction to teaching English, from ushering concerts to public relations, from being a foster grandparent to an advisory board member—and lots in between. If you find yourself out of work, if you aren’t sure what your next move should be, or if you have some free time and just want to give back, consider becoming a volunteer.

Get on board.

The future is unknown, but it’s nothing you can’t handle. The important thing is to decide what you want to do, and then stay healthy and fit so you can do it for a very long time.

I’m excited about what’s next for me, and I have a zillion ideas. Far too many of them involve living in Italy, so I’m not sure how soon I’ll be pursuing those. I’m a bit of a New Radical in spirit, with my path somewhere between starting a new business and doing good work while I earn money. In time, I hope to be a pure Activist, working to end all kinds of cruelty that exists in the world, specifically violence against women and children. To that end, I will work hard, stay engaged, and be ready for whatever comes next.

Get more information.

The following excellent resources can help you to define your goals, and get you on your way to wherever you’re going.


Don’t Retire, REWIRE! by Jeri Sedlar and Rick Miners, Alpha, 2007
Encore: Finding Work that Matters in the Second Half of Life by Marc Freedman, PublicAffairs, 2007
We Are The New Radicals: A Manifesto for Reinventing Yourself and Saving the World by Julia Moulden, McGraw-Hill, 2008

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Excerpted from The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts' Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money, and More by Barbara Hannah Grufferman Copyright © 2010. Excerpted with permission by RunningPress.

* * *


Barbara Hannah Grufferman is the author of The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts’ Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money and More, a resource book which addresses many of the concerns of women over fifty with the help of top experts in different fields, including Diane von Furstenberg, Frederic Fekkai, Dr. Patricia Wexler, and many others. She is writes regularly for Huffington Post and wowOwow.com.

Since the launch of the book in early April 2010, Barbara has appeared on The Today Show, Good Morning America Health, and numerous radio and internet programs, including NPR, Dr. Oz Sirius Radio on the Oprah Channel, and Sirius Doctor Radio. She also travels around the country, speaking to groups on health, nutrition, career, fitness, sex and many other topics pertaining to being fit and fabulous after 50.

Barbara is a founding board member of RX Compassion, Inc., a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to building compassion in the health care field through education, programs and awareness.

A native New Yorker, Barbara lives in New York City with her husband, Howard, daughters Sarah and Elizabeth, and Gunther, a dog they recently rescued.

For more information, visit Barbara's web site at www.bestofeverythingafter50.com

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