Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Pursuing Purpose, Passion and a Paycheck

Laura Lee Carter                                        Dana Buchman                                     Marci Alboher

Caryl recounts real stories of real women looking for the next thing

There’s a reason the word mid-life is often coupled with crisis. The years between 45 to 65 are often filled with loss—loss of a job, a marriage, a parent—but also a loss of identity. With children grown, careers stalled, relationships sometimes stagnating, as thinking women we know a fancy new sportscar or a Madmen-like affair would never be the answer. No, we are looking for something bigger, more profound, something truly life--maybe even world--changing. And, we wouldn’t mind some money too. The three women above have found purpose, passion and a paycheck in their second lives. Their stories provide inspiration, direction--and hope.

Purpose: Laura Lee Carter is the voice of experience. Before she started her online magazine midlifecrisisqueen.com, Laura was an academic librarian, professional researcher and scholar. She was also a spouse, a daughter and a sister. In 2001, at age 49, her life started to unravel: first, a divorce, than the loss of her job and career. Around the same time, her brother John, a science teacher who could not find work, fell into depression and drugs and disappeared.  

Her brother’s saga provided the impetus for her book: Find Your Reason to Be Here: The Search for Meaning in Midlife. In fewer than 100 pages with an intriguing bibliography, it is a quick but comprehensive overview of our generation at this moment in the 21st century. Carter’s telling is at once realistic and optimistic—and her own story is living proof. Happily remarried now, she has applied her skills and scholarship to writing four blogs and a trio of books but the last one made her question her purpose.  “Why did I write this book?” she asks in the prologue. Quoting Joan Baez, a troubadour for our generation: “Action is the greatest antidote to despair.” Her brother has not been found. 

Passion: You probably recognize Dana Buchman’s name from her fashion label. For many years, she designed beautiful, affordable, wearable clothes – the kind that would work so well for us right now. In the l980s, life seemed perfect: she was happily married to a judge, she had two adorable daughters and a successful career. When her first child Charlotte was in nursery school (with my own daughter), she began to flounder. Charlotte did not have autism nor was she ADH but soon she was diagnosed with serious learning disabilities. Until then,
Dana's life had just seemed to fall in place. But now, she had to navigate an unknown world in order to find ways Charlotte could flourish. The mother and daughter wrote a candid and insipring account of those difficult school years: A Special Education: One Family's Journey through the Maze of Learning Disabilities.

In helping her daughter, Dana found a new and rewarding passion. She recognized that there were many children with learning issues who didn’t have her family's resouces and, as a result, whose fate would be dramatically different from Charlotte's. More than 80% of children with these problems eventually drop out of school. An even more frightening statistic: 70% of all prison inmates have been diagnosed with learning disabilities.  Dana founded Promise Project in conjunction with the Columbia University Medical Center at NY Presbyterian Hospital. She assembled a team of neuropsychologists and educational specialists to evaluate students in disadvantaged neighborhoods and connect them to the services they need.  Next week, on April 23, if you are in New York City, you can attend the Beautiful Promise cocktail party and silent auction. The Foundation hopes to eventually raise enough money to expand nationally. 

A Paycheck: You might call Dana Buchman’s work an "encore career". The term refers to people who are finding ways to use their experience and skills to give back in the later years of their lives. Some of this work is pro bono but more and more as people live longer they are looking for second careers that support them and their desire to do something more meaningful at the same time. “Most baby boomers don’t just want high impact volunteering, they want a paycheck,” Marci Alboher told Caryl over a cafe au lait in a Greenwich Village coffee shop.  Alboher is the of author of The Encore Career Handbook with its apt subtitle: How to make a living and a difference in the second half of life. If you have lost your job or are approaching retirement or you are just thinking about reinventing yourself, the time may be right for such an encore, she says. Even the events that happen to us in midlife outside the workplace—an empty nest or a parent’s death, an illness or the end of the marriage, can spark a desire to do something really different. 

Marci Alboher’s own encore moment came early. She was working long hours as an in-house lawyer. On a vacation to Rio de Janeiro, her boss called asking her to cut short her trip and return to handle a sudden crisis. That call made her realize that the ways she was using her talents didn’t match her values. She did return home but gave her notice immediately and started to pursue an earlier interest—writing.  She began freelancing and snagged a prestigious column at the New York Times called Shifting Careers. Currently, she is vice president of Encore. org, a nonprofit company that helps people find their second act.

And, let me tell you Marci is some writer.  She has written a spectacularly useful and actionable book. The Encore Career Handbook is packed with examples, resources, tests, questionnaires and practical advice to help you find out what you want to do next. Not only can she talk the talk but she has walked the walk. One suggestion she gave me was to find “a brain trust, a support team, a safe place” among your friends and meet every few weeks while you are making your transition. Marci did that herself. Want to know one of the people on her personal team? Another lawyer who changed her career mid-life--Gretchen Ruben, founder of The Happiness Project

Today, April 16, Marci is a keynote speaker at “She Did It”, an event presented by Better After 50, an online magazine for that growing --in every sense of the word—demographic.  The site is also filled with 
"real women, real stories."  One thing we know for sure: If you are trying to figure out the next thing, you need only to turn to the Sisterhood of the Second Life.  We'll be your brain trust, support team, that safe place.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Carrie:
    Thanks for this GREAT review! My brother just turned up this week out of the blue! It must have been your good karma coming through...
    Laura Lee