It took Jack Craven 20 years to realize that running his family’s wholesale business, which sold goods to discounters, wasn’t what he wanted to spend the second half of his life. He also found that his ever-growing unhappiness had affected his relationships with loved ones.
“I realized that I wasn’t taking responsibility for what I really wanted,” said Craven, who lives in suburban Chicago. “I’ve been more focused on blaming others.”
How did he make it to the other side?
With the Great Resignation of the Pandemic has come a Great Reinvention as more people of all ages have left their jobs and are concerned with the work-life balance that gives meaning to their lives. Sometimes it turns into a side hustle like Craven did. In other cases, it chases a long-sleeping dream. In addition, it is a complete surprise.
After a stint as a trial attorney and taking charge of the company his father founded, Craven said he had no idea what he really wanted. It was at this point that he turned to a holistic leadership retreat and delved deeply into every aspect of his life.
The retreat became a long-term support system of like-minded business people offering both direction and support. Out of the emotional work he has done on himself came his new full-time job in 2015 as an Executive Coach, helping CEOs and Presidents of companies and organizations to overcome the things that are stuck in them. As it turned out, he said, helping others was exactly what he needed.
“Being vulnerable is definitely the first step,” Craven said.
His family closed the business after he left, but not all second acts — aka second curves — have to be a complete life overhaul.
Michal Strahilevitz, who holds a doctorate in Moraga, California, was a marketing professor for over 20 years.
“At one point I loved it and found it exciting,” she said. “Lately I’ve been doing it because I’ve always done it. Then COVID hit and so many of my students struggled with anxiety and depression. To be honest, I was struggling too. I wanted to do something more meaningful.”
It was at this point that she was developing a course on the Science of Happiness and Wellbeing, in which all homework was aimed at making her students happier and healthier. She also did her homework.
“My advice for those considering a second curve is to make sure it’s something that really makes you shine and allows you to shine and grow,” Strahilevitz said. “If I won a billion dollars in a crazy lottery, I would still do it. I don’t expect to ever look for a third turn. This is the curve I was made for.”
Whether it’s a new job or changes to roles in your existing job, she said, “People all over the world are looking for more fulfillment and more happiness. We are no longer willing to settle for a paycheck.”
When Strahilevitz half-switched (she also teaches marketing), she devoted herself to a growing field of social research: Happiness with a capital H.
Nobody does it quite like Arthur C. Brooks, first a professional classical French horn player, then president of the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, and now on the faculty of Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School. He is also a writer, happiness podcaster and contributor to The Atlantic’s How to Build a Life column.
Brooks has compiled extensive research on happiness and the second half of life in his latest book, From Strength to Strength. A social scientist, he filled the book with explanations and theories about brain function and its ups and downs over time, as well as anecdotes about the abilities of some of history’s most famous figures, from Charles Darwin to Linus Pauling, the only person to win two different Nobel prizes won – one for chemistry and one for peace.
Brooks describes two types of intelligence, one that decreases with age and one that increases and stays high.
“Early on, we have fluency, which is a kind of raw intelligence and ability to focus,” he told The Associated Press. “The harder you work, the better you get in your first career. That tends to decrease in your 40s and 50s. The second curve is your ability to understand what things mean, to combine ideas, to teach, to form teams. This is your wisdom curve.”
The latter, he said, increases in your 40s and 50s and stays high in your 60s and 70s. “It’s really, really important that you deal with going from one to the other if you’re going to stay strong and happy,” Brooks said.
For nerds, such deficits are what they fear most. “People are always afraid of decline,” he said, “but for aspirants who really invest in professional excellence, it’s their fear of death.”
Facing that fear is another step, he said. According to Brooks, it’s also important to embrace weakness in a way that turns it into strength. He called happiness “one of the three macronutrients of happiness,” the others being joy and purpose.
“You need all three and balance in abundance, but contentment isn’t the hardest thing to come by. It’s the hardest thing to keep,” Brooks explained.
Rita Goodroe, 45, in suburban Washington, DC, knows exactly what he’s talking about. Her turning point came earlier than most.
Before becoming a full-time entrepreneur and working as a business strategist, sales coach, and public speaker, she practiced law for 13 years, including lengthy stints in the real estate world and on behalf of the Department of Justice, a job she fell into as her dream of becoming an entertainment industry attorney to become, was not fulfilled.
“All my life people have said you’re going to be a lawyer,” Goodroe said. She said her transformation was slow.
“It was a series of moments and they all build. And I think that’s really important to note. Everyone is waiting for the sign. Right now, here’s this sign that I should stop this and do something else, whether it’s leaving a relationship or a job. Whatever it is, it’s not like that,” she said.
Her path was not a straight one. In 2006, while still practicing law, she started a meetup group for singles like herself in the Washington area, which quickly grew members and sponsors. She soon met a man, but he broke up with her shortly before her 35th birthday after five years of relationship. That’s when she decided to film and blog again about how she met 35 guys in 35 days to celebrate her birthday.
“In that moment, I wasn’t about finding love,” Goodroe said. “It was about meeting people I wouldn’t normally meet and doing things I wouldn’t normally do, so I had to get really uncomfortable and see how I was reacting and what my habits and my defaults were, so I could learn something about myself. That was the moment, oh my god, things have to change.”
Her revelations (“I realized how much I let fear hold me back”) prompted her to give up the law forever and embark on her own ventures, including a streak as a dating coach. She then began speaking to groups and organizations about her dating project and found that she was good at it.
The self-doubt was initially easy to focus after she forfeited a regular paycheck. By projecting that out into the world, Goodroe said, she made it difficult for others to support her.
Brooks stressed that not all second files are about business. A second act could be a spiritual journey or a commitment to long-term volunteering, he said. Whatever it is, it’s not an easy quest.
“It takes a life full of problems if you want a lot of opportunities,” he said. “Basically, if you sail smoothly, if you get everything you want, you’ll be bored to death.”
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