Re-imagining Yourself for Life’s Next Chapter

Michael Clinton is always on the lookout for the next challenge. The founder of ROAR Forward and former president and publishing director of Hearst Magazines, he has run marathons on seven continents, is a pilot and the founder of a nonprofit foundation, has two master’s degrees, and, for his recent 70th birthday, hiked to the base camp for Mount Everest. And that was just a partial list of the accomplishments and pivots he mentioned when we talked by Zoom in February. Who knows what he’s done since!

With the average life expectancy in the U.S. now close to 80, the word “retirement” seems as antiquated as the 65-year-old standard retirement age created at a time when the average life expectancy wasn’t that much higher. In other words, people typically didn’t have a lot of time to consider doing something other than playing golf and taking up mahjong.

And yet despite this longer life expectancy, societal messaging around age still has many of us falling into thinking of retirement as a time of stepping back. Clinton’s book aims to change that.

“What happens for many people is the mindset as you get to 50-plus and your 60s … that you should be winding down, that you should think about retirement and moving to a sunny state and not working and not being engaged,” he says. “Once upon a time that was a good formula, but today we may live another 30 years and I think a complete reframing is required. Instead of winding down, we should all be thinking about rewiring.”

“If you look at the memes, The Golden Girls were in their 50s. Today the women in Sex in the City are in their 50s,” he continues, ticking off other older women like Oprah Winfrey (who just turned 70) and Ali McGraw (who is 84). “The images of people in their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s are the trailblazers leading this movement, creating new images of what it means to be these ages.”

Michael Clinton headshot
"I think a complete reframing is required. Instead of winding down, we should all be thinking about rewiring.” — Michael Clinton

Clinton’s book is well timed for rethinking this next phase. The overarching strategy for thinking about, as he calls it, the second half of your life is easy to remember thanks to his helpful acronym.

ROAR = Reimagine yourself · Own who you are · Act on what’s next · Reassess your relationships to get you there

Clinton highlights tips to get the reimagining started in each chapter and ends each chapter with specific takeaways, including exercises and concrete suggestions for action. In the chapter “Reimagining Your Life Before Others Do It for You,” for instance, he suggests that readers make a list of all the things that are preventing them from living an authentic life. “Getting clear and being honest,” he writes, “is a powerful first step toward change.”

The chapter “Act Courageous and Don’t Look Back” ends by asking readers to decide to start something brand new. It can be big — a new work opportunity, perhaps, or downsizing — or something smaller, such as starting a hobby you always dreamed of trying. “These are all moves,” Clinton notes, “that will set you on a path to discovery.” And with discovery comes change.

That Clinton is a new guru of reinvention and rethinking aging is not that surprising. He’s been reinventing himself since his humble beginnings in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he put himself through college before heading to New York City with dreams of making it in the publishing world. He knows firsthand that sometimes dreams take time and failures often come before successes. The key is to keep going. Own, as he says in one of his book chapters, your SWOTs — strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

It’s also critical, he says, not to succumb to internal ageism, in which we unconsciously refrain from trying new things because we have bought into the idea that we’re too old to fill-in-the-blank. Clinton says that behavior is the top reason baby boomers step back rather than step into retirement opportunities.

Clinton realized this after interviewing nearly 100 re-imagineers for the book. “The number one thing that emerged (was) self-imposed barriers,” he says. “‘I can’t do that because I’m too old, that ship has passed.’ It’s all a false construct.”

Instead, he says, people need to be person-appropriate in their thinking rather than age-appropriate. “Break through your own barriers and you’d be amazed what you can do and accomplish,” he says.

Meet (some of) the re-imagineers…

In addition to eliminating negative self-talk about aging, Clinton also advises people to go back to their younger selves if they’re not sure how to reframe where they are now. “Was there something you left on the shelf in your early 20s?” he says. Often we’re steered by well-meaning parents away from passions that seem impractical — writing, or anthropology, for instance. “We all took the practical route. What is that thing and how do you activate it?” Clinton tells the story of a woman from the book who was in sales her whole life but always wanted to write mysteries. In her 50s, she decided to give it a shot. Today, at 66, she has five published mystery novels and has another on the way. “She reactivated her desire to be a writer,” he says.

If you’re not sure where to start, Clinton suggests playing what he calls the word game. Write five words that describe you. Not your roles, like mother, sister or doctor, but your traits, such as being loyal or funny. Then ask 10 family members and friends to do the same about you. Look for the places they match and where they don’t. “Take that word and start mining it and developing it,” Clinton says. “What you do with that word can take you into the future.”

Patricia Forehand, one of the book’s re-imagineers, did this. The No. 1 word that came up was “funny.” Today, the former elementary school teacher from rural Georgia is a stand-up comic. “She took that word and turned it into something,” he says.

Overall Clinton is hopeful about what the future will bring for rethinking the next chapter. “People haven’t been able until now to start seeing role models of older people. You’re beginning to see all kinds of interesting stories about people,” he says, ticking off examples like people going back to school in their 60s or running their first marathon in their 70s.

While “OK boomer” folks would suggest otherwise, Clinton feels boomers are going to be the generation demanding change. “What I would argue is that boomers are the original activists,” he says. “We challenged Vietnam, sexism, racism, launched Earth Day. This generation is an activist generation. Now we’re becoming activists around aging. We’re creating role models for ourselves and also for the next generations.

Book cover for "ROAR: Into the Second Half of Your Life (Before It's Too Late)"
ROAR: Into the Second Half of Your Life (Before It’s Too Late) By Michael Clinton | Published by Beyond Words/Atria | $26.00 | 176 pages

“There’s a great old expression — you can’t be it until you see it,” he says. “Now, women and men are seeing role models to show there’s an inspiration.”

For more information about rethinking aging, check out RoarForward.com.

Top photo: Michael Clinton, pictured last year at the base of Mount Everest, was approaching 70 when he challenged himself to run the grueling Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon.


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