Help for the Messy, Awful World of Midlife Reinvention
Mary Rogers left the corporate world to help others find meaning in midlife with her Experience 50 podcast
“If you want to know how J.Lo coped as she turned 50, don’t listen to my podcast,” says Mary Rogers, creator of Experience 50: The Podcast for Midlife. While most midlife women would gladly trade their problems for J.Lo’s (we’re so sorry A-Rod snores, really), instead they’re struggling with every aspect of life — finances, relationships, children, aging parents, loneliness, and more. Despite these realities, Rogers is the only podcaster showing not just the good — but the bad and the ugly — aspects of midlife. “My listeners hear about all these supposedly ‘happy’ women in midlife and think there’s something wrong with them,” says Rogers. “They appreciate hearing from a woman in her 50s saying ‘This is really hard — it can be messy, awful even.’”
The longest-running podcast on midlife (it launched in late 2015), Experience 50 has won fans and accolades, including being chosen in August 2019 as one of “8 Podcasts for Anyone Nervously Facing Retirement,” by The Wall Street Journal. With a style that’s part best friend, part straight shooter, and part journalistic interviewer, Rogers does more than simply give a voice to the challenges of midlife — she speaks from experience.
“When I turned 50,” she recalls, “life seemed awesome. I had a great job as the Regional Director of Michigan’s Small Business Development Center and terrific friends. Then, a few weeks after turning 50, my best friend had a massive heart attack and died in front of me. Not long after, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.”
Once Rogers attended the funeral and then had surgery and treatment for her breast cancer, suddenly her career didn’t seem so satisfying. Instead, it felt “irrelevant and unimportant. Sitting in a meeting with my staff reviewing metrics was the last straw,” she says. “I sensed that there was a deeper meaning to my life, and an Excel spreadsheet was not it.” That “Aha! moment” led Rogers, at 52, to quit her prestigious job without a backup plan.
She needed to work, though, and sought advice from friends, particularly those in the business world. But her support system wasn’t very — well — supportive. Rogers met with her financial advisor, someone she had helped in business. When her advisor asked what Rogers was going to do next, she admitted she wasn’t sure, and was feeling lost.
Her advisor’s response: “You can’t say that, Mary. You’re the one who leads us.” “That was consistent with other business women I’d reached out to,” she says. “When I was down, and needed help, my posse of women did not want to hear it.”
With no other guidance, Rogers turned inward. “My experience told me I wasn’t the only fiftysomething feeling burned out and empty. Children don’t need us as much, and our parents are dying. I personally missed my kids’ childhoods and didn’t make the time to have the conversations with my parents that I needed to have.”
During this time of reflection, Rogers thought about what she had really loved to do. From 2005 to 2010 she had hosted an FM radio talk show, Mary in the Morning, on the local YOU-FM station. Now she realized how much she had enjoyed helping women with their business problems.
It was 2015, and radio was declining, but podcasts were increasing in popularity. A podcast listener herself, Rogers decided to research what was out there for people in midlife, and couldn’t find anything. She became excited about creating a high-quality podcast about midlife — not just about business challenges, but every aspect of midlife reinvention.
After spending six months conducting research, and building and equipping an in-home studio, Rogers created her first podcast for Experience 50: The Podcast for Midlife.
Rogers set the stage with her first episode: “A Trip to the Therapist in Middle Age.” In the segment, Rogers and Diann Wingert, LCSW, talk about the midlife feeling that “something’s not right,” also referred to as the “restless or uncomfortable” feeling that brings midlifers to the therapist’s office. The response was immediate. Listeners were gratified to hear about the realities of midlife, as well as possible solutions.
“In my podcasts, I want to shine a spotlight on midlife issues, but I also want to help listeners build a toolkit to deal with bad stuff,” she says. “The guests and experts I interview offer insights into how to deal with issues, and then provide midlife women with various tools to manage them. Those tools might include questions listeners can ask themselves to move forward, or simply exercising or listening to music — whatever positive steps midlifers can take to handle things.”
And Rogers isn’t afraid to tackle her own demons. Recalling how she had no support from friends as she navigated her midlife career decision, Rogers knew the importance of creating a strong friend group. That became “Episode 138: Finding New Friends with Pamela Lamp,” about a woman over 50 who moved to a new place and needed to make friends. Through the information and ideas shared in that podcast, Rogers learned tips that have helped her make positive changes in her own over-50 friend circle.
She also dealt with some unresolved issues with her mother, who passed away in 1997. In “My ‘Dear Mom’ Letter,” Rogers shares a letter (which was never sent) she wrote to her mother in 2014. “Sometimes, you can’t tell your mom what is in your heart. Maybe she has slipped into dementia or has passed away. For many of us, we just don’t have the kind of relationship with our mom that supports intimate heartfelt conversations.” Rogers recommends writing this on Mother’s Day, as a cathartic process, to document what still angers you, makes you grateful, and more.
Two of her most popular episodes are about serious subjects. The podcast that has been downloaded the most is “Adult Children of Alcoholics in Midlife” (how that impacted them growing up and how it affects them today). “Childhood trauma is the welcome mat to your fifties,” she says. Another show that resonated with listeners is about suicide: “Be the One to Ask.” “For so long, we had been told to avoid talking about suicide in case it puts that thought into someone’s head. New research says if you think someone is considering taking his or her life, ask that person, ‘Are you considering killing yourself?’ This single conversation creates a dialogue where you can get help.”
Most of the over 200 episodes focus on Rogers’ honest, funny, and sharp take on midlife: finding your “mojo” again, dealing with empty nests and boomerang kids, death and divorce, aging parents, making money doing what you love, even dating and sex.
“I learn something from every episode, and I’ve grown alongside my listeners,” says Rogers. Here are some of her most profound learnings from the podcast:
- There is not just one midlife transition in each of us. There may be a triggering event that shakes us into paying attention (typically a loss), but we are constantly evolving — sometimes even on a daily basis. “Instead of wondering what to do for the rest of your life,” she says, “consider wondering what the next right thing is for you.”
- Many midlife women don’t have a friend group. As families and friends have moved away, and friendships have changed, many of Rogers’ listeners have told her they are lonely. “For some of them, I am the only consistent person in their lives,” she says.
- Authenticity deepens connection. Showing vulnerability helps strengthen friendships and relationships. When Rogers shares her imperfections and challenges on her show, listeners appreciate it.
Rogers has covered pandemic-related and newsworthy topics in recent episodes, including: “Emotional Troubleshooting,” “Leadership in a Lockdown,” and “Outraged And Exhausted By Racial Injustice.” She plans to continue covering the challenges of midlife in the time of coronavirus and beyond. After all, in this new normal, we midlifers need more lifelines than ever.