It’s Never Too Late To Reinvent Yourself: 10 Women Who Did it
Reinventing at midlife is easier than you think! You have the experience, the confidence, the connections, and the know-how to get it done
So you’ve hit a roadblock.
The career, lifestyle, religion, mate, living situation, or just general life direction you chose (or had) at 25 is no longer working. You’ve learned a lot. You’ve changed.
It’s time to reinvent.
As Barbara Waxman, author of The Middlescence Manifesto, suggests, midlife is like adolescence: your body is changing, emotions are at an all-time high, and your wants and desires are dramatically different. “It’s actually a powerful stage for women,” Waxman says in her conversation on the Reinvent Yourself with Lesley Jane Seymour podcast. “Once we own it and recognize, yes, I’m giving up some of my physical prowess, but I can absorb and take advantage of the fact that I’ve gotten more wisdom. And I don’t care as much about what other people think.”
It’s no surprise that as life expectancy in the United States soared in the past century, so has the need for constant change. According to actuary tables, in 1900 women were expected to live to just age 47; today we are expected to live into our late eighties.
“There are 6 primary reasons we see women reinvent,” says CoveyClub founder and CEO, Lesley Jane Seymour. “Increased longevity, health issues, divorce or widowhood, empty nest, the acceleration of job churn, and now the disruption caused by COVID-19.”
The good news is reinventing at midlife is easier than at 30 because you have the experience, the confidence, the connections, the know-how, and often the cash to get it done. According to Entrepreneur, studies show that people who change careers in the middle of their life receive an energy boost that propels them forward. Mireille Guiliano, former President and CEO of Clicquot, Inc., has said, “Just as established products and brands need updating to stay alive and vibrant, you periodically need to refresh or reinvent yourself.” Waxman agrees that midlife is the “time to discern what you care about…so you can show up with a powerful ‘yes!’”
Here are 10 women who spoke to the Reinvent Yourself podcast about how they dramatically reinvented themselves against the odds and never looked back.
1. Reinvent Yourself In a Crisis
When Broadway shut down due to COVID-19, Margaret Skoglund was devastated. As a Broadway Manager at Theatrical General Management, Skoglund oversaw budgets, negotiated contracts, and mitigated employee relations for major productions. After Broadway went dark, Skoglund decided to leverage what she already knew (how to manage Broadway professionals who needed to work) but get them to a paying audience (corporations) in a new way – over Zoom. Skoglund created Virtual Broadway, an internet service that brings Broadway stars from shows like Wicked, Hamilton, The Lion King, and Jersey Boys to virtual corporate events to lead DEI seminars and wellness workshops, and to perform live, in order to alleviate stress for workers or even just entertain them during the pandemic. Her greatest piece of advice about how to reinvent in a crisis? “It’s okay to be a little shameless.” Of the performances, Maryland State Bar Association said, “Virtual Broadway kept the energy high and attendees engaged at our Legal Excellence Week. Everyone raved about this unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
2. Reinvent Yourself for Inner Fulfillment
When Susan Lister Locke was growing up along the Rhode Island coast she wanted to be a fashion designer, but being of the generation that took a narrow view of possibilities for women, she wasn’t encouraged to have a career. Instead, Locke married, had two kids, and spent summers on Nantucket where she ran the island’s branch of her husband’s family’s chain of classic specialty sportswear stores. Eventually they divorced, and she stayed in specialty store retailing until the company she was working for went out of business. “I was approaching 50,” she says, “and I thought, well, I don’t have a lot of room for error here. So I made several lists, and I didn’t necessarily make them career-oriented. Just what interested me: what do I like? What do I not like? What am I good at? What am I not good at? What do I need? What do I want?” Locke had gotten her real estate license years before, and decided to pivot back to that while also carving out time to cultivate her artistic side, by taking art and jewelry-making classes, at first just for fun. When people started admiring and wanting to buy the jewelry pieces she was creating in the class, she started selling pieces privately, in an upscale Nantucket shop, and in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, while continuing to take classes in different intriguing jewelry-making techniques in Italy and elsewhere. Locke continued to sell real estate until the sector collapsed during the Great Recession of 2008. Locke took this opportunity to reinvent herself again (at 67), devoting her full attention to making and selling her jewelry. At 69, she opened her own shop overlooking the Nantucket waterfront. Susan Lister Locke Jeweler has earned a devoted following, with a focus on vibrant, organic, wearable jewelry made with 18k gold and precious and semi-precious stones. Many of Locke’s pieces reflect her lifetime love of the sea and nature; her Nantucket collection features beloved Nantucket iconography. Locke says one of her greatest joys in jewelry making is getting to work on wedding and engagement rings, which can have a kind of beautiful immortality. “Heirlooms,” she muses, “get passed down….You’re part of their story.”
3. Reinvent Yourself After Divorce
After her divorce, Susan McPherson felt lost. Ready for a fresh start apart from her ex, in 2003 she moved across the country from Seattle to New York and started over in a brand new city. Over time, McPherson knew she “could… pour [her newfound energy] into the business, and [in]to myself and to healing. So I think it was the combination of both happening at the same time. The business helped heal my broken heart. Just getting out of the situation, I was able to look from 30,000 feet, and instead pour those resources into what really mattered.” In 2013, the 17-year marketer for PR Newswire started her own consulting business, McPherson Strategies, which helps companies analyze their social responsibility. “Once I made the decision to end something that was very toxic, things just totally came together,” she reflects. “My advice for your community would be, toxicity isn’t good for anyone. And it takes getting out of a bad relationship to realize just how bad it was.” McPherson wrote her first book last year called, The Lost Art of Connecting: The Gather, Ask, Do Method for Building Meaningful Business Relationships.
4. Reinvent Yourself Away from the Golden Handcuffs
Jeanne Rosner spent 20 years as a Pediatric Anesthesiologist. After having three children of her own, however, she decided that while her career was extraordinarily fulfilling, the workload required by a full practice was overwhelming. As her children entered grade school, Rosner was surprised to see that basic and important nutrition and lifestyle education were not being taught. She decided to step in. Rosner used a vision board to hone in on what her reinvention should be. She bought a big poster board and a bunch of magazines. “I cut out words and pictures that spoke to me,” she recalls. “And I put them up on my vision board. And …I spent some time and looked at what I had put out on my vision board.” Her board revealed that her major concerns were about “Living authentically, learning, teaching, eating well, exercising, living life and balance,” she says. “[The board] speaks to me even to this day, because it really does sit at my desk where I work.” Dr. Rosner’s SOUL Food Salon is a community-based venture that educates and inspires the community about healthy living and eating.
5. Reinvent Yourself into Something Nontraditional
After many years as a content creator and corporate communications professional, Diane Bruno wasn’t “feeling the fulfillment that I felt when I initially entered the PR world.” Instead, she found inspiration for her next career in an unlikely person: the funeral director handling her mother’s services. “I was very impressed with the funeral director at the time,” she recounts. “I asked him a lot of hard hitting questions about how he could do this day in and day out, and how he could make money off of other people’s suffering, things like that. And he explained to me that he really saw that he was doing a service and he was helping people when they needed it most.” Bruno realized that the reason she wasn’t fulfilled in her old job was because she felt she wasn’t making a difference. As she forced herself to confront her fears about death (“Death is part of life; I became comfortable with it.”), Bruno decided to redirect her career into work as a funeral director, which ultimately helped her heal and find peace with her mother’s death. Bruno says the inspiration for her dramatic career change came from a lawyer friend who “left his position as a lawyer, and he went to nursing school, so he was totally reinventing himself. So I thought, okay, I have to do something that I’ve always wanted to do.” Unfortunately, after a few months, Bruno popped a disk in her back from lifting bodies (part of the FD job) and so she had to return to PR. Now, Bruno has a freelance blogging and copy writing business, and her own blog, helloself. Bruno’s ultimate assessment of her reinvention: “There were things that I didn’t know about [the funeral director job] before I went into it …Would it have changed my mind in, you know, making that my next career choice? No, because I did learn a lot. I met a lot of wonderful people. I did serve a lot of families that I hope I made a difference in their life when they needed [it] most.”
6. Reinvent Yourself After Losing Everything
Marla Ginsburg had been hopping between Paris and Los Angeles for her job as a television executive producer and media consultant. After the 2008 recession, Ginsburg says she “lost [her financial] derriere.” Divorced, with her lifetime savings evaporated, she was forced to reinvent. The question was: as what? Ginsburg, who loved fashion, decided to use that newfangled thing the internet and just Google: “How do you thread a sewing machine?” Ginsburg spent a few months researching the fashion industry and eventually found a “white space” targeted at women 40+, came up with a business plan, and created an “exclusive collection of versatile and elevated separates that mix and match,” called the MarlaWynne Collection. The collection took off, eventually selling at Nordstrom, HSN in the US, and QVC in the UK, Japan, and Italy. A collaboration with Chico’s ended with the pandemic. With no debt or investments, Ginsburg says her brands made over $60 million annually at retail during the pandemic. Ginsburg considers herself an “accidental success,” one that couldn’t have happened without her financial crisis. Ginsburg suggests: “Reaching out to people and saying, ‘Hey, I don’t know everything. Can you help me? Can you give me your opinion?’ You have to think it through every step of the way. Do your research objectively. What are the economics of it? What’s the need? What’s the target? How are you going to reach it? Business 101. And logic has to be employed. You have to be a realist. You can’t build a business out of a bad business model. You have to really think through the sector and you have to do your homework. So it’s passion, and then it’s just a lot of hard work.”
7. Reinvent Yourself After a Health Crisis
For more than 25 years, Terri Bryant worked as a makeup artist on set with top models and celebrities and as an educator creating programs for prestige makeup brands. One day Bryant noticed, “I was doing a model’s makeup. And I was doing a technique that I’d done a million times and it was taking me just a little bit longer. I wasn’t executing it with the same level of precision I had always known.” Ultimately, Bryant was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Unsure how her symptoms would progress, she decided to solve for the part of the equation she could control: the makeup tools she worked with. “I started to create and design for what I needed to make sure I wasn’t going to lose this [profession],” she says. “I was going to create my own formulas and my own tools.” In that process, Bryant realized that the tools and formulas she was creating could serve all people, because they were just ergonomically superior. “I remember looking at my husband and saying, ‘Wow, wouldn’t it have been great if I had had this for all those thousands of clients and friends and family that I’ve worked with over the years? Then that light bulb moment happened.” After two and a half years in development, working closely with makeup users as well as a team of industrial designers and ergonomic experts, Bryant founded Guide Beauty, a collection of game-changing makeup tools and products that make applying makeup easier for all — from the novice, to someone who has challenges with movement or strength, to the professional makeup artist on set. But Bryant says she couldn’t really reinvent until she fully embraced her diagnosis: “I found out I had this diagnosis, and at first I wasn’t open and honest, and I didn’t embrace it. And until I did, I couldn’t unlock the reinvention that was waiting to happen.” And Guide Beauty is going strong: they have a new collection and have named Selma Blair their Chief Creative Officer.
8. Reinvent Yourself After a Job Loss
Growing up in New York’s Hudson Valley, Beth Bengtson wanted to pursue photography, so she studied it at the Fashion Institute of Technology. But she quickly learned that her photography would have to become a business in order for her to survive. “One of the pieces of advice I got from a photographer was ‘we don’t need to teach you the camera, you need to know how to run a business,’” she says. Having no interest in becoming her own boss at such a young age, Bengtson pivoted to building websites and managing client relations for various companies. After getting knocked around during various dot com booms and busts, she landed as VP of Corporate Social Responsibility at a marketing firm which downsized during a recession, laying her off. “My reinvention into what I’m doing now, [running] Working for Women, kind of came through a backdoor,” Bengtson observes. “I always had a belief that there was this organization that needed to be developed that could…make it easier for businesses to give back…to help guide [them] in that direction on a daily basis. I needed to find [a] leader that could run it.” Bengtson still “didn’t see myself in that role…as someone that could actually run that organization, and build it.” But after some convincing from coaches and friends, Bengtson realized she was exactly the right person for the job. Today Bengtson runs Working for Women, which helps “move resources from businesses to nonprofits, enabling more women to reach economic independence through participation in the workforce.” She writes: “Imagine if women-owned businesses, which represent $1.9 trillion in revenue, each donated 1% — think about how many lives we could improve.” Currently, Working for Women is on a mission to get 1000 businesses to contribute $1000 each, creating $1 million to help more women become financially secure through employment.
9. Reinvent Yourself After Having a Family
Caitlin Meister always wanted to work with kids. Meister grew up in New York City and started teaching when she was barely an adult. Eventually, she opened The Greer Meister Group, a NYC-based private educational consulting and tutoring practice, so she could juggle her passion for working with kids while being a new mom. However, Meister quickly realized that motherhood was more overwhelming than she expected. “I think I had this idea that I was going to have this baby and sort of like, tuck him in my back pocket and go on with my life,” she says. “And of course, anybody who’s a mom knows that that is not what happens. So I really had to reinvent both my personal identity and life and also what I was doing with my work.” Meister found, however, that motherhood allowed her to connect on a more emotional level with her clients; watching her own children struggle offered insights into the reality that not every event is ripe for learning. “On a very personal level, there were moments where I saw my son struggle with something and the educator in me, I wanted that to be a teachable moment,” she says. “But what he needed from me in those moments was a hug. He needed his mom. Becoming a mom had a profound impact on me and triggered a reinvention of the way I approach my work.”
10. Reinvent Your Career Skills to Support a Personal Project
“Depression is the number one reason in the world for disability,” says Audrey Gruss, founder of Hopefragrances.com and Hope for Depression. “Thirty-five percent of people don’t respond to the meds out there.” Gruss, who began her career as the assistant to the medical director at the Revlon Research Center, says that since 1985, every depression medication has been a spinoff of Prozac, which doesn’t work for everyone. One of those people who Prozac failed was Gruss’s mother, Hope, who had struggled with depression since she was in her thirties. “It was called a ‘nervous breakdown’,” Gruss says. “It had a stigma.” When visiting her mother at the hospital Gruss would ask why there was no cure and why the top companies in the brain science business were not doing research. The answer she got: Research “was too expensive and it was too lucrative to simply repurpose drugs.” After her mother passed away in 2005, Gruss, who had spent the majority of her career in the beauty sector working for name brands like Elizabeth Arden and creating the Doral Saturnia Spa in Miami, launched Hope Fragrances to fund her research foundation, Hope For Depression. “We put together a group of leaders in each discipline of neuroscience and cellular biology,” she says. “They are collaborating and sharing research. We are in clinical trials at Columbia University Medical Center and Mount Sinai with a brand new category of medications for people who don’t respond to Prozac.”
“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” –Possibly, George Elliot