Reinventing After 50: How to Recover Your Life’s Passion
Jennifer McKay is no stranger to reinvention. Born and raised in New Orleans, she completed a communications degree before moving to Los Angeles and starting a twenty-year career in marketing. Later, married with children, she moved with her family back to Louisiana and a new career as a stay-at-home mom. After five years, however, McKay was restless. She knew she needed to get back to work but the idea of returning to corporate America was daunting. Her reinvention as an entrepreneur began when her sister started a direct sales company. Soon, McKay was part of the #1 skincare brand in the country, raising a team of consultants and building her own organization within the company. Listen to her conversation with Covey Club founder Lesley Jane Seymour to discover how McKay rediscovered her passion for fine art in her 50s and embraced her identity as an artist. “It’s such a personal thing to create,” McKay advises. “And it’s such a generous thing to offer for the world.”
Lesley Jane Seymour: Welcome, Jen, I’m so glad to have you on the podcast. This is so much fun.
Jennifer McKay: It really is. I’m so glad to be here.
LJS: So let’s go back and start with your childhood and what you grew up thinking you were gonna do.
JM: Well, I was born and raised in New Orleans, and I went to college at SMU and then finished off in communications at Loyola University in New Orleans. And from there, I moved to Los Angeles, where I started my career in mostly advertising agencies, all in marketing. And that career ended with Katrina. I have a job in New Orleans, we moved a couple of hours away to Lafayette, Louisiana. And my husband had a branch of his office there. And suddenly, and this is not a chance, really a reinvention. But for five years, for the first time in my adult life, I didn’t work. So I was a tennis-playing, stay at home mom for a little while. And then I needed to go back to work after a few years. There was a downturn in my husband’s business. So I started looking for jobs.
LJS: Talk a little bit about that. So you’d been in marketing? And what kind of marketing was it?
JM: I was mainly doing advertising agency work. I was on the account side. I did go over to the client side a couple of times. It’s a whole different world, but it’s all marketing for about 20 years.
LJS: And so what did you decide to reinvent yourself as, and why did you not look for marketing again? Were you just tired of it?
JM: Well, I was looking, I had to, but clearly the thought of going back to one of those soul sucking office jobs with two weeks’ vacation a year was horrifying to me. But, I had to, I had to contribute. So I was out there, despondently knocking on doors and my older sister Karen, I don’t know why I have to always say older but I do. Anyway, Karen brought me this direct sales business that she had started. And Karen was a former law partner – very, very smart – and she was also running a whole other business that she had come up with. So with all that I said, “No way, absolutely not. I have no idea what that is, and I really don’t think it’s for me.” So she went away, and I went, continuing to look for those jobs. And fortunately, she came back. And she said, Look, this is what I’m doing. This is what it’s doing for me, just just look at it a little bit more.
LJS: And what was it? What was it? Can you say?
JM: Sure, it was a skincare direct sales company
LJS: Oh, yes, this is a really good one. You need to talk about this. This is an option for a lot of people who are in transition, it’s not a bad idea.
JM: Okay, the brand is phenomenal. The doctors that created this brand had already created another billion dollar company, they just knew they could create even more skincare products that would change people’s lives. So I really jumped in because I’m thinking, “You know what, I’ll pay some bill-paying money and continue looking.” But when I got in, it really was “Oh, my God, this product is phenomenal.” And the business model meant that the success could be bigger than anybody imagined. It’s, again, what you put into it.
LJS: Do you want to talk about the name of the company? Or is there a reason why you don’t want to?
JM: I’ll just say it’s a very, very…it’s the number one skincare company in North America. So Google that.
LJS: All right, Google that and then you can figure out what it is and apply if you want to. Okay, so talk a little bit about what you did? Because this is like Mary Kay success, she became one of their top top top salespeople.
JM: Right, it is like Mary Kay. Mary Kay, that company was responsible for creating more millionaire women than any other company.
LJS: That’s right. Now no one knows that, and now one everybody poo-poos it.Mary Kay was a huge economic vehicle for women.
JM: And so are a lot of these direct sales companies. So, I went in, and I said, “Okay, this is it, I see it now. And I’m gonna maximize this, I am gonna get my family out of this financial predicament we were in.” And I remember very early on, I called a friend of mine, Joel Goldstein, he was my first boss when I started in Los Angeles 20 years ago. He told me, he said, “I’ve never done it. But Jen, you need to become a student of the direct sales industry. Every book you read, everything you listen to while running or driving, has to be something either to further your knowledge of your business and your company,but also to inject yourself with self improvement, develop the skills you need to do to make this work.”
LJS: So how long did it take you to become? What did you become? What was the final thing you ran? I know you ran a huge, huge systems and had all these people working for you. How long did that take? And what kind of money were you making?
JM: I can give it I can you give an idea it was six times as much as any six times as much as any job yearly salary. hat’s in about three years, I had hit the top of the company, I was one of the first 24 to hit the top level. And Lesley, I truly believe it was because I knew it. I mean, I saw myself walking on that stage in a few years, I knew the rewards I was gonna get. It was visualizing, I was visualizing things into success.
LJS: And you studied. Also, you didn’t just sit and hope and visualize?
JM: No, it was, it was training and it was listening to people in my business, and it was going out there and failing and having 55 no’s thrown at you or I don’t get it before you get one break business partner. So it was a lot of fall down, but it’s how you get up.
LJS: And so you did that for three years.
JM: I have had that business and I’m still working the business for a little over 10 years. It’s something that built this incredible team of entrepreneurs. So eventually you have people in your organization, who see the vision are out there building their own teams. I’ve worked very, very hard for 10 years, but eventually my time freed up because I did have this big organization and I had done the work, a lot of work.
LJS: Okay, and enough to support your family.
JM: To support us, keep us in our house and the kids in their schools. It took us to a whole different level of things we didn’t think possible. My son was able to go to a very expensive private university, because that’s where he fit. That’s doable.
LJS: That’s amazing. Okay, so you’re still running that in the background?
JM: And then when my time did free up, I thought, “I’m not going back to tennis. My kids are out of the house.” I wanted to do something that I could use my free time in a way that kind of lit my soul.
LJS: And did you not feel that before? You did not feel that your soul was being turned on by this kind of work?
JM: In my business yeah, there’s a lot of soul turning on you have extreme highs when you see other people succeed. But again, it’s also a lot of you hear a lot of noise. It kind of balances out souls thinking I’m wanting to find something that I can drape myself into. And when I was younger, it was all about painting and creating and I loved art. But that was early, I kind of left it behind early in life because of life. I mean, college career, marriage, kids, there was no extra time to fit something like that in, but when three years ago we went on vacation I came back with these beautiful pictures of the mountains of Colorado. So that needs to be somewhere. So I started messing around, got some supplies. And I was so surprised because it was still there, the satisfaction of making the perfect mark or putting the finishing touches on a composition you love. So I kept painting and then I went to the master of all teachers, Mr. YouTube, and started looking around at different techinques. Soaking it all in, I learned how to make a water drop that I swear you could look like you could wipe off the page. So yeah, I started Googling. I wanted to paint a plant, I had taken a picture of the dew on it. So I Googled how to draw water droplets. How to start an abstract painting. So then I came across an artist, her name is Adele. And her videos spoke to me. They were four stages of abstract painting and color technique. And she was a great teacher. So I watched her and eventually reached out to her and hired her as my mentor.
And I will stress and I’ll stress again later, the importance of a mentor. You don’t skip out all the middle stuff and just invest in somebody who can teach you what they did to achieve it. So, Adele gave me a little more confidence and I was still only hesitantly sending pictures to my good friends and family, but I was not ready to branch out. And a friend of mine finally said just like Jim, look, if you’re not doing it, because you’re not believing that we’re saying we liked it. We think other people will. Like that might encourage one other person or five other people to say, well, if she can do it as awkwardly as she’s doing it, then I can put myself out there.
LJS: So where is the business now and what is the business because I know what it is but our listeners don’t. So explain what you do now. And how you make your money and where it’s gotten you to?
JM: Okay, so now I am an artist mostly in abstract work. a lot of collage pieces. I started in sculpture, mainly columns and towers on lucite blocks. My husband and I are starting to experiment with furniture, functional art. So it’s been very fun, especially doing this with my husband, but the art was kind of stacking up. So, I had some friends have home shows for me. And lastly, I was astonished. I mean, people came and I’m like, Oh my gosh, they’re buying stuff.
LJS: The art is really pretty. Everybody should go see it. So it started with home showings from friends. And you would get like, how many buyers at those home showings?
JM: The first one I did I think we had 16. It was such a goosebump maker, confidence booster. Because somebody would come in and look around a painting and say, oh my god, I’m just envisioning it. This has to go in my daughter’s room or my husband’s study. And it was phenomenal.
LJS: And I know that you’ve done a couple of those. So now you have two incomes, right? And how often do you paint? And how often do you sell?
JM: It depends on the day, I say, average right now it’s a 50/50 split, depending on. But both businesses, sometimes I can get in the zone with my direct sales business, and sometimes I’m standing at the canvas, and all of a sudden, I realize it’s dark outside, eight hours later.
LJS: But that’s great. That’s the flow you want to be in with a creative job. That’s what’s really amazing. And so it’s in the painting, that you get the enjoyment, not the payment.
JM: Right, but the payment’s nice, and I still have goals on how to really monetize my painting and my art without losing the joy that I love about it.
LJS: That’s always the danger. That’s the danger of any kind of artistic endeavor. Once you get into making it a business, it’s a drag. Where is that line for you?
JM: Right now, it is really all joy for me, and I hadn’t stopped with the learning, as I said. The private mentoring sessions came to an end, but I’m gonna turn around and find somebody else to lift me up and learn something from. So that’s what makes it so new all the time.
LJS: What do you see the future of this being? Do you see, always to tracking the two? Do you see ever switching the other one off? Or do you see it always as the secondary thing, but that it brings you a lot of joy?
JM: I do want it to become more of a primary thing. And I do want to improve my art. So it gets to the point where I really am a born artist or a developed artist. I saw a quote the other day from Ralph Waldo Emerson, it said, “Every artist was first an amateur.”
LJS: Love that. That’s true. Of course that’s true. So when you write down on the little form when it says “occupation”, what do you say now?
JM: That’s a good question. I still say :self employed” but then I put a comma, artist.
LJS: You do, oh, awesome! I love it. Now let’s talk quickly before we get to the end here, people are gonna want to know one of the biggest issues for women our age, with these corporate jobs.So what are the tips and tricks that you would give someone like me, or someone like yourself before, about doing it, how to do it? What things did you learn? What would you never do again? What were the big mistakes? And then what were the learnings?
JM: Oh, gosh, as far as my direct sales business, one of the biggest things is trying to talk anybody into joining my business. They either saw what I saw, or saw a little bit of what I saw. But if they didn’t, and they came in anyway, because I was so darn persuasive. It was 100% waste of time, every time. So you have their day, cut out, just give people the information. And when they get it, they get it. The smart people get it.
Another thing I’m big on and I know a lot of people think it’s woowoo, but it’s the self talk. And it’s the throwing what you want and throwing your vision for your future out there. Everything physical, every movement in the world was first somebody’s thought. So it’s so important. With that self talk, you can have negative talk, be sure you go right back at it with what you can do, not what you’re limited with.
LJS: Was that something you taught yourself to do? Because where I come from, typical East Coast are like, that sounds very woowoo, California. But yet there are an awful lot of entrepreneurs who I speak to on this podcast, who saw themselves in this very successful spot. I’ve never really heard of somebody actively teaching themselves how to envision because that is such an important part of it. It seems that naturally there’s a disconnect for me between the people who naturally can envision themselves and then people who have to force themselves to envision themselves but you can learn to envision yourself in that success.
JM: Absolutely. I never could have done it. I mean, there’s I can throw out the biggest one, Wayne Dyer. He has so much material out there about how you think your future into existence, that it’s all you, it’s all the potential, it’s no luck. It’s not about luck. It’s about knowing it’s going to happen. So yeah, it’s all self taught for me.
LJS: Was it was age an issue for you in any way? Did you see it as an obstacle as a positive? Anything that helped you or or held you back?
JM: I definitely saw it. It didn’t matter if you were 20, 65 or 40 to be in that company and to be successful. It just depended on what you did. So that was there and, then starting to paint at 52, 53. Age isn’t there. Look how much time I have. I have a lot of runway left. So I have a long time to start something that I love that can last me the rest of my life.
LJS: Awesome, Jen. Thank you. What an interesting discussion. And I love your art. I think it’s beautiful. And people now know where to go find you. They can find you on Instagram. And any last words before we go?
JM: I’ll just say, everyone has so much unrealized potential in them. Just keep finding what you can be good at and what you love and keep exploring, never never stop exploring what you can learn.
LJS: Awesome. Thank you so much, Jen.
JM: Sure, Lesley, thanks for having me.
Jennifer McKay is a Louisiana artist currently living in Lafayette, LA. Her abstract art consists of mixed-media paintings and sculptural pieces.