8 Tips to Start Your Reinvention at 40+
At some point in your life, you will be forced to reinvent. Here's how to be ready for when it happens
No one – I repeat, no one – gets to their 40s or 50s in a straight shot. Maybe you’ll have to deal with a health crisis, a marriage crisis, an empty nest, or the need to care for an elder. Maybe you’ll be forced out of a job due to ageism, sexism, racism or any of the other “isms” out there. You get bought out, downsized, absorbed, relocated, reassigned, laid off or fired.
Yes, life will throw you curveballs. But reinvention is a positive way to respond.
I, for example, was a happy editor in chief of a magazine I loved (More Magazine) when I was called in to my boss’s office and told the magazine was closing. Luckily, I had been expecting the guillotine to come hurtling down at some point because I’d kept my eyes open.
Google and Facebook had been devouring magazine ad revenue for years; across town at a competing company, employees were being laid off in chunks of 400 every six months. And while More had a devoted readership of 1.5 million, the old publishing system was totally dependent on advertising revenue. The guys (and I do mean guys) at the top of the organization were not willing to try new ways to create revenue (believe me, I tried), and so when they pulled the plug, I was ready. (In fact, I was so sure they would pull the plug on More that my friends got tired of hearing it might happen —until the day it did!)
With publishing circling the drain, I decided I’d pivot back to an old love: marine biology. I had gone to Duke as an undergrad because of its marine biology program. At that point in my life, however, I was a meh biology student, but put me in a writing class and the As started flowing. I figured the money was where the As were, so I became an English major. At 57, however, I wanted to find a new career in a growth sector and saw that marine biology had morphed into Sustainability Management, where business and environment look for win-wins. A friend who had just gotten her degree sent me up to Columbia; I graduated at 62.
Unfortunately, More closed a few years before my sustainability degree was ready. And More readers were angry. More had covered politics, women’s lives around the world, aging, health and fashion and beauty in a sophisticated, no-nonsense way. Now there was nothing for them. Many approached me over social media and asked me to do “something else” for them. I created a 54-question survey which 627 of them took and I created CoveyClub.com using my severance pay.
I’ve never been an entrepreneur, and it’s true: this is a rollercoaster. You try, you pivot, you try again. Some days I’d sit down at my dining room table, and I’d have to decide whether to work on how to get lead out of drinking water (for Columbia) or learn Mailchimp (for CoveyClub). CoveyClub (a covey is a small flock of birds) went from trying to publish an original publication weekly (yes, I was that crazy!) to what it is now: a place for lifelong learners to meet and reinvent. We teach, we connect, we transform women’s lives and set them on a path to finding their bliss for the second half of their lives. During the pandemic we discovered our magic: we hold a place for you while you discover what’s next.
I also do a podcast called Reinvent Yourself with Lesley Jane Seymour that is now 160 interviews strong — filled with inspirational stories and technical how-tos from women who’ve been there. Here’s a quick list of the reinvention tips and tricks I’ve learned.
1. Be financially prepared.
Have at least one year’s worth of salary socked away in case the worst happens. If it doesn’t, buy yourself something fabulous.
2. If you’re not sure what you want to do next, gather your kitchen cabinet — a group of friends who’ve known you from high school, college, early career, and on.
Ask them what they remember about your interests growing up. I reached back to an unresolved love of marine biology to move into sustainability later in life. (I’m figuring out how to do something in that area while Covey is taking off.)
3. Do one thing each day to create momentum: reach out to one friend or one social media contact to ask about your new interest.
Follow an expert on LinkedIn; engage in the conversation. Take a course; one friend grabbed a jewelry class at her local high school and now has a burgeoning jewelry business.
4. Craft your personal brand.
This is hard for those of you trapped for years in corporate life. There are courses, books, Ted Talks, etc. on how to do this. You must stand out and be colorful in this new digital world.
5. Create an accountability group.
Reinvention can make you feel like you’re at sea alone. Reinventing with others is affirming and smart; you help each other over obstacles and share contacts. Plenty of reinventors I know work with each other over Zoom once a week, like study hall. One of the unexpected discoveries of CoveyClub is that reinventing with strangers is easier than with people who know you. Strangers are willing to accept you as you are today. Old friends may be threatened by your change.
6. Don’t forget self care.
Reinvention is stressful and scary. Do not forget your downtime. Rest, walk, cook, clean the grout in the bathroom if that relaxes you. Play with your kids and make time for your friends. You can’t reinvent if you’re empty inside.
7. Ignore the naysayers.
As I said, reinvention is threatening for those around you who want to protect you from failure. Sail forward and don’t look back. Yes, you will fall on your face (I have!), but you will be amazed at your ability to get up and brush yourself off.
8. Laugh at yourself.
Often. I had many people ask me why I would try and do CoveyClub now, after I had “such a stellar record of success.” I said, “because I have to. I’ve been helping women get their voices heard my whole life. I just can’t stop now because my magazine closed.” And I didn’t.