Crush Your Second Act: Why—And How—to Embrace Your Later Years

UPDATED: January 31, 2024
PUBLISHED: July 5, 2021
Crush Your Second Act: Why—And How—to Embrace Your Later Years

If your birthday plans have transitioned from dancing until 4 a.m. to sobbing over finding yet another gray hair, you don’t need a time machine; you need an attitude adjustment.

When former editor of GQ and publishing powerhouse Michael Clinton was 40, he realized that thanks to modern medicine, he probably had decades left to live. Instead of treating the second half of his life as an ending, he decided to treat it as exactly what it is: more life.

Michael’s response to this revelation was to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and become a pilot. He also interviewed 40 people about their own mid-life pivots and wrote their responses into a book: ROAR: Into the Second Half of Your Life (Before it’s Too Late)

Even if aviation and mountaineering aren’t on your to-do list, Michael has lots of advice for making your second act at least as good as the first.

“Fifty is not the new 40; 50 is the new 50,” Michael says. “Let’s embrace it and do what we want to do.”

In this episode of SUCCESS Stories, Michael tells Chief Storytelling Officer Kindra Hall why we have aging all wrong, how to add layers that lift your life, and why and how to dump friends you no longer connect with.

Layer your life.

If you feel like your life isn’t as rich and fulfilling as you’d like, add more layers. Michael knows that’s probably the opposite of what people who are already busy want to hear, but you can make it work.

Start with one thing that you’ve always wanted to do and build it into your life. For example:

Look at your metaphorical back burner: what have you left there to get burnt, which you always wanted to prioritize but never did? It’s time to bring it front of mind.

Rewire the way you think about aging.

There’s a reason we collectively spend billions on wrinkle creams and Botox every year. Getting older has been sold to us as a tragedy of diminishing capacities and increasing indignities. Announcing your retirement is commonly treated as an acceptance of imminent death.

Stop believing these lies. Banish the phrase, “I’m too old for…” from your vocabulary. And while you’re at it, replace the word “retire” with “rewire,” Michael says.

One of the hardest aspects of ending a career is losing the structure that naturally comes with having a job. Rather than focusing on that loss, give yourself a new structure based on those life layers you want to add. For example: 

  • Commit to an hour of Spanish a day
  • Schedule three regular volunteer sessions a week
  • Sign up for a water skiing course

Instead of seeing the end of your career and the later years of your life as a finale, embrace them as a new phase. That time is full of potential for you to learn and do new things you haven’t had time for yet.

Confront the past so you can move on.

No one puts a few decades behind them without making mistakes. That doesn’t mean you have to stew on them forever.

To fully embrace the next phase of your life, let go of regrets and grudges

Maybe you didn’t get a job you wanted. Maybe someone you thought was your soulmate dumped you. Maybe you made a poor decision. All of those things are unfortunate, but carrying them around with you weighs you down.

Speaking of your past, there are a few things you need to own (the “O” in ROAR) in order to get your fresh start.

  1. Your background: Whether the spoon in your mouth when you were born was plastic or silver, accept that background as part of who you are.
  2. Your health and financial situation: Get an honest assessment of how your physical and financial assets are doing, so you can make realistic plans for the next phase of your life.
  3. Your goals: Knowing clearly what you want to do will help you lay out practical steps to get there.
  4. Your death: Sorry to be a downer. But owning the fact of your own death means preparing for it for the sake of those you’ll leave behind, and will push you to reach for what you really want while you still can.

Audit your relationships.

Part of reassessing how you currently feel about your life so you can move forward is looking at your relationships. You could be with the wrong partner, but you could also be with the wrong friends.

Breaking off a friendship is often harder than breaking off a romance. Although the latter has inspired poetry, movies, books and songs for centuries, calling it quits with a friend is almost taboo.

Be brutally honest. If someone in your life has become a source of stress, let them go. But don’t ghost them, Michael says. They deserve an explanation.

Try to tailor it to their personality. If you know they can take—and would prefer—directness, make it short and sharp. If you know they tend to be more sensitive, be gentle with them. If the friendship is beyond repair, you’re probably doing both of you a favor in the long term.

A popular truism has it that youth is wasted on the young. Don’t waste your later years too.

SUCCESS Stories is no longer releasing new episodes on the SUCCESS Podcast Network, but you can still listen to the full conversation below.

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