The Reimagineer: Michael Clinton
“I appear to have struck a chord,” says Michael Clinton, whose book ROAR Into the Second Half of Your Life (Before It’s Too Late) is currently—and with considerable zeitgeist-capturing buzz—climbing best-seller lists. ROAR (an acronym that stands for four actionable steps towards a more fulfilling future: Reimagine yourself, Own who you are, Act on what’s next, and Reassess your relationships) was born when Clinton stepped away from his role as president and publishing director of Hearst Magazines, and it’s an inspirational, motivational exhortation to view growing older as an opportunity to forge new opportunities and experiences. Clinton—an accomplished photographer, pilot, philanthropist, marathon runner, and wine maker—is himself a role model in this regard, and while ROAR may be targeted at the post-50 set, it resonates with anyone looking to re-examine their relationship with work and envisioning moving through the chapters of their life with passion and gusto. Here, Clinton shares his advice with ACCORDS on how to take steps – and yes, even fragrant sniffs – towards a happy future.
You interviewed 40 people who made major life pivots for ROAR. Who did you find most personally inspiring?
We called them Reimagineers. One was a woman named Stephanie Young. She was a book editor for her whole career. She had studied English in college. She was 53 when she decided that she wanted to become a doctor. She applied to American medical schools and she faced a lot of ageism, but she then got accepted to a Caribbean medical school. During that process, she went through a divorce. So, after getting scholarships and grants to fund her education, she went off to the Caribbean on her own in her mid-50s. I thought that took an enormous amount of courage. She’s now in her early 60s and she is a doctor. She had a lot of twists and turns along the way, but she just kept going. She kept pushing forward. She had a great quote: “You can’t read about the top 10 most beautiful futures. You have to find it through yourself, keep the vision, even when you stumble along the way.
You also conducted a huge survey, gauging people’s feelings about their life choices. What were some of the most surprising findings?
We had 630 respondents, a cross-section of people from all kinds of walks of life, and we asked them if they could do a major redo of their life, would they? Seventy-six percent of them said they would, which was a surprise to me. Then we gave them the opportunity to write in what defining moment in their life they would redo. The number one response was, “I would redo my marriage or not marry the person that I married,” which was really interesting. The second was, “I wish I had taken school more seriously so that I could have done more, expanded more, had other opportunities.”
But the majority of people still felt optimistic about future possibilities and things they might do. This gets back to the thesis of the book, that if you’re 50 and you’re healthy, you may live to be 90, and when you pivot out of a first career, you begin to realize that you have another 20, 30, maybe more, years to live. It’s not your father’s or your mother’s retirement.
What can hold people back?
Two things. One is self-imposed barriers. They say, “I coulda, shoulda, woulda” or “I made a mistake and I didn’t do X or I didn’t do Y.” The second thing is self-imposed ageism. They say, “I’m too old to do that.” Where did that come from? In the book, instead of using the term age appropriate, I say person appropriate. Women are having babies at 50. You may decide to adopt in your 50s. You may decide to completely change your career in your 50s. To say you’re too old for something is an old-fashioned way of thinking about it.
What are signs people should be aware of that it might be time for change in their lives?
I think we all have this little nagging voice in the back of our heads when we need change. Generally, what happens is it gets louder and louder and you can ignore it and be dissatisfied or you can confront it and identify it and say, “Okay, I know that I’ve got to leave this profession or this company or this relationship.”
One of my favorite stories in the book is Rob Smith. He wanted to work in social justice, but his father told him, “I’m only going to pay for college if you study business.” So, he studied business, and had a long successful career at Macy’s, but then when he was around 50, he had kind of a meltdown and he said, “I need to check out and think about my life.” He went traveling and did an ayahuasca ceremony in Peru, and in a hallucinogenic state, he saw his 16-year-old self and said, “I’m so sorry that I abandoned you.” I thought that was very poetic and also poignant. He came back home and he started the Phluid Project, and moved into the social justice space in his 50s. He’s now thriving and loving it.
What’s your advice for people who feel like they need something new, but don’t know where to start?
What I learned from the interviewees is they identified what it was that they needed to change, then they spent a year-plus going deep into it, really pulling it apart to figure out how they were going to make that change. It wasn’t a spontaneous thing. It was very well thought out. Some of them started creating parallel lives to their existing life by turning a hobby into a passion or starting to freelance. A lot of them went back to school.
You also shared a very nice concept of life-layering to find your passion.
That’s right. If you start building a layer, over time that layer may become your launchpad into a new business, or into becoming an entrepreneur. In the beauty industry, there are lots of examples of people who worked for established beauty companies but then went off and launched their own skincare or fragrance or something else in the beauty world. That’s an example of layering. You learn different aspects of the job you already do. If you’re a marketing person and you’re weak on the financial side, then you can go and take some courses in financial management and start rounding out your business experience.
Do you think fragrance is a tool that can be used to focus, or open up connections that might help someone find their path?
We have to find the triggers that can put us into a state of reflection, introspection—let’s even call it meditation. I think fragrance is a great example of something that inherently brings that out. If you are sitting in your private space and you are reflecting on your life, having an aroma that can help facilitate that is a great tool. Sometimes that’s an applied fragrance. Sometimes that’s a fragrance in a candle.
Fragrances and aromas also invoke lots of memories. My grandmother was a huge influence on me, and when I smell the fragrance she wore, which was Youth Dew, it takes me right back to her wisdom, her advice. It makes me stop and think about her. If you had a powerful mentor or you had a powerful influence in your life and she or he wore something that was comforting to you, it will take you back to thinking about them, and put you in the state of really being able to take a deeper dive into your own life. Maybe it will take you back to a time when you were younger that you had a discussion with someone about what your dreams and aspirations were. You may pick up a thread just from that alone.
Ageism escapes a lot of DEI initiatives. What are your thoughts on how even employers can be more inclusive about age?
A very good point. If you think about it, ageism affects you regardless of your gender, your race, your ethnicity, your religious beliefs. It’s a universal experience that people over 50 have. Part of it is language. Part of it is government and corporate policies that haven’t kept pace with the change that is happening with the dynamic 50-plus cohort. Thirty-four percent of the population is now 50-plus. Every day, 10,000 people turn 65. In 2030, one in five Americans will be 65 or older.
I think that you’re going to see over the next few years a lot of change in policies, government institutions, and corporate policies, especially because a lot of people who are “retirement” age are going to leave a huge gap in employment needs. So you’ll have a lot of people who are 60-plus who are going to be working in different kinds of hybrid roles. There’s going to be a rethink because there are not enough people to fill what will become the jobs that the boomers will be leaving from their first careers.
In the book, instead of talking about retire, we talk about rewire. Instead of talking about getting older, we say we’re living longer. Instead of talking about self-imposed ageism, we focus on self-imposed growthism. Ultimately, things are going to change because the people are going to force change.