What would you do if you had 30 good years left?


By Dean Niewolny, MarketWatch

There are certain points throughout our lives when we tend to stop and take stock of what we have accomplished in life. Midlife is a common time for this. Maybe you’ve built a thriving business, run a company, or completed your assigned mission, whatever it may be, and the end of this season of your life seems to be approaching. You’ve reached a certain age and stage and you are contemplating what’s next.

For many people, this can trigger a real crisis. You’ve educated yourself, raised a family, and created some wealth. You’re a doer, so you want to continue doing significant things in the next phase of your life and career and use your lifetime of relationships and wisdom to keep the momentum going.

If this describes you, here’s the good news: There are opportunities and ways to do just that. You are in halftime, and that’s a great place to be. Rather than midlife crisis, think of it as an opportunity for midlife renewal. There’s a whole new season ahead, and instead of starting from scratch like you did in your 20s, you already have the tools you need to finish well.

Over the past century, the average lifespan has nearly doubled. Thanks to medical, technological, and social advances, the average American is living a longer, healthier life than ever before — many well into their 90s.

All of this means that the long-held notions of age in relation to productivity are no longer true. And that changes everything, doesn’t it?

A friend of mine transitioned out of his career a few years ago at age 60. “What am I going to do now?” he asked. “I’m 60. I’m not ready to be put on the shelf.”

I answered him with a few questions.

“Did you hit your head on the way into my house today?”

“No,” he said.

“Then you still have all the knowledge you’ve accumulated from the decades in your field, right?”

“Yes. I do.”

“And you have more, deeper relationships than ever, yes?”

“Yes.”

“This means that you have more value than at anytime in your career. Not less. So why walk around with your hat in your hand? Why not just put an email out to all of your contacts and say that you are exploring new opportunities to leverage your experience and then see who responds?”

He did just that and ending up having one of the best years he’s ever had financially and personally. In fact, he’s still going strong three years later.

The age lie says that we have an expiration date on the value we can add to society. My friend’s story is proof that’s not true at all. When you hear your that little voice inside telling you that you’re done, don’t believe it. Ignore it, find what’s true, and get busy with your next season.

So if we agree that we likely have many more productive years ahead of us after we formally retire (if we ever do retire), then how do we figure out how to spend those next 20 or 30 years? How do we parlay our decades of relationships, experience and wisdom into a mature season of life that makes a real difference?

Here are a few guidelines:

Know your financial position. While it is true that taking a halftime season of transition and exploration involves some level of financial commitment, you may be in better financial shape than you think. When most people approach middle age, their financial needs begin to decline. Mortgages are either paid off or close to being paid off. The kids are out on their own, which means lower grocery bills, fewer trips to the shopping mall, less of your paycheck being set aside for education and extracurricular activities. And if you were wise enough to contribute to a savings account or mutual fund, you probably have at least a small nest egg that could help provide seed capital for a new enterprise.

Start or join a mission you can afford. While there will always be some risk involved in a halftime season, no one should irresponsibly jump in over their head in pursuit of their next-season dream. Ideally, whatever you choose to do should be sustainable, since you won’t have a lasting impact if your endeavor bankrupts you. Again, this isn’t about money—it’s about mission, and once you discover yours, you will find a way to carry it out responsibly. Money usually follows good ideas.

Renegotiate your work situation. The difficulty in finding skilled replacement employees and the rising costs of recruiting and training those replacements has led many employers to do whatever is reasonable to keep their experienced workers. Therefore, if you are a valuable employee, you have an unprecedented opportunity to bargain with your employer about a work situation that allows you to invest in your next season.

Downsize yourself. One of the interesting outcomes of corporate downsizing is the number of people who lost their jobs and either started their own small businesses or became “contract” workers, often ending up better off financially than when they worked for their company. If you see an opportunity for this, consider exploring how this option could increase your freedom to invest in your next season.

There’s still important work to be done. Stay encouraged and find what’s next for you.


Dean Niewolny is the chief executive of the Halftime Institute. Before that he spent 23 years in executive roles with three Wall Street financial firms. In 2010, he left his marketplace career to help others who wanted to build on their skills to make the second half of their lives as rewarding as the first. His latest book is “Trade Up: How to Move from Just Making Money to Making a Difference."

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