Health & Family

It’s never too late to make a new life

Writer Page Leggett, in center, takes notes during the “Life Reimagined” class.
Writer Page Leggett, in center, takes notes during the “Life Reimagined” class. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

I used to work for a big company in uptown Charlotte. Due mostly to the company’s penchant for reorganizing, I had five jobs in five years, and most of them involved being on one conference call after another. For eight hours a day. Day after bloody day.

The day I was laid off was the only day I hadn’t cried at work in three weeks. The news was such welcome relief. I was a wreck about how I’d pay the mortgage, yet I also sensed that whatever came next had to be better than what had come before.

At the AARP-sponsored “Life Reimagined” workshop a few week ago, I nodded in agreement during the opening video.

John Ryland, a former ad agency employee reeling from a layoff, asks rhetorically, “What happens when the money runs out?”

“As scary as it was thinking you might not have enough money to pay the mortgage, it was 10 times scarier to think of starting back in advertising,” he said of the field he had grown disillusioned with. “It was probably ill-advised to start a motorcycle shop, but I loved the idea of going with your gut and not going back to something that wasn’t bringing you any real happiness.”

Tell it, John Ryland! My 30 classmates weren’t pumping their fists in the air, as I wanted to, so I remained silent. But I felt I had come to the right place.

All of us seemed to feel we were in the right place, even though we were at vastly different life stages. (I thought, at 50, I’d be the youngest in the room. Not even close.)

Beside me was Lyn Simons, a retired hotel concierge. She’d recently read a profile of Candice Bergen, in which the actress said, “I try to feed my brain so it doesn’t get stuck in sludge. I spontaneously take classes and go to lectures.” That quote prompted Simons to attend.

Ietha Booysen and her family moved to Matthews from Pretoria in January. At 45, she’s nowhere near retirement, but she and her husband will be empty nesters next year, and she’s starting to prepare.

Anne Jarvis has been retired for three years from a job she loved. The former insurance claims manager now volunteers at Metrolina Habitat ReStores, but wants to pursue other volunteer opportunities.

For the next hour, AARP Associate State Director Leo Scarpati, an energetic 36-year-old, and Lisa Martinez, a retired Methodist minister and AARP volunteer, led us through the “Life Reimagined” workbook.

“Life Reimagined” began as a 2013 book by executive coach Richard Leider and Alan Webber, co-founding editor of Fast Company and former managing editor of the Harvard Business Review. It started as an AARP program, but it’s now its own entity.

We began by estimating how many years we have ahead of us. (That’ll get you thinking about your mortality and all the things you haven’t accomplished.) Next, we reviewed our life’s milestones so far. (Being laid off was one of mine. So was getting divorced. I began to see a pattern: Things that seem insurmountable at first can lead to the happiest destinations.)

We examined transitions we’ve faced and how we got through them. Then, we began to look ahead. “You still need goals and dreams,” Martinez said. “Even in retirement.”

The unknown is scary. But not nearly as scary as whatever it is – a dead-end job, a loveless marriage – holding you back now. My own layoff (complete with severance) provided the nudge (and cushion) I needed to begin a long dreamed-of career as a freelance writer and consultant.

And John Ryland? His Richmond, Va. motorcycle shop has moved from his garage to, according to his website, “a large state-of-the-art facility – oh wait – it’s actually a former mule barn with no heat or AC. But it’s … just the way we like it.”

“Classified Moto became my livelihood the day I got laid off … in 2011,” he goes on to say. “Staring an uncertain future in its scary face, I decided to roll the dice and turn my … love for motorcycles into a full-time job.

“In the years since, we’ve gone places, done things and met people we’d never have imagined.”

Actually, you can imagine. You just have to start.

Page Leggett is a freelance writer who lives in Charlotte.

AARP – not just for the retired

AARP offers free workshops on topics ranging from financial security to fraud protection and resume writing to caregiving. And they’re not checking IDs at the door; these workshops are for all adults.

The group is on track to have led 125 workshops in Mecklenburg County in 2015, says AARP Associate State Director Leo Scarpati. For a schedule of webinars and in-person seminars, visit aarp.org/nc.

To learn more about the workshop on making transitions, visit lifereimagined.aarp.org.

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