Sheri Salata was 35 years old when she landed her dream job. After graduating from college and working hard at several ill-fitting jobs, she was hired at The Oprah Winfrey Show. “Even though I was in my 30s and the job was entry level, I still felt I had landed in the Emerald City,” Salata recalls. “I had no problem starting over. I mean, this was Oprah!”
Fifteen years later, Salata was promoted to executive producer, and when Oprah ended, she became co-president of Harpo Studios and OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network.
But at age 56, Salata decided that she needed to change her workaholic ways. Like many women, she’d found it easier to give her all to her job and to meeting other people’s needs but had neglected to take care of herself. So she quit her job and committed to radical self-care — body, spirit, and mind. “For years at Oprah, I had access to all the health and wellness experts in the world, but I put it all on my someday list,” she says. “At the time, I would tell myself I was too busy working to take care of myself, but, in reality, I was finding comfort at the end of a long day of work with wine, pizza, and mindless TV instead of a yoga class or a green salad.”
Committing to self-care was challenging. Salata enlisted her lifelong friend Nancy Hala to help, and the two motivated each other to eat better, exercise, and meditate. Some days it was harder than others to stay on track, and Salata would berate herself when she fell off course. “Most of us have no idea how harshly our inner voice judges us over and over again,” she says. “Once I paid attention to that voice, I realized that if I wanted to elevate my life, I would have to change it. I began to speak to myself with tenderness and compassion — and that was a key part of my transformation.”
There are some messages in our culture that women over 50 are done and that we should be waiting around to be called to babysit. It’s up to us to say, “No, we still have a lot more we want to do.”
In addition to self-care, Salata began to tackle more items on her someday list, including learning Italian and improving her knife skills. “These smaller adventures have brought me so much happiness, and they’ve made my brain come alive. I think it’s important to do all the rut-busting activities we can,” she says.
Though some women may feel too old to start over in their 50s, Salata thinks it’s the perfect time to begin fresh. “In the middle of life, some of us think it’s time to wrap up the party — that we have had our chance at relationships and careers, and it’s time to step back and let the clock run out,” she says, adding that part of the problem is an antiquated view of female aging. “There are some messages in our culture that women over 50 are done and that we should be waiting around to be called to babysit. It’s up to us to say, ‘No, we still have a lot more we want to do.'”
And what if you want to retire and dote on their grandchildren? Salta says, “You can be a juicy, sexy grandma baking cookies if that is what you want. But your motivation should be to do that because it’s your dream and not because of society’s expectations,” she says.
For Salata, shifting her focus to herself after years of putting other people first wasn’t easy. But then she had an epiphany that changed her view. “Being someone else’s something — life partner, mother, or employee — does not a life make,” she says. “You must tend to yourself first before you take care of others. What I’ve learned is that people who take care of themselves first find it easier to choose happiness in their lives, and happy people are the ones who contribute most to the world.”
Now 59, the former TV producer continues to hone in on her best life. Hala and Salata started a podcast and a website based on the strategies they used to transform their lives. Salata even wrote a book about her midlife reinvention called The Beautiful No.
She says she hopes that sharing her story will inspire other women to think about what they want to do with the second halves of their lives. “When I took the time to excavate the dreams I had for my life, that I hadn’t yet manifested, I began to chart a course for a full-on joy ride — not just my dream career but a dream life.
“And choosing to have the life of my dreams is a daily practice. My life today feels even more expansive and more fulfilling than I could have imagined.”