A few months ago, I was counseling my husband on an issue he was having at work. Afterward he said, “You are really good at this kind of stuff. Maybe you should go back to school to get a degree in counseling or some type of social worker?”
While I appreciated the sentiment and his belief in me, my immediate reaction was “No way!” Not because I am uninterested but because I feel too old. Over the years I have toyed with the idea of going back to school, but the thought of entering a classroom in my 50s seemed daunting.
I don’t think I’m the only person who has ever felt too old to set a new goal or make a life change. Whether it’s a new career, a new relationship, or moving to a new place, many of us feel fearful of change, even if we know it our hearts that we would be happier if we pursued our dreams.
The following five women, all over 45, wanted to make big changes in their lives — and did just that. Their stories and advice made me rethink my “I’m too old” excuse. Maybe they will make you rethink yours, too.
Alyson Chalnick, 52
Life change: Moved to another state
Alyson Chalnick and her husband, Andrew, knew they wanted a less hectic life for themselves and their four children, ages 20-13. Andrew’s daily commute for work to New York City from their suburban home in New Jersey was taking a toll. They decided to buy a vacation home in Vermont. Chalnick says, “We are an avid outdoor family who love hiking, kayaking, and snowboarding.”
They made a plan. When their second child graduated from high school, they would move to Vermont permanently, assuming Andrew could work remotely. Chalnick says, “There comes a time in life when it is time slow down and not operate at a big-city pace.”
Three years later they did just that. With a green light from their children and Andrew’s employer, they put their home up for sale. Reactions from friends were mixed. Chalnick says, “Even though people knew this was our plan, they were still in shock. Many people could not understand how we could just pull our kids out of their schools and uproot our lives. Reactions ranged from surprised to envy, but everyone was overall supportive.”
Several months later, the entire family is thrilled with their decision. The move has resulted in a healthier and happier lifestyle for the whole family. Chalnick says, “Andrew finally has time to exercise every day. Our kids spend more time outside and not playing video games or watching TV. For me, I now have too many sunsets to be amazed by and too much yoga to choose from to have any regrets.”
Her advice: If you have the means to make a change, do it! Life is so short. Change can be exciting and so important for personal growth.
Joanne Serling, 51
Life change: Published first novel
Joanne Serling wanted to be a published novelist by age 36, but it took 15 more years than she’d hoped.
Serling left her job in corporate communications when she was 36 and her second son was born. “I felt it was increasingly difficult to juggle the demands of my job with two small children, and I always wanted to be a writer,” she says. But she quickly realized that she had a lot to learn about fiction writing, so she enrolled in a program at The Writer’s Studio, where she worked on her craft for seven years.
At 45 she rededicated herself to writing her novel, and two years later she had a completed manuscript. She sent it to several publishers and received only rejections. Serling says, “It was depressing. I had always been successful at work and couldn’t believe that I could fail at something.”
Serling admits she was discouraged, especially since she wasn’t getting a lot of positive reinforcement. “I learned not to tell a lot of people about my aspirations to be a published novelist because they were generally unsupportive,” she says. But something pushed her not to give up. “I don’t know where that came from other than from the same crazy part of me that always wanted to be a novelist. There’s a lot of rejection and disappointment, but if you’re a writer, you can’t not do it.”
In February 2018, Serling’s first novel, Good Neighbors, was published. She remembers finding out on a Friday afternoon that an offer had been made on her book but being unable to share the news until Monday when it was official. Serling says, “Those 72 hours were among the most magical of my life. I had worked so hard for so long that I felt like I was walking on clouds.”
Her advice: Don’t let anxiety or failures along the way stop you from going forward. Doubting myself made the process so much more difficult than it already was.
Teri Tyson, 56
Life change: From finance executive to chef/restaurant owner
In 2008, in the midst of the financial crisis, Teri Tyson was a vice president at AIG. Tyson says, “It was a terrible time, but I stayed with AIG until 2010 to help work the company out of its issues and execute a plan to repay the U.S. government for its bailout. Once that plan was in play, I knew that it was time for me to leave.”
Two weeks after she left AIG, Tyson started her studies at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. One year later, she opened her own restaurant. Tyson says, “I chose to go to culinary school to both shake off my former career and to spend time doing what I always enjoyed doing: cooking.
Tyson admits that most of her friends thought she was nuts when she told them her plan. “They did not understand why would I give up a lucrative career, where I traveled the world, to do something as menial as cooking for other people. I joked that I had challenged myself to find something that would cause me to work even harder than I had, with little possibility of making enough money to support myself. Sure, open a restaurant!”
Luckily for Tyson, her family was very supportive. They knew that cooking was something she was passionate about, and they believed with her determination she could make it work. Tyson admits that career change is hard work. She says, “I think I would have had more energy had I started the business 10 years earlier. But as a single mother, I am glad I waited until my two daughters were adults and independent. I wasn’t financially secure enough nor as courageous as I was at 50 to take the risk before then.”
Her advice: Think it through. Imagine yourself doing it, day in and day out. I have never reconsidered my decision but think that some of my success is due to the planning that went into it.
Renee Salem, 48
Life change: Divorce, move, new career — all in one year
Renee Salem was a stay-at-home mother of three longing for a change. “I was unhappy in my marriage for a while but resisted leaving because my own parents had gone through a bad divorce.”
A lifelong Floridian, Salem pined to live on the East Coast. “I always loved New York City, but we needed to stay in Florida for my husband’s job. I was envious of my friends who moved there after college and since I never got the chance to live in NYC, I vacationed in the city with my kids whenever we could.”
Once Salem divorced, the first man she dated was from an area close to New York City. After the relationship ended, Salem realized that what was most disappointing was that the possibility of having a reason to move to the Northeast was gone — then she realized she didn’t need someone in NYC in order to move. Salem’s older two children were in college, and her youngest was ready for a change. Salem asked her ex-husband if he would let her relocate with their son, and he agreed.
For Salem, the move has been everything she dreamed of and more. Her son likes his new school, and she is enjoying her city life, including landing a job planning events for Broadway shows. Salem says, “One of the things I loved about New York was going to the theater, and now I work in the industry. I didn’t have previous experience, but my willingness to work hard paid off.”
Salem says that divorce and moving has made her stronger. “Before I was distracted by my unhappiness, but now I am so present for myself and my kids.” Recently, Salem’s daughter confided that she wanted to open her own art gallery one day but worried that this wasn’t a realistic goal. Salem says,” I told her to look at me! If I could live my dream, she could, too.”
Her advice: Say yes! To the job, to the date, to the invitation to do something outside your comfort zone. You never know where it could lead.
Susan Mohr, 57
Life change: Adopted children
When Susan Mohr got married, she knew she wanted to have children someday. Mohr says, “I married at 38 years old, but my mom had had me when she was 42, so in the back of my head I thought I had a little time. My husband and I were very self-centered and not quite ready for kids.”
A year into their marriage, Mohr and her husband did start trying. When they didn’t get pregnant on their own, they tried fertility treatments. When that didn’t work, they decided to look into adoption. At first, Mohr was apprehensive. “I wanted our child to be ours and only ours. I also had concerns about issues we might face down the road as a result of their unknown health history/genetics,” she says.
Ultimately Mohr realized her desire to be a mother was stronger than her fears. At 43 Mohr adopted her son, and at age 50 she adopted her daughter. “Our first adoption went very smoothly, but with our second child, there were many disappointments along the way. It took over three years to adopt our daughter. We had to keep strong and remind ourselves that we would end up with the child we were meant to have,” she says.
Mohr wasn’t too worried about becoming a first-time parent in her 40s. “At the time we first adopted, I just wanted a child. I never let age influence my decision to adopt, although I did realize when we adopted the second time at age 50 it was going to delay our ultimate retirement.”
Being parents has brought Mohr and her husband tremendous joy. “Of course, there are many challenges in raising kids, whether adopted or not. But I could not love my kids any more if I had given birth to them.” As for being an older parent, there are both benefits and disadvantages. She explains, “You may have less patience and less energy, but you also have more life experience and financial security.”
Mohr recalls sitting at gymnastics class with her daughter and overhearing one of the other moms talking about her father’s upcoming 50th birthday. She says, “I had to laugh. I was 53 at the time with a 3-year-old. But my husband and I are pretty active, so age hasn’t really been an issue. Having young kids keeps us young.”
Her advice: Raising kids takes a lot of energy and sacrifice, but if you stay active, you’ll be fine.