Life’s Second Act: 50 & Beyond
Churchill Education co-founder Tricia Velthuizen discusses life’s second act… Turning 50, wisdom gained, insights had, challenges met, changes welcomed and an exciting plan for life’s second act.
I turned 50 in August.
From the beginning of this year, sensing a shift as I prepared to enter my second half of life, I noticed something important: everything was ageing.
My children were no longer children. Two held drivers’ licences and all four held independent minds and plans for their futures.
My body was stronger and yet creeping sideways in an oddly Southerly direction. It was no longer quite as familiar in the mirror.
My marriage was 22 years old and as familiar as my body was now unfamiliar. Tried and true, predictable, perhaps too predictable at times.
My career was solid, underpinned by over 30 years of working and learning. Yet cognitively, I could feel a casting around coming more regularly, searching for the right word buried deep in the paperwork of my brain. I wasn’t quite as fast, quite as bright.
Before me lay a choice – fight everything about turning 50. Resist the loss of my youth, and channel Winston Churchill’s battle cry – “Never surrender!”
Or get curious.
And from the curiosity, step into the change.
I chose the latter, beginning with curiosity.
I started looking for people who would talk about their careers beyond 50, people who had successful relationships with their adult children and vibrant marriages.
People who hiked mountains and forged adventures that made them stretch their imaginations of what was possible.
I read books, listened to podcasts, and got excited by images of women on the interwebs with wrinkles on their faces and gleams in their eyes.
I started telling people that ageing was coming and that I was excited by all it could bring.
I declared it aloud, a lot.
I chose excitement, even before the magic birthday had arrived because it was excitement or the alternative – fear and resentment, and I was not prepared to live my second half in fear or resentment.
From curiosity grew decisions.
I decided that I needed to consciously design the life that I wanted to lead in this second half.
I thought about the relationships I wanted to build with my children as they forged their own lives, with my extended family too.
I thought about the marriage I wanted to take me into my old age.
I thought about what I could contribute to Churchill and in sharing my experience with other people building their own careers.
I considered the places I could contribute to my community.
I thought about the possibility of adventures I could have and what condition my body and health needed to be in to fulfill these dreams.
I made lists in my head, then started writing them down and sharing them with anyone who was prepared to listen.
I made plans and I made changes.
I scheduled adventures for 2022 and for all my 50s, kicking off with hiking the Larapinta Trail in central Australia.
I spent time listening to our children talk about what they were really thinking and wanting in life. I focused on being an encourager, a celebrator, and a safe constant to return to when the world looms large for them.
I dug deep with Randall in our marriage and in deciding the relationship we wanted to share as best friends and lovers with a little magic and the unfamiliar thrown in. In the spirit of vibrancy and changing bodies, I even headed to a Sexologist for some sessions – but that is a story for another time.
And then I looked at Churchill.
We have done good work for 16 years, serving tens of thousands of Australians from across the country to receive the recognition their experience deserved.
And as I looked at our team and this business that means so much to me, Randall, and our family, I realised it was time for a change there too.
Sometimes you can sit in a role for too long. Sometimes you can be the one getting in the way.
There needs to be space for our team to step into new responsibilities, greater learning, greater achievements.
I realised that it was time for me to get out of the way, that the Churchill team needed the space to grow in their own learning and so Randall and I hired a new CEO (Chief Executive Officer), Ross Caldwell, for Churchill and stepped into the role of Directors.
Ross was Churchill’s COO (Chief Operating Officer) back in 2015 and is a man we both trust and admire. He is the right man for the right role at the right time and we are both appreciative that Ross was willing to return to Churchill.
Even so, all of this, the curiosity, the planning, and the change, it can come screaming with discomfort.
Randall and I have felt it.
It has been hard releasing the everyday operations of a business you built from the ground up and spent every day for 16 years running with a hands-on approach.
It has required new learning of us – thinking about supporting and developing others more than process and productivity. It has been hard but a good hard. Early on we realised that we could not let go of the connection with Churchill’s client community – hearing their stories, challenges, and successes. And thinking of ways to improve how we serve that same community. That has always been where the greatest joy lays.
We are not alone in experiencing the bumpiness of change. The team at Churchill has also experienced the discomfort of change, even whilst they happily welcomed Ross’s return and worked their hardest at supporting our clients.
It makes sense, really.
Change takes energy and the COVID years had run everyone’s energy down.
Change takes tipping habits and familiar routines on their heads and our bodies can send us those messages: surely not?
When our brains, long attuned to taking the easiest path from A to B, are required to think differently, learn new routines, new relationships, well, those same brains can look for something to grumble about and grumble they will.
What I have learned in my 50 years is that change begets change.
It is like lining up those streams of dominoes – as one tips, it knocks another and another and soon there is a stream of dominoes scattered across the floor.
I have seen it countless times with Churchill as we talk with clients and work with our team.
People are looking at their careers and trying to decide if they should tip over the domino: is it time for change?
They get stuck, they get resistant, they get worried, they get a spot on the sidelines and watch it pass them by, they get half-hearted or they go all in.
Stuck. They worry about the mess that could be made. Some people walk away then, make no changes, and just feel the discomfort that comes from growing set in their ways in a role where they are no longer challenged or feeling valued.
Resistant. They look at the effort that is gone into getting this far and they feel defensive. What is wrong with just leaving it the way it is? They miss it the way it was. They look at all the effort that went into putting this chain together to start with and they glare at anyone who even considers knocking it over.
Worried. They look at the plan and cannot help but wonder if they tip the first change will it all fall into place in the way they wanted it to? They want to act but the ‘what ifs’ are taking so much of their energy they cannot enjoy the process.
Sidelined. Some people stand back and watch someone else set-in motion a change and then mutter about how it is impacting them, and they never asked for this. They can be so focused on the upset they miss the thrill of sharing the full process with others and seeing where it can take them.
Half-hearted. Some people flip that domino with just a tip of their finger so it never quite gets the momentum required to pull off the full reveal. They feel that complete sense of disappointment because it did not go to plan and wonder why they did not leave well enough alone.
All in. And then some people look at all the work they have laid down and decide to act. They push that first domino over and watch the magic of the pattern it creates, hear the clatter of the dominoes falling and choose to enjoy the experience, even when it does not all go exactly to plan.
Change begets change.
And it is never entirely comfortable.
Never has been, never will be.
The research around happiness in your career and in your workplace has shown for years that the greater your sense of control (called your locus of control), the happier you will be there.
Admittedly, change that we have instigated is always easier to manage than change that is thrust upon us.
So, how we do tackle change, even when we did not plan for it?
It is simple really.
Take control by planning for it: plan for your response. Go for it, go all in by focusing your control on your attitude to the change.
Because the only thing that feels worse that having a red hot go at a good life is getting lost in the world of the stuck, the resistant, the worried, the side-lined and the half-hearted. Trust me when I say that the only thing any of us are really in control of is the attitude we bring to life’s challenges, changes, and opportunities.
When it feels uncomfortable, give a nod, and say to yourself, “yep, right on track: change is here. Feels uncomfortable, knew it would. This too shall pass.” Then forge on by cutting yourself and everyone else experiencing that same change a little slack. Everyone is going to have their moments of feeling a little sensitive or even cranky.
Sometimes, we may even make the mistake of looking for someone to blame or blow something small up into something much bigger than it really needs to be. Put that one aside too. Trust me, the small stuff we make big: we look back and realise we were out of our minds with change fever. Instead, assume everyone is doing the best they can.
Kindness helps in times of change. Think of it as an opportunity for learning.
Do not avoid change.
If you are ready for a change in your work situation, make it.
If you have come to a cross-roads in your career, welcome. It is the positive price of still being in the game. We can struggle on as is, or we can choose to keep growing in our career, even when that means stepping into different roles or approaches to bringing value to a team.
If you get a new boss or a team restructure, don’t spend time and energy hanging on to the old. You will always take the best of the old with you. It is called experience. It is called knowledge. It is called skill.
Instead, focus on how you can add value. Make your new boss feel welcome, be curious about what value they will bring and then give them scope to do just that.
If you think you are getting passed over, don’t stay there, muttering about how life is not fair. We all will come to a time in our careers that we are not the brightest star in the company sky. Truthfully, there can be relief in the next stage of our working lives. Look further afield!
We get to dig deeper in the areas that we really enjoy sharing with our colleagues, with our companies, our customers.
Get curious and get clear about what you really want in your working life – promotion, more money, less money, more hours, less hours, flexibility, more responsibility, less responsibility, opportunity to mentor others?
If we put aside our ego and our fears, what do we really want and need in our working lives from middle-age and beyond?
Make your list.
Then it is time for Action with a capital ‘A’:
- Get talking with people you know and trust about what other options you have and how you can put yourself in a better position.
- Get a handle on what other positions are out there, what other models for working in a team?
- Get financial advice on what you really need – across Australia now, people are dying with money tucked away in their Superannuation accounts, begging the question: how much do we really need? Are we hanging onto a pay level at the cost of our happiness?
- Get your qualifications updated through Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) so that your experience, skills, and knowledge are benchmarked.
- Get learning something new. Show that you are a lifelong learner.
- Get a plan and talk to your workplace about what you want. In this employment climate, good employers really want good employees so are keen to meet half-way in creating the most effective team possible.
- Get building strong relationships with family and friends. When your working life ends, you are going to find that these are the people who have mattered the most all along.
- Get a great holiday plan or pick up a hobby or interest for the next few years. Life is there for enjoying – we just need to make space and give focus for the fun too. All work and no play makes us very, very dull.
We have a mix at Churchill.
People who work full-time. People who work part-time.
People who need more flexibility.
People who only come to work on projects that they find rewarding and in return, we are in awe of their contribution.
People who want to mentor. People who want to lead and manage.
People ready to take on more responsibility. People who are content to add immense value without taking on more duties.
People resign and take on new jobs with less stress, less responsibility.
People resign and take on new jobs with more responsibility, more challenge.
People come and people go.
Bosses get younger as we get older.
It is all part of professional change.
Just like me turning 50, it is going to come to each of us.
I am getting older. With any luck, so are you.
Let’s plan for it.
Then let’s run at it, full tilt.
Life is too short!
If you need help getting that run up sorted, reach out to us …. The Churchill team is always here to support you in your career.
P.S. My four year old niece decided I needed a Superhero cape for my 50th birthday. It may be the best gift I ever received – that mask covers my wrinkles, or are they laugh lines?