Judy Freedman writes a wildly popular blog called A Baby Boomer Woman’s Life After 50 (click here to go there). She’s a featured blogger in the Huffington Post and has also been published in HealthWomen.org, Midlife Boulevard, VibrantNation.com and others publications. You don’t need to be a woman to enjoy Judy’s wit and wisdom and I have been a fan for a few years now.
Judy lives of what she writes and her past few years have seen significant change and growth, a classic interpreneurial journey from core career to reinvention and new ambitions of deep personal meaning. She had also lost her husband during this time. We reconnected recently and I asked Judy for an interview and a few suggestions for others traveling the same path. I’m confident that you will find her experiences fascinating and lessons being learned inspiring. We cover a lot of territory in the interview, perfect for rosé reading on a summer afternoon. Enjoy!
BM: What did you do professionally for a core career Judy and what precipitated your decision to consider a new direction?
JF: I’ve always been in communications. I started my career on the editorial side as a magazine editor. A few years later, I moved into public relations at General Foods (now Kraft) and then joined Campbell Soup Company, working my way up the corporate ladder over 30 years. I held many jobs including overseeing brand PR campaigns, writing annual and corporate social responsibility reports, executing CEO and executive communications, building employee communications and creative services and multi-media departments, and more.
It was a wonderful career and I really enjoyed my time at Campbell. However, as I approached my 50th birthday, the year became a major turning point. Professionally, I started blogging and really enjoyed writing and hearing feedback from my virtual community of readers. Personally, my husband became ill that year and passed away shortly before my birthday.
Losing my husband at such a critical time in my life and then emptying my nest shortly after when both my children left the house – my daughter graduated from college and left for a job in NYC, and my son graduated high school and left for college – really jumpstarted my transformation.
I spent the next five years strategically preparing to leave my full-time job. I became more introspective as I worked with a personal coach. I studied mindfulness meditation and began a yoga practice. I expanded my blog, which began to be recognized with accolades from publications such as The Huffington Post and a Webby Award Honoree.
When I was given the opportunity to retire early from Campbell, I took the leap and I haven’t looked back.
BM: You’ve had a truly accomplished and fulfilling career. How do you wind down from that? What are you doing now and what does it provide that your core career did not?
JF: My biggest challenge in the beginning was channeling all my interests – there’s so much I want to do during my second act and I’m immensely curious about many areas. I’ve spent the last two years trying to look at my passions and what brings me joy. Another focus has been bringing greater balance to my life. I take my work very seriously, yet I also take time to play.
I’ve continued to grow my blog at aboomerslifeafter50.com and become a contributor to The Huffington Post, HealthyWomen.org and other midlife publications. Along with blogging, I’ve expanded my reach as a social influencer working on campaigns with brands and causes I believe in and have a desire to support, such as positive aging, caregiving, eldercare, and health and wellness for boomer women.
My mindfulness and yoga practice greatly helped me to process my grief and transition after losing my husband. As I continued to explore my interests I realized that yoga was extremely fulfilling. It provided me with the physical movement I needed (after years of sitting at a desk and even now as a blogger), mental acuity (doing poses really requires you to focus and strengthen your core being), and spiritual understanding (through stillness and the Sanskrit teachings). I wanted to learn more about yoga and began to research teacher training programs in my area and other locations.
This winter I registered with Lourdes Institute for Wholistic Studies not too far from home and started a 200 Hour Yoga Instructor Training program. I love being a student again and look forward to sharing my knowledge with others once I receive my certification in 2016.
BM: So some major changes then. What do you see yourself doing in 5 years, living where, working with whom?
JF: Five years is a long way off. Yogic philosophy reminds us to live in the present moment, so I’ve been trying to enjoy each day and each hour of my day. My hope is that I will be practicing and teaching yoga to other mature adults so they can age gracefully and live a long healthy life.
I’ve had some job opportunities, but I don’t see myself working full-time in a corporate environment again. I enjoy my flexible lifestyle after years of having such structure. I want to continue to give back to my community and more broadly pass down all the knowledge I have learned to help others achieve their dreams.
Traveling is a favorite – so I hope I remain healthy so I can explore all the places on my bucket list.
BM: What were your primary motivations then and how have they changed?
JF: When I was younger, my primary motivation was to provide for my family. I was partially driven by the paycheck because I was the main breadwinner. Once my children were born, my husband and I decided he would be a stay-at-home dad. His health issues made it more conducive to this lifestyle.
I was a highly competitive type A person – went to an Ivy League college, went into a corporate environment afterwards and climbed the ladder. I thrived in large, complex organizations.
However, spending so many years under fast-paced, high-stress conditions takes its toll on the body and the mind. Plus, after experiencing the trauma of my husband’s illness and death, it’s a reminder that we are only on this earth for a short time and life is finite.
Today, I am more motivated by my passions and all the things that inspire me rather than the paycheck. I don’t need much – the big house, the expensive clothes and accessories – they aren’t necessary. I’ve learned to live on a lot less and with a lot less, but I feel like I have so much more. My relationships are richer and my experiences deeper because I am living in the present.
I’ve become more introspective and in some ways more selfish, but in a good way. I still give to others, but I also take time to stop, breathe and be. As the Taoist Proverb says, “No one can see their reflection in running water. It is only in still water that we can see.”
BM: Did you follow any particular process to structure your thinking and create a plan for change?
JF: I worked with a wonderful coach/therapist after my husband died. She encouraged me to study mindfulness and yoga as a way to live in the present. It helped me get through the grieving process. I also reached out for guidance and love from my friends and family members.
On the professional side, I was getting restless shortly before I turned 50 and my world turned upside down. I knew I wanted to make a change, but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do or how I was going to do it. My husband was older than me and we had always talked about my retiring early.
Sometimes when you put yourself out there, the universe responds. I never dreamed that my little blog would become the center of my life after 50. It was so fulfilling to hear the positive comments each week and to develop my writing skills– skills that I always had, but used in different ways. Going to blogging conferences opened me up to a whole new group of talented midlife women from all parts of the country. Many have become good friends.
After my children left the nest and both finished college, I had more flexibility financially. I sold my house and moved into a smaller townhome. I also bought a small property at the shore – my condo on the corner – was a perfect place to refresh and renew. The ocean waves are very calming to the senses.
I also started budget planning to see how much I needed on a monthly basis. It’s a really good eye-opener. I still keep track of my budget each month to see where I’m spending and if I’m in line with my goals. If I go over one month, I try to conserve the next month.
Through my blogging I connected with AARP (American Association of Retired People) and did some work with their Life Reimagined mapping. It provides six guideposts to make change:
Reflect: pausing before you start the journey. Mindfulness and yoga offer very beneficial exercises for reflection.
Connect: getting feedback and counsel from friends and guides. After leaving my full-time job, I worked with a career coach (different from my therapist/coach) to look at my strengths and interests.
Explore: this is the discovery and testing step – curiosity and courage are essential to finding the way forward. This step was exciting and at the same time challenging for me because I have so many interests.
Choose: narrowing of options. As my work/life played out I saw that while I enjoyed my blogging, it wasn’t something I wanted to build a new business around. I don’t want to blog 24/7 or hire people to blog for me. I enjoy my writing and want to spend some of my hours pursuing this work, not every waking hour of every day. Whatever small amount I earn from my blogging I reinvest in my blog and in my knowledge building, such as going to social media conferences or investing in my blog design.
At the same time, I realized that yoga was becoming a bigger part of my schedule. I knew that I wanted to spend some part of my day and my work in a more active space of health and wellness. That’s when I decided why not bring it a step further and pursue yoga instructor training.
Repack: deciding what to let go of and what to keep. I had to let go of all the baggage that was holding me back from moving forward. Part of that was selling my house – which I loved but was a financial, emotional, and physical drain on me after my husband’s passing.
My heart has mended after such a significant loss. The love never fades for a lost spouse – the hole just gets smaller. About two years after my loss, I decided I wanted more companionship. I tried online dating and was lucky to meet a fellow New Yorker living nearby. We had lots in common and today he is the new love of my life – it’s a different kind of love the second time around.
I’ve changed my diet to better address my health issues. I am on the FODMAP diet, better known as the “tummy diet” and I no longer have heartburn or take any medications for heartburn. I’m eating more mindfully.
Act: a first step toward making things real, releasing the energy through the optimism that comes with choice, curiosity, and courage. I did make choices when I sold my home, left my job, and committed to yoga instructor training.
These six steps are an iterative process and once you finish, you likely will be ready to start all over again. I’ve learned from my yoga training that life is always changing but flowing with the river is a more positive way to move forward.
*Note: More details about these steps can be found in the book Life Reimagined: Discovering Your New Life Possibilities (click here to go there)by Richard J Leider and Alan M Webber.
BM: We’ve talked about different resources you’ve found helpful. Any additional books or articles that you found particularly enlightening or inspirational during this phase of consideration?
JF: As I mentioned earlier, I read the NY Times every day and learn so much from so many articles and stories. Plus, the Life Reimagined book was thought-provoking.
The last leadership meeting I organized at Campbell included one of my all-time favorite speakers and authors, Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell is a great historian and researcher. He takes simple concepts and turns them into big ideas that can facilitate change within individuals and organizations. The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, David and Goliath – all are excellent.
I like to listen to podcasts while I ride on my stationary bicycle each morning. On-Being with Krista Tippet. Tippet has a soothing voice as she interviews fascinating experts on various topics such as mindfulness, psychology, and philosophy.
Plus, I highly recommend subscribing to Dr. Deepak Chopra’s email newsletter. One of my favorite posts was “For the New Year, Do Something Better Than A Resolution.” He describes “The Four Intentions” to follow for the year. As he says, “There are countless things a person can want, but being consistent for a whole year with four basic intentions gives you a greater chance for success, because these intentions don’t run into inner obstacles – – they fit every lifestyle, belief system, personality, and individual situation.
I keep “The Four Intentions” on my bulletin board in my office and re-read them every so often. They are:
I want a joyful, energetic body.
I want a loving, compassionate heart.
I want a restful, alert mind.
I want lightness of being.
These simple intentions are an approach I aim to master during my second act.
BM: What advice would you offer for anyone considering a new and grand ambition, a dramatic shift toward a new direction?
JF: Let go and take the first step. Sometimes change happens because we make it happen. Sometimes it happens when we least expect it. Flow with the river, not against the current – it’s too hard to paddle backwards.
Do some planning in advance. Look at your values, your goals, your monthly and yearly expenses (if that is something that is going to be impacted by your new direction). What do you have to give up to get what you want? Sometimes you have to make compromises.
Don’t rush. Remember the Taoist Proverb, ““No one can see their reflection in running water. It is only in still water that we can see.”
When I lost my husband and turned 50, I realized that life is short. If I wasn’t going to make changes now, what was I waiting for?
BM: Clearly, plans for your amazing website have changed. What was the original objective and where is it heading? Will it continue?
When I started this blog I had just turned 50, my husband had passed away. My kids were both leaving the nest. My entire world had changed. I wanted to share my reinvention that was unfolding with the virtual community of women who had followed my countdown to 50 (my original blog was ayearto50.blogspot.com). They wanted
to know what was going to happen to me.
I was inspired to capture in writing what I was going through and how I was evolving and transforming in mind, body, and spirit as I entered the second half of my life. My goal was to reach other boomer women who were going through the same or similar experiences and show them that they are not alone (and show myself that I am not alone either.) I also wanted to address aging in a positive and fun way. The second act can be a time of great experimentation, discovery, and joy. We will all face loss in our life – whether it is a parent, a spouse, a job, a pet – it is how we manage after that loss that is our defining moments.
Looking back on the past seven years, I had a great fear of being alone when my husband died and my kids left the nest. Now I’ve conquered that fear as I’ve reinvented myself and I want others to share in the experience in the hope that I can inspire them to not be afraid.
For now, I plan to continue to keep my blog going. I usually write weekly on a wide variety of topics including health and wellness, fashion and beauty, aging and reinvention, and travel and leisure. I am curious about so many things and like to share what I learn.
Bill Magill Aix-en-Provence