By Lori Capullo
City & Shore PRIME
Fifty is the new 40, or so they say. What exactly does that mean, though? That the half-century milestone isn’t what it used to be when we were kids, and we viewed 50-plus-year-olds as white-haired sages who spent their afternoons on the porch reminiscing about the good old days? We know that’s an antiquated (no pun intended) way of thinking. More than a few names come to mind of 50+ people who blow that image out of the water: Tom Cruise. Christie Brinkley. Denzel Washington. Sandra Bullock. Brad Pitt. Diane Lane. George Clooney. Jennifer Lopez. (OK, she’s 49 — but we know that once she hits 50 she’s still going to look 32.) And on it goes.
Keeping your youthful glow and a fit body well into the second half of adulthood is easier — albeit more expensive — than ever because you can control it: get up and move, eat healthy, find a fab hair colorist and a trustworthy dermatologist. But there are other issues we have to deal with once we hit the 50-year mark that aren’t fully under our own control — like ageism.
Around the same time that so many women and men find themselves having second thoughts about the paths they’ve taken in life, the outside world starts to give the impression that it’s too late to do anything about it. If you’ve been a lawyer or a teacher or a stay-at-home mom or dad for decades and you find yourself now yearning to reinvent yourself, it can be downright daunting — and feel near impossible. With a job market flooded with millennials who not only have grown up learning the latest technology but can often also afford to accept a smaller salary than those of us who already have the obligation of paying for homes and cars and college-age children, knowledge and experience — and age — doesn’t usually win the day when it comes to job interviews.
Then there is the personal aspect of starting again — when a partnership goes awry and you find yourself alone after decades as a spouse or partner, the thought of dating, merging financial and personal histories, even being seen naked for the first time again by a fresh set of eyes who never got to see the younger version of you can strike fear in the heart of the most confident person.
But there is hope.
No one knows this better than Broward resident Joselyne Gago, who found herself dealing with changes in both areas of her life almost at once. “In 2009, I was a professional in banking when my position was eliminated and I was displaced,” she recalls. “I was given the opportunity to return as a bank manager, which I had done for over 20 years, or receive a severance package. I had four kids at home — three of whom were teenagers — and thought it a good opportunity to ‘play house’ for a year or so. That lasted about six years.” At first she was thrilled to be home, and kept busy cooking, cleaning, spending time with her kids in ways she had never been able to do before, and dedicated herself to her husband.
“As time passed, I began to realize the dysfunction in the family and how unhappy I really was at the time. I came to realize that my marriage was very superficial, I was overweight and there was a real disconnection overall. There were issues between my husband and I that had existed for years and I had been avoiding them.”
It wasn’t one specific event that caused Gago to consciously make major changes, but she knew she had to make them. “I set out to get physically healthy, and that did happen as a result of an event. I was sitting on the ground playing jacks with my daughter one day and when I went to get up I had to find something to prop myself up with in order to stand. I noticed my joints were hurting and I was actually feeling old.”
She started taking regular walks, which eventually turned into running about six miles a day, and in the process she lost 50 pounds. “My overall health improved, my energy level went up and I actually began to believe that I had a whole life in front of me waiting to be lived. As I reflect back, I believe that my confidence began to show in ways that threatened my husband, who did not know how to manage my changes and did not like my independent thinking,” she says.
As time passed, Gago began a yoga and meditation practice, traded her “mommy” van for a yellow Jeep Wrangler and discovered that she loved to paint. “I started a beautiful organic garden, which I used to teach my kids about making healthy choices, and even opened a juice bar. I got myself a tattoo. By the time I got my tiny diamond stud pierced on my nose, my marriage was in serious trouble.”
It has been about eight years since Gago’s journey of change began, and today, she says, her life is very different — and much better. “I filed for divorce in 2014 and it took four years for it to become final,” she says. “As difficult as it was, however, I felt that I could not go back to how my life had been. It felt like since my eyes were now open, I could no longer pretend to be blind. I have found my ‘new normal’. My freedom and peace is what I have today and I realize that removing toxic people in my life was one of the things necessary to get that.”
“As you know, it is said ‘a life of regret is worse than a life of failed attempts,’” says Roy Assad, a business and life coach with the Human Capital Group in West Palm Beach. “Fear stops more people than anything else — from changing jobs, divorcing a person who is toxic or launching a business. My advice is to get a clear picture of your objective, get all the knowledge you need, find a support system and jump in head-first. Of course, every situation warrants a different set of actions.” While Assad acknowledges that ageism is still a reality to be dealt with, since employers often believe that carrying an older employee brings with it healthcare costs and — whether correctly or not — believe that he or she won’t be technologically versed. “However,” he says, “if we were to examine that generation, they bring with them a tremendous amount of wisdom, experience and work ethic, and more and more we are seeing retirees coming back to the workplace due to low employment.”
Whether it is more difficult for one gender or the other is up for debate. Assad says, “While this may have been true a decade ago, the gap is closing now, as women have been independent and no longer depend on a spouse.” Author Holly Caplan, who wrote Surviving the Dick Clique: A Girl’s Guide to Surviving the Male Dominated Corporate World to address sexism in the work force, speaks from experience about the fear of changing life paths midlife, whether personal or professional. She had her first child at 40, while working in corporate America; recently, she decided to “make her exit on her terms and based on her principles.” She was taking charge of her destiny. But although she knew she could make it financially for a while, she says, she was “terrified at the core.”
“In this self-reflection period I realized I could take this time to reinvent myself,” she writes. “I had known I wanted to reinvent myself for some time – the thought of leaving corporate America and doing my own thing felt like a dream for years. I had this conversation with friends and colleagues, kind of fantasizing about the what-ifs, but now I really had the opportunity. If you are in this position now, or know you will be in the near future, take a deep breath, and consider the gift of freedom, but remove the big red bow of fear. You can find a path that is right for you — it will just take time and effort.”
Photo: Joselyne Gago (courtesy).