Monday, March 9, 2009

Book Review: Second Acts that Change Lives

This book is not about doing the sensible this-job-has-insurance-and-a-good-paycheck-so-I'm-sticking-with-it thing. It's about choosing a new path at midlife, a path that could provide a more tranquil and fulfilled life. Second Acts that Change Lives features people who gave up good careers to pursue a new direction and in the process found ways to make a difference while gaining serenity and a greater sense of purpose.

Many of us reach midlife and look back in amazement at our path through life. Was it really our life, or were we just doing what needed to be done to be secure, raise a family, pay bills? When, we wonder, is it time to do the things we dream of doing, the things that motivate and inspire us and tap our creative selves? Does that time ever come?

In today's economy many people are facing a career change they did not anticipate as companies lay off workers by the thousands. Midlifers find themselves in the job market with both younger and older workers. Instead of choosing, as those in the book did, to make the change voluntarily, change has been thrust on them. Some will grab the opportunity to find a new direction. They will look for guides and models to help them in their search. While this book does not offer a blueprint for a career or lifestyle change, it does offer insight into how the people featured made change work for them.

Second Acts that Change Lives dispenses with the traditional wisdom usually offered to those planning a career change (write a business plan, develop a flowchart, etc) ; those profiled by author Mary Beth Sammons in short vignettes each found a unique way to begin their new path. Most began by adding their new interest in increments--perhaps taking a class or a part-time job or volunteering in a position that put them in touch with the kind of activity they wanted to do.

For Sammons, illness and the difficult path the recovery pushed her into becoming a triathlete at fifty years old. Although other life changes threatened her security on several fronts, she found the strength to face and overcome those challenges through her newfound confidence in her own abilities. Her experience led her to seek others who made significant career changes at midlife.

If you have been thinking about making a change in your career, or if you are facing an involuntary layoff or downsizing, you may find the enthusiasm in Sammons' book a motivator to take the first steps down a new path. Even if you, like me, choose to stay on your current course, Second Acts offers a view into the lives of those who leaped into the unknown and lived to tell the tale--and a collection of happy stories it is.

A quote from Eleanor Roosevelt encapsulates the book's premise perfectly:

"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."

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