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Making the most of life after 50

In “Coming of Age,” two friends prepare for the second half of their lives.
/ Source: TODAY

It’s easy to spend 30 or 40 years planning, thinking and doing for others ... instead of yourself. But suddenly you reach middle age. Then what? Two friends came up with a plan for the second half of their lives. Kate Klimo and Buffy Shutt, were invited on TODAY to discuss their new book, “Coming of Age ... All Over Again.” Here’s an excerpt:IntroductionIt was then Buffy realized that the AARP membership card — however unexpected and even unwelcome — was a sort of early signal telling her that if she couldn't affect her parents' choices, at least she could have some control over her own. Buffy realized that now was the time to start planning the second half of her life.And whenever something really important comes along, Buffy calls her best friend, Kate. She told Kate, "We need to figure out this getting old thing now."Kate started laughing. Only the day before, her eighty-four-year-old mother had deposited a brand-new pair of $10,000 hearing aids into a bowl of foaming Polident."Count me in," Kate said.Who are we, anyway?We're two women in our fifties, best friends since our first day of college more than thirty years ago. Kate, a children's book publisher with three young adult sons and a husband who teaches college, lives in upstate New York. Buffy, a movie and television producer with a background in marketing, two young adult children, and a husband who writes for movies and television, lives in the Los Angeles area. In spite of the continent that lies between us, we have kept in touch over the years with visits, e-mails, and phone calls. Although we live on opposite coasts, we like to think that our friendship has thrived in an imaginary, heart-warmed place that lies somewhere in between. We call it Our Own Private Iowa. ("Idaho" was already taken.)

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Over the years, we've kept ourselves busy in that Iowa, talking constantly and staying in touch with what happens in each other's life. And let's just say that we've been visiting Our Own Private Iowa a lot more frequently in recent years, as we've found ourselves dealing with a whole new set of midlife issues and trying to figure them out together.So that makes us experts?Other than in our chosen fields, we don't consider ourselves experts. But on the subject of living the second half of our lives, who needs experts? We figure we've made it through the first half having learned enough about ourselves and the world to make the second half of our lives the better half. And after doing the research and study that led to the writing of this book, we think of ourselves as being something much more useful, something we all need to be as we start to think about living the second half of our lives: prepared. Being properly prepared will make you the first and best expert on how to live the second half of your life with style, wit, and a dash of imagination.Ready, set, research!One week after that fateful "AARP card incident," Kate happened to come out to the West Coast on business. Deciding to take full advantage of this unexpected time together, our first stop was a bookstore. While we have come to love and rely on the Internet, we both crave the intimacy of words on a printed page. We were in search of a book that would help us plan the second half of our lives. Wanting the full-tilt bookstore experience — coffee, easy chairs, and an awesome selection-off we went to the fabulous, onehundred — and-ten-year-old Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena.There was, as you must know, no dearth of books in the self-help section, many directed toward people — well, let's put it this way-one heck of a lot older than we think of ourselves. We found lots of books about fighting old age, negative thinking, wrinkles, cholesterol, cancer, and fat, fat, fat. We found books on coping with menopause, impotence, toxic mothers, boomerang children, and stress, stress, stress. We found books empowering the inner child, the outer adult, the creative spirit, and the entrepreneur in you. We found books about where to retire, when to retire, and how to retire with enough money that you don't have to subsist on cat food.

Good ideas abounded in all of these books, but they just weren't the book we were looking for: a single, handy volume, a handbook if you will, that would tell relatively young people — people in their midforties to midsixties — how to pull it all together and start gearing up for the second half of their lives. Because there wasn't such a book, we decided to give ourselves some time to explore, experiment, and share with each other concrete ways in which we could start to prepare and plan for the next phase. Before we knew it, something uncannily like the book we had gone looking for that day in Vroman's began to take shape.We talked once a week on the phone and exchanged innumerable e-mails — a sampling of which you'll see throughout the text — as we divided up assignments, reported on our progress, interviewed people, swapped notes, books, CDs, and Web sites, and generally tried to keep ourselves on task when we lagged and to bolster each other when we got discouraged. As the project grew and expanded in scope, our excitement began to mount. We felt like two kids on a secret journey — facing forward fearlessly, embracing the future, and determined never to look back.

Coming of age . . . All over againWe began to feel a bit like we did our senior year of high school: poised between two of life's grand phases. In fact, we felt as if we were coming of age, in a new and wonderful way, all over again. As Buffy watched her daughter, Daisy, complete her senior year in high school, it occurred to her that, like Daisy, she and Kate stood on the threshold of a larger world. As adults, we stand between family, career, and-all right, if we have to say it we will but just this once-retirement. From here on in, we will mostly refrain from using the R word, not just because it conjures up images of blue-haired ladies and doddering codgers parked on porches relentlessly rocking their way into oblivion, but also because — in case you haven't already noticed — retirement, as our parents and their parents knew it, is being radically redefined. Not only are we living longer, healthier lives, but we're also working longer, and not always because we must, but just as often because it's what we choose to do.

Not so very long ago, people greeted the onset of their older years by shifting down, phasing out, fading away. That is not what we're talking about here. On the contrary, we are talking about gearing up, reinventing, and reengaging. In the sixties, baby boomers brought about a cultural revolution, the ripples of which extended to every corner of our lives: from the politics we practiced to the clothes we wore to the food we ate to the rock and roll we loved. Now, in the early years of the new millennium, we stand perfectly poised to bring about a second revolution, one that will transform the very concept of what it is to venture beyond age fifty and do so in style.Ask yourself some questionsBeyond the obvious and irrefutable fact of your age, perhaps you are wondering whether there are any prerequisites for reading this book. It might help if you are a woman. We both view the world from a very female point of view and, therefore, are more comfortable addressing ourselves to other women. But when we really think about it, the major prerequisite is that you be ready and willing to open yourself up to a world of questions. Questions such as:

Am I happy? What is my work-to-play ratio? How do I feel about my body? Do I feel healthy? Fit? What are my passions, hidden or otherwise? Do I make enough time for my friends? How do I rate as a mate? A parent? A child? A sibling? What is the last book I read? Am I in touch with my innermost self? How much money is enough? Am I a good citizen? How do I want to spend the days and nights of the second half of my life?

As these questions crop up-along with lots of others — it's very important to remember that you don't have to answer them right away. In fact, you may just want to let them hang in your mind for a while. Don't try to force or contrive your answers. Go about the business of your day-to-day life, then let the answers work themselves out for you gradually and naturally. The answers will come.Life is just a layer cakeWe love this metaphor. We could eat it up with a fork. Life is a veritable multilayered extravaganza. This book is divided into chapters meant to prepare, coach, and encourage you to gear up for the important business of designing the second half of your life. The chapters cover the whole cake, the essential layers of your life. Each chapter includes discussions, shared experiences, exercises, and specific ideas to help you plan joyfully.Within each chapter, you'll find seven tools, "seven candles" if you will, that you can use to help sort out the second half of your life. These candles represent seven bright lights, practical approaches we came upon as we wrote this book. You'll get the hang of using them as we go along, but here's a quick first look:

  1. Create time. What did Alfred Lord Tennyson call time? "A maniac scattering dust." But it doesn't have to be like that. We'll show you ways to slow down and make the time you need to live your life mindfully.
  2. Reflect. Once you've found more time in your life, you'll have the space to see and understand things more clearly. We'll share some techniques, including breathing (yes, there is a right way to do it) and meditation (it's not as scary as it sounds), to help you slow down and look deep inside yourself for calm, clarity, and focus.
  3. Practice patience. Resist judging yourself and others. It doesn't help. We'll share some strategies to help you curb impatience and set realistic goals, then meet or even exceed them.
  4. Research. We aren't experts on a lot of the issues covered here, but we have done copious amounts of research so we can bring you the best available resources. We synthesize information for you and offer additional resources — books, Web sites, newsletters, tapes, and CDs-if you want even more information.
  5. Find role models. Now that you're older and wiser, you can choose your own role models rather than having them thrust upon you. We'll offer suggestions to help you find them and share some of our own.
  6. Write it down. Writing things down gives them power. We'll show you how to record your thoughts and plans for the future. If you write it down when you're in your forties, fifties, and sixties, you can make it happen in your seventies and eighties.
  7. Get together. We boomers hatched together in numbers so staggering that the world is still reeling. But somewhere along the way, we pulled back into ourselves and hunkered down in our family bunkers, watching the world on our TVs and now our computer screens. We'll teach you how to reconnect with old friends and make some new ones so you won't go through this whole "coming of age" process alone.

As you may have already guessed, this is not your granny's self-help manual. It's not even your mommy's. This one's for you, so hold the Geritol, and ix-nay on the blue hair. It is a book that we trust you will be drawn to again and again, as a source of both information and inspiration. It is a book that you work through as much as you read.

For these reasons, we recommend that you nibble at it steadily, rather than devouring it from cover to cover. Take it one chapter at a time, and make the time to do each chapter right. Ask yourself the important questions, do the exercises, and conduct any research you feel you need before you move on to the next. You might want to give yourself a week or even a month to do each chapter. Or maybe you'll want to spend a season with each part. Do whatever it takes, but do not let yourself feel overwhelmed. Set reasonable goals and practice patience. Congratulate yourself for even the smallest achievement. And never, ever get down on yourself for not doing enough. Whatever you can handle is enough. Whatever you do is great.We heartily encourage you to get together with a friend or two to work through this book. We got together to create it and know that we got, oh, at least twice as much out of it as we would have had we done it alone, so we think it's a great idea for you to do the book with a friend, a mate, or a small group. Do the exercises together. Share your experiences. Offer love and support and cheer each other along. Swap resources. Learn. Grow. Plan. Strive to make these the best years of your life.

Excerpted from “Coming of Age ... All Over Again,” by Kate Klimo and Buffy Shutt. Copyright © 2007 by Kate Klimo and Buffy Shutt. All rights reserved. Published by Hachette Book Group. No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.