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Tips for ‘reinventing’ yourself as you get older

Madonna's not the only one transforming herself. TODAY financial editor Jean Chatzky offers advice for those changing careers later in life.
/ Source: TODAY

It's a topic that seems to pop up again and again. Everyday, people in their 40s and 50s are leaving their jobs to take a chance on something new, often embarking on an entirely different career or going back to school. Some spend months working up to it in an effort to make the transition as seamless as possible, others just close their eyes and jump. Many seem pleased with the results.

So isn't it time we stopped calling it a mid-life crisis and started calling it something a little more positive? Susan Crandell suggests the word “reinvention.”

At age 52, Crandell left her job as the top editor of “More” magazine to become a freelance writer. Some might say it was a step backwards, but not for Crandell: It gave her more time to spend with her husband, and let her get back to what she really enjoyed about her job — putting words on the page. She's since appeared on various television and radio shows to talk about her career shift and her new book, “Thinking About Tomorrow: Reinventing Yourself at Midlife” (Warner Wellness). In it, she talks about her own experiences, and those of 45 other people who transformed their lives.

“Women seem to be more comfortable with the reinvention principle,” said Crandell, who notes: “We reinvent our work lives when we have kids, either by taking time off or cutting back.” But it's still a process that works best when you have a support system in place, and a clear, realistic idea of the changes in store for you. Here are a few suggestions for how to reinvent yourself with aplomb.

  • Take small steps. If you're thinking about making a huge change, especially one that's particularly risky, like going back to school, you may want to start off slowly. Enrolling in a degree program might not seem too hazardous, but if you think about the toll it takes on your wallet, it's definitely not a decision you want to take lightly. Make sure that the change you're making fits into your life.
    “Do little things that scare you, accomplish them, and then develop a belief in yourself that you can do bigger things,” said Crandell. “If you want to go whitewater rafting, maybe start out on flat water. If you want to go back to school, try a single course and see how that feels. There are a lot of introductory ways to get a taste of something that really could rock the bedrock of your life.”
  • Do your research. You'll inevitably have to fill in some of the blanks later, but you can at least start by talking to colleagues and friends about your plans, and cruising classified ads. Online discussion boards can be a great resource, as are enthusiast sites that cater to your career change.
    Then check out organizations that represent the field you're joining, and even universities that have relevant degree programs — even if you're not interested in taking classes, the program's Web site and collateral material can be a gold mine of information. And while it may make you feel as if you're starting all over, finding a mentor who can guide you through the change can make all the difference. Let's face it: You're getting into territory you're not all that familiar with, so now's the time to put your pride aside and ask for help. If it makes you feel better, think of it as networking with a peer, Crandell suggests.
  • Form a support group. In her book, Crandell suggests a “reinvention weekend.” Gather friends who are also thinking of making changes, career-related or otherwise, and spend the weekend in a relaxing setting.
    Take time to read books (perhaps biographies of others who have made life-altering moves) and brainstorm about the best ways to launch your reinvention. The ideas of others, especially those who understand and support your situation, will go a long way in boosting your confidence. The best part? You can retain your reinvention group long after the weekend passes, calling each other up when you hit a bump in the road, and taking any slackers to task.
  • Embrace your fear. Making any transformation, big or small, is going to stir up some apprehension. That fear is completely natural — in fact, most of us are terrified by changes. At the same time, though, we need to make them in order to have a full, interesting life. “As long as you're intending to move forward,” said Crandell, “there are probably no wrong moves.” Repeat that mantra to yourself, then turn your fear into motivation. Remember that without it, your focus might waver.
  • Find your confidence. Think about why you started making changes in the first place — you wouldn't have made that push without the confidence that you could follow through. “It's important to trust yourself, and that ties into what I call the power of letting go. Let go of the old life to reach for the new life, and trust yourself that it will be there,” said Crandell. With that attitude comes the ability to silence any naysayers around you. If you know that you're making the right choice for you and your family, then you can try to push your nosy neighbor's comments out of your mind.

Additional reporting by: Arielle McGowen

Jean Chatzky is an editor-at-large at Money magazine and serves as AOL's official Money Coach. She is the personal finance editor for NBC's "Today Show" and is also a columnist for Life magazine. She is the author of four books, including "Pay It Down! From Debt to Wealth on $10 a Day" (Portfolio, 2004). To find out more, visit her Web site, .