Patricia Heaton played the role of TV mom on sitcoms for nearly 20 years as Debra Barone on “Everybody Loves Raymond,” followed by Frankie Heck on “The Middle.” Off camera during that time, she was busy being a real-life mom, raising four sons while balancing a demanding career.
Once “The Middle” wrapped in 2018, Heaton found some down time, but she also became an empty nester. With a quiet house and empty calendar, she reflected on some of the things she had placed on hold while building a family.
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“So many of us have had to make sacrifices in order to be there for our kids and to raise our kids, and they’re sacrifices that most of us have happily made,” Heaton told TODAY Parents. “We didn't want to be anywhere else. We didn't want to miss those precious moments with our children.”
In her upcoming book, “Your Second Act,” a collection of stories of reinvention, Heaton, 62, talks about how she found that being an empty nester was the perfect launch pad to jumpstart a second act by trying new things and diving deeper into her passions.
She said she started her second act by enrolling in an online screenwriting course. Since then, she's started executive producing her own show, “Carol’s Second Act,” producing movies with her husband, and doing more humanitarian work as an ambassador for World Vision.
“Being in my 60s and just starting to really produce movies from the ground up from scratch can be a little bit daunting,” she confessed.
Heaton said the coronavirus pandemic has taught her that nothing is permanent and things can be taken away in a second.
“You really need to treat your life as a very precious gift, and to use your gifts and to make the most of it,” she said. “Chase your passions and your dreams.”
Like Heaton, many women find themselves in similar situations, raising a family and putting their passions, careers or hobbies on hold. She said they are prime candidates for starting a second act, whether it’s jumping back into the work force, volunteering or finding a creative outlet.
“I'll tell you, moms are the first people you should hire because they're able to get stuff done,” she said. “It's amazing all the stuff you learned as a parent that can be used to make that next phase of your life super interesting and fulfilling.”
Heaton shared five tips for people who are looking to navigate a second act, whether by choice or change in circumstance.
1. Find your passion.
“I think what this pandemic has done is afforded anyone an opportunity to take a step back and look at how they've been living their life,” she said. If you’ve been contemplating your happiness or the trajectory of your life, it might be time to make a change or find something that inspires you. Heaton recommends volunteering in areas that interest you to see if it’s something you want to pursue more wholeheartedly. “There’s always need in the community so you can kind of test out where your passions lie by volunteering.”
2. Take baby steps.
Heaton emphasizes in her book that people don’t have to have everything all figured out before starting a second act. The important part is to get started, and take one baby step at a time. In addition to volunteering, Heaton recommends exploring passions or interests further through educational means.
“There’s every kind of class online and some you can get accredited for because they’re taught by a university,” she said. She also recommended listening to podcasts about topics of interest during your spare time. “That can give you a lot of insight into what steps you might need to take to start on your second act.”
3. Push ahead, even if you're afraid.
Heaton knows that taking the first step in a new direction can be the most challenging and scary part for some people. “I think you have to kind of look at it like what is the worst thing that could happen if you tried something new? Maybe you told someone you were going to try to accomplish something and you didn’t make it. Like, how bad is that?”
The actress said she believes most people would rally around someone who is starting down a new path.
“I think people admire someone who is attempting to change,” she said. “So I think there’s really no fear to be had.”
4. Hold yourself accountable.
To keep yourself on track, Heaton recommended partnering with someone who also is taking a step toward doing something new. “You can report to each other and have accountability to each other and tell each other how you’re doing and what your next steps are going to be,” she said.
5. Don’t give up.
In her book, Heaton describes auditioning for more than a decade and struggling to land roles while working office jobs and enduring hardships. No matter what went wrong, she refused to give up.
“I got close to getting completely beaten down,” she said. “I had the experience when I was young of my mother dying pretty suddenly when I was 12, so I think that early experience taught me that life is short, you don’t know how long you have, and so you need to go for it.”
Heaton stressed that it’s never too late — or too early — to go after your dreams: “Use whatever you are able to create and to continue to learn and grow as a human being and hopefully be contributing something to the world and leaving it a better place than when you found it.”