Late-blossoming new lives are everywhere. George Clooney’s imminent career transition from single Hollywood heart-throb, to wed, would-be politician is headline news. Lenny Henry’s transformation at the age of 51 from teatime telly comedian to Shakespearean lead as Othello, earned him an Outstanding Newcomer Evening Standard stage award.
For high-profile women, the pressure to come up with a new life chapter is even greater as they age. Television on-screen roles roles for women still do not have the longevity of their male counterparts.
Many female stars who dominated the small screen a decade ago now pursue ‘encore careers’ (as the Americans call it).
Former prime-time presenter Carol Smillie has reinvented herself as an underwear entrepreneur. The Nineties national television chat show host Gaby Roslin (just turned 50) now presents a London radio show. Actress Amanda Redman has moved behind the camera, becoming a first-time producer with Daybreak Pictures at 56.
Reinvention is a matter of necessity, says 61-year-old TV presenter turned mental health campaigner Ruby Wax: “Because we live so long now – we just go on and on and on and on – we have to make up these new lives.”
But making up a new life inside our own head is not enough. The mark of truly successful personal transformation is changing the perceptions others hold of us.
And whether you are a redundant quantity surveyor, or Hugh Laurie debuting as a jazz performer, personal reinvention always has five distinct stages.
Five steps to personal reinvention
1. Know when the party’s over and it’s time to move on
Grant, my highest-earning friend, has just left retail banking for charity consultancy. Earlier this year water-cooler gossip swirled around his City workplace about a rumoured, job-cutting reorganisation.
While anxious colleagues waited to see if the rumours were true, Grant upgraded his LinkedIn profile and discreetly lunched corporate donors. Today while his one-time co-workers play jobs musical chairs, as the bank’s seven departments reduce to three, Grant has a fresh start in midlife, advising leading charities.
“There’s no point discovering six months too late that the world has changed, while you’ve remained the same,” he reflects.
Listening to gut instinct is Wax’s way of sensing reinvention is on the cards: “Something I’ve always done right, is I always know when the party is going to be over. I have a good instinct, because I don’t want to be the last to go.”
Mid-life crises are akin to surviving a disaster. People who register the changed environment, take decisive action early on, and don’t waste energy on disbelief, have a better outcome.
2. Re-engineer your reputation and relaunch your personal brand
Closing the daylight gap between how you wish to be perceived, and how others are currently assessing you, is the number one secret to successful reinvention. “Personal brand is just a synonym for your reputation,” says Dorie Clark, author of Reinventing You.
Boomers have a distinct advantage over millennials when it comes to reinvention through social media. We have less stuff out in cyberspace, so reputation management is about creating new content, rather than downpaging old news .
Being late adopters means we can start creating and our online profiles and Twitter persona from a clean slate.
“Your brand is what other people say it is, and you need to take proactive control to change this,” says Clark.
To take control of what others see on Google, register a website domain with your name plus new life direction, e.g. janeblackportraitpainter.com. And create a Twitter account solely dedicated to your new pursuit.
YouTube is the second most popular search engine after Google. Uploading how-to videos and talks is another channel for affirming the reality of your new life to a wider audience.
3. New output makes your new life credible
“People extrapolate our brand from our activities and how we live,” says Clark. Actor Timothy Spall demonstrated to the outside world he was serious about painting, not just by playing JMW Turner on film, or by taking art lessons, but by exhibiting his canvases in a West End gallery. As a late entrant to the art world, Spall chose a specialist niche: “I like to paint angels in anguish.”
Entering for awards in your new field is a tried and tested way of bringing fresh talent to wider notice, says arts broadcaster Mark Lawson.
4. Clear out the old, and accept that change involves loss
This is the stage in personal development that people hope to skip. But there is no fresh start without first letting go of the old life.
As a prelude to relaunching her touring career, Alison Moyet, 53, took a sledgehammer to her Gold Discs for previous recordings, deleted her computer’s memory, and moved house to a different part of the country.
“All change involves loss,” says psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz, author of The Unexamined Life. Even success, he suggests, can make a person feel cut off from colleagues and the past.
Ruby Wax agrees: “Every time you have these one of these cathartic changes, it’s always like a death, that’s why people take to hibernation. It literally feels like you’re dying. And you are. And then you have to be born again.”
5. Connect with the ‘new you’ appreciation society
When Dolly Parton played the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, her transformation into musical icon was complete. Her appeal was no longer confined to a yeehaw country and western audience; her music was audibly appreciated by fans of all ages and musical tastes.
Wax experienced a related moment of recognition when she moved in to the corporate world to raise awareness of mental health.
Having exited television, where she was forced to audition for her own job, now she had a new audience of senior managers, hanging on her every word. “It makes makes you feel sexy again.”
Successful reinvention smiles back at you in the mirror.
For Grosz, reinvention’s high and lows are open to us all, civilian and celebrity alike: “Life itself is change. We are always giving up something for something else”.