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Episode 008: Second-Act: Finding Purpose, Meaning, and Income in the Latter Half of Life

By October 17, 2019
Nancy Collamer

Our Guest: Nancy Collamer

About This Episode

Are you a Boomer planning on working after retirement? Or finding meaningful activities to fill the time?
Both, it turns out, could help to ensure positive health outcomes throughout your golden years. Plus more
fun (never forget fun). Nancy Collamer, nationally recognized retirement coach, second-act expert, and
widely published author, believes that anyone contemplating these questions must, above all, really
understand their why. Because pulling off a terrific Act Two isn’t so much about solving a cosmic mystery
as it is unlocking what you already know to create the life worthy of your best self.

5 Things You’ll Learn

  1. Listening to what works best for you – working right away, or spoiling the grandkids
  2. Keeping a focus and a routine at the heart of all you do
  3. The four kinds of second acts, all equally driven by your needs and wants
  4. Asking better questions to come up with better plans
  5. Favorite quotes to boost your attitude – which determines everything



Welcome to our podcast called Love, Longevity, where we help you to live longer better. Our host, Michael FitzPatrick, Founder and CEO of the Long Term Living Association, otherwise known as the LTLA, interviews thought leaders, innovators, and experts across the country on a variety of issues related to aging and longevity, finances, legal, legacy and philanthropy, health and wellness, relationships and family, housing and transition, caregiving, and more. The goal of the LTLA and this podcast is to change the paradigm as to how seniors and their families view and plan for aging and longevity issues. Now, join us as we welcome today’s very special guest on this episode of Love, Longevity.

Michael FitzPatrick:

Okay, welcome, everybody, to our episode of Love, Longevity podcast. We have a wonderful speaker and guest with us today, Nancy Collamer. Before we get started, Nancy, can you just make sure that you can hear me okay and I can hear you okay?

Nancy Collamer:

I hear you just fine.

Michael FitzPatrick:

I hear you just fine as well, perfect. We are very excited about this podcast topic. It seems to be hitting at the core nerve of a lot of folks that are entering into this retirement phase, those that are nearing or in retirement and thinking about their overall purpose in their life, and career, and do we want to work, not work. They have one foot in the old world of the 25 years old to 60-year-old and they have one foot in the other side of the world of retiring, or wanting to retire, or maybe not being able to retire. They’re straddling this riverbank. It’s widening and they’re just trying to figure out what’s best to do with the next phase of life.

When we go around looking for speakers and guests to interview across the country, we want to find Number One, topics that are very relevant to people as they’re dealing with core issues, and Number Two, people who are actually doing the work and have been doing it for quite some time that are considered thought leaders in their space. Nancy is certainly in that category. Before we jump into having our conversation, let me give our listeners a little backdrop about Nancy and her bio.

Nancy Collamer is a retirement coach. She’s recognized as an expert on second-act career trends; a really interesting phrase that you’ll hear more about as we embark on our discussion today. She’s a founder of mylifestylecareer.com. She’s the author of Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit from Your Passions During Semi-Retirement. She writes a monthly blog about work and purpose for the PBS site nextavenue.org and for forbes.com. Nancy is an engaging speaker who’s presented at corporations, associations, and numerous universities.

She holds an MS in career development from the College of New Rochelle and a BA in psychology from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Go tar heels. She’s also a certified retirement coach. Her advice has been featured in numerous media outlets including NBC Nightly News, The New York Times, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, Redbook, Ladies’ Home Journal, Marketwatch, and Fortune.

We have a winner on our hands here. Nancy, we’re so excited to have you with us today. I’m going to start off by just asking you to give us a little of your story. Where did you grow up? Tell us about your family life. How did you really get into this particular space, this business that you’re in now?

Nancy Collamer:

Sure, happy to do so. A little bit of personal background: grew up on Long Island. Went to college in North Carolina as you just mentioned. I’ve spent the last 30 plus years living in Connecticut.

I like to say my favorite job is that I’m the proud mom of two adult daughters. As a matter of fact, we just returned from Portland. We were out visiting one daughter who is doing a summer internship with Nike in their Sustainability department. The really big news in our family was that our older daughter got married last month. It’s been a busy time in our household.

Michael FitzPatrick:


Nancy Collamer:

Professionally, I, as you mentioned, I have a masters in career development. Spent about the first 15 years or so of my private practice actually coaching moms who wanted to work on a flexible or part-time basis. Then in 2008 is I was getting older. My friends were starting to get in their 50’s. The financial crisis happened. I began to realize that a lot of the strategies and solutions I had for the moms who were looking for flexibility would be of interest to Boomers.

That was how I made the shift. Then published the book, Second-Act Careers. Since that time, since about 2010, I’ve really focused on that population and the question of, how do you find purpose, and meaning, and income during the second half of life?

Michael FitzPatrick:

Wonderful; yeah, almost a decade now of time spent and invested with this particular audience and group of people, so you have a tremendous amount of experience to be able to share probably based on real-life personal one on one or one on many coaching experiences with just getting into the heart and souls of the issues people are dealing with internally during this transitional phase of life. Take our listeners on a little journey with you. Let’s talk about why are so many Boomers talking about working after retirement?

Just prior to that, it’s so interesting that the large source of income for retirees is Social Security, but the second largest source of income for retirees is working income which seems like an oxymoron because retirement would mean that you’re not having to go to work to generate income. Some people fall in the category of working because they want to; some fall in the category of working because they need to. Why are so many Boomers talking about working after retirement?

Nancy Collamer:

You just hit on two of the major points. First, there are an increasing number of people who will need to work because they need the income, but the bigger story is that we are simply living a lot longer than we used to. As I often say, it’s a lot of hours to fill and a lot of years to fund. People want and need to find meaningful and engaging activities to fill their time. It’s important for people to have a purpose and a meaning when they get up every day. It is partly about the income, but finding meaning, and engagement, and staying active is equally important.

Michael FitzPatrick:

What have you seen that happens to people when they don’t engage in something purposeful or meaningful in this phase of life?

Nancy Collamer:

Yeah, it’s interesting. It’s worth noting that suicide rates are actually higher, quite high for people in this age bracket because a lot of times, people just feel like they’ve lost their purpose. They’ve lost their way. They’ve lost hope. I don’t mean to get overly dramatic about this, but studies have shown that when people remain active and engaged there are good health outcomes. It just makes their lives a whole lot more fun and meaningful.

That said, people are always surprised when they hear me say this that I think if you want to take a year or two, even three years to just kick back and enjoy life, there’s nothing wrong with that. I was talking with someone the other day. She said to me, “I read all these books about what I should do in retirement and I feel so guilty about the fact that I’m not doing a whole heck of a lot right now.” My answer to that is, you know yourself best. You need to determine that.

The studies show that in general, most people need to find something after that initial honeymoon phase. It doesn’t always translate to paid work. You might get very involved with your grandchildren. You might become very engaged with volunteer work. Or you might pursue – let’s say you get involved with pursuing a new physical pursuit. You might get intrigued by the idea of training for a half marathon or doing something like that. As long as you have a focus and a routine, that’s really the critical part.

Michael FitzPatrick:

There’s two things I know you and I spoke about a little beforehand in preparation for the call. One of them was you mentioned that there’s four main categories of we’ll use the phrase second-act options. Can you define second-act because I think that might be new to some people? It might seem somewhat obvious at the surface.

Second-Act is an interesting phrase. It’s the title of your book as well. Maybe just shed light a little bit on that. Then what are the four main categories of second-act options for people?

Nancy Collamer:

Yeah, to be clear, we’re talking about second-act after retirement because, in truth, a lot of people are now on their fifth, or six, or seventh act. People tend to change careers quite a bit these days. We’re talking about doing something new, something potentially that’s a little bit different from what you did before after you leave your full-time career. It’s what I refer to as second-acts or your semi-retirement.

As you mentioned, there are – if we are to categorize those – we’re talking about millions and millions of options here, but I think the best breakdown I’ve seen of second-acts came from a Merrill Lynch age rate study that was done a couple of years ago. What they found was you can put these second-acts into four very big buckets. They’re really driven by motivations. The first is people who want to continue to do something connected to their professional life. Examples of these would be someone who continues on as a consultant, or a teacher, or an author.

The second bucket of second-acts are people who do what we call encore careers which are second-acts for the greater good. This could be somebody who goes to work for a non-profit. They might combine doing some volunteer work and some paid work. You can also be involved in an encore career in a for-profit setting. You might work for a company that let’s say has a great sustainability initiative and you get involved with that. That’s the second bucket.

The third bucket are the people who are really motivated to do something fun and different. This could be somebody who goes to work in a sports arena as an usher because they love being around sports or somebody who gets involved with doing some photography because that’s really their personal passion. The last bucket is the one where people are motivated to find a job to help pay their bills. It is less a concern about finding something that’s motivating and interesting; it’s much more about just finding a good paying job to help offset their expenses in retirement.

Michael FitzPatrick:

Those are great. If you’re interviewing people and you’re hiring folks at this stage of life, it would be great to know which of those four seems to be their motivator because they all could be – correct me if I’m wrong, but they all could be equal motivators, just at different levels for different people.

Nancy Collamer:

Absolutely; you can find ways of combining these. In fact, I’m a big fan of that. In other words, let’s say you’re somebody, your professional life you’ve been in the financial world. Let’s say you’ve been an accountant, but you really want to give back now. You might be able to go to work for a non-profit helping them with working part-time as their bookkeeper or as their accountant.

There’s lots of different ways that you can blend these things. In fact, this is a really important point, Michael, is that a lot of people do several different things during this phase of life. That’s one of the real beauties of the possibilities for second-acts is you don’t have to choose one full-time job.

You might work part-time at a store. Then you might work on writing your memoirs and you might do some volunteering at the same time. It’s what we call a portfolio career. That can be a really nice way to satisfy a lot of the different drivers that are very important to people at this point in life.

Michael FitzPatrick:

Sure; one of the things that in preparation when we were chatting and on your website a while back, you have a free downloadable document for people that I poured through as well. I found it to be very thought-provoking. You give it away for free on your website which we’ll talk about in a little bit. It was 25 questions to help people identify their ideal second-act.

In your packet, you broke down really four categories that these questions fell within. I’d love for you to just chat about some of these questions that people can ask themselves as they’re pondering, or entering into this phase, or maybe they’ve been in it for quite some time; they just haven’t had somebody or something that sparked them enough to go into motion. Maybe some of your questions in your conversation today could be that for somebody.

It seemed like there was four main categories that people can ask questions around. The first one was about values, things that they value. Then it was about their skills and experience. The other category was what strength, or gifts, or talents do they have? Then ultimately, really, what are their hopes, and their dreams, or some of the possibilities, or as you call it, what might seem impossible, but being involved with creating something new?

Share with our listeners just some of the questions some people should ask. I feel as though, and your background probably supports this wonderfully, is that people if asked better questions will come up with better answers. Your questions you came up within this downloadable document, 25 questions to help people identify their ideal second-act, share some of those.

Nancy Collamer:

Yeah, thank you for bringing this up because I am a very big believer in asking smart questions. In fact, the whole coaching world is really based around the premises that you don’t need a coach to tell you what to do; you already know what to do. What a coach can do is help you get in touch with those ideas. We’re just so close to it that it’s often very difficult for us to calm the chatter in our head and really get down to what’s most important to us.

A couple of questions that I particularly like; one of them is what are you naturally curious about? I really like that question because sometimes if you ask people what do you find interesting, they have a hard time answering that. If you say, what are you naturally curious about? What types of books do you like to read? If you’re at an airport and you’re in one of those stores where there are 200 magazines, what are you drawn towards? That can give you a sense of just what you naturally find interesting.

Another question that I really love is, what are you the go-to person for? Think about this in terms of both at work and in terms of your personal life. What are the types of problems and challenges that people tend to come to you for advice? In other words, at work, your job may be that you’re in Human Resources, but everybody comes to you for help with their technology questions. That can tell you something. If at home, people are constantly calling you and asking you for your advice with decorating, or with planning a trip, or with relationship issues, again, jot that down. It can give you a sense of where your natural gifts and talents are because oftentimes, the things that come most naturally to us that are just easy for us, which really are the gifts that you ought to be using, are the things that we have the hardest time seeing.

Finally, a third question to consider is what do you enjoy teaching others? Again, this speaks to what you’re good at, what you find interesting. Also, it points to the question of what types of problems and challenges do you like to solve. That’s really important because, at the end of the day, every company and every business that’s started is started in order to address some problem or some challenge. I give those three as examples, but again, I encourage people to go to the website because there are lots more questions for you to consider.

Michael FitzPatrick:

Oh, definitely. I’ll just add a couple of them. You ask in the very beginning, what are the big issues or causes that you find yourself consistently talking about, or reading about, or worrying about, or thinking about? There’s an old saying that, “People work hard for money, they work hard for people, but they work the hardest for a cause.”

Nancy Collamer:

Oh, I like that.

Michael FitzPatrick:

Define your cause. Then you ask who inspires you? That was a really interesting question as well because if you think about the list that is available, that might lend itself to people gravitating towards certain types of people than others. Yeah, I recommend that others go to this because there’s 25 really thought-provoking questions about your background, your gifts, your skills.

We’ll make this available on your website. I think it will be a great document for them. We can spend the whole call on just those 25 questions. What are some of the questions – or what do you think that are some simple things that people can do to jumpstart their second-act journey?

Nancy Collamer:

Yeah, certainly, I would start with the questions which is why I provide it on the website because I think it’s a way of just beginning to focus your thinking and your understanding about who you are and what’s important to you at this stage in life. Then the next thing I would say is there are lots of great resources out there that can begin to just give you ideas about what’s possible. You mentioned in my intro that I write for a site called Next Avenue, which is a PBS site for Boomers. On that site, there is a continual stream of stories about people who are pursuing all different types of second-acts.

I think when you read stories, even if the person is doing – is not doing anything connected to what you’re thinking about, there’s always a tip, or a lesson, or a takeaway from their evolution that can be applied to your story. The other thing is it’s just uplifting. It’s really helpful and inspiring to read those stories. It can begin to stimulate your own ideas. That would be the second step.

Then also, I encourage people to really understand your why. What I mean by that is work, we tend to complain a lot about our jobs. The reality is work provides our lives with lots of positive things. When people retire, those disappear. It’s not just about earning a paycheck although that’s certainly an important piece of it; it’s also about having a routine, and having a community, and having a purpose.

Also, work provides our lives with status. That can be a really important element for people. I was having a conversation with a gentleman the other day who was a physician. He said to me, “You know, Nancy, when I retire and I am no longer Dr. Stevens, then who am I?” That’s a big issue for people. If that’s something that you’re really grappling with, finding some sort of either volunteer or paid position that will help to replace that status, and it doesn’t have to be the same thing, but just something that you feel really good about that you’ll be excited about talking about it at a cocktail party is a really important thing to do.

Michael FitzPatrick:

Absolutely; I wanted to piggyback something. I read a little while back, somebody sent it to me, and I thought it was perfect for this call as we wrap up and come to the end here. I wanted to share it because it very much speaks to what you’re talking about.

It was a one-page copy that somebody sent to me in the mail. It was really about faith and productivity. It was by a gentleman by the name of Paul Marceau, who is the former Vice President for Mission and Health at Trinity Health in Michigan. He wrote about the “spirit” at work which enhances worker productivity. I’ll just read this paragraph here.

He said that “People seek work that is meaningful, that is worth their time, talents, and energy, work that is worth their self. When there’s a consonance between the mission of the organization and what employees truly value and what to do with their lives, there is, of course, great employee engagement. The work people do adds to their sense of purpose. They do not have to find this only in the areas of life outside of the workplace. If the paycheck is the only motivation, employee dissatisfaction will be high. If what I do with the major portion of my day is important only to someone else, management, the board, or stakeholders of the organization, I will feel little motivation to do it well. If the work is important to me and worthy of my best self, it will get my best self.”

Nancy Collamer:

That’s terrific.

Michael FitzPatrick:

I thought that was really well stated. It’s very much what you were saying, Nancy.

Nancy Collamer:

Yep, he definitely hit the nail on the head. Again, I want to emphasize that sometimes you can’t get everything that you’re looking for from a job. That’s where approaching this with that portfolio career or portfolio activity mindset can be incredibly useful.

Because you might have the paid job that provides you with a routine and a community. Then you do some volunteer work and that provides you with that sense of purpose and giving back. Then you might work on something that’s really personally challenging for you whether it’s perhaps you decide that you’re going to work on mastering Chinese cooking. You begin to take some classes and you find out that’s a really interesting thing to talk about at cocktail parties. Those three things together can give you a really fulfilling portfolio that will serve you very well for years to come.

Michael FitzPatrick:

Wonderful; like we said before, there’s so much to this topic, but this purpose of this podcast, what we call Love, Longevity is really to give people a snippet, a taste of something that’s good so they can live their life as an example versus a warning. That they can be a bit more empowered and maybe some little thought is sparked. Maybe they’re listening to this on a walk, or while they’re getting ready in the morning, or on the ride to – on their ride into work, or to pick up their grandkids, or somewhere.

Maybe everything that you said or a piece of what you said, Nancy, just helped them along this – their journey of self-discovery. What’s the best way – I know you have a book that’s out there that we want to offer to our listeners that’s called as we said in the beginning, Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit from Your Passions. What’s the best way that people can learn more about you or get in touch with you and get more of what you have to offer?

Nancy Collamer:

The best way is certainly to go to my website at mylifestylecareer.com. As we mentioned before, people can get the workbook for free. Then that also includes a subscription to my twice-monthly newsletter entirely free, where I highlight different second-act ideas. That’s a nice way of just getting a steady diet of second-act ideas, and advice, and resources.

Michael FitzPatrick:

Wonderful; well, you gave us one – you gave me one of your favorite quotes before the call. Do you want to share with people one of your favorite quotes that’s out there and then we’ll wrap up?

Nancy Collamer:

It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve sent it. I have several favorite quotes, so which one did I send you?

Michael FitzPatrick:

I’ll read it off to you here. You can tell us why this one really resonates with you. You said one of your favorite quotes by George Burns is, “You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.”

Nancy Collamer:

Yeah, and that is one. As I said, I have several favorite quotes. I especially like that because one of the things that I’ve learned in working with people, particularly when I do the retirement coaching, is that your attitude determines everything. There are people who I meet with who are in their 60s. They are so focused on the fact that they are growing older and all the problems associated with it. It’s very difficult for them to move forward and really see the options in front of them.

As opposed to someone who says, yeah, okay, I might have gray hair; I might have a few more pounds around my belly; my knees are a little bit more achy than they used to be, but you know what? I am at a point in life where I have tremendous wisdom and I have free time. I feel really good about what I’ve achieved. Now is the time for me to share that with the world. What’s out there? Just that shift in attitude can make an enormous difference in peoples’ happiness and in what they have to offer the world.

Michael FitzPatrick:

I couldn’t think of a better way to wrap up a call or end on a call. Anything I would say from this point forward would completely – it wouldn’t even matter after that. That was perfect.

Nancy Collamer, thank you so much for just doing what you do, for helping the people that you help, for being a good positive force in the world. Thank you so much for being our guest on our Love, Longevity podcast. Thanks, everybody, for listening. We look forward to seeing you on the next episode. Be well.