Launching an Age-inappropriate Second Career

Launching an Age-inappropriate Second Career

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In my recurring nightmare, I am surrounded by Laker girls. Not the actual pro cheerleaders, mind you, but their perky, fresh-faced doppelgangers. These women are mid-20something, and I am painfully aware that I’m old enough to be their mother. I feel their eyes on me, questioning, doubting, wondering why I’m there. “She must not know this is a fitness certification,” they whisper to each other, “Or maybe she’s lost.”

I had many versions of this mortifying dream as I prepped for that training day at L.A.'s Downtown Athletic Club. I’d studied all the anatomy and physiology, calculated resting heart rates and musical beats per minute, memorized the physician’s oath-style mission -- First, do no harm! – and practiced a million exercise progressions and modifications. I was rip-roaring ready to become a bona-fide fitness instructor, in so many ways.

But there’s nothing I could do to whip that DOB into shape. It’s the one thing I couldn’t whittle, couldn’t remake, couldn’t muscle and couldn’t outrun.

That was nearly a decade ago, but I think of it often. Looking back, I know that if I’d walked into my version of a Millennial horror show (sorry, kids), I might’ve turned tail and run. I’m glad I soldiered on, and I have some advice to share, below, for launching your own reinvention.

Second careers are becoming de rigeur these days. We live in a gig economy, and many of us, whether we’re contract workers, consultants, freelancers or full-time employees, have developed at least a few side hustles. It may be interest or necessity that propels us. It was a combination of both for me.

Yet I knew from the outset it might seem like a curious choice to become a group exercise instructor. I was no spring chick – I’d already turned 40. Wasn’t that well past the age of usefulness, according to that Amy Schumer skit and, almost certainly, the world of fitness? I didn’t plan to Prancercise, after all. I wanted to go fairly hardcore.


And this was unfamiliar terrain, since my career had always focused solely on daily journalism. I’ve been a reporter since I was a true young ‘un, and it’s been my official day job since the late ‘80s, most recently writing for Adweek, Mashable and the L.A. Times.

Whether it made sense to anyone else or not, I wanted to build a fitness resume. But could I do it? That’s the question that really lit a fire under me. Could I tackle a completely new challenge and come out of it somehow improved, either physically or psychologically? Could I mop up the floor with guys and gals half my age? And equally important, could I start getting paid to show up at the gym?

Luckily, the group of would-be fitness teachers I found myself in nearly 10 years ago was much more diverse than I’d expected (all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, ages). So I didn’t chicken out. I landed that Aerobics and Fitness Association of America certification, and immediately started teaching steadily at public and corporate gyms around my Burbank home base. I’ve since added several more specialty certifications and launched private training, weekend boot camps and Internet videos.


Fitness has opened up a whole new enriching, fulfilling and healthy world for me, one that I’d never planned.

So in the spirit of old dogs mastering new tricks, I’m encouraging you to do the same. And I hope you’ll consider taking on something that might be deemed age-inappropriate, whether it’s a physical or creative pursuit. If you do, here are my top three tips for forging your 50-is-the-new-30 path.

Be a proud geezer. You’re an elder statesman in your chosen profession, but you may not have a lick of experience in this new venture. That doesn’t mean you should apologize, ever, for your late start.

You’ll likely hear comments from well-meaning (but lame) friends such as: “Yeah, I did that in college.” Try not to slap those people with your cane. You didn’t do it in college. You’re doing it now. And chances are you’ll bring qualities to the field, at this point in your life, that no one else does. And just by showing up and giving it a shot, you could inspire and motivate others.

Grow a thick(er) skin. When I initially told people in the late 2000s that I was becoming a fitness instructor, they’d say: “What are you teaching?” And then immediately, “Yoga?”

They were assuming a few things: that yoga is organized napping (it’s not), and it’s a practice that would befit someone of my advanced age and decrepitude. (As I mentioned, I was headed for beast mode). Or maybe some snarky folks figured I was having a midlife crisis of the “Eat, Pray, Love” variety. (Good God, no).

Haters gonna hate, so brace yourself. They might simply be surprised or, worse, jealous or threatened by your new stand-up comedy obsession. Tune it out, and shake it off. And have a few snappy comebacks ready for the hecklers, even if they turn out to be your relatives.

Don’t half-ass it, which is not the same thing as going all in. Continue to spin those plates and/or keep your day job while you’re vying to be a contestant on Chopped. You don’t know where this pursuit will lead, so I’m not advising a 24/7 commitment, not right away. That could come later.

But give yourself a real chance to dig in, latch on and learn as much as you can. Be serious without being impractical. How else will you know if this gig truly suits you? If it does, you’ll be laying a foundation that will be invaluable to you in the future.

On the other hand, what if it turns out to be a glorified hobby? Make room for that in your thinking, and don’t be afraid to admit that it’s not your destiny. Either way, you will have learned a great deal about yourself, picked up a new skill and perhaps shattered some stereotypes along the way.

As for me, I can't imagine a schedule that wasn't anchored by my sweat sessions and loyal students. There's the endorphin release, plus the tremendous sense of joy and reward. This job can't turn back the clock, but it's keeping me interested and energized. I'm not thrilled about staring down another birthday (ugh -- right around the corner) but I'm happy knowing how I'll spend it. Can you guess?


Top Photo by Becca Matimba

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