Your Guide to Thriving After a Big Life Change

This article was originally published in Men’s Health, on March 31, 2022.

THE STANFORD CENTER on Longevity recently published the New Map of Life, which suggests that half of today’s five-year-olds can expect to live to be 100. One hundred.

If you’re 45, and healthy, and make smart choices, you could live to 90. That means you may have multiple careers, lifestyles, and relationships. It also means that everything you know from the first half of your life might undergo a monumental change. Reinvention may sound daunting, but it’s also a massive opportunity.

Laura L. Carstensen, Ph.D., the director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, told me that the hardest time to grapple with aging is in your 40s and 50s. “The tendency for many is to hold on ever tighter to youth,” she says. “It’s great to practice good health habits. However, doing so to age well is a better mindset than doing so to stay young.”

The topic of the “new longevity” has intrigued me, as I have always pushed my own boundaries of what is possible as I’ve aged. It led me to write a book last year called ROAR—an acronym for the four-step process to “Reimagine, Own Who You Are, Act on Your Plan, and Reassess Your Relationships” into the second half of your life.

My own reimagining started at 39, when I had the epiphany that all I was doing was working. My identity was tied up in what I did for a living versus who I was as a person. On a flight home from a business trip, I decided to tap into my adventure self, identifying what really excited me. I resolved to take a flying lesson (a boyhood dream) and planned a trip to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro (inspired by Hemingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro).

Those experiences motivated me to develop an action plan called life layering, a concept that allows each of us to create a multileveled identity that is separate from work, partnership, or parenthood. It’s something anyone can start at any time in their life to enhance their existence. The question is: Who do you want to become? If you don’t know where to start with life layering, go back to your younger self and pick up the thread on a passion that you left behind. Here are mine.

Learn Something New

During my first flying lesson in a propeller–powered Cessna 172, the instructor stalled the plane over the Atlantic, later telling me that he wanted to watch my reaction to see if I panicked. Somehow I didn’t. I remembered his advice to stay calm and followed his step-by-step instructions. I’ve had some scary moments in the air, but “stay calm” is my mantra. Learning to fly includes a written test, a one-on-one with an FAA pilot examiner, and a check ride, when you show your skills as a pilot. It took two years, but mastering something completely new has given me greater confidence and self-esteem. When I’m alone at 3,000 feet, I have a sense of freedom from the everyday stress that’s on the ground.

Build Creative Muscle

I didn’t take photography seriously until my early 40s, when I bought a fancy Nikon D50 digital SLR. My goal was to chronicle my adventure trips, capturing landscapes, people, and monuments. After I amassed a body of work (and trashed lots of images), a friend convinced me to have a photography show. I had plenty of self-doubt and felt vulnerable, but I went ahead anyway. The thing about photography—or any creative effort—is that you gain from sharing it with other people and seeing what touches their emotions. When I look back at my early photos, I’m not thrilled with a lot of them. But I’ve been able to watch my own creative journey. This layer is about picking something that you love and spending time becoming better and better at it. Creativity has no endgame. Enjoy the process.

Do a Wild Fitness Challenge

In my mid-50s, my sister challenged me to run a marathon with her. I thought maybe I had one more in me. (I’d run in my 20s and 30s but then stopped.) We chose London. At a party, we met a guy who had run marathons on all seven continents, and something clicked in me: Why stop at London? My new goal was to run at least one continent a year over seven years, including the Antarctic marathon, a flat, freezing grind, and the mountain marathon in Mongolia, which was the most challenging because of all the uphill segments. Pushing through even when my lungs were screaming taught me that I could endure more than I thought. I also realized that I had so many self-limitations with regard to my own body and fitness. That’s made me more open to trying other kinds of exercise, like climbing and hiking.

Rev Your Brain

After a successful 40-year career as a publisher, I wanted a deeper dive into giving back in my 60s. I discovered a master’s program in nonprofit management at Columbia University with a curriculum that emphasized ways to make an impact. Studying for tests, writing papers, and being a student again was hard at first, but I kept my focus. When I finished the program in 2021, it made me realize that our brains have enormous capacity for expansion and it’s important to constantly acquire skills and knowledge. Being a student every day nurtures growth. I’ve been putting this to work by serving on multiple nonprofit boards in areas that interest me, like photography and higher education, and starting a foundation with some friends with a commitment to random acts of kindness for people in need.

ROAR into the second half of your life (before it's too late)

Meet the Author

Michael Clinton is a best-selling author, new longevity expert, thought leader, and keynote speaker on the changing face of what it means to live longer. He is also a writer-at-large for Esquire, and regular columnist for Men’s Health. A former president and publishing director of Hearst Magazines, he now serves as the special media advisor to the Hearst Corporation’s CEO.

He is also a photographer, has traveled through 124 countries, has run marathons on 7 continents, has started a nonprofit foundation, is a private pilot, is a part owner of a vineyard in Argentina, holds two master’s degrees, and still has a long list of life experiences that he plans to tackle.