Emory Report
June 6, 2005
Volume 57, Number 32


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June 6, 2005
Second act, second wind

carol gee is an editor in the area of organization & management in goizueta business school

Some people discover their passion early in life and devote their entire being to following their heart’s desire. For others, a dream can be a harsh mistress—seductive in its desire, elusive in the pursuit. Still others wait until much later in life to realize their dreams. I am one of those people.

Growing up, people always told me I would make a great teacher. “Because you speak so well,” they used to say. “Because you have such a way with words,” others declared. While I imagined writing the great American novel, my mother and the other women in my village saw me in a classroom, chalk in hand poised over a blackboard. Also fueling this idea was the fact that, when I was growing up, teaching was one the few career choices available to women.

I wrote sporadically. Stories to teach my younger sister to read. Clearly a savant, she could add large sums in her head but had problems reading See Dick Run and Green Eggs and Ham. While my road to life veered off in several directions, I always knew someday I would be a writer. It was in my blood.

As I got older, I wrote poems to vent my frustration as a single woman. Two pieces, Ode to That Lying Scum, and Swinging from Chandeliers: Does the Warranty Cover This? came about as I too once waded in the pools of relationship dysfunctionalism and walked in the pumps of the lovelorn before finding my own Mr. Right. Purely cathartic, these poems did not garner any awards. Go figure. I wrote short stories to entertain my kindergartners as a substitute teacher in places as close as South Carolina or as far away as the lush, jungles of Panama.

Joining the Air Force at age 20 forged a career of more than 20 years that included serving on active duty and in the Reserves. My reward included an honorable discharge, an American flag and paid tuition for bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Though not before I had spent six weeks on my knees in basic training, cleaning grout from restroom tiles with a toothbrush. Or before getting up ‘close and personal’ with a herd of buffalo on the roam in South Dakota, and praying that I would find my way out of Custer State Park before the deer and the antelope also decided to come out and play.

With undergraduate degrees in sociology and psychology, complemented by a graduate degree in human relations, I did a brief stint as a counselor in a mental health clinic in South Carolina, followed by instructor and administrative positions at universities in the United States and abroad. Yet it took a big, big, big birthday staring me in the face (along with that one chin hair that persisted in growing back even after yanking with industrial-strength tweezers) to catapult me into finally following my dream.

Like me, baby boomers pushing 50 all over the country are getting their second wind and entering second, even third careers. A fickle economy has forced many out of one job and into others, often in occupations foreign to their expertise or interest. While finances are a concern for many, so is quality of life; former hard-core career men and women are hanging up their power suits and starting over by establishing new businesses and new interests—things like writing memoirs gained from life experiences or spiritual journeys.

Termed “serial careerists,” having retired several times over, many are assessing which skills can be parlayed into yet another career. Seeking jobs with lower stress and flexible hours, many have found that consulting is one way to use job experiences they already possess. The common denominator is finding work they enjoy.

Recently while lunching with friends—all of us fairly close in age and within a few years of retiring from our current jobs—the question arose about what we wanted to do when that day dawned. One, a physician, said she would love to make medical documentaries. The lone male in our group, a scientist, wants to do woodworking. For my own second wind, I foresee writing a best seller. Some of my earlier work is still enjoying a long-term love affair with a couple of dust bunnies in a desk drawer in my home office. I have vowed to break up this relationship, rewrite a few and see what happens.

Still, who would have thought following career choices that have included wearing combat boots and camouflage, facilitating group therapy sessions, and spending a lifetime in higher education, a person would find success writing about unfriendly foundation garments, husbands behaving badly, and other tales of women’s woe? This realization debuted with the release of my first book a short time ago, The Venus Chronicles, a little handbook written to empower women (and men) to laugh at everyday challenges.

My journey continues with my position as editor in Goizueta Business School, with my newly found career as a freelance writer, and with the recent release of a second book, Diary of a ‘Flygirl’ Wannabe (Life Lessons of a Cool Girl in Training).

Stories I once wrote in my head now practically write themselves down on paper. Recording the roads I have taken over the years has kept me from dwelling on those not taken. Throughout the many twists and turns in my life, I’ve finally done it. I’ve become a writer. By exploring a multitude of experiences and dabbling in varied occupations and interests—and the lessons I have learned from each and every experience—I continue to find my inspiration from everyday living.

Along the way I have garnered a few pearls of wisdom I’d like to share. The first, and perhaps most obvious is: (1) start with baby steps. I began by writing a column humorously addressing a day-in-the-life of the modern woman; (2) stop thinking “you are what you do.” Truly this is the beginning of wisdom; (3) Listen to your own heart instead of the counsel of family and friends. No matter how much they love us, they usually can’t see us beyond our current reality.

Listening to your heart allows you to see opportunities you may have been blind to before. When we honor
our dreams and passions, we honor the best of our souls. Not until we tap into our
inner voice can our true song be sung.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “There are no second acts in American lives.” People my age and older are dispelling this notion daily by reinventing themselves, proving that American lives do have second acts. In my opinion, all great productions do.