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Becoming a Beginner Again at Midlife: Reinvention Secrets

After a job layoff, Dawn Raffel did something scary: She went back to square one and learned a whole new profession. Here’s how it unfolded.

Editor’s Note: As a complement to our Reinvention Essay contest, we are running stories about reinvention to encourage and inspire you. Dawn Raffel writes here about beginning again at a new career after working a successful writer and editor for decades. Dawn happens to be one of our judges for the Reinvention Essay contest. We can’t wait to hear your story of reinvention–one that you’ve already accomplished, one that you’re in the middle of, or one that you’re longing to do. 


They say your brain isn’t fully developed until at least 25—yet almost everyone is pressured to pick a path towards a lifelong career while we are still teenagers. Is it any wonder that people start having a midlife crisis and are desperate for a career change after 50?

In the middle of the journey of my own life, I found myself  not exactly astray in Dante’s dark woods, but nevertheless alarmingly far from my natural habitat. To state this in simpler terms: I ended up in yoga-teacher training, and wasn’t exactly sure how the hell I got there.

I thought I knew myself. For starters, I was a life-of-the-mind kind of gal, in part through choice and in equal part—if we’re being honest—by process of elimination. Forever the person picked last for any athletic team, I’d never spent much time in any kind of exercise studio. Remember aerobic dance class, back in the leotard/leg warmer day? While every other Material Girl was blissfully bouncing starboard, I was the one tripping cluelessly left.

Read More: How An Article About Extreme Plastic Surgery Turned Into the Hit TV Show Younger

Staking Out My Turf

career change after 50

Here’s another fact about myself: I deplore ineptitude, especially my own. So I staked out my competence zone, behind a desk, in wait for the next promotion. The only thing requiring coordination was the act of schedule-juggling.  

Like most people who’ve reached a certain presumably wise age, I had a mental list of things never to do again—buy $90 moisturizer expecting it to rival a facelift; wear an itty-bitty bikini (hats and cover-ups off to any readers still rocking it!); eat anything with tentacles. Oh, and do yoga. Nope. Did that. When I was young, before there were any cute Lululemon outfits, I practiced sun salutations untiI I drifted away. I tried again when buzzy new yoga studios began to set out their shingles. This time I quit in frustration, unable to hold my own in a roomful of fitter, more flexible people, and disinclined to tolerate the intractable fact that I sucked. Au revoir, doggie.

By now, increasing numbers of midlifers were finding their om, but there is something in me that refuses to go with the flow. I am a woman who will never own The Five Essential Pieces Every Woman Should Have in Her Closet. I am the literary chick who has not read the book that’s been squatting atop the bestseller list. If everyone else is ordering chamomile, I will have espresso. Double shot. And damned if I would be trotting off to yoga with the hot flash posse. Instead I tried kickboxing and broke my foot—not even respectably at the gym, but by tripping on stairs after class. Cute.

My Post-Pink-Slip Perspective

Then I lost my job. Having survived restructuring bloodbaths for decades, this was a first for me. In the outplacement office (Jeez, could they rebrand that? I mean, even Department of Human Recycling would be better), it would’ve been hard not to notice that most of my fellow travelers on the outplacement highway were, like me, in their fifties. Yes, there was one peppy thirtyish woman in our group meetings; she found a job within weeks. The rest of us, nada. Much of our conversation centered on blurring the years in our LinkedIn profiles, managing dropdown menus in job applications that vanished into the ether and navigating the landmine mandate to state our “desired” salary. (As John Prine nasally sang, “If wishes were commercials, we’d all be on TV.” But I digress.) Clearly, something was going to have to change, and it was not going to be the world around me. Huh.

Another thing I had thought I would never do again was be a beginner.

Another thing I had thought I would never do again was be a beginner—in fact, I’d become depressed at one point in my late thirties, feeling that all the important “firsts” in life were done. But I was mistaken: Now I opened an editorial business from home, having never before so much as created a spreadsheet—expenses being something you handed to your assistant, “outplacing” them, along with the mail.

One day, while contemplating another lunch alone in my kitchen, I decided to go to a midday yoga class where there would be actual IRL human beings. For once, I didn’t care whether I was the “worst” in the class—and trust me, I was. Yoga not only got me out of the house but, more importantly, out of my head, in the good, non-psychotic kind of way. The knots in my psyche loosened. Solutions to business and writing problems appeared after hanging out upside-down or criss-crossed. And a crazy idea began to take shape.

Read More: World’s Oldest Yoga Teacher Says “Inspire, Don’t Retire”

Outside My Comfort Zone, A New Idea Emerges

For years, I had taught creative writing on the side, and for as many years, I’d lamented the limits of the traditional workshop. Now it occurred to me that yoga might be the answer—or an answer. Not just yoga+journal=catharsis, but a high-bar program integrating precision (physical/linguistic), fluidity, and philosophy into the creative process, engaging more than surface emotions and intellect.

Yoga not only got me out of the house but, more importantly, out of my head.

There was just one elephant in the room. Me. To do this in the specific way I’d envisioned, I’d need to complete yoga-teacher training. It took almost six months to talk myself into it, and another six to physically prepare. Then I took a deep breath and stepped into a classroom where the lead teachers were younger than the assistants who used to answer my phone and most of the (mentally, physically) limber students were half my age, if that. I needn’t have worried so much. At every turn, I’ve been humbled by what I can and do learn from these young yogis, by their kindness and generosity, their inclusiveness and strength.

Finding a New Flexibility

I am never going to ace the physical practice. No matter how hard I try, this body has limits. My hand doesn’t touch the ground in a well-aligned (non-cheating) triangle. You will never find me “flying.” And that is surprisingly okay.

Age may be cruel, but it has allowed me to be kinder to myself.

Age may be cruel, but it has allowed me to be kinder to myself. The difference between thirty and now has less to do with ability than with the fact that I wouldn’t have stuck with a discipline where I was destined to fail. Increasingly, I find the whole concept of failure ridiculous, not only in yoga, where the body is the tip of the iceberg, but in most aspects of life. Attention, connection, and direction mean more than static and largely artificial constructs of failure and success.

I would be lying if I said that I never feel sadness when I regard my aging, imperfect body. But more often than not, I’m looking forward to discovering and rediscovering things I was certain were “not for me.” Just don’t ask me to eat squid.


Dawn Raffel’s works include a memoir, The Secret Life of Objects, which was a Wall Street Journal bestseller, a novel, and two story collections. Her latest book, The Strange Case of Dr. Couney, was published in August 2018. She served as Executive Articles Editor of O, The Oprah Magazine for seven years, and subsequently held senior-level “at- large” positions at More and Reader’s Digest. She has also taught creative writing at the MFA level and summer seminars worldwide. She currently works as an independent editor and is launching yoga/writing workshops. Find her at dawnraffel.com.

A version of this article was originally published in February 2018.

By Dawn Raffel


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