Baby Boomers and older Generation Xers are giving it a makeover, ignoring a woe-is-me attitude to embrace a plan of action. They're fighting through a fear of change to create a more fulfilled life.
Whether by force or choice, they're embarking on divergent new careers and going back to school. Far from biding their time until retirement, they're bolstering friendships and family ties, adopting healthier lifestyles and exploring new or long-forgotten passions.
Phoenix resident Patti Craze started soul-searching when her interior design and home-staging business slowed in 2010. So, on her 46th birthday that year, she took up a long-forgotten childhood pastime: ice-skating. Timidly lacing up for the first time in years, she once again became that tiny third-grader going round and round on a rink in her Seattle neighborhood.
Two years ago at age 61, Phoenix resident Frank Kobyleski set out on his second act. After more than 31 years as a manager at Boeing Co., traveling the world to negotiate aircraft contracts, he retired and enrolled in a motorcycle school.
He traded all those tailored suits and dark ties for jeans and the school's uniform shirt and couldn't be happier.
Patti Craze talks about taking up competitive ice skating in her 40's as she prepares for a big national competition in April.(Photo: Lynn French/Arizona Republic)
A renewed quest for fitness has left Peoria resident Karen Wooten lighter, stronger and with a happier outlook on life. The 45-year-old said she finally decided it was worth the time to care for herself.
Almost two years ago, Will Flower decided to hit the pause button. Flower, a Scottsdale res! ident, was 51 at the time and had spent more than two decades working for Fortune 500 companies in the waste-management field. He loved his job and his co-workers, but had begun to wonder, "What's next?"
He knew he didn't want to retire. And he realized he wanted to concentrate more on family and friends. So he decided to take more than a yearlong sabbatical.
Flower says taking that kind of leap in midlife means "being fearless and having confidence to take that step. There is a next chapter, and you're the one who gets to write it."
Many people in this age group reawaken to what's important in life and a chance for discovery, says Douglas Kelley,a communications professor at Arizona State University West.
"With Baby Boomers, the social norms have changed. In the past, 'change' wasn't always viewed very positively, but some of that has shifted," says Kelley, himself a Boomer. "I have wondered about how we grew up and the kind of music we listened to. The message of the time was against the establishment. We didn't want to look like our parents. ... When you don't think you'll be done by 60, it changes things."
Many Boomers grew up feeling confident and empowered, says Lisa Whitaker, an ASU lecturer who has a doctorate in sociology. "There was a feeling of security that people in later generations didn't have. I had a father who believed in me and thought I could do anything."
But as the economy headed south in the early 1990s and then again a decade later, the American Dream slipped away. Now, Boomers in their 50s and 60s are ready to shake up their lives in order to gain a sense of control and be happier, Whitaker says. "You realize your life is fragile. You can blink and lose everything. You realize, 'I don't want to go through my whole life and not have lived.'"
Not everyone who takes a U-turn arrives at a new destination successfully, though. Burned out from working in the high-tech industry, Phoenix resident Lisa Malachowsky, 52, has found only part-time wo! rk since ! becoming a registered respiratory therapist in 2012.
She says she didn't find the hot job market she read about. "Don't make a change just on a whim," she cautions. "Make it with a conscious decision about the time, money and family repercussions."
The longing to shake things up transcends gender, race, economic status and celebrity.
High-profile makeovers include journalist Jane Pauley, who has been reinventing herself since 1989 when she was replaced at NBC's Today show. She went on to co-host "Dateline" before taking a stab at her own talk show, which lasted not quite a year. Through it all, she says, her passion for others who are remaking their lives deepened. She captures many of their stories in her new book, Your Life Calling: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life.
In a telephone interview, Pauley says she has discovered that some people worry about taking that leap.
"It's far more important that we learn from trial and error. While many of us are reading books about five-step processes and tests to take in order to establish our theme and our perfect selves," time is slipping away. "We're just thinking too much. We need to get out in the world, bumping up against other people who cross our paths. And we might even be introduced to a person — ourselves — we hadn't known before."
Getting back on the ice was life-changing for Craze. Nearly four years and countless group and private lessons later, she now skates competitively with a partner, Doug Johnsen, and qualified at the bronze level in the U.S. Figure Skating adult program.
She has mastered the camel, spinning with one leg outstretched parallel to the ice surface. And the Salchow, soaring into the air off one skate, spinning once around and landing on the other skate. For drama, there's the death spin, with Johnsen holding only her right hand and wheeling her around as she balances on one skate, her stiffened body mere inches from the ice.
It's hard work for her 100-pound, 4-f! oot-9 fra! me. But she's thrilled. "Skating makes life exhilarating," she says, her face aglow as she glided recently on her skates at the Arcadia Ice Arena in east Phoenix.
After about an hour of practice with their coach, Jon Wassom, Craze and Johnsen begin gliding effortlessly to the song "Feeling Good" for a program they may perform at a championship this April in Cape Cod.
Craze spends seven to eight hours a week skating and now works part time at her business.
"Skating really lifted my spirits," she says. "I think I needed to feel invigorated again."
Kobyleski wanted to keep busy after his retirement but didn't want a 40-hour workweek. And he didn't want to work for someone else.
He thought about two activities he loved: cooking and motorcycles. The latter won out. Kobyleski, who has been riding since he was 17, dreamed of opening a small repair shop to work on Harley-Davidsons.
So he enrolled at the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in north Phoenix. Orientation day brought some trepidation. He was surrounded by mostly 20-somethings. A lot of tough guys, he thought, with piercings and tattoos. He wondered, "What have I gotten myself into?" But soon, he realized their breathing was just as shallow as his. They, too, were scared.
He hung on through the grueling, 60-week program. "It was exhausting but also a joyful thing," Kobyleski says.
"After having worked in my job on the computer all day, I was now getting to use my mind and my hands to learn about the motorcycles. It was so very different, 180 degrees from what I had been doing."
In school, Kobyleski marveled at how quickly he found satisfaction. "In the business world, some things might not come into fruition for six to eight months. Now, it can be six to eight hours."
Since graduating in May, he's been working on a few bikes and is looking around for a place to open a shop.
"Doing this keeps my mind and body occupied," he said. "I get so involved when I'm doing som! ething th! at time doesn't mean anything."
At the second-floor cardio class at the Rio Vista Recreation Center in Peoria just before 5:30 p.m. on any given Wednesday, Wooten is likely to be among the gathering crowd. She's been a regular since 2009.
She's shed about 30 pounds and dropped a couple of dress sizes. She vows to keep her weight down to help keep painful heel spurs at bay. Wooten also hopes to get off blood-pressure medication. So these days, if she makes a cream-cheese pound cake for her family, she forgoes a slice for just a nibble.
Wooten, who works in the information-technology department at the Mayo Clinic Hospital, says exercising "just puts me in a better state of mind."
She likes getting in some intense workouts, including hitting the rowing machine. Kickboxing is another favorite gym routine — especially if someone or something has been particularly frustrating. "I just hit the bag and that helps," Wooten says, grinning.
Being in her 40s feels pretty good, she says.
"I am so much more physical now than I was in my 30s," she says. "In my 30s, I was working two jobs, going to school and raising a newborn, so I didn't have time."
That newborn, Madison Burden, is now 12 and often accompanies her mom to the center for her own recreation.
Wooten urges her peers who have put off working out to get with a program.
"The end result is the best part, but you just have to stick with it,'' she says. "Once you get over the hump, it's home free."
Before taking a break from the corporate world, Flower talked it over with his wife, Kim, explaining that he saw it as an opportunity to recharge.
The couple began to make lists of where to go, what to do and when to do it.
"We wanted to use the break as an opportunity to cross off some 'bucket list' items," he says.
Their dreams became a spreadsheet, a year in the making. They hoped to visit Alaska, Ireland and France and drive across the United State! s. Plan i! n hand, Flower quit his job in May 2012. Kim took a break as a substitute teacher.
Along the way, they spent six months in Manhattan in a 400-square-foot apartment.
Flower says he made a commitment to keep a hand in his industry, speaking occasionally at seminars and writing articles about the environment. He faced few deadlines and worked at his leisure. He got to spend time with his adult children and rekindle friendships.
And the break yielded an unexpected gift: time with his mother, Margaret, before she died.
"Fate has a way of making you be at the right place at the right time," Flower says.
The Flowers planned to be away at least a year. The sabbatical lasted 18 months.
"I felt my batteries were recharged — physically, mentally and spiritually," he says.
The couple returned to the Valley last fall, and Flower decided to reconnect with the business world, accepting a job as president of a recycling company in New York.
He's not sure if he'll try another sabbatical but vows to enjoy life more. He knows most couldn't afford to pull away from a paycheck for 18 months, but says even shorter escapes can help reboot the soul.
"As I get older, there is no question in my mind that time is the most valuable commodity that we have," Flower says and laughs. "As a kid, I would hear older people say that and I would roll my eyes. Money is a great tool. But your time is what's most important."
ASU's Kelley wonders if all of the reinvention actually may be a yearning for nostalgia and an attempt to act out messages from the 1960s and '70s about how life should unfold.
Kelley's not willing to limit himself to the passing of years. "A year and a half ago, I was 55 and did a rim-to-rim hike of the Grand Canyon in a day with my son," he said. "I didn't think anything of that. Some friends would say, 'Why would you do that?' And I say, 'Why wouldn't I do that?'"