Bookshelf: Michael Clinton on living your best work-life — after 50, and why ageism is well past its prime
This article is part of the WorkLife Bookshelf series, which features interviews with authors of recently-published, notable books tackling topics relevant to future of work trends.
It’s one of today’s most visible social movements: People who are turning 50, realizing they may well live another 40 years or more, are plotting for and flourishing in the second half of their lives. This revolution is empowering people entering what used to be known as the “golden years” to start new pastimes, new relationships — and yes, whole new careers.
Michael Clinton, the longtime president and publishing director of Hearst Magazines, home of titles like Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar and Good Housekeeping, is one of those who has reinvented himself — and at the age of 68, he seems to be speeding up rather than slowing down.
The veteran publisher, author, philanthropist and marathon runner (he’s completed marathons on every continent) has more recently established himself as an expert on longevity with columns in Esquire and Men’s Health and a book titled ROAR Into the Second Half of Your Life, which explores alternatives to retirement and advice on thriving after 50. The book is a forceful argument against ageism in the culture, as expressed through imagery, words and ideas across entertainment, advertising, media and the workplace. In ROAR — an acronym that stands for “reimagine yourself, own who you are, act on what’s next for you and reassess your relationships” — he profiles 40 “Reimagineers,” new role models for each generation (millennials to Gen Xers to baby boomers) who are ignoring age-old rules and redefining their lives and careers.
WorkLife recently spoke to Clinton about what he’s learned about longevity and its impact on work and the working world.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You’ve clearly struck a chord with your books, columns and now a newsletter. What inspired you to dive into this topic?
When I was stepping out of the day-to-day [at Hearst] and I was really beginning to think about what’s next, and as I started to do research, what I saw is that everything was about winding down. And I was like, you know, this is not how I’m wired, and I’m sure there must be other people like me out there. I want to wind up, right? I want to do the next thing. Every day, 10,000 people are turning 65. One in five people in America will be 65 or older in 2030. So, there is this huge cohort of people, and many of them are the boomers — and you know, the boomers, we love to redefine everything, and we’re redefining age and living longer. As I go around the country giving talks, what I’m hearing is people saying, ‘I’m 65 — I’m going to live another 25 or 30 years if I’m healthy. I can’t play golf for 25 years.’ I interviewed people for the book who are saying, ‘I’m taking the script, I’m ripping it up, and I’m going to live a very different kind of life.’
In so many fields — science and entertainment, for example — we see people working into their seventies, eighties, even nineties. Why are there so few role models of age in the business world?
We live in an ageist culture, and there was a construct created in the business world in the ’30s and ’40s that had a required retirement age, and that really hasn’t changed. All the big accounting firms, if you’re a partner, you have to retire at 62, and there are many other companies that have those kinds of requirements. And the worst offenders are in the agency world, the creative world, the media world — they chew people up and spit them out when they’re 40. PricewaterhouseCoopers did a study that showed only 8% of corporations include age in their DEI policy. Now, age affects everybody, yet the corporate world is really behind the times with regards to aging. The business world has to go through a major reckoning on this front.
We are a culture that’s obsessed with youth. Marketers continue to chase younger demographics while virtually ignoring the older population. Is that thinking also on its way out?
We need to start marketing for stage not age. For example, you may become a new parent at 50, and if you do, you’re out of the “new parent” demographic. Or you might be getting married for the first time at 60, or you may remarry at 60. You might be an entrepreneur starting a business at 60. But when we think entrepreneur, we think 25-year-old. The industry really is behind on so many fronts, because the culture, the people, the society has moved so rapidly forward in this new way and they haven’t been able to build new models. The majority of consumers are 50-plus. They have 69% of the wealth in this country and 8 and a half trillion dollars in spending power. We read all these stats and everyone sort of nods their heads and goes, yeah, yeah, we know that, but very few are acknowledging that the youth culture construct has to be replicated for the boomer construct. We have to market to them and listen to them and, in the workplace, realize that they are going to want to work and be engaged a lot longer than their parents were.
What does a more active and productive aging population mean for the future of work as we know it?
We’re all going to be working longer — some of us for financial needs, some for intellectual needs — because we’re all going to be living longer. But we’re going to be working in different kinds of ways. The nonprofit world, for example, is hungry for people who’ve had for-profit management experience, CFOs and CEOs. I am on the board of a nonprofit that just hired a 61-year-old to run it. I think there’s going to be a lot more opportunity in the work-life sphere for people who want to continue to work and there are a lot of businesses that are being created to service this aging population. There’s a whole blossoming of businesses that will exist for the boomers of the next generations.
ROAR Into the Second Half of Your Life is published by Atria Books/BeyondWords, a division of Simon & Schuster