Jane Pauley tackles reinvention

August 16, 2011

SecondAct contributor Kerry Hannon is a Contributing Editor for U.S. News & World Report and the author of “Whats Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job”. This article originally appeared here. —

Jane Pauley, the former star of The Today Show and Dateline is back. Last year, the 60-year-old newscaster returned home to NBC’s Today, launching a monthly segment called Your Life Calling with Jane Pauley.

The series profiles people over 50 who reinvent themselves, their lives and their careers. “We’re going to live longer than our parents’ generation, and there comes a point when you ask yourself, ‘What am I going do?'” Pauley says. “You can only play so much golf.”

In her mid-50s, Pauley asked herself that same question. She wasn’t hitting the links, but she was missing in action for a few years after NBC cancelled her daytime talk show, The Jane Pauley Show, in March of 2005 after one season. “It felt like failure,” she says. For the first time in her life, she was unemployed. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next.”

But like many of those she profiles, Pauley has found a way to redeploy her skills to tell the stories of her peers, who are discovering their next chapter. “After the daytime show, I presumed TV was behind me and wasn’t looking for a television job when I had The Today Show/YLC epiphany in a hotel room two years ago,” she says.

“Your Life Calling is the first thing in my long career I’ve ever actually invented. It is my entrepreneurial debut.”

The show, sponsored by AARP, has been a successful one at that; she was invited back for a second season and in May began hosting a companion call-in internet radio program, “Ask Jane.”

In an interview with SecondAct, Jane Pauley talks about her new series and her own process of self-discovery.

SA: How is this series a change for you?
JP: I’m my own boss. I have great partners — my AARP team of filmmakers and producers are top-notch. We collaborate. I don’t get assignments.

SA: Are you following your passion?
JP: I envy people with dreams and passions, but I don’t think that way. I still don’t have a ‘bliss’ to follow. For people like me — I suspect that’s most people — holding out for a ‘dream’ or a ‘passion’ is paralyzing. I just like having work I enjoy that feels meaningful. That’s hard enough…but it’s enough.

SA: But there has to be more to it — something that keeps you working at an age when you could surely retire quite comfortably.
JP: I’ve come to recognize what I call my ‘inside interests.’ Telling stories. And helping people tell their stories is a sort of interpersonal gardening. My work at NBC News was to report the news, but in hindsight, I often tried to look for some insight to share that might spark a moment of recognition in a viewer. It was probably what kept me interested in my work. That’s what this new series lets me do all the time. YLC sows seeds of inspiration — by seeing the choices others are making — a person might see themselves in such a scenario and see what it takes to get there.

SA: How do you identify with the career changers you profile?
JP: Like many career changers, I hit a roadblock with my career. It’s the unmarked intersection, where there is no signpost that says ‘turn here’ or ‘your destination is on the right.’ Before 50, my life, like many of theirs, was a progression from choices made often by others, or for the sake of others. The post-50 transition for many of us is the first we’ve made for our own sakes, and we literally feel a little lost. Finding your way beyond this roadblock is the hardest part. The prospect of living a life you create yourself is pretty appealing.

SA: What pushed you to get to the other side?
JP: Yearning. It’s actually a common theme I’ve found in the career changers I interview, too. We’re just yearning for something more. I recently met a woman who said she felt like she’d outgrown her life. Her life was too small, and she yearned for more. I was just the opposite. After nearly three decades in television, I felt like my life was too BIG. I yearned for more control over my own life, freedom, time to be creative, but I sensed that more might look like less.

SA: What have you discovered about yourself in the process of doing this show?
JP: In the first part of my career, I came to everything with resistance. I don’t anymore That’s because I choose the stories I want to tell. I tell them for reasons that are important to me, and I’m eager to get on the plane and go. All journalists are storytellers, but it took me this long to recognize the kind of people stories I tell best and like telling most.

SA: What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to people who are thinking of changing their lives?
JP: Reinvention is about trial and error. Mistakes are how we learn.

Bio: Jane Pauley

Hometown: Indianapolis, Indiana; now lives in NYC
Education: B.A. in political science from Indiana University
Personal: Married to Doonesbury cartoonist Gary Trudeau; three grown children, twins Rachel and Ross and son Thomas
Career highlights: Broadcaster for NBC’s Today Show (1976-1989); co-host of Dateline (1992-2003); and host of The Jane Pauley Show (2005)
Books: “Skywriting: A Life Out of the Blue” (2004)

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I really appreciate Ms. Pauley’s comment:

“I envy people with dreams and passions, but I don’t think that way. I still don’t have a ‘bliss’ to follow. For people like me — I suspect that’s most people — holding out for a ‘dream’ or a ‘passion’ is paralyzing. I just like having work I enjoy that feels meaningful. That’s hard enough…but it’s enough.”

I think there is a LOT of truth in it. If one can do what they love that is great, but it is just as important to try to love what you do, whatever it is.

Posted by JeffWild | Report as abusive

Jane, In one question above, you say you envy people who follow their passion. Then in the next, you describe yours! I know from my own experience that for many people, a passion cannot always be seen when you are in the middle of it.

When I turned 50, I was struggling with the same issues. I started watching myself and noting when I felt happy and I discovered that my favorite thing to do was cook. I also decided I was a Jack of all Trades, Master of none. So at 53 I decided to become excellent at something. I went back to school – against my husband’s wishes – to culinary school. It’s a long story, but one thing lead to another and I am now an Executive Chef for a small company and having the time of my life. I just kept putting one choice in front of the other until one day I realized I was having a blast! You are doing that too,whether you realize it or not and I think now you have really found your niche. Keep up the good work. We love you out here! :) Chef Lynn

Posted by cheflynn | Report as abusive