Jane Pauley reimagines life for the over-50 set
Her new book, "Your Life Calling: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life," weaves her story among tales of others.
At age 63, former Today show and
Dateline NBCco-host Jane Pauley is part of the generational juggernaut of Baby Boomers. Her new book, Your Life Calling: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life(Simon & Schuster), features inspiring tales of people who've reinvented themselves in midlife, interspersed with her own story. It's an offshoot of a regular segment she does for Today called "Life Reimagined," co-branded with AARP. Pauley, who at one point announced, "I have a cat in a Christmas tree!," spoke by phone with USA TODAY's Jocelyn McClurg.
Q. You just reunited with
Bryant Gumbel and joined Matt Lauer in co-hosting the Todayshow. How was it to be back?
A. It was a blast. We were fortunate it was not a huge news day. If it had been I might have had to work a little harder. It was a day that lent itself to reunion festivities and attitudes, and soft stories like advice to grandparents, things that weren't terribly challenging but were an opportunity to just hang out with my buddies. Bryant and I have remained very good friends all of these years, so it's not unusual for us to be together.
Q. You had your twin son and daughter appear on the show for the first time.
A. As soon as I heard that it was Matt Lauer's birthday I realized the amazing coincidence that my twins have a Dec. 30 birthday, too. Thirty years ago I was about the biggest thing in
North America and on television every day pregnant with twins and trying to tamp down the publicity over it. Which wasn't easy working with Willard Scott. I never showed photographs of them, and they never came on the show. And so yesterday (Dec. 30) on their 30th birthday they delivered Matt Lauer's birthday cake. My twins made their debut. And to top the day off, last night a ring appeared on my daughter's finger. Quite a memorable day for the family.
Q. You were always concerned for your children's privacy?
Garry (Trudeau, her husband, the
Doonesbury cartoonist) and I were very, very careful about that. I knew too many examples, anecdotally, of fame not necessarily being an advantage for the next generation. But I figured at the age of 30 I wasn't going to do too much damage with 30 seconds of showing off my kids.
Q. Your new book gives examples of people over age 50 reimagining or reinventing their lives. How are Boomers redefining retirement?
A. What many of us are looking for at the other side of retirement is more work, but a different kind of work. It's not starting up a new career necessarily, though some will. But we do want to stay productive, and some will need or desire a paycheck. Maybe we want to do it without a boss. There's a lot of research about people our age as entrepreneurs. There are many ways to define reinvention or reimagining what life post-retirement will be. I borrow a phrase from a friend of mine in my book, that retirement is no longer a door marked "exit." Think instead of a door that swings on a hinge moving you from one thing into something else.
Q. This is the first generation whose retirement could well outlast their working years. Do you think most Boomers are aware that they could face 30 or more years of retirement?
A. I think it's really dawning on everybody simultaneously. My generation is going through something en masse and there's something supportive in that. My book shows two or three dozen examples of people who have been there and done it, and I think there is something reassuring in the multiplicity of ways you can define what you want your reimagined future to look like. For example, we are different kinds of grandparents, more actively involved in the rearing and sometimes the support of our grandchildren.
Q. For lots of people, there is a yearning for something more, you write. What are they looking for?
A. I think your goals in life change. In your 20s it's the job hunt, the "I got the offer!" or maybe it's the promotion, or maybe your goal is another zero at the end of your paycheck. Our values change and the job doesn't do it anymore. What people are looking for is an opportunity to give or to do or to create something that gives you a sense of meaning.
Can the idea of reinvention be intimidating?
A. Absolutely. "Reimagined" is a far more accessible word. One of the misconceptions of reinvention is that at this time of life you think you have but one shot at it because time's a-wasting. And that's so not true. We still learn by trial and error. I'm still on television but the stories I tell are very different, and the way I tell them is very different. While I have partners, I don't have a boss (laughs), and I really like that.
Q. You've been open about having bipolar disorder. You write that "having an advocacy role has been a blessing."
A. Being diagnosed with a mental health issue when I was 50 was a rather abrupt change in my self-image. It was induced by medication I was given to treat hives. I probably had a genetic vulnerability to a mood disorder, and being exposed to mood-altering medications — steroids, to be specific — flipped that switch. I have not had a second episode of hypomania in 13 years but I take medicine every day. I have to be careful. I know that sleep and stress can be issues. I'm leaving on a big book tour with lots of travel. I am looking for how I can pace myself and do as much as I can without destabilizing myself.
Q. You write in your book: "I'm not that famous anymore." Is that OK?
A. Fame used to be something one earned after decades of achievement, exposure, expertise. And today it's happening so young for people like
Justin Bieber. I had young fame and I was uncomfortable with it because it didn't feel earned. I'm not apologetic anymore, at 63. I'm fine with it, comfortable talking about "I used to be famous" without the self-consciousness of the 33-year-old me. One of the things I don't apologize for is not having a high Q (popularity) score.
Q. What's your next act?
A. I don't know (laughs). I'm confident there will be something. When I was in my 40s I never thought that in my 50s I'd write a memoir. And when I finished Skywriting I certainly never thought that when I was in my 60s I'd have a second book. I don't think in my 70s there's going to be another book. What I do know is, the fact that I don't have a clear Plan B or a second or third or fourth act in mind doesn't mean there isn't going to be one.