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There’s Money to Be Made From Your Midlife Crisis
Growing industry caters to adults who seek fulfilling second acts
By Anne Tergesen, WSJ
July 31, 2023 10:00 am ET
Increased longevity is leading more people to search for meaningful pursuits in their 40s, 50s and 60s.
Americans want their midlife crisis to be more productive. This presents, for a growing number of companies, coaches and consultants, a multimillion-dollar opportunity.
Some programs are online and charge a couple hundred dollars. Others take place in exotic spots and feature luxury accommodations, yoga and surfing classes for thousands of dollars. Discounts are sometimes available.
Fueling the businesses are longer lifespans, leading more people to search for meaningful pursuits in their 40s, 50s and 60s. Some psychologists call this period a second adulthood when identity-shaping roles, from executive to full-time parent to caregiver, can fall away, causing some to re-evaluate.
“Transition is a skill we need to master in an era of increased longevity and change,” said Chip Conley, co-founder of Modern Elder Academy, or MEA, which offers online and in-person workshops.
Some studies show life satisfaction reaches a low point around the mid-40s, perhaps because of stress linked to the demands of work and family. That juggle, coupled with little time for self-reflection, leaves many people unsure how to approach their next chapter.
Instructors in midlife programs explore topics including psychological development in midlife and ageism, which can cause people to believe they are “irrelevant, over the hill, and that their best years are behind them,” said Conley.
He created MEA after working at Airbnb, where the home-sharing company’s young founders dubbed him a modern elder at age 52. The workshops aim to help participants learn to better navigate stressful transitions, including layoffs, divorce and the death of loved ones.
Space for self-reflection
Like the monthslong academic programs several universities have launched for adults nearing the end of careers, most midlife courses bring together groups of eight to 50 people.
“These programs give people the space and structure to consider not just what, but who they want to be at this stage,” said Barbara Waxman, a gerontologist who teaches at MEA.
Nadia Al Yafai, 46, said she discovered the Midlife ReThink, a $385 online program, after being laid off recently from a senior position at a U.K. insurer.
The Midlife ReThink proved transformational, she said, adding that meeting others who felt similarly unanchored comforted her.
Started in 2020 by Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, a coach and consultant who specializes in gender and generational balance in the workforce, the program consists of three 90-minute online sessions for about 25 participants.
“A lot of people suffer through transitions on their own, as if this is some terrible thing they are going through,” said Wittenberg-Cox. “Community is the key to helping people realize it’s normal and fairly predictable at this age and stage to get restless” and crave change, she said.
Al Yafai said an exercise that asked her to define what she wants from the next seven years led her to start a consulting business.
“I went from feeling a bit lost at not being part of my old world anymore to realizing there’s this new world of people doing really interesting things,” she said.
‘We still have value’
Reboot Partners, which provides workshops and coaching on career and other transitions, has organized two weekend-long retreats this year, in Santa Fe, N.M., and Sag Harbor, N.Y., for $1,895. Participants visualize their perfect life and discuss fears and motivations around change, said co-founder Jaye Smith.
Modern Elder Academy’s virtual and in-person workshops held at its campus in Mexico aim to help participants better navigate stressful transitions. PHOTO: MODERN ELDER ACADEMY
On an oceanfront campus in Mexico’s Baja California Sur, MEA teaches courses on re-creating careers, embracing midlife and optimizing longevity. It also offers weekslong online programs on transitions, purpose and reframing retirement for $395 to $1,250. It plans to open a campus in Santa Fe, N.M., next year.
Lisa Fitzpatrick said MEA, which she first attended in 2019, helped her face down barriers to success.
Dr. Fitzpatrick, 55, was launching Grapevine Health, which publishes online health information for low-income communities. She relished the opportunity to interact with Conley, a veteran entrepreneur.
The Washington, D.C., resident said an exercise to identify self-limiting beliefs helped her conquer a fear of being too old to start a business. She returned to Baja five times to attend workshops on entrepreneurship and healthcare.
For that first visit, she received a scholarship for a seven-day stay that now costs $4,000 to $5,500.
One exercise Fitzpatrick particularly enjoys involves stacking rocks on the beach. “It sounds kind of woo-woo,” she said. But the task of balancing a big rock on a small one helped her overcome mental barriers to what she could achieve. “MEA helps people in midlife realize we still have value,” she said.
Finding a purpose
Some programs explore next acts or spirituality.
Dallas-based Halftime Institute’s offerings include a two-day, $2,500 couples retreat and a $25,000 yearlong program. The latter features in-person and online sessions, as well as one-on-one coaching on relationships, health, faith and finding one’s calling.
“Not everyone who goes through it is Christian but that’s the perspective we come from,” said Co-Chief Executive Jim Stollberg. “We talk about a calling, rather than a purpose.”
For $2,500, Union Theological Seminary in New York offers a four-month Encore Transition program, with virtual sessions on topics such as spirituality in midlife and finding work with social purpose.
Consultant Carolyn Buck Luce leads a group of women through a weekslong online program called the Decade Game that costs $2,250. It challenges participants to set goals to guide their next decade in areas including education and purpose.
“It’s about being able to declare the purpose you were called to,” said Luce.