The question kept nagging at me, “Bev, what are you going to do with the rest of your life?”
I was approaching the tenth year of retirement. Before me lay a stretch of luncheons, volunteer projects, and card games. I had retired from a career in marketing with a major health care publisher and had spent my first years consulting and traveling. Now my business contacts were moving on and I saw a pleasant but not terribly satisfying future ahead of me. I missed having assignments, to-do lists, and deadlines! I found myself longing for challenges; I needed the stimulation of others and the satisfaction of problem solving. With this realization came the challenging task of discovering exactly what kind of work would satisfy me and would land me a job.
Since employers were not recruiting women over 70 with my experience, I became my own recruiter. I began my job search by reading articles dedicated to launching a second career. There was nothing new there – just advice filled with clichés. For job seekers like me, the advice was threefold:
- Find your passion.
- Focus on your skills.
- Aggressively go after your dream job.
Mission accepted! It was time to create my own new work opportunity.
IDENTIFYING MY PASSION: My passion has always involved performing. My mother loved to say I never met a spotlight I didn’t like – and she was right. To satisfy that love, I had majored in drama and acted in summer stock and community theaters. Even when I entered the business arena, I continued to work in communications, sharing marketing presentations and speaking at corporate sales meetings and major conventions. I was still looking for an audience.
TAKING STOCK OF MY SKILLS: I have always enjoyed research and writing and wanted to put my English degree to use. Throughout my years in school, I had been that quirky student who relished being assigned a term paper. I had pursued graduate work in history because I was fascinated with it. That love of research and writing has served me very well.
PURSUING MY DREAM JOB: Now that I had determined my passion and noted my marketable skills, my biggest challenge became finding a paying job that combined research, writing and performing. The recruitment process didn’t yield many opportunities – it soon became evident that to create my dream job, I would have to develop a new business.
The first time I had retired, I had enjoyed attending lectures but frequently thought something was lacking. Either the presentation was lackluster or the topic wasn’t really interesting or relevant. Where was the humor? After doing some market research, I discovered there was a need for someone to offer challenging, interesting and fun lectures to established organizations. Mature adults want to continue learning. We are searching for entertainment beyond crafts and bingo. After consulting with activity directors and discovering more about the life-long learning interests of fellow seniors, I identified a business that would satisfy a need in the market and would allow me to work in a way that is more fulfilling than any job I have held in the past. I created HISTORY TALKS, a series of lectures I developed for discerning adult audiences.
My first self-imposed assignment as the sole employee of my new enterprise was to prepare a presentation on a popular 135-year-old St. Louis tradition and organization, The Veiled Prophet. My talk zeroed in on a relatively unknown civil rights component of the organization. I approached Oasis, a respected St. Louis organization for adults 55 and over, with my proposed first lecture. They agreed to include it in their catalog of events and I was in business. The first Veiled Prophet talk sold out and in the past few years I have offered it again and again. Not only was I having fun but it appeared I was onto something!
I soon realized that offering several lectures wasn’t enough to sustain my business, and I had to make others aware of what I had to offer. To create a thriving business in today’s technology-driven world was my next “learning step.” I needed to create a website and build a client base. That entailed hiring a webmaster, securing a domain name, creating a logo, and developing an internet presence. My website is a work in progress. It provides a detailed description of available presentations, shows the locations of my scheduled appearances, and notes if a presentation is open to the public (sometimes I am hired to present to a closed membership group such as an historical society or retirement community). The website also includes biographical information and audience comments from past lectures.
In the eight years since I launched my reinvention, I have gradually added presentations on a broad variety of historical topics. I now offer 37 different talks. When determining what topic I will research, write, and add to my catalog, my selection criteria are simple. The subject must hold my interest for the six weeks I invest in creating the talks. More importantly, the resulting presentation must delight the members of my audiences. If a talk bores me during development, then my most loyal audience members will likely be bored. My favorite lectures also include some surprising and hopefully humorous information – even if the topic is serious.
I now divide my 37 presentations into three types of lectures:
Individual Biographies. I bring to life such diverse luminaries as Charles Lindbergh, Harry Truman, Will Rogers, Richard Nixon, and Mark Twain.
Historical Overviews. These condensed overviews of history have also been well received; they include such studies as The Naked History of Underwear, The World’s Oldest Profession, and The Reasons Why We Do What We Do When We Say I Do: The History of Wedding Customs.
Special Intriguing Topics. This popular category covers topics that are a bit offbeat. They include Secrets of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, Medical Quackery as well as Funky Funerals and Funny Epitaphs.
These are a partial listing of the subjects available to any organization looking for a speaker.
HISTORY TALKS has given me freedom and the opportunity to develop a business the way I want to see it run. And I really like my boss. I find we agree on everything! When I launched my career reinvention process, I began cold calling and selling myself to potential clients armed only with promotional material I had developed. Today I am happy to have a list of outstanding clients including the St. Louis History Museum, Oasis, community colleges, libraries, historical societies, private organizations and clubs, senior residences, and religious groups. I am also occasionally invited to give programs out of town and out of state. I’m delighted to say that I even have a few “groupies”: loyal attendees who check the website and follow me to various locations.
I have been approached by individuals interested in buying into my business but I have declined, certain that no one else can give one of my talks the same way I do. I include personal stories and my own observations with a generous sprinkling of humorous anecdotes. The talks are unique and represent my personal take on a topic.
As a result of my reinvention, I found the answer to, “What I am going to do with the rest of my life.” Without hesitation I can say I’m going to continue to select fascinating topics, do extensive research on the subject, write challenging and entertaining lectures, and deliver them in an exciting way to a fantastic list of supporters. At 81 years of age, I plan to continue performing as long as I’m able and as long as the public supports my endeavors. After all, I owe it to my groupies! Hopefully there are plenty of talks that remain to be shared. Be sure to visit my www.historytalks.info for new opportunities.