April 30th, 2021

I started my podcast, Third Act, six months ago to highlight stories of how both men and women pursue their time, treasure, and talent after they retire from their big careers (their “second act”). But really, the podcast has been more for me to figure out what I want to do in my own third act.

Before I retired, I struggled to visualize how this phase in my life would actually take shape. My career as Senior Managing Director for Accenture was built on long workweeks, traveling the world, leading global teams, and guiding clients on digital transformation. How does an executive and extrovert like me slow down or stop after all the going, going, going? 

I spent 18 months in self-discovery mode, looking for answers. I even turned to self-help books and retirement guidebooks, but I quickly realized none were speaking to me — or the many other women who are like me. In fact, I realized retirement books aren’t written for successful women executives. For us, it’s not about stopping; it’s about shifting, re-prioritizing, giving. 

Through my podcast, I’ve come to understand that I am far from alone in my desire to lean into new ambitions and big goals in the third act of my life. Here, I share what else I learned.

What you loved as a young person, you love as an older person

There’s undeniable honesty to be discovered when you reflect on your younger self. 

  • Kim Alexis Newton learned to quilt from her grandmother in her early 20s. After a long and successful detour as a corporate executive at Hallmark, she’s back to quilting today, and building both a fine art and commercially scaled business around it. 
  • Steve Wilcox’s mother often invited strangers to their Christmas dinner, providing food, love, and gifts. Today, Steve and his wife have a family foundation with their three sons to give back to the causes they care about. 
  • Jamie Hunt learned to love Italian Amaro drinking it with her Sicilian grandparents; today she’s blending it. 
  • Chantal Breyfogle’s lifelong love of cooking and entertaining helped her launch a “Dine out for Komen” dinner to raise money for breast cancer awareness, helping to raise over $450,000. 

If you’re looking for inspiration for your third act, look no further than what you loved in your early years. There’s honesty in the joys of your childhood. 

Self-directed people stay self-directed

Perhaps this is not an insight to anyone other than me, who’s been known to sleep in a few times since retiring, but many of my guests pivoted to completely new ventures without losing a beat. The confidence they gained in their second acts propelled them forward in their third. 

  • Kate Isler stepped out of the corporate world to found two businesses focused on gender parity and write a memoir of her life. And at her current course and speed, there will no doubt be Part 2 in her future!
  • Judy Spitz parlayed her post-Verizon CIO gig of launching a girls in tech initiative in NYC to a national program, Breakthrough Tech, funded by Pivotal Ventures, that she now leads. 
  • Heather Redman, distraught at her then 15-year-old daughter’s observation that she’s perhaps playing “too much tennis”, decided that she was going to get more involved in the community and women in tech. Within a few years she’s running her own VC to fund women entrepreneurs, and she’s running the Business Chamber of Commerce for the City of Seattle. 
  • Anne Devereux-Mills moved to San Francisco later after her kids left for college, knowing no one other than her new husband. She invited a few acquaintances over for wine and conversation. That group formed the basis for Parley House, now a 10,000 strong global network of women. Lifelong doers move fast and take decisive and fearless action. 

“Solo” women pull up other women

Most of the female guests on the show, including myself, had very few women mentors or colleagues during their careers. All those women are now involved in helping advance the careers of a younger generation of women. 

  • Carol Schrader started her career at John Deere in Rock Island, IL, rarely seeing a woman. While she eventually moved to Silicon Valley, she was still the solo woman in the C-Suite or CEO in a field of men. Today, she is advising women-led start-ups through her work with Astia Angels. 
  • Nancy Evans and her female co-founder of iVillage raised tens of millions of dollars in a room full of men asking why women would want to use the internet. Today, she’s telling stories of current and historical women founders and leaders on her Confab Podcast. 
  • Anne Devereux-Mills, the lone women doing media company turnarounds in NY in the 90’s and 00’s, is leveraging what she learned as a business leader to mentor high-potential young women from worn-torn countries.

Third Acters seek to fill the gaps for the next generation, paying forward their success. 

Your voice will make a difference

I loved the stories of guests who found their voice in their third act and are now using it to make a difference. 

  • Michelle Bettencourt, formerly Anthony Bettencourt, is speaking up for transgender rights, but also continuing her role as a businessperson, mentoring women looking for board seats. 
  • Angela Jones, who described her voice as going from “aggressive aggressive” to “strategically aggressive” advocates across systems and institutions in Washington State for equity in STEM education. 
  • Bev Tarulli took her learnings around talent management coupled with analytics to launch a program on human capital and human capital analytics at NYU. 
  • Chantal Breyfogle found her tribe at the Susan Komen Foundation in San Diego, becoming a board member and leading fundraiser.

These women have spent their careers building influence, allowing them to extend their impact in their third act.

Bring the family along

Jeannie Diefenderfer fondly referred to her family as “the unit” — her husband, son, and daughter, and unfortunately, we both reflected on how often during our second act that they came second or third. The good news is that both of our units stayed with us, and with many of my guests, they are now more involved. Jeannie’s unit is involved in decisions around what she does next so as not to take away from family time. 

Andre Hughes’ wife, Sabrina, is part of his philanthropy, Powered by Action, and she often reminds him of his purpose, saying, when he gets too involved in other projects, “Andre, that’s not where you’re supposed to be focused. No detours.” 

Chris Peterson stepped away from football to better balance his personal scoreboard with his professional scoreboard, now spending more time with his wife and two sons. And, as mentioned earlier, Steve and Peg Wilcox set up a family foundation with their three sons to engage them in their philanthropy. 

Second acts and third acts come and go — but your family stays with you. 

My own third act

As for my own third act, my podcast is just the beginning. The second season launches June 1. My husband and I will be getting involved in a Seattle-based foundation we’re both equally passionate about. We’ll serve on the board of directors and combine our skills (mine strategic, his in legal and finance) to make a real difference in our community. Involving my husband in my third act is an intentional decision to bring my person, or unit, along. My second act was all me; I want my third act to be our third act.

I also know this: the show doesn’t have to end after act three. Your life can have a fourth and a fifth and a sixth act. Life is ever-evolving and about moving forward. My podcast guest Nancy Evans frames it beautifully when she said, “I want to be as many things as my life will allow.”

Me too, Nancy. Me too. 



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