Your first act is school, your second act is work, but have you thought about what you’re going to do in your third act? Join host Liz Tinkham, a former Accenture Senior Managing Director, as she talks to guests who are happily “pretired” – enjoying their time, treasure, and talent to pursue their purpose and passion in the third act of their life.
Inspire others to get more and to do more later in life.
Athena helps women achieve executive-level leadership expertise, polish their boardroom and executive knowledge, get closer to board seats, and make leaps in their careers.
As this week’s guest—adventure traveler, marathon runner, author, and former publisher Michael Clinton—says: “It’s not our parents’ retirement.”
After retiring from a 40+ year career in publishing (ending his corporate career as President & Publishing Director of Hearst Magazines), Michael Clinton went back to school to earn his master’s in nonprofit management and philanthropy at Columbia in New York. His new book, Roar Into the Second Half of Your Life (Before It’s Too Late), offers a playbook for how and what to do in the second half of your life.
In today’s episode, hear Michael tale—from couchsurfing while looking for his big break in NYC to completing a marathon in Antarctica at age 60. And, get inspired to live big and pursue your dreams in your own third act.
(01:59) First Act: Making a break in NYC
(03:33) Second Act: Publisher of Hearst Magazines
(05:05) The future of print & digital media
(08:26) Third Act: Redefining life after 50
(13:15) Life layering: focusing on who you are rather than what you do
(17:18) De-institutionalizing ageism
(20:12) A love of learning & social impact
(25:09) What’s next: An all-female boutique vineyard in Argentina
To hear about more Third Act stories, subscribe to and follow the Third Act podcast at http://thirdactpodcast.com. And if you enjoyed listening, please leave a review at https://ratethispodcast.com/thirdact.
Liz Tinkham (00:18):
Hi, this is Liz Tinkham and welcome to Third Act, a podcast about people embracing the third act of their lives with a new sense of purpose and direction. The third act begins when your script ends, but your show’s not finished.
Liz Tinkham (00:34):
Today I talk with Michael Clinton, the publishing lion. Michael is really my kindred spirit in this journey to redefine our third acts. He just published a book called Roar Into the Second Half of Your Life (Before It’s Too Late), which offers a playbook for how and what to do in the second half of your life. Does that sound familiar? What I love, though, about Michael’s story, unlike my own, is he didn’t let any grass grow underneath him when he retired from his 40-plus year career in publishing. Not only did he immediately start the interviews for his book, but he also acted on his own advice, going back to school to earn his master’s in nonprofit management and philanthropy at Columbia in New York. He has more big plans in front of him, from founding a social benefit corporation to running on Mount Everest. Ready to be inspired? Because I sure was. All right, Michael, welcome to Third Act, and congratulations on the publication of your recent book. Is this your 10th book or so?
Michael Clinton (01:30):
Yeah, it’s actually my 11th book. I did eight books of photography and wrote two other books prior to this. But this is the first book in this subject area.
Liz Tinkham (01:42):
Okay. Well, I’m going to come back to this book, but want to make sure our listeners have a sense of your first and second act. So your first act was at the University of Pittsburgh and your first job at DNR, which is a menswear trade journal. How did you find DNR? And is that what you expected to be doing, coming out of college?
Michael Clinton (01:59):
Well, I was the publisher of my university newspaper. So when I decided I wanted to be in publishing, where all the action was was New York City, so that’s where I headed. And in the beginning I had a hard time finding a job because I had no contacts. I had $60 in my pocket and no bank account, a couch to sleep on for two months. And I ended up taking a couple of side jobs before I got my first publishing job, but I just made a cold call to the editor of this daily business reporting newspaper. And he gave me an assignment and he hired me. And so I was very happy to get my first journalism job in New York City at the age of 22.
Liz Tinkham (02:42):
And what did you cover at DNR?
Michael Clinton (02:45):
Well, what I covered was the emerging active sports industry that was just happening. There was a little company called Nike that was just a young company, and the whole active sports world was being redefined — Reebok and Nike and other new companies. And so I would fly all over the country and interview CEOs of these new companies, as well as retail. It was great. It was amazing to meet all of these people, meeting Phil Knight in his office one-on-one was a very special thing in those days. So I got a good baptism by fire in meeting all these new captains of industry.
Liz Tinkham (03:26):
Well, so take us through a brief tour of your second act in publishing.
Michael Clinton (03:33):
So I did that for a while, and then I jumped fence to go to the publishing side because I had this thing in my head that I wanted to be the publisher of a big magazine. And someone said, “Well, you have to learn how to sell advertising.” And it was the last thing on my list of things I wanted to do, but I ended up doing it and ended up really loving it. And I worked for a sports magazine which that same company launched, covering that industry because it had gotten so big. I did that for a few years and then I got a call from the then-publisher of GQ, asking me if I wanted to come over to that magazine.
Michael Clinton (04:09):
And so I jumped at that and a few short years later, after a lot of hard work and timing and luck, I found myself as the youngest publisher in the industry when I became the publisher of GQ at 34. And then I climbed the publishing ranks from there. And I just capped off a 42-year magazine publishing career where I was the President and Publishing Director of Hearst Magazines. I had the great honor of launching Oprah’s magazine, Food Network, HGTV. We publish everything from Good Housekeeping to Town & Country—print, digital, social. So about 25, 26 titles, all household names for your listeners, yeah.
Liz Tinkham (04:51):
So I’m a magazine-a-holic, and it just… it’s killing me every time I go to the grocery store because there’s fewer and fewer magazines. And I will read them digitally, but I prefer them in print. What do you think the future of both digital and print magazines is?
Michael Clinton (05:05):
Print magazines are primarily supported, predominantly by advertising. And the advertising model is shifting to digital as you know, from all things print and even broadcast television. So we have an extraordinarily big digital business. So a lot of our magazines have very robust digital sites and a lot of advertising there. The difference is, print magazines get subscription revenue and most digital properties don’t; print magazines are still alive and well, they’re just smaller businesses. And I think, certainly in my lifetime, print magazines will always be there. There will be fewer of them because it’s a weeding out process, but those who have great audience connections will continue to do very well. And so I think it’s going to be a mix of print and digital, and social media platforms. And e-commerce, we’re doing an enormous amount of e-commerce off of our brands digital platforms, a brand like Good Housekeeping has a huge e-commerce initiative where we get an affiliate fee in sending someone to Amazon or Walmart or wherever we send them.
Liz Tinkham (06:14):
After 42 years of a spectacular career, why did you decide to leave then?
Michael Clinton (06:19):
I always think you should leave when you’re on top. And I’ve always admired people who did that. Don’t overstay your welcome or become sort of a vegetable that is beginning to rot. I made the decision, and it was a spectacular run and it was just time for the next chapter. And if you’re 60 and healthy, you can live another 30 years if you take care of yourself. It is not our parents’ retirement, if you will. There’s a long arc of future possibilities. So I started planning a year or so in advance, much like the 40 people who I interviewed in this book, they all started a year plus in advance thinking about their next pivot. And for me, I wanted to write this book for a variety of reasons, which we can get into.
Michael Clinton (07:11):
I actually went back to school and got a master’s degree at Columbia University, which was a whole other experience, going back to school in your sixties is always intriguing. And decided that, at some point I was going to become an entrepreneur and launch a business. And so I think that what we do as we are living longer, our original thought process is, we need to make our lives smaller and wind down. And my thesis is, you need to make your life larger and wind up.
Liz Tinkham (07:46):
Let’s talk about your book, because it’s just recently out, it’s called, Roar Into the Second Half of Your Life (Before It’s Too Late). I was looking at the description in Amazon and it says, “Discover how to make the second half of your life happy and productive with this perceptive and inspiring guidebook that will help you achieve your dreams to get more out of life, whether or not retirement is in your future goals.” So I love that description because that’s exactly what I need, which is why I love talking to you. So what inspired you to write this book now? I know you just said you’d been thinking about it, but something must’ve tripped inside of you to say, I’m going to stop writing about travel and photography, and I want to put this book together. How come?
Michael Clinton (08:26):
Yeah. When I was a year away from stepping out of the day to day job, I started to do some research as to what was written out there, just to sort of see what might inspire me. And what I found was a lot of it was very downbeat. It was about getting older and slowing down and moving to a retirement state and walking the beach. I was like, “Okay, I need to turn this on its head.” Because what we’re seeing is people in their sixties, seventies, even eighties, are leading these enormously exciting and productive lives. And this whole script is being rewritten by—I call the group of them “The Re-imagineers”. They’re they’re redefining what a 50 plus life can be as opposed to an old-fashioned script that is no longer really relevant.
Michael Clinton (09:21):
And those boomers, they love to change everything up. And so I think they will lead the pack and the next generations will follow because there’s a great stat. There are 90,000, 100-year-olds right now in the US, and in the year 2060 it’s projected there’ll be 590,000. And in the year 2100, it’s projected there will be 5.3 million people. So a 100-year-old life is not going to be the novelty that it is to us today. Now, obviously, not everyone’s going to have that good fortune, but there is a lot of change happening because at 50 you have another 50 years ahead of you. And so that’s a lot of time to do something that’s really productive and exciting that turns you on.
Liz Tinkham (10:13):
Tell us a little bit about the people you talk to and some of the trends that you’ve found in these 40 folks that you spend some time with.
Michael Clinton (10:21):
Yeah. They were amazing role models for all of us. There’s sort of two camps. There are the people who are at midpoint and say, I’m early on the right path and I’m really happy and I want to continue evolving and having experiences, and that’s great. But there are also a lot of people who were at mid point, who were saying, I wish I had done this, I wish I had done that, I’m not happy in my career, I’m not happy in my relationship. And all of these people made, I call it a 180 degree pivot. In other words, they weren’t a banker and they became a consultant to banking. They were, in one instance, a woman who was a book editor and at 53, she decided she wants to become a doctor. Well, that’s a big switch, obviously.
Michael Clinton (11:07):
And she dealt with ageism in that process. And she’s now a doctor today, in her sixties. Another person, he was an investment banker, MBA type. And he was very unhappy that he was in that role for 25 years. And he decided to step out, he got a degree in adolescent education and he teaches math in the inner city schools. And so, a lot of this process was people going deep inside themselves, understanding where their dissatisfaction was. Like I said, it might’ve been in career or personal life or lifestyle, and you having the courage to make the big change. And so the book has a lot of their inspirational stories and also a lot of tools and resources that people can use to put into action for themselves.
Liz Tinkham (12:03):
How’d you find the people that you interviewed?
Michael Clinton (12:04):
Yeah. Some of them through word of mouth, I also hired a research assistant and she went on out and scoured the world, so to speak. Most of them are in the US, we have people from Australia and the UK, and Ireland and Italy. So we have a representation outside the US, but most of them are in the US, and she did the research to find them.
Liz Tinkham (12:32):
On this podcast, we spend a lot of time talking about, do you any loss of identity? How did the people you interview get over their loss of identity? And what did they have to say about it? Any tips?
Michael Clinton (12:41):
Yes, it’s such an important topic. The problem that many people have, especially if you have a great career, professional life, you have a seat that you sit in that affords you a lot of interesting access. I think about my own seat. I had a phenomenal seat that I sat in that gave me huge access to many, many exciting things. But if you wrap yourself up in your professional identity only, you run the risk of losing your identity when you step out of that seat.
Michael Clinton (13:15):
And so, one of the chapters in the book is a concept called life layering, where you’re layering throughout your life different things that are of relevance and interest to you. So that when you step out of that seat, you have an identification that is, in my instance, I’m an adventure traveler, I am a philanthropist, I’m a marathon runner, I am a writer, I am etc. etc. And so you don’t get completely wrapped up in what you did. You get focused on who you are. And I think the people, not only my own story, but the people I interviewed were very conscious of that they really spend time cultivating other aspects of their lives to have a fuller identification as to who they are as a person.
Liz Tinkham (14:07):
Did some of them start later in life? So I’ll take myself as an example, which is somewhat the reason I’m doing this podcast. So I wasn’t doing much layering while I was working and had my three kids. And so I retire, I’m like, okay, now what? I didn’t really have that many hobbies, I have more now. So I assume you talked to people who came upon things after they pretired, retired. How did they figure those things out?
Michael Clinton (14:32):
Yeah, I hate the word retire, like a lot of other words in our culture, have to be banished because you can rewire, and you rewire into many other things that you may want to do. But one example was a woman who was a writer. Let me back up, she was a sales executive for many, many years. And in her mind, she had always wanted to be a writer. She had dabbled in writing her whole life. And it was always there. I always say to people, go back to your younger self. What was it that you left on the shelf and how do you pick that up? And she would say, “When I was in college, I wrote a lot and I would write when I was in my young adulthood, but then I got married, my kids, I was working, I kind of lost that.”
Michael Clinton (15:22):
So in her 60-ish, she decided that she was going to get serious about writing. And she took some online courses. This was pre-COVID, she went to some conferences. She did a masterclass with Dan Brown because she wanted to write mystery, intrigue novels. And she finally sat down and focused on it and she wrote a novel. And then she said, she had over 150 rejections. She kept a spreadsheet, but she was determined. She used her sales skills to keep going at it, and she ended up selling her first book. She’s now 67-ish. And she has written five books. And she said for the rest of my life, I am going to be a novelist. And she completely re-recast herself as a novelist. And she was 60-ish when she did it.
Michael Clinton (16:16):
So I think you might know the book Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens who wrote that. It was her first novel at 70 and became a huge bestseller. Frank McCourt wrote Angela’s Ashes when he was in the sixties and won the Pulitzer Prize, that was his first book. So you can pick up on a creative gene and the beauty of being a writer or a painter, or a sculpture or whatever your thing is, is you can do it for the rest of your life, because there’s no reason why you can’t. So she’s saying, if I can write novels to the next 20 years, I’ll be really happy.
Liz Tinkham (16:54):
So you’re giving me hope that my career in musical theater can be rekindled.
Michael Clinton (16:59):
There you go.
Liz Tinkham (17:00):
I’m not sure Broadway’s in the cards for me, but this has definitely given me some hope.
Michael Clinton (17:05):
You never know.
Liz Tinkham (17:07):
We talk also about ageism on the podcast. How did some of the folks, particularly the doctor you mentioned, how did they combat it and did you see any trends there?
Michael Clinton (17:18):
Yeah, well, we have governmental corporate institutional ageism that was created. Retirement, as we know it, was a construct built in the 1930s, as you know, and it was also built at a time when the life expectancy was early sixties, and social security and all of the things that we know of. And what happened is, you flash forward, none of the policies have kept pace with the changing population. PWC, the big accounting firm, did a study—only 8% of corporations have age as part of their DEI policy, which is frightening. Hopefully that’s changing in a more enlightened world we’re in at the moment. But talk to any 50-plus year old and they’ll tell you how they confronted some level of ageism, especially in their company.
Michael Clinton (18:18):
In our culture, we have words like “age appropriate” instead of “person appropriate”, because you can do many things at many ages. The woman, Stephanie, who was becoming a doctor, none of the American medical schools would accept her. Only one or two had the guts to say… Well, they didn’t say directly as “it was your age”, but it was the implication. So she ended up doing an end run and went to a Caribbean medical school, where it was not an issue. But I also interviewed a woman who was in her mid-sixties who was in nursing school. And she got into the nursing school, she finished the program. And now she’s about to go out into the workplace at 67 to be hired as a newly-minted nurse.
Michael Clinton (19:04):
And the good news there is, there’s an enormous amount of shortage of nurses, as you may know. But I always like to say that one of my great honors was, before I left the day-to-day, I promoted a 70-year-old woman and expanded her role and said, “Carol, I hope you’ll work as long as you want to because you’re the kind of person that we need as role models.” So I think you have to learn new skills, in the case of the magazine business, the people who did not learn digital were left behind and the people who jumped into digital to learn that in addition to the print world, they’re the ones who thrived and continue to grow. So I think you have to be cognizant of new skills and be a lifelong learner and a lifelong student to learn new things as you’re going along, that will help combat some of the ageism out there.
Liz Tinkham (20:00):
As a lifelong learner, you just finished a degree at Columbia. What was it like to go back to school? What did you major in, so to speak? How was it taking a test again? Tell us about that experience and why you did it.
Michael Clinton (20:12):
First of all, I love learning, so I love school. And so I’m really interested in the nonprofit sector. I’m on multiple nonprofit boards. I have a small foundation with some friends that I started. So I’m really interested in the sector, it’s going through a lot of change. And by the way, you may know this, but over the next 20 years will be the largest transfer of generational wealth in the history of the world. The baby boomers will be transferring $60 trillion worth of assets to the next generation. And I’m hoping that many of the next generation, as well as the boomers, while they’re alive, give a lot of money to social impact and non-profits and help solve a lot of the societal issues that we have. But I wanted to learn more about it. So it was a 12-course program.
Michael Clinton (21:02):
And I said, I’ll take one or two courses and see if I like it. And I fell in love with it. So it was a master’s in nonprofit philanthropy. Taking the tests, I went back to my younger self and sweated out a few things in the beginning. I loved writing the papers. I developed a business plan for a social purpose business that I’m hoping to launch next year. So it gave me some great tools there. I just gave a keynote speech at The American Marketing Association on trends in nonprofit marketing.
Michael Clinton (21:35):
So I’m starting to do some talking and some speaking. But what’s great is, if you’re at midlife, there’s a lot of money around to get Pell grants and federal grants. A lot of states, if you’re 60 or older, you can go to a university for free. Some states, if you have low income, you can go for free. So there’s this constant access to learn new things. You don’t have to go get a degree. If you like history, go learn all about English history or whatever your thing is, just keep your mind going, because it’s a great way to stay nimble and stay alert.
Liz Tinkham (22:12):
So, with your degree, you’re going to launch some sort of social impact business?
Michael Clinton (22:18):
Yes. So there’s a new model that is called a B-Corp, a benefit corporation, which unlike the traditional 501C3 non-profit, a B-Corp you can take profit out so you can have investors and they can take a piece of profit out, but you have to be committed to a social purpose set of principles. So it might be food insecurity, it could be employment within challenged communities.
Michael Clinton (22:49):
It can be sustainability, environmental, but you have to make a commitment and you get something called the B Lab Certification, which shows that in fact you’re committed to donating a portion of your profits to these initiatives. So there are many of them now that are emerging. You might know Warby Parker, the eyewear company, they’re a B-Corp. And so this is an exciting new model that is emerging in a hybrid between traditional business and non-profits. It’s a really exciting time, and so I’m really turned on to that whole idea because I think we all need to find ways to contribute and to give back, and whatever your version is of that, that’s great. But this is a new version that I’m really excited about.
Liz Tinkham (23:37):
Oh, that’s really cool. I teach a class at the University of Washington on non-profit board leadership, so I’m just taking some notes.
Michael Clinton (23:43):
Oh, no kidding.
Liz Tinkham (23:43):
I do, yeah. So either I’m going to call you to come and talk about this, or I’m going to figure out a way to weave this into the class.
Michael Clinton (23:50):
Oh, I’ll be happy to, yeah.
Liz Tinkham (23:52):
So, what’s next with the book? It’s just launched.
Michael Clinton (23:55):
The next book?
Liz Tinkham (23:56):
Michael Clinton (23:56):
Well, this book launched in early September, so it’s still very much alive in terms of bringing fresh… has gotten an enormous amount of coverage, which is great. We hit number one on Amazon in terms of self-help books for 2021. That was exciting. And so I think for the next few months, I’m just going to let the book sort of evolve. I’m out doing talks, I’ve done a variety of talks, I was at The Harvard Club last week. I did YPO, which you might be familiar with. I just signed with the Speaker’s Bureau to take the message out in 2022. But what I’m really hoping to do is to now build some kind of a community from the thesis of the book, which will be rolled into 2022 and beyond. And then I’ll decide if there should be a Roar 2.0 or whatever, but we haven’t gotten that far yet.
Liz Tinkham (24:58):
I almost titled this podcast, I’m Not Done Yet. And clearly you’re never going to be done. So you got your degree, but what else do you see? What aren’t you done with yet?
Michael Clinton (25:09):
Well, I’ve had the good fortune of being to 124 countries around the world. I was just in Ethiopia before the pandemic hit. For a working class kid from Pittsburgh, I’ve lived a life that was far beyond my own expectations. So I hope to travel more globally. I still run a marathon a year, I ran seven marathons on seven continents, so I celebrated my 60th birthday by running a marathon on Antarctica. That’s one for the ages. So I hope to run more marathons, build out Roar. I hope to do the social purpose business, which is good. The social purpose business is going to be a wine as in red wine, as in Malbec, in Argentina. So some friends and I have a small boutique vineyard in Argentina. We’ve been producing wine since 2011, but since I know that area fairly well, I’m hoping to create a separate entity and a separate label.
Michael Clinton (26:11):
Our purpose will be sustainable farming, employing… I want it to be an all female workforce from top to bottom, because it is a male-dominated industry. So I want it to be everyone from the linemaker on down through the planting and cultivation. We’re focusing on food insecurity. We’re aligning ourselves with multiple food banks in Uco Valley, which is where Mendoza is located, and that is our construct. So those things will keep busy over the next years. When I turn 70, which is still a few years away, I’m hoping to hike to the Everest base camp and run a marathon down, which is an existing fundraiser for the Sherpa community. And I’m like, “If I could be that 70-year-old guy who’s doing that, that’s going to really make…” First of all, a lot of people are going to be like, “Could you please stop?”
Liz Tinkham (27:13):
Listen, if you do that, and my show is still going, will you please come back. Last week on the show we had, I don’t know if you listened to it, but Jerry Palmer who walked from Huntington Beach to Virginia Beach and I thought that was nuts, but running down Everest base camp at seventy.
Michael Clinton (27:31):
Yeah. Well, I think we have to push ourselves. One of the guys that I write about in the book, and I witnessed this, he was the first 100-year-old to cross the finish line of a marathon. Yes, and his name is Fauja Singh, he’s now I think about 105 or so, he lives in Britain. And he ran his first marathon when he was 82. And when I watched him cross the finish line in Toronto at 100, at eight hours and 11 minutes, I might add, which is a pretty darn good time for anyone for that matter. Just finishing, I was totally inspired because I thought, “I ran a marathon in my sixties, I think I’m hot stuff.” Well, this guy is redefining and getting back to rewriting the script. He’s the guy showing us that we can do extraordinary things throughout our entire life, if we don’t put these self constraints on ourselves, which we do. Saying, “Well, I can’t do this because I’m this age”, or “I can’t do this because of XYZ.” You just really have to open yourself up to your possibilities. And he was a great example of that.
Liz Tinkham (28:46):
Michael, thank you so much. We’re really going to have to have you back because you have to be going into your sixth or seventh act. So good luck with the rest of Roar and we’ll look forward to talking to you again.
Michael Clinton (28:56):
Thanks, Liz. It was great to be with you.
Liz Tinkham (29:02):
Thanks for joining me today to listen to The Third Act Podcast. You can find show notes, guest bios, and more at thirdactpodcast.com. If you enjoyed our show today, please subscribe and write a review on your favorite podcast platform. I’m your host Liz Tinkham, I’ll be back next week with another guest who’s found new meaning and fulfillment in the third act of their life.
Want to share the story of your own Third Act on our podcast? We welcome stories from executives who pivoted their careers to find their passion and purpose later in their lives. Tell us more about yourself to be considered as a guest.