For Jane Pauley, midlife was such a welcome turning point that she publicly embraced it in her late 30s.
After calling herself middle-aged several times on the Today show in 1989, an NBC executive weighed in.
“He told me to knock it off,” she says, laughing. “I was so 25 when I started cohosting. I felt too young and ill-equipped. By 39, I had three children, life experience and a pretty solid career. It felt great to be middle-aged.” She laughs again. “I was a little ahead of my times.”
Pauley, now 63, coanchored Today from 1976 to 1989, then went on to cohost Dateline NBC for 11 years. In 2004, she was the host of the short-lived The Jane Pauley Show. She has returned to Today to host a monthly segment profiling people who have reinvented themselves in middle age. Her new book, Your Life Calling: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life, is out this month.
“The only qualifications I have to write this book are insight and foresight,” she says. “I knew that middle age was going to last a long time.”
Part memoir, part celebration of baby boomers’ next chapters in life, the book is also a big nudge for a generation that is, once again, reaching a social and cultural milestone.
“By the end of 2014, every baby boomer will have turned 50,” she says. “It’s the beginning of a new and aspirational time of life. The question for most of us is: ‘What am I going to do for the next 40 years?’”
Her advice: Remain engaged and contribute—and take risks.
Pauley is candid about her own setbacks and disappointments, including the challenge of a bipolar disorder diagnosis and the cancellation of her 2004 daytime show. Many of her stories revolve around her three grown kids. Once a mom, always a mom, and she is mindful of the example she and her husband, Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau, continue to set for them.
It’s okay, she says, for them to see her stumble.
“Their parents are ridiculous role models. Garry was doing Doonesbury before he left college. I was on Today at 25. They saw me try that daytime show and then they saw me fail. I wasn’t going to topple Oprah. They were cool with that. My definition of success was having the courage to try.”
She was encouraged by actor Michael J. Fox, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1991. Still acting, he heads a foundation that funds Parkinson’s research.
“Say ‘yes’ as often as you can,” Fox told her. “ ‘No’ doesn’t move you.”
Daring to change the trajectory of your life can sometimes rattle family members. Do it anyway, Pauley says.
“When I wrote my memoir [2005’s Skywriting], I had to get out of the mind-set of ‘Janie the youngest,’ ‘Janie the delightful little girl,’ ” she says. “Women especially are locked into being ‘little someone’ to somebody else. In our 40s, those scales fall away.”
Trudeau has remained a steadfast believer in the many lives of Jane. “When I left Today, Garry was supportive, but I could see him wondering, ‘What is she going to do now?’ But he didn’t discourage me.
“Maybe that’s the best we can do: Say nothing, and watch what happens next. Life is scary wonderful. It’s great to learn how resilient you can be.”