It’s Mardi Gras season, and Lesley Jane Seymour, one of the Crescent City’s newest residents, is still getting used to the New Orleans lifestyle.
“Work stops here for a few weeks,” she told me. “This would never happen in New York.”
Seymour excitedly told me she had just been to a parade - the ‘tit (petit!) Rex - featuring mini floats, which she said amounted to “hilarious people pulling shoeboxes on roller skates!” And if her social media feed is any indication, Seymour is embracing the festivities - stocking up on accessories like fake eyelashes and crazy glasses.
Seymour worked for decades in Manhattan in women’s magazines, serving as the editor-in-chief of Marie Claire, Redbook and More. When the Meredith Corporation pulled the plug on More magazine in 2016, Seymour had seen the writing on the wall and was prepared.
In 2017, at age 60, she found Covey Club, an online community for women 40 and older, or as she puts it, a “virtual meeting place for lifelong learners”. Then, last year, she decided it was time for another kind of reinvention - she said goodbye to New York and headed south to New Orleans.
Why the big move?
It was an empty nest and a search for life beyond the suburbs, she said on her CoveyClub podcast, Reinvent Yourself with Lesley Jane Seymour. “We wanted warm weather, a university town — where we can teach or learn, interesting culture, diversity of age and economic backgrounds, beautiful housing, a lower cost of living, and people open to newbies. We got them all — and more. Plus, we have a 31-year old marriage. Sometimes you just have to jump off the high dive in order to start learning and rediscovering yourself — and your spouse — again.”
It’s that same moxie that’s required for a career reinvention at 50 or older, said Seymour.
“Starting over is not for everybody,” she told Mika Brzezinski and me in our new book, “Comeback Careers.” “Let’s be honest. It’s freaking hard. You have to be an explorer and an adventurer to want to start over in your 50s and 60s. Some people will think it’s great, others will look at it with horror.”
In the book, she also told us her story of leaving the magazine world behind and deciding to make a major career pivot.
“When my fifth boss sat me down and asked me what would happen to the beauty advertising at the company if they closed More… I don’t really remember what he said after that. I was like, ‘OK, I understand where this is headed.’ It took three years for them to close it, but I’m not stupid, I got it. That was when I went and asked myself: What other things have I missed in my life that I’ve always wanted to do?”
Seymour reached back to her college days at Duke, where she’d loved her marine biology classes. And, at the age of 59, she went back to school at Columbia at night to get her masters in sustainability, preparing herself for the pink slip she knew was coming.
Doing something completely different she says was terrifying, but invigorating.
“I like that feeling of holy crap, I don’t know what I’m doing, because that’s when I feel like I’m growing. That’s my personality - I like being put in those scary situations because I’Il grow. It pushes me. I thought I would segue from sustainability over to the beauty business. That was my whole plan,” she told us in the book. Then, three years later, when More ultimately shuttered and her readers begged her to do something else for women over 40, Seymour started Covey Club.
Seymour has not looked back. The degree in sustainability is now firmly in her back pocket as the former editor-in-chief has reinvented herself as a multimedia entrepreneur. She’s embracing the new media world with an online magazine, podcast, events, social channels, and a vibrant community of women. She’s an influencer, inspiring and teaching women that it’s OK, and awesome, to reach for more - to reinvent into powerful and purposeful second and third acts.
We asked her what she’s learned from her experience and the hundreds of women she’s interviewed:
Be ready to reinvent. You may need a plan sooner than you think.
“Always have a back pocket reinvention plan and have money set aside for it. You need to be working on a ladder out, doorway out,” even if you think your job will always be there, Seymour told me. “Women are good girls, they tend to think that if they work hard that they will be rewarded. But that’s not how the world works as we know. You can work really hard and you may be pushed out anyway.” Or hit a ceiling, or hate your job or have a crisis. “You will need that reinvention plan. I’m hearing age 45 from people —people are finding that discrimination happens earlier. You need to be working on your side hustle - something that you love that could potentially be a part of your life.”
Be open to the unexpected, to serendipity and the unusual path.
“The best advice I ever heard was that you have to be open to all the reinvention possibilities that throw themselves at you every day. If your eyes aren’t open and you’re not ready to accept that or see it, you won’t see that possibility. Until you can actually see what’s around you that has opportunity, you’re not going to change. And change is hard.”
This is not a drill: 50+ women entrepreneurs are crushing it.
“A lot of women choose to launch as entrepreneurs. Older women 50 plus are more reliable, and more likely to succeed than men. We have great numbers when it comes to entrepreneurship.” Yes - we checked - the number of female-owned businesses with revenue of more than $1 million increased 46 percent over the past 11 years, according to the American Express 2018 “State of Women-Owned Businesses Report.” And, more than two thirds of all female-owned business are led by women aged 45 or older.
Sometimes we all need a kick in the butt.
Coaching can help transform you and fuel your next act. Seymour says she was a coaching skeptic but is now a convert. “Coaching is more tactical — telling you how to move forward and giving you behavioral motivation. At the right moment, it can be tremendously helpful. It’s not cheap. I was highly skeptical but now I am working with two coaches in Camp Reinvention. It’s a three day immersion retreat and then a long tail of six months of follow up coaching. Every two weeks you are meeting online with these people who are holding you accountable and that helps with changing habits. That is one of the most important things when you are reinventing.”