Married couple Judy and Adrian Reith went on a weekend away with friends that sparked an idea for their next career move. Everyone on the trip was in their late 50s and had known each other since their school days. And although they were all living very different lives, what stood out, was the fact that they were all struggling to find future direction.
Realising how common it was for people to find themselves without a strategy or framework for dealing with mid life, Judy and Adrian put their heads together and wrote a book to help people navigate this often confusing life stage. The couple had been married for 31 years, but this was their first experience of writing together, and they say it’s so far been a success.
Judy, 60, has been a coach and parenting expert for the last 20 years, while Adrian, 65, swapped his role as a writer and director in advertising to retrain as a coach, working with business and organisational leaders. Judy and Adrian were able to combine their decades of professional and life experience to produce Act 3: The Art of Growing Older, which was published in April of this year.
In a recent interview with Rest Less, Adrian explains more about the motivation behind the book, the value of identifying what’s really important in life, and why mid life can now be described as ‘Act 3’.
Judy and Adrian, Act 3: The Art of Growing Older suggests practical steps to help make life more fulfilling with age. It does this by helping people to identify and strengthen four roots (attitude, purpose, relationships and values) that they’ll need to be happy and successful in later life. What was your motivation for writing the book?
Both of us are professional coaches who for many years have helped people deal with tricky challenges in their life and work. We’d noticed that around age 50 there can often be a ‘is that it?’ type moment, perhaps when careers have peaked or kids are starting to need them less or leave home. It’s a time when there can be a growing awareness that life is no longer limitless, and perhaps an increased desire to use the remaining time well.
Specifically we’d been asked to facilitate a weekend for a group of friends who’d known each other from school and were now in their late fifties – one had early onset Alzheimer’s, others drug and alcohol problems, and some were experiencing severe bumps in their relationships or just wondering about their future direction.
It struck us that our generation has the gift of much longer healthier lives than our grandparents, yet we’ve not got a name for this time of life other than ‘retirement’ which is not always a helpful word as it suggests giving in or giving up, or stopping. What about starting anew?
It seems many people have no strategy or framework for this time of life – which we call Act 3. So we thought we’d write a book to help people make their own plan.
What does the term ’Act 3’ in the book refer to?
Life used to be a three-act play – but now an extra act has been added. Act 1 is growing up. Act 2 is establishing yourself as an independent person, with a career, a home and maybe with a partner and family. Act 3 is the bit where people used to think of pipe and slippers, say after 50, but with better health and fitness now have the opportunity to go again which is very exciting. Act 4 is decline and fall. Obviously these are generalised categories and everyone is different.
Can you give us a couple of examples of how the book can help someone over 50 re-imagine their future?
The main tool in the book is our tree metaphor that enables readers to get a truer perspective on their own lives from the basis of what’s really important to them. In a busy life it’s often difficult for a person to know what matters to them without deliberately taking time out to examine these things in a detailed, structured way. Not always easy to do – that’s why we lay it out simply in the book for the reader.
Another tool in the book is the thought that you service your car and your home boiler on a regular basis. But when and how do you service your most important relationship? A relationship MOT is a practical and achievable suggestion that some people are adopting to build resilience into their lives, and forms a basis to plan their next life chapter together.
What key things will readers be able to take away from Act 3: The Art of Growing Older?
The reader will first of all get some new perspective on their life as it is now – what’s important now – and specifically what they want to be true for themselves in the future. Building on that they’ll get a simple framework for planning practical steps for action and change. After all, as the saying goes, “If you keep doing what you’ve always done – you’ll get what you’ve always got.” This book is about how to achieve positive change. Who wouldn’t want that?
We’ve also included lots of fascinating and inspirational stories from people we interviewed to bring the theory to life. For example, the lawyer who retrained as a midwife, the couple who adopted three young kids after their own had left home, and the retired academic who is now very fulfilled and running a café.
What has the response been like so far?
We’ve had lots of feedback about changes people have made in their own lives after reading the book. For example, one reader was inspired to delete a pile of toxic emails that was preventing them from having a healthy relationship with a close family member.
Several people have changed direction in their work after thinking through what’s important to them in this stage of their life.
Another couple are actively looking to sell their house and build a down-sized eco home for their future life together.
We’re pleased to see that several five star Amazon reviews praise the book for not telling the reader what to do, but rather giving them the tools to make their own plan. That’s thrilling.
Is the book a reflection of your own personal experiences of ageing?
Absolutely! As a result of this thought process Judy has embarked on a much-wanted university course as she turns 60. As a family we also moved house, and changed work and travel commitments to earn less, but live more. That’s the idea anyway!
I’ve also managed the building of our new family home that’s future-proofed for old age, healthier, kinder to the planet and cheaper to run.
What was it like writing a book together?
Both of us have written lots before, but all our previous writings had been achieved separately. Astonishingly our experience writing this book was good. So much so, in fact, that we now cannot tell who wrote which parts of the book – perhaps that’s a natural feature of being married 31 years!
We divided up the chapters and initiated alternate ones, then swapped the drafts and went through and fiddled with what the other had written.
Judy would say that she’s a better typist than me, but I’m definitely a better cyclist!
We understand that Judy was a coach and parenting expert for 20 years, and that you, Adrian, went from being a writer and a director in advertising, to a coach who works with business and organisational leaders. How helpful was this experience when writing Act 3: The Art of Growing Older?
Our experiences in the coaching profession are the fundamental reason we wrote the book – we’ve seen the power of coaching to help people see afresh what’s important to them, and then create a plan of action and create powerful change. The content of the book is a direct extension of that.
More than that, we wanted passionately for this book to be accessible and easy to read by anyone without being patronising or trite, even though it deals with very serious issues: health, money, relationships, transition, death.
In terms of parenting experience, Judy has found that many of her clients are experiencing the issues of loneliness and lack of purpose that comes from an empty nest – something we have both acknowledged in our home too. And more recently, real concerns for our kids’ futures, from the current world worries of Covid, to Brexit and climate change.
Our media experience helped us write it in a way that it’s easy to pick up and put down and is a useful tool. Someone said it deals with heavy subjects in a light way. We’ll take that.
Many of our members have expressed to us that midlife can be a confusing time, with many experiencing a loss of purpose and direction and wondering where to turn next. What advice would you give to someone over 50 who is feeling this way?
Everything starts with your Attitude, Purpose and Values. The fact that you’ve picked up our book means that you have some interest in changing something in your life – that’s a positive attitude right there. Sadly, there are those whose attitude is so negative they won’t engage to try to make any changes for themselves at all.
Assuming you have a reasonably positive outlook it’s time to consider what your purpose might be. Maybe for the first time in your life you might ask yourself why you get up everyday (other than to empty a full bladder!)
Then your values, which influences how you go about your purpose – does kindness matter? What about honesty? Justice? Caring for the planet?
This will dictate your priorities in the next chapter of your life and everyone is different. This is a chance to re-look at what’s really important to you before it’s too late. People might say it was what you were really about in this life.
What’s next for you both over the next 5-10 years, in terms of work and life?
Judy’s year ahead is largely about having the wonderful and terrifying experience – age 60 – of doing an MA in biography and non-fiction writing at the University of East Anglia. After that it’ll be supporting her next blockbuster bestseller and an interview on Oprah. Naturally.
I’m planning to repeat my on-road cycle ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats, but this time to do it off-road which is far steeper, muddier, bumpier and harder. Between times I’ll carry on coaching people – mostly via Zoom nowadays.
We’re both still enjoying meeting others in Act 3 who want some coaching to help them figure out what’s next for them. In lockdown we ended up launching our book virtually which, surprisingly, led to 14 weeks of Zoom events, interviewing people about different topics in the book which are all available to see on our website.
Last but not least – we have some copies of the book that we’re selling for the bargain price of £10 including postage and packing to the UK (while stocks last, as they say). You can get a copy from Act3Life.com.
Would you be interested in some 1-2-1 guidance from a coach? Rest Less are proud to have partnered with a number of talented coaches, who offer help and support in a range of different areas from jobs, to health and wellbeing, through to relationships. You can browse our full list of coaches, and find out how to get in touch below.