Mary Wells: Feeling Stuck, Baby Boomers? Paula Forman Has the Solution

Paula Forman

Mary Wells interviews Paula Forman about her pitch-perfect new book, The Hourglass Solution: A Boomer’s Guide to the Rest of Your Life, which could heat up your life – and maybe take you to the stars!

I know the world is shrinking because I seem to know everybody who comes around the corner these days. Then along came Paula Forman, who used to work with me at my advertising agency. Paula was one of the agency’s most admired account executives (and eventually the president), the one everybody wanted to work with and the one clients tried to steal away for themselves. It is not surprising that she and her co-exec at the agency (and currently General Manager at Cramer-Krasselt), Jeff Johnson, have written a potentially life-changing book, The Hourglass Solution: A Boomer’s Guide to the Rest of Your Life. I was always hiring iconoclasts – or trying to – and this book says things that are different and very smart.

MARY: What inspired you and Jeff, Paula? Where did you learn about the terrifying area of life you call “stuck”?

PAULA: Stuck is that awful landing space — the glue trap we all fall into periodically in our lives, the paralyzing space called “I have to” that makes “I want to” seem inaccessible. It isn’t unique to midlife; we remember stuck from our own young adulthood. We can see it in our own kids, and in the kids we know in their 20s, who are certain about what they don’t want, but can’t name the thing they truly wish for. Jeff and I realized, one fine day, that our friends and associates who are now in their early 50s were suffering a similar affliction, but this time the consequences were far more alarming. Stuck was becoming epidemic among baby boomers and this time the ramifications were very serious — potentially lethal. There is a natural course correction available for young people, but for our friends, stuck was much more profound. The generational legacy of entitlement and prosperity made stuck in midlife with no apparent options a particularly deadly cocktail.

That’s why we wrote The Hourglass Solution: A Boomer’s Guide to the Rest of Your Life. “Making choices” is the essential message of the book — but making active, exciting, courageous choices is only possible when you can identify options.

MARY: Where did the idea of The Hourglass Solution come from?

PAULA: It seemed like wherever we went — work, parties, anyplace where people gather — we heard people saying, “I have no choice.” They said it about their jobs that they no longer loved — and they said it about their relationships as well. We were noticing a terrible resignation among our peers who used to be so vibrant. It was like they were fading before our eyes. It seemed clear that our generation was not going to settle easily nor happily into traditional models of aging. But the other thing we noticed — and it is so very important — was that many of our friends were acting like their choice-making days were over. They seemed to be saying that they had made their beds and now had to sleep in them. We disagree.

MARY: Do you think there are always choices? What about the current economic environment? Doesn’t that limit your choices?

PAULA: It certainly impacts our choices, but a reduced financial circumstance doesn’t mean that you have no options. On the contrary, sometimes an enormous disruption of our plans — like getting fired or losing much of your savings — can be a real rag through the ears, an event that forces you to rethink your priorities. We have heard some wise folks say the stock-market collapse made them realize that the savings goal they had been working toward was NEVER realistic and that their losses made them realize that trading more years doing work they weren’t happy with for an arbitrary financial target was a bad trade indeed.

MARY: Tell us about your relationship with Jeff. What was it like to write a book with someone else?

PAULA: Jeff and I have known each other forever, but we really became good friends through this process. I think the fact that we both worked in advertising really helped — creating ads is a very collaborative process — and we shared a commitment to language that was precise and edgy and a bias toward practical and fact-based solutions. We were both very committed to the project and it didn’t take long for us to find a division of labor that suited both our talents and our interests, which, as it happens, are different but complimentary. However, the most important thing is that we really like each other.

MARY: One last thing: If you had one single piece of advice for our readers who feel stuck, what would that be?

PAULA: Change something big! Move, change careers or change an important relationship. Getting through the neck of the hourglass and claiming the rewards of greater adulthood isn’t for sissies — it is serious work. But for those with the courage to go for it, the rewards are greater than you may ever have imagined!

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