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Lessons for Life

Reimagine your life: Tips from Jane Pauley

An interview with the television personality and author of 'Your Life Calling'

Jen Weigel

January 14, 2014

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When it comes to finding your calling in life, author and television personality Jane Pauley prefers the word "reimagine" to "reinvention."

"So many people have that yearning for something and they don't know what 'it' is," Pauley said during a recent phone interview to discuss her latest book, "Your Life Calling: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life." "I hear myself talk about this topic with a quality that can only be described as passion. Apparently I have discovered I have a passion for storytelling in this context with a message that the later decades of mid-life can be aspirational."

Pauley, who interviewed more than 20 people for her book based on her monthly series "Life Reimagined" for the "Today" show, worked as a co-anchor in Chicago from 1975 to 1976 on WMAQ-TV before heading to New York.

"I was 24 years old and I'd come from Indianapolis, and the local media didn't like me very much, but I was interviewed a lot because I was the first woman to anchor a local evening newscast," said Pauley, now 63. "I sat beside Floyd Kalber. No one was more surprised that I ended up co-hosting the 'Today' show than me."

She was with the "Today" show from 1976 to 1989 and anchored "Dateline NBC" for 11 years before hosting her own daytime program "The Jane Pauley Show" in 2004. Now living in New York City with her husband, cartoonist Garry Trudeau, Pauley said the baby boomers are creating a "template for future generations" that will have a positive and powerful impact.

"We are the best educated generation in the history of the world and we arrived in a labor market in a time of prosperity, those of us who didn't get drafted and go to Vietnam," she said. "We are America's biggest natural asset. Think of the impact we can have, if in the next decade, the boomers are inspired to do more and reimagine their lives. There won't be reinvention books in the future — it's simply going to be a way of life."

Here are Pauley's tips for reimagining the rest of your life:

Say "yes."

"Back in my Dateline years, I overheard a conversation between two producers and one of them said, 'Jane always says no'. So last spring for the Dateline 20th anniversary, I was interviewing Michael J. Fox and he says, 'No doesn't get you anywhere. Say 'yes' as often as you can.' So I started saying 'yes' faster than I could organize the reasons of why I would say 'no'. So my New Year's resolution for 2013, which started in the spring, was 'Say yes more.' My New Year's resolution for 2014 is 'Say yes to more new things.'"

Give back.

"My friend told me that she'd read that people who volunteer in their 30s develop a kind of muscle memory and it becomes a habit, and those people have an easier time with transition. So I tell this to young people all the time. Volunteer earlier, and the transitional time of your life might be easier."

Don't just think — do.

"I wrote a memoir ("Skywriting: A Life Out of the Blue") and I thought if I revisited my past that I would find these clues or breadcrumbs that would illuminate a path forward. It was supposed to be a journey of self-discovery that would give me the momentum for my future. But I had a revelation and I realized I had it backward. I was too much think and not enough do. Professor Herminia Ibarra (former Harvard Business School professor) says to think less and do more and that we learn from trial and error...You can take a step forward before you settle on that final destination."

Get out of your comfort zone.

"I often tell the story of how I was having my hair done one day, skimming an article in Vogue with a head full of aluminum foil, when a quote from Jennifer Aniston jumped out at me. She said, 'Everything you want most in the world is just beyond the range of your comfort zone.' So my aspiration is just to be someone who tries new things, but the reality is, I will struggle to live up to my aspiration because I am prone to inertia. Doing nothing and being alone is something I'm very good at."

Embrace your many passions.

"People think they only have one true self but the reality is we have multiple selves. And as professor (Herminia) Ibarra says, 'If it's in you, it wants air time. And sooner or later, it bubbles up.' What's different now is that my generation, by virtue of living longer and healthier lives, more of us will live long enough to have opportunities for those multiple selves to bubble up and get air time."

Be ready to fail.

"One of the biggest gifts I gave my children (twins Ross and Rachel, 30 and Tom, 27) was my daytime show — failing at something I liked. I'd never done a show on my own, I'm an ensemble player. And I was opposite Oprah and I knew that going in. Saying 'yes' to something hard was one thing. But the gift was failing at it. From a distance, it looks like I had nothing but one success after another and I think that's how my children looked at my career, until that show failed. It was the hardest thing I ever did...It was my proudest year and I failed at it. To try something that you fail at is, in my experience, proving that you had the guts to try. If you don't have something that you've failed at, maybe it means you weren't trying that hard. The brain doesn't learn from success, it learns from failure."

(Ms. Pauley will be speaking at the Union League Club, 65 W. Jackson Boulevard, for the Author's Group luncheon Jan 17th, 12 p.m. $40 tickets can be reserved online http://www.thebookstall.com. 847-446-8880.)

jweigel@tribune.com

Twitter: @jenweigel