The Second Half: No fear, no regrets—just success!

By Kathleen D. Tresemer

In my Second Half, I’ve heard folks discussing the possibility of making life changes: “I’d love to give up corporate life and work at a flower shop”; “I’ve always wanted to write a book”; or “Now that I’m retired, it might be fun to pick up painting again.”

Sadly, those who follow through are fewer than you might think. A Second-Half fellow, John, wanted to learn to ride a motorcycle once his daughter was in college. His wife wasn’t happy about it, and his pals thought he was experiencing a Second-Half crisis. John took the classes, bought a bike and spent the first summer practicing, riding around his neighborhood and the high school parking lot.

“This was no crisis,” John said. “I spent my youth doing adventurous things like hiking the Grand Canyon and sky-diving. When my daughter was born, I decided to play it safe, be responsible. Now, I just want to pick up where I left off.”

Most of us who grew up in the post-war era learned to prioritize responsible parenting, which meant we delayed gratification until later in life. However, some folks entered their Second Half with the mistaken notion that aging and retirement translated to: “Getting old and no more fun!”

Recently, I spoke with a writing pal who works as a business professional. This busy woman wrote a novel—a tremendous accomplishment!—but is procrastinating at sending it out to agents and publishers: “I just can’t believe it’s good enough or ready for publication, no matter how many times I make revisions. What’s wrong with me?”

That got me thinking about the good stuff in life, and whether some of us feel like we can’t have too much success. “How hard can it be for a successful person with one rewarding career to enjoy something different, something more?” I pondered. “Don’t we deserve the best out of life? Or after having experienced success and fulfillment, are we just afraid of failing?”

Take Michael Jordan, for example: he was a talented, successful basketball star who decided to try his hand at baseball. I remember people laughing at him for such a move, as if wanting to try something new in his career was at best silly, and at worst, career suicide.

I’m guessing Jordan’s not one of those sad folks who lies on his death bed wishing he had at least tried something different. And I’ll bet he isn’t wandering around whining, “Gee, I sure regret that move.” I’m thinking he had a blast playing baseball, just for the fun of it! All that, from a guy who was cut from his high school basketball team…hmmm!

Laurie Scheer, faculty associate from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, spoke to the In Print Writers Organization on that very topic: “Fear of Success.” Laurie suggests we are culturally programmed to be negative—take this example:

News = “Susie got a great new job with a huge salary.”

Response = “NO! You’re kidding!”

More news = “Really! And they are transferring her to Paris to live in a villa.”

Response = “Get outta here! That’s unbelievable!”

Even more news = “Yeah, and the company lets her fly back and forth in their jet to visit the States.”

Response = “No way!” Shaking head, “I could never get so lucky!”

Sound familiar? Those negative responses are more common than you think—if you don’t believe me, just watch reruns of The Golden Girls or Seinfeld.

I found some current research on the subject at the Suite 101 website. Dr. Jason Plaks, University of Toronto, and Kristin Stecher, University of Washington, researched self-sabotage and why some people can’t handle success. Their work indicates that people who have a fixed view of their abilities—like “I can’t do any better than X”—tend to get disoriented when they succeed, and their performance spirals downward.

So, if you see yourself as flexible and able to grow, you’re probably more likely to succeed. Read more about their research in the article “What Is Fear Of Success” at Suite101:

To find you some help if you tend to sabotage yourself, I went to a few friends. Kelly Epperson, Happiness Fairy, offers these words of wisdom by Kristin Armstrong: “Do the things you used to talk about doing but never did. Know when to let go and when to hold on tight. Stop rushing. Don’t be intimidated to say it like it is. Stop apologizing all the time. … Spend time with the friends who lift you up, and cut loose the ones who bring you down. … Be old enough to appreciate your freedom, and young enough to enjoy it.”  Thanks, Kelly!

Or how about this tidbit from the Buddha: “You can search the entire universe, and not find a single being more worthy of love than you.” Now, that’s cool!

Laurie Scheer may have said it best: “There is no great conspiracy against you! Show up for life! And remember that every perceived failure brings you closer to success.”

I recall when Hubby took me—a total beginner at golf—to a very challenging, but beautiful, course. I whined, “This is like golfing the Alps, for cryin’ out loud! Why would you bring me here?”

Hubby smiled, “I thought it might be fun!”

DUH! Now when I play, I don’t keep score and I quit when I’m tired—I just have fun.

So, in your Second Half, fight the negative programming! Remember to say “Yes” to new opportunities, have fun any way you can, and let those nay-sayers eat your dust!

In her second half of life, Kathleen D. Tresemer is both a journalist and an award-winning fiction writer. She lives with her husband on a small ranch in rural Shirland, Ill. Kathleen can be contacted by e-mail at

From the May 25-31, 2011 issue

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