Figure Out What's Next

#13: How to Thrive When You Lose Your Job and Build a New Future

with John Tarnoff
February 23, 2023 | 71 Minutes



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On "Inside-Out Career Design" this week, hosts Nicola Vetter & Peter Axtell speak with John Tarnoff

How to thrive when you lose your job means that it's possible to build a new future. Facing a job loss can mean a whole new beginning. If you're thinking you're too old to start over, think again. There are many opportunities for meaningful, fulfilling work if you know where to look. John shares his insights, tools, techniques, and real-world advice from his own experience of being fired at 50 and beginning an inspiring reinvention. Find practical advice to ways of thriving after being downsized, fired, and losing your job.

In our conversation we talk about…

  • how people over 65 need a counter-narrative to the assumption that they have nothing left to contribute, their skills are outdated, and their experience means nothing,
  • how the career you want is already inside you,
  • how in order to create the future, we have to reconcile the past,
  • the importance of reframing limiting beliefs, reframing the past, and opening up to a different way of looking at yourself and what you’re capable of,
  • how acting “as if” is mental prototyping,
  • why being a mature person with a growth mindset is an advantage,
  • and why figuring out what your superpower is, is so important.

About John Tarnoff

John is an executive and career transition coach, speaker, and author who supports mid and late-career professionals in defining, planning, and achieving more meaningful and sustainable careers.

Fired 39% during his 35 years as a film producer, studio executive, and tech entrepreneur, he learned how to turn setbacks into successes in a volatile business. He reinvented his own career at 50, earning a master’s degree in spiritual psychology to share his career lessons with others going through similar challenges.

Since leaving entertainment in 2010, John has coached individuals, groups, and led career workshops for university alumni, including for UCLA, Cornell, and Carnegie Mellon. Corporate coaching clients have included Bank of America, Bridgewater Assoc., Levi-Strauss, Softbank, TD Ameritrade, and Thrive Global.

He is the author of the best-selling Boomer Reinvention: How to Create your Dream Career Over 50 and has created four courses on the multi-generational workforce for LinkedIn Learning.

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About the Inside-Out Career Design Podcast

This podcast is obsessed with answering a single question: Is it possible to create an authentic, meaningful, and fulfilling life you love while building a successful and rewarding career?

Join Nicola Vetter and Peter Axtell, co-founders of the Career Insights platform and creators of the groundbreaking MotivationFinder assessment, as they follow their obsession with answering this question by sharing their insights, discoveries, and life lessons and talking with career experts, leaders, spiritual guides, psychologists, data scientists, coaches -- anyone and everyone who might hold a strategy or answer to the age-old questions of “what’s next for me?” and “what should I do with my life?”

They seek to transform suffering into joy for millions of people stuck and confused in their lives and careers.

Get ready to be inspired, motivated, and above all, to connect deeply with who you are and what you are meant to do with the time you’ve been given.


John Tarnoff  00:00

You know, here's an expression that I learned at University of Santa Monica called act as if. It's one of their techniques. And the idea is that if you are in a place or frame of mind, where you have some lack and doubt going on, or some insecurity, or you're just not sure, it's just not formed in your life, try acting as if. Try waking up in the morning, and pretending that you are in that job, doing that role, have achieved a certain level of accomplishment. What would your life be if you were in that state?


Peter Axtell  00:40

Welcome to Inside-Out Career Design. In this show, we're obsessed with answering a single question. Is it possible to create an authentic, meaningful, and fulfilling life you love while building a successful and rewarding career? My name is Peter Axtell, and I'm here with Nicola Vetter. We're co-founders of the CareerInsights platform, and creators of the groundbreaking MotivationFinder assessment. Join us as we seek to transform suffering into joy for millions of people stuck and confused in their lives and careers. We'll share our insights, discoveries, and life lessons and talk with career experts, leaders, spiritual guides, psychologists, data scientists, coaches, anyone who might hold a strategy or answer to the age-old questions of: "What's next for me?" and "What should I do with my life?" Get ready to be inspired, motivated, and above all, to connect deeply with who you are, and what you're meant to do with the time you've been given. 


Peter Axtell  01:43

Are you trying to figure out what to do with your life, to figure out what to do with the precious time you've been given on this earth? Or to figure out what only you as a remarkable and unique individual can bring into this world? If you are, please join us for one of our live and completely free online workshops, where we cover different topics to help you figure out what to do with your life and career without wasting precious time, taking wild guesses, or risking it all. To save your spot in our next live and free workshop go to We can't wait to see you there. Again, that's


Nicola Vetter  02:36

Our guest today is John Tarnoff. John is an executive and career transition coach, speaker, and author of the book Boomer Reinvention - How to create your dream career over 50. If you are an older worker at a What's Next moment, then this episode is for you. Millions of people are living longer and having to work longer than ever before. As we age, we want a life and work that pays the bills and gives our lives meaning. In this far reaching and practical conversation we talk about Inside-Out Career Design for mature workers in a way that inspires hope, along with practical advice to bring a fulfilling life and career into reality.


Peter Axtell  03:34

John knew that he had to figure out what's next when his dream job ended. And that ending turned into an inspiring reinvention at age 50 that enabled him to help mid and late career professionals to find, plan, and achieve more meaningful and sustainable careers.


Nicola Vetter  03:55

That's why we were excited to have the long due conversation with John, where we talk about how people over 65 need a counter narrative to the assumption that they have nothing left to contribute, their skills are outdated, and their experience means nothing, how the career you want is already inside you, how in order to create the future we have to reconcile the past, the importance of reframing limiting beliefs, reframing the past, and opening up to a different way of looking at yourself and what you're capable of, how acting as if is mental prototyping, why being a mature person with a growth mindset is an advantage, and why figuring out what your superpower is, is so important. And now it's time to listen and learn from John. Welcome, John, we're happy to have you with us today.


John Tarnoff  05:17

It's a thrill. I've been waiting for this for a long time. I think I was saying to you guys before we're just overdue for this.


Nicola Vetter  05:23

Same here, absolutely. Now, you've had quite an eclectic career journey to put it mildly.


John Tarnoff  05:31

You think...


Nicola Vetter  05:32

And your watershed career reinvention happened when you were 50. We would call it a What's Next moment. Please share that story.


John Tarnoff  05:43

Yeah, it was literally a what's next moment. So, as you know, I had this long peripatetic career in the movie business as a film studio executive and a producer. And in the 90s, I was very inspired to get into the interactive revolution, CD ROM, I was always kind of what's next kind of guy, I had a computer on my desk in 1984 and people were coming into my office saying, what do you use that thing for? And so, when Melham Multimedia, remember that term, when that hit, I thought, oh, this is cool. I started producing content, as we now call it, around Computer Entertainment and found a partner and we had this idea, and we created a technology, and a company grew up around it. And we raised the money as people were doing back then in the 90s. And 2001 hit and it all just went away. And from having 50 developers in a warehouse in Venice, it was back to my partner and me in his loft apartment in Venice. And what's next? So, I decided to go back to school. And I didn't want to go back to the jobs that I had had in the movie business. I hadn't burned bridges, but I hadn't really kept up those connections. And I really wasn't interested in that work anymore. And what I know in retrospect, is that when you hit this midlife point, and we joke about the midlife crisis, but there is a shift, a mental shift that happens. I'm sure you've observed this in the work that you've done, in the studies. You begin to shift from a focus on the what to the why. And I think Jung talks about the idea that the first half of your life, you're building your ego, and then the second half of life, you're building on what you can contribute. And Erik Erikson talks about this and this concept of generativity. And so I was at that moment of what do I want to do? Why am I here? What's the next phase in my life gonna look like? So, I went back to school to earn a master's degree in spiritual psychology, great program here in Los Angeles called the University of Santa Monica. And it was a program that was initially designed to train marriage family therapists for the California licensure. But a lot of people have taken this really as a Life Mastery process. And that really was why I went into it, to kind of figure out, what am I saying? What am I doing? How do I take what's out there for me? And I had no expectations about where that was going to lead, but it was kind of crucial because I hadn't made a lot of money in my startup. I actually was out of money. I was stuck with a bunch of bills. I had these investors who fortunately didn't come after my partner or me when all their money went away. But I was kind of down to the last act here or the last straw. So, I had to remortgage the house, I had a kid in private school, my wife didn't work. And I thought I've got nine months to figure this out. And miraculously, I was able to figure it out. And partially because of this intention that I had set to figure this out. And partially because of the shifts that I was making internally. And you talk about an inside out process. This was definitely an inside out move. I was I don't know I was talking differently about myself. My interests were changing from being focused on the what and the product and the content to people. And I wound up through a series of strange events that took about six to seven months to manifest. I wound up back in the movie business at DreamWorks Animation in a job that I never would have imagined, the job they essentially created for me, because they were in a transition. They were looking for someone with my kind of background. They didn't have a job posting. Right? There was no defined position. But they had a need and I matched up with a lot of areas where they were looking to solve problems, understand what the problems were, and then solve them. So, I joined DreamWorks, the beginning of 2003, was there until the end of 2009. It was a fantastic run. It was entirely focused on people. I'd been doing production, all up to that time, development production, and I said to Jeffrey Katzenberg very early on in the process, who I had known years ago and in the movie business, I said, Jeffrey, I don't want to be in these meetings anymore. I want to take what I've done, developing this company, understanding some of that process and staff development and people and matching people up to support that staff growth process that's going on here, which is really something that he needed. So that really defined my sojourn at DreamWorks.


Nicola Vetter  10:48

That's actually wonderful, because the main question we are trying to answer on this podcast is, is it possible to find an authentic, meaningful and fulfilling life you love while building a successful and rewarding career? And it seems as if you have navigated those two parts, finding meaning and paying the bills in a very good way, after you've had this What's Next moment in your life.


John Tarnoff  11:18

Yes, it is not an easy path. It sounds like it was a pretty direct process. But believe me, there were many, many dark nights of the soul in that process. And my going to Chambers was not a fait accompli by any stretch of the imagination. And if that had not happened, I'm not sure what I would have done. I probably would have kind of continued to meet people and have conversations and find a path along those lines. You know, and funny, in retrospect, I look back and remember that I was feeling that I was on this very straight, narrow path and that, oh, hope the DreamWorks thing happens. And I don't have too many other irons in the fire. And fortunately, it did. Now I realized that there were so many things that I could have done as well, if that hadn't worked out. But I think very often we get, particularly when we're younger, I mean, I'm about to turn 71, which seems insane. But you begin to have this appreciation, I think as you go on in your life, that there are many, many choices that you have. And there are many, many possibilities. And if you really again, inside out, if you really focus on what's going on inside, and really try to filter out all of the negative messages that are out there, the messages of insufficiency, inadequacy, and you don't have enough, or there's something wrong with you, or let's talk about ageism, just for a second. There's something wrong with you because you're getting old. And we don't know what to do with old people. Because as if old is a negative term, there's something wrong with being old, as opposed to something magnificent and unfolding and wise and tremendously capable about being old.


Peter Axtell  13:13

Boy, there's a perfect segue, John, you keyed this up beautifully in your excellent book, Boomer Reinvention, which we highly recommend anyone who's in this position to read. It is so well written, on point, and helpful, it's wonderful. You write about how people over 65 need a counter narrative to the assumption that they have nothing left to contribute, their skills are outdated, and their experience means nothing. What is the counter narrative and how do you get people to believe that?


John Tarnoff  13:51

This is going to be a bit of a strange answer, perhaps. The counter narrative does not involve literally telling a different story and kind of forcing yourself to believe it. It's not The Little Engine That Could. I think I can, I think I can, I know I can... You can't do that, you can't force it. There are two guiding principles that I talk about in the book, and that I still talk about, which are that the career you want is actually already inside you. And we are so I think distracted by the noise of external messaging, of paradigms that we have grown up with, the structures of business and hiring today that it's hard to believe that we have all those resources inside us. And the second principle, which kind of goes along with the first one is that in order to create the future, we have to reconcile the past. And if you live for 50 odd years on the planet, you've got some baggage. If you've been in business, in a profession, raising a family, in life, you've got baggage. There have been things that did not go your way. And there have been struggles, and scars, and mistakes that you've made. And what I find with people in coaching relationships is that one of the most difficult things for people to do is let go of the past, let go of the judgments that they have made against themselves, against other people, the limiting beliefs and false conclusions that they have reached based on an inaccurate view or a limited view, let's say of what their life has been. So, it's really important, I talk about this in the book, and I work on this very early on in every coaching engagement with a client, reframing limiting beliefs, reframing the past, shifting paradigms, and opening up to a different way of looking at yourself, what you're capable of. And just getting to that square one is what's going to allow you to answer this question of finding that meaningful, purposeful, sustainable, rewarding, remunerative career that you want.


Peter Axtell  16:36

I think that makes a lot of sense. Sometimes we call it people who are living the Should Life, you should have done this, you should have done that.


John Tarnoff  16:46

Absolutely. Early on, I had a therapist who said, I just want you to know, I am not the keeper of the Shoulds.


Nicola Vetter  16:52

I love that.


Peter Axtell  16:57

Oh, that's hilarious.


John Tarnoff  16:58

No, that's on you.


Peter Axtell  17:01

We're gonna talk a little later about your methodology and how you do things, but also what I want to know is, we know the value of mature workers that we can bring to the workplace, there's experience, there's wisdom, resilience, to name just a few, yet you can't force companies to recognize these benefits. So, do you think this is changing in today's world?


John Tarnoff  17:27

Well, I think it's definitely changing. It's changing slowly. It's changing for a number of reasons. The first reason is demographic, there are more older people than there are younger people. And we're just starting to see this in a real way in the headlines. The press has kind of figured out now that China has announced that they have this population bubble problem, which they recognized a few years ago when they lifted the one child policy, but now it's starting to kind of get serious, and there's some real economic impact that goes along with this. So that's one reason. And the companies are just not going to find younger workers. They're not enough of them, right, they're going to have to expand and hire people that they were not necessarily thinking of hiring before. And this is interestingly a diversity issue. You really need to look at it as a diversity issue. Age is on the diversity agenda typically, for only 8% of companies in the US. I did a LinkedIn course called Managing Multiple Generations that talks about using diversity, equity, and inclusion programs as a great vehicle for bringing in the discussion of age, including age in your diversity approach. Because it really is about creating this multi-colored, multi-generational, multi-background, multi-orientation workforce to become more resilient as a company. So, I think that's beginning to percolate into the consciousness of companies. And then I think the practical approach for every one of us as individuals is to actually circumvent the hiring process, and really rely on ourselves, our value, and our networks, and our thought leadership as the three elements of a successful way around that cultural issue that we have holding us back.


Nicola Vetter  19:46

There are huge opportunities for older workers. It's just that the companies need to move forward faster in order to really realize we need to change or rethink our hiring strategy. But what are the best practices for people out there, older people, who want to get a desirable job?


John Tarnoff  20:20

Right. I think that we should not wait for the companies to change. And we should not hope that there's a white knight, or a deus ex machina, somewhere out there that's going to sweep down and make everything good. We have to make the change ourselves. And again, the three elements to that process for me, and the one that I teach to my clients is this idea that you start with your superpower, you start with defining inside-out, defining who you are, what you've done, what you love to do, I mean, it's easy guy, again, what you love, what you're great at, what the world needs, what you can get paid for. It's a really simple equation. Now, the process, which needs to be iterative, needs to be reflective, you need to take some time to do this, you can't do this in a weekend, you can start it in a weekend, but you really have to take the time to reflect on this. And if you can begin to tease out some of these notions about well, what you've loved doing, where you have reached your greatest success in the work that you've done. Well, just the first question that I like to ask clients in these situations is, when have you had the most fun in your career?


Nicola Vetter  21:44

There we go, that's a concept.


John Tarnoff  21:46

Because when you're having fun, you are most relaxed, you're most engaged, you're happy with yourself, you're happy with everyone else, everyone loves you, because you're so much fun to be around. So why would you not want to capture the essence of fun, and create your work focus around that as a as a starting point. And then you go from there. So, it really has to begin with that self-reflection process. And you don't want to do this alone, you want to get feedback, you want to pull together, a group of trusted advisors, family, friends, former managers are great for this, to give you some straight feedback, to give you some third party point of view about where you were great, where you screwed up, where you might want to work, or what you could be doing. And it's not that you're going to take what they say as gospel, you're in research mode, you're going to try to figure out how does that feel when they say that? What is triggering about what they say? Do they all say the same thing? Are there different nuances to this? Maybe out of five people, all five, say the same thing about the same aspect of you. But everything else is different. All sorts of configurations. You want to make this part of your research, and you want to compare that stuff that's going on inside with what you're getting from the outside. And over time begin to feel it out. Because feeling is really important here.


Nicola Vetter  23:30

Yes, that's beautiful.


John Tarnoff  23:31

Not your head.


Nicola Vetter  23:33

Beautifully said, John. I just believe that the more minds can think for you, the easier it'll get.


John Tarnoff  23:42

Good point.


Nicola Vetter  23:42

And of course, along the way you create connection. I'm all about connection. You create connection, and can expand your whole network so much more.


John Tarnoff  23:58

Yeah, it's about connection. I mean, before you were saying, what's the first step that someone should do? And something I always say is, stop chasing job openings, start chasing relationships.


Nicola Vetter  24:12

Yes, yes. Now, in your book, you say, the second half of life doesn't have to be one of reduction, but the process of expansion. I love that. And I'd love to hear more about that.


John Tarnoff  24:29

Sure. Well, we're taught that second half of life is about reduction, that when you talk to a financial advisor about retirement, the mantra is, do more with less. Be prepared to downsize, trim your lifestyle down to what you can afford or maintain or be happy with. But there's never this idea that, oh, I can keep burning money, I can keep expanding my horizons, I can keep doing new things. It's traditionally all about curling up and preparing to die.


Nicola Vetter  25:14

Yeah. And the rare examples that you see these days are in the fitness industry where you see pictures of 90-year-olds that have all these muscles, but you seldom really see those minds exposed, that are older.


John Tarnoff  25:35

I think you're seeing more of that. I think as this whole conversation around the second half of life expands, you're now seeing journalists start to compete with each other to find more interesting stories to share with us about people who are continuing to work by being entrepreneurs, over 70, starting new businesses. There's a piece I saw, I think it may have been in Forbes where they profiled three or four people in their 80s who are still going strong. One guy is a real estate developer, I think another guy was a project manager for some company. I mean, still employed, doing project management stuff. So, I think we're beginning to see examples of older people continuing to work to find fulfillment, uninterrupted and embracing this second half of life, or this second act, or third act, or whatever it is. Because here's the thing, if you turn 65, today, you have something like a 25% chance, maybe 30% chance of living past 90. So, in rough terms, do you want to spend a third of your life in retirement? I don't think so. And who can afford that? Right? Unless you have a significant amount of cash socked away and you are somehow resilient and impervious to the vagaries of the market, which seemed to be more volatile than ever, you're probably gonna have to figure out how to continue earning income in some way for quite a bit longer than they're telling you, right? Or that they told us.


Peter Axtell  27:33

I wanted to circle back on something that we are very passionate about, as you say, what do you do for fun? And when you think about when you're having fun, largely, you're in a flow state.


John Tarnoff  27:46



Peter Axtell  27:47

We're very big on the concept of flow, because that's what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi said, that's when you are performing and feeling your best, you're in a flow state. So, this whole idea of okay, I'm maybe gonna have to change and do something different. So, how can I approach that? Fun is a really great way to describe it and the actual experiences. How can I set something up that gives me the best chance to be more and more in flow states, which is all about expansion?


John Tarnoff  28:17

Right, right. Well, I think, you know, there's an expression that I learned at University of Santa Monica called act as if, it's one of their techniques. And the idea is that if you are in a place or frame of mind, where you have some lack and doubt going on, or some insecurity, or you're just not sure, it's just not formed in your life, try acting as if. Try waking up in the morning and pretending that you are in that job, doing that role, have achieved a certain level of accomplishment. And what would your life be if you were in that state? So, in a way, it's kind of mental prototyping, if you will, to put yourself into that position, and begin to play around with it. One of I think the most important aspects of the self-reflection process is journaling. And this is something again, that I really encourage everyone to do. And something I'm kind of a taskmaster about with my clients to kind of get into this right away. Just riffing off of the great Julia Cameron in the book, The Artist's Way, where she talks about morning pages and three pages a day, handwritten. I kind of dial it back for most people. We're not writers. Just do a page. Where's my book? I think it's in the other room. But I every day, I have my little moleskin notebook, and I write my page. And some days it's a wash out. Other days I get in touch with stuff that I don't know where this comes from, but it's exactly what I need to hear. It organizes what I need to be organizing, or it gives me some inspiration that I had never thought of before. Because I have cultivated this it's what I encourage people to do. Cultivate that relationship between your conscious and your unconscious, your right brain and your left brain, all of those disparate parts of you that want to communicate, but don't really have much of an opportunity to do so. The journal is your self-reflective spa experience every day, hopefully, or as many days a week as you can muster, to develop that dialogue. Because again, inner to outer, it starts with you. So be a whole person inside yourself, self-sufficient, self-creative, right? Growth Mindset, you know, open to the possibility of something new.


Peter Axtell  30:48

I've been a songwriter all my life, I used to be a professional musician...


John Tarnoff  30:53

Yeah, you've got a great journey, right? Musician, real estate, you know, into he world, you're doing, and helping and coaching and all that fun, that's phenomenal.


Peter Axtell  31:03

Thank you. And I can't tell you how many songs I probably missed out on because they were floating by, and I just didn't capture them. I think Steven Pressfield talks about this, you know, the Muse is going along, and you have to grab that. So, I now have a little tiny notebook that I carry in my pocket, because I'm always getting some kind of an idea. And I've noticed that when I just write it down, which is an extension, probably of morning pages, I write down this idea of something I've read, this conversation we're having, I've got about 10 of them. I just write that down. And the act of writing, just capturing that idea is now starting to generate more and more ideas, what we're talking about with expansion. John, in your book, you go into this very interesting thing, you said that neurologists report that older people tend to have a gift for gist thinking, which is, I think, the ability to get to the heart of a subject in addition to having more empathy. So, can you share a case study of someone who had these qualities, or talk about that?


John Tarnoff  32:10

Well, I think we, as we get older, we all have this experience where you're in a meeting, everyone's trying to figure out what this problem is, solve the problem, and you're sitting there and thinking, this is so obvious, why don't they get this? And then you mention the solution. And people look at you like you're this genius. And how did you figure that out? And you said, well, it's not really that complicated, because there's this, this and this, and it's like, oh, right, oh, that makes perfect sense. And you're figuring it out, because you've been doing this for decades, your neural pathways have been so well developed, solving these kinds of problems, that it just comes naturally to you because the electricity is flowing in this direction. So that's the gist of gist thinking that you're able to instantly access the answers because of the way your mind has been focusing, there's another, there's another brain mechanism called the reticular activating system that functions very much along these lines, where depending on what you focus on, and where you are setting your intentions in your day to day life, what your paradigms are, your mind will filter out all of the extraneous stuff and show you what you're intending to see. And plenty of studies have been done about how this manifests. The standard one is, you're buying a new car, and all of a sudden, the model that you're interested in you're seeing all over the place. You never noticed how many of those cars were out there before but now all of a sudden, you're seeing this, you know, whatever it is Toyota Camry, or you know, or Jaguar, or whatever it is that you're buying. They're all over the place. How'd that happen? They weren't there yesterday. Well, your reticular activating system is now filtering out all the other stuff and showing you those cars because you're interested in them.


Nicola Vetter  34:08

Including the color. That's what I realized, it's really funny. Now, there are also studies out there that show that the six traits that hiring managers and academics have identified as keys to success in today's workplace are a sense of service attitude, long term vision, curiosity, insight, engagement and determination. And I'm curious, John, is there first anything that you would add to those six traits? And second, is it your experience as well?


John Tarnoff  34:52

Well, I think I didn't hear you talk about self-responsibility. And I think that that is one of the perhaps most important traits for an older professional to bring to the fore. Because this goes to the idea of leadership, and stepping up to leadership in whatever way that may manifest for us. But, and kind of goes back to Erikson and generativity and actually making the world a better place and having some connection from yourself to making an impact on the world, using what you've learned to make an impact. I think we are expected to deliver on that level. And I think we are also dinged, because the expectation is that we're not going to, that we, and this is part of back to what you were saying before, quoting from the book about, you know, we're too old, out of touch, too expensive. And I think the reputation comes from this lack of willingness, on our part, at this age to really step up, to step beyond, to say, okay, I have learned all of this stuff, here's how I want to manifest it, here's what I want to do for you from what I know. And I've got it covered. And our willingness to step up to that level of self-responsibility, I think can be enormously engaging. Because who wouldn't want someone to come in and just take care of that? And it's not about, oh, I want your job. A lot of times people think, oh, this older person who wants to come in at a lower level of responsibilities, they want to take my job. But no, not really, we've shifted away from that ego building thing. In the first half of life. Now, we want to make a difference. So, we don't need the title. We actually don't really need the money. We need some money, but we don't need the money. We need the opportunity to step up and be of service. I think that's a really important trait. But I think it comes with a little bit more leadership. I think it's interesting that in that list, self-responsibility is not at the top.


Nicola Vetter  37:29

I totally agree with you.


Peter Axtell  37:34

Wow, John, I hope people are listening very closely to this part, the idea that you have a responsibility for what you've learned in your life, to the world, to other people. I can feel it inside me right now, that it is inspiring. This idea that I have a responsibility, I have something to contribute, is exactly the opposite of, I'm old and washed up and have nothing left to contribute. That's a brilliant point.


Nicola Vetter  38:04

And I think the reason why more and more people nowadays, are actually taking that responsibility is most likely because of the huge WHY movement, asking, well, what's my NorthStar how we call it, what's my WHY, my purpose, my meaning. And once you know that and can live it and can show it in the world then with that along comes responsibility that you are taking willingly without needing to be in the spotlight and shine. But you can shine a light on others.


John Tarnoff  38:45

There we go. Yeah, really well said, I agree.


Peter Axtell  38:48

Isn't it exhausting kind of maintaining your ego trying to...


John Tarnoff  38:52



Peter Axtell  38:53

We have a, one of our dear past teachers who now has died sadly, he had a great book and it's called Be Nobody. Nothing to defend, I don't have to build all this up.


Nicola Vetter  39:05

And it's hilarious. It's a great read. We'll put it in the show notes as well.


Peter Axtell  39:09

Yeah. You've also written about Carol Dweck's idea of a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. So how does that apply to somebody figuring out what's next?


John Tarnoff  39:21

I think it goes back to what we were just talking about regarding self-responsibility. If you decide, and Nicola, you were talking about curiosity, if you decide that you're going to subscribe to this crop and die paradigm that your life is on a declining path, well, then you have no real reason to think about what's next. But if you're honestly asking the question, what's next? I know there's got to be something more, then you are automatically part of this idea of the growth mindset, which is inspired by curiosity, by the idea of the beginner's mind, that we are lifelong learners, that there's always something more to learn and experience, and that we are not as individuals, as human beings, we are not fixed. And I think one of the greatest contributions to our culture over the last 20 years has been all of the discovery in neuroscience, around neuroplasticity, and the idea that the brain is malleable and constantly growing and changing, and that we can intentionally make that happen. So, if that is the reality of our biological makeup, well, then the growth mindset just kind of comes along with it, because we are infinitely capable of change.


Peter Axtell  41:06

Beautifully said.


Nicola Vetter  41:08

John, we are trying to get people a little bit off the cloud, that often times they are on and ground them more into what do I really need to do to make means end? It's clear, or should be clear, that the market is changing, as we said before. And I'm from Germany. So, my father worked for 30 plus years at the same company, wrote his PhD while working there, and was rewarded with a generous pension that lasted throughout his and my mother's lifetime. But those days are mostly gone in Germany, and certainly, in the US.


John Tarnoff  41:57

It was a wonderful period while it lasted in the 20th century, but it's gone.


Nicola Vetter  42:04

So what are your further suggestions for an older person to cope with this new reality to really being able to pay the bills?


John Tarnoff  42:16

Right. This may sound like a strange answer, but the answer is: build a community. Again, back to this idea of stop chasing job openings, start chasing relationships. Your community is the key to your short term and long-term success. Your community is different from your network. Sounds a little bit glib, but as a way of framing this, your network, all the contacts that you know, will stand by and watch you fail. It's just a grid of connections. A community will step in and help you succeed. Because a community is bound by shared interests, values, goals and aspirations. So, when you build a community, when you have a community, and you are in process, daily, essentially with your community, you're able to approach them and say, Look, I'm working on this longer term thing. I'm doing the self-reflection. I'm journaling, I'm trying to build some long-term relationships here. I need to make an extra X dollars a week or month or a year. What shall I do, right? Your community, and within that community, a really tight knit group of friends, advisors, people I like to call your personal board of directors, are the people that you can work with every day to figure this out. Whether it is, here's something to try, maybe you want to start by volunteering in this organization, you want to kind of build more community around this. It really is all about having more conversations. And in some instances, there's not going to be a quick fix or as quick fix as you would like. But the news now for about 10 years, most of the people that I talk to and work with, even the ones that I talk to and don't end up working with, they figure it out and they figure it out through their community.


Nicola Vetter  44:53

Okay, I can just hear people scream out loud now because there is this endemic of loneliness in this country. And people just don't know. Well, I would love to have a community, but where do I start? How do I build it up? My LinkedIn profile probably has 100 people, or less, where do I start?


John Tarnoff  45:16

Right. Well, you start by having conversations. Right? So, I remember, when I was on tour for my book, I was in Chicago, and I was speaking and a woman got up in the ile and she said, You know, I have a LinkedIn profile, but I don't have any connections on my LinkedIn profile. How do I do that? And I said, well, you are...or I think she said, you say that we should have, you know, 500 plus connections on LinkedIn. But you know, how do I do that? And I said, well, do you think you know 500 people in the world? And she said, Well, of course. I said, well, do you have a, maybe you have a Facebook account? She said, Well, yeah. And anyway, I said, so the people are all around you, you just need to get on an email or the phone. You actually could call them up, speak to them, and say, hey, let's connect on LinkedIn to further our business. Self-responsibility, you have to initiate. Right? And yes, loneliness is epidemic. I think there are very legitimate, I don't want to get into that in this conversation, but I think there are some real legitimate social economic issues around loneliness. And people who have disability, people who, you know, are economically really challenged and in bad shape. Absolutely. But for, I would say probably the majority of people on your podcast, in your audience, it comes down to taking a little bit more responsibility about intentionally conducting these conversations and reaching out and saying, hey, here's what I'm trying to do. Right? I'd love to toss my ideas around with you. Here's what I'm thinking about doing. Have some initial sense of purpose. Yes, you're going to make mistakes. Yes, it's going to be awkward. Yes, you may not be finding the right people, it may fall on deaf ears, you know, people may not get back to you. All sorts of reasons why this is going to be a bit of a fraught process. You got to keep going, what choice do you have, right? Be self-responsible, believe in yourself. There's something in there, you know, there's something in there, right? You need some echo, right, something to bounce it off. Right?


Nicola Vetter  48:05

And I think you also need practice. Practice in really going out there, if you're not used to it. Now, I'm a very outwardly focused person and I freak Peter out sometimes because I go through the park, and I speak to strangers. Now, this is not for everybody, I know, but the conversations that I have with strangers, and we are all connected, the conversations I have really give me ideas, for example, for our hosts on mic, when only the two of us speak on this podcast, or whom we could invite as a guest. That seems probably counterintuitive at first. But everybody has something to contribute. So, I love that.


John Tarnoff  49:01

I love your story. And I think about this, I mean, I'm an introvert, I am naturally an introvert. I was a really shy kid. And it's taken me a long time to kind of be able to get on a podcast or get up in front of a room of people, and I've no problem doing that anymore. And part of the reason, this is what I say to people, if you've got clarity around who you are, what you do, what you love, what you want to do, then all you're doing in connecting to people is sharing from the overflow of that enthusiasm, right, of that clarity. So, as you're talking about going up to people in the park, the other ideas in the act as if world, right? Act as if you're an extrovert for a day. Right? Go to the park as an exercise and smile at people, say hello. See if maybe that sparks a conversation. Comment on what a wonderful dog they have, or what a warm raincoat that looks like, or whatever it is. But practice, as you say, right? Figure out something that you can do that's just a little bit outside of your comfort zone. Just a little bit and try it once. And you'll probably do fine. Well, maybe try it twice. This is all incremental. Right? It's very small changes.


Nicola Vetter  50:44



John Tarnoff  50:47

People push back on me about the journaling all the time. Oh, I hate journaling. I don't know what to say, I ... whatever. So, I have a blog post I wrote about this kind of helping people get into this with very, very small ideas. Redefine what it means to journal, maybe you've got a checklist, and your journaling is marking off every day those things that you want to do on the checklist, right? That's a start. There's a funny story, I hope you don't mind, I just kind of tell it quickly. It's about habit building. And this is probably an apocryphal story, but it's about New Year's resolutions and going to the gym. So, every January, and we're in January, as we're recording this, people say okay, I'm going to lose weight, I'm gonna go to the gym, the two most popular New Year's resolutions. So, story about this one guy is that he decides he's gonna go to the gym every day, as his New Year's resolution. So sure enough, right afternoon, he gets in the car, he drives to the gym, drives in the parking lot, parks the car, and he sits there, starts the car up, drives home. And he does this every day, just drives to the gym, and drives home. And it works on his system. So hey, how's your New Year's resolution going? He says, I'm going to the gym every day. Not lying. So, if he's doing this for about two or three weeks, he's driving, and he's gotten real comfortable with this part of his routine, he figures Well, I'm here I might as well go in. So, he goes in, picks up a couple of brochures, talks to the receptionist at the desk and gets back in his car and goes home. Bottom line, cut to the chase, within three months, he's working out every day at the gym. He's got to trainer, doing fine. But it took that incremental process where he was feeling comfortable, he had to feel comfortable. And he had to get to that point where he was willing to get to the next level. And it was integral mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, it was all lined up. And unless it's lined up inside you, you're always gonna fall back.


Peter Axtell  53:11

I love it when you wrote about that there's a good chance that the malaise you're feeling at work reflects not just your uncertain future, but some deeper longing that is driven from within. And I'm sure you can talk about that. John, please.


John Tarnoff  53:31

Well, thank you for reading in such detail. You know, again, this goes back to the idea of baggage. And also, the idea that as we get into this midlife period, we are motivated by something more than money, more than a position, more than the ego accomplishment, more than the challenge of raising a family. We have now, if not conquered, we have navigated through some of these experiences. They are not as fresh as they once were. And we're thinking, guys, what's next? Right? So, the malaise that I write about is very much the same opportunity point that you talk about, right, in asking that question. And I think the extent to which that malaise grows and becomes more intense and metastasizes is the extent to which we do not answer that call. But we repress it or accept it as, well, that's just the way it is. I'm getting old. Right? This is what happens when you get old. We tell ourselves these stories that are inaccurate, but that's maybe what we saw our parents do, our grandparents, what the culture tells us, and we do it to ourselves. You know we are our own worst agists.


Peter Axtell  55:13

You emphasize Erik Erikson's idea for reinvention. I really want to know more about, I'm sure our audience would love to know about this concept of generativity because it's such a powerful idea.


Nicola Vetter  55:29

Especially since we touched on it at the beginning of this conversation.


John Tarnoff  55:33

I'm not an expert in Erik Erikson. I've read Erik Erikson, but I'm not an Erikson scholar, I'm not an Erikson psychologist. But he came up with this life stage framework. And the generativity, the concept of generativity, which he applied to, I think it was the six of the seven stages, or the seven of the eight stages, somewhere in there. It's the second to last day,


Peter Axtell  56:00

It's the seven.


John Tarnoff  56:02

Yeah. And it is this idea that, after achieving all that you have achieved in your life, there is this, there's this natural evolution again, towards giving back. And the alternative, if you do not honor this impulse, this urge to give back, is stagnation. That is the alternative choice that you are making in this life stage, to either reach out with what you know, and make a difference, or to stagnate. So, it's a pretty clear and kind of scary dilemma. If you do not heed the call, at this stage in your life, it's not going to look too good, right? You're going to avoid the growth mindset, you're going to nurture the malaise that you're experiencing, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy, you will go down to that reductive, curled up, you'll be a terrible person to be around, you may be more lonely than you want it. I mean, I just think it's kind of perhaps overdramatic to talk about it this way. But we know a lot of people who kind of curl up and are increasingly unhappy, bitter, and making snarky comments on social media about stuff. And it's a shame, it's not necessary.


Nicola Vetter  57:44

They fade away and become the noisy, no, the nosy, the nosy neighbor.


Peter Axtell  57:50

Sometimes noisy neighbor, too, Nicola.


John Tarnoff  57:54

Noisy and nosy.


Peter Axtell  57:56

I wanted to touch on as we're getting kind of towards the end of this. But we have some time, I want you to share the overview of your five steps for reinvention. This is super helpful for people who are looking to choose, change, or expand their career probably at any age.


John Tarnoff  58:13

So I want to update the five steps that are in the book to what I talked about today, which is a little bit, perhaps, I think, a little bit more accessible. And it's three steps, so it's easier to count. And it really goes to this idea of I've been trying to kind of figure out what are the real basic elements that go into a career transition at this stage? And I think it applies across most ages. As soon as you start getting into this WHY question, because I've worked with younger clients, I've worked with clients as young as in their 30s. But I find that it tends to really begin to percolate in the 40s. So, I have a number of clients who have been in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. This is really the age range, where this kind of process begins to become meaningful. And the three elements are and I kind of alluded some of this already. What's your superpower? Cultivate and define your superpower. Build your community. And then create a professional brand around what you do, what you offer. So, the superpower gets back to the idea of fun. The icky guy, you know the value that you can deliver. So, it's got to be useful. It's got to be something that you love. It's got to be something you do well, that you enjoy doing, it's got to have flow in it somewhere. And if you can define that superpower, then you're making it easy for everyone else to help you. And you don't want to do what a lot of people are tempted to do, which is to say, hey, I've done all sorts of stuff. What do you need? I can do this, I can do that. I've been a marketer, I've been a project manager, I've been a sales rep, I've been... What do you need? I could do that job, I could do that job, I could do that job. And I think this is the wrong way to go about it. You want to niche it. You want to figure out what's that superpower. And this is all you do. It's all you sell. Because it's what you want to do most. Don't try to do something that you can do it. You know, you'd accept a salary for that, believe me, they don't want you to do something that you can do. They want you to do something that you must do. Because again, they're looking for you to step up, be super self-responsible at this age, and deliver on that high level. And that gets around all of the ageism, and the hesitation around hiring older people because you're giving them something they need. So, they don't care how old you are. Right? They want that superpower. And then building the community. The community becomes both your prototyping workshop for how to get the superpower to land. Because the community is going to come back and say, hey, this isn't really clear about this. Can you be more specific about this? Ah, okay, I understand that now. Oh, that makes a lot of difference now, okay, I can help you out. Here are five people to call. Having that community and having that superpower means that you can introduce yourself to people who feel they know you before you've even met them. Because the community is doing your marketing, and your beating the bushes for you. Again, we were talking about this before, have as many conversations as you possibly can. Informational interviews, you're there to learn, you're there to learn how other people are running their companies. You're not, I mean the old saying, if you ask someone for a job, they'll give you advice. If you ask someone for advice, they'll give you a job. And it works that way. Right? Your goal, having that superpower is to be constantly working, you're never, by the way on LinkedIn, people, never put that little green circle open to work on your profile. You're always doing your job, you're just looking for the next client. That client may be a 1099, three months, six-month contract, it may be a W2 full-time job. It's still a client. Right, you're delivering that value to that client. You had a question?


Peter Axtell  1:03:22

Well, John, I think that you've now evolved from your book, which was written in 2017. I think it's time for a new book, because I love these three, the refinement to these three new ideas is brilliant.


John Tarnoff  1:03:37

Thank you. Well, let's talk about the third one. So, the idea of the professional brand, thought leadership question always comes up. Okay. So, you know, I've done the networking, I'm building the community, you know, how do I keep this going? Right? People would say to me, okay, I've reached out to 50 people in my network. Now, what do I do? And it's a legitimate question. And I've heard people say, oh, well, you can't, don't worry about sustaining your network. You know, when the network is there, you know, you can reach out, you can always reach out to your network. I disagree. I think you have to sustain the network. The problem is you just, I mean, it's ridiculous. You're not a salesperson using a CRM, you're not going to be calling 50 people a day, every day for the rest of your life just to kind of keep the network going. So, this is where the professional branding comes in. And it's the idea that you have to define the three, four, or five areas of your business, what you do, of your superpower, of the field that you work in, of what's interesting to your community you're in and your network and express yourself on those topics. This could be working on events, this could be blogging, this could be just commenting on LinkedIn. This could be writing articles. Guesting on a podcast. Engaging with your community could be volunteering in a way that really helps you express all of the value that you know is out there, the future, how are we going to deal with the problems that are happening in our industry right now? What are the top key issues? I'm working with a guy now who's a supply chain executive. Working on this question. So, what does he want to talk about? What keeps him up at night? What is working at the future of operations and supply chain in a changing world? Warfare, climate migration, all these issues are going on. What's the future? What is the leadership, the thought leadership that he can provide on that, that's going to help him build his reputation, build trust in what he does, and further, grow the community. So, it's a flywheel, I see it as a flywheel, you start with that superpower, you extend this out to your community, your branding and thought leadership helps put kind of the icing on the cake, and spins it back around to the focus on the superpower, on the value proposition. And this is the essence, I think of how to create a sustainable, rewarding, meaningful, purposeful career at this time by following these three elements.


Nicola Vetter  1:06:34

Absolutely. And I believe that in order to get to that superpower, so one of our company values is: transform confusion into clarity. And this is a huge step in order to then follow your idea to be a leader of yourself, which I love.


John Tarnoff  1:06:57

Yeah, and that's what I talked about in the TEDx talk, which I thought was fun. Right? We talked with all this is so typically externally focused, right? I want to get to this level, I want to be this position, I want to be a vice president. I want to be a senior vice president. It's like, okay. Right? Let me know how that goes for you. Right? You know, I talked to a lot of senior vice presidents who are kind of position rich and career poor. Because all they've got is that box of the titles and the hierarchy that they've moved up.


Nicola Vetter  1:07:36

Yeah. John, it's been such a pleasure. I mean, we could go on and on. But I believe it's probably not the last time that we spoke.


John Tarnoff  1:07:47

I hope not.


Nicola Vetter  1:07:47

Especially if Peter put a seed in your mind to write that next book.


John Tarnoff  1:07:54

I got to, you're right, I got to work on it. Yep. Thank you, Peter.


Peter Axtell  1:07:58

When your community says, this is what we want. I think you would say, listen to your community.


John Tarnoff  1:08:04

I agree. Well, seriously, acknowledgments? Yeah, Peter Axtell told me I needed to write this book. So here we go.


Peter Axtell  1:08:12

John, is there anything that we didn't touch on that you want our audience to know?


John Tarnoff  1:08:17

I think we touched on all of it. The one thing I would say is that it can seem overwhelming, and I would just encourage everyone to take something that you may have heard in this conversation today, whatever it was, and act on it. That's most important. That's the most important thing you can do is act, don't wait. You know, life is not getting any longer. So, you know, best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. Second best time is today.


Peter Axtell  1:09:00



Nicola Vetter  1:09:01

Thank you so much.


Peter Axtell  1:09:02

That's a great place to end right there. We hope you enjoyed this interview. An important reminder for me was that we're all carrying around heavy baggage, struggles, and scars from the past, things that just didn't go our way. But one of the most difficult things for people is to let go of the past, let go the judgments that we've made against ourselves and others. But that is the path to more compassion, to peace, and to being able to move on in life.


Nicola Vetter  1:09:34

Absolutely. Now, my biggest takeaway was the idea of "act as if." I was never a fan of "fake it till you make it." I'd rather say, "live it and you'll be it." There's a subtle but crucial difference, because as we always say, language is generative. Live into who you want to become. When you wake up in the morning, imagine how it would feel to be in that job, in that role, that you have achieved that level of accomplishment. What would your life be like if you were in that state?


Peter Axtell  1:10:21

It would be inspiring. To learn more about John, head to, where we share the transcripts, links and more. Again, that's


Nicola Vetter  1:10:46

And if you like what you've heard, share it with someone you care about. And subscribe, rate, and review our Inside-Out Career Design podcast on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts, so you'll never miss an episode. Thanks so much for joining us here today. We'll see you next week for another episode. Same time, same place.