“I don’t deserve to feel like this. I have a career, a loving spouse, a wonderful family—and yet, I feel down, unfulfilled, sometimes hopeless. Maybe I just have first world problems.”
It’s not you. As it turns out, there’s a scientific explanation for the oblique sense of dissatisfaction that you experience in your forties or fifties.
In The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50, author Jonathan Rauch develops the theory of a Happiness Curve and if you’re my age, you’re probably living in the bottom of it.
Imagine the Happiness Curve as a U. During your teenage and young adult years, you’re free of responsibility and exploring the world—singing along with Run-D.M.C. and eating 3 McRibs in one sitting. Most folks in their twenties score high on life satisfaction surveys.
By the time people reach their sixties, they also score high on life satisfaction surveys, but only after coming to appreciate everything in life as it is and not how they think it should be.
It’s at the bottom of the curve where midlife sits. There’s a feeling of despair and hopelessness that can creep in, a sense that you’ll never escape the grind or hedonic treadmill (which is still better than being on a real treadmill). You start to ask yourself questions such as, “Is this it?”
It’s not. I found this out when I did something really stupid.
I made a terrible decision, but got lucky when it worked out. At age 46, I “retired” from teaching. I walked into the headmaster’s office and told him that I was not returning, despite being at the high end of the pay scale in a position that garnered me national and international recognition.
There’s more to that story, which we will explore on the Teaching Transformations podcast. But I can tell you that I dove headfirst into the deep end of the Happiness Curve, and I’m starting to swim back to the surface. In these weekly Transformations emails, I’ll share the mistakes that I’ve made so you can avoid making the same ones.
It’s difficult to start any transformation if you’re physically unwell. Whether you have an acute illness or a chronic disease, you must get your body in optimal shape if you expect your brain to follow. After being diagnosed with gout (also at age 46—2017 was a trip for me), I started on a path to transform my lumpy and fatigued midlife body into a slightly less lumpy and mildly more energetic midlife body.
If you’d like to hear more about that story, you can watch this short clip from my appearance on NBC’s Today Show where Hoda & Jenna interviewed me about my new lifestyle.
Now is the time to plant the seeds for the next stage of your life, and we’re going to help you do it.
Welcome to Transformations, a free weekly email with the best personally curated resources to help teachers in their late forties or fifties to design a post-academic life.
Seize the day.
Who Let the Blogs Out? // “Un-Retirement” with Brian Clark
Brian Clark is a Gen X maverick, the man behind Copyblogger and Unemployable. His newest venture is called Further, and he’s addressing 40- and 50-year-olds who are not going to have the same retirement options as their parents.
“Un-retirement” is the idea that we’re not going to be able to stop working. Maybe it’s a lack of savings, or because those damn Boomers won’t ride off into the sunset. The problem is, we’re going to be forced out or laid off after 50 because we’ll be victims of high salaries, combined with youngins getting hired at half of what the boss is paying us.
Clark suggests that we stop striving to quit working, and instead, strive to quit settling. Now is the time to start thinking about what comes next.
How Will the “Un-Retirement” Trend Affect You? (Further.net)
Pod Save the Queen // My Conversation with Matthew McConaughey
“John, you’re a prick. And you know it.”
That’s what Matthew McConaughey had to say about John Mellencamp. Don’t get your clickbaity Twitter fingers in a tizzy. They’re good friends and it was said in jest, but definitely something you would have heard in a teaser for Hard Copy.
Something McConaughey said that really stuck with me had to do with how he was forced to “own his shit” after his dad passed away. I had the same feeling when my dad passed in 2018. Even though I was a grown man with a family of my own, for the first time I felt like I was completely vulnerable—no safety net. At 47, I was finally forced to own my shit. For me, that means double-downing on life and appreciating every single moment that I’m still in the game.
But I digress. I co-host (under my pen name, J. Thorn) a writing podcast with my friend J.D. Barker. We named the podcast Writers, Ink (get it?) and we interview authors from all over the spectrum, including some heavy hitters like Seth Godin, James Patterson, and more recently, Matthew McConaughey.
I was honored and thrilled to interview the man whom I believe best exemplifies the Generation X archetype. Matthew is fiercely independent, contrarian, patriotic, unsung, tolerant, and absolutely genuine.
His book, Greenlights, is one of the most fascinating and well-written memoirs I’ve ever read. And Matthew didn’t hire a ghostwriter as do many other celebrities—he wrote it himself, sourced from decades of journals and diaries.
And that whiskey and brown-sugar voice. Am I right?
Even if you have no interest in becoming an author, you don’t want to miss this conversation. I asked McConaughey questions that you won’t hear in mainstream media interviews.
Keep on livin’.
Greenlights with Matthew McConaughey (podcast episode)
Mall Food Court // Siete Grain Free Tortilla Chips
Wheat, rice, and corn. Oh my. Not since Zima, Two-Buck Chuck, and Schlitz Malt Liquor has there been a trifecta so determined to wreak havoc on our bodies. Sure, you used to be able to grab a few extra slices of pizza from your favorite lunch lady in the cafeteria, but it all goes straight to your spare tire now.
Whether it’s tooth decay, obesity, blood sugar imbalances, mood changes, heart disease, or general inflammation, grains are the underlying culprit for many of our midlife afflictions.
Enter, Siete Foods. I’ve been eating their cassava-based, grain-free tortilla chips for months and they’re outstanding. Made without preservatives and with the taste and consistency of chips made from flour or corn, you can’t go wrong in stocking up for that Cinco de Mayo party—the one where you play Liz Phair’s “Cinco de Mayo” on repeat.
Siete Grain Free Tortilla Chips (Sietefoods.com)
Pass the Remote // Dead Poets Society
I don’t remember what I was doing on June 9, 1989, but I can guarantee you that I was not in line at the Monroeville Mall movie theater for the debut of Dead Poets Society. I was 18 and about to graduate from high school, a time in my life when I couldn’t have cared less about teachers.
But less than 5 years later, I found myself as a young intern at a small, independent school in northern New Jersey, and that’s when I understood the power of Robin Williams’ masterpiece.
Williams plays teacher John Keating, a quirky and unorthodox teacher who is trying his best to inspire the students at an all-male, elite boarding school in the 1950s.
The lines were so striking and memorable that Tom Schulman won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
You know all of this because Dead Poets Society is one of your favorite movies. It has to be, right?
Go watch it again. You’ll thank me for it later.
Dead Poets Society (Amazon Prime Video)
Mixtape Rewind // “With or Without You” by U2
Target: potential love interest
Vibe: interested but not stalky
Song Position: side 1, song 1
Even though U2 isn’t my favorite band of all time, I can objectively say that I think they’re the biggest rock and roll band of all time. And if we can’t agree on that, we do have to give Bono and the boys the moniker of “Most Popular Rock Band of the 1980s.” (Sorry, Axl.)
The older I get and the more I listen to The Joshua Tree, the more I’m blown away by this work of art. Side one is nothing short of epic.
For this Mixtape Rewind, let’s revisit “With or Without You.” Bono wrote this song for his wife, but that didn’t stop us as teenagers from using it as a somewhat vague but probing suggestion to a potential love interest. The lyrics, the tone, a shirtless Bono swinging the guitar at the end of the music video for no apparent reason—all of it was used as a ploy to get that crush out of her panties/his briefs.
From 1987 through 1991, “With or Without You” rode pole position on every mixtape that I made. Bono’s songs would eventually be displaced by those from another sulky heartthrob in the early 1990s. That dude wore flannel with a last name that rhymes with “bed-her.” Coincidence?
“With or Without You” – U2 (Spotify)
Where Were You When… 
“If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”
In 1995, I had wheeled a television and tin-foil antenna into my fifth-grade classroom for the verdict. Several of the other fifth-grade teachers came in and gathered around to watch the conclusion of the “trial of the century.”
The verdict left us shaken on many levels. But what I remember most was how it changed the ways in which I used current events in my history class. Although the ubiquitous Internet was still a few years away, I realized that teachers would no longer be able to hold “the real world” (not the reality show) at bay. From now on, as Howard Zinn had believed, it would be impossible to be an “objective” history teacher.
The days of discussing current events once a week on Friday afternoon were over. Now, we’d be required to balance our instruction of what had happened with what was happening.
I don’t remember what lesson I taught after we finished watching the verdict, but sometimes I wonder if it might have been better if I had never wheeled that screen into the classroom in the first place.
O.J. Simpson Infamously Trying On Gloves At Trial (YouTube.com, Investigation Discovery)
Silly Rabbit! Gifs Are for Kids!
I pity the fool who’s still eating crispy sweet corn for breakfast. Your bad cholesterol levels and triglycerides must be through the roof.