Research shows the reasons people start over can fill a football field, or likely more. Job loss, divorce, a new relationship, financial loss, a position in a new city, emerging from or learning to live productively with health issues, natural or manmade disaster, death of a partner, or never pursuing your life’s passion are just some of the incentives for a new life. They fuel the fire to reimagine what’s possible. While starting over in your 30s, 40s, and 50s can be challenging, if you are 60 or older, the concept can be even more daunting, the general thinking is it’s too late, it won’t matter, and basically why bother at that point?

Older Adults Living Well into Their 80s, 90s,
and Longer

Today we are living well into our 80s, 90s, and longer. In the U.S. alone, estimates put the number of centenarians at more than 94,000, an increase of 58% in the last two decades. In short, there is so much life ahead, if there are changes one needs or wants to make, the idea of not starting over may be worse than what it takes to realize your goals.

An Adult Daughter’s Story of an Aging Father
Who Started Over Again and Again

Beth and Bernie

My father, Bernie Herman, started his life over again several times, by choice
or necessity. In his 50s, during the height of the major recession of the 1970s,
people lost their jobs, building stopped, consequently his small-town construction law practice all but disappeared. In many ways, our once-thriving small city became a ghost town. In addition to his private practice, he had been Corporation Counsel under two mayors, the lawyer for the school committee, and so much more. But the recession was like an octopus, its long reach like a domino effect.

Pushing Back Against Ageism
in the Workplace

Following a lot of anguish and concern (ageism has always been alive and well in this country: who will hire anyone over 50?) he took control, sold the house in a downed real estate market, and he and my mother, Pat, moved to another part of the region with more opportunity. He’d been a solo practitioner, calling his own shots for 25 years, but this highly resilient man persisted beyond measure and got himself hired by a law firm that specialized in other forms of the law.

Self-Taught Computer Learner at Age 70

Lifelong learner Bernie

At 70, he purchased his first PC in the still-early days of home computers. The man who’d had secretaries and didn’t know a keyboard from an ironing board taught himself to type. Knowing little about technology, nevertheless he taught himself how to use a computer to the extent that as the years passed and my sister and I had issues with software or hardware, he became expert enough to troubleshoot — always finding the root of our problems and resolving them.


Who goes to clown school in their 70s? Bernie thought, ‘Why not?’

Joining the Ranks of Older Entertainers

At 71, having practiced law in one place or another his entire adult life, he decided he wanted to make people truly happy. “It seems clients are almost never satisfied with what you achieve for them,” he’d say. “No matter the amount of the award, the terms of the settlement, people never seem to think they’ve gotten enough.” Continuing to maintain his practice, he attended a week-long intensive clown school in upstate New York. Upon his return, with my mother’s help (she’d become a wedding and event planner in her 50s), “Harpo” got out there, booked into birthday parties, mall events, town festivals, also immersing himself in the study of magic, adding it to his repertoire, as well as becoming certified as a master storyteller. He entertained young and old alike in hospitals — including the terminally ill, the power of life-altering humor becoming a central theme in his work. But that was only the beginning.

Delaying Retirement in Your 70s and 80s

He continued clowning and working in private practice until his attempted retirement at age 76, when he became an assistant district attorney—the oldest on record in Bristol County. He would remain there until his second stab at retirement, at 83, and only because the D.A. was voted out of office.

Bernie at his swearing-in ceremony in 1999 with Beth’s cousin Kevin, her mom, Pat, and Bristol County D.A. Paul Walsh.

In his capacity as assistant D.A., my father created the unprecedented District Attorney Community Outreach Program. Over the next seven years he wrote and executed programs wherein he addressed more than 20,000 schoolchildren and seniors about such issues as protecting themselves from abuse: physical, emotional, financial, and about racial and religious tolerance. He created dozens of interactive plays for children to illustrate his message. He received more than 100 commendations from the Governor, religious leaders, law enforcement, business owners and public officials as a result. He wrote and successfully conducted seminars for the medical profession — leading oncologists, cardiologists, nurse practitioners and others — on the profound effects of humor in healing.

Until the very end of his life he had uncanny powers of retention, able to repeat 10, 20, and 30 detailed jokes in a row, verbatim, months and years later. He entertained and empowered people to embrace life with humor well into his 90s, putting on programs in his assisted living facility and nursing home, from his wheelchair, even as his eyesight, hearing, mobility, and health failed him.

My dad was a true Renaissance man. He lived a robust, purposeful, generous life no matter what the circumstances. Clearly, he was far more a giver than a taker. Through it all his message was entirely about courage, optimism, humor, and hope.

Starting Over at 60, 70, or Older – Why Not?

Bernie and Pat lived happily side by side over the course of their nearly 67-year marriage.

Starting over after 60 is a personal decision, and there are a million reasons not to, but poet John Greenleaf Whittier probably put it best:

Of all sad words of tongue or pen

The saddest are these,

‘It might have been.’




“Can You Start Your Life Over at 60 or Older?,” written by Beth Herman, Amada blog contributor. Photos courtesy of Beth Herman.