At Medcan, a lot of what we do is motivated by the future. Our eat, move, think-approach to wellness allows our clients to enjoy longer, healthier and more active lives. As I’m nearing the age of 50, I’ve also been thinking about the future through the lens of career and purpose.
It was in this frame of mind that I recently had lunch with Gary Reamey, the former head of Canadian operations at Edward Jones financial services, who has created a remarkable template for how to transition through a major career change.
Gary is a longtime Medcan client and a committed supporter of veterans’ causes. He enjoyed enormous success in his first career, which began in the late ‘70s after he was recruited out of Indiana’s Wabash College as a student athlete. In 1994, he moved to Canada to open Edward Jones’ Canadian division, eventually growing the network to 640 branch offices.
In 2012, eighteen years later, Reamey was ready for his next challenge. It can be difficult to transition from a successful career to… something else. We all know stories of people who have done well in their first career—and then floundered. Famous examples of flubbed transitions include NBA MVP Allan Iverson and NHL player Theo Fleury. The problem is so prevalent that professional sports unions like the NFLPA and the NHLPA created transition-assistance programs, as has the Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Canada.
Reamey did not want to outright retire, if that term is meant as an end to work. Rather, he subscribed to a philosophy similar to the Financial Times’ columnist, Don Ezra, who refers to “life after full-time work” as “life two.”
Korn Ferry’s Daniel Goleman cites research on the topic that indicates the people who live longest are those who retain a strong sense of purpose. What sort of a purpose is best? In an influential essay for The Atlantic, which I highly recommend reading in its entirety, the social scientist Arthur Brooks frames the challenge as determining “how to turn… eventual professional decline from a matter of dread into an opportunity for progress.”
Reinvention is the key to successfully navigating later life stages, Brooks believes. Which brings us back to Gary Reamey. Few people in my experience have ever reinvented themselves as successfully as Gary. Once he left Edward Jones, Gary knew he needed something challenging to give him purpose.
“You have to have a plan,” Reamey says, when asked about his advice for successful career transitions. Reamey prepared for his transition for about two years before he actually scaled back. During that time, he completed a corporate director education program and arranged to serve on the boards of several charities.
But such duties would fill just a few days a month. An amateur musician who had been writing his own original songs for about 15 years, Reamey wondered whether he could pursue a career as a songwriter and music publisher. In 2013 in Nashville, he struck up a friendship with the Grammy-certificate-winning songwriter, Steve Leslie, which led to their collaboration on a song that Garth Brooks put on hold for his then-upcoming album. Next, Reamey and Leslie founded a music-publishing firm, SNG Music. “The music business was supposed to be just one week a month,” Reamey recalls. “The hobby has turned into a full-blown business.”
SNG Music is now a prominent independent music-publishing company working in Nashville’s country music scene. On SNG’s roster of songwriters are such chart-topping songwriters as Mark Nesler and Marty Dodson, who have penned songs for many country artists, including Carrie Underwood, George Strait and Kenny Chesney. SNG songwriters have 15 number-one hits in country music, and Gary himself has cowritten more than 160 songs in less than six years. He’s also producing a Broadway-bound country-music musical that’s premiering in 2021 at the Pittsburgh Public Theater.
I find Reamey’s example enormously inspiring. The literature suggests thinking of retirement not as a conclusion to life, but as “life two,” a reinvention that features as much purpose as your primary career. To this, Reamey adds some suggestions of his own. If education is required for your reinvention, try to do it before your transition. The support of family is important. He credits his wife, Joanne, for being the inspiration behind his music and theatrical endeavors. And finally, Reamey suggests not rushing into anything as you figure out your purpose.
We all weather transitions sooner or later. Following Reamey’s purpose-driven principles could help you find your path as you prepare for your own “life two.”