As Betsy Werley approached her fiftieth birthday, she had every right to celebrate her accomplishments, which included nearly two decades at J.P. Morgan Chase & Company as a corporate lawyer and business executive.
Yet the prospect of turning fifty prompted Werley to consider how she wanted the next chapter of her life to unfold. “Somewhere between the ages of forty-five and sixtyfive, most of us will hear a voice in our heads telling us that the time is right to think about the years we have ahead of us,” she says. “You may be at a point where you’ve mastered everything you can at your job and you’re not learning any more. Or you may be asking yourself what your legacy might be, or how to do work that you feel passionate about. And in today’s corporate world, many people are getting pushed in that direction not by choice, but through layoffs or buyouts.”
While still at J.P. Morgan, Werley began preparing for what might come next—even though she wasn’t sure what that was. She took courses in nonprofit technology and fundraising at New York University, and reached out for advice and insights from people working in the nonprofit sector, including contacts she had made as president of the Financial Women’s Association, an organization for women in financial services. When an early buyout offer from J.P. Morgan came along a few years later, Werley was ready to embark on a new career that combined her legal and business expertise with her desire to be part of a smaller, nonprofit entity where she could play an integral role in pursuing the organization’s mission.
In 2005, Werley became the executive director of The Transition Network (TTN), a resource for professional women fifty and older who are seeking new connections, resources, and opportunities. TTN sponsors small-group interactions, programs, and workshops on a wide range of topics, from personal finance, technology, and careers to health and fitness, caring for aging parents, and diversity issues particular to the TTN membership (for example, health and financial issues faced by different ethnic groups).
“Our society is still at a point where transitions are still very much do-it-yourself,” she says. “Senior-level CEOs can get appointed to a board, and that’s a nice life. But for the rest of us, it can be scary to think about forging a new trail. And among women my age, we are the first generation where our identities have been shaped in the workplace, so it can be challenging to move from a level of mastery at what you’ve been doing to a place where you are starting over.”
Drawing on her own experiences, Werley encourages those considering a transition in the next five years or so to pursue volunteer opportunities in areas of interest (arts boards, civic organizations, political or social causes), take additional training or courses to augment existing skills, and expand their social networks. “Even if you think that transition might be ten years away, there is a lot you can do today. Find out what you enjoy doing, and surround yourself with people who can help you see how your experience could translate to a new field.”
Now entering its second decade, TTN has six chapters and more than 7,000 members. Its website offers ample resources and aggregates news and information from other organizations that serve the TTN demographic, such as AARP and Civic Ventures. TTN also has published a book, Smart Women Don’t Retire—They Break Free, aimed at women over fifty who are interested in pursuing a new career, volunteering, or becoming an entrepreneur.
“The Transition Network has become a thought leader in what’s been called ‘the encore stage’ of life,” says Werley. “As we continue to grow, we want to be part of a cultural change that provides ways for women over fifty to be part of the conversation about a range of subjects, from finding meaningful work to the value of older people in a youth-oriented society.”
Elizabeth "Betsy" L. Werley '76
Writing the Next Chapter
October 1, 2011