Episode #120 – Marc Miller interviews John Tarnoff about his recent career developments.
In this episode, Marc catches up with return guest John Tarnoff, author of the book, Boomer Reinvention: How to Create Your Dream Career Over 50. John lives in Los Angeles, California and is a recovering movie studio executive.
John spent about 35 years in the entertainment business, starting out in the 1970s as a literary agent and then a producer and studio production executive for companies like MGM, Orion Pictures, De Laurentiis Entertainment, Warner Brothers, Columbia Pictures (now Sony), and a few others. He produced films for about 15 years before hearing the siren song of technology in the early 90s, when multimedia was springing up.
John produced a handful of CD-ROM games, which were new and fun at the time. John went into business with a partner who had an idea for a new technology marrying artificial intelligence with behavioral animation to create interactive, conversational online animated characters. The conversations would occur by text through the keyboard. They had the system working over dial-up internet and got a huge deal with Sprint for a customer service character for their website.
That was in 2001, as the tech startup bubble burst. John’s company fell into the hole, along with everybody else. Their Sprint deal went South and their investors pulled out. His partner told him, “I guess the future’s gone out of style.” At midlife, John was at a crossroads.
Listen in to this fascinating episode to hear how John aligned with his future by reinventing himself as an educator and trainer.
[1:17] Marc welcomes you to Episode 120 of the Repurpose Your Career podcast. Career Pivot brings this podcast to you. CareerPivot.com is one of the very few websites dedicated to those of us in the second half of life and our careers. Take a moment to check out the blog and the other resources delivered to you, free of charge.
[1:48] If you are enjoying this podcast, please share it with other like-minded souls. Subscribe on CareerPivot.com, iTunes, or any of the other apps that supply podcasts. Share it on social media or just tell your neighbors, and colleagues. The more people Marc can reach, the more he can help.
[2:08] Next week, Marc will be discussing the Millers’ next steps in becoming expats in Mexico, regarding banking and their initiation to the resident visa process in Mexico.
[2:21] This week, Marc interviews John Tarnoff, author of Boomer Reinvention: How to Create Your Dream Career Over 50. Marc interviewed John in Episode 19 but wanted to do an update with him.
Now on to the podcast…
[2:33] John introduces himself to the listeners, at Marc’s invitation.
[6:11] After the tech bubble burst and John’s company failed, he was 49 years old, had no idea what he was going to do next, and was not interested in going back to the same Hollywood jobs where he had started.
[6:30] John didn’t think anyone was going to hire him into those same jobs. So, he “bet the farm” on a reinvention. He remortgaged his house for the last time to build himself enough runway to figure out his future.
[6:49] John went back to school to earn a counseling psychology degree because he wanted to learn more about himself, what made him tick, and how to interact better with others. He supposed that in the process he would figure out something to do.
[7:15] That was a dark time for John. In one of his classes, he learned of someone getting a dream job with ideal conditions and he thought, “Great. Miracles are for other people. They’re not for me.”
[8:00] John did not foresee that nine months later he would be working for Dreamworks Animation at two-and-a-half times his former executive salary, doing work that was really aligned with where he wanted to go.
[8:48] Dreamworks was transitioning from a traditional animation studio to a computer-generated animation studio. John knew the CEO, Jeffrey Katzenberg, from his Hollywood years. He was clearly a visionary. He had put the company together with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen after being fired from Disney in 1994.
[9:30] Dreamworks had become very successful with Shrek. People John knew there encouraged him to join them. There were no open jobs, so he started networking. That taught him that when you come into a group of people, bringing your most heartfelt, authentic, inquisitive, and service-oriented “game,” you start getting into conversations.
[10:15] If the alignment is there between yourself and their thoughts and needs, then there is the beginning of an opportunity. That’s what happened for John.
[10:33] This was a company that was very innovative, at the intersection of creativity and technology, and it was in line with the work John had been doing in his startup. They saw that and in June of 2003, John was in Jeffrey’s office making a deal to work there. It was his best Hollywood job. He stayed through 2009.
[11:14] That job completely set John up for the work he is doing today.
[11:18] When John had worked earlier in Hollywood, he had looked forward to a time when he could educate and help people. He is an “organization freak” and he likes to see how things get laid out, and how people’s minds work. Whenever he had an opportunity to tell a class of students about the work he was doing, he jumped to do it.
[12:05] That defined his role at Dreamworks. When he interviewed, he wanted to know what they were doing about future generations, for training and development. They hadn’t given that much thought. It was not a core driver for them.
[12:29] After John had been at Dreamworks for about a year, they began to realize that their human capital needed some “recharge” and that they had to expand their thinking about where they were getting their talent. Their talent was not coming from the traditional sources.
[12:48] Many of the specialists and department heads determined they needed to “grow their own.” They turned to John and, based on his interest in education, asked him to build a program. That’s what he did, with a school outreach program and an internal virtual university.
[13:16] This changed his role from a production troubleshooter to being totally embedded in the outreach program. They started with seven schools in 2004. By the end of 2009, they had over 40 schools in the network. It was quite a culture change.
[13:51] In the wake of the recession, Dreamworks was seeing the need to batten down the hatches, and they started focusing on monetizing their existing IP and pulling back from their school outreach. John parted ways with Dreamworks. It was amicable and they kept inviting him to their parties! To this day, he and Jeffrey are on good terms.
[14:58] The Dreamworks job was a phenomenally positive experience, and it helped John make this transition full-time into education and training. The following year, John started a position at Carnegie Mellon University. John says, timing is everything, but you have to set yourself up to be a target when the timing is right.
[15:28] In 2010, Carnegie Mellon had set up a very innovative program in Los Angeles with cross-disciplinary initiatives for kind of an MBA for how the entertainment business works. Entertainment is a very unique business. The program is for people on the business side of film, TV, video games, and music.
[16:33] They were looking for someone to round out their Los Angeles management team. They wanted someone with industry background who could balance the more academically-oriented full-time program director. John partnered with that person and they grew the program quite successfully over the last nine years.
[17:11] It has been a great anchor position for John while he has gone on to do “a bunch of other stuff” in a portfolio career.
[17:32] John considers a portfolio career to be very relevant to people in their late career stages, in their 50s and older, who are trying to figure out how they will keep working and what they are going to do. It’s not going to look like the first 20 or 30 years of their career.
[18:01] John is 67. He will keep working as long as he wants to and as long as he needs to. Most Boomers are skating a very interesting line between longevity and bank account. When the retirement pension system was first set up in the 1860s it was set at 65 as an age by which most factory workers were either dead or not many years from it.
[19:11] As longevity has grown over the last 100 years, pensions have grown increasingly difficult for corporations. All guaranteed defined benefit programs are affected by extended lifespans of the participants. We are in a real retirement crisis.
[19:44] If you are 65 today, you have at least a 25% chance of living to 90. Every year you live longer than 65 increases your chances of living to 90 or beyond. The average retirement age is 62. If you live until 90, one-third of your life will be spent “in retirement.” Must of us don’t want to spend 30 years queuing up for sundown specials.
[20:33] The Boomer Generation wants to stay more engaged. That doesn’t mean working nine to five. We are going to continue to stay engaged in the work that we love to do. What we want to do might be different from what we did in our 30s and 40s.
[20:56] We are going to need to keep earning money because the average retirement account if you have one, is about $100K. That’s not going to last you 20 or 30 years. A lot of people are downsizing intelligently and looking at ways to stretch their dollars.
[21:43] We need to think about ways to supplement the income we already have from Social Security and our savings because there are going to be unpredictable things that happen. Healthcare is a big item, as well as family issues and logistical questions. We have to be better prepared, financially, for this extended period of life and engagement.
[22:14] John’s portfolio after Dreamworks includes his consulting work at the intersection of education, technology, and entertainment. For the first few years, he was consulting with industry companies, trade associations, and schools around the future of talent search, curriculum, and skills.
[22:59] In 2012, John was asked to present a TEDx talk and the topic was Transformation. As he had been reading up on all the issues the Boomer Generation had had, coming out of the recession, around retirement, savings, and getting jobs, he asked, if we’re living longer and nobody wants to hire us, what are we going to do?
[23:53] John realized, we’re going to have to take responsibility, somehow, for this. If we do, then what does that look like? That’s when he came up with the idea of five career reinvention steps. That became his TEDx talk. After that, people kept asking John what he was going to do with that — does he coach? John said, sure, of course, he coaches!
[24:24] So John started working with people around some of these questions and to implement the five steps to reinvention.
[24:37] The five steps are: 1) Reframe your idea about who you are and what you can do, 2) Listen and understand how the world has changed, 3) Reconcile the past; don’t bring your sad baggage into meetings, 4) Express these new ideas about what you could do, and 5) Network. Understand who can do what, and what you can do for them.
[26:16] Most importantly, you’ve got to always be giving in your networking activities. Build the relationships necessary to put you in front of the people who can benefit from what you have to offer. You don’t build a network by sending out resumes, because no one is going to read them.
[26:37] Marc says one of the key pieces is that you are never going to do this alone. Marc’s own business coach taught him to understand the things that he needs to leave behind. A lot of things you’ve done in your career, you don’t want to do anymore, regardless of how good you were at it.
[27:21] John sees a lot of clients that have difficulty giving up the social cohort they’ve gathered after working 20 years with the same people and then being let go from the job. People find it hard to let go of that job. Even if they were downsized, they want to go back. It’s very important to be able to reconcile the past to envision your future.
[28:30] Marc had encouraged John to finish his book. So John has a book, he’s coaching, and he works at Carnegie Mellon. What else does John want to be doing in five years?
[28:50] John wants to continue on his current path. His coaching has evolved from one-on-one to small groups, to larger groups, and now, with UCLA Anderson School of Management, coaching groups of 20 alumni online, on Zoom, who are going through career transitions. John is coaching them as a group with his five-step process.
[29:33] Some of them are returning to work after an absence. Some have been let go. Some are contemplating making a move. There are all sorts of interesting permutations along the idea of transitions.
[29:49] John seems to be following an arc of reaching more and more people with this methodology. This year, he is working on putting this all into an online course, which will go through five steps, 23 strategies, and six key skills, and give people the opportunity to pursue a self-guided course with some group mastermind interaction with John.
[30:41] Marc talks about his group membership site and makes some observations about the cost of one-on-one coaching. The people he really wanted to work with couldn’t afford it. The group model allows for greater flexibility. Marc can do it from Mexico.
[31:19] One of the common themes of folks in Marc’s online community is that everybody wants freedom. They want to work when they want to work, how hard they want to work and choose what they want to work on. Their ideas about that have changed over their careers.
[31:51] John says Boomers are becoming more like the Millennials. Marc says to listen to your feelings and see what you are telling yourself about what you want to do. Most of us acted in roles and got paid to play those roles. If we did them long enough, we started believing we were those roles.
[32:29] When Marc hit his 50s, it became exhausting for him to stay in character.
[32:42] John will probably still be in California in five years. He has an urban homestead with his love. They have a coop with 20 chickens, vegetables, and a great spot of land under the mountains. It’s a gorgeous day, there. He doesn’t see moving before his early 70s.
[33:43] John hopes to continue working with Carnegie Mellon. It’s a great time for kids to be entering the entertainment industry. He likes to work with Boomers, too. He says it’s a great opportunity to be working on both ends of the career spectrum, young people starting their career and older people taking what may be their final career steps.
[34:42] Marc talks about a panel he sat on in October 2017, including a man from New Zealand — where college graduates usually move away from the island — whose job was to help companies retain their older workers. The man commented to Marc, “If you want to work into your 70s, you need to plan that in your 50s.”
[35:17] Your work between your 50s and your 70s will probably not be a full-time job, and it will probably be a collection of things or a portfolio. That’s the key piece. Marc has several members of the online community who have their heads wrapped around the fact that they’re not doing just one thing.
[35:45] They may work harder than they used to, doing stuff they enjoy. They are not necessarily working for a single employer on a set schedule.
[36:08] John suggests for listeners first to read his book, Boomer Reinvention: How to Create Your Dream Career Over 50. That will give them a clear idea of whether they are aligned with John’s thinking.
[36:40] You can reach John through his website, JohnTarnoff.com, follow him on Twitter @JohnTarnoff, or on Facebook, @JohnTarnoffCoach. He loves interacting with people and helping them get in the right direction.
[37:30] Marc thanks John for being on the Repurpose Your Career podcast.
[37:40] Marc hopes you enjoyed this episode. As it turned out, they never were able to meet in Austin when Marc and John were both there. Austin was hectic and congested with 50K visitors to SXSW Interactive Week.
[38:09] The CareerPivot.com/Community website has become a valuable resource for more than 50 members in the Beta phase of this project. They have crossed the 50-member threshold! Marc will be recruiting new members for the next cohort in a few weeks.
[38:24] If you are interested in the endeavor and would like to be put on the waiting list, please go to CareerPivot.com/Community. When you sign up you’ll receive information about the community as it evolves.
[38:37] Those in the initial cohorts will get to set the direction for this endeavor. This is a paid membership community with group coaching and special content. More importantly, it’s a community where you can seek help. Go to CareerPivot.com/Community to learn more.
[39:01] Marc invites you to connect with him on LinkedIn.com/in/mrmiller. Just include in the connection request that you heard Marc on this podcast. You can look for Career Pivot on Facebook, LinkedIn, or @CareerPivot on Twitter.
[39:20] Please come back next week, when Marc will discuss the Millers’ next steps in becoming expats.
[39:25] Marc is recording today’s intro and outro segments in Matehuala, Mexico, on their way back. The next day they will be driving into Ajijic after a three-week trip to Austin and back.
[39:47] Marc thanks you for listening to the Repurpose Your Career podcast.
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