What is your life’s second act?

I love the “Second Act” column which appears on Tuesdays in the Wall Street Journal. It recounts the stories of people who forsake their original career for one that promises more excitement, opportunity, fun, or satisfaction than the career path they originally pursued.

On June 8, the Journal writer, Dennis Nishi, told John Putnam’s story. Putnam was a successful bankruptcy lawyer in Boston with a firm representing failed airlines and steel mills. While taking a deposition he had an epiphany. “Everyone there was very senior and making serious bucks. That’s when I looked around and [realized] I didn’t want to spend the best part of my life getting to where they are,” the Journal quoted him.

The rest of the story is about Putnam buying a farm in Vermont, taking a job with a Vermont law firm while developing the farm, and then chucking the law to make specialty cheese for a living.

He studied cheese making for four years and bought a custom made copper cheese vat to give his Alpine cheeses a unique flavor. A French student taught him some tricks of the trade in a work-study exchange to use for his graduate thesis.

Putnam started making cheese in 2002 and his business was profitable in 2003. Today his Thistle Hill Farm sells eight tons of cheese a year and is making decent if not great money.

Doing Today’s Machining World is the second act for this used screw machine dealer.

I would like to hear from you about second acts you are now involved in, would like to be involved in, or have tried and given up.

Question: What is your second act?

Jim Block John Putnam (right) and his wife, Janine. (article)

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8 thoughts on “What is your life’s second act?

  1. John Archibald


    Should have been, “than the career path”. First paragraph below.

    I see this too often or otherwise I wouldn’t comment.


  2. dan k

    “What is your second act?”

    I wish I had one!
    I am sick of the job shop whirled…but I also don’t know “how to quit”.
    My equipment is worth $40 a ton, or there abouts in thias economy, my property may sell (someday) to pay off the bank and have enough left over to buy a good steak dinner (maybe).
    I do want out…..but I don’t know how to do it and survive.


  3. Bill Hopcraft

    Actually, Lloyd, I’m now trying to usher in life’s ‘Third Act’. Act One began at age nineteen by taking over my Dad’s printing business after his sudden death. Before then, I had never seriously considered printing as a career path. As a matter of fact, like a lot of other nineteen year olds, I hadn’t considered much of anything as a career and was happy just working part time at Dad’s shop and a couple of other places. With Dad gone, reality hit home.

    We eventually closed Dad’s shop, but I stayed in printing a few more years before it was time for Act Two. Having left printing, I took a job managing a small business in a completely different field – oil spill cleanup. The pay was much less than what I was used to, but overall I liked the work better. It wasn’t long before I had a falling out with the owner and left. I then started by own business in the same field and have been operating that very successfully for the past twenty years.

    But now it’s time for Act Three. Throughout my life, the one thing that I have always enjoyed more than anything else is designing things and machining them so, two years ago, I decided to take the plunge and begin the transition into making this my third career. I took some money that was stashed away for retirement and bought a small VMC, adding this to the other machinery that I had acquired through the years. I also bought SolidWorks and Mastercam software. Almost every night and weekend since then has been devoted to learning to run the mill and use the software. Never have I learned so much so fast – or had such a feeling of accomplishment. Now I’m to the point where I feel comfortable taking on jobs and some money is starting to come in. Not enough to make it a full-time thing yet, but I’ll get there.

    I know that there are some readers who’ll say I must be nuts for going into this industry now, especially when my other business is successful. To them I offer this story. My uncle was an extremely bright man who was fascinated by the stock market and always wanted to be a broker. He was, however, afraid to leave the security of his Post Office job to pursue his passion. Instead, he stayed in the Post Office until becoming eligible for early retirement at age fifty-five, miserable the whole time. Once retired, he passed his broker’s exam with ease, took on a few clients and, for the first time in his life, was actually happy. Six months later he was dead of a brain tumor.

    Seeing this, how could I not take a shot at doing what I really love doing?

  4. lloyd

    I had an interesting covervation with a fellow who echoed your story. He was trained as an architect, switched to software in the 90s and then leftthatafter 2001. He is now a metal sculptor inBocaRaton Florida with a Bridgeport and a lathe who lovesmaking things. He has his eye on a CNC mill and wantsto use Solidworks and Camworks software. He makes a living making one off products using his welding skills. He absolutely loves it. I will probably do another blog on this fellow soon.

  5. Dan Vespa

    All these comments sound very inspiring. We all wonder what it would be like if our first act was our “calling”. Of course it doesn’t seem to happen that way. I am wondering about a second act and I not even forty! But I will tell you this…..this blog has definately given some food for thought!

  6. Jerry Levine

    I admire the Putnam’s story of changing their life a a relatively young age. It takes more courage than I had at that stage in my life. But many of us have a safer transition which is when we retire. I went from being a relatively high paid oil industry lobbyist to becoming a volunteer president of a homeless shelter program, which is now building a $17 million permanent supportive housing structure. Many of my old business and lobbying skills translate into an entirely new world inhabited by some very different people.
    For many people finding fulfillment in retirement is frequently very difficult. My suggested keys are: 1) Enjoy your grandchildren–you get all the pleasure and little of the hassle that you had raising your kids. 2) Volunteer somewhere–it can become the best job you ever had. Volunteers always get more out of it than the people they help. 3) Exercise your body and your mind–play golf, tennis, bike ride or just walk in the park daily. And, take adult education classes–it’s fun to dabble in stuff you never had time for in school. You can even try writing for Todays Machining World! and most of all 4) go out and have fun–eat dinner out, go to the movies, enjoy free concerts in the park or lectures at the museum.
    The only no-no is TV–don’t waste your time, your mind, and your life in front of the tube. Don’t develop an addiction to the mindless sitcoms, the talking heads screaming at one another, etc. TV has some worthwhile material, but the world outside your couch is infinitely more interesting.

  7. Lloyd


    Devoting yourself to ESPN may well be a great second act. I think you may have become one of those intellectual anti-TV snobs .

    I would ad connecting with friends which do so well as an important second act curtain raiser.


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