At an age when the rocking chair beckons, Jay Manning bolts out of bed six days a week to open Berkeley Perk Cafe.
As the sun starts to rise above the city, he puts chocolate croissants and muffins into the case for the morning rush. In an hour he’ll have his first, and only, cup of coffee of the day.
“That’s the best one,’’ says Manning, co-owner of the cozy South End cafe.
At 77, Manning could be kicking back on a beach in San Diego or curling up at home with a book. Instead he is running an independent neighborhood coffee shop, as he has done for the past 14 years.
“Retirement can be kind of dull,’’ he said. “My nature is to interact with people.’’
Manning didn’t start out to be the next Howard Schultz. He started out as a hairdresser. If you were a woman living in downtown Boston in the 1970s and ’80s, the dapper man with steel blue eyes may have given you a perm or frosted your locks at John’s Coiffure. If you were a hotel guest at the Marriott Copley Place a decade later, he may have slipped you theater tickets or gotten you a table at Hamersley’s Bistro.
“I liked learning about customers,’’ he said. “It was a yin-yang type of experience - getting to know people and share different things about your life and their life.’’
Now that Americans are living an average of 30 years longer than they did a century ago, changing careers later in life is more attractive than ever. Reinventing yourself in maturity can boost your confidence and even slow down the aging process.
“People need to find a stillness in themselves, let their mind be quiet, and really try to open up their quest for guidance to see what will come,’’ said Ellen Petersen, 54, a Marblehead lawyer who gave up her practice to teach martial arts.
Petersen’s mind was not always so quiet. For 20 years she was a driven tax attorney. She began her career in Boston and opened her own firm on the North Shore. She grew up with a love of dance but had let her free-flowing side go dormant. A random tai chi demonstration at a Rotary Club meeting sparked her interest in martial arts and she discovered a passion beyond wills and tax laws.
Since leaving her practice five years ago, she has lost 20 pounds, became a vegan, and is much less stressed. She doesn’t miss the cache of being a lawyer or seeing her name on a shingle.
“I’ve done it, and I loved it. I gave it a good run,’’ said Petersen, a third-degree black belt who is now assistant director at Human Harmonies Health and Wellness Centers, a series of schools that specialize in Eastern and Western health methodes. She teaches qigong and tai chi at the Swampscott center. “I kept asking myself, ‘Am I living life the way I want to live it?’ ’’
Sometimes a reinvention presents itself. For Manning his time in the hotel industry came to an end when the raises stopped coming. He retired at 62 and turned his thoughts toward coffee.
“First thing you have to get over is fear,’’ said Manning, who’s lived in the South End for 50 years. “Find something you love. You hear it all the time, but if you’re doing something you love it’s not like work - you don’t get tired, the energy just seems to flow out of you.’’
That is the advice business leadership coach Karen Burke gives her clients who are looking to change their working life.
“There is a fearlessness required in being reinvented. You are stepping into places you’ve never been before. You will be challenging yourself,’’ said Burke, principal of Mobius Coaching in Boxborough.
Reinvention is not a slap-dash change. Look for support and be patient, said Burke.
“You need to have a vision of what you want to do. Figure out your purpose. Where do you want to live? Do you need to make money or satisfy a yearning? Maybe find a way to combine both,’’ said Burke.
It may seem daunting to test drive a new life at 60, 70, or even 80, but there are advantages to starting over later in life - time and wisdom.
If you are newly retired or recently laid off, use your free time wisely and explore parts of yourself you’ve long closed off, said Burke.
“You have this lifetime of resources to lean on, and skills. You probably have some friends who have taken risks; find people who you can talk to without judgment. Fan the flame of your reinvention, look for mentors,’’ said Burke.
The skills that Manning learned as the public face of a 1,100-room hotel in the heart of Boston helped him transition into a coffee entrepreneur. Being personable and friendly was always in his DNA.
He didn’t have a connoisseur’s knowledge of the bean, but knew good java from bad.
“I was flabbergasted when I would go to a wonderful hotel and the coffee was horrible,’’ said Manning.
He knew he could do better. Working as a barista at Starbucks in Kenmore Square for six months gave him the fundamentals. A chance meeting with a former Marriott colleague led him to California’s Equator Coffee. This strong and flavor-forward estate coffee was the café’s first and only brew.
Although initially bombarded with naysayers and friends who thought he had gone berserk, Manning held on tight to his vision.
“You don’t know how many people said, ‘You’re crazy. Why are you opening a coffee shop at 64?’ All they could see was doom ahead of me,’’ he recalled.
But doom never descended. Both Manning and his partner are making a “more than comfortable living,’’ paying five employees and living in the South End.
To reach that level of success later in life, Burke says you have to surround yourself with “bright lights,’’ people who will support you instead of bringing you down. You also have to have a healthy dose of confidence, which usually comes with age.
“Once I make up my mind, it’s full speed ahead,’’ Manning said. “I don’t look back. I love this life. It stimulates me. Even though I don’t have the energy I had when I started, it keeps me going.’’
Neuropathy, a side effect of diabetes, has slowed Manning down some. He no longer waits on customers and sometimes walks with a cane. But he opens and closes the café, manages the books, and goes on weekly trips for supplies. “It’s not glamorous, but I do enjoy it.’’
Does he have one more reinvention left in him?
“I don’t know what would be stimulating enough to make me bite,’’ he said. “I like money, so if it had something to do with making money I might go for it.’’