Michael Clinton of Circle of Generosity: “You can get to the top of your profession, regardless of where you came from”

You can get to the top of your profession, regardless of where you came from. When I came to New York with 60 dollars in my pocket and no contacts or introductions, it was with a dream to get into the publishing business. It was a combination of ambition, skills, luck and timing that put […]

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You can get to the top of your profession, regardless of where you came from. When I came to New York with 60 dollars in my pocket and no contacts or introductions, it was with a dream to get into the publishing business. It was a combination of ambition, skills, luck and timing that put me on a path to begin to build a career. In the beginning, I was concerned that I didn’t go to the right school or have family or professional contacts. Ultimately, none of that mattered.

As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Clinton.

Michael Clinton is the former President and Publishing Director of Hearst Magazines and is currently the special media advisor to the CEO of the Hearst Corporation. He is also a writer and photographer who has traveled to over 120 countries. He has appeared in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Town and Country, O, the Oprah Magazine, and other national media.

Clinton is the Founder of Circle of Generosity, a nonprofit that grants random acts of kindness to those in need and serves on multiple nonprofit boards. His newest book, ROAR into the second half of your life (before it’s too late) is a manifesto on how to get the most out of your life experience in work, lifestyle and relationships.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Our family lived in a public housing project and then moved to a working-class neighborhood in Pittsburgh, where most people worked in the steel mills. My father was a laborer and my mother stayed home to raise 6 children. While they were only high school graduates, they exposed us to museums, art exhibits and a weekly visit to the local library, where books and reading became my lens to the world and the possibilities that were out there.

Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory? When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

At an early age, I was hooked on books. I read the entire Hardy Boys series, but was mesmerized by Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days! It made me want to explore the world and I would imagine itineraries that took me to exotic places. There were so many books that influenced me from To Kill a Mockingbird to The Catcher in the Rye.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

When I was in my early 30’s, I learned that we would be getting a new boss from a new company and I decided to call him to congratulate him. The problem was that he hadn’t told anyone yet and was not happy to get my call. When he finally arrived and was meeting everyone I thought, well I guess I’m getting fired. Instead, he promoted me based on what he had heard about my work. We ended up becoming an amazing team and to this day, Jack is one of my best friends and mentors. What I learned: don’t get ahead of yourself. Pick the right moment to make a call, pitch an idea, or address a problem.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

If you are 40 and healthy, you will probably live to be 90. The idea of what you are supposed to do in the second half of your life is becoming obsolete. Women are giving birth at 50, people are going back to school at 60 and falling in love at 80. We need to take on the ageist thinking that confines us and restricts us from possibilities. Stop thinking about age-appropriate and focus on person-appropriate. I’m hoping that this book and the 40 incredible people who have reimagined themselves will have an impact on how anyone can rewrite the script for their own life.

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

There are 40 inspirational stories in the book. The boldest moves are the most interesting. Stephanie, a long-time book editor decided to become a doctor at 53. Her story is one of tenacity, courage and sacrifice! It is a lesson that we can do anything if we are committed and focused.

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

The realization that people 50+ were following life patterns that are becoming more and more irrelevant was part of the inspiration of this book. The established idea of what we are supposed to do as we live longer is changing and the Re-imagineers among us are leading the way. Retire is a toxic word that conjures up atrophy. Let’s change that to rewire and take on a whole new way of living. Observing the people in their 50s, 60s and 70s who were setting up new careers, lifestyles and relationships made me realize that those stories need to be told so that people can have their own “aha moment” to bust out of some pre-established vision of life after 50.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

There have been a few. An individual who ended a marriage that had hit a dead end. She had the guts to realize that at 50, she could find a new relationship. Someone who lost 25 pounds and started a fitness regimen to get healthy and live longer. An executive who joined the “Big Quit” movement at 55 to pursue a life of purpose by running a nonprofit.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

We are an ageist culture that then creates self-imposed ageism. Society has to create a new vision of aging that is not about ailments and a passiveness about life, but rather about the majority of people 50+ who are healthy and engaged. Marketers need to focus on the images they put forth and acknowledge that this group is not brand loyal. In 2015 the 50+ age demographic accounted for 5.6 trillion dollars in spending and will drive more than half of the U.S. economy by 2032. We need a big rethink on the isolation that both nursing homes and 55+ communities do to mental health and connections. The baby boomers are going to create new ways to age in place and technology will help that. Corporations and the HR profession have to stop thinking of ways to “move people out” as they get into their 60’s and start thinking about ways that they can tap into the experience, wisdom, and knowledge to advance their business. Age is an important diversity issue. We have a lot of work to do as a culture and society with regards to how we view the 50+ world.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is allowing all voices and points of view to be heard until a decision is made. A healthy debate about a new policy or strategy is critical and it should go beyond top leadership. Engage the whole organization in important decisions. A good example might be understanding how a company or institution might decide on its ESG (environmental, social, governance) approach. What should you stand for with regards to the important social topics of the day? If you are a company that has products targeted to women then how do you help the larger causes among women? Is it health, equal pay, childcare? Leaders should hear from everyone in the organization before formulating a plan.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

In no particular order…

  1. Listen more. Talk less. Active listening is a powerful tool. Most of us talk too much and don’t pay attention to what someone is saying and more importantly what they are really saying. As a young ad salesperson, I would be so intent on giving my pitch that I’d miss the importance of pivoting in a meeting when you realize that the path you are on is the wrong one.
  2. Don’t be in so much of a hurry. Take your time to learn your craft or job responsibilities. When I was learning to fly, I wanted to rush it and learned that taking my time to master all of the elements of the flight was not only smart but was critical. My instinct told me to take it at a responsible pace. If you put in the work, you will be better at the job or in this case, being a pilot.
  3. You can be an athlete even if you are not athletic. My high school was all about football and I couldn’t compete with the big guys on the team. But there are lots of ways to express your desire to be athletic. I found my path through running, hiking, skiing, kayaking, all sports that I participate into this day. Running a marathon on every continent was a great way to solidify my own “jock status.”
  4. You can get to the top of your profession, regardless of where you came from. When I came to New York with 60 dollars in my pocket and no contacts or introductions, it was with a dream to get into the publishing business. It was a combination of ambition, skills, luck and timing that put me on a path to begin to build a career. In the beginning, I was concerned that I didn’t go to the right school or have family or professional contacts. Ultimately, none of that mattered.
  5. Live the life that you want and it can become your life. Who do you want to be and what kind of life do you want to live? I wanted to become a part of the creative class in New York and did that through publishing. I’ve worked with extraordinary people who have inspired and influenced me. It put me on a course to become who I wanted to be, as a Publisher, New Yorker, and curious individual.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Get busy living, or get busy dying” from “The Shawshank Redemption.” It’s important to savor every day, every hour, every waking moment to be engaged, present, and productive.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Jeff Bezos. What he has created at Amazon is epic. He is one of the top 21st century disruptors.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

The book ROAR into the second half of your life (before it’s too late) (Atria Books/Beyond Words, 9/7/2021) is available in print, digital and audio. The website ROARbymichaelclinton.com has a link to receive a monthly ROAR newsletter starting in October, 2021. I’m also on LinkedIn, Twitter (@maclinton), Facebook and Instagram (@macglobetrotter). Follow #ROARthebook.

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!

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