- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 8, 2009

More than 12,000 people turn 50 each day in America. In this era of layoffs and downsizing, many wonder if it’s all downhill from there for the next 30 years.

When Bob Buford, 69, a cable TV millionaire, wrote “Half Time” in 1995, it sold 600,000 copies. The book offered Bible-based advice on how to move “from success to significance” in Act II of one’s life.

He has updated and expanded the book for a new generation and has included “Beyond Half Time,” a compilation of advice “for your second half.”

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He is a master of aphorisms: The past clogs up the future. You have to swing at lots of pitches to hit home runs. You are not in control of the universe.

So, how can people make the closing laps their best?

“Do what you’re best at and what reignites your passion,” he said in an interview. “Often people are dull and going on autopilot in midlife. … Do what fits your economic situation. Manage yourself rather than being managed by an institution. Find the idea for which you can live and die.”

Beginning some time in their 40s, most people experience some degree of weariness in their accomplishments and begin to look afield. Mr. Buford got to this stage at age 42. In 1984, he founded the Leadership Network, which seeks and connects leaders of the country’s most innovative churches.

But one cannot pursue a dream while unemployed. Mr. Buford suggests starting work on a pet project while keeping the day job. He operated parallel careers until 1999, when he unloaded his cable TV company, investing the proceeds aggressively.

A stock market plunge cost him 20 percent.

“I had a prayer session with the Lord in which I said, ‘What’s going on here?’” he remembers. “The answer I got — which included intuition, knowledge and the Holy Spirit — was: ‘Would you please quit speculating with My money, invest it conservatively and let Me make the returns?’”

He did so and today, Leadership Network has 60 employees and a $9 million budget.

“And the returns,” he said, “in terms of religious work that has changed lives, have been beyond any that I know.”

Still, not everyone has a cable TV company they can sell for a small fortune to follow their dream. But creativity is possible for even those on modest incomes.

“What happens in midlife is you get a second chance to reorder your life,” he says. “It may be an involuntary second chance. Ask yourself: Who am I? What are my strengths? Where do I fit? Am I going to determine my own choices about that or be determined by circumstances?”

Some circumstances are devastating. In January 1987, Mr. Buford’s only child, Ross, 24, an investment banker, drowned while trying to swim the Rio Grande.

“I don’t know anyone 50 years old who has not had something awful happen: divorce, betrayal, death in the family, something at work,” Mr. Buford told me. “The verse that stayed with me literally at the time of my son’s death was Proverbs 3:5-6 that says to ‘Lean not to thine own understanding.’ There are some things that happen to people that are incomprehensible, they are beyond reason.”

The secret is not to let one’s confidence get shattered along the way. Don’t abandon faith.

“Resolve,” he said, “that God is in your box.”

Julia Duin’s “Stairway to Heaven” column runs Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at [email protected]

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