Midlife Crisis? Bring It On!

How women of this generation are seizing that stressful, pivotal moment in their lives to reinvent themselves

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A decade ago, Abby Waters, now 46, was a sales rep for a pharmaceutical company in Boca Raton, Fla., and was "totally miserable." Come Sunday night, she would dread Monday morning: "It got to the point where we were just dropping samples at the doctors' offices." That was 1994. She quit her job and wandered around for the next few years looking for a better idea. "You talk about a midlife crisis," she says. She had money troubles; her marriage fell apart. And she turned 40. "My friend called from the Carolinas. I told her, 'I don't want to go to my 40th birthday party,' " Waters recalls.

That year, 1998, she licensed a slipcover design and tried to market it. After discovering how hard that was to do, she started Abby's Idea Factory to help inventors turn their ideas into products. Last spring a guy named Kent Chamberlain walked in with the idea of developing a power beer for people after they work out. Waters hated beer. But she liked Kent. So she started thinking about a different kind of beer, one designed for women like her. "The big companies had looked at a beer for women and shied away because the product was watery," she says. She began poring over beer recipes and came up with a 200-year-old brew that used rose hips. Her Honey Amber Rose is only 110 calories per bottle and carries a logo of a Latin-looking woman in a broad-brimmed red hat and a red dress with folds resembling a rose. "If you want to taste sweet success," the bottle says, "look for the woman in the rose-petal dress."

Chamberlain is now Waters' partner in life and business. Their beer, launched in November, won a silver medal just three months later from the Florida Brewers Guild. Southern Wine & Spirits, the biggest liquor distributor in the country, put in an order. "I think in your 40s you're wise enough to have the guts, and you figure, 'What the hell. What's the worst thing that can happen? You've got to get a regular job?' " Waters says. "My stepfather on his dying bed said, 'If only I had ...,' " she says. "I don't want to have regrets."

The Next Gold Mine: Midlife as an Industry
From coast to coast, women of all backgrounds are essentially opening up the Great Midlife Lemonade Stand, taking the bitter taste of aging and making it sweet, satisfying. This is both noble and shrewd. Women like helping other women, and as it happens, just as women reach their moment of self-doubt, they also ripen into the perfect market segment. "You can make a ton of money," agrees Shellenbarger. "Let's face it. These women with their fat pocketbooks approach the age of 50 and lose their inhibitions. Imagine that! That's a lot of spending. The other thing that research shows will open people's pocketbooks is sadness, and for a lot of people, midlife crisis can be quite sad. And if you strike out in new directions after your crisis, you spend. If you are pursuing a dream, your primary focus is not going to be frugality. You're going to be out there buying stuff."

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