Why it’s never too late to change your life – these women prove it

Meet the inspiring women who are making their dreams come true later in life

“So many women are angry for allowing themselves to get lost in their own lives.”

That’s how author Jay Courtney puts it. “We are angry about what has happened to us or the choices we have made – not always freely.”

For a growing number of women, the end of the menopause is becoming a turning point. It can be a chance to re-evaluate where they are, and even a chance to change their lives and finally make long-held dreams come true.

A woman singing carnatic musicCredit: Supriya Nagarajan
Suprina Nagarajan has now performed across Europe since she gave up banking and followed her passions

“Now in the middle of our lives, we are saying: ‘hang on a minute, how did this happen and where are my dreams now?’” says Courtney. “‘Am I going to die before I achieve everything I want to? I want to live this part of my life to the full. It’s a huge wake-up moment for women.”

Courtney, 65, from Gloucestershire,  has spoken to women in the UK and across the world for her book Juicy Crones – a collection of inspirational stories about women in the ‘third act of their lives’ who are finally following their dreams.

She’s been on BBC Women’s Hour and spoken to the national press, but more important to her have been the messages she’s received from women who say her book has struck a real chord.

a close up photo of a woman with white hairCredit: Jay Courtney
Courtney says women are starting a new phase of their lives post-menopause

“Times are changing,” Courtney says. “We are talking about perimenopause or the menopause, and women are getting recognition for what they are going through. But what about post-menopause? What happens then? Do we fall off a cliff, is our life over?

“Statistically speaking women can live another 30 years post-menopause. It’s a fabulous amount of time, but what are we going to do with it? Are we going to make it matter? Are we going to live our best lives?”

The illness-defying author

A new start after illness

Courtney, now 65, from Gloucestershire, had a successful career in children’s health and wellbeing until she became ill with ME in her 50s.

She says: “I was lucky. I had a family and a career I loved. But then I got ill. It was utterly hideous. I couldn’t move, couldn’t do anything. I loved my work, but I had to retire.

“I heard about an art class, and I was really keen, but found out it was in the local nursing home and I thought, I can’t even go through the door. I felt I didn’t belong in a nursing home, even for an hour.

“It was like being a teenager again. Who am I? What clothes am I supposed to wear? How am I supposed to look and who do I identify with?”

Courtney has this advice for women who are entering the third stage of their lives post menopause.
“This can be the time of your life,” she says. “You can start to make your voice heard. We need to be fierce women, not aggressive, but owning ourselves and not hiding away.
“No-one knows how long they have left, so now it’s time to celebrate, live life to the full, learn new skills and follow your dreams.”

Courtney enrolled on a master’s degree course at Bath Spa University in travel and nature writing. At the same time, she bought a camper van and started travelling.

She planned to travel across the globe to New Zealand and interview women as she travelled.

“Then the month after I organised and booked everything the pandemic struck and it was all cancelled,” she says, shaking her head. “So instead, I changed tack and started talking to women on Zoom, on socially distanced walks, or even in my campervan with the doors and windows open and hot water bottles on our laps.”

A woman with friends at the launch of her bookCredit: Jay Courtney
Courtney at the launch of her book Juicy Crones

She found they all the women she spoke to have been through the same experience – the feeling that they had got lost in their own lives.

“For women of my generation, the expectation was of getting married young, having children young, being the good wife, working and looking after parents.

“We’ve all been so busy that we have lost that sense of ourselves. Then we go through the menopause and end up feeling washed out, heavy and wondering who on earth we are now?”

But the positive is that many women are coming out of the menopause and re-evaluating their lives. They are looking inwards to find out who they are now and what they want to achieve with the rest of their lives.

Courtney says: “I’ve lost friends who were young. They would have loved to have aged, and they haven’t. It is a privilege to age; we are so lucky to be there. So now I feel I owe it to them to live the best life I can, because I know they would have, if they’d had that opportunity. We need to celebrate our lives for those who can’t join us.”

A woman jumping next to a lake in the sunshineCredit: Shutterstock/by-studio
Women are discovering that it is never too late to follow your dreams.

The banker who’s now a global singing star

“I have learned to say no” – Supriya Nagarajan’s story

Supriya Nagarajan was born and brought up in Mumbai. She was expected to follow her father and brother into a career in finance, and after she left university she went to work for HSBC.

The 57-year-old, from Yorkshire, says: “My family selected a husband for me, a doctor, a nice man from a good family. I was reluctant as I was happy with my life, but then I fell in love with him when I met him.”

The couple married three months later and have been together for more than 30 years.

They had two children and moved to Yorkshire, where her husband worked as a GP while she worked in banking.

Then Nagarajan’s mother died and she started questioning her future. She says: “I began to see the image of myself in the future as a 60-year-old banker, and it wasn’t what I wanted.

A close up photo of a womanCredit: Supriya Nagarajan
Nagarajan has learned to say no and stop overstretching herself

“I wanted to return to [something I] love. It took me time to gain confidence and skills and I wondered if it could be the start of a new career for me: to share Carnatic singing in local schools and communities.”

Nagarajan drew up a business plan and printed 2,000 leaflets offering workshops, but she didn’t get a single response.

So instead she set up a series of events in a local park, a place mostly used by white middle-class dog walkers, which she wanted the local Asian community to enjoy too.

From there she performed at a music festival in Oslo and then went to Iceland, where she created music for children and parents.

Now she’s getting recognition in the UK. She’s performed at the Royal Albert Hall and has her own radio show on World FM.

Nagarajan says: “I often felt that I needed to over-deliver, over-promise and over-compensate, because I paid too much heed to being an older Asian woman. Now I have learned to say no and to stop overstretching myself.

“My husband and my children are my biggest supporters, but ultimately I did this for me. Our most important relationship is with ourselves. Every time I sing, it is as if I have given my brain a spring clean.”

Breaking through the cabin crew glass ceiling and becoming a pilot

“I was never encouraged to follow my dreams – but I’m doing it now” – Andie Van Poeteren’s story

Andie Van dreamed of being a pilot. Her father had been in the RAF, and she grew up surrounded by planes and jets.

She says: “I’m not sure I even shared my dream with my parents. My brother was very successful and I always felt in his shadow. My mum told me I was ‘a jack-of-all-trades, but master of none’, and unfortunately I believed her.

A woman sat in the cockpit of a gliderCredit: Andie Van Poeteren
Andie dreamed of becoming a pilot

“I dreamed of flying and would stand at the top floor of Car Park Two at Heathrow, with my father watching the aircraft and listening to the flight deck conversations on Airband radio.”

So Van Poeteren did the next best thing to being a pilot and went on to work as cabin crew for British Airways.

She says: “Back then it was a glamorous job and I was incredibly proud to wear my uniform.

“But I didn’t want to be cabin crew. I wanted to be a pilot. This was the late 1970s, when it was almost impossible for a woman to do that.”

She married and when she had her daughter she gave up flying, feeling guilty for being away from her.

Van Poeteren’s life carried on until her mother died in 2012, and she was herself diagnosed with endometrial cancer.

She says: “I was 55 and my world turned upside down. It woke something inside me, and I started to push myself. I studied for a BA and then an MA, but there was one thing I promised myself that I would do, if I could get through my cancer.

“On 1 July 2018, when I was well enough, I had my first flying lesson. After decades of dreaming and disappointment, I was, at last, learning to fly. This felt like the best journey of all.”

A woman standing in front of a light aircraftCredit: Andie Van Poeteren
Van Poeteren is finally following her dream and flying planes

Van Poeteren learned to fly a Piper Warrior light aircraft, and until the Covid lockdown she was flying every fortnight. Now she’s finally preparing to take her pilot’s licence.

“Flying is a big commitment and mentally it tests you in every way because a silly mistake could cost you your life,” she says. “I love it when I fly: I feel free. I feel like this is where I am meant to be.”

“It’s easy to be blown off course to attend to the needs of family or other ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ that are so well-rehearsed.

“I was prevented from – or at least not encouraged in – following my dreams. I’m now a member of the British Women Pilots’ Association. I want to support young women in realising their aspirations of becoming pilots and astronauts. We’re making huge strides, but it’s still not a level playing field.”

Taking the plunge – opening a campsite in Hungary

“You never know what you can do until you say yes” – Debs Tetlow’s story

Debs Tetlow’s life changed the day that she and her husband Mark saw an advert for a campsite for sale in Hungary.

Tetlow, 54, an accountant, from Leicestershire, had wanted to make changes to her life, but knew she had to keep working.

She says: “I loved travelling when I was young and always thought of myself as a free spirit. But then I had my family and settled down. I loved my work, but when the children left home, I started thinking, surely this wasn’t it in my life?

A woman and a man togetherCredit: Debs Tetlow
Tetlow with her husband Mark

Tetlow wasn’t able to retire as she needed to continue earning, so she felt trapped – until the advert popped up on social media.

The two threw caution to the wind and the next day they booked their flights and flew to Budapest in February 2020.

Tetlow says: “We knew it was in a very remote area of the country. Koppány Pines Campsite is down a single track road, surrounded by woods and hills. We knew this could be a special place and it felt like we had found a home.”

But the couple knew they had to be sensible. “At our age we didn’t want to get into debt buying it, and knew that logically the older you are, the less time you have to recoup losses,” says Tetlow.

“We decided that Mark would stay in Hungary, to start repairing and renovating the site, and I would remain in the UK and work to keep an income coming in. I would then join him for the camping season over the summer.

“Hungary isn’t a normal holiday destination for Brits and we knew nothing when we arrived – we couldn’t even read the road signs.”

A woman walking through woodlandsCredit: Debs Tetlow
Tetlow takes guests foraging in the woods around the campsite

The sale had just been finalised when Covid hit. It was a setback, but they stayed positive and instead binge-watched television programmes about starting new lives abroad, including Four in a Bed and Escape to the Chateau.

Finally Mark could start the renovation work and then Tetlow joined him for the summer season.

She started thinking about what else they could offer.

She says: “When I was peri-menopausal I had horrendous symptoms. I’d experimented with herbal teas and found that they helped my symptoms. So I set up a wellness tea house. We’ve created a herb garden and also take visitors foraging for herbs to create infusions.”

“Of course, Mark and I are there to serve our guests,” says Tetlow. “But it is our dream too.

“I have stepped far out of my comfort zone of accountancy and explored my creative side.

“For years I have longed to ‘do my thing’. Never did I dream that ‘my thing’ would be setting up a wellness tea house and nature reconnection guiding in rural Hungary. But there you are – you never know what you can do until you say yes.”

Phillipa Cherryson

Written by Phillipa Cherryson she/her


Phillipa Cherryson is a senior digital editor for Saga Exceptional. Phillipa has been a journalist for 30 years, writing for local and national newspapers, UK magazines and reporting onscreen for ITV. In her spare time she loves the outdoors and is a trainee mountain leader and Ordnance Survey Champion.

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