What is a ‘Second Act’?

A second act, as I’m defining it, is the phase in a career that is distinct from what preceded it.

The arc of Bourdain’s career I wrote about in my first post represents one of the more distinct examples of a second act. His career had clear before and after periods. Act One in his career was sweating and cooking in restaurant kitchens. Act Two involved writing books, traveling the world, eating exotic foods, and making documentary television shows about his travels.

Sometimes, though, the connections between career acts aren’t always obvious because Act One is only a job, a means to earn a living. Act One ain’t a career, or a passion. Act One says, “How long until I can sign off for the day?” Charles Bukowski comes is the perfect example of a second act that’s a huge departure from Act One. He was a postal service before becoming a full-time writer at the tender age of 49 in 1969.

The truth is, Bukowski was always a writer (as was Bourdain when he wasn’t chefing), but like most artists, he wasn’t able to make career out of it until much later in his life. Being a professional artist — getting paid for the things you make — is an extremely difficult endeavor that most people fail at.

Having a successful second act requires stick-to-it-tiveness along with producing art people want to experience, and inevitably are willing to pay for. When you have patrons, you have people giving support — financial or otherwise — to you, your organization, your cause, or your activities (hence platforms like Patreon).

There are many flavors of second acts I’ll be exploring. I’ll be examining career one-eighties like Bukowski’s post-man-to-writer mutation as well as evolutions within a given discipline, like George Carlin’s switch from the clean-cut, family-friendly comedian in a suit to his second act as the long-haired, irreverent guy who got arrested for saying The Seven Words You Can’t Say On Television.

I’m also looking forward to unearthing second acts I had no idea even existed.