Calculate Your Bucket Age

Calculate Your Bucket Age

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Welcome to The Bucket Podcast — a series of interviews that features an eclectic mix of people who all share one thing in common — they’re all going to die. But does being aware of that change the way they live? That’s the question host and The Bucket founder, David Abend, asks them in a fascinating collection of stories that explore the concept — and value — of mortality-based living.


18. Laura Berman Fortgang: “Yeah, But”

Need some help getting out of your own way? (don’t we all?) Then listen to this podcast with Laura Berman Fortgang, one of the founding members of the International Coaching Federation (ICF), a best-selling author and a professional speaker.  Her innovative approach to life and career coaching has earned appearances on numerous television programs including the Oprah Show. Her Tedx talk has been viewed by more than 1.5 million people who, perhaps like you, were struggling to find a way to transition to a career or purpose that better aligns with who they really are. If you’ve got a  stockpile of “yeah buts” that are preventing you from making a change, find out how Laura’s Now What Coaching can help you get over the hump.



Laura’s free “Guide to Clarity”


David: Hi, I’m David Abend, founder of The Bucket and your host for this edition of The Bucket podcast. Today I’m talking with Lara Berman Fortgang. Laura is a pioneer in the personal coaching field.

She is a bestselling author, sought after speaker and TV personality. She’s been a guest on Oprah — and all the morning. Her TEDx talk has been viewed more than 1.8 million times. She recently launched “A list” where she coaches coaches, and last but not least, she can now say, and she’s done a podcast with a bucket.

Welcome, Laura. Thank you for talking with me.

Laura: I’m happy to be here.

David: This is the first time we’ve actually spoken. We did connect a few years ago and we talked about doing a podcast or an article, but we never made it work. So I’m so glad we’re finally getting the chance to talk. And I think the timing is better because of the impact that Covid has had and the way people are prioritizing what’s important to them just like 9/11 did.

In fact, in the introduction of your go latest edition of your book, “Now What”  you write about 9/11,  and I’m going to quote you here. “Suddenly my phone was ringing off the clock. People felt panicked, the light was short, and anything could happen. So they’d better take those dreams off the back burner and get moving.

So fast forward to 2020, there’s another catastrophic event —COVID. Did you see the same thing happening in terms of people taking those dreams off the back burner?

Laura: It had a different tone to it. 9/11 was much more alarming. It shook people’s sense of safety and their sense of time. And then the pandemic, we had what has been called the Great Resignation.

I think that it did bring things to people’s awareness but in a different way in the sense that they were home, they had more time to think, more time to reflect, and they really saw how they liked what they do and the activity level and the running around and being busy and being stressed had been distracting them from all that time.

They just were on the treadmill of life and then the treadmill stopped suddenly and they really had to take a hard look. So a little bit different. Like, I’ve got to take the back burner dream and put on the front burner. More of, wow, I’ve got to reinvent myself. I’ve got to reinvent my work. I do not like the way this has gone down.

David: I’m curious as to whether there are any demographics associated with that. Was there a particular age group or gender or profession that seemed more likely to reach out to you?

Laura: With 9/11, no. But as a result of the pandemic, teachers and nurses have been the most stressed and hardest hit by the pandemic. So I saw a lot of reinvention requests there. 50/50 men and women. Women and men finally seeing like how much it takes to have kids underfoot all the time. Having to keep them, homeschooling and all that, that brought to attention…less about what people were actually doing for a living and more how no one wants to go back to the office. Now that the kids are back in school and life is a little bit more normal.

Now all these companies are putting mandates in place that you have to come back and people do not want to come back. They finally were able to prove that they could do the work from home. Their work didn’t suffer, numbers didn’t suffer. Why are you making me come back? And so it’s lifestyle based more than actually what kind of work people are doing.

David: That’s interesting because it’s given people time to think about what they really want because they’ve been given a taste of something different, whereas in the past, like you had the same thing. You didn’t know what it was like not to go into that office every day.

Laura: Exactly

David: So, I know you’ve written five books, but the one I talked wanted to talk with you about today is, is Now What? Of course, it’s more than a book. It’s your whole approach to personal coaching and like any good method, it can be boiled down to a simple philosophy. And that’s the whole idea of figuring out who you want to be, not what you want to be. It seems like a nuance, but is it?

Laura: No, this is the quote that makes people think. It’s not what you do for a living that is going to bring you satisfaction. It’s who your job allows you to be —  who your job allows you to be. Do you like who you have to be all day to get that job done. And so that’s the inside out approach that we use with the Now What program for reinvention. It’s not your resume, it’s not all those credentials, all the things you’ve done  in the past in terms of your — you know, a resume is a chronological business case for doing the same thing differently next. So when people need to reinvent, we look at their life story, not their resume. I don’t look at the resume until we’re ready to look for the next job. And in the life story, people’s life history, we find clues as to where they left the who — where they left themselves at the side of the road — and how do we get that back? That’s what the focus is.

David: Right? You talk about that being the resume, the job title as being the package versus the gifts that are inside that it, and it made me think of it like a Dorothy Gale moment, when you feel totally out of control of no idea how to change anything and that you’re not in charge of it at all, and you suddenly realize that you always had the power, you just had to learn it for yourself. Is that a fair way to look?

Laura: Absolutely. I love that. That’s spot on. I even call it your life blueprint, like it’s in your DNA, it’s just that it’s been trained out of us. In high school and college, when we’re looking at what we’re going to do with our lives, we’re told, what are you good at and what do you like?

And that’s not everything. I call that the paper map, that’s an old paper atlas. We now need to fine tune our GPS. The power has been in with you in you all the time. Like I said, it’s just been trained out of you because — think of what we even do to kids. We’re like, you can be anything you want when you grow up. And then it comes to college time and it’s like, well, you can’t make a living at that, so don’t do that. Right? So what, what kind of message is that? And so looking at your story, we’re looking for the Dorothy Gale piece. You know, what’s the part that’s always been there that hasn’t gotten a chance to come out?

You described so well the package versus what’s inside the package. And surprisingly, I will look, I will work with more than midlife, beyond midlife adults who will say — I found a common one. People often say, I wanted to be a paleontologist when I was a kid, and none of them became paleontologist.

So what is it about a, what’s the who of a paleontologist? Who do you get to? Someone who solves mysteries, who connects the dots, who has adventure, who is looking for clues. And those are the pieces inside the package that we need to find a place for in your current life and pick a new package for them.

And you may not be a paleontologist because you’re not going to go back to school and get all that done, but there are other things. I was working with somebody who loves research and loves finding out things and never knew that there was such a thing as being a researcher. For authors, like authors who write novels based in a certain time period, they hire researchers to give them the flavor of the time period.

They don’t go into all that research themselves, and it was eye-opening to her like, you mean I can make a living a that? Like, absolutely. So it’s finding those hidden gems and bringing them back out into the present moment. Especially when you talk about The Bucket. How are you going to live your fullest life while you’re still living?

It’s getting back to those things that have always lit you up. And again, it’s not necessarily turning a hobby into a career, but it’s looking at those pieces of who you get to be, and that’s where the life juice comes back on and you feel inspired and connected and engaged.

David: Do you think that there’s a tendency for people to feel that it’s an indulgent to be that person.

Laura: Yes. Like I said, it’s been trained out of us. It’s nonsense. It’s silly, it’s selfish. No, it’s living fully. Right. Who doesn’t want that?

David: I’ve read a lot of books about people, motivational speakers and life coaches about reinventing yourself. And there seems to be the message you have to believe in yourself, but it’s a lot more complicated than that, isn’t it? It’s like there are these gremlins in your brain trying to sabotage that. Believing in yourself is not easy.

Laura: Well, believing in yourself — you’re still going to come up against obstacles. And it’s easy to let those obstacles convince you that you’re on the wrong track. So yeah, it’s not just having a positive attitude, it’s also knowing what those things mean. And it’s sometimes what we make it mean. Ok, so you went on one interview for this new thing and they told you we need you to have X, Y, Z, and you interpret that immediately as no. But you can moonlight, you could volunteer, you could find other ways to get the missing pieces onto your resume or into your experience. So it’s more than positive thinking. There is a bit of grit involved and determination.

I think it’s really an interesting match. I came from an acting background. I decide after college I had a degree in communications. I wanted to pursue my dream. I didn’t want to be 35 and never have tried and be stuck in a lifestyle that I couldn’t take the chance then. And that rejection for a decade has certainly informed how I approach things now. Even getting into coaching 30 years ago when no one knew what it was. My mother was like, are you crazy? First you’re an actor, now you’re going to do this thing? No one’s ever heard of. And that didn’t deter me because I had just been through 10 years of rejection. This was like more real world than being an actor. So I thought, this’ll be easy.

So I think that’s part of it too. It’s not just believing in yourself, but being able to take the hits and keep your eye on the prize.

David: There’s the outside rejection, people rejecting you, but reading your book, you talked about the inside rejections. You don’t call them inside rejections, but this whole concept of the “yeah but.”

Laura: Yeah, the “yeah but”

David: When you talked about the “yeah but” it really spoke to me because it’s essentially, that’s when you acknowledge all the reasons people give for not making changes — they give to themselves. There’s empathy in that. But at the same time, you’re so empathetic. But then you call bullshit on those “yeah buts” and you do it in a way that gives people a pack to get out from under it. I’m curious about whether when you began you started off as being that empathetic, or is this something you learned along the way. That it wasn’t as easy as telling people what to do? You had to really get into the reasons why they felt they couldn’t do it?

Laura: Oh, absolutely. And, and it’s part of why, like I am one of the founding members of the International Coach Federation, and I’ve been a master credentialed coach since 1998. And it’s why I believe in coaches getting trained and having a credential is because it’s not advice giving. Coaching should not be advice giving. It should be asking these tough questions that peel away the layers of the onion for people so that they get over their own stuff because it was their idea. So that’s the finesse of the skillset. The empathy. I think my empathy grows as you mature. When you’re young you just think that things should happen and that’s it and screw this and screw that. And then once you’ve had enough of things that have been difficult for you grow compassion for other people.

I think that’s part of why I succeeded early was that I had a major depression in my twenties. You can’t even call it a nervous breakdown. And when I recovered from that, it gave me so much compassion that every person goes through something. It may not look like what I went through, but everyone is challenged in some way. And that was the beginning of my empathy journey. And you know, I can be a velvet hammer as I call myself. Like I can be tough, but it’s always out of love.

Like you said, calling people on their BS, it’s not loving to let people fool themselves. And “yeah but” — I have to give credit to someone who is also an author, Adele Sheely. She said that the number of “yeah buts” that you say, like  ‘yeah, but you don’t understand. Yeah, but you don’t know my business. Yeah but you don’t know my industry.’ The number of “yeah buts” is in direct correlation to the depth of your fear. So the more you say “yeah but”  the more you’re showing us you’re afraid. And as an actor, if you take an improv class, the core of improvisation is yes and, not yes but. Or yes or no. You never say no. You say yes and. And so I’m afraid and I’m going to take the action anyway. I’ve never done this and I’m going to learn. So yes and yes and yes instead of, ‘yeah but’.

David: That really spoke to because I have plenty of  “yeah buts”

Laura: Sure, we’re great critics of ourselves.

David: I want to get back to the demographics for a second. There’s one section of your book in particular that really made me think of The Bucket and the idea of making changes before it’s too late. People in their fifties, sixties, even seventies, who have been on a trajectory for their whole life, but wish they were doing something else. And you call it funneling regrets.

I’d like to read a paragraph about that from your book. “Suddenly recognizing that you’ve been hanging out there in some career or life choice that has nothing to do with who you really are, can cause a very panicky feeling. It’s like building your dream house only to find that you are allergic to the wood you made it out of. It’s very hard to extricate yourself from the life you have already created once you realize it does not match who you really are. Often this could begin the regret rollercoaster, the sinking feeling that you’re trapped and that you made your bed, and now you have to lie in it forever. Not true. Although you may not see your immediate way out, may not even know what else you would replace your current life with, there’s a transitional point that you can now set into motion.” I think there are a lot of people listening right now that would ask you, how can I set that in motion?

Laura: Sometimes you have to mourn it. Not forever. You get three weeks total. That’s it. So you have to kind of mourn this realization, mourn the lost time. But then the beauty of it is you have to let it all break down to get a breakthrough. Right? Let it fall apart. Let there be sadness. But then you get to be in discovery. And I have people write a list of everything that they don’t want because it shows them on the other side everything they do want. So I don’t want to feel this lonely so I want more people in my life. Okay, well how do we do that? Through community, through like-minded activities. So you want to be more active, join a walk-in club, Maybe it’s your faith and you want to get more involved in your spiritual community. Maybe it’s a book club so all is not lost. I wish more people would, would put themselves out there in that way. You know? I just know there’s so many people who will live with their regrets when those can be shed like a skin. And there’s still time to create new opportunities.

David: That’s a really interesting way to think about it. Do you think that people at this life stage are looking to make changes at this stage in life in terms of their career? Or are they looking to find purpose in retirement? What do you see happening more?

Laura: I tend to attract the people who I, I would say three-fourths of the people who want to make a change one fourth because they want a meaningful retirement. So we’re, we’re just healthier longer. There’s no more like retire to sit on your folding chair outside your porch and watch the traffic go by.

People want to do something, they still want to contribute. It’s funny how it can be overwhelming and not know what to contribute. So that’s part of the journey too, is what is that meaningful thing? What’s going to matter to you. So I see both, but maybe it’s because of who I attract right now. I tend to attract 35 to 75.

So I get my 70 somethings who are like, Hmm, I don’t have to work. What do I want to do? And yet at the same time, I mean, we’ve had so many market crashes over the course of the last 20, 30 years. 9/11 we saw setback in finances. Well, let’s go back ‘87, 9/11 ‘93, 2008, 2009, right? So not everyone’s all set to retire either, financially, right? And the harder part is finding work as an older adult, because we still live in a culture that is highly prejudiced against folks even over 50. Right. And we know 50 and 55 are not old in today’s culture. And you know, we’re telling you you’re too expensive, so bye-bye.

David: Getting back to the ‘yeah buts”’ for a second, do you find the “yeah buts” are more prevalent in people who are older or — who has more “yeah buts” in people you work with.

Laura: The more experience, the more “yeah buts” (laughter) Less room for possibility. More room for what I know. What I know. And you know, you may have you look, we believe what we believe because we have evidence that it’s true.

So you have evidence of ageism, you have evidence of your industry changing and you no longer fitting the bill. You have evidence of all those things. I’m not saying you’re, you go pie in the sky and pretend they’re not. But you have to adjust. You have to find where the opportunities are, how you need to reinvent yourself to keep going.

David: I want to play a little game with you. Okay. It’s the role-playing portion of the podcast. And so I’m going to speak for our listeners and give you some ‘yeah buts’ and you give me your one or two sentence response. They can be more than that if you want.

Laura: Ok, but I’ll warn you that most of them will be, will probably be questions back at you because that’s what I do as a coach.

David: OK, so, Laura, I’d love to do what I really love, but I’m just not qualified.

Laura: What are you qualified to do around this thing that you love to do?

David: I’ve never done anything. I’m, I’m not qualified in anything. I just really am interested in it.

Laura: Great. So your interest is your first qualification. Let’s get started.

David: Okay. That makes sense. But I just can’t risk failure. My family depends on me.

Laura: What conversations have you had with your family about the change that you want to make?

David: I haven’t talked to them about this.

Laura: THAT’S WHAT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME! David. It’s the  assumption that I, you know, they all count on me. I can’t do this. Just never discussed with the family. The times when I make people discuss it with their family, their family, like, wow, that would be so cool. And they’re willing to make changes, make sacrifices. So there’s a good example of that in the book.

David: OK, along that lines, I’m ready to take a shot at it, but my spouse or partner is not on board. And they’re afraid.

Laura: Yes, they are afraid, but what do they ultimately want for you? Ultimately?

David: I think that they want me to be happy. But they’re worried about the risk that I’d be taking, getting back to that fear of failure.

Laura: So ultimately they want you to be happy. So that’s the part we’re going to cling to. So we’re going to come up with a plan that feels safer for both people to take those risks.

David: Well, that’s great advice, but if you really want to know, my biggest fear is what if I suck? I read your book and you give all these examples of these people who reinvent themselves and became successful doing something they love. But what if I do everything you say, only to find out I’m just not very good at it?

Laura: Well, then you get to know the answer. Lick your wounds and find something else. Or, what do you do when there’s something you really want and you suck at it?

David: Try to get better at it.

Laura: There you go. You learn And what will make you feel alive?

David: Okay. Those are my ‘yeah buts’ But what “yeah buts’ have I left out that you think are very, uh, that you hear all the time that I haven’t mentioned.

Laura: Well, first I want to quote Peewee Herman of all people, because he said everyone I know has a big butt and it was about ‘yeah buts.’ So just so you know. So what ‘yeah buts’ have you left out? Those are really good. Those come up all the time. Believe it or not, even grown adults with their own families, but my parents will be disappointed. So the status or the expectation of family members. But in my culture we don’t do that. Cultural expectations, let’s see what others ‘yeah buts?’ But I’ve sent out my resume and no one’s called me back. Then we’ve got to come up with a different strategy for getting a job. The attention that you need to find a job and sending out resumes alone is not enough.

David: Well, if I think of any more as we go along, I might come back to this. But one of the ways I talk about the bucket is to talk about deathbed regrets. I call them DBRs. In our mission is to help people make changes in their lives now, hopefully long before they’re going to die to reduce or eliminate DBRs.

Do you find your method of coaching kind of accomplishes the same thing?

Laura: Oh, for sure, for sure. I’m there to help people live without regret. Absolutely.

David: So from the outside looking in, it seems like you’ll have no DBRs, is that true? Or is there anything you haven’t done you want to do or…

Laura: What my un-dones are still are about travel. There’s still a lot of travel I like to do while I can walk with no pain. So that’s it though. I take care of my relationships. I patch things up way before deathbed if there’s anything that needs to be patched up. Workwise I’ve tried so many things, even in my 32 years as a coach, I’ve taken little sidelines and went back to acting for a little while. Not professionally, but I created a character who was a life coach, and I did a one-woman show that was completely different than me, so I’m always trying to allow my imagination or my intuition, or whatever comes up so there are little side trips so that there are no regrets.

David: One thing you just said about, while you still can, that is something that we’ve come across as not a ‘yeah but’ necessarily, but these things that people want to do and this dilemma of, well, I’m still working and by the time I finished working and can afford the time or the money to go do that, I won’t be able to do it. Is there anything that you’ve focused on in the past about that person who has this thing they want to do while they still can, but they don’t think they can do it.

Laura: Well, I have a great example of that. I had a woman in her forties, but she was never married. She was unmarried, had no support. She was practically bankrupt. She had become the caretaker for some people in her family, and she just was like, I will not die without having lived in Paris. So she sold every stitch of her belongings. She disappointed her family that she, someone else needed to take over the caregiving of the grandmother, just because she was single doesn’t mean that she didn’t want to have a life. And she moved to Paris for what was going to be six months, and she lived in an Airbnb. And then she met a man and she got married. To a Frenchman who had a six year old and she had always wished that she could have her child, but her time had passed and she lived very happily, and was writing her novel, another dream, in Paris with the support of her spouse. And sadly, she ended up dying of cancer. But she did this. She was not going to have this regret. When it looked like her life was going down, of being what we used to call a spinster, taking care of her grandma. And maybe if her grandma passed away, she’d leave it her enough money and maybe she could go to Paris.

No, she wasn’t going to do that. Actually I’ve had two clients go to Paris that was lifelong dreams. So, it takes some disruption and that’s the part that people are afraid of is the disruption. But it can be done.

David: On that disruption. Is there any difference in people trying to do something like that versus just the overall kind of transitioning into something else almost like this, I’m going to take a, a year off kind of thing.

Laura: Ah, a year off with plans I think is just, is recommended, but year off without plans. I’ve seen too many people like just fall apart because, after a couple of weeks of being able to do whatever you want, the lack of structure sometimes gets to people. Just like the pandemic. Oh, yay. I don’t have to go anywhere. I have no obligations. I can just be home all the time. How much depression and mental health problems did we have during the pandemic? And we still do. So as long as there’s structure that can work.

David: So I always ask my guests what their Bucket Age is. Do you know yours?

Laura: I read what your formula is, 25. 25.

David: You seem like someone who would already be aware of that number. Maybe not literally, but you probably had that in your head. But I’m curious to know if when you saw that number, it had any effect on it.

Laura: I’d already been through this process. I lost my dad seven years ago and I’m currently taking care of my mom, who always wanted to travel more and she waited too long. So her health is not going to match that desire. So really, I started almost a decade ago when I started to see my parents fail, going, wow, I have less time ahead of me than I do behind me.

And, I don’t want there to be an equal regrets. I think nothing will bring mortality to you faster than watching your own parents head towards their end.

David: Do you think that idea. Thinking about the number you have left is a good way to motivate people or a way that makes people put their head in the sand?

Laura: Well, motivation by fear can work. It’s not my favorite type of motivation, right? I’d rather you be compelled towards something versus fearing something and running from. So I think it just depends on what your mindset is about it.You don’t want to be in a panic like, I’ve only got 25 years! But if you could think about it as, this has to come off the list and this has to come off the list and the rest is gravy. That’s a good way to think.

David: So I have one question. Kind of in a way personal, but why me? You’ve been on Oprah, you’re bestselling author, you’ve done Ted Talks, to put it very bluntly, I don’t think you need The Bucket to let people know about you. But I also have to think that there’s something you saw on the bucket three years ago that pique your interest. What is it about our mission that caught your attention and made you interested in talking with me?

Laura: Well, first of all, it doesn’t matter how big or small. I’m all for reaching as many people as possible. So I don’t, I don’t judge it that way. I think that like the philosophy of The Bucket, is that people fear death and don’t talk about death and it needs to be talked about. Not as a horrible thing, but as part of life, it part of life. We hide death from little kids will be hide death from ourselves. Your parents don’t want to talk about their final arrangements until it’s too late. It’s ridiculous. So I’m all on board now with changing the way we deal with dying. And let’s call it more like living. How do you live well, even into old age instead of like preparing for dying. It’s just like, how do you live well, including the notion that you’re not always going to be here and that you can make your passing easier for everybody else around you. I think that’s a brave and noble cause.

David: It is something that I found that when I talk to people, there are some people who get it immediately and think about it. And there are other people who just don’t want to think about it. That’s always been our challenge, to get people to realize we are trying to help them live. And this isn’t about dying, it’s about living.

Laura: It’s totally about living.

David: Yeah. Is there anything else you’d want to say to people who are having trouble transitioning into retirement or just transitioning to a new career later in life?

Laura: Well, we have a gift for you in our show notes that will appear for you to download A Guide to Clarity, which will help. But what I want you to know is that nothing is a waste. Anything you’ve done or any time you spent is none of it is a waste. It all taught you something and second of all, it’s never too late.

That was one of the messages of the Oscars, which ran recently. Right. So, you know, it’s, don’t think you’re done until you’re done.

David: That’s great. So that, that will be included in our show notes. And, also just how can people find you? What, what, where should they go to find out more about you? I know you have a lot of different places…

Laura: Right. But probably easier than remembering my name is to go to And you’ll find me there and you’ll find out about how our philosophy for reinventing yourself.

David: Well, I think it’s a great philosophy. I’m trying to do as much as I can. As I said, I have plenty of ‘yeah buts’. I am working on those.

Laura: You’re just too smart. That’s what it is, David. So use, use your smarts for good.

David: Well, thank you so much for talking with me, Laura.

Laura: My pleasure. Thanks David. Have a great time. Thank you.

To access Laura’s free Guide to Clarity.