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Jody Miller is the author of "From Drift to Shift: How Change Can Bring True Meaning and Happiness to Your Work and Life."

If life has three stages, the template for Chattanooga baby boomers has been unstructured play (as kids), hard work (as adults) and a return to play (as retirees), according to a leading life coach and author.

Jody Miller, author of "From Drift to Shift: How Change Can Bring True Meaning and Happiness to Your Work and Life," says there's a flaw in this progression that sometimes requires a mid-course correction.

The trailing edge of the boomer generation is hitting a midlife wall in their mid-50s, she says, delaying gratification that may never arrive. Stuck in jobs that they might find ungratifying and facing responsibilities for both parents and kids, these folks should create a "fun" zone for themselves in the here and now, Miller argues.

Specifically, she says, midlifers should be willing to take risks that please them; whether that means a dramatic career switch, or even just a few tweaks in routines to feed their inner passions, like taking an art class, for example, or learning how to set aside a time for daily meditation.

"There are boomers who look internally and say, 'Where's the fun?'" Miller says. "I call it making a shift. A shift to do something we've always loved. I believe that we know what we are supposed to do if we just sit and think about it."

Miller, 54, is a California career and life coach who traded in a job as a investment banker and CEO to become an evangelist for work/life balance. The mother of six appears to practice what she preaches, shifting careers deftly throughout her life to follow her bliss.

But things have not always been easy, she allows. Growing up in New Jersey, Jody was a popular, blonde high school cheerleader who dated a Harvard-bound quarterback. Behind this veneer of perfection, she says, was a child from a financially struggling family living in a house with seven people and one bathroom.

"I started to look internally [when I was] very young," she explains. When she couldn't afford new saddle shoes for cheerleading, she learned to use liquid shoe polish from a sponge-tipped bottle. When she needed cash she made bracelets "for the local hippy store." When time came for college in California, Miller says, she managed to get by through strength of will.

"I found a way," she says. "I told myself: 'I'm a good person. I'll find a way. I'm going to get this done. I want this. I want this.'"

Miller says midlifers should similarly look to their childhoods for inspiration and energy, back to a time when unstructured play helped unleash our hearts' desires.

"I'm not a big believer in the 'work hard, grind it out' method," she said.

Baby boomers grew up in an era of unstructured play, she said, where parents didn't hover over their children, but allowed them to develop creativity and imagination.

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Mark Kennedy

"Then our parents, members of the Silent Generation, said we should put aside childish things and get responsible," she says. "So we got jobs, and debt and 2.5 children. Then all of the sudden there wasn't any fun any more. We told ourselves, 'It's OK. We'll have fun when we retire.'"

Aside from developing hobbies or changing careers, Miller says boomers can make small shifts in their workplaces to improve their moods. One way is practicing positive self-talk, or setting aside 10 minutes every morning to be intentionally appreciative of good things in your life: a cherished pet, the songbird outside your window, a cloudless sky.

She also recommends that workers defuse conflicts by meeting with people at work who cause them stress and focusing on neutral topics.

"Don't delay your happiness," she said. "Good things do happen."

And not just to those who wait.

Miller's book is available at www.jodybmiller.com.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645.

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