John Tarnoff The Second Act Is Possible


John Tarnoff is a career coach, especially for people over 50. He teaches people how to pivot their careers and use failures as success. A lesson that his long career in Hollywood taught him. Being a very volatile industry, he faced many job transitions for many reasons. Then, in 2001 he had a startup that struggled due to the recession. Then, he heard a whisper telling him to go back to school, which led him to his current career helping others. He reminds us that sometimes everyone needs a reset and that your second act is not only possible but great! If you need some inspiration about a career shift, this episode is for you!

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Ari: Welcome to whispers and bricks. My name is Ari Schonbrun  and I’m your host. My guest today is John turnoff. John is an executive and career transition coach, speaker and author who supports mid and late career professionals in defining, planning and achieving more meaningful and sustainable careers. I think I need this guy fired 39% of the time during his 35 years of film producer, wow. studio executive and tech entrepreneur, he learned how to turn setbacks into successes in a volatile business. He reinvented his own career at the age of 50, earning a master’s degree in spiritual psychology to share his career lessons with others going through similar challenges. Since leaving entertainment in 2010, John has coached individuals groups and led career workshops for University alumni, including for UCLA, Cornell Carnegie Mellon, corporate coaching clients have included Bank of America bridgewater associates, Levi Strauss, soft bank, TD Ameritrade and thrive global global. He’s the author of The Best Selling Boomer reinvention how to create your dream career over 50 and has created four courses on the multigenerational workforce for LinkedIn learning. Please help me welcome John. Turn off. John, how are you?


John: I’m doing great. Thanks for having me on the show.



Ari: My pleasure. My pleasure. What’s a year out where you’re in California?


John: I am in Los Angeles. Angels.


Ari: City of Angels love us. And yes, city. That’s true. That’s true. Okay, great. Well, as you know, the name of this podcast is whispers and bricks, the whispers of those voices telling you what the right thing to do is, and they represent the good in life. The bricks represent the bad things that we go through in life. Now, we all know that life is not a straight line, there are many ups and downs and many bumps in the road. People get hit with bricks all the time, the issue is trying to listen to the whispers before those bricks actually come or listening to the whispers after the bricks come. Now let me begin by asking you this. You spent 35 years in film production. I don’t know if we’re supposed to if we’re supposed to deduct the 39% of the time that you were fired. But let’s not go there right now.



John: I kept working I was fired. But I got right back up and kept on going.


Ari: There you go. Well, you know, I’m sure many people my audience would be very envious of your career. Let me ask you this. How did you break into film production? What What was that career like? It must have been like, really, really exciting. Now?


John: It you know, it is it’s it’s very tailored to cities, it’s the best of careers, it’s the worst of careers, you know, you’re working with some really talented, smart, exciting, thought provoking people creating something out of nothing, right? You’re working on large scale, collaborative industrial sized projects. There is something very empowering and exhilarating about being in film production or TV production, when it’s working. The problem with the industry is that it’s very hard to have a straight line with it. It’s a very unpredictable world, you’re trying to second guess the future tastes of the American there, the global public, and what they’re going to want to watch. And, and there’s a great line from the amazing and talented screenwriter, the late William Goldman, who prefaced his book called Adventures in the screen trade, which was his memoir, with the line. The first rule of Hollywood is no one knows anything. And it’s true, because everyone’s got an opinion, but no one really knows. So you’re you’re trying to kind of navigate in this very uncertain environment. Look, entertainment attracts very talented, wonderful people. It also attracts some schmucks and people who are in it for the greed for the power for the glamour. So you know, you’re trying to kind of wade through the muck a lot of the time to find In the gold, and it can be exhausting to do that.


Ari: That myself from my own curiosity, you were, I guess I mean, correct me if I’m wrong hobnobbing with this with the stars.


John: You know, there’s very little actual hobnobbing hub, you know, you kind of are fed a diet of it on TV, because you’re watching all of the, you know, the awards shows, or the your watch Entertainment Tonight or whatever. But you know, most, most people just kind of have their normal lives. And they’ll go out to restaurants and the paparazzi shots of stars walking around, going to the market. That’s probably a better representation of what life is really like. It’s just kind of life. And when you go to work, you work really hard. And it’s not glamorous at all, being on a film set is probably the least glamorous thing that you can imagine where you’re working long hours, six days a week, with very little sleep, shooting on strange schedules, in strange locations. And it’s strenuous work, you’re either very into it and getting the scene done, or you’re waiting around, or you’re moving from one location to another. It’s grueling.


Ari: Wow. So let me ask you this. You were you, as you said, you were fired 39% of the time that you will work in there? What would what would like what was some of the bricks that you got hit with along the way? What was sure.


John: So so the reason I talked about this 39% thing. And by the way, this, this came to me, as I was preparing for a TEDx talk, which I did in 2012, which kind of launched me on this particular direction that I’ve been going on now for the last 10 years, as a as a career coach. And I was trying to figure out, so what qualifies me to be up here talking about career transition, and career reinvention, which was the topic of the talk. And I kind of did my little calculation, I kind of listed all the jobs that I had had, and what happened at the end of that job. And so six of the jobs of the 18 jobs I had over the 35 years, six of them, I left because I went on to another job, got another offer. Five of them were things that just ended. So films that I had produced that were done consulting deals that were done, no harm, no foul, but then there were seven jobs where I was fired. And so I just did the math. And that came up to 39%. And I thought that’s a funny statistic, because who talks about the the percentage of time in your career that you got fired? No one wants to talk about that. My mother used to say to me, why are you having a hard time holding a job? Right Jewish mother wood, and, and the truth of it is, it’s a volatile business. And I wasn’t fired necessarily because I was doing a bad job. But, you know, I was working at a studio, the studio had changed. The new guy came in swept clean waters on people in, you know, all sorts of all sorts of reasons. And in some cases, sure, I clashed, you know, with, with the people, the person I was working with, or it just kind of wasn’t working out. And, you know, then the last job I had was a really interesting was a really interesting story. I was working at DreamWorks Animation for most of the 2000s doing, really, people work, not really production work. And they were changing directions after the after the the 2008 recession, the company decided was going to change a different direction that they had different agendas in terms of their finances, and how they were going to be profitable, etc. And a lot of the initiatives that I was working on were kind of fed, they were done. So I actually when I initiated this, I went to the CEOs who I reported to and I said, Look, this is a strange conversation to be having. But is there anything left for me to do around here? And she was kind of taken aback and she was she kind of turned bright red. And she said, look, look, I have to preface this by saying you’ve been great. You’ve kind of took this department and kind of created this amazing thing with our with our staff and all that in the programs that you’ve done. She said, But I have to be frank with you the way we’re going? I don’t think so. And she said, Look, why don’t you? I mean, everyone loves you here, go around, see if there’s something that that makes sense for you to do that makes sense for someone else, some some other projects, you can get involved in department initiative. And let’s see if we can keep you on. And I did that. And there really wasn’t anything I really wanted to pursue this kind of education, staff development kind of role that I had taken on while I was there, so I came back to I said, you know, I think I gotta go, we negotiated this exhibit, it was very friendly, which is kind of unusual for Hollywood where there’s so many tempers and, and stuff goes on fights break out. So you know, it’s all over the map as to why why I left these jobs. But the point of it is talking about the 39%, you got to bring it back to this is that getting fired is not fatal. Right, you’re going to recover from it. And the point of talking about 39%, is that you want to realize that in a world that’s changing so fast, you’re not going to have the same stability in your job that you had, if you’re working 2040 years ago. So you have to adjust to this and realize it’s about finding a better fit. And using that as a springboard to really drill down on who you are, what’s the value you provide, and come up with a what I call a client a candidate centric approach to taking control of your career.


Azri: Yeah, well, we know, you know, I spent the better part of my working career on Wall Street. And it’s interesting, I’ve seen the metamorphosis of, of being employed. And you know, it used to be in the old days, you, you know, you you got a good education, you went to work for IBM, you worked there for 40 years, and you’re tired and his game over. That’s right. And, and if you had a lot of little jobs on your resume, it would be suspect people would go, you know, why did you have so many different jobs today? Hopper? Correct. Today, they want to know, if you said, Why did you stay at one company for 35 years? Could you find another job?


John: That’s true? That’s true. Now, you know, and I think this goes to the idea. And I got asked this question just yesterday, by someone who said about their resume. So I’m, I’m concerned that I have all these all these different jobs. And I said, Look, there’s a pattern to this, to your career, there’s a pattern in these jobs, there’s a portfolio that you are building. And what you want to do is, look at each of the positions that you’ve had and figure out what did I learn in that position that helped me in the next one? And the next one after that? And how do they all weave together to create this, this image of who you are, what you deliver, and how unique you are through the combination of all of these different jobs that you’ve done, and use it as a strength really redefine yourself through that synthesis as a uniquely qualified individual.


Ari: Let me ask you something. Are you married?


John: I am divorced, but I am 10 years into an amazing relationship with a wonderful one.


Ari: Okay, so here’s my next question. In that time period, where, you know, during the 39%, did you ever get to a point where you were like, so low that you just said, you know, what, I give up? I can’t do this anymore. To heck with my dreams, you know, I’m gonna roll up into a ball and die. And you know, and I don’t care anymore. And if you did, if you did reach that point, so low that the next question would be is, how did you recover? How did you get out of it?


John: So I don’t think I ever seriously got to the point where I was ready to hang it up. Which is not to say that I didn’t have low points. And I will, in terms of the whispers in the bricks, I will I will give you a really perfect story. I think for this. I had a startup tech startup in the bubble 9019 9095 into 2001. April 2001, the NASDAQ tanks, everything starts to deteriorate.


Ari: We in this era, I remember it well.



John: Well, yeah, sure you do. Yeah. And so all of a sudden, most of our investors in this company were east coasters, and they all of a sudden, three guys call us up and say we’re coming out tomorrow. Let’s we gotta get together. We got to cross everything off your calendar. Were coming out. So these guys came out. And they basically said, look, you’ve got to reorganize. You’ve got to, you know, going to take another close look, yes, you’ve got this big deal. We had this big telecom deal going on this technology that we were doing, which eventually went away, because everything tanked after this. I mean, people were going to fight me you remember this, so? So coming out of that, I thought, What am I going to do? It’s now it’s now 2002 My partner and I have been trying to kind of keep this company going with with with toothpicks and spit. And we’re kind of barely surviving where we’ve got some staff, we’ve got a sales guy, we’ve got some, some engineers, we were just kind of going job to job. It’s not sustainable. And I come home one afternoon, one Friday afternoon, and I lived at that time in the Hollywood Hills, nice little house that I’ve had since 1981, you know, had got married in that house raised my daughter in that house. And I’m out, we got this cute little swimming pool in the backyard, and I’m raking leaves out of the out of the pool, on a Friday afternoon, and I slip I fall into the pool, I cracked my leg on the way down on that side of the pool. And I hold myself out of the pool and and my ex wife comes running and group drags me into the car takes me down to Cedars Sinai Hospital and patches me up. And then the next day or so I’m sitting in the in the living room. And I’m kind of staring at the ceiling, I got my leg up on on the couch, I’m thinking, what’s what, what’s going on here? What what is the message? And a voice says to me, I got the whisper, go back to school. Wow, literally. And I thought, Okay. And I realized in that moment, I thought, Okay, this is right, I need to shift my perspective. Because I wasn’t gonna go back to the jobs that I had had, working for the studios, I’d kind of like put that behind me, I didn’t really, you know, keep up with a lot of these people. I wasn’t interested in that work anymore. But I didn’t know what I wanted to do. So the voice said, go back to school. So I decided to go back to this spiritual psychology program that I have known about, which was set up as a way for, in many cases, older professionals who were looking to pivot to careers in counseling to do this, but a lot of people who I knew some people that graduated from this program, they weren’t just because they needed a life change, they needed a refresher, they needed to kind of drill down on who they were, what their value was, where they should go. And this is how I got the DreamWorks job, because I changed my attitude about myself about what I want it to do about how I presented to the world. And it was an invaluable experience. It was a it was a pattern interrupt, right, it was a reset. And sometimes you need that reset, you need something to really take you out of the way you’ve always done it. Right, because it is likely wrong. If you keep doing it the same way over and over again, things change, you want to change with the way things are going you want to you want to upgrade yourself to the next level. So that’s kind of the kind of a poster experience for for career reinvention.


Ari: Wow, you know, it reminds me of when, when I used to I had, you know, good people that were reporting to me. And, and it was like, you know, I’d ask a question, like, you know, why are you doing it this way? You know, because to me, whatever they were doing didn’t make sense, right? Whatever it was. And I said, Why are you doing it this way? You go, and you know what the answer is? I’m sure

you because we’ve always done it this way. This is the way

we’ve always done it. Yeah. Yeah, I go. Do you know what the definition of insanity is? I go what I said, doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. That’s insanity. People, this is what you’re doing. Okay, you’re all insane. Right, I hear you. So, you know, I hear let me ask you this. Who is the one person you would point to to say that had the most influence in your life and why?


John: You know, it’s gonna be a strange answer. But, but


Ari: I’ve heard a lot of strange answers to this question. So don’t worry about it.


John: It’s my it’s my daughter. I have a 29 year old daughter


John: that a strange answer. I like it, who is


John: who is just a complete inspiration, who has been through her own trials and tribulations as you might expect, young millennial growing up in today’s world, but she has just demonstrated this quality of self awareness, resilience, and a some kind of a willingness or an ability to, to understand her limits, understand how far she could go without going too far. And it has been it’s not been easy for her necessarily, and she’s done a lot of healing out of out of what happened between her her mom and me and, and she’s done an amazing job and I just have this tremendous gratitude for her and For, for the human being that she has become known as becoming.


Ari: Wow. That’s That’s pretty amazing. That’s really, really amazing. Let me ask you something and this is for my own personal knowledge. You’ve heard of Stephen Hill. He used to he was an actor. He was sure


John: absolutely Mission Impossible. Stephen Hill. Yes. Yes, absolutely.


Ari: Okay. My question to you is a Did you ever meet him? No. Okay. A


John: little bit a little bit before my time. Okay. Interesting.

: I got the business a little bit later than that.


Ari: Yeah, I just I find it interesting. He was an Orthodox Jew. Yes. Yeah. And,


John: and they, and they actually, they actually rearranged the production schedule, on Mission Impossible to let him leave early on Friday to go to services.


Ari: Yeah. Yeah, I always found that fascinating. And I think he had he had an effect on on a lot of Orthodox Jews, because if he could make it in television, right, why not me, you know, and people’s writing and people people went on like that. So I found that fascinating. I heard once I never met him, he lived up in Muncie, New York. And I heard somebody once tell me that they had asked him about, you know, Hollywood and everything else. And he goes, stay away. Just stay away, you know? Yeah. Which, you know, but you know, and then I always think to myself, you know, it’s always easy. It’s always easy to say that, when you’ve been there, right? You know what I’m saying? But if you haven’t been there, it’s like, yes, they always show up. Because just because you had a bad experience doesn’t mean I’m gonna have a bad experience.


John: And that’s true. I think that the interestingly that I think that the business is getting as gotten a lot more. Well, it’s a word normal, a lot more a lot a lot friendlier, perhaps a lot less club wish than it used to be. And behavior I think is improving a little bit, I think the you can’t get away with being a screamer, the way you used to. And, you know, stories of, of executives throwing telephones and assistants, and literally, that just doesn’t happen anymore. And I think one of the great things about living in an age of increased transparency is that it’s harder to get away with bad behavior, which is good.


Ari: Yeah. Although I will tell you that that still exists on Wall Street, or at least it was still it’s still existed four years ago. That’s when I left, right. I mean, guys throw in telephones breaking screens, you know, getting all you know, it was it happens. And I stress


John: I stress. Yeah, yeah. But I think it’s getting better. I mean, you’re sure you’re still you still have people who are doing this and who is there. Some guy in the in the in the Biden administration just resigned the Science Guy, because he apparently was toxic with people. Yeah, yeah, complaints. And


Ari: so let me ask you this. Let me ask you this. If somebody came up to you today and said to you, John, you know, how do I get to Hollywood? How do I make it what? You know, what, what kind of advice would you give them? If any, what would you pull the Stephen Hill thing goes stay away?


John: No, I would say look, I for for 10 years, up until last year, I was co running a graduate program in entertainment management panel in Los Angeles for Carnegie Mellon. And it’s a it’s a great program. And it’s for for young people who want to be on the business side of entertainment across film, TV, music and games, streaming, you know, everything that it’s becoming and the the truth of it is there is a real business here and if you are interested in being on the business side and you find the the the art and commerce, the intersection of art and commerce fascinating, which I certainly always did. There is definitely a way through it through school through working your way up through the through the trainee programs and internship programs. And whether you’re trying by being in on the business side or being on the creative side. You want to be really proactive about deciding what you like what your what your what your what your orientation is. What are you What are you interested in? Are you interested in comedy interested in drama you like sci fi? You like you’d like TV, like movies like music? And, and build a team build a network of people around you peers. People who can Be supportive. And and work your way up. And it’s it’s definitely possible to do it and you can build up a great group of people around you and a great team and a great career.


Ari: Wow. All right. So then let me ask you this, let’s let’s say with this if people want to get in touch with you, whether they want career advice, whether they want coaching, whether they want, you know, just to schmooze just to say, Hey, I spoke to that guy. What would be the best way for people to do that? Yeah, but Website, Email, what are


John: the two things I would suggest? The easiest thing is to is to find me on the website, which is, strangely enough, John So JOHNT, ar, N O F F as in And you can also find me on LinkedIn, there’s a lot of information about my practice on career coaching on my LinkedIn site. So you just search for me on LinkedIn, and it’ll come up and I guess I have the I have the good luck to have an uncommon name. So there aren’t too many John turn offs out there.


Ari: Yeah, I was, I was gonna say, Well, John, thanks so much for sharing your story with me and my audience. I wish you all the luck in the world going forward, I know you’re doing a lot of good because you’re helping a lot of people, you know, career changes and the like, you know, you get to be our age. And you know, some people they whatever, they get stuck and they don’t know where to go and who to turn to or whatnot. And you’re filling a very, very needed void that that we avoid that needs to be plugged basically and you’re you’re taking care of that and my hat’s off to you and I I wish you all the best going forward.



John: Thank you. Thank you, Ari Thank you for having me on the show thank you for for helping spread the the message that the second act is possible it is accessible and and there are ways of going out and doing it and claiming your you know, your your sustainable future.


Ari: Thanks so much. You’re listening to whispers and bricks, and I’m your host, Ari Schonbrun. Remember, if you feel like you’re stuck in the mud, like you’re spinning your wheels, wasting time in your career, your business your life. If you know you’re not enjoying all the success, satisfaction and significance that you desire, then it’s time for you to book a call with me at call with and check out my whispers and bricks Coaching Academy and until next time, listen to the whispers avoid the bricks and never ever give up on your dreams. Bye for now.