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Masters of Third Half: Nancy Combs

Updated: Jul 22, 2021

Nancy Combs is “trusting the unfolding.” She is an explorer in her heart, mind, and spirit. Her insights and reflections on the difference between external and internal stimulus and looking outward and inward have resulted in an overarching Third Half goal of “getting congruent with herself." When you listen to Nancy share her stories, you soon realize that you are in the presence of one of the great weavers of life and an incredibly wise woman. She’s the master of “figuring it out while trying it out.”

"I want my Third Half to be remembered as a time filled with love, good friends, intelligent discussions, and being a force of positive change."

– Nancy Combs

Nancy and I met on a foggy June morning at Marin Headlands across the bay from San Francisco. We had talked about her goal of traveling in a campervan since she had been a participant in the Third Half program. I shared with Nancy how we selected our campervan and she quickly put a plan in place to buy her own camper and start traveling around the U.S. She arrived in her new Travato van with her loyal dog Sandy at her side and a smile big enough to light up the world. She was fresh to the world of camping and was embracing the attitude of a great explorer.

Traveling alone across the country exemplifies Nancy’s values of fun and personal growth. In addition, her training in the military left her with a “never say no” and “failure is not an option” attitude which is key to success as you wander around the United States. Betty Lou, the name she selected for her van, in honor of her mother who was also an explorer, is just the next chapter in Nancy’s journey and unfolding in life.

A Career in Service

Nancy’s father was drafted to the Korean War and her grandfather served in WWII. While neither had military careers, Nancy decided she would “figure life out” by starting as an enlisted airman. She served as a mechanic on B52s. Thanks to the GI Bill she then got a business degree. Once she was commissioned, she served all over the world with the US Air Force in logistics management and supply transport. After 26 years in the military, she retired, and she knew she was “not done yet”.

She decided to fulfill a lifelong dream at the age of 47-years-old and enrolled at University District Columbia School of Law. Three years later she graduated as a lawyer and worked for the military in federal ethics and procurement. She also designed and led leadership trainings in ethics. She embraced the opportunity to serve and have an impact, which happens to be one of her core values. Eventually she “put a bow” on the work with the military and tried out several other career paths including event planning and nonprofits.

Shifting to An Internal Approach to Life

Sensing a new unfolding, she enrolled in a program to think about her next chapter. She examined how so much of her career had been shaped by external forces and that her strengths of Input, Learner and Strategic had been her anchor and guide.

During this time of reflection, she began to shift toward an internal approach to life. She realized she had focused on the external aspects of her career, jobs, and earning for most of her life. In trusting her unfolding, she knew she was now ready to explore the internal wisdom that was at her very core. She was ready to transition away from her career and into the journey of Third Half.

After her time of deep reflection, she returned to work and her boss noted she seemed “happier and lighter”. Nancy’s internal response was “I have a secret”. She was ready to retire, and she carefully navigated that tough step of when and how to tell her boss and friends of this big decision.

She kept learning, reading about mid-life, transitions, and thanks to two friends she discovered Third Half Advisors.

Analyzing Your Clifton Strengths

Nancy learned a great deal from the Third Half Advisors approach to using the Gallup Strengths Finder tool, “ the best assessment tool she’d ever taken”. After many years of using her top five strengths as part of her external life, she realized that her internal life was going to be best explored by using her next five strengths: Restorative, Individualization, Achiever, Responsibility and Intellection. This awareness emerged during the 7-session virtual Third Half Advisors program and coaching sessions.

Nancy travels with her strengths finder report and keeps her eyes on when and how she is using them. Third Half Advisors helped shape her journey and Betty Lou’s license plate will be “3RD HALF”.

What's Next on the Frontier

Nancy is currently working on a business plan with a group of other consultants to support decision makers in the frontier technologies of AI (Artificial Intelligence) and machine learning. Nancy’s expertise in privacy and data management will be part of her digital nomad existence as she travels, explores, and works on her “Project Part-Time and Portable” job portfolio.

We spent a great deal of our time talking about how one of her travel goals is to find a new community and place to call home. After years in Arlington, VA she is now ready to move back to the West where she has family, friends, and longings. Nancy is excited to build a new community as it has been “challenging” to create community in her Third Half. Her Arlington rowing friends have been a great anchor, but she is now looking for more. I asked her what things she’s looking for in a new community and home base. She listed:

1. Aesthetically pleasing

2. A strong sense of place

3. A sense of community pride among the people who live there

4. A feeling of casually friendly where there are plenty of random, quality encounters

5. A place where people are ethical and do the right things

6. Congruency with her values

7. A place that will play to her strengths

8. Diversity of ages

Learning to Leverage Her Strengths

As I listened to Nancy, I realized that perhaps there was a strength that she was learning to leverage most of all in her Third Half adventure. She has the strength of Connectedness which is the strength of universal purpose, weaving together ideas and people, and clarity on what matters most. Nancy continually circled back to what matters most to her and to trust the unfolding. Her Connectedness strength is her beacon right now, it is her inner wisdom shining through.

As we finished our conversation, I asked her if she had any advice for exploring the Third Half. Her response was quintessential Nancy.

  • Don’t make it work

  • Use curiosity- remove the judgement

  • Have fun with it

  • Discover the joy and laughter in life

  • Embrace playfulness and…

  • Remember what the pandemic taught us: life can change in an instant so trust the unfolding!

At the end of our Third Half program everyone writes a BlueSky Statement. We often share Nancy’s because it is so eloquent.

"In my Third Half Blue Sky, I want to have no regrets and make sure that I am known as someone who got out of her own way and learned to trust the unfolding. I want to learn more about values-congruent opportunities because I want to be part of the solution. And I want to leverage my strengths of connectedness, relator & strategic and my values of fun, personal growth & impact to thrive in my roles of modern elder. Ultimately, I want my Third Half to be remembered as a time filled with love, good friends, intelligent discussions, and being a force of positive change."

Make sure to check out our other Third Half Masters stories to learn more about others who are transitioning from their corporate career to “what’s next”. And if you are interested in learning more check out our upcoming programs here.


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