Birthdays are About New Opportunities: Lyn Slater, The Accidental Icon

7 minutes read time.

How does one go from a nearly 50-year career first as a social worker, then finishing a PhD in her 50s and becoming a full-time University professor, to becoming an Instagram influencer and a fashion model landing deals with designers like Valentino?

Even more unusual…how does one do all of that in their 60s? You’ll have to ask Lyn Slater who checked all of those boxes and then went on to give it all up in search of a more authentic life. In her new book, “How to Be Old: Lessons in Living Boldly from the Accidental Icon,” Slater chronicles how she went from being a retired professor to social media stardom and highlights for readers the life lessons she learned along the way.

Slater’s foray into the fashion world started as an escape from the demands of a career in social work and discovering an “unrealized desire” as she says in her book. Known for her unique style, Slater was encouraged by her fellow professors and students to start a fashion blog, which came to be known as The Accidental Icon. “It was really a secondary thing outside of my career,” explains Slater. “After a couple of years, it must have been the right cultural moment, but it sort of went viral.”


WATCH Your Money Map: How to be Old: A Conversation with Lyn Slater, “The Accidental Icon”

How does one go from a nearly 50-year career in social work to becoming an Instagram influencer and a fashion model landing deals with designers like Valentino? That was the case for Lyn Slater, who did just that in her 60s. How did she do it? And why did she give it all up? Slater joins Jean Chatzky on the next episode of “Your Money Map” to answer those questions and talk about the biggest lessons from her new book, “How to Be Old: Lessons in Living Boldly from the Accidental Icon.”

Viral is an understatement. Slater went on to amass nearly a million followers on social media and was featured in fashion magazines, music videos and campaigns for big-name designers. As she describes it, the period was one of the most exciting times in her life…until it wasn’t. “Everything began to change in 2019 when I started to work on Instagram, and people started to not call us fashion bloggers, but fashion influencers,” says Slater. “That was the beginning of the whole thing going downhill.” For Slater, going downhill meant a loss of identity. “Prior to that time, I was always featured as this very unique person who did something interesting,” said Slater. “And then after that, I just started to get lumped in with all these [other] people who were influencers. That was part of it losing my unique identity.”

To regain her sense of self, Slater made the decision to step back from influencing, a difficult choice given the financial boost she got from her work.  Slater says she wasn’t really able to save for retirement until she got her PhD in her early 50s. While the pension (a type of annuity) she received through TIAA helped, influencing allowed her to make up for years of being underpaid as a social worker. “I remember my first international modeling campaign, it may have been two days,” says Slater. “At the end of it, I made almost [the same as a] full year’s salary as an academic. I think it made me vulnerable to stay in the influencing as long as I did because it certainly allowed me to do a lot of catching up.”

Coming into money–and fame–later in life helped Slater learn some valuable lessons including:

Avoid the temptation to overspend in retirement: “When people don’t have a lot of money over their life, and something happens where they start having money, it’s very tempting to spend it on all those things that you never had before,” says Slater. She says while you should prioritize investing in your future, it’s OK to treat yourself from time to time. “That doesn’t mean you can’t do a nice thing or two, I certainly did.”

Be realistic about your longevity: In studies about Americans turning the traditional retirement age of 65 (Peak 65) by the Alliance for Lifetime Income people underestimate how long they’ll live and how much money they will need throughout their retirement. Slater however kept longevity top of mind as she made money as an influencer. “I put everything I made in the bank, which now at 71, I’m exceedingly happy I did because I’m healthy as an ox…and grateful for it, because I’m probably going to have a good 25 to 30 years more to fund.”

Plan for retirement, even if you think you’re too young to start: Slater thinks one of the biggest roadblocks to saving enough for retirement can be a “failure of imagination about being old.” Slater says she’s been advising younger women to make Pinterest boards for their golden years, just as they would if planning a home renovation. “What do you want to see? What do you want to do? Start preparing for it, and that means financially,” she says.

Look forward, not back: While we all have a tendency to think about the past, Slater chooses to focus on the future and is selective about how she spends her time and energy. “As you get older, your energy does decrease a bit,” says Slater. “For me, I’m looking at where I am going to expend that energy. And spending it reflecting on the past? It just doesn’t seem like a good use of my time.”

You can be cool, at any age: As a woman who was not a fashion model, yet featured by big brands, Slater hopes she demonstrated that it’s never too late to reinvent yourself. “I’m pretty much an ordinary woman…I was a professor,” says Slater. “I think women of all ages sort of felt seen and they were like, ‘if someone like her could be visible and seen, then perhaps I can and being invisible is not inevitable.”

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