Dale Hanson Bourke: The Next Chapter

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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Today, 50 percent of law school graduates and 60 percent of accounting graduates are women. Twenty-five years ago, the glass ceiling was considerably lower, and few Christian women considered professional careers. With faith, a family, an MBA, and a penchant for business, Dale Hanson Bourke did more than just consider a career. Much more.

Dale served as the editor of Today’s Christian Woman magazine. She started her own magazine publishing company and operated it for 13 years. She has been a marketing consultant and publisher of Religion News Service. She writes enough books, articles, and essays to crowd a wide shelf. She has served on the boards of International Justice Mission, World Vision US and International, Opportunity International, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, and

Currently, Dale is president of PDI, a marketing and strategy consulting firm specializing in work with nonprofit organizations. She spends much of her time writing and speaking about AIDS.

Her latest book, Second Calling: Finding Passion and Purpose for the Rest of your Life, takes a look at possibilities and how to find God in them.

Your book comes across as the spiritual odyssey of a type-A woman. Is that your audience?

I was writing for women of my generation, most of whom were brought up with some notion of “doing it all.” For some, that meant being a super mom and great volunteer. For some, it meant working outside the home. I think most women of my generation identify in one way or another with those expectations, no matter where they played out.

What kind of response is your message getting?

It seems to hit a universal chord among Christian women in the second half of life. Women tell me they have bought books for all their friends—or that they recommended it to friends who read it right away. Several book groups are reading it, and I’ve heard of some women’s conferences giving it to their participants.

While you were working outside the home, the role of women, particularly Christian women, widened considerably. You’ve been called a pioneer among evangelicals. Were you aware of that?

I was aware that many of my jobs had been previously held by men—and that my career mentors tended to be men. In the secular workplace, my being a woman wasn’t unusual. Sometimes in the Christian world, though, I was treated with suspicion and some degree of disapproval, which only made me work harder. I always had a sense that I needed to do well so women coming after me would also be considered for the job.

A lot of Christian women believe they should not work outside the home.

My work didn’t create the family difficulties and tensions that some families experience, so I didn’t keep reexamining it. I started my own company when I was 27, and I had some sense that God was in it because it practically came to me. Then when I started hiring employees and signing client contracts, I became responsible for people’s livelihoods and organizations’ programs to the degree that if I one day decided to close shop, it would be traumatic to many people. I hired many women and tried always to enable them to also be home for their families. I encouraged part-time jobs and tried to offer flexibility—and to help them find balance.

What would you say is the home/work balance?

I have to admit that I haven’t always found it, but I believe work can’t so consume a person that he or she isn’t totally present when they are home and with the family. I love to work and tend to throw myself totally into work projects. But by the time I come home, I want my family to feel that I really want to be with them and there is nowhere else I’d rather be.

What was the home/work tradeoff for you?

On any given day there were tradeoffs. It was frustrating when the school gave me a day’s notice of a special program or a costume needed the next day. There were times when I wasn’t there for my children, although I always worked hard to be for the important things. Certainly there were times when I said “hurry up” to my kids because I had to keep a tight schedule. I’ve asked my boys if they have regrets about their childhoods. They’ve both said no and that they were proud of me for doing interesting things.

How did your career influence the way you raised your boys?

My sons grew up with a model of marriage where little was considered a “man’s” or “woman’s” job. They saw a mom and dad support one another both at home and in work. They saw that their dad had more career flexibility because their mom’s work also provided an income. My older son said to me the other day that he was worried that if he married a woman who didn’t want to work, he’d feel pressure to get a job more about income than about his passion. So I think he saw the advantage of two careers.

My younger son has many of my same talents and interests. My work helped him imagine how he might use his writing and design abilities in publishing or other fields.

Also because I wasn’t there all the time, both boys grew up to be pretty good at handling things and being independent. My older son learned to cook, and I even paid him to clean the house one summer. He’s proud of his skills.

Did you wrestle with doubt in those years—or should I ask how the last years of your life affected your faith?

Faith is not something that we get down once and for all and just pull out when we need it. The faith I had as a young woman was greatly tested when I lost a baby and a close friend and then my father all in a short time. My faith now is more able to accept tragedy and to recognize that it’s not all about me. I am more inclined now to accept that I will never understand it and to be content in trusting God. I don’t need nearly as many answers.

Over the last few years, I think God has been giving me a time to re-focus and come to grips with some things that I lacked time or inclination to face when I was younger. I don’t want to live the second half of my life in denial—that means getting to the bottom of some habits and tendencies that were once comfortable.

Would you say that men and women take on midlife differently?

Obviously, women experience physical changes that are hard to ignore. They also tend to feel the greatest loss when the children leave home. The idea that you are no longer needed as a mother is tough. Men may face mid-career discontent, but seem to just push through it. Women who are working often quit because work no longer means so much to them. Several business articles on this trend say it seems to confound analysts because women who have finally earned the respect they wanted then decide to leave the workplace. Men very rarely do that. And women who are not working outside the home suddenly find their home empty and quiet.

What is the calling of the second half of life?

God is calling us to know Him better and follow Him more closely. To me, the high calling in life’s second half is to embrace what we know and to share it; to continue to learn and grow and remain humble; to let our own ambitions wane and let God’s ambitions for us take over; and to model maturity in a way that makes younger people long for the peace and wisdom we exude.

My generation of women has so much potential and promise. We received excellent health care, wonderful educations, incredible access to the world. We have much to offer and the responsibility to give back. We need to help bandage the wounds of the world and find ways to help those in great need. What we learned in the first half of life is now a wealth of knowledge to share. We can model aging differently than our mothers did. Why shouldn’t we see this as the time to grow active in helping others, investing in problem-solving and making the world a better place? Especially as Christian women, we must believe that God still has a plan for our lives and it isn’t about trying to look younger or find ways to amuse ourselves.

If you could go back to the woman you were at, say, age 28—what would you like to tell her?

I don’t know if I could have heard what I needed to know at 28, but what I do tell my sons is that you can always start over and that life is full of surprises, so don’t worry too much about planning everything out. I also remind them that they can have several careers, so they don’t have to worry too much about getting the first one exactly right.