From Comedy Writer to Mosaic Artist in Midlife: Sybil’s Story

sybtimesWhen opportunities for comedy writing gigs were drying up, Sybil turned her love of mosaic art into a business.

Tell us about your background…

I was raised in Teaneck, New Jersey (before Chris Christie’s time) and graduated from NYU with a major in psychology.

My first job after college was as a marketing research trainee at Playtex, whose undergarments were more like infrastructure than lingerie. After months of tabulating questionnaires saying why women preferred one girdle over another, I took a stenography class and became a secretary.

Romantic comedies had me expecting that once I got into my 20’s, men with great smiles would find me adorable and I’d be romanced the way Doris Day was on screen. That didn’t happen. Mostly I was going to Chinatown with my cousin and eating an entire plate of pork lo mein after dinner.

Working as a secretary wasn’t much more exciting so I took time off to be a ski bum in Vermont and then a secretary at Grossingers, a resort hotel in the Catskill Mountains. I may have originated the concept of a “gap year.” My parents were probably worried that I would have a gap life but when my brother, an attorney at United Artists in Hollywood, told me he could get me a job as a secretary for the summer of 1965, I impulsively left for L.A.

That would, I imagined, put me on the fast track in show business. For two months, I booked restaurants and tennis courts for a man whose title was “Vice president in charge of production,” before he packed up the one memo he’d dictated in July and returned to New York. Because you could rent a furnished apartment with a swimming pool for very little, I decided to stay on the West Coast. I bought a used car, streaked my hair, and tried to pass as a native.

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Sybil with Carl Reiner

Following a series of temporary jobs, I was hired to listen to records and type up lyrics for a local TV show, after which I did time as a secretary in Jerry Lewis’ office. In 1966 I finally got a job I loved as Carl Reiner’s secretary. Working with the man who’d created The Dick Van Dyke Show and done The 2,000 Year Old Man bits with Mel Brooks made work fun. The laughing was non-stop and I assumed I would never leave. In my fifth year with Carl, one remark changed my reality. A man walked by my desk and I heard him say, “Sheldon’s old biddy will know where that is.” That told me I had to make a dramatic change. Otherwise, I would one day be Carl Reiner’s old biddy. The Women’s Movement was impacting, adding guilt to this fear. I needed to do something, but what?

Since I’d majored in psychology, I applied to a graduate school that offered night classes for those with day jobs, my plan being to become a psychotherapist. When I wasn’t accepted, I was devastated and whined to my therapist. “You think you can only be a secretary or therapist?” was his response.

“Uh-huh,” I said, seeing no other possibilities.

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During Filming of Where’s Poppa?

On dateless Saturday nights, single women tuned into CBS for their comedy line-up. While watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show, an idea occurred to me: maybe I could be a comedy writer. In the 70’s, there were almost no women doing it. I’d always enjoyed writing but didn’t have the chutzpah to pursue it as a career. I realized it was unlikely to happen, but neither was anything else. However absurd this was, I propped myself up with the reminder that I had nothing to lose. When that wasn’t enough, I threw in that I made people, including Carl, laugh.

I wrote a spec script and gave it to some agents. We were all shocked when it got me two writing assignments in one day. I was lucky enough to do episodes for hit shows that included Maude, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, Alice and Barney Miller. As much fun as this was, however, I wanted a personal life. That didn’t seem to be happening. At 35, I was too old to be a first or second wife in Hollywood so I rented an apartment in New York and became bi-coastal

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Sybil and her husband, Martin Sage

In 1980, I married a New York magazine writer and we became a professional team as well. Except for the 24 hours I was giving birth to our son, we laughed 24/7. Nothing could be better. When our son was 3 months old, we packed 13 boxes and headed to L.A. to be with my parents. Martin and I worked on movies, pilots and in TV, writing for Magnum P.I., Growing Pains, Northern Exposure and many other series. Wanting to raise our son in a city where people without screening rooms and a Mercedes don’t feel like failures, we left L.A. and moved back to New York in 1991.

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Sybil’s husband and son

The combination of getting older and not being where the work was, not surprisingly, resulted in fewer assignments. Waiting for our agent to call brought back memories of my dating years, when I was often sitting near a phone to hear from some guy (this was before voice mail and cell phones freed us up). It became clear that comedy writers have a shelf life. I missed working with funny people and it was disappointing to fall out of demand when I felt capable (perhaps even more so than when I was younger) of doing the work. I have never understood why older people are trusted to make life and death decisions on the Supreme Court, but not to write an episode of Two and a Half Men.

My husband and I had been paid well and believed we had enough money to carry us through our retirement years. But that changed in 2008 and I was desperate to retire from retirement.

 

What is your next act

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Andy Warhol themed vase

A mosaic artist, I work in the French style that mainly uses pieces of plates and is called pique assiette. I’d never had a hobby, didn’t have the patience for needlepointing, scrapbooking, or découpage. I came into this accidentally…unless you think nothing is accidental. At some point in my late 50’s, I saw a picture of a magnificent chest of drawers entirely covered with tiny pieces of blue and white china in New York Magazine. I had to have it and raced to the gallery only to find it was unaffordable. The third time I visited, the owner told me they would be giving a class. I signed up.

In a large room with stacks of plates on shelves, I was seated at an enormous table with other women, all of whom had previously done mosaic work. We were each given a 16” wooden square, nippers and a heap of tile cement. There was only one teacher so there wasn’t enough personal guidance for a beginner. I nipped my fingers almost as often as the plate, which wasn’t a promising start. The shards I cut were jagged and I wasn’t satisfied with the class, but I was hooked. For me there was magic in treating tiny pieces of plates like paint and creating a design. In two days, there wasn’t time enough for the teacher to show us how to grout, which was a problem since that’s the final step in completing mosaic. They allowed me to come back for a private lesson.

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New York themed vase

When I came home, I broke some of our own plates and covered a planter with them. It looked amateurish and uninteresting but instead of giving up, I set about teaching myself how to refine my work. In time, I developed a style of my own, thrilled to be dazzling myself and others. On eBay, I familiarized myself with plates, buying those with beautiful patterns, others with words and themes that would add interest — like Andy Warhol soup labels, the London Metro map and wine images. I found a new way of storytelling; my work often has a theme.

Malcolm Gladwell maintains that if you do something enough, you become good at it. My early attempts – mostly planters, vases and picture frames – were okay, but nothing like what I was able to do when I became more experienced. To stay fresh, I designed furniture and, at the request of friends, added boxes, kitchen caddies (for utensils) and lamps. The most ambitious project was covering the fireplace in our living room, which took five months and required many trip to a chiropractor to repair what contorting had done to my body. I was flattered when friends expressed interest in having an item I’d made or asked if I would design something they could give as a present to newlyweds, new parents and grandparents.

fireplace2useAdmiring the mosaic items that had were everywhere in our apartment, a friend said, “Why don’t you turn this into a business?” That made sense. I enjoyed it and nobody cares about the age of a mosaic artist. While working, I had the TV turned to cable news shows so I was continually hearing about America’s economic and political crises. That got me thinking about doing satirical mosaics that would take advantage of my humor.

rightwingcloseThe Breaking News Series can be seen on my site, www.sagemosaicart.com. It seemed fitting and funny to do them on cremation urns, using red, white and blue plates, some with flag images, to comment on politicians in cheating scandals, partisanship, Wall Street scoundrels and the job market. I experimented and developed a way of including photos, a process that allowed me to introduce personalization.

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“Is the Right Right?” urn

An urn titled, “Is the Right Right?” was chosen by the Brooklyn Waterfront Arts Coalition for their exhibition called “Wide Open.” At the show, a pet owner said, “My dog’s ashes are in a box. I would love to have an urn with photos of Cinnamon.” That and other memorial art – for people as well as pets — can be seen on my site, www.personalized-urns.com. Each is personal and special, and I’m thrilled that I’m able to help those coping with a loss. “This urn is to die for,” someone said though cremation urns don’t get the same laughs as a comedy. But putting a smile on the face of someone who’d grieving is rewarding.

 

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What challenges did you encounter as you started your new business? How supportive were your family and friends?

Starting an online business is not for sissies. It was far more involved than I’d anticipated. I bought bubble wrap, scoured eBay for plates, hired a web designer, brought up boxes that had been discarded by neighbors in our Greenwich Village apartment building, opened accounts at a bank and stores where I would be getting supplies. Our home now looked like Home Depot.

sybilphotoI had to buy photographic equipment and learn how to use it (guess which was harder). A lawyer told me I needed to be an LLC. State and federal tax forms had to be filled out. Like it or not, I had to have an Excel sheet to keep track of expenses and orders. There was a lot more to do besides the art. I was my own purchasing agent, photographer, gift wrapper, accounts receivable, business manager, shipping clerk, buyer, press representative, customer service, quality control and night cleaning crew. It’s more than I’d expected and there are aspects I would rather not do, but this was definitely the best choice for my encore career.

Friends helped in every way they could. Susan, a graphic artist, designed my logo. Alex downloaded a photo editing program and taught me how to use it. Her mother, Jackie, got me onto a radio show. Nadine, a professional photographer, did what she could to enable me to take shots of my work. I pretended I knew the difference between F-stops and pixels, determined not to let fear put the kibosh on this. Bonnie demonstrated gift wrapping. Bambe and Dale wrote press releases. Joyce got me featured in The New York Times.

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Lily Tomlin with Sybil’s artwork

Patricia arranged for AARP to produce a videotape that appears on my site. Ann and Mara appeared in it. So did Linda, who had a show for me in her home, as did Lynn. Beth and Rob connected me with a gallery in Woodstock. Lily Tomlin made time between appearing on “The View” and getting to the airport to be photographed with a piece I’d done. Everyone contributed glass vases they’d received with flowers and plates that had chipped or broken. My husband and son have provided emotional support and given me sage advice (okay, maybe that’s a pun).

My friends all studied my website and shared their reactions. There were a few cranks. The clerk at my local Fed-Ex office complained about the way I taped boxes, but she mellowed when I gave her a lemon cake. I wasn’t satisfied with my first few web designers and that was costly, but Joshua Peromsik is terrific. In addition to making the site look great and work, he does optimization, which is critical, as you want people to find you online. His email is info@dolcevittoria.com.

carpetEveryone had suggestions. Sometimes I listened. That’s why I signed up for a booth at a large art fair. I had to purchase tables, cloths, overhead lighting and carpeting. Pat, a producer, insisted on taking me to Hold Everything and getting display stands. My sister-in-law, Annie, contributed a folding table she uses for the enormous dinners she prepares and schlepped over with me along with a laborer I’d found on Craigslist. The three of us arranged mosaic vases, lamps, tables, picture frames, and utensil holders. Other vendors told me the show hadn’t been properly advertised and they were grousing about the low turnout. I regretted the investment and was heading for a meltdown, but I stopped it by reasoning that the only way to find out what works is by trying. As politicians have said, “Mistakes were made.” But their mistakes mostly hurt others; mine impacted on me.


Why did you choose this next act?  What other options did you consider?  

Making money felt like an emergency, turning friends into first responder. Marty referred me to an agency that placed people in jobs. I was sent to a commercial real estate company in midtown Manhattan, sitting in a cubicle with young assistants, unable to bond with them or with the executives whose phones I was answering. It could be worse, I told myself when I passed someone dressed as a banana and standing near the subway with a sign promoting Jamba Juice. At the end of my two-week try-out, I was asked to return the bathroom key, but not thanked by either of the two people I’d been reporting to, who slinked off to avoid saying goodbye. I may not have deserved a gold watch, but this was truly a low moment.

Antonia, the editor of Coastal Living, invited me to write for them. My first humorous essay covered the futility of trying to read on a naked beach in St. Martin, the next addressed hating to be a house guest and a third dealt with the impossibility of knowing who people are on a beach since Nooks and Kindles have done away with book jackets, which was how I decided whom to schmooze with. I enjoyed doing the essays, but needed more.

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Vase for Stephen Colbert

 

I wrote a book proposal, “Breaking News: You’re Broke,” and despite an agent’s enthusiastic attempts, it didn’t sell.

There was a new show coming on TV featuring a female comic very close in age to me with a sensibility similar to mine. Friends recommended me for the job and the interview lasted about as long as a typical commercial. This was followed by a call from the producer, who said, “Everyone liked you, but we’re going to hire someone with more comedy experience.”

“You’ll have to look in cemeteries,” I quipped.

“I meant on a daily basis,” he responded.

Linda, the gift who didn’t stop giving, got me an extra job on the daytime serial, One Life to Live. A woman in her 60’s doesn’t need a drama coach to be in the background. Another friend, a casting director, arranged for me to be an extra on a movie starring Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker. I could have been helpful to the director, telling him the set, wardrobe, flowers and actors needed to be tweaked but an extra, let alone one not in the Screen Extras Guild, would surely be removed from the set for giving notes to the director.

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Custom New York vase for NY Times writer

A team of human rights workers, after receiving emails from my high-powered friends, Kathleen, Gerald and Monica, interviewed me. Though I felt qualified to work for them as they were filmmakers for the organization, the job wasn’t offered. An employment agency conducting a pre-interview for a fashion designer looking for an assistant may have assumed that because I forgot my gloves on the desk, I wasn’t as organized as my resume pretended.

I applied for every job on Craigslist that didn’t require fluent Mandarin. Among those who passed on my services was a lovely man who said I was overqualified to be his assistant and a guy my son’s age selling Obama condoms. That there wasn’t more rejection was only because almost nobody wanted to interview me. At some point, even the most dogged, determined applicant gives up. I did after meeting with Dick Cavett and being told, “We’re not hiring you, but we’d like to be your friend.”

Starting a business as an online mosaic artist may mean broken nails, but it doesn’t break your heart.

 

How has your routine changed now with this next act?

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Sybil at work and close-up of nipping

sybtnipWhen I’m doing a commission, I put in about five hours a day. Our kitchen serves as my studio. It’s a comfortable and pleasant setting, and a tile floor is ideal as I have to sweep up tiny pieces of plates that invariably scatter everywhere. I have an enormous assortment of dishes and other surprises I like to include, but the supplies are minimal, basically nippers, tile cement and a few tools. To establish that I’m done working and the coast is clear for eating, I open a bottle of wine and set it on the table.

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Work in progress

 

What words of advice do you have for women seeking to reinvent themselves in midlife?

Invent Spanx!

Starting anew requires being realistic and relentless (I like alliteration). Know that it may take time and you may get discouraged so it’s important to enjoy what you’re doing. Taking the road untraveled is a challenge at any age. It’s easy to question your ability and you can’t be sure it will be profitable. I pumped myself up by recognizing that I’d overcome ridiculous odds by becoming a female comedy writer, hoping that I could repeat that triumph.

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Custom flower pot with photos of grandchildren

 

What words of advice do you have for those interested in pursuing your path?

I continually check the Internet and Facebook groups to look at the work of other mosaic artists. My custom orders are highly unique; nobody else does exactly what I do. If someone wants a photo montage on an urn, I’m the go-to. For personalized mosaic gifts, that’s also the case. The challenge is getting traffic to a website. Mine is a niche that isn’t likely to be searched so I use my writing ability to blog and help gain visibility. If you’re looking to make a fortune, mosaic, which is labor intensive, may not be the best choice.

 

What resources do you recommend?

Read and research. Be current on what’s happening in your field. The book, Making Bits and Pieces Mosaics: Creative Projects for Home & Garden by Marlene Hurley Marshall should prove useful. There are mosaic classes and workshops as well as Facebook groups, where you can get answers. I approached sellers on eBay when I was looking to incorporate photos that would be protected by clear glass into the work. A woman who sells jewelry supplies advised me about glues and glass.

 

Contact Sybil Sage at sybilny@gmail.com

www.sagemosaicart.com

www.personalized-urns.com.

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Let’s Hear From an Expert: Julie Colbrese, Hot Coffee Coaching

428643_10151581053699329_1298067035_nIn your coaching experience, what are women looking for when they come to you for help in midlife?

Typically, women who seek out coaching are looking for what I call “more, better, different.” There’s usually nothing “wrong.” No horrible problem that needs to be fixed. Rather, it’s — and I’m dating myself here — the Peggy Lee syndrome: Is that all there is? These women are smart, successful, accomplished AND they want to do something more meaningful in their life.

That’s what’s so great about Next Act for Women — it gives women ideas and inspiration.

This change they seek could be a career change, a relocation, or a new relationship. Often, their children have left home and, for the first time in 18 years, these women get to think about themselves. For many of them, it’s not that easy. It’s like working a muscle you haven’t used in a very, very long time. That’s where coaching helps.

 

pastedGraphic[1]What have you found to be the most important things women can do to get unstuck in midlife?

The most important thing is to be open and willing to think differently about beliefs you’ve been holding. Many times, women come to me wanting to make a change and then work their hardest to convince me that there’s nothing they can do differently. Nothing. In any area of their lives. I always say the same thing: “You called me.”

Another example of this is the “too busy” belief. Women will swear that they don’t have one… more… minute… in the day… to do anything else. Yet they’ve carved out an hour that wasn’t there before to meet with me. It’s the coach’s job to gently, but firmly, point out the way these old beliefs just aren’t working anymore.

Another great first step is for women to start talking out loud about their dreams. To that end, it’s important for them to find an ally — a coach or someone else — to keep them motivated and accountable.

 

What are the biggest barriers to women moving forward with their dreams and aspirations in midlife?

It’s these damn self-limiting beliefs. In many ways, we’ve lost the ability to dream. Often, one of the first exercises I do is to ask my client to tell me about a dream she has for herself. What I hear most often is “I don’t have any dreams” or “I’m too practical to dream.” It’s like negotiating with yourself. If you don’t allow yourself to dream, you’re already compromising what you think you can achieve and what you think you are entitled to. Keep filling in the details. Make that dream real. You can’t go after something if you don’t know what it is. Get intimate with your dreams.

The other big barrier is the fear of financial insecurity. That looks like the collapsed, self-limiting belief of: I can either make money OR do work I love. There’s a belief that these two wants couldn’t possibly exist in one place. I’ve personally seen this disproved by so many of my clients. You CAN do work you love AND make money.

 

How does your coaching program help these women? What is your approach?

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The coaches at Hot Coffee Coaching

We challenge these beliefs by breaking them down one by one with the client. A big part of coaching is slowing down the conversation that’s already going on in our client’s head. Stop and listen to the stories you’re telling yourself and check out with a trusted champion if they’re true or not. Your coach is your champion, someone who will sit with you and help you listen to those voices in your head, but not get fooled by them.

I deeply believe that we all need a champion, that person — coach, friend, partner — who we trust to tell us the hard truths, yet who’s gentle enough to stay through the tough work of getting real with ourselves.

Our coaching program takes each woman through exercises of self-awareness and discovery to deepen the learning, and then co-creates a plan to move her forward into action. The coach stays in the relationship with her through the process to ensure that she stays motivated and moving forward.

Our work is tremendously gratifying. It’s humbling to be invited into people’s lives and to be a witness to their transformation. I feel truly blessed to be doing work I so deeply love and to have the privilege of meeting and working with so many amazing and interesting women.

 

Do you recommend any resources for women who want to start this process of self-discovery?

Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time by Susan Scott

Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box by The Arbinger Group

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero

In addition, I cannot recommend highly enough the Co-Active Leadership program offered through the Coaches Training Institute. It’s a significant commitment of both time and money but by far the most impactful program I have been a part of.

 

Contact Julie Colbrese, CPCC/PCC: julie@hotcoffeecoaching.com / 312-806-5476 www.hotcoffeecoaching.com

As a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach (CPCC), Professional Certified Coach (PCC) and experienced group facilitator, Julie combines co-active coaching skills with unique problem-solving tools honed through 20 years in the creative services industry.

Julie is deeply invested in being a champion for anyone who wants more, better, different in their life and/or work. In addition to her private practice with individual clients, Julie works within businesses and nonprofit organizations to build successful and highly functioning leadership teams. Her unique background attracts — and welcomes — creative types and other sometimes seemingly “difficult” people.

Julie is a licensed Arbinger Coach, having completed The Choice in Coaching: Arbinger Mastery Training for Coaches. She earned certifications in Co-Active Leadership from The Coaches Training Institute (CTI) and in The Art of Innovation & Creativity from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). She is a member of the International Coach Federation and the Chicago Coach Federation.

 

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Leading Women’s Tours in Tuscany in Midlife: Lisa’s Story

profile picWhen Lisa visited Italy at 56, she didn’t want to leave; so she quit her job, sold most of her belongings, and moved to Florence three months later.

Tell us a little about your life before your next act?

I was born, raised and educated in Salt Lake City and didn’t live outside of Utah until after I married. We lived in California, Colorado, and Texas while raising our two children. I had a 32-year career in fitness, as an instructor and personal trainer.

 

When did you start to think about charting a new direction for yourself in midlife?

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Lisa with her daughter, Lauren

My “aha” moment was just that. In 2012, at the end of a fabulous vacation in Italy with my daughter, I made the decision to move there. It was early morning, and we were waiting over espressos for the taxi that would take us to the airport; I didn’t want to leave. Divorced for 8 years, kids grown up, I knew in my heart that there was something in Italy I needed to explore.

Three months later, at the age of 56, I moved to Florence. I had sold my home, my car, and 90% of my possessions to finance this move. I didn’t know a single person here, or a single word of Italian.

 

What is your next act?

I am the co-founder, with Sarah Walton, of Better Way to Italy, a boutique, luxury tour company that brings small groups of women to Tuscany. There are so many women who want to travel but don’t have anyone to go with them. Our tours speak to that need.

Tuscany seems to hold a special magic for women, much of which has been documented in books and movies. There is nothing I enjoy more than seeing women relax into the beauty of this country and find their own feeling of joy here. Sarah and I give classes geared to women on courage, passion, and intuition. We keep the groups small and they become very cohesive very quickly.

There is nothing I enjoy more than seeing women relax into the beauty of this country and find their own feeling of joy here.

Currently, we offer two Signature Tours, Tuscany with the emphasis on either Chianti or Cinque Terre. We spend 5 nights based in Florence and 2 nights in Cortona. All in all, we visit 7 towns. We are currently expanding our tours to include Rome, Venice, and the Amalfi Coast.

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Signature Tour, spring 2014

 

Our philosophy is that all a woman has to do to travel with us is pack her bag. We have everything covered, so she can relax and enjoy an experience that will exceed her expectations. It’s luxury, but friendly and always well organized. Our price is inclusive of absolutely everything (right down to a guide’s gratuity) with the exception of airfare and a few meals.

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Sarah and Lisa

Sarah is in New York, and I am in Italy. We think this is a big plus for our business. She handles the interaction with clients in the US, and I create the tours here. My living here is the biggest difference that we offer. I will ensure that our guests see Tuscany through an insider’s eyes.

Every day I am in awe of what I see and experience.

Mostly, however, my next act has been about finding my way on my own in a foreign country. It’s been challenging, and so rewarding to navigate through this experience.

Often, people will ask me if I am living my dream, and my answer is no. I never knew enough about life in Italy to dream this! Every day I am in awe of what I see and experience.

 

Why did you choose this next act?  

I have a fundamental belief that life is supposed to be joyful, and the life I had been living in Salt Lake City was no longer that for me. I knew I needed a change. I thought the option for change would probably come about in a new relationship, or possibly a new career, but I had never thought about living in a new country!

I think it is the lifestyle and culture in Italy that felt so good to me. I still find it so joyous. There is a sense of timelessness to Italy; the pace is slower, the emotions always on the surface. Italians understand the rhythm of life and what really matters: Dinners take 3 hours…and that’s how it should be. Family, art, and beauty are all priorities here. I recognized that quality of life initially, and I love it still.

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Shopping at Mercato Centrale in Florence

 

I know I was blessed in choosing Florence. There is a large expat community here, almost entirely made of women. Because we are all fairly new to Italy, we reach out to each other and have built a tremendous network for socializing. I also have Italian friends that I have made along the way, and for that I am very grateful. Having an Italian become your friend is not necessarily easy, but they are so generous once you are.

Florence is a walking city, so I walk instead of going to the gym these days. I love just taking off and not really knowing where I am headed. I love the museums and markets and I also adore going to the small hill towns of Tuscany. I will get up early and wander the narrow streets while the trucks are bringing in the produce to the markets, and the town is just waking up. I love standing at the bar for a caffe with the locals.

What keeps me here is the exquisite thrill of life so outside of what I normally had experienced. Learning, just for the sake of learning, has been such a joy to me. I have learned about art and architecture, writers and history, and all types of subjects that I never even knew I was interested in. I have toured the countryside and castles and hiked along the Italian Riviera to my heart’s content. And, of course, I’ve enjoyed the food and wine of this region, which spoils one for any other.

I have had experiences I never thought could be mine, and now my business is to share those with the women who travel with us.

 Learning, just for the sake of learning, has been such a joy to me.

How hard was it to take the plunge? How did you prepare?

My timing was such that I had just a few months to prepare for such a large change. All of my energy went into selling my possessions and moving from Salt Lake City. Reality didn’t hit until I was on the other side of the Atlantic! Behind me was a house that had sold in 6 weeks, a storage unit that held the few earthly possessions I couldn’t part with, fitness students who had cheered me on, lifelong friends, and my son and daughter.

The first year I lived in Italy, I didn’t do any kind of work. I took some Italian culture and language classes and allowed myself time to acclimate to this new adventure. Every day was different; I gave myself permission to just explore. It was scary to trust that I would be ok financially, but I lived very small, and I wanted to give myself that time.

Taking the plunge to create a new business with Sarah Walton was very challenging. Like any new business owners, we worked 7 days a week to get Better Way to Italy off the ground and wondered if it would really succeed.

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Lisa and Sarah in Florence

 

How supportive were your family and friends?

Having been born and raised in Utah, I had a large circle of lifelong friends, students, and clients, who were very surprised at my decision. Most were fairly supportive but some were downright dream-squashers. They pointed out things like I didn’t speak Italian and I didn’t know a single person there. They wanted to know where I would spend Thanksgiving, and what my children thought.

I have a fundamental belief that life is supposed to be joyful.

There were a few people, however, who totally embraced my choice to go. I could see it in their eyes. Most of them were older, all of them women. They knew how small the window of time could be for us to act on a dream. One woman sent a bracelet to me with the inscription “Woman of Courage.” I still wear it every day.

The only people who had a say in my choice were my two children, who were 27 and 30 at the time. They were, and still are, my biggest supporters. My daughter told me that she had never seen me as happy as I had been with her in Italy. My kids knew it would mean that I would miss birthdays and Sunday dinners with them, but they both told me that I had given them everything as they were growing up, and that now it was my turn. I give them a lot of credit for being so unselfish and so mature. We Skype several times a week, thankfully; we still share our lives together, just in a different way.

PonteVecchio

Ponte Vecchio, Florence

 

What challenges did you encounter?

Nothing in my first 50 years would have had me thinking about, or preparing for, life in a foreign country! The challenges of living in a new country, by myself, were many and daily. The language barrier, cultural differences, and just the fact that I was all alone, so far away from what was familiar, was equally exciting and terrifying!

I learned to speak Italian, but certainly not fluently. Day-to-day in the markets, traveling by train, in a trattoria, I do fine. I call my level of Italian, “functional.” Italians who work in the center of Florence, where most tourists go, will speak English. But, outside of that, and certainly in the smaller towns of Tuscany, most don’t speak English. Italian is only spoken in Italy, so it seems that when I try to speak, even a little, Italians immediately warm up to me.

market

Every day life in Florence at the Sant’Ambrogio Market

 

The Italians have seen many expats come and go through the years, and they tend to not be really friendly until you prove yourself a bit. Once they knew I was here to stay, and was speaking some Italian, they warmed up. It’s different than the US type of friendliness and, by understanding that, I have gained many friends here, whom I treasure.

Italians understand the rhythm of life and what really matters.

There are many people I miss in the US, of course, and I am American, so that culture is a part of me. Still, I have found a lovely balance between both countries, and both cultures, and they weave into my soul equally. I usually go to the US once or twice a year for a couple of weeks. It always takes me a few days in either country to get back into the groove.

just&me

Lisa with her son, Justin

After 3 years of back and forth between the two countries, my kids know now how hard it is for me to leave them after I have been in the US, and we switch roles for the last few days. I get teary and vulnerable, and they tell me how proud they are of me. I have had some girlfriends visit here, and my son works in Europe a couple of times each year, so that’s a bonus. When you have an apartment in Italy, people do like to visit!

Better Way to Italy required me to develop skills I had never used before. I was designing tours, planning itineraries and marketing our business. Sarah is a brilliant business partner, and also my dear friend, and she was doing the same hard work; it helped enormously to be sharing our vision.

There were times when I would feel overwhelmed, and the processes, just to live here, would seem to be too difficult. But I am stubborn, and I knew that I wanted to be here and to share my experiences with other women. Sarah and I felt we had a product we believed in and could deliver on, and we just wanted the opportunity to present it.

 I am stronger and more courageous than I thought I was.

What did you learn about yourself through this process?

Being alone has been a real adjustment for me and I have learned so much about myself in doing so. I will never know how much of what I learned was from being in Italy, living alone, or just growing older and wiser. The process has taught me that I am stronger and more courageous than I thought I was. I have learned that taking risks can produce wonderful results, and that standing on my own two feet is very rewarding. I have learned to be independent of what others may think.

To know oneself is the journey of life, I think, and I have come to know and understand myself deeply.

bwti2

Lisa enjoying a meal with her Signature Tour participants, spring 2014

 

What is your advice to women seeking to reinvent themselves in midlife?

Take calculated risks! All that you have poured into others along the way, now give to yourself. Trust your instincts, believe in your own strength, and follow your passion. If you don’t know what your passion is, find something that brings you joy, and pursue that.

When one woman acts courageously, it gives permission for others to do the same. I think midlife is a fascinating time for women to be fully creative, less critical, and embrace who they really are.

 When one woman acts courageously, it gives permission for others to do the same.

What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing your path?

Do it! Even if you choose to be an expat for just 3 months, try it. Traveling and living in another culture provides an education that can never be duplicated elsewhere. Physical possessions weigh us down at midlife—choose some fabulous experiences instead!

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Lisa with guide Stefano

Befriend locals. It’s been important to me to have Italians, in addition to other expats, as friends. When it comes to renting an apartment, finding a good trattoria, or dealing with bureaucracy, there is nothing like having a friend who is a local and a native speaker to help out.

Choose your business partner carefully. Sarah was my children’s babysitter so I have known her since she was 12 years old, and she is like family. Because we had that relationship, we easily trusted each other and had a similar vision of what we wanted for this company. We Skype every day to split up tasks and responsibilities. Choosing a business partner is like choosing a life partner—very important, and I have a great one!

I think midlife is a fascinating time for women to be fully creative, less critical, and embrace who they really are.

What resources do you recommend?

If you are thinking of trying life as an expat, read blogs of those who are actually living in the country of your choice. They provide a wealth of information and often a more honest view of what day to day life is really like. I follow Georgette Jupe at http://girlinflorence.com/ and Nardia Plumridge at www.lostinflorence.it. They are women in the know when it comes to Florence and I read their blogs long before I knew them as friends.

I didn’t ever read the book or see the movie, Under the Tuscan Sun, until after I had moved here. It was filmed in Cortona, my favorite hill town in Tuscany, so I have enjoyed watching it many times now.

I loved Jennifer Criswell’s book, At Least You’re in Tuscany as it so reflects what it is like for an expat to move into Italian life. And Jen is a good friend now, so it is a fun read for me.

In movies, when I see the gorgeous Chianti hills or the beautiful coastline of Amalfi, it looks surreal. But I know it’s not. It truly is that beautiful. And when I am experiencing those places for myself, I often think, whose life is this? Oh yes, mine!

Most countries have expat sites that answer questions and offer assistance. Read those but trust your instincts too.

There are so many language programs available both online, classes and private tutors. Try some out and see what works the best for your type of learning.

 Physical possessions weigh us down at midlife—choose some fabulous experiences instead!

What’s next for you? Do you think you have another next act in your future?

The business is really taking off, so I believe Italy will always be a big part of my life. I don’t look to far in the future but, for now, Italy is where my joy is. I have learned that this chapter of life is full of surprises. There is such incredible freedom at this age; if you embrace that, there is always another adventure just around the corner.

The immediate future for me is continuing to share Tuscany, and Italy, with other women. I also write for the Huffington Post about my experiences in Italy, and am currently working on a memoir reflecting on my journey. Writing requires a great deal of discipline and reflection; I am anxious to finish my book and to get it published.

And, I am open now, after a decade of being single, to another partner in life. It would be great to fall in love again. It’s a risk, for sure, but I am all about taking those!

 

UPDATE!! 

In 2015, Better Way to Italy was dissolved, and Lisa Condie launched her new company, Find Yourself In Tuscany. Under her direction, the top priority for Lisa is still providing tours for groups of women. Women will see, first hand, why this region holds Lisa’s heart! Sharing classes on passion and courage while being surrounded by the stunning beauty of Tuscany is a magical combination! Tours run in the spring and fall months, and fill quickly.

Lisa also provides customized itineraries for travelers, and organizes all aspects of retreat planning in the Tuscany area.

Currently, Lisa is writing a memoir of her first three years in Italy.

lisa@findyourselfintuscany.com

www.findyourselfintuscany.com

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Saving a Business at 44: Dani’s Story

Dani-Petrie-headshotWhen her local yoga studio was closing its doors, Dani knew she had to do something to rescue this much-loved community resource.

Tell us a little about you…

I grew up in a small working class town in Texas, and was the first in my family to earn a college degree. I majored in Public & International Affairs at Princeton University and earned a Masters in Instructional Technology & Media from Columbia University. My husband Bob and I met and married in New York City. We now live in Glencoe, IL with our two children (16 and 11). We are longtime members of the Lake Shore Unitarian-Universalists, where I currently serve as Board Chair.

Dani-Petrie-familyBalancing work, family, and community life has always been important to me, so I spent most of my career, from 1999 to 2012, as a part-time independent consultant, focusing on workplace performance improvement, project management, and change management. Prior to my next act, clients included McDonald’s, United Airlines, and Walgreens.

 

When did you start to think about charting a new direction for yourself in midlife?

I was a bit restless in my consulting career, and was seeking a way to make a difference in the world, perhaps through non-profit work or academia. But my decision to run a yoga studio was a complete surprise. I had never considered running a main street business.

Here was my a-ha moment: I walked into my local yoga studio for class and saw a sign posted on the door: “We are closing at the end of November.” Unexpectedly, my heart dropped right into my stomach! As a casual and not-particularly-consistent yoga student, I hadn’t realized how the practice, and that studio in particular, had become an important respite and sanctuary. It seemed a shame for the community (and for me!) to lose such a great resource.

I started to research how to save it and got excited about the possibility of a fresh business challenge.

So… I bought the studio.

Dani-Petrie-outsidestudio

What is your next act? Tell us about what you are doing…

I own Reach Yoga, a studio offering yoga and yoga-related classes, seven days a week. Reach also features a great boutique selling gifts, a unique assortment of fun fitness apparel, and yoga-related merchandise.

My decision to run a yoga studio was a complete surprise.

As the owner of the studio, I do not teach any classes. I run the business, including customer experience, marketing, accounting, talent management, etc., along with wonderful instructors and a great team.

I briefly considered enrolling in Reach Yoga’s teacher training program, but decided against it. The yoga teachers I know work very hard to continuously develop their own practice and hone their instructional skills; teaching yoga is rewarding, but also consuming. Teaching and running a studio at the same time looks really, really difficult. So, for the foreseeable future, it is enough for me to be a student of yoga, rather than a teacher.

Dani-Petrie-studioMy yoga practice fluctuates (as anyone’s does), but on average I take 3-4 classes per week, which is more than I did before owning the studio. All our teachers are really wonderful, in my opinion, so each week I take classes with different instructors—and get a richer learning experience as a result.

Reach Yoga relies almost exclusively on referrals from current instructors and students to find our teachers. Additionally, quite a few of the graduates of our own teacher training program have become Reach Yoga instructors.

I am not qualified to evaluate our teachers, so I do not. The yoga classes I take are purely for my own health and enjoyment. We offer our students opportunities to provide feedback about classes, and we pass that along (anonymously) to the instructors.

Occasionally, we find that a class isn’t drawing enough students on a regular basis to make it worthwhile for the teacher or the studio. In that case, we might try a different format, drop the class, or let another teacher take a shot at the time slot.

Dani-Petrie-teachertraining2

2014 yoga teacher trainees with lead faculty member Paul Weitz

 

Why did you choose this next act?  What other options did you consider?  

In my late thirties, I spent two years at Northwestern University completing the coursework for a Ph.D. in Education & Social Policy. While I very much valued what I learned there, ultimately I decided a career in academia was not for me, so I did not complete my doctorate.

Buying a yoga studio was definitely a heart and gut decision, not a logical one. My initial research revealed that even if the studio became wildly successful, it would never make much money. That was disappointing—it seemed silly to give up a lucrative and flexible consulting practice to spend long hours making, at best, a fraction of my income (not to mention the very real risk of losing money).

Ultimately, I decided to do it anyway, and there has not been a single moment of regret. Yoga has given me a lovely new group of friends and a role in our community that I enjoy. The studio is a block from my son’s school. Most importantly, I feel engaged and creatively challenged by the opportunity to offer an incredibly valuable service. Customers walk into class feeling stressed and tense, and leave full of bliss! Over time, the existence of Reach Yoga improves the health of individual students as well as our overall community.

 Yoga has given me a lovely new group of friends and a role in our community that I enjoy.

How hard was it to take the plunge? How did you prepare?

People were generous with advice and support. Yoga instructors not only agreed to stay on under new ownership, but also offered their thoughts on how we could grow. Some dear friends helped brainstorm a list of names, then our team of teachers voted for their favorites.

The former owner of the studio really wanted to see the studio succeed and, if she had not shared her lessons learned, we would not be where we are today.

My husband took up a lot of slack at home, as well as providing input to strategy. And our yoga students showed their faith by continuing to come to the “new” studio, telling their friends about it, and offering suggestions.

Dani-Petrie-teachertraining

Yoga teacher training at Reach Yoga, with lead faculty Paul Weitz and featuring now-certified yoga teacher Nichola Roberts-Jones

 

What challenges did you encounter?

My main challenge has involved having the patience to let our growth strategy play out over several years. No matter how much yoga is vaunted, wanted, and needed, it takes time for people to integrate new habits into their lives.

Also, I’ve definitely learned to handle small failures. Ideas for how to improve the studio and grow our customer base are plentiful, originating from teachers, students, team members, competitors, business books, and journals. But, out of every ten new things we try, probably eight do not succeed. Fortunately, the ideas that do work have helped us grow to ten times the size we were in 2012, when I took over ownership.

You never know until you try. 

The main change I’ve made to Reach Yoga has been to fill our schedule with many more regular weekly classes so that our students have more options from which to choose. We’ve also had successful partnerships with other local businesses and non-profit organizations, including Family Service of Glencoe, North Shore Exchange, Guildhall Restaurant.

Dani-Petrie-boutiqueThen there are the ideas that didn’t work. We tried offering Pilates classes, but that never appealed to our customer base. We advertised a summer intensive teacher training program (20+ hours per week for 10 weeks), but it turned out prospective yoga teachers preferred fewer hours per week over a longer period. But you never know until you try.

Our space includes a boutique stocking yoga-related apparel and merchandise as well as a nice selection of gift-y items. Often, when I am the one to select the merchandise we carry, I end up owning it. So I rely on our teachers to decide what merchandise to stock. That works better.

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?

Never. Multiple times each week, a student thanks me for keeping the studio open, and compliments our space and wonderful teachers and staff. I never get tired of hearing it. It is very motivating to stay the course.

My family and friends have also been enthusiastic supporters. My college roommate said “is this the female Princeton grad version of a midlife red sports car?” Probably.

My husband didn’t take a single class for the first year, and then a light bulb clicked on, and he fell in love with the practice. For a while, he took more classes than I did! Now he takes about 1-2 classes per week. Often a “date night” starts with a late afternoon yoga class together.

My daughter (16) has occasionally worked the front desk, which is great experience. My son (11) sometimes helps out behind the scenes, for example, breaking down cardboard boxes and carrying them out to recycling, or making some simple web page updates.

Dani-Petrie-Missyboutique

Reach Yoga teacher Missy Hebson models “tree pose” while wearing some fun yoga apparel from the Reach boutique

 

What words of advice do you have for women seeking to reinvent themselves in midlife?

Don’t assume you must do something related to your past. No matter how radical the departure you are considering, your prior experience may be more relevant than you think. My background in large-scale corporate change management, technology, and instructional design has been solidly applicable to running a tiny yoga studio. Who knew?

 My college roommate said “is this the female Princeton grad version of a midlife red sports car?”

What words of advice do you have for those interested in pursuing your path?

The yoga world is brimming with talented people who love yoga so much they are willing to work hard for little (or no) compensation. These are your competitors. So… don’t count on making much of a living. That said, it’s fantastic to have yogis as your colleagues, competitors, and customers. They are the nicest people on the planet.

Here are some ways to promote your business, ones that have worked for us at Reach Yoga:

  • monthly email newsletter
  • social media including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
  • for yoga beginners, marketing partners such as Groupon
  • advertising in Chicago Area Yoga and other yoga-specific venues
  • donations to silent auctions
  • free events benefiting local non-profits
  • postcards advertising new student special at Lululemon, Lucy, etc.

That said, I think many of our students are referred by yoga instructors who teach at Reach.

 Multiple times each week, a student thanks me for keeping the studio open

What resources do you recommend?

The Yoga Baron web site has been a source of practical advice.

MindBody is great software that lets us track student payments and visits, sell services online, and track our inventory. It also tells us which class times are most popular and calculates our payroll. MindBody also offers conferences on how to run a yoga or fitness business.

The Yoga Alliance is helpful for yoga studios as well as teachers.

Recently, a book called Why Employees Are Always a Bad Idea influenced me to experiment with a profit-sharing program.

The Inc. magazine blog delivers a lot of great ideas on a daily basis.

Dianne Bischoff, a local mom and Reach Yoga student, offers a workshop called “Midlife Reboot.” Highly recommended.

 

What’s next for you? Do you think you have another next act in your future?

There are still so many creative new things to try! The future of Reach Yoga is exciting.

My next act (someday) is likely to involve educational interventions for underserved populations.

 

Contact Dani Petrie at danipetrie@gmail.com or 312-802-9393. www.reachyogaglencoe.com

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Publishing Her First Book at 55: Becky’s Story

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 8.29.28 PMAfter a successful career in public relations, and many fresh starts, Becky found her joy in writing and illustrating Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone.

Tell us about you . . .

I grew up the second of six children in a, shall we say, financially challenged home. My childhood was complicated slightly by a hearing loss in grade school (I lost all the hearing in my right ear due to measles). Instead of holding me back, the special attention I got allowed me to be a better student: I got a reserved seat in the front row plus lip-reading classes. So I didn’t miss a thing!

After high school, I was the first person in my family to go to college. I pinched myself daily to be sure I was awake; I was such a grateful student. So I didn’t dare squander my fancy education on art classes. I wanted to get a degree that would make me employable. In the post-Watergate days of the late ‘70’s, journalism seemed to be a successful path, so I enrolled in the country’s best Journalism School at the University of Missouri.

I took my journalism degree back to my hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, lost interest in being a reporter, and instead began a succession of short-lived jobs in marketing and public relations, in areas including entertainment, politics, and business. Each job was interesting for a while but, as soon as it became routine, I got bored and began looking for my next gig. Finally, the excitement of public relations agency work hooked me with its adrenaline and fast-changing scenery. After working for two good agencies, I started my own public relations firm when I was 30. I spent the next 13 years building a business, making it up as I went along.

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 8.22.11 PM

 

When did you start to think about a new direction?

I can’t complain about having a burnout job or juggling it with the drudgery of child rearing. I designed my company to serve my life as I was raising my two daughters. We created an exciting place with smart people and interesting clients.

Somewhere around the time my children were 5 and 7, I felt trapped by the company’s success. Rather than working with clients, I was spending my days dealing with financial and personnel issues. Rather than pushing people to become their most creative, I was policing productivity and profit margins. To get my creativity fixes, which have always been essential for me, I was volunteering at my kids’ school and painting in my basement.

I decided I needed a sabbatical. For me, that meant a 3-month vacation in France with my family to paint, learn French, and write. I had grown up without traveling, and now I could afford to. And I wanted my daughters to learn French while they were young.

This luscious break at age 40 helped me find a new part of myself. It wasn’t that I was looking for something that was missing or lost. It was more about creating a new dimension. I acquired a passion for French textiles. I took painting lessons. I improved my French. As busy as all that sounds, I slowed down.

I came back with a new outlook and changed my role at my company. I passed more responsibility on to my managers and partners and took more time to create and be with my kids. Even with these changes, however, eventually, it became clear that my business was no longer holding my passion, and I decided to sell it

I suppose this was the beginning of my next act.

 

What did you try? How did you figure out what you wanted to do next?

Self-publising requires attention to detailThe first year after I sold the business, I wrote a hideously awful novel and began art classes.

The next year, I remodeled my basement and started an art career. I began gifting and selling my artwork. I also started doing more community work and looking for paying positions on corporate boards.

The next year, I started and ended a French accessories company. It turns out that finding vintage French lace—and American women you trust to sew it—is not as fun as it sounds.

The next year, I started Travels With Lola, a business taking groups of women on tours of Paris. This business is definitely as fun as it sounds, but was hard to manage with tween-aged girls at home. We currently fill trips by invitation only and are planning two trips in the spring and fall of 2016.

 

Was your new life hard? What challenges did you encounter?

This won’t surprise you, but when we had our 13-year-old daughter tested for ADD, I learned that I have a whopping case of it myself. That’s a challenge for anyone. But, honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love my short-attention-span next act life!

But I did begin to feel guilty and unsuccessful with all these unfinished, unprofitable ventures. I could not really commit fully to any of them with my daughters in middle school but I didn’t want to give anything up. I began to do more consulting to at least feel better about contributing money to the household.

In 2007, I read a life-changing book: Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher. The subtitle says it all: Use All of Your Interests, Passions, and Hobbies to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams.

It validated me. It was a book about precisely what I was doing: scanning, dabbling, starting and re-starting. (If anyone knows author Barbara Sher, tell her you found her poster child!)

 

So what’s the next act for you?

For my next act, I’m embracing this colorful quilt of life and refeathering my just-emptied nest. My youngest daughter left home this fall and much can change now. I can travel more. I have more control over my schedule and the extra rooms in my house. I can stop waiting up for the sound of the garage door to go to sleep at night.

I’ve discovered that I’ve pieced together a life where I create next acts constantly. Or maybe we should just call them scenes—what girl doesn’t deserve to create a scene now and then?

Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 3.11.18 PM

So what role are you playing in your current scene?

I’m starring as author and illustrator of my first successful book: Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone: Advice Your Mom Would Give if She Thought You Were Listening. It came out last year and was just named a “Best Books of 2014” by Kirkus Reviews.

It began as an advice letter to my daughter her first week of college. She wrote me back with some advice of her own. She said “Mom, you should make this into a book, use your art, and publish it before Tess graduates from high school.”

There is nothing so motivating as your child giving you a challenge.

My daughters are both writers, and they would like to make their livings in creative fields. I know from experience that putting one’s work out into the world is the hardest part of making a living as a creative person. I figured the best way I could parent my almost-grown children was to walk the walk I had avoided all my life: releasing and promoting my own work.

DSC_1134 2

Publishing is difficult these days. What challenges did you face?

I set my sights on getting the book done in time to give to Tess’ graduating classmates, and in time to hand to Taylor by her 21st birthday. It wasn’t easy. The agents and publishers I tried to win over liked the content well enough, but they did not like my timetable, nor the expensive production requirements of my art-filled book. I also lost two hard-earned agents to cutbacks in the publishing industry.

Every signal said “stop.” But because I had told my daughters I would do this, I could not give up. I formatted and focus-grouped the book myself. I hired local women-owned businesses to design and print it. I formed a publishing company. I did my own public relations.

It has been almost a year since I launched the book, and it’s doing better than I could have anticipated. I have started on a second book, which will be about creativity and fresh starts!

IMG_0555 Ironing board book signing

Were there times when you thought about giving up? How have your family and friends responded to your many next acts?

I have perhaps an unusual attitude about not finishing things. I don’t consider it failure or giving up. I think every “start” leads us to a next beginning, perhaps something we didn’t plan. I have changed direction many times, but I don’t think I’ve ever given up or quit anything.

My family, my daughters and a husband of 30 years, have embraced my ever-changing life. Most days, they will say I make their lives more interesting. In more challenging moments, they complain that I have taken all the extra rooms in the house for “studio space.” I’m afraid they are right about this.

My friends are creative, driven people who support all my quests as I do theirs. Surrounding oneself with spirited, supportive people is a huge part of any life change. Plus, with every dimension we add, we find new friends along the way. In the past year of promoting my book, I’ve made friends around the country. True, meaningful friendships, not just acquaintances. Because when you are working with passion, you present the very best of yourself, and it attracts just the kind of people you need at the time.

Blending a Paris trip with a book launch

Paris tour and book launch

 

Do you have advice for others considering starting a next act?

Start. Begin. Start where you are with what you have. Start the thing that only you can start. Start more than you can finish.

Don’t take too long planning. The best planning is done while in motion.

And don’t fear failure. It’s a bogus concept. A failed start is not failure. It is an option explored, a variation tried, a moment well lived.

Talking motherly advice on the radio

Radio Interview

 

What about advice for those thinking about self-publishing a book?

I had a career that involved graphic arts, so I know how to produce a printed product. For people who aren’t comfortable finding editors, designers, printers, and distributors on their own, it’s easy to find resources these days. I’ve heard good things about Lulu, CreateSpace and OutskirtsPress. Here’s a review of the top publishing providers.

 

Do you have recommendations for inspiration?

If you want to unstop your creativity, I recommend Julia Cameron’s books, The Artist’s Way and The Right to Write. She deals with all the inner demons we find when we create, and she recommends very specific habits for those of us wanting to build creative lifestyles.

My favorite creative inspiration at this stage is Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work. Like me, he is a writer and an artist, and he has encouraged me to build a body of work with less perfectionism and to use social media to get it out into the world.

You’ll see my efforts on my own creative blog, www.stARTistry.com. It’s designed to give inspiration and encouragement to people starting new things. It is not full-blown yet but, for women who are waiting to start something new, it may be just the loving “kick in the pants” they’ve been waiting for.

 

Contact Becky Blades and read more about her online:

www.LaundryorDie.com

www.stARTistry.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/laundryordie

Twitter: https://twitter.com/laundryordie

Twitter: https://twitter.com/beckyblades2

 

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Becoming a Group Fitness Trainer in Midlife: Debbie’s story

IMG_20150228_004447After 20 years as an elementary school teacher, Debbie took a leap and signed up for a Body Pump certification program, which led her to a new career in adult and children’s fitness.

Tell us a little about your background…

I live in Brookeville, Maryland, between Baltimore and DC. I’m married and have three sons: Zach is a junior at Washington University in St. Louis, Jake is a freshman at University of Maryland, and Josh is in his last year of middle school.

There are two main things I remember from growing up in Paramus, New Jersey:  always being involved in some sort of sport/physical activity (baseball, ballet, tennis) and enjoying working with kids. I went to college with the goal of majoring in psychology and possibly becoming a school psychologist. Then, in my junior year, I took my first early childhood education course and realized I’d found what I wanted to do.

After graduation, I stayed at Tufts University, got my Masters in Education, and spent the next 20+ years teaching first grade and pre-Kindergarten. The only time I wasn’t in the classroom teaching was when I took a break to be with my own children, before they started school.

 

When did you start to think about making a change?

My most recent classroom teaching experience was teaching pre-K at one of the local preschools. It was the perfect job: It was close to home, I was able to be home with my own kids after school, and my co-teacher became one of my best friends. I thought this was where I’d be for a long, long time.

But, after six years, a steady increase in hours, and several new preschool directors, my friend and I decided it was time to say goodbye. It was one of the hardest decisions I’d ever made. Not only was I giving up a job I loved, I had no idea what I was going to do after that. I knew that, after a few months of enjoying my free time, I’d need to find something else. I just didn’t know what it was going to be.

 I love what I’m doing because it’s taking what I’ve always loved to do, teaching, but doing it in a different way.

 

What is your next act?

I work in adult and children’s fitness. I teach fitness classes (Body Pump and RIPPED) at a gym and I work with kids at a karate school.

Body Pump is an exercise program developed by Les Mills, a New Zealand company that provides choreographed exercise-to-music group fitness classes. Body Pump is their barbell workout. It is comprised of 10 tracks and hits all the muscle groups like legs, chest, back, shoulders, triceps, biceps, and core.

img_20130303_215144I first learned about Body Pump about 10 years ago when my neighbor decided to get certified and invited me to work out with her so she could practice. I had never done any weight training before but, after doing it a few times, I was hooked.

What struck me was how strong and powerful I felt while I was doing it and how that feeling stayed with me after the workout, too. I started going to classes on a regular basis and I started noticing changes, both in how my body looked and how I felt. That motivated me to keep going. When I decided to get certified to teach fitness, I knew that was the format I wanted to pursue.

I am inspired when I see first-timers challenge themselves, make it through that initial class, and keep coming back. 

After I had my Body Pump certification for about 6 months, I started looking for another format that I liked enough to teach, preferably one that included more of a cardio workout. Someone told me about RIPPED, but there weren’t any RIPPED classes in the area, so I did a little research. I liked what I saw. When my boss from the gym where I taught sent out an email announcing they’d be hosting a RIPPED training session the following month, I figured it was meant to be.

RIPPED is a choreographed, total body workout that was developed by Terry and Tina Shorter in California. It combines resistance, intervals, power, plyometrics, endurance (kickboxing), and core work, along with a diet component. The tag line is “Cardio, Weights, Fun, and Done,” and that’s exactly what it is.

 

What do you love about your next act?

I love what I’m doing because it’s taking what I’ve always loved to do, teaching, but doing it in a different way. I never thought I’d enjoy working with adults, but I’ve found that I truly enjoy the relationships that I’ve formed with my members; I also like teaching them the proper way to do certain exercises so they can get the most out of them. I’m a stickler for technique, and many people have come up to me after class to say how much they’ve learned from my instruction.

Exercise does so much more than help keep you physically fit. It has a huge impact on your mental state.

I also find it so rewarding to see people who are new to exercise put themselves out there and take that first class. I am inspired when I see those first-timers challenge themselves, make it through that initial class, and keep coming back.

One of the things I have discovered with my next act is the connection between a person’s physical activity and mental well-being. Exercise does so much more than help keep you physically fit. It has a huge impact on your mental state. I know I feel less stressed and mentally stronger after I’ve worked out. Members have told me similar stories.

I love to see my class participants’ transformation, and to know that perhaps I played a small role in making it happen.

After taking Body Pump for the first time, one woman told me it was almost like meditating for her; she didn’t realize it could be like that. I like to share the concept of this physical/mental connection with my participants and watch as they progress over time. They feel better about themselves and it shows in how they carry themselves. I love to see that transformation, and to know that perhaps I played a small role in making it happen.

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Why did you choose this next act?  

I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I was almost 48 and teaching was all I’d ever done. A good friend started talking to me about teaching fitness classes. I had been going to the gym regularly for several years and loved it, but teaching there had never ever entered my mind. It was totally outside my comfort zone.

I also hated getting up and talking in front of adults. People are usually surprised by that, since I was a teacher and was always up in front of a group, but those were young kids, not adults. The parents of the kids in my classes, especially the first few years I taught, can attest to the fact that Back-to-School-Night was always my least favorite night of the school year!

After my immediate reaction (no way!), I did some more thinking and decided to go for it. Since Body Pump was my favorite class, I quickly signed up for the next training in my area before I could change my mind.

 

How hard was it to take the plunge? How did you prepare?

Registering for the training was easy, but the closer the training weekend got, the more nervous I got. It was a full weekend of training, so I was going to be gone for two days doing something I wasn’t really sure I could do. I continued to go to the classes at my gym to get myself ready, and before I knew it, the training weekend had arrived.

My family and friends were very supportive. Being away for the weekend required a lot of planning at home, but everyone worked together to make sure I didn’t have to focus on anything but my training. As the weekend got closer, my friends kept encouraging me, telling me I could do it, and letting me know how proud they were that I was taking on this new challenge.

 Sometimes, by stepping outside your comfort zone, you find that you’re actually stepping INTO your comfort zone.

What challenges did you encounter?

My biggest challenge was me. As I was making the 3-hour drive to the training, my mind started racing. What was I getting myself into? Here I was, almost 48 years old, going to a training weekend that would probably be full of 25-year olds. Who was I kidding? And how was I going to get over my fear of getting up in front of adults? Needless to say, I was VERY nervous as I walked into the gym that Saturday morning.

When I got there and found out that I was the only one with older kids, the self-doubt continued. The trainer had all of us come together to share why we were there, what we loved about Body Pump, and what our biggest fear was.

When it was my turn, I shared that my biggest fear was getting up in front of adults to teach. The trainer looked at me and seemed surprised that I’d never taught a fitness class before; then he said something that completely changed my way of thinking. It was something very similar to what my good friend at home had also told me. “Sometimes, by stepping outside your comfort zone, you find that you’re actually stepping INTO your comfort zone.” I kept those words with me the whole weekend, and I still think of them all the time.

My family and friends’ encouragement and support made all the difference and helped get me where I am now. 

As the training weekend went on, I realized how much I was enjoying myself. I left with a partial certification. After that, I had to team-teach for a month or so and then submit a video of myself teaching a class on my own. The video, by far, was the hardest and most stressful part of the process. I received my full certification a couple of weeks after submitting the video. The whole process, from the training weekend to full certification, took 2-3 months.

With my certification in hand, I was fortunate to get my own class relatively quickly, and that’s when the nerves returned. But, once again, I got a tremendous amount of support from people close to me leading up to that first solo class, and even more so on the morning of my first class. That encouragement and support made all the difference and helped get me where I am now.

That initial Body Pump training was in February 2013. Since then, I have gotten my RIPPED certification and my AFAA group exercise certification.

The RIPPED certification was a little easier. It was a full day of training, after which I had to take a test and, once I passed that, I was certified.

 

What is an AFAA certification and how does one earn it?

This is a certification from the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America. The AFAA group exercise certification was definitely more involved. After registering for a training day, I was sent a 500-page book that I needed to read and study so that I’d be prepared to take a test on the training day. At the time, I was almost 49. The last time I’d studied for this kind of test had been in graduate school many years before. My complaints received little sympathy from my boys, who were juggling full classloads in high school and college.

I learned to believe in myself. I learned not to listen to those doubters out there.

When I got to a chapter about the chemical reactions that take place in the body to produce energy, I felt overwhelmed and had to put the book down for a while. After rescheduling my training day once, I finally got through the book. If someone had asked me how to get three kids to three different places at the same time, do a load of laundry, and get dinner on the table, I could do that in a snap, but now I had to relearn how to study.

I definitely was nervous going into the long, rigorous day of training. Part of the day was spent going over material from the book and the rest was spent performing and leading exercises with proper technique—while being graded on it. The written test was the final part of the day. I went home exhausted, both physically and mentally, and was thrilled to find out a couple of weeks later that I had passed.

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You mentioned teaching at a karate school too?

For 14 years, everyone in my family had been taking karate classes at Scott Teague’s Academy of Martial Arts and received at least one black belt. Everyone except me, that is, as I was happy sitting in the audience and watching. I used to joke that I could do all the techniques just from seeing them done so many times.

Then, about 2 1/2 years ago, the Academy offered a Women’s Self-Defense class, and I thought it would be a good idea to do it. When I was out on the mat kicking and blocking and hitting, I realized I liked it a lot more than I thought I would. I met a couple of women that night, and we decided to take the owner up on his offer to try free classes for a month. I started as a white belt, and I am now a brown belt working towards my black belt.

There are several things about karate that interest me. In addition to the physical piece, there’s a huge mental component to karate, as well as an almost spiritual one, so it’s really about making all three of those pieces come together, and that appeals to me. The techniques we learn are precise and challenging, and I’ve always loved a challenge. Lastly, it’s about the camaraderie. I’ve met a lot of great people through karate and have become good friends with several of them. Everyone who trains here is very supportive, regardless of age or rank, and I like being a part of that.

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Yes, she broke that!

About 6-8 months after I’d started training, one of the women who worked there and was taking classes with me asked if I’d be interested in starting a karate class for 4-year olds with her. By this time I was teaching Body Pump so I jumped at the chance to work with kids again. When we approached the owner, he countered with a different offer: starting a summer camp together. It would be a combination of karate, physical fitness, and good, old-fashioned fun and games. We agreed to give it a try. We started small, just two weeks over the summer. It was so successful that we ended up adding a third week, and the following summer we offered six weeks. Things snowballed from there.

One day, as we were playing some games, I looked at my friend and said, “you know, this really has the makings of a birthday party, and if I could get past the fact that I have a Masters in Education, this could really be something.” Well, fate works in mysterious ways. The next day, one of the moms whose son was at camp asked if we did birthday parties! My friend and I looked at each other, shrugged, and that was it. We were now in the birthday party business.

In addition to the physical piece, there’s a huge mental component to karate, as well as an almost spiritual one.

Then it was time to readdress beginning a karate class for 4-year olds, and we were given the green light. We got busy planning and working on ways to advertise and get kids in the door for this new class. That was almost a year and a half ago. My friend has since moved on to other endeavors, so now I am in charge of the 4-year old classes and run the birthday parties, as well as co-run the summer camp.

I get great satisfaction when I see the difference karate can make in a child’s self-esteem, confidence, or coordination because of the work we’re doing with them.

My son, Josh, has been taking classes at the karate school for over 8 years and is working toward his 3rd degree junior black belt. Josh loves kids, so when we were looking for junior counselors for the summer camp, he was quick to volunteer. That led to him helping with the birthday parties as well. Working together has added a new dimension to our relationship. Not only is it a special time for us, but it has allowed me to see him in a different role, not as the youngest son/brother, but as the responsible big kid who is looked up to by the younger kids.

Teaching classes at the karate school has been a joy. I get great satisfaction when I see the difference in a child’s self-esteem, confidence, or coordination because of the work we’re doing with them. I also truly enjoy the connections I’ve made with the children and families there, something I’d missed since I left the preschool.

deb karate with savi 2

What did you learn about yourself through your reinvention?

Most importantly, I learned never to doubt myself, for any reason—not because of my age, nor because of past experiences. I learned to believe in myself. I learned not to listen to those doubters out there, the ones who made me question whether I could or should do something. I learned that I am much stronger than I thought and that I can do anything I set my mind to. I’ve really found myself these past few years, and I think embarking on this next act was a big part of that.

 Figure out what would make you happy and then do what you need to do to make it happen. And don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone! 

What words of advice do you have for women seeking to reinvent themselves in midlife?

Some women get close to 40 and start to panic. Yet I’ve found the 40’s to be some of the best years of my life. I have more confidence, more time, and I’ve been able to focus on me and becoming the person I want to be much more than I have in years.

This is the time to really think about what you want. Are you happy with where you are in your life? Are you happy with what you’re doing? If not, figure out what would make you happy and then do what you need to do to make it happen. And don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone!

 

What words of advice do you have for those interested in pursuing your path?

It’s never too late to start! Figure out what kind of fitness training appeals to you. Are you more interested in teaching group fitness? Personal training? Both?

There are so many different areas of fitness in which you can get certified. There are specific formats like Body Pump, RIPPED, kick boxing, Pilates, yoga…the list goes on and on. Is there a particular format you like? For me, that was the best way to get started; I picked the class that I’d been doing for a while and knew I loved. Then, I waited until I found another class I really liked before I got my second certification.

I learned that I am much stronger than I thought and that I can do anything I set my mind to. I’ve really found myself these past few years, and I think embarking on this next act was a big part of that. 

There is also general group fitness certification or personal training and, again, there are many different organizations you can go through to get certified. Some gyms prefer certifications from certain organizations. My gym requires group fitness certification from either ACE or AFAA. Ask your local gyms to see which certification they prefer. Some organizations have more hands-on training, and others have more of a “learn on your own” approach. Think about what works best for you, and go from there.

Be aware that, realistically, it’s hard to make a good living just teaching classes. I can’t speak for everyone, but most group exercise instructors I know teach classes in addition to another job or to supplement their household income. Some of it would depend on how many classes you teach a week as most of us are paid per class.

 It’s never too late to start!

What’s next for you? Do you think you have another next act in your future?

I do have one more next act I’d like to see come to fruition one day soon. One of my passions has always been helping kids, especially those who struggle with social and emotional issues. About 4 years ago, a psychologist I’d known for years asked if I’d be interested in running a social skills play group for 4-6 year olds. She knew about my background in psychology and teaching and had found there were no playgroups in the area for younger children.

The idea intrigued me. It was a chance to get back to my early studies in psychology and help kids who were anxious, had difficulty making friends, or struggled with other social/emotional difficulties. And, my theory is, the earlier you catch them and get them “back on track,” the better off they are. Unfortunately, the timing just wasn’t right, so I put the idea on hold.

About a year later, working with a child in my class inspired me, and I filled out the necessary paperwork to begin my own LLC (Limited Liability Corporation), I Think I Can. I started to get the ball rolling and then life interfered, so things were on hold again. Just recently, I’ve been working with another child who has given me the itch to finally get my social skills playgroup going, so I’m hoping to get it up and running in the very near future.

 

What resources do you recommend?

AFAA – Personal Trainer Certification, Group Exercise Certification, Aerobics Certification and more…

Les Mills – Taking fitness to the next level (Body Pump)

RIPPED Fitness Instructor Program: Workout Training Course

Academy Of Martial Arts

 

You can contact Debbie Chass Kram at: debkram@verizon.net

If you live in the area and want to try one of Debbie’s classes:

Tuesdays and Fridays at 9:30am: Body Pump at Gold’s Gym in Columbia (Overlook Center)

Wednesdays at 8:30am: Body Pump at Gold’s Gym at Wintergreen Plaza in Rockville, MD

Thursdays at 9:15am and Sundays at 8:00am: RIPPED at Gold’s Gym in Olney, MD

Sundays at noon: RIPPED at Scott Teague’s Academy of Martial Arts in Olney, MD

Karate classes for adults and kids, summer camp, birthday parties, Women’s Self-Defense classes:

Scott Teague’s Academy of Martial Arts – 301-774-4995

 

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Becoming a Screenwriter in Midlife: Joanna’s Story

Joanna-GordonJoanna got serious about her love of writing when she applied to a graduate program in her 40’s. She hasn’t looked back since.

Tell us about your background…

I was born a British expat in Malaysia. My family moved back to the UK when I was 7, then moved at least every 3 years as a result of my father’s job as a Mining Engineer. Keen to be independent and in control of all aspects of my own life, I left home at 17.

I enrolled in a 9-month secretarial course at a boarding college because that was the shortest training I could find that would get me a job, then moved to London to start working. My parents were in Nigeria by that point and only available via telex, so it was a steep learning curve to independence!

While working in London, I married my husband, Adrian, also a British expat, although he had been brought up in Madrid. We actually met at Madrid Barajas airport, which turns out to be quite poetic given the amount of time we’ve spent on planes.

After having our first daughter in London, we went on to have two more daughters, one while living in Barcelona, and one while living in Mexico. We then moved back to Barcelona for a bit, then on to Brazil, then to Argentina, and lastly to Paris. I’ve never lived anywhere longer than 3 years, other than our final posting to Paris, which lasted 6. I have lived in 35 houses and 8 countries. I am now done and happy to be back in the UK permanently.

 

When did you start to think about making a change in midlife?

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Entrance to barrio in Brazil

I have always loved words—writing them or reading them. The day my youngest daughter started full time in school, while we lived in Campinas, Brazil, I sat down and started writing a novel. I figured everyone is supposed to have at least one novel in them, so I better get going with mine.

I wasn’t convinced I’d ever finish it, so it helped that I sent a Christmas letter out that year telling the whole world I’d started writing a novel. It made me finish it—despite regular Brazilian power cuts, which caused me to lose great swathes of my work at times.

Joanna-Gordon-bookMy novel, Love, Lies & Latinos, is a romantic comedy about a control-freak publicist who struggles to remain professional when she finds herself juggling a psychotically jealous boss and a headline-making playboy client.

 

What is your next act? Why did you choose it?

I am writing screenplays, both for film and television. I haven’t had anything optioned yet but have had lots of interest and support from professionals in the industry. I am also writing another novel.

I knew I was a writer but wasn’t confident enough to admit that out loud. So I didn’t do anything with the book I’d written. I did decide I liked writing dialogue more than descriptive prose so I tried rewriting my novel as a film script. That made me realize this was where my passion really lay.

A friend of mine asked her friend, a well-known director, to read my script. Although it took him nearly two years to read it, when he did, he really liked it a lot, pitched it around Hollywood, and has encouraged my writing ever since.

Still, I felt like a bit of a fraud. I certainly didn’t think I would be able to confidently pitch my script myself or get anyone else to believe in me. Having said that, I didn’t know what else I could do while so far away, since at that time we lived in Argentina. So I just kept writing scripts. I couldn’t stop, really.

 

How hard was it to take the plunge? How did you prepare?

Rather than writing from instinct, I knew I needed to learn my craft in order to improve my confidence and be able to pitch my work. When we moved to France, and I was 42, I started attending one-day courses in London with the Scriptfactory (since closed). They helped but I still felt that something was lacking.

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Royal Holloway

Then, while looking at universities in the UK with my daughter, I found a 2-year, part-time, Masters Degree in Scriptwriting for Film and TV at the Royal Holloway University. Although I was living in France at the time, it only meant spending one week every 3 months on a retreat in the UK.

 

What challenges did you encounter?

The first challenge was getting accepted into the course. I had no undergraduate degree, and only one A-level, so thought it highly unlikely (A-levels are subject exams you need to get into university in the UK, and you usually need at least two). I had to write a short story for my application, send in a CV (resume) detailing my writing to date, submit recommendations, and interview in person. For some reason, the two tutors (professors) who vetted me took a leap of faith and offered me a place in the program. As one of my friends said, it was typical of me to manage to skip the Bachelor of Arts degree and just go for the Master’s!

The next challenge came on the first day of the course. At age 45, I had to sit with the other students (nearly all much younger than me) as we went around the room listing our achievements. Everyone else had some legitimate connection to writing, acting, film, or TV—everyone but me, that is. It was a grim moment, but just made me all the more determined!

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Joanna’s writing desk

 

After that, one big headache was managing the retreat week every 3 months. Because he runs an international business, my husband travels all week, every week, so I had to arrange childcare in Paris while I spent those weeks in the UK. I needed to be able to switch my phone off (one of the rules) and really immerse myself in the course. My mother-in-law was great; she came over from the UK to stay with our three children each time.

The next challenge was meeting all the required writing deadlines.

 

Tell me more about writing and working with the other students in your Master’s program.

The writing we did on our own pieces was solo, but we were required to give in-depth feedback to the other students. I believe my peers appreciated my ideas, as I was not afraid to tell them what I really thought. And maybe life experience gave me insight that could improve their work.

In the first year, you worked in different small groups each quarter. In the second year, I was in a group of three people, all of us writing for TV. You definitely got to know everyone because during the retreat weeks we all lived in a house together, and cooked and ate all our meals together. That’s in addition to working together, which was very intensive during those weeks. We were often given only a few hours for a writing assignment.

I believe my peers appreciated my ideas, as I was not afraid to tell them what I really thought.

My dissertation—I chose TV—involved having to write a series bible, two full episodes, create a mood book, and write two essays (one on production and one on marketing).

A series bible is a package of information including descriptions of the characters and their back-stories, the series synopsis by episode, narrative themes, and on-going story arcs. With an ongoing series, such as Breaking Bad, they give the series bible to anyone who comes onto the writing team so that they can catch up on all the action/interaction between the characters. On long-running series, they can be serious reading!

A mood book consists of images illustrating the types of actors you would ideally like in a role, location ideas, anything interesting (in a visual way) that can help get across what your series should feel and look like.

My dissertation piece was a comedy called Lolita Smith; it follows the journey of a frumpy, middle-aged filing clerk who works in the basement of MI5, but has spent a lifetime longing to be a spy. Then, due to a computer glitch, she gets her chance. Can she prove she deserves the job for real?

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Filming the web series

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Joanna in the costume/props room

 

While my dissertation was a lot of work, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment. 

I also produced and co-wrote a webseries called Halls Web Comedy. As we were celebrating finishing our course, the three of us who had worked on TV discussed the idea of webseries, which were very new then and provided an easy (and free) platform for distribution. We chose a storyline that lent itself to filming on campus because we could use the university facilities, equipment, and location for free while we were still officially students. I thought it was too good an opportunity to let pass by.

I’d never been on a set before, let alone produced anything, but ignorance is bliss, so I pushed ahead with it and made it happen. The story is about starting university and living in student halls with people you’ve never met before. It only took a week to film but months went into preparations and post-production editing. It was a student piece and cost nothing much to make, but I’m still proud of it. I promoted it a lot on all the webseries sites (mostly in the US). You can watch it via my website. I have a cameo…

Joanna-Gordon-graduationAfter 2 years, at the age of 47, I graduated at the top of my class with my Master’s Degree in Scriptwriting for Film and TV. You can graduate with a Pass, Merit or Distinction. Distinction is the highest you can get and means you always achieved above a certain mark in each piece of work, including your dissertation. I graduated with Distinction, which I know was an achievement because my tutor phoned to congratulate me and said she was the proudest of me because I’d known the least when I started. Ha!

My friends and family were very supportive. They were happy that I had found something I was passionate about that I could take with me whenever/wherever I moved. And they were very proud when I got my Master’s.

The training I received while pursuing my degree has changed the whole way I approach writing. Before, I wrote without much planning but now I have a system I use for plotting all the turning points of a story, ensuring theme and that the story is moving forward, as well as developing backstory for characters before I start.

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?  What/who kept you going?

I never thought about giving up on my Master’s. But after two post-graduate years of writing prolifically in France, I am finding it harder to write now that we’ve moved back to the UK. I am so happy to be back, speaking in English, able to visit family and friends, that I wander about it a jolly haze. I’ve decided not to beat myself up about it and to enjoy feeling totally at home for the first time in 20 years. The writing will come.

It is a very hard industry to crack and you have to stay determined, but I just have to watch one bad film or TV show to realize that, if I keep going, one day I will get there. Speaking to producers or executives and seeing their interest in your work also tells you which idea is worth pursuing and which doesn’t work.

It’s hard to tell people you are a writer if you’ve never been paid for anything you’ve written. Somehow, being paid seems to justify who and what you are. It’s mad really.

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Joanna and her daughters

It’s important to me to keep going for the sake of my three daughters (now 23, 19, and 17). I want to set an example for them of doing something you love and achieving your dreams.

 Find something you are passionate about and all your other problems will be put into perspective.

What words of advice do you have for women seeking to reinvent themselves in midlife?

Find something you are passionate about and all your other problems will be put into perspective. You might be worrying about not having your kids living at home anymore, or about getting older and creakier, but I get so immersed in my writing that everything else fades away.

Also, while you may not have worked for a long time in a paid job, you’ve still been working! I was on the PTO, ran committees, spoke at functions, did charity work. Whatever you’ve been doing can all go on your resume or school application.

 

What words of advice do you have for those interested in pursuing your path?

If you think you have a book in you, you do! You just have to start writing it. I know it can be intimidating thinking you have to write 1000’s of words, so perhaps start with a short story and that could always develop into a novel, or a short story collection.

Keep a journal in your bag and write in it whenever you’re waiting (for kids, for appointments, for whatever) instead of playing Candy Crush (I am the worst for that!). Writing regularly makes you write more.

If you think you have a book in you, you do! You just have to start writing it.

Look at every avenue that accepts scripts including, for example, radio. In the UK, Radio 1 has to produce an incredible amount of material for broadcast and regularly gets millions of listeners to their daily plays. Often, a piece that does well on radio gets picked up and made into a film or TV show. It is way easier to get commissioned for radio as it is much cheaper to produce. Logical really, and I must take my own advice!

Consider self-publishing. I finally self-published my first novel, Love, Lies & Latinos, on Kindle. It was free and took about 10 minutes.

 

What resources do you recommend?

Look at universities around the world that offer the type of course I took. The retreat option at Royal Holloway is a great one, and not just for Brits, but there are many full time courses too.

Joanna-Gordon-Dave

Joanna with Dave Reynolds, who wrote Finding Nemo and Toy Story 2

I promote my writing at The London Screenwriter’s Festival. It’s a great way to meet people in the industry and will motivate you with a large kick in the butt! Great speakers and people attend from all over the world.

They have a pitch-fest session where you get 4-minute slots with executives and producers to try to sell them your idea. It was terrifying the first time I did it (I’ve been two consecutive years) but the thought is much worse than actually doing it. Everyone was really nice. Even if they said no, they said something encouraging first. I found it worked better to be clear and brief, and then ask if they have any questions. You only get four minutes so you are better off trying to form a connection with your audience than trying to fit in every detail of your story. The second year I went, everyone I pitched asked me to send them more information.

The festival also has an ongoing forum that you can become a member of, which allows you to join or form special interest groups (e.g. comedy writing).

Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder.

 

What’s next for you?

I am currently adapting the TV series I wrote for my Master’s dissertation into a novel, as I believe it is incredibly hard for unknown writers to get commissioned for TV. I do think it is becoming more and more common for books to get turned into TV or film, so I’m heading back to where I started and writing a book again. You have to try every angle.

I am also working with a script editor on a script that got very positive responses when I pitched it at the London Screenwriters Festival this year. It has two strong leading roles for older women, which they seemed very keen on—hooray!

I’ve also got a fantasy quadrilogy (four-book series) on the back-burner…

 

Contact Joanna Gordon and read/watch her work via her website: www.jowhalegordon.com

 

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Curating Adventurous Family Trips at 50: Nancy’s Story

Nancy-Hoying-headshotWhen Nancy saw a need for well-planned and organized adventures for families, she jumped in to fill it.

 

When did you start to think about a fresh start in midlife?

After 20 years in human resources, I had the wonderful opportunity to stay at home and raise our three children. Once they got older and primarily needed me during the evening hours, I found myself exploring business ideas that would be both rewarding and beneficial. In planning our travels, I couldn’t find the information I needed to organize a quality adventurous family vacation. There was this huge gap and I wanted to figure out a way to fill it.

 

 

What is your next act?

Nancy-Hoying-logoIn early 2014, at age 50, I created a website called favitravel, Family Adventure Vacations and Itineraries. It’s designed to share the best family vacations that others have experienced and enjoyed, with the benefit of all their research. Each trip page includes all the essential elements for planning a memorable trip, a complete itinerary with embedded links on topics including how to get around safely, family friendly hotels, outstanding tour guides, best excursions, local eateries, helpful hints, and insider tips – lessons from a parent’s perspective.

I really love it when a friend tells me that they have used favitravel to plan their next family vacation; they’ve always returned with rave reviews.

Nancy-Hoying-favitravel

Why did you choose this next act?  

I grew up in Elkhart, Indiana (mobile home capital of the world!) with working parents. Our travel decisions were based on affordability and convenience so our travel experiences were limited to Florida, the Poconos, and Chicago. It wasn’t until I met my husband in my early 20’s that I started to travel internationally. My first step outside of the United States was to Jakarta, Indonesia.

As we traveled over the next 10 years, we hit every continent except Antarctica. This was before the Internet and we were on a very limited budget; our only resources were Lonely Planet and Fodor’s guidebooks. We typically traveled with only plane tickets in hand and a general idea of what we wanted to see, no other reservations.

Our trips included trekking Chang Mai, Thailand through Burma (now Myanmar); hiking the Andes to Machu Picchu; trekking to Virunga National Park in Rwanda to see the mountain gorillas; camping in the Amazon; boating the Nile; and observing mock warfare of the Dani tribe near Wamena in Irian Jaya, Indonesia. We returned with incredible, once-in-a-lifetime, stories.

Our love of travel, and our belief in its importance, grew as our children grew.

Once we had our three children, our vacation planning changed dramatically: We always have a full itinerary in hand with reservations and safe travel plans. We started with easy bets and went to more adventurous destinations as the kids got older. I typically advise families to do the same: Start with Florida beaches and U.S. National Parks, then branch out to international travel like Central America or Mexico, and then move even further afield.

What stayed the same, regardless of where we traveled, was our love of learning about other cultures, seeing some of the most beautiful places in the world, and experiencing adventure together as a family. Our love of travel, and our belief in its importance, grew as our children grew.

Nancy-Hoying-Venice2014

Nancy and her family in Venice, 2014

 

How did you figure out which way to go?

In my travel planning, I could not find a comprehensive resource with curated family vacations, including an entire itinerary. I talked to many other well-traveled friends, who, like me, love to travel with their families and discovered that they were in the same boat; they spent countless hours researching books, articles, and travel websites. I learned that, after all that research, they often ended up relying on friends’ prior travel plans and advice.

I feel a sense of renewal knowing that I’m learning an entirely new career.

This convinced me that I should capture their ideas and experiences in one place. An adventurous family travel website would allow me to create a travel community, a place to exchange ideas and learn from other family travel adventures. Because travel information changes rapidly, I thought a website was the perfect forum to stay current.

Once I thought of the idea, I just kept running with it. I feel a sense of renewal knowing that I’m learning an entirely new career.

Nancy-Hoying-PuertoRico2014

Nancy and her family in Puerto Rico, 2014

 

How did you prepare? What challenges did you encounter?

I have a background in adult education, so I knew I wanted to develop a website that was user-friendly, well organized, and comprehensive. I thought about the important elements in planning a vacation that a parent would want to learn about, so I designed a consistent template for every vacation post. With a website, I could update it to keep it current and continuously add more curated trips to share.

I came up with the name favitravel: Family Adventurous Vacations & Itineraries. I wanted a name that incorporated the word itineraries. I talked with a lawyer friend who shared with me how to trademark the name and copyright the logo.

I vetted my graphic designer through a combination of recommendations and research. My criteria for designing a logo and a brand were to have a clean, organized, and inviting travel theme for the site. My graphic designer, unfortunately, went into private business after she completed the favitravel logo and site design. So, utilizing the same process of research and recommendations, I selected a very efficient and cost-effective web designer and coder. The site is very content-rich and growing, so I knew cost needed to be a factor when it came to coding the site.

My primary resource for networking and finding experts was an entrepreneurial organization that helps small companies get launched. It’s called Up N Running and is led by some fabulous entrepreneurs in the northern suburbs of Chicago.

I now think that starting a business is similar to having a baby.

Luckily, I live in an area where many families really value taking great vacations. It is a community of friends who tend to network and know other well-traveled families, so the word has spread quickly. People have been very generous in sharing their family adventures for the website with details about their trip and helpful hints to make it successful. That is my favorite part about each trip, the helpful hints section. It’s the personal advice on what the family learned about the area and what mistakes to avoid.

The challenge is learning each day as I go into new territory.

I now think that starting a business is similar to having a baby. It’s scary at first and overwhelming. However, it has stages of growth and you learn along as you grow. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a “plunge.” Favitravel is still in its infancy stage. The idea originally started because I wanted to create a quality product to help my friends in planning a vacation. I’m investing to create a product that I think people will discover is a valuable resource. The challenge is learning each day as I go into new territory.

I’m often asked (especially by men!) how I plan to monetize my website. Honestly, it’s not easy to make a fortune from a website alone. Revenue from Google Ads are dependent on significant traffic volume and “click throughs” and offer only nominal pennies per click. The business model for favitravel includes revenue sources from sponsored advertisers and referrals from those within the travel industry.

Nancy-Hoying-PuertoRico-Meganage12-2014

Nancy’s daughter rappelling in Puerto Rico

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up? What/who kept you going?

I’m in a low risk model so I don’t think about giving up; instead, I just choose to pace myself. I make small, calculated investments as I go and evaluate potential risks and benefits with each step.

The greatest reward so far is watching my three children grow up to be adventurers in life.

My husband has been very supportive and is excited to continue our adventurous trips. The greatest reward so far is watching my three children grow up to be adventurers in life. I remember asking a friend a long time ago how her children were so close and what made their family so special. Her response was “Quality family vacations with memories that would last a lifetime.”

 

What words of advice do you have for women seeking to reinvent themselves in midlife and launch a new business?

Embrace learning. Try new things, be comfortable with not having all the answers, and believe in your product. This can be more emotional than anticipated because it requires courage. Learn as much as you can upfront to start on the right path, whether it’s launching a website, a business, or a new career. Find resources that can help you make the right choices and ask lots of questions from multiple sources.

Try new things, be comfortable with not having all the answers, and believe in your product.

Also, think about your core competencies, your natural strengths or talents that can permeate through any job opportunity and help you be successful. In my case, I love to educate. It’s a key purpose with the website: to inform others to help them plan family vacations. Although I have experience in travel, that’s not my primary strength; it’s educating. I used that competency to design a user-friendly and comprehensive resource for others.

 

What’s next for favitravel?

I launched the site a little over a year ago and I’m still in the content-building phase of the site. I have a goal to post 100 trips by the end of 2015, including new categories entitled “special needs travel” and “service trips.” I have a son with special needs and have a community of families that have taken some very rewarding trips with their special needs child. I plan to post these trips in the next quarter.

I hope to focus on promoting the site sometime this year. I plan to use all elements of social media to bring traffic to the site. I realize it’s important to align myself with the travel industry to build referrals for the business.

 

What resources do you recommend?

Good Things for a Full Life by Deb Hornell

Blog, Inc.: Blogging for Passion, Profit, and to Create Community by Joy Deangdeelert Cho

Up N Running

Chicago Ideas Week

Travel & Adventure Show

BlogHer conferences

For web design, Tim Madden at tim@connect2mrkt.com

 

Contact Nancy Hoying at nancyhoying@favitravel.com

favitravel

 

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Launching an Animal Therapy Program at 55: Sue’s Story

Sue-Grundfest-headshotA life-threatening illness in midlife caused Sue to re-evaluate her priorities; she embraced her gift with dogs and founded a nonprofit focused on healing through animals.

Tell me about your background…

I graduated from college with a degree in Communications and began working at a young age. I always enjoyed the corporate world and was Vice President of several departments at The Estée Lauder Companies, in Manhattan, NY for almost 25 years.

Dogs always calmed me down; I learned to talk to with them from an early age, and really listen.

I have always been a volunteer. I watched my mother spend her whole life giving back to our community in New York and began myself at twelve years old by volunteering in our local hospital. I have severe allergies so I grew up with a toy poodle, a wonderful dog named Duchess who lived to 18 years. Dogs always calmed me down; I learned to talk to with them from an early age, and really listen. That’s what counts the most, the listening.

As an adult, I continued to volunteer and served on several nonprofit boards, both as Vice President of Community Outreach and Corporate Volunteer Programs for Estée Lauder, as well as based on my personal interests.

 

When did you start to think about making a change?

Almost twenty years ago, at the age of 41, I became sick very suddenly. I had a life-threatening illness that made me spend many months in the hospital, and many more recovering at home. I lost almost a year of my life getting my health back.

I knew I was meant to give and that the more I gave, the more I would receive.

I started really thinking about “what if” and “maybe one day” when I was lying in a hospital bed staring at the tiles on the ceiling. I knew I was fortunate to have a career I loved but what was I really meant to do? This was my “aha” moment, when I realized life was precious. I knew I was meant to give and that the more I gave, the more I would receive.

Sue-Grundfest-SmilingatCoco

Sue with Coco

As I was recovering people told me to do less, rest more etc. but I knew the only way to get my life back was to do more and have more responsibility. So when I was just recovered enough to get up and walk to the corner, I adopted the dog that started it all for me, Coco the Love Dog. I needed to be needed and just knew this was the right thing to do.

This very special fluffy white poodle that had so many needs truly saved my life.

I learned everything I know about dogs, life, adversity, strength and compassion from Coco.

For most of her almost 15 years of life, she was an insulin-dependent diabetic, as well as blind and deaf. Without having to care for her and begin this path of therapy work, I firmly believe I would still be sitting on my couch feeling sorry for myself. I learned everything I know about dogs, life, adversity, strength and compassion from Coco.

I understand the power of pets and knew I had to share this gift with others.

So when I was able to return to work, I decided to cut back to four days in the office in order to spend the fifth volunteering. And Estée Lauder, my wonderful employer, agreed.

Fifteen years later, at the age of 55, I was fortunate enough to take early retirement. I knew exactly what I would do, where I would move to, and how I would spend at least the next twenty years giving back. I understand the power of pets and knew I had to share this gift with others.

 

What is your next act?

Sue-Grundfest-groupshot4I am the founder of Love Dog Adventures, the nonprofit animal therapy program I created in Las Vegas. We are on a very exciting path. I moved here with one fluffy dog and we now have 35 dogs and a therapy cat in our program. We are proud to be the only Pet Partners Community Partner chapter in Nevada, which means all of our teams are trained, tested, and registered with the most renowned animal therapy organization.

I also have a for-profit dog training business, Love Dog Las Vegas. My classes are small with only 2-3 dogs at a time.

On the nonprofit side, Love Dog Adventures facilitates our trained teams in volunteering with hospitals, psychiatric units, schools, adult and children’s rehabilitation centers, group homes for disabled youth, and more. I am licensed through Pet Partners as an Instructor and Evaluator and, as such, I train my clients who wish to be part of a Love Dog team.

Everyone deserves to be loved and accepted. Every living being has feelings.

Sue-Grundfest-BennyreadingwithboyWe also have an anti-bully initiative, called Be Cool, Not Cruel, that travels from school to school. We work with very young children, Pre-K to second grade, teaching acceptance, kindness, and celebration of differences through the eyes of the dogs. The children get it and we are in high demand; we hope to raise funds to allow us to reach many more schools. Each child receives a Be Cool, Not Cruel bracelet and other materials to remind them that everyone deserves to be loved and accepted. Every living being has feelings.

I work seven days a week—and I’m supposed to be retired! One day a week, I train teams with Love Dog Las Vegas; the other six days, I manage Love Dog Adventures and volunteer with my own dogs.

 

Why did you choose this next act? How did you prepare?

When I look into the eyes of a dog, and see something no one else sees, I know I made the right decision and took the right path. My own dogs have all been deemed unadoptable, yet they have changed the way I look at everything. We are all perfect in our imperfections.

I had no choice other than to work with animals and share this talent, one I only discovered after age 40.

I spent 14 years preparing. From the day I returned to work four days a week until the day I retired early, I was planning my next act.

I became a licensed dog trainer and Pet Partners Instructor and Evaluator. I volunteered with Coco one weekday and both weekend days at many facilities, including Lighthouse International’s Child Development Center, as well as a long-term care residence for adults living with HIV/AIDS and a program that served disabled youth. I made the right connections and learned nonstop from the organizations I volunteered with.

We are all perfect in our imperfections.

When evaluating where to live upon my retirement, I chose Las Vegas for several reasons: It was closer to my sister in Los Angeles. I could afford to live there on a retirement income (much less expensive than New York City), have a home, and get another dog (I could only have one dog in my apartment in Manhattan). The weather was better for my heath. And I just love it here!

I was never in a hurry. I wanted to do Sue-Grundfest-publicspeakingthings right, not fast. But as Coco got older, I knew I either had to make the move soon or wait until she was not there to go with me. And I could not imagine starting a new life without her so, when she was 12 years old, we took the plunge and moved to Las Vegas. I had two amazing years here with her, showing us the way, before she passed away.

 

How supportive were your family and friends?

My family was extremely supportive of my retiring, moving to Las Vegas, starting a therapy program, everything. We are very small, now, just my sister and her family.

My very good friends were supportive but I do think some of them thought I had lost my mind! Why leave such a lucrative career to work for nothing in a small town (compared to New York City anyway)? But once they saw how happy I was and how quickly I made a new life for myself here, they understood completely.

 

What challenges did you encounter? Were there times when you thought about giving up?  

Sue-Grundfest-withBenny

Sue with Benny

I think it is always difficult to move where you don’t know anyone and make new friends, especially at a later stage in life. It took a year to understand the community landscape, how people perceived volunteerism here, and discover where I fit in. But I have made remarkable friends who share my passion for the work we do at Love Dog Adventures.

There were many times I considered giving up. I often thought I was too old to take on such a big responsibility and guide a team of volunteers. I felt challenged by Las Vegas, which was so different from New York, and by having to start over and build something from scratch.

When I lost my beloved Coco, the most exceptional therapy dog, I thought it would never be the same. But what I learned was that each time I say “never again,” the next dog to enter my life has something even more extraordinary to teach me. The week Coco died, Benny was sent to me.

 

Tell me about Benny and other special dogs you have adopted.

Sue-Grundfest-KirbywithSue

Sue with Kirby

Benny was a dog who had been returned to a shelter four times in his first year of life – he was deemed uncontrollable, unlovable, and unadoptable. He has become the very best therapy dog, so sensitive, and our specialist for children with autism. He shares some of their issues and teaches us that every living being deserves to be loved and appreciated just the way they are.

Kirby was found on a construction site. At least 10 when I adopted him, he was with me for just four years but made a significant impact on our community. He had eleven surgeries in those four years and then, very suddenly, succumbed to cancer.

The week Kirby passed away, Petey was sent to me. What is the likelihood a 4-pound grey poodle would appear just as I was losing an 8-pound grey poodle? A young girl with autism told me she knew why Kirby had to die so fast… Because he knew Petey needed me to be his last and forever home.

Sue-Grundfest-Peteylap

Petey

Petey, almost 11 years old when I adopted him, was 3 pounds, shaved down, had to have all his teeth removed and just perfect! Now all of 4 pounds of him and 12 1/2 years old, he is the only dog to work with certain populations and changes lives daily. He is almost blind and deaf and still just perfect to me.

 In life, as with loss, if you dwell on the past, you can’t appreciate the present and certainly not the future

What did you learn about yourself through this process? What keeps you going?

I learned the importance of only looking forward. In life, as with loss, if you dwell on the past, you can’t appreciate the present and certainly not the future. It’s easy to become impatient, negative, frustrated. But that does not move you forward. It only gets you stuck. I learned to slow down and appreciate every moment because you just never know what the future holds so you must experience every moment fully.

I learned that each new adventure promises to be the best because it teaches me something. Coco led to Kirby who led to Benny and now Petey. If I had said “never again” and meant it, think about all that I would have missed? Every one of our team members, every client, and every facility we go to for animal therapy teach me something new, every day.

Sue-Grundfest-BennyJulianeskimokiss

Benny and child

I learned that I too am vulnerable and that it’s ok to show that to others.

What keeps me going is when I a see a person recovering from a stroke hugging my Benny; when a child living with trauma tells Petey her fears; when kids—who can be so unkind—tell me they now know they have to be kind to people and animals; and when people who feel they have nothing to contribute become our very best volunteers and have a purpose again. That’s what keeps me going.

 

What words of advice do you have for women seeking to reinvent themselves in midlife or get involved in animal therapy?

Do it. I always ask myself “what could be the worst thing to happen if it doesn’t work out?” And the “worst” is never as bad as not having tried at all.

If you’re interested in volunteering in animal therapy, it has to be your passion—not just working with animals, but with people in all types of situations. We enter people’s lives when they are most compromised and fragile. We work with children and adults facing great challenges and struggles.

The animal-assisted work our team does is not simply visiting but always taking it to the next level. We work with physical, occupational, speech, and rehab therapists, as well as teachers and medical personnel, and we can contribute significantly to someone’s recovery. We don’t just bring animals into the mix; we, the humans, are as important, if not more so, to the success of animal therapy.

Sue-Grundfest-BennywithboyandbookIt’s critical that you identify a program you respect and want to be a part of. I chose Pet Partners (formerly Delta Society) because of their strict requirements, their stellar reputation, and their belief that both ends of the leash are critical to the success of animal intervention.

 I always ask myself “what could be the worst thing to happen if it doesn’t work out?” And the “worst” is never as bad as not having tried at all.

Does every pet and its owner have what it takes to become an animal therapy team?

I always invite people to a free orientation so they can learn about what we do before making the decision to go with our therapy program. There are many choices out there and we want volunteers who understand the importance of what they do, have a passion for volunteerism, have a strong bond with their animal, and have the ability to be professional.

Sue-Grundfest-groupshot2I will speak with the owner to see if they understand and are open to changing some things up, such as the leash they use. Then I watch the relationship between animal and human. I give them lots of information while I observe. Does the animal appear calm and comfortable in a new setting? Does the animal show interest in me and in our surrounding? Is the animal quiet, relaxed, and innately friendly (not jumping or barking or licking or overly excited)? I look for reliable, steady, confident dogs. Then I do a few tests, like making horrendous noises, to see if the animal startles and recovers. If I think the team needs some basic training, I suggest that, or suggest they can go right into the therapy dog course.

We believe it is not a Right to be a therapy team, but a Responsibility.

I explain what the process is and that there is never a guarantee they will pass. Some programs pass everyone because they paid for a course. But we believe it is not a Right to be a therapy team, but a Responsibility.

And for some, we are just not the program for them.

 

What does the training consist of and how long does it take?

Our national program, Pet Partners is a bit different from other therapy programs. First, we are not just dogs; Pet Partners also has horses, pot bellied pigs, pocket pets Iike guinea pigs, and more. Also, we require a Handler Workshop, where the client (without his/her pet) will spend all day learning how we handle our animals, how to work with the public, etc. The Pet Partner Evaluation consists of 22 elements (versus 7-10 for other programs) and the handler and animal are scored separately. The handler score supersedes the animal score because we believe it is the human end of the leash we most depend on.

Sue-Grundfest-Kirby-yawnatschoolWe also require complete re-testing of handler and animal every two years to insure safety and ability to continue to volunteer at both ends of the leash. Our Badges have an expiration date and we must re-test to renew. As an Instructor and Evaluator (two separate functions) I too must re-license every two years.

Animals must be at least a year old and have lived with the Handler for at least six months so they truly understand the animal’s signals and temperament.

We do not permit any metal on our dogs (no choke chain collar, no prong/pinch collar, no shock collar training, etc.).

Therapy dogs are NOT service dogs and are not given full public access. There are many misconceptions; people say their therapy dog is a service dog to be able to bring them on airplanes or into food establishments. Service dogs alert or perform a task to help their owner who has a disability; therapy dogs volunteer with their owners to help others.

When someone passes their Pet Partner Evaluation, we consider it graduating. This means they have their liability insurance and can start volunteering with their animal. They have a Love Dog mentor and never just go out there into the public on their own in the beginning.

 

How did publishing a book about Coco come about? 

Sue-Grundfest-CocobookcoverYears ago, when I was volunteering with her while still working, Coco became quite popular in New York. She was only one dog with one owner so this was a way for her to reach many more people than we could ever meet in person. Coco the Love Dog is a very simple early reader and the children love that they can learn and repeat it immediately. I have given hundreds away to children, who will never meet the Real Coco, but this way they all know her.

 

What resources do you recommend?

Pet Partners – learn from the best I always say.

Our Love Dog Adventures site – see who we are and what we do.

And my pet column – there are over 500 articles I have written about animal therapy. If, after reading through these, you still want to become involved, go for it!

One of my favorite books on the subject is: Paws and Effect: The Healing Power of Dogs by Sharon Sakson

 

What’s next for you? Do you think you have another Next Act in your future?

Sue-Grundfest-KissingCocoI am busier than ever. Our “little” program has been recognized quite a lot lately without seeking out any publicity. Huffington Post named me one of their 50 Over 50 for Giving Back and our local news has chosen us several times for recognition.

We are now working towards our 501c3 (tax-exempt nonprofit) status and fundraising so we can do even more for our community, such as scholarships for therapy teams and more resources for our programs. I have been personally supporting us for six years, and, given our growth, this is our next natural development. And I am so proud that the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) William S. Boyd School of Law has chosen us as a pro bono client in their Nonprofit Legal Clinic to take us through the 501c3 process.

This journey has led me to exactly where I am supposed to be. Working with animals everyone said were unadoptable and unlovable. Encouraging my team that “you can do this” when they want to give up. Celebrating every graduation and every experience where we know we made a difference.

This journey has led me to exactly where I am supposed to be. Working with animals everyone said were unadoptable and unlovable.

I am so proud that Love Dog Adventures is the chosen therapy program for at risk populations where they have never invited animals in before. That we are the team they trust and know has the most capable human and animal volunteers.

I am so grateful I was welcomed into my adopted state. I am grateful that I see succession so our programs can thrive long after I can no longer manage them.

 

Contact Sue Grundfest, Founder and CEO of Love Dog Adventures, at sue@lovedogadventures.com or 702-202-2641.

 

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