Let’s Hear From an Expert: Dr. Stephen Snyder, Author of Love Worth Making

You have just published this book, Love Worth Making, which you subtitled How to Have Ridiculously Great Sex in a Long-Lasting Relationship. What need did you see that you were trying to address through your writing?

In our sex-saturated era, I noticed sex advice just kept getting edgier and edgier — bondage, threesomes, prostate massage, and so on — and all this relentless pursuit of sexual adventure struck me as misguided. The key to sexual happiness in a committed relationship is to take care of your sexual feelings. But there was very little sensible advice out there about that. So I knew I’d have to write that book myself!

I’m biased towards a more inward approach, since I’m a fairly inward-looking person. In addition, my wife is disabled from a stroke she had 26 years ago — not long after we were married.  So I’m glad it’s not necessary to get really edgy and adventurous to have great sex, or there’d be little hope for us.  As it is, we’re doing just fine.

When it comes to my women in midlife and older, how would you describe the challenges and opportunities with maintaining a vibrant sex life?

If you’re part of an established couple, by midlife you don’t have as much to prove to each other. You’re freer to engage with your own erotic feelings, without having to worry whether your partner is going to be OK with that.

If you’re single, you have less to prove to yourself. If you a find nice erotic groove with someone, you can just enjoy it. If that groove just isn’t there, you know enough not to try to force it.

 

What should women be aware of when it comes to their male partners and their challenges and desires in midlife or older?

The biggest male challenge in midlife tends to be erections. A woman in midlife can use a lubricant, but until 1998 a man didn’t have many options. Now, since Viagra and Cialis, it’s a whole new ballgame. I think ultimately people will think of Viagra and Cialis the way they think of lube for women — just an accommodation to the fact that biological response in midlife isn’t as immediate or predictable.

With my wife

What are some of your best tips to reinvigorate sex in a long-term relationship?

I’m a big fan of mindfulness practice pre-lovemaking — which for many people opens them up again to sexual inspiration with their partner. Mindfulness is a quiet, inward practice, but a mindful encounter between two people can be the most erotic thing imaginable. There are several recipes for this in my book. Emily Nagoski’s Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life and Lori Brotto’s Better Sex Through Mindfulness: How Women Can Cultivate Desire have many others.

 

Besides your book, what are some of your favorite resources on the topic of sexual intimacy?

Your ability to stay erotically alive in midlife is strongly influenced by how much you’ve managed the adult process of differentiation — which means validating your own needs, even when they conflict with your partner’s needs. Two writers on this whose work I’ve found particularly helpful are Harriet Lerner (Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships, and others) and David Schnarch (Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships, and others). My own article, “Dining and Differentiation,” is a quick guide to the subject for people in a hurry.

 

Connect with Dr. Stephen Snyder
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STEPHEN SNYDER, M.D. is a sex and couples therapist, psychiatrist, and writer in New York City and the author of Love Worth Making: How to Have Ridiculously Great Sex in a Long-Lasting Relationship. He is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai in New York City, and chairman of the Consumer Book Award Committee for the Society for Sex Therapy and Research (SSTAR). He has treated patients at his practice for 25 years, is a guest on major media outlets nationwide, and writes for Psychology Today and Huffington Post. He lives with his wife and children in New York City.

 




Launching a Roommate-Matching Site for Women 50+: Karen’s Story

After a midlife divorce, a great cohabitating experience would convince Karen to quit her boring job and devote herself to creating Roommates4Boomers.

 

Tell us a little about your background.
I was born in Atlanta, Georgia. At the age of three, I lost my mother to breast cancer—a devastating loss. My father was abusive to me and my two older sisters. He re-married six months later to a woman who did her best with her step kids—until she had two children of her own. My sisters and I became outsiders during many turbulent years. Having said that, I developed a resiliency and a can-do attitude that have served me well for the rest of my life.

I left home when I was 16 and moved in with a dear friend whose family became mine. I worked during the day as a secretary in an investment banking firm and finished high school at night. I then left for New Orleans to begin my new life, which was in fact the best thing I ever did. Fortunately, my high school counselor—one of many people who has helped me with challenges in my life—lent me $300 for the move, which I did repay, even through it took forever. After waitressing and going to Europe several times (including living in Afghanistan for four weeks), I applied to college and left the South to attend the University of Oregon for undergraduate school. I returned to New Orleans for an MBA at Tulane University. I am the only member of my family to go to college or graduate school.

After receiving my MBA, I returned to Portland, OR, where I worked as a financial analyst for a utility company and then became an energy consultant for the Department of Energy’s World Bank and US Trade and Development. In this position, I managed the development of a feasibility study for a private power project for Kenya Power and Light in Nairobi, Kenya. While this was one of the most amazing experiences of my professional life, I also had two kids under five years old who needed me. I had also married an attorney in private practice in Portland who felt kids were more important than private power in developing countries and (sadly but also happily) I happened to agree with him.

 

When did you start to think about making a midlife change?
My children were the highlight of my life during those early years. We raised our kids in a wonderful community of like-minded people who supported each other in all aspects of daily life. Education was important to everyone as were healthy lifestyles and exercise. I mean, you live in Portland for those exact reasons! But, like everyone else with kids, they grow up and you have to move on.  

In my case, moving on meant re-evaluating my life and getting divorced from my husband of 25 years and happily starting all over again. During this time and with the help of a friend, I decided to do something “practical” such as starting a manufacturing business making merchandising displays in China. This is something I knew nothing about but being of entrepreneurial mind, I decided to go for it. For seven years, I made displays in China, had customers from large Fortune 500 companies to small mom-and-pop companies and was bored out of my mind with no real meaning in my life.

With Carol, my first roommate

My living situation was my saving grace: I moved in with a good friend in my wonderful neighborhood and began to have the time of my life. Having a roommate was wonderful. I enjoyed coming home to great company, good wine, and no pressure. But, like many things that change, her daughter came home from college and needed a place to live so I had to find myself a new living situation. Fortunately, as things can happen, I got lucky yet again: A friend’s friend decided to live in Berlin part-time so I moved into his condo and lived happily—until my own son came home from college and needed a place to live. Shit happens. So, I rented a house and have lived there ever since.

When I was sharing housing, many of my women friends saw how happy I was. Most of them are well educated and financially secure but were asking questions like, “How do I find meaning?”, “what’s next for me?”, “What if I get divorced? Who will I live with? Where will I go?” All of those questions that many of us asked in midlife.

Because I wasn’t satisfied with my work life, I began to look into the situation of women and shared housing; my background in business led me to conclude that this was indeed a good opportunity.

What is your next act? What do you love about it?
I am the Founder of Roommates4Boomers. It is a national home share matching service similar to Match.com but for boomer women. These women either have a home to share or need a place to live. The process is very simple. You fill out an online form either as a renter or as an owner and then our algorithm matches you based on your preferences. You can contact potential matches and you only pay once you find a person you think you are compatible with.

We currently have almost 4,000 subscribers all over the country. Most people are very happy with their living situations found on our site. Many subscribers need the money and use home sharing to supplement their income. Living alone can be lonely, so having a roommate is a godsend for many people.

Subscribers come to our site from a variety of sources, like Facebook ads, but most come through using search engine option for home share and roommates and we continue to have new people signing up daily.

Funny thing: I met my partner of now seven years on Match.com, which only convinced me more that these online systems work! 

With my partner, Ken

How supportive were your friends and family?
All of my friends and family were supportive and this is one of the most important things in business. Times will be stressful, the future is unknown, money will be tight, but having a supportive network is essential.

 

What challenges did you face?
This was the worst part. While I did possess more business savvy than many people in midlife, what I didn’t anticipate was how important social media was to a business like this and how to use it effectively. Using social media to connect renters to owners is a major challenge—or I should say, an opportunity with a huge learning curve. Finding qualified marketing people to help with this was the hardest thing and then evaluating how to spend marketing funds was even harder. For example, do you spend money on a national Facebook marketing campaign or do regional TV/Newspaper advertising? I mean really. This was hard.

With my son and daughter

 What did you learn about yourself through this process?
First, I was so proud of myself about this one. I was told to seek funding from the Venture Capital community in Silicon Valley. This would mean I’d have to sell myself as a midlife entrepreneur trying to get funds from men in a man’s world. I recognized early on that 1) these men want to work with other men their own age and 2) most venture capital people don’t like funding non-technical businesses and funding an “Aging in Place” business venture would be next to impossible. Thankfully, I realized this early on and didn’t waste time pursuing this funding source. So, we self-financed the business through savings.

Second, I also realized how much I like working with people who are trying to find solutions for the challenges faced by people our age. There are many new businesses in this area and I continue to be optimistic about this work. People frequently contact me wanting to do stories on this business and I am asked to join women’s groups all of the time, most having to do about aging. Encore.org is one of my favorite sites. I enjoy the challenge because I understand the importance of the work we do.

 

Looking back, would you have done anything differently?
Yes. While I was happy with my ability to find the right people to set up the web design and infrastructure in order to make this business run effectively, my understanding of how to utilize social media was seriously lacking. I spent way too much money on things I didn’t understand and I would caution others not to do this if possible.

 

What advice would you give to women seeking to reinvent in midlife?
Just do it. I mean I hate to borrow that phrase since I am from Portland, where Nike is headquartered, but it is true. Still, midlife reinvention is hard so don’t rush into anything. Talk to as many people in similar situations as you can. I go to yoga classes and find women experiencing similar feelings. I tried a watercolor class but it wasn’t my thing; still, I met other women wondering what their “next step” would be. As I mentioned before, organizations like Encore.org and The Transition Network all have programs and speakers that address these issues. 

At a conference on aging, AARP, Washington DC

What about advice for those interested in launching an Internet-based service?
Find a mentor or partner who has skills you don’t have. Do research and write a business plan. Copy any other business model you can which is relevant and adapt it to your idea. Talk to other business owners. Don’t spend money you don’t have. Make sure you have a support group and then go for it.

Facebook and Google ads are great ways to target boomer women and it can be done very inexpensively. BlogHer is also a good place to learn about social media and what works and what doesn’t. It is also a great place to see what other women are doing.

 

What about advice on cohabitating later in life?
I think the idea of having a roommate is really scary at first. I encourage people to have coffee, go for hikes, talk about issues such as pets, kids, overnight company, music, money, wine habits, etc. All of those things are deal breakers if not handled correctly.

I also encourage people to try it for a couple of weeks if possible and see how it goes. Just like dating, you get a good feel for a potential roommate fairly quickly and I strongly recommend it. I found my honey on Match.com, but had I not had to move from my first home share situations, I think I would have been very happy staying in either of those shared arrangements.

My daughter and I at the women’s march

 

What resources do you recommend?
Books:
Sharing Housing, A Guidebook to Finding and Keeping Good Housemates by Annamarie Pluhar
My House Our House: Living Far Better for Far Less in a Cooperative Household by Karen M. Bush and Louise S. Machinist
The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t by Jim Collins

Article:
“How to Draft a Roommate Agreement – 13 Steps”

Ted Talks:
“Life’s Third Act” – Jane Fonda
“Why We Do What We Do” – Tony Robbins
“How to Build a Company Where the Best Idea Wins” – Ray Dalio
“The Surprising Science of Happiness” – Dan Gilbert
“Let’s End Ageism” – Ashton Applewhite
“My stroke of insight” – Jill Bolte Taylor
“The Power of Vulnerability” – Brené Brown

 

Connect with Karen Venable
Email: Karen@roommates4boomers.com
Website: http://roommates4boomers.com/
Facebook: https://facebook.com/Roommates4Boomers

 




Helping People Heal from Eating Disorders: Holly’s Story

After early years of East Coast luxury, Holly suffered neglect and abandonment, and coped with her loneliness by turning to eating disorders. She is now a survivor and determined to help others recover from the trauma of addiction.

Tell us a little about your background.

My given name is Hilary Whittaker Curtis, of English descent. I have been called by my nickname, Holly, my entire life—I was born in the ‘60s when “Holly Go Lightly ” was popular. I was a very gregarious and high-spirited little girl so the name was fitting.

My second nickname was “Holly Pops “because I was always flipping and dancing and popping about all day long. I loved dance and gymnastics. When we attended weekly Catholic Mass, I would pop up on the pew when the song, ” Holy Holy Holy ” played and belted out “Holly Holly Holly.” No lack of self-confidence in my family!

I have two brothers, Billy and Trip. We were born with golden hair, great looks, genetics, and talent. We were raised in Manhattan with extreme privilege, at least in our early years. We lived in a duplex on Park Ave, attended the finest private schools, belonged to the best clubs, summered in the Hamptons, wintered in Palm beach, Florida—a real Town and Country lifestyle.

Summer photos in matching Lily Pulitzer outfits, Southampton, NJ

My parents were “To the Manor Born,” both socialites—my mother from Greenwich/Riverside, Connecticut, and my father from Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan. My mother resembled Lauren Bacall, was fabulously stylish, social, and a great dancer. She had legs that would stop traffic and was never without a stylish hat to complete her divine outfit. She was simply the life of the party. My father was Rhett Butler handsome, went to Yale and then raised his family in NYC as a successful NYSE Stock Broker.

My parents, circa 1960s

Life was idyllic until age seven when my father walked out, my parents divorced, and my mother committed suicide seven years later. My brothers and I were away at summer camp when our mother ended her life. Our relatives packed up our apartment, then sold and donated most our belongings. We felt our life as we knew it vanished in the blink of an eye.

My siblings and I were separated and traveled back and forth to various relatives’ homes until school began.  We were all sent away to boarding school—new schools, new state, new friends, new room, nothing familiar. Totally traumatizing! We had no idea where we would live or with whom.

Very shortly after I was at my new school, I became overwhelmed by the lack of control in my life and the traumatic events that had occurred. A fellow student at the school was throwing up all her food and this is how I became familiar with an eating disorder. She was causing quite a stir, but receiving lots of attention. I was starved for attention and sadly, eating disorders took hold of me and my life. It would be 13 dark, painful years of torment suffering Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa before I began my road to recovery.

With a friend at Miss Hall’s Boarding School

I graduated Miss Hall’s School in 1981 with many academic awards and achievements. I was awarded the coveted “School Spirit Cup.” I tried to perfect every area of my life to mask the imperfections. I attended Northwestern University for college, joining Tri Delta Sorority and becoming a Big Ten Cheerleader. The Midwest tempo and values were just what I needed.

From my Northwestern days

Shortly after college, I married a wonderful man from Northbrook, Illinois. His parents reminded me of Fred Rodgers and Mary Poppins/Fraulein Maria. It was the stability and normalcy I needed. I had a short successful sales career in Chicago working for a telecommunications company and later a graphics/document packaging company. We moved to Glenview, Illinois and later Lake Forest, Illinois and raised two daughters.

I got divorced after 13 years of marriage and went back to work to become a realtor in residential real estate and a part-time dance instructor. I loved the sales world and missed my years dancing. I am still teaching dance today and very involved at many studios. I am remarried and reside in Chicago.

Teaching dance

When did you start thinking about making a change in midlife?

In my late 40s, I had been selling residential real estate for about ten years and no longer enjoyed it. My sales days needed to end and I yearned for more internal fulfillment. I had a wonderful social and emotional connection with all the parents and children I taught dance to over the years, but I needed to expand my social network.

Given my early life trials and tribulations, I am very centered and self-assured and am often the one friends come to for advice or comfort. By then, I also had many years leading successful support groups providing hope and coping skills to help participants navigate the world. I felt that now was the time to make this a full-time job.

I wanted to become a Life Coach. Leading, cheering, and motivating others has always been so much a part of me. I’d held many leadership roles in high school and enjoyed being a Big Ten Cheerleader in college. I felt so happy with my life and had so much gratitude about being recovered. Helping others recover from eating disorders and other addictions rang out clear in my mind as my next act .

Speaking for ANAD to inpatient eating disorder sufferers

What is your next act?

At age 54, I am a support group leader, speaker, mentor and advocate with ANAD, National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. I am also a Life Coach, specializing in eating disorders and addiction recovery. Finally, I am the author of Large Fry Small Fry Medium Orange, my story of recovery.

Over the past 25 years, I have been very involved with ANAD, the oldest eating disorder organization in the United States and speak on their behalf at many venues. After attending support group meetings, I began leading groups myself. I love seeing the relief in sufferers’ eyes knowing they are safe and welcomed to the group. Sharing my story is also very powerful in groups. Group members feel unconditional trust and no judgment from me. Mostly, sufferers are so happy and relieved to know someone who is recovered long-term and willing to share all aspects of their eating disorder.

I am thrilled to be a Life Coach to many eating disorder sufferers, but also to many teens and adults who need a person in their life to help them navigate the triggers and downfalls in their daily lives. It lifts my spirits so high to restore hope to someone.

I am also EDITTM certified by Dr. Dorie McCubbrey. EDIT stands for Eating Disorder Intuitive Therapy. It teaches us methods and techniques to help us listen and be guided by our intuition. It helps us discover our “True Self, which is the Intuitive Therapist” inside all of us. Our intuition/gut instinct never lies to us. We create addictions and a “false self” to numb out what our gut instinct is telling us—usually due to fear of facing our trauma or an experience or situation that has become toxic or unsafe. Through EDIT, we fill our self from within and set healthy boundaries to protect us outside in the world.

My book appearances and speaking engagements have all been so rewarding and empowering. I have been overwhelmed by the positive responses and reviews of my book. People stop me on the street and in stores to thank me for my bravery in writing my book. So many have reached out to me to share their addiction story or eating disorder story. They want advice and motivation to get their lives in control. Food, diet, and weight issues are a critical social issue and much education and awareness is still needed.

I have never felt so happy and fulfilled helping support those in need of navigating their broken lives. The human spirit is tenacious and capable of making miracles happen.

Hug from a client with a year of recovery and now working full-time

How did you choose this next act?

I majored in Psychology at Northwestern and often thought I would pursue my Master’s in Social Work or Clinical Psychology. I was the product of traditional therapy for many years, but was always bothered that there was little or no daily support or after-treatment care to help me navigate my day-to-day struggles with my eating disorder. A weekly one-hour therapy session was very isolating to me and I often felt anxious and alone in the world. I attended a weekly eating disorder support group, but really needed day to day consistent help to achieve balance in my life, learn self-care and coping techniques and how to set healthy emotional boundaries. Quite frankly, I needed someone to help me live life! I needed a life coach.

We spend 21 years in school to become educated and then spend our lives pursuing a career.  In most of our jobs, we have coaches, mentors, bosses, and teachers. Who helps us navigate life? I feel I have been navigating my life alone since I was seven years old and my father left. I became in charge of my younger brother of four years and watched over my mother who suffered from Bipolar Disorder. My older brother went away to school and I essentially became the second adult in the house. I cleaned the house, did laundry, went to the grocery store, and walked my little brother to school.

My eating disorder helped me numb out my erased life. I was in emotional agony. I had two parents—one I was not good enough to live for and the other barely acknowledged I existed. I was slowly killing myself with my eating disorder and I had no idea.

My childhood years of survival opened my eyes early to the many trials and tribulations of life. From this experience, I have been able to help so many of my friends in my adult years and wished to make a huge impact in the eating disorder community.

When my youngest daughter went off to college, I felt it was the perfect time for me to tell my story and help those suffering to navigate their lives.

Three years ago, I received my Life Coaching certification from the Life Purpose Institute and opened an office in Lake Bluff, Illinois. I had been leading eating disorder support groups for years and now offered my life coaching services to those individuals who attended my weekly group. I would be their daily support or sponsor/mentor after inpatient or outpatient treatment.

Tell us more about your book and how it came about.
I had always thought about writing a book about my early childhood, mostly because I always got such an incredible reaction from friends when they heard my story. They found my survival fascinating and inspiring. Despite massive loss and abandonment, I prevailed and turned my life around and got back on track after 13 dark years of despair. Our broken family had such tenacity and the laughs, when we were able to muster them, saved me from not giving up.

With this book, I also wanted to help the world understand an eating disorder sufferer’s mindset. No academic book on this subject can capture real-life experience. I had lived through a personal war and won. I wanted now to share every detail of my story in the hopes of helping others. I had always been an extrovert and a spirited person and lost that all to my eating disorder.

Unlike with other addictions, with this one, you can’t abstain for the remainder of your life. You have to eat to live! My story would provide knowledge of an eating disorder to help calm families’ and loved ones’ fears and give them tools to help their sufferer and understand this insidious, devastating disease. Mostly, I wanted to help the public understand how an eating disorder can make its toxic way into someone’s life and takes hold—and kill if not treated.

The title and cover sketch of my book come from one of my most vivid childhood memories. My younger brother Trip and I were often left alone to fend for ourselves. We lived three blocks from the Metropolitan Museum and found it great fun to jump in the fountain and collect money for our dinner. Our favorite spot was The McDonald’s on Third Avenue and 85th street. We always ordered, “Large Fry – Small Fry – Medium Orange Soda.” We would watch free cartoons until they closed at midnight. We thought  we were having the time of our lives.

How did your family react to your book?

My daughters were thrilled about me writing my book. They knew bits and pieces of my unconventional and painful childhood and were so proud of how I survived it. They wanted my story to be shared so others could find hope and peace and know they too could survive and become a loving, supportive, and present parent. They also know how prevalent eating disorders are and wanted my story to be known. They did not feel embarrassed or worried at all. I raised them in Lake Forest for the last 17 years and my reputation in the town among parents and children has been, “Hurry to Miss Holly’s dance class…she is so high energy, bubbly, and fun.” Last, my girls were filled with love and joy that I dedicated the book to them.

I do not think my Father has read my book yet, but he did know I was writing one. My book stirred up a lot of emotion for all my family members, especially my younger brother, Trip. It seemed surreal to him reading it, almost a dream of sorts. It brought up memories of painful loss and abandonment. It is bittersweet now to be beyond the pain. I think the biggest shock to my family members was how long I really was in the dangerous abyss of my eating disorder and to what degree. I kept so much of my suffering hidden. They love seeing me thrive now and share this dark period of my life with light and strength.

 

Where did you find support?
My friends and family were 100 % supportive and knew my big personality, spirit, and voice would be very effective in educating the public.

I always knew I would write my book after my girls were in their late teens. I never discussed my early childhood in detail with them because I never wanted them to worry I would commit suicide or relapse in my eating disorder. I kept my story hidden and healed my heart by being present for them and raising them with structure and love. Their father and I were always available.

Watching them both graduate high school and be so filled with excitement about college and be completely independent—I knew I had achieved victory! I had changed my family pattern and story for their lives. I was so filled with love, joy, and peace in my heart and mind that I was busting at the seams to tell the world of my success and recovery.

Thank goodness I found ANAD Organization in 1986 and attended weekly eating disorder support groups. I found my people and felt understood and not judged for the first time. The group was the mirror I needed to see my eating disorder for what is really was. It stole my life and turned me into a very unhappy, antisocial person. I was very lucky to have a few people in my life I trusted, including my Psychiatrist, Kathryn Schoenbrod. Their devotion to me saved my life. They never gave up on me.

My daughters

Did you encounter any challenges?

I was a bit hesitant when first writing about my story because I would be exposing my darkest secrets and struggles to the public. But I pushed right through the hesitation because I now know I am much more than an eating disorder. I have 26 years as a successful mother, employee, dance instructor, devoted friend, beloved family member and wife. It is not about weight, but what is weighing on you. We must help sponsor and support one another. We help each other through sharing our struggles, experiences and taking off the stigma and shame of eating disorders.

I began my book process by writing a factual timeline of events and recording any memories or thoughts that came to my mind. This took about three months. I then committed myself to writing three hours a day in the Lake Forest library. There was never a day I felt like not writing or blowing it off. I was so hyper focused on my task that my fingers twitched aching to get back to the keyboard and write. Little did I know it would a full year before I would go to print and publish my book.

Editing, editing, and more editing!

The biggest obstacle was putting all my facts and life events into a provocative, moving story. I was not a creative writer, nor editor or English major. I could rattle off stories to friends and loved ones, but now I had to put all that chaos into a readable, worthy story.

I relied on a few amazing friends with great writing and editing talents. My sorority sister from Northwestern really made this book happen. It has been 30-plus years since we graduated and when we were in the library together trudging through this immense task, if felt like finals week all over again. It was actually really wonderful to have the time together. We lived together after college and there really wasn’t anything she did not know about me. She was the perfect person to assist me in my endeavor.

The technical part was really a push for us both. Setting a book for print and publish is a far cry from a college thesis paper. It was a real challenge and to this day I am still in shock I actually self-published a book.

Social media was another learning curve. In order to gain excitement and momentum, interest and publicity for my book, I embraced sharing on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Yelp. I also launched my website, Holly’s Healing Heart.

I am also learning how to promote my book. I called various eating disorder organizations and treatment centers and offered to speak about my recovery and my services as a Life Coach. I have been very lucky to have my story featured in Forest & Bluff and Make it Better. Any opportunity I can get to tell my story and give someone who has fallen hope, I will take it.

I search the web daily and reach out to share my book and services everywhere and anywhere. I will be a guest speaker for CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children, on November 2nd. I will be speaking with the foster parents and advocates about my trauma and mindset as an orphaned child in order to help them create the best environment in their home for their foster child to succeed. Never underestimate the power of your voice or story. I hope to co-present with renowned eating disorders expert, June Alexander, at the International Conference on Eating Disorders, in Chicago in 2018.

Alcoholics Anonymous has done a remarkable job of educating society about alcoholism. They have an extraordinary network of support, meetings, and sponsors. My goal is to help achieve this for eating disorders.

With my friend who helped set my book

What did you learn about yourself through this process?

I learned that I can be way out of my comfort zone and be okay. That my recovery is still rock solid and that telling my story was cathartic for me, not triggering. As a life coach, group leader, and speaker I really help motivate and inspire people and they feel my love and dedication. My journey has brought me such abundance of love to share and give back.

 

Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?

Not really. I was not ready to share or write my story before this time. I did not want it to be available to others until my youngest daughter left for college. Navigating my girl’s lives was most important to me.

 

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention?
I encourage anyone who has something they really want to say to the world or to do in this life to do it! A crucial component of my recovery was learning I could take control of my life and make my own choices. I took back the personal power and confidence I had lost.

I encourage any woman considering a new career or journey to go for it. Let it lead you and reveal itself to you. It is in your heart and soul and true self. Taking risks and embarking on new chapters keeps us mentally alive, challenged, and fulfilled .

I am thrilled I listened to a nagging voice in my head in my mid 40s telling me to write and tell my story to the world. I am in my early 50s now reaping the rewards of pursuing my next act!

What advice and resources do you recommend for those struggling with eating disorders or who wish to help a sufferer?

I have many books that inspired my next act. I never want to stop learning and filling myself up with new self-care and daily coping techniques.

 

If you’re looking for inspiration, I recommend these books:

The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living: A Guide to ACTby Russ Harris

Life’s Greatest Lessons: 20 Things That Matter by Hal Urban

The Easiest Way to Live: Let Go of the Past, Live in the Present and Change Your Life Forever by Mabel Katz

Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankel

The Road Less Traveled, Timeless Edition: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth by Dr. Scott M Peck

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chodron

Self Matters: Creating Your Life from the Inside Out by Dr. Phillip C. McGraw

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson

A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles” by Marianne Williamson

 

If you’d like to learn more about eating disorders and get support, I recommend the following websites and organizations:

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders

National Eating Disorders Association

Binge Eating Disorder Association

Eating Disorder Hope

Eating Disorders Anonymous

Mentor Connect

June Alexander

With my husband

What’s next for you?
The premise for my book and the successful ingredient for recovery is “Leading Life with Love.” Love always wins. I have applied this so many times with my clients in my Life Coaching and I hope to develop a teachable methodology for “Leading with Love.” I also would like to pursue dance therapy for my clients.

 

Connect with Holly Curtis

Email: hollycurtis63@gmail.com

Facebook

Twitter: @HealerHolly

Book: Large Fry Small Fry Medium Orange– also available for purchase from Lake Forest Book Store




Becoming a Poet in Midlife: Lisa’s Story

After graduating from divinity school, it would take a nudge from her wife to encourage Lisa to explore her interest in poetry. She is now a published poet and poetry teacher—with a collection of poems recently published via Black Lawrence Press.

 

 

Tell us a little about your background.

I grew up in Hyde Park, a neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, as the youngest of four. My father (retired now) was a physician and my mother (deceased since 2001) was a social worker. The house I grew up in was located a block away from the University of Chicago, an institution I had learned from an early age to associate with the highest standards of academic excellence. My father received his undergraduate and medical degrees there. My mother attended the U of C for her master’s degree in social work. Our house was full of books and there was a strong emphasis on academics—particularly on math and science. The message I received growing up was that logic and empiricism were superior to feelings and personal experience. I did not excel at either math or science, so I spent a good portion of my childhood and early adulthood feeling inadequate academically—as well as denying the importance of my feelings.

At age 2, with my 3 siblings

Another key aspect of my family’s culture was that we embraced fairly traditional gender roles. My mother was a social worker but the message I received growing up was that her career was secondary compared to my father’s. I was not encouraged to think of a career for myself. Instead, the expectation was that I would marry a man when I grew up and that my husband would provide for me financially. After graduating from The College of Wooster with a B.A. in Religious Studies, I moved back in with my parents and took a job as an appointment scheduler at the University of Chicago’s employee health clinic. Because I had never given much thought to a career, it was easy enough to settle for an entry-level job at the same place where I had worked as a high school and college student. It was here—during my post-college years—that I met Scott, a U of C student my age. My parents were very pleased when he and I got engaged and were then married a year later. It was as if, by marrying a man, I suddenly became a whole person, a real adult, in their eyes (and certainly my own as well).

My marriage to Scott lasted five years. We lived mostly in San Francisco where, initially, I worked as a receptionist at a dermatology clinic, then took a job at Harper San Francisco Publishers—first as an office assistant, later as a design assistant. While working at Harper, I started to think about going to graduate school to study theology—particularly feminist theology. Harper San Francisco specialized in religious and “new age” spiritual books and, given that I had been a Religious Studies major in college, their books naturally caught my attention. But the books being published by Harper were very different from anything I had been exposed to during college. Most of what I had studied and learned about in college was very male-centered. Now I was being exposed to books that had a more woman-centered and feminist approach—books about goddess culture, for example. I was entranced and hungry for more. I hadn’t yet had my feminist awakening but something inside me was beginning to stir.

In San Francisco, just before moving to Nashville to attend Vanderbilt

Four years into my marriage, I applied for and was accepted to Vanderbilt University’s graduate program in religion, where my intention was to get a master’s degree in feminist theology. I had recently read Sallie McFague’s Models of God—in which she articulates female-centered models for understanding the divine—and wanted nothing more than to study with her at Vanderbilt. I still wasn’t thinking in terms of a career, though. This was all just for my personal enrichment. My plan was to take a year or two to get my degree and then to settle down somewhere in the Midwest with Scott. Settling down in my view meant we would buy a house and start a family. Scott would be the breadwinner—he had completed a master’s degree in library science while living in San Francisco—and I would stay at home with the kids. I even had a name picked out for the daughter I had assumed we would someday have: Katherine Louise.

Halfway through my first year of graduate studies, I realized—or finally accepted myself as—a lesbian. Deep down, there had always been some part of me that knew I was a lesbian. I hadn’t grown up hearing anything bad about people who were gay or lesbian. But I’d also never heard anything positive. There was just this total silence on the topic. Without a framework in which to understand who I was, I had no choice but to deny my feelings and to store away the clues that had been accumulating over the years into some small corner of my brain until I was ready to deal with them. At the age of 30, they came tumbling out. There are lots of reasons why this point in my life seemed to be so conducive to my coming out: studying feminist theology, studying in an environment that was very open and accepting of the GLBT community (as the Vanderbilt religion department was), and living in a city that felt like home to me. All these, no doubt, contributed to some deep sense of emerging “homeness” inside of me.

The divorce was mostly amicable but still difficult. Even though I knew I was a lesbian, I couldn’t imagine how I was going to live out my new life. I was depressed and emotional during this time. There was no script for this life like there had been for my previous life. After about six months, I sought professional help. That was a turning point for me. Once I started getting help for my depression, everything changed in terms of my perspective on life. I started to gain confidence in myself and in my ability to be who I really was deep down and within. It was like I was falling in love with myself for the first time (as an adult).

Three years after coming out, I met Laurie at a dinner party hosted by a woman I had just met who was starting her life over after a recent divorce. A couple months after our initial meeting—after running into each other at various gatherings hosted by our mutual acquaintance—Laurie called me on the phone to ask if I wanted to have coffee sometime. How about now? I said. That was back in 1998 and we have been happily together—and now legally married—ever since.

Working in the garden with Laurie

In terms of my work life during this time, I had secured a student assistant position at a research center focusing on mental health policy shortly after my marriage ended. I was still enrolled as a graduate student at the time and then—once it became clear that I was never going to finish my master’s thesis (my heart just wasn’t in it after so much personal turmoil)—I formally discontinued my schooling and took a full-time staff position at this same research center. This is where I was working when I met Laurie in 1998 and where I continued to work until 2009. Throughout my years at the research center, I worked in various support-level capacities. It didn’t feel like a career but it felt like a good enough job.

One day, in the spring of 2001, I came home from work and announced to Laurie during dinner that I wanted to go to divinity school. It was a total surprise to her—I had given no previous indication that I had been thinking of this—but she was completely supportive. Some people who go to divinity school talk about feeling “called” to enter the ministry. I never felt called to enter the ministry; I only felt called to go to divinity school. I started the program in the fall of 2001 and received my Master of Divinity in 2005. I did the program part-time so that I could continue working at the research center. Towards the end of my divinity program I had begun to write poetry. I had written poetry in high school and college but very little since then. Just as I had not been able to think of myself as a lesbian for so many years due to the lack of a suitable framework for understanding my sexuality, I also had not been able to think of myself as a poet for so many years. Poetry was not something I was supposed to take seriously. The only serious—i.e., worthy—pursuits were math and science.

Celebrating graduation from divinity school, with my family

During divinity school, I was drawn to studying the Bible. I wanted to learn as much as possible about this text—or texts—in which women appeared to play such a minor role. I wanted to somehow crack open the stories so that I could hear a fuller story. During my last year of divinity school, I began to write poems in which I creatively re-imagined certain keys stories in which women appear only peripherally. My point was to give these women a kind of voice—or at least my version of a voice—that had long been denied to them.

That’s where I was workwise in 2005. In terms of my family life, Laurie and I had by this time been in the adoption process for a year or two and, in the summer of 2005, a few months after I had graduated from divinity school, we found out we had been chosen by a birth mother. We were ecstatic. For several months, we had phone contact with the birth mother and then, in September, flew up to Boston for the birth. Our plan was that I would continue to work at the research center and Laurie would stay home with the baby. We had decided this mostly because my job at the time was slightly more lucrative and stable than hers.

But things did not go as planned. Instead, the birth mother changed her mind. We did not return home to Nashville with a baby. We returned to Nashville feeling depressed and empty. Soon after this, we both returned to our jobs (Laurie by this time was working at the same research center where I had been working for so many years). We muddled along for the first few weeks after our return, both of us just going through the motions of our jobs. Then, towards the end of September, Laurie spotted an announcement on the Vanderbilt webpage for a weekly poetry workshop that was going to be starting that fall and that would be open to anyone from the Nashville community. She forwarded the announcement to me with a message saying I might want to consider signing up. It turns out that signing up for this workshop was the beginning of a whole new journey—my next act—during which I would finally uncover my deepest, most real calling: to be a poet.

My writing desk

 

When did you start to think about making a change?

I wouldn’t say I had one big “aha” moment. It was more like a series of gentle nudges pushing me in a new direction. Having been told my whole life that there was only one legitimate way to acquire knowledge—one dominant and correct orientation for wisdom—I spent years feeling “out of sync” in terms of my ability to learn about and experience the world. This was similar to how I had felt for so long about my sexual orientation. Just as I had grown up thinking that logic and rationality were the most legitimate pathways to knowing the world, I had also grown up thinking there was only one legitimate sexual orientation, and thus felt “out of sync” in this respect as well. Both of these “impulses” had been present inside me all along but had been buried deep down inside as a result of the familial and cultural messaging I had received while growing up.

The first nudge towards my new life as a poet was the announcement forwarded to me by Laurie in the fall of 2005 about the upcoming poetry workshop. The workshop was led by Stephanie Pruitt, a local Nashville poet, and met once a week for ten weeks. I had never taken a poetry workshop before and was terrified about showing my poetry to other people. But Stephanie was a very encouraging guide throughout the process. Being in Stephanie’s workshop gave me the confidence to contact Kate Daniels, an English professor at Vanderbilt. I knew Kate taught creative writing at Vanderbilt and I wanted to see if she would look at some of my poems. She agreed to meet with me even though the only connection we had was that we both worked at Vanderbilt. I was nervous but Kate was encouraging about my writing and even invited me to audit one of her undergraduate creative writing seminars scheduled for the spring semester. I was honored but, when it came time to sign up, I chickened out. A week later I received an e-mail from Kate reminding me to sign up for her course. This was a very direct nudge. I knew I couldn’t let this opportunity pass.

With Kate Daniels

It was Kate’s class that subsequently led me to audit more classes—Kate’s as well as those of the other poets on the faculty. After auditing five semester-long poetry workshops over a period of two and a half years, I decided to apply to Vanderbilt’s Master of Fine Arts program in poetry. I had been resistant to applying earlier because I knew it would be expensive to attend the program and I wasn’t sure it was worth it to spend all that money for a degree in poetry (since, typically, poetry is not a lucrative field). Then I found out that Vanderbilt had received a windfall of money for the program and would subsequently be offering full tuition plus a stipend. I applied and was accepted for the fall of 2009. With that I began the next phase of my next act: being a full-time graduate student at the age of 45.

Teaching poetry

 

What is your next act?

I am a poet and teacher.

After I graduated from Vanderbilt’s MFA program in 2011, I was offered a teaching position at Vanderbilt and have been teaching there ever since. I love teaching. I love the enthusiasm of the students and I love sharing the “good news” of poetry to students who might not otherwise read poetry (most of my students are not English majors). As a teacher, nothing makes me happier than having a pre-med or econ student say to me at the end of the semester that the next time they visit a bookstore, they are going to browse the poetry section.

As much as I love teaching, though, it is not the primary focus of my next act. Teaching is not the thing that I absolutely can’t not do, the way writing is. If someone told me I could never teach again, I would be sad but not crushed. If someone told me I could never read or write poetry again, I would be devastated. The primary focus of my next act is writing poetry—and reading poetry as well because reading and writing go hand-in-hand. Reading and writing are like two sides of a conversation—the listening side and the speaking side. Both sides are equally important.

Reading at a women’s conference, 2017

Prior to enrolling in those first poetry workshops back in 2005 and 2006, the only poetry I had been exposed to—in terms of reading it—was whatever poetry had been assigned to me in my high school English classes or in the one literature class I had taken in college. Poetry, quite frankly, scared me. On the one hand, I was scared by how little of it I understood and, on the other hand, I was scared by how removed it seemed to be from the more “serious,” rational pursuits of, say, science and math. Through my classes at Vanderbilt, I was introduced to a wide range of poets, and it was in the process of finally reading lots of poetry that I began to feel a sense of “homeness” inside of me—a sense of deep contentment—as, finally, I was able to feed the deep hunger I had for knowing the world in the way that I needed to know the world.

This is what had been missing from my life for so long: the kind of radical, visceral, feeling-based immersion into the world that, for me, would come from reading and writing poetry. By immersing myself into poetry—by lowering myself into it—I am, at the same time, being lowered into the world, past and present, in a wonderfully embodied way. When I read poetry, I feel physically affected by it. Something happens inside of me. I am reminded of that great story in the Gospel of Luke when Mary, pregnant with Jesus, visits Elizabeth when Elizabeth is pregnant with John the Baptist. As soon as Mary greets Elizabeth, little John the Baptist leaps for joy (in the womb) because he recognizes that Mary is the mother of Jesus. Obviously, I don’t want to make too direct of a connection with this story. My point is simply that when I read poetry, I feel something inside of me responding to it.

Sometimes when I read a poem, it feels as if I am entering a room, a room in which every word has been loved into being; other times it feels as if I am walking along a wooded trail—as if each line of text is a path I must follow, must gladly follow. When I experience poetry as a kind of walking, I am aware of how much reading it slows me down. Poetry is sometimes described as language in which every word matters—take away one word and you take away the poem. When I enter the world of a poem, I am entering a world in which every word must be paid attention to. Slow, meditative attention. This slowing-down effect is particularly helpful to me at those times when I am feeling depressed or just generally overwhelmed by the events of the world around me. Reading the work of some of my favorite poets, slowly and meditatively one word a time draws me back to my center, to the present-ness of the moment. The French philosopher Simone Weil once said that absolute attention is prayer. The act of reading poetry is a way of paying absolute attention and, thus, for me, a kind of prayer.

Too, when I read poetry, I know that I am not alone. I know that my life is bound up with the lives of others in this strange and wonderful and too often profoundly painful narrative of life. And when I write poetry, I know that I am not alone—that, in the process of writing, I am being led towards something bigger and deeper than my life alone. And it is in this feeling of transcendence—this feeling of connection to the larger web of creation and the web of human history in particular—that I feel a sense of deep, deep joy.

Another thing I love about being a poet is that it allows me to follow and immerse myself in all sorts of quirky research interests—from the cultural history of rain to the burial practices of Anglo-Saxon Kings to the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864—wherever my curiosity takes me. Back when I was in divinity school, I had to write a 15-page research paper on a Biblical text for one of my Biblical Studies courses. We were expected to read as much as we could about the historical context of the passage, the cultural context, the literary context, and to offer our own insights about the passage in light of our research. One of the students in the class did not see why he needed to do any research on a passage from the Bible. In his mind, all he had to do was pray for the Holy Spirit to guide him. When he expressed this sentiment to the professor, she responded with: You need to give the Holy Spirit something to work with.

I find the same is true with respect to my writing. I need to give my creative spirit something to work with. Some of what I work with comes from my own life experiences, but a lot of it comes from learning as much as I can about the world, from taking in the world, and loving the world in all its pain and beauty and despair. In some religious circles, people talk about reading the Bible with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other—which is exactly the way I approach poetry. Poetry in one hand, everything else in the other. It is important for me to anchor myself in that which moves through me. To write poetry is, for me, to be focused on a mountain that only I can see—on the messy, amorphous stuff emerging out of my exploration of the world. When I lose sight of this mountain—when I become too focused on external concerns—book contests, journal submissions, writing residencies—I lose sight of what is most important, of what gives me my deepest joy: the writing itself.

In terms of the focus of my book, Mosaic of the Dark portrays my journey to wholeness and addresses the psychological harm that can arise from restrictive societal expectations for women. As I examine my own early experiences as a closeted lesbian trying to fit my life into the prescribed script of heterosexuality, I also grapple with my mother’s possibly non-heterosexual orientation and eventual death from alcoholism. As the poems in the latter part of the book suggest, I eventually shed familial and cultural expectations in favor of my true self and, in the process, experience a spiritual re-visioning that allows me to move beyond the confines of a male-centered Christianity to a more expansive, mystical way of experiencing the divine.

Below is a sample poem from the book. In this poem, I draw from the Biblical story of Sarah and Abraham traveling through a foreign land, and Abraham lying about his relationship to Sarah in order to protect himself.

 

The Lies that Save Us
Driving through Georgia,
we lie like Abraham.
Are you sisters?, people ask.
Yes, we answer. Twins, even.
Though we are dressed similarly
in broad-brimmed hats,
long-sleeved shirts and tan pants
tucked into thick white socks
(it being tick season and all)—
we look nothing alike.
Thought so, people say,
as if they have figured out
some secret code. We smile back,
knowing the power of things unseen:
atoms, quarks, and auras
and all the love that lies between.
Kissing energy, we call it.
But all they can see is
something.

 

Celebrating my 40th birthday with Laurie

 

How hard was it to take the plunge?

In many ways, it didn’t feel like a plunge as much as a path that was slowly revealing itself. So, in a sense, I never felt like I had to prepare for anything. I just had to be open and receptive—which is, of course, much easier said than done. There were so many times when I wanted to leave the path. The first time was when I almost didn’t sign up for that Vanderbilt workshop with Kate Daniels. At the end of that semester, Kate encouraged me to ask Mark Jarman, one of the other poetry professors at Vanderbilt, if I could audit his workshop in the fall. He said yes. But then on the first day of class I learned that one of the course requirements was a giant (in my view) research project and presentation. At the time, I was working 30-40 hours a week. I really had no interest in doing a big research project on top of everything else. I figured the only solution was to drop the course. Luckily Laurie talked me out of this. She wisely suggested that I explain the situation to Mark and ask him if I could just do the poetry assignments, not the big research project. I was, after all, only auditing the course. So I sent Mark an e-mail. He wrote back right away and said: “Of course, that’s fine. You’re only auditing.”

There were countless hurdles like this along the way—many of them self-imposed. Even now, after having achieved some publishing success, I still have to remind myself that I am doing the right thing and that doing the right thing means there will be successes and failures. Failure is part of the process. Rejection is part of the process. I sent my poetry manuscript out for four years before it was accepted. I got lots of rejection letters. Part of the problem was that I started sending it out too early—before it was really as good as it needed to be—but the other part of it is that this is a very competitive and arbitrary field. There are lots of writers out there doing exactly what I am doing—sending out poems, sending out manuscripts. A lot of poetry publishers only pick one or two manuscripts out of hundreds of submissions. Oftentimes a poetry manuscript is chosen through a contest in which hundreds of poets pay an entry fee and submit their manuscript. Out of these manuscripts, one manuscript is chosen. This doesn’t mean that only one manuscript was good; it just means that only one manuscript was chosen.

One of the best ways to prepare for this kind of rejection is to know ahead of time that it will occur; to accept that it is part of the process and that everyone experiences it. Sure, there might be people in your life who seem to be magnets for success but it’s best not to compare yourself to those people. It will only make you miserable and get in the way of your writing. The only person you should ever compare yourself to is earlier versions of yourself. 

With Laurie and friends Sarah and Nate, biking in the Tour de Nash

 

How supportive were your family and friends?

Laurie has been wonderfully supportive on all fronts—the writing front, the publishing front, the teaching front. Everything. And her family also has been supportive, as have my friends. My siblings have been supportive of my teaching endeavors but they have never been as vocally supportive of my poetry endeavors. I think this is largely because they don’t really know how to handle my poetry. I write a lot about very personal issues—my mother’s alcoholism, her possibly non-heterosexual orientation, my experience of coming out as a lesbian, my experiences with depression and alcohol abuse. I think some of my material makes them uncomfortable. This kind of disconnect between a writer and his/her family of origin is fairly common in the writing world. I try not to dwell on it. I know they love me and support me as a person. I just think they would prefer it if I wrote more dog poems!

Hiking with Laurie in the Grand Canyon

 

What challenges did you or are you encountering?

I would say that most of my challenges have been and continue to be mental challenges. I have to constantly remind myself that writing poems is my goal—whether or not they get published is not something I can control. I am certainly pleased when my poems do get accepted—and I am thrilled to have a book published now. However, the only true intention I can set for myself is to keep writing and keep developing my craft. My goal can only be to become the best writer I can be. When I become too focused on external concerns—on getting published, for example—I lose sight of what is most important. The external concerns are important but the problem is when I allow the external concerns to move inward to such an extent that I lose sight of that which gives me joy: the writing itself. The experience of immersing myself in my curiosities and passions far outweighs the experience of getting a poem published because it comes from a much deeper place; a place of exquisite interrelatedness. A place in which I feel a sense of deep communion with the lives of those who have come before me.

I remember—not too long ago—having a particularly bad day in which my external concerns were completely drowning out my internal joys. At one point, I walked into my study and I suddenly felt one of my arms reaching out towards my bookcase (where I keep a lot of my poetry books and research books). It felt a little like a poet’s version of an altar call—as if my body was leading me towards that which would heal me. Suddenly I was reminded of what is most important. Of what it is that I am called to surrender to and to dedicate my life to. I think it’s crucial for all writers (for anyone, really) to have some sort of touchstone—whether it’s a mental image or something physical—that they can return to when they are feeling lost or off-center.

The wonderful thing about immersing myself in my curiosities and passions is that this is the one thing with respect to my writing life that I can control. I will always be welcomed by my own curiosity. I don’t have to enter my curiosity in a contest. I am never going to get a rejection letter—even a personalized hand-written one—from my own curiosity. No one can take my curiosity away from me. And now, whenever I’m feeling off-center or having a bad day, I think about this altar call experience. About the way my own body and mind—at a deep level of interiority and consciousness—was reminding me in that moment of what is really important.

Getting curious!

 

What did you learn about yourself through this process?

This might seem like an obvious thing to say but one of the things I learned about myself is that I’m a poet—and that poetry is my way of making sense of the world around me. As mentioned previously, I grew up in a family in which math and science were seen as the most legitimate forms of knowledge. Since I wasn’t particularly good at math or science, I always felt inferior to my father and my brothers (all of whom excelled at math and science). I felt like I wasn’t very smart and that there was something wrong with me.

I remember as a teenager sitting in the living room of my parents’ house reading a heart-wrenching story in Time magazine about a boy who had been kidnapped at the age of two and then returned to his parents fifteen years later. I couldn’t stop looking at the picture of the happy little boy on one page and the much older boy on the other page. I couldn’t stop thinking about the anguish the parents must have felt when their child disappeared—and the new kind of sorrow they must have felt when he was returned to them as a kind of stranger. While I was sitting there thinking about all this—feeling all this—my brother, Peter, walked into the living room, picked up the magazine, and read the entire issue in less than ten minutes. Then he left the room. I sat there thinking there must be something wrong with me because I couldn’t read the rest of the magazine. I sat there thinking I wasn’t smart like my brother. All I could do was sit there and feel. Now when I think about this experience, I don’t see myself as not being smart; rather, I see myself as being smart in a completely different way from my brother.

As another example, I have always been drawn to the past, to history, but it has taken me years to figure out what to do with this interest. My minor in college was history and, at one point, I briefly considered doing graduate work in history. I had assumed that my only option was to do something conventionally academic with this interest. It had never occurred to me that there might be other ways for me to engage with the past.

There is a story from the Gospel of Thomas (an extra-biblical gospel) in which Jesus says: “If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” This is perhaps the most important lesson I have learned through the process of becoming a poet: I must bring forth what is inside me. And the way to do this is through writing. By not writing, I was destroying a key part of myself.

 

Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?

One thing I would have done differently in terms of looking for a publisher for my manuscript is that I would have waited a couple of years before sending it out. I remember attending a writing conference several years ago and hearing a panelist tell the audience that you shouldn’t bury your weaker poems at the end of your manuscript. Instead, you shouldn’t include them at all. I realized in that moment that this was exactly what I had been doing—sneaking in my weaker poems in the back of the manuscript instead of taking them out altogether. In the end, it worked out. But I could have saved time and money by waiting a year or two to send out my manuscript.

With Laurie in Maine, to legalize our marriage (2013)

 

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?

Don’t compare yourself to other people! I know this advice gets thrown around a lot but it is hugely important especially when you are reinventing yourself later in life. It will be tempting to compare your newly invented life—at the age of 45, 50, 55—to what someone in your “field” has already accomplished by the age of 25 or 30. Don’t do this! You will just make yourself miserable. The only person you should ever compare yourself to is previous versions of yourself. Every now and then I think of my former self sitting in the cubicle of my former job. My former self was a good self. I don’t mean to be critical of this former self but, honestly, I am so glad that I am not still my former self. I am so grateful that I am doing something completely different with my life now, something that really enlivens me and feeds my spirit. Yes, it can be scary to re-invent yourself at a later stage in your life but, to me, what is even scarier is the thought of not taking the plunge at all.

One of my yoga teachers used to say: Keep your ego on your mat. In other words, don’t worry if the person next to you can stand on their head or touch their toes or curl their body into an annoying, smiling pretzel. Just worry about what you can do. I think about this whenever I ride my bike in the very hilly park across the street from where I live. Some of the hills seem to go on forever. In all the times I’ve ridden my bike in this park, I have never passed another cyclist. Instead, other cyclists pass me. Sometimes even runners pass me. At first this felt just shy of humiliating. Then I realized something: I am in the park. Sure, I might be getting passed up by everyone but what about all the people who aren’t even in the park? What about all the people who haven’t taken the plunge, who haven’t reinvented their lives, who haven’t followed their passions and joys and curiosities? The key is to be in the park. It doesn’t matter how fast you’re going or whether other people are passing you by. The only thing that matters is being there and doing your thing—even if it means using the granny gear.

 

What advice do you have for those interested in writing and publishing poetry?

My first piece of advice is to not lose sight of your writing goals. In other words, focus on writing success not publishing success. Writing is the only thing you have control over. Reading, writing, and getting better and better at what you do. That’s all you can do. You can’t control whether or not your work will be loved or accepted by the world. If it is, that’s great. But getting published is never going to make you as happy as writing is. To that end, you need to read as much as possible. Other writers are often our best teachers. Writing is a two-way conversation and requires both speaking and listening.

One summer, several years ago, I made a point of reading a book of poetry every day. I’d never be able to sustain this practice during the school year but I was able to do it for a month or two one summer and I found that this daily practice of reading poetry really helped me with my writing. I wrote lots of lovely poems during this time but I’m pretty sure I would eventually burn out and become completely miserable if I tried to sustain this practice 365 days out of the year.

During the school year I often have designated reading and writing days (one or two days a week) during which I focus entirely on reading and writing. During the summer (when I’m not teaching) I try to write at least five days a week. The key is to find the schedule that works the best for you. Some writers have a daily writing practice—thirty minutes a day no matter what. Other writers are binge writers—writing a ton for weeks on end and then taking several weeks—or months—off. Writing is like a muscle. The less you use it, the harder it will be to use that muscle when you sit down to write. So, yes, it’s important to keep your writing muscles in shape but it’s also important to listen to your body-mind. Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to write every single day. If writing every day isn’t possible with your schedule or if it makes you miserable, do what works for you. I try to ride my bike four times a week. Biking gives me great joy. If I told myself I had to ride my bike every single day, it would no longer be fun. It would no longer give me joy. Never lose sight of joy.

I also recommend connecting with other writers. Join a writers’ group if there’s one near you. And if there isn’t one near you, think about starting one! If you live far away from other people, try connecting with other writers online. I am currently in two different writing groups. One of these groups is an online group—we connect every summer via e-mail, sending in poems once a week for feedback. The other group meets in person once a month all year long.

With members of my writing group (and Laurie)

In terms of submitting your work to journals, keep in mind that there are lots of different kinds of journals. Some journals are very difficult to get accepted to—The New Yorker, for example, or Poetry magazine. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try these journals. It just means you shouldn’t be crushed if you don’t get your work accepted to these journals. If you get rejected from a top-tier journal, then move on to another journal—or even another tier. And keep a spreadsheet. You will likely want to submit your poems to multiple places simultaneously and a spreadsheet is a great way to keep track of which poems are where. This will be especially helpful when you get a poem accepted because you’ll need to contact the other journals to retract the poem.

If you are at the point where you have a book-length manuscript and are trying to get it published, the first thing you need to do is acquaint yourself with the various presses. Not all publishers are going to be right for your work. If you write free-verse poetry, for example, don’t send your work to a press that only publishes formal poetry. This is an obvious example but there are all sorts of gradations of this same idea. Another thing to keep in mind is that many poetry presses—either during their open submission periods or for their contests—charge a reading fee (usually $20 or $30). So, it’s best to be as strategic as possible about where you send your manuscript. Keep track of those places where you were lucky enough to have been a finalist or a semi-finalist. These are the places to focus your attention on. And if you do get a manuscript accepted, keep in mind that, unless you already have a large following, you will likely have to do most of the marketing and publicity yourself. There are lots of great resources out there for marketing and promotion (I’ve listed two books below) but the key categories to think about are: book reviews and interviews, readings, post-publication contests, and book festivals. Again, I recommend a spreadsheet to keep track of everything.

It’s important, though, to not lose track of your actual writing in the midst of all the external concerns. Keep joy at the center! I once got so overwhelmed with the marketing and promotion side of things that, for a brief moment, I found myself wishing I had never written my book. If you ever have this thought, I recommend stepping back, taking a deep breath, and reminding yourself that the only thing that really matters is the writing. As my former homiletics professor used to say about sermons: Keep the main thing, the main thing. Writing is the main thing, not publishing.

 

What resources do you recommend?

Books about Writing and the Writing Life:
Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within (Kim Addonizio)
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (Elizabeth Gilbert)
The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language (Natalie Goldberg)
Writing Begins with the Breath: Embodying Your Authentic Voice (Laraine Herring)
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (Anne Lamott)
A Poetry Handbook (Mary Oliver)

Books about Marketing and Promotion:
The Frugal Book Promoter: How to get nearly free publicity on your own or by partnering with your publisher. (How to Do It Frugally) (Carolyn Howard-Johnson)
Guerrilla Marketing for Writers: 100 No-Cost, Low-Cost Weapons for Selling Your Work (Guerilla Marketing Press) (Levinson, Frishman, Larsen, Hancock)

Websites and Organizations:
Poets and Writers
Association of Writers and Writing Programs
Poets.org/Academy of American Poets
Submittable

 

What’s next for you?

The way I look at it, my “next act” is to continue the journey of being a poet. Specifically, to go deeper and deeper with my writing. As much as I love being a poet—and as much as I feel called to be a poet—writing poetry is not easy for me. I have to constantly fight the voices in my head that tell me I’m no good, that I’ll never write again, etc., etc. So, although it feels wonderful to finally know what I am supposed to do with my life, each time I sit down to write is itself a kind of “next act.”

Writing is a process of discovery. I never know where a poem or insight will lead me. I feel certain that I will write more poetry in the future—and publish more books—but what I will write is a complete mystery. Only time will tell what shape my future books—my “next acts”—will take. In many ways, writing poetry is a kind of spiritual practice. A way of deepening my connection and attention to the world around me. Just as one’s spiritual life can deepen the more attention one gives it, so too can one’s writing life deepen the more attention a person gives it. In some respects, what’s next for me is more of the same—more reading, more writing. But in other respects—key respects—what’s next for me can never be “more of the same” because ever poem I read and every poem I write is an entrance into a richly varied and wonderfully mysterious new world.

 

Connect with Lisa Dordal
E-mail: lisaadordal@gmail.com
Website
Black Lawrence Press website
Facebook
Twitter
Book: Mosaic of the Dark

 

Lisa Dordal holds a Master of Divinity and a Master of Fine Arts, both from Vanderbilt University, and teaches in the English Department at Vanderbilt. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize, the Robert Watson Poetry Prize, and the Betty Gabehart Poetry Prize. Her poetry has appeared in a variety of journals including Best New Poets, Sojourners, Feminist Wire, The Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, CALYX, Ninth Letter, and The Greensboro Review. Her work has also appeared in various anthologies including Rainbow in the Word: LGBTQ Christians’ Biblical Memoirs (Wipf and Stock) and Forgotten Women (Grayson Books).




Susan RoAne, Connection and Communication Expert

You speak and write about savvy socializing and networking. Why is this skill so critical to success, both personally and professionally?
Networking is a mutually beneficial process whereby we SHARE ideas, support, leads, information and, if we are lucky, laughter. Whether we call it networking or “Living our lives,” this “sharing” is the fabric of life. It’s what we learned in 5th grade science class: Interdependence; a fact of life. Being able to connect with people, connect and introduce people to each other, follow up in a timely fashion is critical to our success and the reputations we have.

HOW we comport ourselves through this life process is what draws people to us—or repels them. Do we show interest, offer support, acknowledge, praise, listen, compliment, stay in touch? The problem is that some people use the term “networking” as a cover for behaviors that are none of the above.

Savvy socializers make people comfortable with them, have a good grasp on manners, would never embarrass someone and never make fun of people under the “just joking” excuse. They are mingling magnets who people want to meet, be around and refer to others. The people who live healthy, happy lives are those who have social circles, friends, associates, relatives and they are involved.

When it comes to women in midlife, what do you see as their greatest challenges? Greatest opportunities?
One of the big challenges is the amount of pulls and tugs at our time and energy that distract us from what we deem most important.  And this “achieving balance” goal is basic hogwash. When a child or parent is sick, there’s no balance. When a pipe breaks and we are surrounded by a flood in the kitchen or bathroom, there’s no balance. That’s a silly/unrealistic expectation.

Let’s focus on FOCUS; on what’s important AT THAT MOMENT.

There are so many opportunities to be involved in the community, the neighborhood. I saw Michael Moore’s one man show and happened to attend the last performance. The woman who started and organized the group that spoke up about Flint’s water was in the audience. He invited her to stand up and we applauded her. He said, “One person makes a difference.” She was the one…we can be too.

 

What are some of your top tips for women seeking to make a positive impression when meeting people?
Always prepare a self-introduction that is 7-9 seconds and linked to the event. Dress appropriately for the event and lean into conversations as that reflects a welcoming attitude and interest. Attend every event, meeting, gathering with the attitude: “I wonder who I GET to meet” instead of the Debbie Downer… “Geez I wonder who I HAVE to meet”.

Flash a warm, full winsome smile as it’s inviting and makes us approachable. Offer a firm handshake as a greeting. Bring cards to follow up a conversation, not precede it.

Do not arrive late. Do not single out the MUST-MEETS; be nice to everyone!

What are some of your favorite resources on improving communication?
Diana Booher’s books are a treasure trove:
Communicate Like a Leader: Connecting Strategically to Coach, Inspire, and Get Things Done
Creating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader
What More Can I Say?: Why Communication Fails and What to Do About It

Other favorites include Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One by Jenny Blake and Entrepreneurial You: Monetize Your Expertise, Create Multiple Income Streams, and Thrive by Dorie Clark

To be able to hold our own in conversation, we should be watching and listening to the news, know what’s going on in our cities (READ the local paper). Pick and choose from the thousands of podcasts that are of interest and some that talk about validated news (not fakes). Online, I read the NY Times and Washington Post; in print, I read the San Francisco Chronicle, Wall Street Journal, Marin Independent Journal, Axios, Politico, The Week, and more.

If someone mentions an event, movie, game, person, book, restaurant I don’t know, I have a timesaving technique I’ve used for decades: “Oh, I’m unfamiliar. Please fill me in.” That way I get to learn, listen, engage.

My own What Do I Say Next?: Talking Your Way to Business and Social Successis the best book on how we converse and communicate. It’s clear, direct, and adds the what NOT to do or say.

 

Connect with Susan RoAne
Email: susan@susanroane.com
Website: http://www.susanroane.com/
Blog: http://www.susanroane.com/blog/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SusanRoAneBiz
Twitter: https://twitter.com/susanroane
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/susanroane/

Books
How to Work a Room, 25th Anniversary Edition: The Ultimate Guide to Making Lasting Connections–In Person and Online
Face to Face: How to Reclaim the Personal Touch in a Digital World
What Do I Say Next?: Talking Your Way to Business and Social Success
The Secrets of Savvy Networking: How to Make the Best Connections for Business and Personal Success
How to Create Your Own Luck: The “You Never Know” Approach to Networking, Taking Chances, and Opening Yourself to Opportunity
RoAne’s Rules: How to Make the Right Impression: What to Say and How to Say It

 

Named as one of Forbes.com top 25 Networking Experts to Follow, Susan RoAne is the perfect kickoff speaker to set the tone for any meeting or conference where making contacts, having conversations and creating connections count.

Susan, known as “The Mingling Maven®,” leads a double life as a bestselling author and a sought-after keynote speaker. She gives multi-generational audiences the required tools, techniques and strategies they need to connect and communicate in today’s global business world. Her practical, informative, and very interactive presentations are known for what The San Francisco Chronicle calls her “dynamite sense of humor.”

Identified as thought leader on face to face communication by the Economist Intelligence Group, her ideas, tips and suggestions are featured in the media around the world – online, on air and in print.  Including: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian UK, The Washington Post, Buzzfeed, Chicago Tribune, , Fast Company, Entrepreneur, Forbes.com, The BBC, US News and World Report, The San Francisco Chronicle and Huffington Post.

Susan has appeared on CNN, NBC11, BBC, CBC, NPR, The Today Show of Australia and radio, podcasts and TV stations throughout the country and the world.

A former public school teacher in both her hometown of Chicago and her current home in San Francisco, Susan also guest lectures at major universities including:  University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School, University of Maryland, San Francisco State University, University of Chicago-Booth School, University of Texas Law School, University of Illinois MBA Program and Stanford University and Yale School of Public Health.

She has spoken for clients that include Coca Cola Women’s Leadership, Kraft Foods, Office Depot, United Health Group, The US Air Force, Latham and Watkins, LLC, Ernst and Young, Boeing, Bank of America, PA Consulting (UK), Oracle Users Groups, Hershey Foods, Technology and Manufacturing Association of Illinois, Kaiser Health and Association of Healthcare Philanthropy.

 She received her Master’s Degree from San Francisco State University and her Bachelors from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. She is a FIGHTING ILLINI.

Susan lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and is a fan of San Francisco Ballet, San Francisco Giants (and her hometown Cubs) and the Golden State Warriors.

 




Becoming a Travel Advisor in Midlife: Kathryn’s Story

Personal loss and work upheaval as Kathryn turned 50 convinced her she was due for a change. She left her longtime career in finance to start her own business leveraging her love of travel.

Tell us a little about your background.
My younger brother and I grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Our parents owned a few companies and were constantly working. I majored in political science at Lake Forest College. When I graduated, my grandfather asked if I would like a tour of Europe (the kind where you’re in a different country each day) or money. I chose the tour!

My grandfather had grown up during the Depression and was kicked out of his house at the age of 13. He put himself through school and became President of a company. He did one of the condensed management programs at Harvard. That group of alumni came from all over the world and had a reunion each year in a different country. Add to that, my grandfather was an avid orchid collector (one is named for my grandmother) so he’d travel throughout jungles cutting down orchid samples. That started his addiction to travel, which he was more than willing to pass on to his grandchildren. He had an entire room in his house filled with slide carousels from floor to ceiling. As he had hoped, once I took that trip to Europe, I couldn’t wait to travel the world.

My grandfather on his wedding day

I held a few diverse jobs after college—I lived in Mexico, opened a restaurant, and thought about interior design school while working at a design firm. I finally ended up with a finance job in downtown Chicago. I started as an assistant for a well-known venture capitalist and eventually moved to Golder, Thoma, Cressey & Rauner, where I worked for 25 years. I did everything, including trading, analysis, client relations, and portfolio management.

Today, I live in Chicago with my 16-year-old son, Teddy, who goes to high school at Walter Payton College Prep. I moved him from the suburbs after I divorced and he was entering 6th grade. I sweated it out for a while, hoping I had made the right decision. I knew that I would love living in the city and be close to work and home eliminating the commute, but what if he hated it? Shortly after we moved, he told me, “Mom, isn’t it funny that we had to move to the city for me to make good friends?” I finally breathed a sigh of relief!

With Teddy and Mom in South Africa

When did you start to think about making a change?
I went through an extremely rough year when I turned 50. My dad married a woman who I strongly disapproved of and shortly thereafter became sick. My longtime boss sat me down and said his goddaughter was going to take over the business. All of a sudden, the bottom of my life seemed to fall away. The two men I was closest with and looked to for support and guidance seemed to abandon me.

It took a year of agonizing—and I’m sure working on it subconsciously—to come to the realization that I should change careers and do something that I was passionate about: travel! I’ve been to 50+ countries and my son has been to 32+ so you could say I’m addicted to travel. There is so much about travel that I love. There’s the educational aspect; there’s the giving back aspect; there’s the whole aspect of relaxation that we don’t get enough of; there’s the understanding of different cultures—I’m convinced there would be less prejudice in the world if people traveled more.

What is your next act?
I am a travel agent—or as we like to call ourselves, a travel advisor. I have my own business, Kathryn Theodore Travel, which I launched in 2015 at the age of 51.

I have the best job in the world. I help people make their dreams come true! When I help plan a client’s trip, I feel that I’m going on the trip with them. I get so enthusiastic and love to plan, especially unique experiences like a birthday party, a treasure hunt for the kids, or an incredibly romantic dinner in a venue they will never forget.  For example, I had three weeks to plan a vacation for a single woman in between careers who wanted to travel in Europe. I organized a five-week trip for her through Portugal and Spain. When I met her after the trip, she said that it had been life changing! I also planned a family vacation to Italy. Upon hearing that one daughter would love to learn how to make pasta, I arranged a special excursion into Tuscany for a pasta-making lesson with a renowned chef. I also love organizing wellness trips for women after divorce—and watching them come back with a new lease on life.

I have a specialty in wellness travel. While I book all types of travel for diverse clients, my passion is wellness. We Americans are stressed, over-scheduled, and don’t take time for ourselves. This is especially true of women. My goal is to provide clients with a trip that includes at least one wellness aspect. Whether it is detoxing from your electronics, learning a new exercise, or listening to a wellness specialist, my hope is that my clients come home feeling much better than when they left and having learned something to incorporate into their everyday lives. I am also planning groups to experience a wellness resort for a long weekend or a week. These wellness resorts offer 50+ activities per day, healthy meals, luxurious accommodations, and wellness classes. You can do as little or as much as you like.

With Teddy at the Step Pyramid

How hard was it to take the plunge? How did you prepare?
It wasn’t an easy process. I had traveled with my family with the help of an advisor who was part of the Virtuoso network. This is a consortium of the top travel advisors in the world who get special perks for their clients and vet thousands of properties. They have an amazing continuing education program and support. I just returned from one week in Las Vegas for Virtuoso Travel Week which is like the Academy Awards of travel. Over the span of a week, I met with 250+ suppliers and was introduced to so many new properties.

So when I decided I wanted to be part of Virtuoso, I called them and told them that I was changing careers, needed a mentoring program, and it had to be a Virtuoso agency. They gave me three names of host agencies and I did due diligence on each (I am an independent contractor with my own LLC—Limited Liability Corporation—but hosted by a major agency). The agency that I ended up with, Largay Travel, is the most amazing place. They’re a family business based in Connecticut. They now have about 100 Independent Contractors and are still growing. They are prominent in Virtuoso and had a wonderful 6-month mentoring program.

I plunged into the program while I was still working my finance job. This wasn’t that difficult but once I started building my book of business and booking trips, it became much more challenging. Some weeks I was working 80 hours. I was reluctant to give up the finance work because it was paying my bills and allowed me to have funds for marketing and other programs for my travel business. There were many times when I questioned my sanity! Especially at the age of 50. And raising a teenager at the same time was not the easiest thing. But every time I became discouraged, I’d read about some incredible woman who had faced far greater obstacles than me and prevailed.

I had no social life and my friends didn’t understand. I knew I didn’t have an alternative though. I wasn’t going to have a job in finance forever; I wanted to continue working and wasn’t fond of growing old in the “old boys’ network” of finance. What other choice did I have? And every time I finished a mentoring class or learned about a new property or planned a trip for someone, I was giddy! I loved every minute of it. How could I not continue?

With a group on the Nile

 

How supportive were your family and friends?
My mom and brother have always been very supportive. I knew I was also setting a good example for my son to show that hard work can yield results and in general how to be an entrepreneur. I want him to learn that it’s okay to take risks—even at the age of 50!

My friends were a different story. It’s hard to understand something until you actually go through it. Divorce is the same. My friends didn’t understand why I was working every weekend and couldn’t go out. They thought I was throwing my life away. But at the same time, I’ve met so many new friends who own their own businesses and thoroughly get it.

Teddy with local kids in Sabi Sabi

What challenges have you encountered?
Besides the time challenge, I’ve had to educate people about exactly what a travel advisor does and the advantages of using one. Being a travel advisor is akin to being a wealth advisor. When online trading became prevalent, everyone thought they could manage their own money. The same happened with the advent of online travel booking via Orbitz, Travelocity, and all of the others. Now I’m not opposed to a client going to the Internet to do travel research, but when a problem occurs (which it inevitably does in travel), are you going to get better results calling 1-800-ORBITZ or calling someone like me, who knows exactly where you are and how to handle your problem?

We monitor our clients’ trips and sometimes know about a problem before they do. I am your advocate. Through Virtuoso, we also secure certain perks for our clients such as VIP status, upgrades, credits, early check-in, late check-out, and more. We travel ourselves a great deal, meet the general managers of the best properties, and get to know our suppliers. We have in-depth knowledge and can provide you with special events and experiences that you would never find online.

The other challenge I’ve had is marketing. In finance, the clients came to us by referral. I’d love my business to grow that way, and it does, but the most successful travel companies say that marketing and networking never ends.

With school boys in the Cairo market

What did you learn about yourself through this process?
I’ve always doubted my persistence and really didn’t consider myself disciplined. I learned that I actually do possess these traits. It takes a lot of discipline to go out and market yourself when you’ve never done so before. It’s tempting to come home after working a full day and lie on the couch. I have spent the day at my computer when it’s a beautiful summer day. I’ve forced myself to go to one to two networking events each week. But as a consequence, I’ve met the most wonderful people and I feel so good about myself!

Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?
Yes. I’d have started in my 20s! I’m joking—I wouldn’t trade my career in finance. I learned SO much and every day was new. I obtained skills that surprisingly I use in travel. And I learned something about myself: I have to learn a new thing every day to stay alert. I love meeting new people every day. Fate has a way of making everything work out, although at times you definitely doubt it and can’t imagine a good ending.

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?
Just do it! You have to go with your gut. Your friends and family will give you a ton of different opinions but only you know how you feel and what you want to do. Listen to your inner self. It took me over a year to listen to my inner self tell me to start a travel business. It takes patience, especially when we’re older.

What advice do you have for those interested in becoming travel advisors?
We have a huge number of travel advisors getting ready to retire. This presents many openings for new people. Anyone interested can go the route I did or get a job with a reputable agency. Most will train new advisors and give them opportunities to travel as well. There are also careers on the sales side working for the hotels, resorts, cruises, and airlines. These won’t have the pressure of building up a client roster. The CTA designation is not necessary but I would advise gaining it, especially for someone new to the industry. It gives additional credibility.

Discussing a trip with a client

What resources do you recommend for those interested in becoming travel advisors?
Virtuoso for information on the best consortiums out there
American Society of Travel Agents

I’ve joined many networking groups here in Chicago:
PWCC – Professional Women’s Club of Chicago
EPWNG – Exclusive Professional Women’s Networking Group
RNBA – River North Business Association

You’re never too old to get a mentor. I have wonderful mentors in my Largay colleagues and I’ve applied for a mentor at PWCC. I believe in listening to everyone’s advice. You may not use it all, but listen.

I also love Meetup groups and subscribe to a myriad of travel websites (even my competitors’) to stay alert. I subscribe to Google Alerts for different tag words such as “Luxury Travel”, “Wellness Travel”, “Family Travel”, etc.

I use Vistaprint to make all of my marketing materials. It’s the easiest thing ever.

My accountant, Ted Galatsianos, is wonderful (Ted@opsaccounting.com).

What about your favorite resources for travel lovers?
I think I subscribe to every travel magazine, domestic and foreign, out there! I have a library of travel books. Here are some favorites: Travel & Leisure, Afar, Conde Nast Traveler, Departures, Virtuoso Life, Virtuoso Traveler, and the 111 Places series of travel books.

I follow competitors to see what they’re doing. I look for travel leaders on social media and follow them. I entered a Google Alert search for “luxury travel”, “travel”, “family travel” and “wellness travel” so I get alerts to articles posted on the web. You can never have too much information in this industry!

What are some of your favorite destinations you’ve visited and why?
That’s like asking who your favorite child is! I would say that the required trip for everyone is an African safari. Words cannot describe how you change after being on one and the incredible things you see. People are hesitant to do one, but I would encourage everyone to take the plunge.

What are your bucket list destinations?
Egypt (where we’ll be going to this year), Jordan, Japan, the “Stans”, Iraq, Patagonia, and many more African safaris!

What’s next for you?
I’m working on my CTA (Certified Travel Advisor) designation. I have dreams of starting a wellness consortium in Chicago so when my clients (or anyone else) experience a new wellness treatment or are introduced to something, I can connect them with practitioners to continue once they return home.

I’d also love to start a women’s support group for women going through divorce, career transition, loss of a loved one, adapting to being an empty nester, etc. I’d like to have monthly meetings with speakers, group sessions, and retreats.

 

Connect with Kathryn Schutz
Email: kathryn@largaytravel.com
Website: www.kathryntheodoretravel.com
Facebook: @KatTheoTravel
Twitter: @KTTWellness
Pinterest
LinkedIn

 




Becoming an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach at 50: Linda’s Story

With her kids growing up, after decades of practicing Massage Therapy and teaching Pilates, Linda felt she was ready for the next challenge. Having witnessed the power of nutrition and wellness on herself and her clients, she got certified to share that transformative knowledge.

Tell us a little about your background…
I grew up in Wilmette, Illinois. I have a sister, a brother, and seven stepsiblings. My parents were divorced when I was eight years old, and both remarried. My family now: I am married and have three children: twin boys who are 22 years old and college seniors (one at the University of Miami in Florida, the other at DePaul in Chicago), and a daughter who is 12 years old and in seventh grade at Lincoln Elementary in Chicago.  My husband, Richard, is a Chiropractic physician and Functional Medicine doctor.

With my family in Cancun

I also attended University of Miami and graduated in 1984 with a degree in Elementary and Early Childhood Education. I taught Learning Disabled children for three years in Coconut Grove, Florida. During my last year as a teacher, I attended Educating Hands Massage School and met my husband just after I sat for my Florida License exam. We moved to Chicago in 1994—since it’s where I grew up, it was like coming home for me. Together, Rich and I opened our own clinic, Arrandt Health Care, in the Lincoln Park community and ran it for 22 years. I also received my Pilates Certification in 2003 from Power Pilates in New York City, and teach Pilates part-time at Club Pilates in Lincoln Park.

A year and a half ago, Rich and I moved Arrandt Health Care over to the Balance Health and Wellness facility, located just up the street in the Lincoln Park area of Chicago. The Balance philosophy is that through multi-disciplinary care, the team approach and services help clients to return to a state of balance, relieving their discomfort, restoring their functionality, and helping them sustain wellbeing in body and mind. Joining forces with Balance has been great. Balance has everything under one roof and offers so many more services than we were able to have on our own, including Chiropractic, Naturopathy, Physical Therapy, Acupuncture, Biofeedback, Neuro-feedback, Pilates, Massage, and Integrative Nutrition Health Coaching. I love the environment and am able to utilize my multiple skillsets there.

 

When did you start to think about making a change?
I started to think about making a professional change when my boys were in high school and more self-sufficient, and my daughter was equally occupied between school and nine hours of gymnastics a week. This allowed me the time to furthering myself professionally. I have been a practicing Massage Therapist and Pilates instructor for 25 and 14 years respectively. My husband and I partner to help our patients heal their symptoms, pain, and inflammation. The majority of our patients were getting therapy along with changing their diets and seeing direct results. Since I was counseling people for lifestyle change during sessions, becoming a health coach seemed like a great fit for me.

We noticed that once we had addressed and resolved underlying problems—through improved nutrition, manual therapy, supplementation, and lifestyle changes—patients noticed the removal or lessening of longstanding pain, along with weight loss. We watched how the patients who followed through with dietary and lifestyle changes not only lost weight, but healed through better nutrition. Those patients did not need as much manual therapy or manipulation. As a Massage Therapist, I even felt patients’ muscle tissue loosen and change over time right under my hands through good nutrition. It’s really not a mystery.

The culmination of the “aha” moment was when I saw and felt my own personal change in health and weight loss following an Intestinal Permeability Program—also known as a Leaky Gut program—and a year later I did a five-week Candida program. These programs helped heal my joint pain, skin irritations, brain fog, hormonal problems, thyroid issues, excess bloat and weight issues, among others.

What is your next act?
I began my new career direction almost five years ago on the beach at my sister’s house on the Jersey Shore. I signed up for school at The Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) in New York City on my 50th birthday. I went back to school to become an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and received my certification a year later.

I am extremely passionate about helping people and feel blessed to have been led to this career. I also received certification through an additional Health Coach training program through the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute and am certified to teach their life stage programs—Family Health, Pregnancy, and Prime Time Health for adults and seniors.

I fully believe that health care reform needs to begin in our own kitchens. I can attest to this from watching patients and clients make appropriate changes as well as see it in my own personal transformation and that of my family. My son did our 5-Week Candida program as a sophomore in high school, lost 35 pounds, cleared up his skin as well as knee and joint pain. His testimony can be found on my website.

I can also see and feel the transformation through food, lifestyle change, functional-movement and from a tissue/muscular perspective under my hands as a therapist. I think the majority of our food should be prepared at home, so we know what goes into it. I think it’s important for people to get tested for food sensitivities so they can learn what they need to remove from their diet to feel their best. It’s not all about weight loss. While working with clients and patients, my husband and I often put them on modified elimination diets. When people begin to add foods back, they can feel the effects directly when focusing on one food at a time.

Shopping at a farmers’ market

The majority of my clients are women, over forty, dealing with hormonal imbalances and battling excess weight. They are stressed out, tired, overweight, and want to have more energy. Most clients come to me with a laundry list of symptoms that they have tried to heal for years. Many clients already exercise regularly and already eat pretty well. They have gone from doctor to doctor and diet to diet to try to lose weight and heal their pain and symptoms. They are smart, educated, and have read and tried many different dietary programs.

I do not have a cookie cutter approach with clients. We begin by discussing their health history with a discovery session. It is an organic, highly individualized process. I have found that clients who commit to a three- to six-month program get the best results. Changing long-standing habits takes time. There are several success stories posted on my website as well as some videos. I do work with men and teens as well, but they do not make up the majority of my practice. I also work with clients by phone or Skype. Many clients actually prefer working this way even though they live locally, as they don’t have to commute to my office, and we can still keep to regular scheduled calls while they (or I) are traveling.

Last year I took a The Roll Model / Yoga Tune Up course. I use this method to teach clients to do self-massage and I absolutely love the work. I use it with my Pilates clients and my husband uses it with patients as well. I use the balls for my own regular self-care and find that they work great when I use them with regularity (as with any tool, if it sits in the corner, what’s it worth?). This training complements the other work I do, as self-care is the foundation of the most important aspects of the health coaching work I do. Here’s a video of me demonstrating this method.

Working with a Pilates client

You also work with groups?
Yes. While I really enjoy working with private clients, I feel that there is a large need for group programs. Having support from a community of like-minded individuals is an important aspect in getting healthy—so you don’t feel so alone. This community model was important for me when I lost weight in the ‘80s. There is comfort in knowing that there are others going through the very same thing as you.

I launched an online group program called, “Eight Weeks to A Healthier You.” It allows people to go at their own pace. They can listen to the live call or on their own time frame. I have made the price affordable for people at $289 for an 8-week group class, whether locally or online. I believe that having group accountability and support is key. This is why my clients and husband’s patients who do our detox programs are so successful.

My 8-Week program is not a detox, but a lifestyle program. My private clients get the very same material within their 3- or 6-month program and pay me $1150-$2400. However, with one-to-one coaching, we get to dig deeper. We work on underlying issues, both mentally and in the gut, that stop people from changing and moving forward. This process goes way beyond counting calories and tracking exercise to move clients beyond a long-held mindset that has kept them stuck in old patterns.

Again, my 3- and 6-month program looks different for each person as it unfolds during the time we work together. Also, I only accept two to three new qualifying clients per month as I spend a lot of my time and focus on the people who are committed in time and finances and believe in the process. I am generally a warm and friendly person, but I am also a tough coach who gets results. 

Preparing lunch in Mexico

 

Why did you choose this next act?
I have a background as an Elementary School Teacher and have always had a love of teaching, so educating people on simple, small steps to get healthier is a great fit for me. I chose this path because both my husband and I live this as a lifestyle. Might I add, not perfectly either. I am not the Yogi who has arrived on the mountaintop. I struggle with the same issues as many of my clients. I do indulge and give into cravings at times.

In my past I was forty pounds overweight and it was painful to live in that body. I lacked confidence and felt self-conscious and fat. I did a weight loss success story in New Body Magazine in the mid ‘80s and at the time I created a community of support to help me reach my goals. When I look back at that time, I felt so proud of myself and loved the new body I worked so hard to get. I thought that I would be a great coach to help others with my own experience.

For me today, I choose to do a detox program with each changing season. By detoxing my body, I find it helps me clean out my intestines and liver, get off of sugar cravings and to feel great in my body. After my seasonal detoxes, my muscles and joints feel great, my energy soars, and my clothing fits so much better. I wanted to share the excitement of feeling great in your body with other people. My goal is to help people lose weight, lose pain, feel vibrant, energetic, and wildly alive.

Me at 155 lbs.

 

How hard was it to take the plunge?
It was easy for me; I had a lot of support. The coursework was all online and amounted to 6-10 hours a week of work. I felt ready to use my brain and learn. I knew a few friends who had used Health Coaches or had a friend who was a coach, so I got some names and numbers of the ones who went to the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN), the school that I was considering signing up for and would end up attending. It seemed like a good fit for me when I spoke to some graduates. I also spoke at length to the enrollment office about what to expect. My husband was supportive, so I signed up to begin when the kids returned to school that fall.

Hiking with my husband Rich in Arizona

 

What challenges did you encounter?
The juggle of having three kids in three schools was a challenge. My twin boys, Jake and Zack were in their junior year in two different high schools and my daughter, Sydney was in second grade. Running a household, along with work, and now school, was a challenge, but I was so excited to hear the next lecture for the program that I would listen while cooking, folding clothing, or traveling in the car using my iPad. When a lecture was really important, I would watch again when time allowed and then sit to take notes. I found I was able to keep up with the workload required as it was online and I could go at my own pace.

My kids

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?
I can’t say that I wanted to give up, but I just wanted more time to be able to focus on the path. I thought about stopping and re-enrolling when my mom became ill, but kept it up and graduated on time. Luckily, we were able to hire a caregiver for my mom and she recovered and got her independence back. I was proud of myself for finishing on time.

I began my private practice while I was still in school. I was lucky to work along with my husband and be able to work with many of the patients in our practice.

My passion to help others overcome health and weight challenges was my real driving force to keep going. Also, I felt a strong desire to help my own family with the knowledge I was gaining. When I began working with clients during school, the work felt so natural and rewarding. It felt amazing to see the magic that happens for people when they start to implement changes, feel better, get more energy, and lose weight. I believe that this work is my life’s calling.

Talking to a client

 

Have your kids embraced your and your husband’s lifestyle as well?
Yes and no! My kids have a great understanding of how nutrition affects their body and brain. My daughter probably eats the most like my husband and me. All of the kids clean up their diet when their immune system is off. They eliminate, sugar, dairy, and wheat until they are better. The boys eat a pretty typical college diet, but they know the benefits of good nutrition and clean up their diet when they have to function their best for school, such as during finals. They do not eat gluten free in general—although Zack has said that he’d do the program again when he comes home this summer, with my support. My daughter is very mindful of what she eats before important tests and her gymnastics meets.

 

What did you learn about yourself through this process?
I learned how capable I am and how it is okay not to do it all or do it perfectly. Some things have to give, like a clean house or a workout. I learned that my intuition when I work one on one with a client is much better than a scripted program. I also learned that I have valuable wisdom and knowledge that really works to help people with goals and lifestyle changes. I see the proof firsthand watching clients transform.

Client success story

 

Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?
I don’t think I’d do much differently, as I was led to this work through everything in my past and everything that I have learned about my own body throughout the years. In my past, being 40 pounds heavier than I am today was painful.  After the weight loss success story, in the mid to late ‘80s, I moved to the city and gained all of the weight I lost back, and then some. I didn’t lose the weight overnight; I lost the weight in increments over time. I kept resetting my body weight through harsh amounts of exercise and watching my calories through a lowfat diet.

Now, I have kept the weight off through personal lifestyle change and eating the right fats in my diet. I no longer burn out my adrenals through crazy amounts of exercise. I eat a varied diet consisting of lean organic protein, a wide array of colorful vegetables and fruit and small amounts of carbohydrates such as brown rice and rice cakes. I also eat plenty of good fats, such as olives, olive and avocado oil, avocado, macadamia nuts, etc.

What I’ve learned about the body as a Massage therapist and Pilates Instructor has helped me become a better health coach. I’ve learned so much from my clients/patients in practicing with my husband.

At work with my husband

 

How do you collaborate with your husband and the other practitioners at Balance?
My husband and I have worked together on patient care for years. He helps people figure out the puzzle of their chronic conditions through his practice of Functional Medicine. He may order blood, saliva, or stool testing. Once he has the data, we work together with supplementation and I work with patients on lifestyle and emotional awareness to help implement change.

The best part of working at Balance Health and Wellness for my husband and I is the philosophy of multidisciplinary care under one roof. The practitioners coordinate patient care based on individual patient need. For many of our patients, it is a one-stop shop.

Last week, one of my clients received an adjustment, saw me for care, and had acupuncture. She walked out feeling on top of the world. I have also worked along with the Physical Therapist and have seen healing through the corrective exercises, dietary changes, and massage.

I saw the coordination of care work first hand as my daughter was ready to quit gymnastics with a back and knee injury. Through getting adjusted, having regular physical therapy sessions, massage, and a change in diet, she healed. The one thing that may not have been thought about was the timing of the injury. It happened right around Halloween. What kind of diet do most kids have that during that time period? They eat a lot of excess sugar and junk food. She was so inflamed by the excess sugar that it landed in her muscles and joints. She is a testament to success of the group approach as she did not quit her sport due to pain, persevered, and did the regular exercises, took supplements, improved her eating, especially good fats, and in turn has been steadily improving throughout each of her competitions.

Giving a health talk

 

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?
Go for it! Take the time to invest in yourself and find your passion. It’s much easier to wake up in the morning and be excited about your day. For me, I find a great satisfaction in helping people go from wishing and dreaming about making changes in their health and weight to actually accomplishing and sustaining it, once and for all!

 

What advice do you have for those interested in becoming Integrative Health Coaches?
I loved both of the schools that I attended and both of them gave me very different skills that I implement in my practice. My advice is to go online to learn about each school and decide which curriculum is the best fit for you. Also, seek out other coaches who did the programs and get as much information that you can before making your final decision.

It is a rewarding career, however you will encounter clients who are gung ho at first, but can’t get out of their own way, no matter how hard you try to help them. The best way to find clients is, first and foremost, to walk the talk of what you teach. Align yourself with doctors and fitness centers, and do speaking engagements in the community.

It is important to figure out your target market. Make sure you work on your own health issues. It is easier to be of help to others through sharing your own health story. Once you sign up for school, the program will let you know when it is time to begin working with clients.

At first work for free, then begin to charge for your time. Look to other coaches as mentors, but develop your own style of coaching. Remember to set boundaries with clients and keep in mind that you are a business owner and not doing this as a hobby. Know that what you have to share is valuable and that you deserve to get paid for your knowledge.

 

What resources do you recommend?
I enjoyed both Health Coach training programs. I would recommend them both highly.

The Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) was very different from The Dr. Sears Wellness Institute. I suppose it depends on the person. Dr. Sears is a science-based approach that teaches life stage programs in preparation for pregnancy and throughout the childbearing years, family health and primetime health. IIN teaches over 100 unique dietary theories and concepts that I am forever grateful to have learned and to be using to help my clients. I also thought about attending the Eating and Psychology Institute, and may in the future as I love learning and being a student. This school teaches more about the emotional aspects of food and why we eat.

I am a member of the American Association of Drugless Practitioners (AADP) and The International Association for Health Coaches. There are also programs that you can enroll in to further your education, where you can use credits from the IIN program toward a Bachelor or Master’s degree. One is through the Goddard College. I have a resource page on my website that can help you on your path.

 

What about resources on the business end?
I was lucky to find Victor Wykore of Kore Creatives International for web design. I found him when I came across one of the sites he designed for a college student who was a public speaker empowering kids. I really think he did a fantastic job on my site and we work really well together.

As far as branding, it has been a metamorphosis for me. I wasn’t sure whether to use my own name or not. I originally formed an LLC (limited liability corporation) and called it Partnering for Your Health. I secured the web domain, paid a designer to make a logo for me, and spent a lot of time and money on it. I chose this name because I partner with patients to change habits and I partner with my husband to help patients on their wellness path. But when I was discussing my future business development with my sister, she thought it sounded too clinical.

I have a passion for cooking simple, healthy soups and salads, and teach meal preparation methods, so together with my son Zack who did one of the programs successfully, we came up with Simple + Well. My next step was to get branded. I really liked the Balance Logo, so I hired the graphic artist that did their branding. I was lucky to have secured the time to work with her as she is not currently doing graphic design.

With my sister and makeup artist Bobbi Brown

 

What’s next for you?
I am currently working on growing my Health Coach practice and give lectures in the community, however I still get pretty nervous. I feel that I have a lot to share with people to help them heal and lose weight. I feel so inspired when I make a difference in their lives. I intend to do a public speaking course next year called “The Art of Public Speaking.” I am also considering going back to school to get a Master’s Degree in Nutrition, however I have not made a commitment at this time.

 

Connect with Linda Arrandt
Email: linda@simpleandwell.net
Website: www.simpleandwell.net
Facebook: Simple + Well
Twitter: @Healthcoach312
LinkedIn
Instagram: simpleandwell

 




Entering Nonprofit in Midlife: Nancy’s Story

After 35 years in Corporate America, a layoff and big birthday were the catalysts for Nancy to reinvent her work life. She now enjoys her “slash” career working in nonprofit while doing some consulting and writing on the side.

Tell us a little about your background.
I’ve lived in NYC for 37 years. My partner, Peter Conrad, is a labor and employment lawyer and was born and raised in Manhattan. Peter’s adult daughter is also NYC based. My two nieces and a nephew add to the New York family contingent. A sister and brother live nearby in New Jersey. Other family members are in Northern and Southern California, New Orleans and Atlanta.

At age 5, with my younger brother Gerry in our Easter Sunday outfits

I’m one of six (middle child); my parents were first generation Italian-Americans. My mother prized education and held firmly to her Roman Catholic beliefs. I spent nine formative years in parochial school taught by nuns in the ‘60s, then attended a public high school and received a B.S. from Penn State in Fashion Merchandising. My five siblings and I had library cards in first grade and from my love of reading, I learned there was a big world beyond Hazleton. By age eight, I decided I would be leaving. Less than six months after college graduation, I won a spot in Lord & Taylor’s executive training program in New York. Later I became a buyer at Bloomingdale’s and held merchandising roles with other retailers in children’s and women’s apparel.

By the late ‘80s, department stores were consolidating and losing market share to emerging discounters like Target. I made a switch to brand licensing/marketing, initially working for a well-known fashion designer. In the early ‘90s, I found my dream job licensing the merchandise rights for comic strip characters, Dilbert and Peanuts (I revered the Peanuts characters and creator Charles Schulz as a kid). This allowed me to expand beyond my apparel expertise to market other products, such as toys, gifts, and books. I was exposed to international business in Japan, Europe, and Latin America and eventually took a role with the BBC to create consumer products for select TV programs. But the TV market was competitive and after a few years struggling to build a business, in the early 2000’s I returned to my apparel roots. I built and led a brand licensing department for Hanesbrands, a Fortune 1000 apparel company, for the next 11 years.

BBC Worldwide Weakest Link Tournament on the Today Show

 

When did you start to think about making a change in midlife?
During my 35+ years in corporate settings, I’d developed a strong set of skills in merchandising, licensing, and marketing within the retail, media, and apparel industries. Having executive roles at global companies gave me a broader perspective, thanks to my wide travel overseas and the opportunity to meet many interesting people. These roles provided good compensation/benefit packages, and I saved accordingly, providing a cushion I’d need later. I knew the time would come when I would leave the corporate fold for something different.

At various points in my forties and fifties, I yearned for a personal creative outlet. After I left the department store world in the late ‘80s, I started taking writing classes at The New School and NYU. When I was a girl, I’d fantasized about becoming a journalist and news anchor. However, as I was considering career plans and college majors, I was not confident about my abilities to get into a communication/journalism program. I had no interest in becoming a starving freelance writer. Instead I pursued retailing, because I loved clothes and at the time, the possibility of becoming a buyer-in-training at a department store in Philadelphia or New York was within my grasp. This was key in my desire to rise above my lower middle-class background.

In the early ‘90’s, I volunteered at a non-profit that placed business executives into projects at local arts organizations. Later, I joined the board of an affiliate Penn State alumni chapter for professional women. Graduate school was a consideration while I was in retailing (at the time, many senior execs had MBA’s). Given my experience building and running $10+M sized departments, pursuing an MBA seemed redundant. Around 9/11, I was accepted into NYU for an Independent Study Master’s program (I’d planned to do creative writing and media studies), but I decided to pass, given the jittery times and economic uncertainty as a result of the attacks in NYC.

MFA Graduation

After I joined the apparel company in 2002, I kept writing. My mother passed away in 2009 (my father died 16 years earlier). As I reflected on her life and all she had sacrificed to help her children achieve success as adults, I decided I should not wait to pursue an MFA degree. I learned of an MFA program at Stony Brook University I could do part-time in Manhattan and Southampton. I tested the waters as a non-matriculated student for the first two semesters and was accepted in 2010. By then, the recession and subsequent recovery had made for a difficult business environment. There were frequent restructurings at my company. I’d survived several rounds of re-organizations and layoffs, but eventually my downsizing day came in mid 2013 along with a big birthday (60!). It was then I had no choice but to change course.

With Susan Collins, Executive Director of TTN

 

What is your next act?
I am a non-profit staffer/business consultant/writer—what Marci Alboher, Encore.org VP and author of the The Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life calls a “slasher.” “Slashers”, Marci writes, are “people who, like me had trouble describing their working lives without the use of a slash or two.”

I handle marketing and operations on a part-time basis for The Transition Network (TTN), a non-profit organization supporting women 50+ in transition, professionally and personally. I was tapped to become an Encore Fellow at TTN in late 2016 and, after completing my fellowship, was asked to stay on at TTN. Encore Fellowships are awarded to corporate executives age 50 and over interested in parlaying their business skills into social mission work.

I also am the Founder Elan Brand Licensing LLC, a consulting business I launched three years ago. This includes business development for brands and manufacturers, plus advising professional service firms and financial institutions about licensing and select apparel/retail segments.

In 2015, I received my degree in Creative Writing/Literature after five years of part-time study. My thesis, a memoir entitled Finding My Footing, centered on coming of age from small town to big city, with stories about family, work, love, and travel. Since starting my consulting business, I have also written business articles for various trade magazines, and blogs on apparel, retail and brand licensing trends.

I am currently working on a collection of personal essays, utilizing material from my MFA thesis. I had my first two essays (Check them out here and here) published this summer, received good feedback, and excited to keep writing and submitting my pieces this fall.

My writing desk

How hard was it to take the plunge? How did you prepare?
I did not wake up the next day after my corporate job disappeared and know what to do next. Fortunately, I was in graduate school, so I had my classes as an anchor. I was able to take a two-week writing workshop without the distraction of work issues while on vacation.

I was bound by a non-compete, and could not begin another role in my field until the following year, so I put my resume together and started networking. I had many lessons to learn on both fronts! I had been in career transition before, but much had changed by 2013, given technology and social media permeating job search. This meant using digital skills to network and job hunt. I sensed my age was also a potential barrier.

The next year was a confusing time as I didn’t know what to call myself (no longer an Executive, now a Writer, but without published pieces). I wasn’t clear I wanted another full-time job doing what I had done for 25+ years in brand licensing, although I started interviewing for these types of roles. I was reluctant to return to a 50- or 60-hour-per-week high-stress job. Plus, the changing landscape for the apparel and retail industries meant higher level positions in NYC were scarce and I was not interested in relocating for a new job.

I had learned about Encore.org a few months before I was downsized and filled out the fellowship application the week after I left Hanesbrands. Encore sent me out on interviews a couple months later but the assignments were not the right fit. Fellowships are competitive, given the strong pool of talented professionals over age 50 in the New York area. In early 2016, I decided to re-apply for an Encore Fellowship and by summer 2016 the opportunity at The Transition Network emerged.

To get more exposure within the non-profit segment, I decided to volunteer at Girls Write Now (GWN), a non-profit that supports under-served teen NYC girls by providing writing workshops. I learned about fund-raising at this small but growing organization focused on developing young women’s confidence and educational opportunities. It was gratifying to help solicit auction/gift bag items for the annual gala and to serve on the host committees in 2016 and 2017. This volunteer project also inspired me to write a blog post about GWN honoring Gloria Steinem and the teens’ reaction to her. I was glad to have the article posted on the Women in Communications website, another organization where I had volunteered.

 

How supportive were your family and friends?
My significant other, Peter was very supportive during my transition, but he gave occasional hints he’d expected me to take another full-time job. We’ve worked through that and I am now busier than ever! Friends were good sounding boards, as some were also in transition. One career coach, Bonnie Diamond, in particular, provided excellent advice and shared her thoughts about the realities of today’s job market for boomers.

 

What challenges did you or are you encountering?
When I first left corporate, it was difficult to figure out where I belonged and to no longer be considered an industry insider.

The next challenge was how to deal with “NO.” Rejection came in many forms, whether pitching for a consulting opportunity that did not materialize or editors passing over my writing submissions or pitches.  As a writer, one has to develop a thick skin. This is also true for job seekers and career changers, entrepreneurs seeking investors, and so on. The rejection may not be about you, but about timing or the circumstances at a particular company. I have two ways of looking at rejection: “No” may mean “not yet”. Or, as Nora Ephron, the writer and filmmaker, has said, “I spend 2 minutes on no.”

Some of my favorites

 

What did you learn about yourself through this process?
Patience. It takes time to make big life changes and let these new areas take root. I am inspired by artists who hit their stride later in life, like Alice Neel and Carmen Herrera (she is 100+ and had a recent exhibit at The Whitney). Frank McCourt, a Stony Brook professor, had his book Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir published when he was 66 and it won the Pulitzer Prize. People taking on new careers later in life should keep in mind that although it seems we are starting over, we bring a wealth of life experience, business acumen, and wisdom to whatever we want to do next.

 

Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?
I would have allowed myself a mourning period after I was down-sized. Although I was busy with school and networking, I realized looking back, I needed time to heal before plunging into the planning of my next phase.

I would have kept up with my network more consistently and made more time to meet with friends, colleagues, and business associates outside the office, especially during my last corporate role. Cultivating relationships (personal and professional) is key to creating a support system and a strong network. I am grateful for friends and mentors I’ve met throughout my career and the efforts we’ve made to stay in touch. Speaking of mentors, I would have been more proactive about finding the right people to advise me during different stages of my career and a superlative Executive Coach throughout my peak earning years.

2016 Reunion with United Media co-workers

 

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?
Get comfortable with your financial situation so you can develop plans and make choices fitting your situation. Married women should be well-informed about a couple’s holdings, real estate, wills, etc. Find a competent financial planner, lawyer, and accountant—professionals you can trust. Many people have to continue to work out of financial necessity and may need to take a bridge job while moving into their next act.

Accept that changes will take time, your plans don’t have to be crystal clear, and you may try paths that aren’t a good fit.

Join organizations where you can be with like-minded people (The Transition Network, for example!) and make new connections. Volunteering at an organization with a mission that resonates can fill time and add new skills. Mentoring others is another way to give back. I’ve served as an ad hoc coach for younger family members and colleagues and in turn, there’s always something to learn from them, be it their digital savvy or popular culture trends.

Learn how to use your laptop and smart phone effectively. There are YouTube tutorials, Lynda.com is available at many public libraries, and hands-on classes at libraries are free. If you live in NYC, Senior Planet is an amazing tech resource and also free. For more specialized info on social media, check out classes at your local college and high school. You don’t need to be coding, but you may want to keep up with family and friends on Facebook or various message services. For those starting their own businesses/entrepreneurial projects or pursuing another job, your presence on LinkedIn is a must. Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest use depends on your field.

Mingling with TTN members and guests in Chicago

 

What advice do you have and resources do you recommend in your fields of interest?
For those specifically interested in the non-profit world, take continuing education courses to learn about it. Many colleges focus on this area, whether single courses or certificate/degree programs. Classes are a great way to network with classmates and faculty. Consider a board of director’s role if your schedule and budget permit. Volunteer at non-profit organizations that appeal to you and list those assignments on your LinkedIn profile and resume to show new skills acquired.

Non-profit/social mission:
Foundation Center: classes and webinars on fund-raising, grant writing, non-profits operations, and a trove of information on U.S. foundations and the non-profits supported by them.
Encore.org Fellowships
Be the Social Change: NYC group with events and classes on social mission endeavors
The Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life
The B Corp Handbook: How to Use Business as a Force for Good

Entrepreneurship:
Kauffman Foundation: FastTrac boot camp for entrepreneurs (offered in select cities)
Government organizations supporting small businesses such as Small Business Administration, Chamber of Commerce

Creative Writing:
Local colleges/universities continuing education classes/workshops
Pen & Brush NYC arts organization (Writing circle is good for beginners)
Poets and Writers Magazine
Public libraries as a place to write, attend author readings and classes, do research, and borrow books, DVDs and other media

 

With my significant other, Peter Conrad

 

What’s next for you?
I would like to continue supporting underserved girls and women. There is so much need around the globe! As I get more immersed in the non-profit sector, I’m excited to learn about organizations where I can contribute and apply a combination of marketing, business development and operational skills. I recently took an advisory board role at Indego Africa, a non-profit with a mission to empower African women artisans by showcasing their beautiful crafts and investing in their education.

Writing essays and creative non-fiction, with the aim of publishing a collection. I have some ideas for short stories and maybe even a novel down the road. I would love to travel to India and South America and return to countries I visited long ago, including Japan, Italy, and Portugal.

  

Connect with Nancy Gendimenico
Email: ngendimenico@gmail.com
Website: Elan Brand Licensing
LinkedIn
Twitter 
Instagram
Facebook




Let’s Hear from an Expert: Jeanne Safer, Author of Beyond Motherhood: Choosing a Life Without Children

In your speaking and writing, you often tackle taboo topics. What drew you to write about women who choose not to have children?
Personal experience. It took me 5 years to make the decision not to have children myself, and I wanted to use the insights I gained to help others through this essential decision process. My most important insight: I realized I didn’t WANT to have a child; I WANTED to want to have a child.

It was also wonderful to be asked to contribute an essay to the anthology Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, edited by Meghan Daum. This gave me the opportunity to revisit the issue 25 years after I wrote Beyond Motherhood: Choosing a Life Without Children. I realized how important the decision, and the decision-making process, had been in my life. Now at age 70, I can honestly say it was absolutely right for me.

What are some of the challenges these women face in our American society?
I’m sorry to say that, although the stigma has lessened somewhat over the years since I struggled with this issue, women making this choice—or even thinking about not being mothers—worry that they are selfish, unfeminine, or missing out on fulfillment. And society reinforces these fears. The women I interviewed worked this through, and, to a woman, felt their decision was right for them.

What misconceptions would these women like to clarify with mothers?
That there are many ways to nurture; that motherhood should be a choice, not a foregone conclusion; that selfishness is equally distributed among mothers and non-mothers. And that there is NO life without regrets, losses, and gains.

What advice do you have for women who choose not to have children?
Think about it fearlessly! Make a conscious decision. You will never regret doing so. Realize that you can be creative and loving and fulfilled without a child. There are lots of women of all ages who can attest to the profound satisfactions of life (and marriage) without children if that’s the right choice for you.

What resources do you recommend for women who chose not to have children?
Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, Meghan Daum’s marvelous book, which includes MEN (of all things!) for the first time, is a wonderful resource. It provides a spectrum of wise, funny and thoughtful voices.

My website has many articles and interviews on this topic that I’ve done over the years.

 

Connect with Jeanne Safer
Email: Jeanne@JeanneSaferPhd.com
Website
Twitter: @JeanneSafer

 

Jeanne Safer, PhD, has been a practicing psychoanalyst/psychotherapist in New York City for over 40 years. She is the author of 6 books on “Taboo Topics”—the things everybody thinks about but nobody talks about. Her most recent book is The Golden Condom: And Other Essays on Love Lost and Found, which explores the many faces of passion. Dr. Safer is currently working on a book about the challenges of mixed political marriage.




Becoming a Contemporary Fine Artist in Midlife: Katherine’s Story

When her daughters entered middle school, Katherine considered returning to practicing law or delving into her lifelong passion for art. She chose to honor her artistic calling and is now a fine artist, with a focus on oil painting.

 

Tell us a little about your background…
I grew up in New Jersey, the second of five siblings. Living near Philadelphia and New York was a great advantage for me because I had an early exposure to a lot of great art resources. On weekends, we would often end up on various cultural outings including visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where I developed my love of painting, and Brandywine, where I admired the artwork of the Wyeth family. We also spent time in New York City, where we frequently went to all of the major museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art—little did I know then that I would be chosen to be a copyist at the Met. I remember falling in love with the works of the Hudson River School painters as well as the Ashcan school. I was also inspired by my great-aunt, Peggy Merrick, an established painter and pastel artist, who encouraged me to pursue my artistic interests.

My father was an American Literature College professor and we spent our summers traveling all over the country visiting the literary homes of famous writers. I was a History Major at Duke University but still took advantage of the emerging art department there, taking drawing and painting classes. After college, I moved to Europe with the Council on Educational Exchange, which enabled me to get a work permit in England. I worked in Central London in a major advertising agency and spent many a lunch hour in the National Portrait Gallery studying the artwork. After London, I moved to Florence, Italy where I was in heaven among all the Florentine museums while I studied Italian.

Living in Italy (1986)

After several years in Europe, I returned to the US and started working in NYC, first in advertising and eventually as a paralegal in a very small law firm specializing in arts-related not-for-profit clients, including numerous dance troops, visual artists, and literary foundations. One of our clients was a young, German figurative painter who lived in a penthouse near Tompkins Square Park. Visiting his studio and attending to his mundane legal issues such as unpaid parking tickets, I found I was drawn instead to his massive, expressionist paintings. I remember being very intrigued. When he asked my opinion about a color he was considering, I realized I loved painting—this was my ah-hah moment. However, equally intrigued by my legal work with such interesting clients, I decided to pursue law, the more traditional option, at this point in my life. Still, in my early twenties, I also needed a steady income, which the law had the potential to provide.

At this point, I met my wonderful husband, a commodities trader and Yale grad in NYC and we eventually married and had two beautiful daughters. After law school, I practiced law first in a Japanese law firm and ultimately in a smaller boutique firm concentrating on trademark registrations and prosecutions. 

When did you start to think about making a change?
I stopped practicing law to raise my children. Even while pregnant with my first (who is now 19), I joined a small local art group and painted once a week. When my daughters were in middle school, I started thinking more about what I wanted to do. I considered either returning to the practice of law or further delving into my artistic side. I began attending programs by the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts in NYC about starting your own for-profit art business. I found these incredibly helpful and eye-opening as they asked questions such as where do you see yourself in five years/ten years etc. (It was interesting to look at my answers five years later and realize I had attained many of my goals).

 What is your next act?
I am now a Contemporary Fine Artist specializing in realistic landscape oil painting. I launched my business in my early fifties. My work is exhibited online at Katherine Jennings Fine Art and in numerous galleries through juried shows. I am constantly looking for new opportunities to exhibit my work. During 2017, I have shown my paintings in the Upstream Gallery in Hastings on Hudson, New York as well as in the Lyme Art Association in Old Lyme, Connecticut, where I am an Associate Artist. This past summer, I was chosen to participate in an International Juried Show, “Playing with Perspective,” at the East End Arts Gallery in Riverhead, New York.

I am a Juried Member of a national art group for oil painters called OPA (the Oil Painters of America). And I was recently selected to be in the 2017 Spring Semester of the Copyist Program at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where I had the privilege of spending eight weeks doing an intensive copy of a masterpiece of my choice. I chose “Ernesta (with Nurse)” by the American Society Portraitist, Cecilia Beaux, because I have always greatly admired the painting and was challenged by the opportunity to paint the various whites depicted in the dresses. To be in that setting in such close proximity to a great piece of art was a truly memorable experience.

I just took on a part-time job as a Development Associate (Capital Campaign and Major Gifts) at the Edward Hopper House.  I have always admired him as a painter and suddenly I saw this part-time job come up, based at his childhood home in Nyack. They are in the midst of rechartering into a museum and are hoping to expand their reach. Finally, I also got into a really great art show for professional women artists at the National Arts Club in Gramercy Park in New York City (learn more here). The opening is January 19, 2018, and benefits the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

Why did you choose this next act and how did you prepare?
I have always been interested in both art and law and starting my own art business seemed to be a good outlet for my talent and passion. Having already worked in NYC in several law firms, it seemed like a good time to give my passion for art a chance.

I began by taking as many classes and workshops as I could. Being around other artists and having input from a knowledgeable instructor is priceless. I studied under the talented artist and instructor, Gary Godbee at the Yard School of Art at the Montclair Art Museum; under his tutelage, I have developed and furthered my artistic skills. He has definitely brought me to another level and pushes me to go even further. Through his class, I met many talented emerging artists and have developed a group of female artist friends. We travel to various art exhibits together and recently spent a day at the Met touring with one of the women, who is also a curator at the museum.

Traveling with artist friends

How supportive were your family and friends?
My family and friends were incredibly supportive. My husband, in particular, has supported me throughout the process. I remember doing a show with a fellow artist and as she watched my husband helping hang the art, she mentioned how impressed she was that he really seemed to care and made sure each frame was straight.

My children have supported me by helping me set up shows and even provided some welcome constructive criticism. I also have one friend in particular, a fellow artist, Dana DiMuro, who introduced me to a lot of art resources and encouraged me to go to workshops with her. We have traveled to Northern California, Vermont, Virginia, Philadelphia, and New York City to take various workshops together. One of our most memorable trips was studying with Jeanette Le Grue in Northern California and staying in Bodega Bay at the restaurant/hotel where Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds was filmed (Inn at the Tides). The location lived up to its name. We awoke each morning to a deep enveloping fog that quickly dissipated as we made our way to the workshop site, where we painted “en plein air” at a typical northern California farm with a white barn.

With Dana in Bodega Bay

What challenges do you encounter?
You definitely have to have a thick skin to be an artist because you are accepted into some Juried Shows while you are rejected by others. But it is worth it. I was accepted into the first Juried show I entered, which was a nice start. I also had my work validated when I received second place in the prestigious Caldwell Art Fair in 2010. Finally, I remember how elated I was when I had a piece accepted into the esteemed Lyme Art Association “American Waters: A Marine Art Exhibition” and the piece sold before the show even opened.

Painting can be very grueling and the constant exposure to chemicals can be worrisome. But there is a reward for being immersed in the creative process that is almost indescribable. I find that if I am really involved in executing a painting of something I love that the picture seems to just fly out of me. I enjoy that first attempt when you are loose and free to express the general idea. With oil paint, you can usually correct yourself later without any ramifications.  Sometimes though the paint gets too thick and a painting can be ruined. I also try to constantly research new venues and outlets on the internet; this keeps me motivated and engaged in the constantly changing art market.

What have you learned about yourself through this process?
I have learned that my “passion” truly is oil painting and that I love being a creative person. At some point in the process, I realized that I truly am an “artist,” no matter how pretentious that label sounds. I also discovered that I enjoy sharing my love of art through teaching. I have instilled my passion in my daughters and it is so gratifying to see them engaging in the arts. One of my daughters will be starting a job in an art gallery and the other has been accepted into the Frick Museum in NYC for an intensive high school study program.

Painting “en plein air” north of San Francisco

Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?
I was a History major at Duke and I often look back and think I should have majored in at least Art History. But I NEVER regret my liberal arts education. Although I’m sure I would have loved going to a fine art school, I’m thankful that I also have my “lawyer” side. My background in law has been incredibly helpful in navigating the business of art.

 

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife, and possibly a passion for art?
I truly believe that you will be happiest when you are doing something that you feel “passionate” about. Some people have trouble figuring out what that is but for me, it was pretty clear from an early age.

If you’re interested in pursuing art, network and join as many art groups as possible. Take classes and constantly learn new things. I believe you will develop your own artistic style by synthesizing what you learn from many different teachers. Each teacher has something different to offer and it is a constant learning process. I continue to attend art classes as well as legal classes about art. There is a fabulous group called The Center for Art Law in Brooklyn that deals with legal issues in art matters. I recently became a contributing author for their online newsletter and submitted a piece on the effect of current immigration policies on immigrant artists.

I also recommend finding a place you can establish as your studio. I went through the process of renting various art studios and ended up ultimately making my own in my house. While I miss the camaraderie of other artists, the convenience outweighs any isolation I might feel.

My studio

Take a chance and apply to Juried Art shows and join local art associations so that you are aware of open calls. Keep trying. You will face rejections and acceptances both. There are so many opportunities out there.

Visit galleries, make contacts, take workshops, and make yourself known. Most recently I was planning on traveling to San Diego to visit my daughter in college and I found a MeetUp group online (the San Diego En Plein Air Painters) and spent several glorious days painting on the cliffs of La Jolla overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

What resources do you recommend?
I realized I would not be taken seriously unless I had a website so I set one up through FASO (Fine Art Studio Online). I now have my own website where I sell my art online. Of course, in order to put images of my artwork online, I needed to learn how to photograph them properly, which entailed taking a course in that. The Silvermine Arts Center in New Canaan, CT and the Montclair art Museum were invaluable in that regard.

Join national organizations such as Oil Painters of America (OPA).

One particularly helpful book is The Artist’s Guide: How to Make a Living Doing What You Love by Jackie Battenfield.

Excellent places to take classes in the New York City area include National Academy of Art (I studied under Dan Gheno), Art Students League, Montclair Art Museum, Ridgewood Art Institute, Visual Arts Center of New Jersey (I studied under Anne Kullaf), The Florence Academy of Art in Jersey City, West St. Studios in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (I studied under Jennifer Gennari).

New York Foundation on the Arts is an excellent source of information about recent events and artist opportunities.

Juried Art Services is also a good website for finding new opportunities.

I am an Associate Member of The Lyme Art Association in Old Lyme, Connecticut, and have been in numerous exhibits there. I am about to participate in their En Plein Air event to showcase the beauty of Old Lyme. Studio Montclair, a local art organization in the NYC metro area, is a wonderful organization.

There are a plethora of art tutorials available online at no cost, that are very good and informative. Artists I particularly enjoy following on Facebook and Instagram are Rob Liberace and Marc Dallesio. 

What’s next for you?
I hope to narrow and develop my focus in my art so that I will become known for a particular artistic style. Landscape painting in oil, both “en plein air” and in my studio, is my passion. I have recently been asked to submit a portfolio of paintings that are much larger in size than my usual works and I am looking forward to the challenge. I would also like to simultaneously do some legal writing about art issues in the law and get more involved in art advocacy groups. I am trained as a Mediator in Art Law so I would like to put that to use.

 

Connect with Katherine Y. Jennings
Email: kjfineartwork@gmail.com
Website
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