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.


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Let’s Hear From an Expert: Kathy McDonald, Adult Learner Advocate

You’ve been in the field of adult learning for the last 17 years. Why is learning important, especially as we age?
Labor economists predict that by 2025, 60% of all jobs in the US will require some form of postsecondary credential, and most jobs will be disrupted by technology. Look at Panera: They have a bank of tablets to order from now; soon they will need someone to maintain that technology rather than simply take your order at the counter.

For many of us who are mid-career, we may have developed an expertise over years of working, and yet most fields are constantly changing. For instance, the marketing field has mainly moved to digital, so if you only deal in printed media, you will find your skills are less valued over time.

Seeking out learning opportunities, and at times additional certifications or other forms of credentials, demonstrates you are staying up-to-date with the trends, whether in your current field or the one you hope to enter.


What are the challenges and opportunities you see women facing in midlife and beyond, as they seek to continue to learn and grow?
Many times, I see people looking for the one answer, as if the clouds will part and their future will suddenly become clear. It usually doesn’t work that way. It takes the ability to try new things, meet new people, and experiment to find the breadcrumbs that begin to look like direction. If you are needing a definitive answer about your future, you might settle on something just to move forward, and miss out on a future that might have led to a calling.


What advice do you have for these women?
I like the idea of starting with several possible futures and conducting what author Herminia Ibarra calls mini-experiments. Try little ways to get information on whether any one of these futures is worth exploring further. For instance, you could go to the local chapter of the professional association for a future you are considering to see if the topics they discuss are interesting to you, whether you feel like you “fit” with people in that field, and whether your energy goes up when learning more about that field.

Be open to the idea that this journey is not linear. For example, let’s look at the last several moves I’ve made. I knew I wanted to focus on adult learning and thought that meant going into higher education. But I went from working for a firm that helps universities bring their programs online, to working for a small liberal arts college supporting adult learners to where I am now, with the Florida College Access Network (FCAN). FCAN is a social impact organization that works to mobilize multi-sector collaborations in communities throughout the state to level the playing field and open doors for more students, including non-traditional students. At the start, I never could have envisioned that this was my “calling” because I didn’t even know work like this existed. But through my meandering path, each step gave me more clues. Now I know I want to stay in the social impact space because it gives me the opportunity to do work that positively changes lives while supporting my own growth in the social impact space.  I really enjoy the people this work attracts, who are interested in taking on very complex, community-wide challenges.

What resources do you recommend?
My go-to guide for mid-career explorers is Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career by Herminia Ibarra

I also recommend Barbara Sher’s I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was: How to Discover What You Really Want and How to Get It. This book also encourages exploration and mini-experiments.

Jon Acuff’s Do Over:  Make Today the First Day of Your New Career is a funny and informative way of rethinking how you approach your career, by encouraging readers to invest in 4 things: relationships, skills, character, and hustle.

For creative types, I recommend the podcast The Accidental Creative, because Todd Henry shares some great tools and resources for those—inside and outside organizations—who need to be creative and solve interesting client challenges while remaining productive.

Other great podcasts I recommend to get you thinking in new ways are:
HBR Ideacast
Hidden Brain – they recently did a series on You 2.0 that should be of interest to your audience

I’m also a big fan of assessments to help people better understand what makes them tick. StrengthsFinder 2.0 is an obvious choice, but one that’s off the beaten path that I really like is Mind Time Maps, which helps you understand whether you are predominantly a past thinker, present thinker, or future thinker, and helps you understand how to speak to the other two.


Connect with Kathy McDonald


Kathy McDonald is the Associate Director of Network Partnerships for the Florida College Access Network (FCAN), an organization that ensures college and career readiness for under-served populations including adult learners. She is also co-author of Creating Your Life Collage:  Strategies for Solving the Work/Life Dilemma (Three Rivers Press), a book that shares work/life balance tips and strategies from nearly 1,000 women. She has delivered workshops for Fortune 500 companies including Pricewaterhouse Coopers and Accenture, and for leading conferences including Working Mother magazine’s Work/Life Congress. Kathy has appeared on CBS’s The Early Show and Fox News and has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, and the LA Times. Prior to joining FCAN, Kathy held increasing levels of responsibility in finance and marketing at Oracle and Kraft Foods and has spent the last 17 years in talent development, helping individuals and leaders make smart choices about their career plans. She is a Certified Leadership Coach and holds an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.


Becoming a Novelist in Midlife: Orly’s Story

A health scare, long hours at work, and the birth of her son would be the catalysts that propelled Orly into a new creative outlet: Writing fiction. Her first novel, The Distance Home, has recently been released and her second novel is on its way.


Tell us a little about your background…

If I had to describe my background in one word, it would be “ordinary.” I come from a loving family with parents who are about to celebrate 52 years together. I had every opportunity growing up, from ballet and music lessons to a pony and horse shows. We had pets and family vacations and a lovely house. I had and still have a great relationship with my parents (okay, a few rocky periods during my teens but that’s pretty normal, right?). Ordinary, normal, no traumas, no drama.

Now for the longer version.

I was born in Israel and, except for my parents, most of my family still lives there. When I was four, we moved to England for three years, then back to Israel before moving again to the United States. That last move wasn’t a whole bucket of fun, though. We moved to the Midwest and fitting in wasn’t the easiest for me. I had a very British accent and kids made fun of me. For a few years I schemed how to get back to Israel and, when it became clear that wasn’t an option, I did whatever I could to become like everyone else. There were a handful of years when I refused to speak Hebrew, didn’t want to celebrate the Jewish holidays, and made sure my British accent was buried deep.

As a young girl, at a horse show

My first couple of years in college were rather unsettled. I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around what I wanted to study. I went in as an art history major and switched several times before finally graduating with a major in English and no idea what I wanted to do with it. Well, not exactly. I had a fascination with the publishing industry and applied for jobs in New York publishing houses (I was living on Long Island at the time) but quickly realized that my entry-level salary wouldn’t come close to covering a Manhattan apartment that would allow my mother to sleep quietly at night.

That meant graduate school. While applying for publishing jobs, I’d also submitted applications to law school. Not that I had a burning interest in the law but it seemed the right path at the time. When the time to commit came about, I aborted the idea of law school and applied to journalism programs instead. That brought me to the University of Maryland and, after graduating, a job as an editor at a monthly trade publication for the satellite industry.

With my husband pre-wedding at the Maryland Renaissance Festival in 1994

I’d always been a space junkie – I watched every shuttle launch and read everything I could about the space industry – so it was pretty exciting to get to be part of that world, even if my slice of that world was on the other side of the industry. After a couple of years, I joined the corporate communications department of an up and coming satellite communications company. Several years and a couple of job hops into different industries, I went to work for my dream company – a satellite launch company. Rockets, baby. I worked crazy hours and loved it—most of the time.

While I was working as an editor at Via Satellite magazine in 1994, I had the opportunity to go to Kourou, French Guiana to visit the Space Centre with a side trip to Devil’s Island

At some point, I started loving it a bit less. My husband and I had been married 10 years by then and, at 37, I was at the ticking end of my biological clock. I loved being in the corporate world and never had strong maternal instincts (except for animals—show me a puppy or kitty and I melt). But at some point, I started noticing the kids as much as the family pets.

Then life took a slight detour. I had a health scare that, coupled with some pretty unhappy times at work, made me realize that crazy long hours just weren’t what life was meant to be about. Somehow, out of that mess of doctor visits and hours crying on the bathroom floor and more visits, I came out with a clean bill of health and a positive pregnancy test.

As cliché as this sounds, from the moment my son was born, I was a different person. Priorities changed. Wants changed.

With my son in 2008

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

After my son was born, I quickly realized that I no longer fit into the skin of the “me” I’d cultivated all those years in the corporate world. Part of it was struggling with postpartum depression, even though I never acknowledged that at the time. Part of it was an unpleasant shift in family dynamics.

And part of it had to do with my new role working from home. I’d started freelancing while on maternity leave and when my son was a bit over a year old, I made the switch to full time freelancing. It wasn’t that I missed the work environment. I actually found that I was perfectly happy in my cave, working at my own pace. I had great clients, mostly in the space industry. But at some point, the work itself stopped tugging at my creativity.

A friend recommended writing essays for various parenting magazines but the idea of putting my thoughts and feelings down for strangers to read made me queasy. When I mentioned to my husband that I needed a new creative outlet and was considering going back for my Ph.D., he suggested that I give writing a shot. If I wasn’t up for essays, then maybe fiction. I had nothing to lose; that same day, I signed up for a fiction workshop. By the time I finished that first workshop, I had a completed draft and a new passion.

What is your next act

I am the author of The Distance Home, which I published with Forge Books in May 2017, at the age of 50. Here’s the official blurb:

Sixteen years ago, a tragic accident cost Emma Metz her two best friends—one human and one equine. Now her father’s dead too, and she’s forced to return to the hometown she’d fled. She uncovers a history of lies tying her broken family to the one place she thought she could never face again—the stable that held her secrets and her grief. But to exorcise the ghosts of her past, she’ll have to release the guilt, embrace the uncertainty of a future she’d buried, and trust again in the healing power of horses.

The Distance Home is a story about fitting in and the lengths we’ll go to in order to be accepted and feel loved.

My sophomore book, Carousel Beach, will be released from Forge on May 8, 2018. Here’s a bit about the book: A mysterious inscription carved on the belly of a historic carousel horse and a cryptic letter left on her grandmother’s grave lead an art restorer on a quest for the truth buried within family secrets. I have a couple more manuscripts in the works and a notebook full of other ideas.

I joke that writing is cheaper than therapy. There’s more truth than joke in that. I’m not a talker. I think better through my fingers. But while I’ve always loved reading, I never had the pull for writing fiction. What I found, though, is that fiction gave me the outlet for the emotions and feelings and thoughts that I’d trapped inside. My characters are able to sort through emotional upheaval. They can confront the people who hurt them. They can change their lives in 300 pages.

My characters can do all the things I can’t always do. Through them, I can release the pressure building inside me. The characters I write about don’t speak for me and they don’t deal with the issues I’m going through at that period in my life. But through their emotional journeys, I can release my own fears and heartaches and dreams.

My stories are the family and friends I can’t always open up to. Through them, I can spread my wings. The stories don’t reflect who I am or what I do. But through them, I can explore new ways of becoming whole again.

My writing desk

How hard was it to take the plunge?

It was terrifying. I worked hard to get to where I was in my professional life and that was the only professional life I imagined. When I got pregnant, the idea of not working wasn’t something I remotely entertained.

Granted, I eased into it to some extent—first switching to full-time freelancing then slowly cutting back on clients. But the day I sat with my husband and said, “I want to see if I can make a go of getting published,” was palm-sweaty, heart-banging scary.

We worked out a budget. Sacrifices were made. The hardest for me, though, was reminding myself that I was still “working.” I may not be clocking in at an office and I wasn’t responsible to clients anymore, but I chose to make writing my new career and I was now accountable to myself.


How supportive were your family and friends?

My husband was very supportive. Even with the financial concerns, he assured me we’d make it work if that’s what I really wanted to do. He doesn’t read my work or pat me on the back or even commiserate with the frustrations of the publishing process, but he’s the first to remind me to say no when I overextend myself with other commitments and give me the weekend to work when I have a deadline. And he gave me the very best advice I’ve gotten… If I don’t take myself and my writing seriously, why should others? That was the kick in the pants I needed to become more protective of my time and when I stopped tip-toeing around the question, “So, Orly, what do you do?”

My parents have been very encouraging, even if slightly hesitant at the beginning. My mother, especially, was concerned about me giving up the corporate job. But they’ve since gotten fully on board and are interested in every step of the process.

My biggest supporter, however, is my son. He tells everyone that I’m a writer. I went to pick him up early from school one day and the lady at the front office, who I’d never met, said, “Oh, you’re the author. I’ve heard all about your book. I can’t wait to read it.” I actually looked behind me to see if there was someone else there. He’s dubbed himself my “manager.”

What challenges did you encounter?

One of the biggest challenges I came across was finding a writing support group. In that early workshop, the instructor had recommended several writers’ associations. I joined one but it was for a genre I didn’t write, although they did have a few specialty chapters including one for women’s fiction. And while that chapter was great and I met many wonderful writers in my genre, the majority of the resources out of that parent group weren’t helpful to me personally.

Then at the end of 2012, that parent association made the executive decision to tighten their mission. It made complete sense for them but left our genre homeless. A handful of us came together and founded the Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA). We made a wish list of the things we wanted from a professional association and set out to make it happen.

The connections and support from WFWA were a major part of my road to success. In the three years I was the founding president, I learned that I could step beyond my comfort zone and not only survive, but thrive.

With Women’s Fiction Writers Association co-founders, Linda Zohman Avellar, Laura Drake, Kerry Hall Lonsdale at the first WFWA retreat September 2015

With respect to finding a publisher, like most aspiring writers, I worked my way through the trenches. I queried and gathered a box-full of rejections. Scrapped one manuscript, wrote another, and queried again. More rejections. With each manuscript, I pushed myself harder to strengthen my craft. I followed agents on Twitter, read every relevant blog, took more workshops, and kept my eyes on the end goal—an agent and a publishing deal.


Were there times when you thought about giving up?  

Giving up was never an option. I didn’t always believe that it would happen, but it never crossed my mind to stop. I had – still have – a core group of writing buddies who keep me grounded and focused. They’re my daily sanity savers in what can be a lonely and rather neurotic business.

And there’s really nothing else I’d like to do. I love writing. I get twitchy when I’m between projects or have to be away from a project for a length of time because of other commitments.


What did you learn about yourself through this process?

I learned that I have way more patience than I ever gave myself credit for. My lack of patience is a great source of amusement in our house. Even my son, when he was younger, used to tease me. You know you have a problem when your 8-year old tells you to relax. The path from aspiring author to published author is bumpy with lots of turns and detours and hurry-up-and-waits. There were queries that I sent to agents that didn’t receive responses for months. One actually came over a year after the original query.

I also learned that I have more staying power than I thought. Rejection stings, no way around that. But I very quickly accepted that the rejections were not personal. Writing may be deeply personal, but publishing is a business. The agents weren’t rejecting me; they didn’t think the work I was presenting to them was ready. I used each rejection to fuel forward momentum. And despite a dizzying amount of rejections, I kept at it.

2017 Gaithersburg Book Festival with Adriana Arrington and Jenni L. Walsh


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

Yes and no.

I would have been more patient. And yes, I get the irony of saying that after my response to the previous question. I was quick with the trigger finger several times and sent manuscripts out before they were really ready. Then again, I didn’t know they weren’t ready until the rejections came in. The personalized rejections were the most valuable critiques I could have gotten and each one helped shape my writing in a positive way. So yes, because I wish I’d taken more time with those early manuscripts but no, because those early manuscripts taught me so much.

With my grandmother when I was in college; she’s a major inspiration for a character in my second book


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

Trust yourself. It’s incredibly easy to fall into a spiral of doubt. Those nagging questions of “why did I think I could do this” and “what if I fail” can paralyze your creativity and motivation. We expect to go through rejection early in our careers but going back to square one is harder after you’ve already pushed that box aside and thought you were past that phase in your life.

While I’m incredibly proud of my accomplishments in my early career, this time around feels so much more rewarding. This time, I went into it with the knowledge of what failure could mean. When you’re in your 20s, the future is forever away. There’s time to explore and time to detour. When you’re closing in on 50, it feels a little closer. Failure now doesn’t guarantee a second chance.


What advice do you have for those interested in writing fiction?

Find your tribe. Writing can be incredibly lonely and frustrating at times. You spend hours upon hours alone with people you’ve created in worlds that exist only in your head. Sounds a bit crazy, doesn’t it? As supportive as family and friends are, they rarely understand the depths of what goes into writing and publishing.

When I’m in a story, those characters are real to me. They’re part of my world and at times, I find myself expecting them to sit down for dinner with us or I fret about something a character has done or needs to do just as I would any other member of my family. I’ve been known to get lost in the middle of washing dishes and blurt out, “that’s what I was missing,” then continue to talk out the missing piece of the story while my family gawks behind me. Other writers get this. We can talk to each other about people who don’t exist without feeling self-conscious.

Other writers get the pain of rejection or a negative review. They understand the agony over first person or third person point-of-view. They share experiences and knowledge. And they get the exhausted excitement over typing “the end,” even if it’s only the end of the first draft and there are at least five more to come.

With a few of my writing buddies

What writing resources do you recommend?

There are a lot of amazing resources for writers, both “live” and online.

My work time was limited to when my son was at school so the online resources were a godsend. Facebook communities are a great place for connecting with other writers. I belong to way more than I have time for, but there are a few that I “visit” every day. The Motivated Writer is a must for me. We do regular check-ins, announcing our weekly goals on Monday then following up on Friday with progress. It’s a wonderful, supportive group and everyone is ready with advice or a pat on the back or a woo hoo.

Writer Unboxed is another fabulous online community and it’s connected to a great blog for writers. Another amazing blog with articles for every stage of the writing career is Writers in the Storm. I also love Thinking Through Our Fingers for the variety and helpfulness of their articles.

Another favorite online hangout is BLOOM. It’s a great group of book lovers—both writers and readers. The group is hosted by the Tall Poppy Writers and it’s become my go-to to connect with readers and my daily happy stop.

Writer’s Digest is one of the best overall resources for writers of any genre. I devour the magazine the moment it arrives in my mailbox. There are online articles and a whole host of reference tools through the website. There’s a bookstore with a brilliant selection of books to help writers at every stage of their writing process and career growth. I’ve also found their online workshops incredibly helpful.

There are numerous writing associations out there. I suggest every author find the one that fits their genre or, if they’re straddling genres or not yet sure what genre best fits for what they write, then test join a few until you find the right fit. For me, it’s obviously the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. But pretty much every genre has its own group.

One resource I found particularly helpful when I was querying agents, and to be honest, still find helpful when I’m developing new projects, is the twitter hashtag #MSWL. MSWL stands for Manuscript Wish List. Periodically, agents and editors will post the types of projects they’re most interested in seeing to twitter. But there’s also a handy website that makes finding the information easier for those of us with Twitter issues.

Some of my favorite books

What’s next for you?

Next up? More edits on the novel I recently turned into my editor, finish another manuscript that I’ve been working on, and get another underway. I’ve also been tinkering with a middle-grade manuscript that I’m hoping to finally finish. And dig my house out of the mess that’s resulted from months on deadline.


Contact Orly Konig
Book: The Distance Home: A Novel

Becoming a Reiki Master and Teacher: Susie’s Story

When she needed a change, Susie listened to the calling of Reiki and its healing energy. She launched her own business, White Sage Spa, to provide her Reiki services along with traditional spa services, yoga, and life coaching.


Tell us a little about your background.
I was raised in Greendale and Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, the youngest of seven children. My parents were conservative “good Catholics,” and my mom wanted twelve children; six girls were born, then finally the prized boy, and then they planned to have the seventh child. My mother was convinced she could conceive another boy, a playmate for my brother, Billy, but I was a beautiful, curly blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby named Susie. While I was the youngest, my brother was treated more like the baby of the family. I was fiercely independent and loved to roam outside with my dog, my pony, my duck, and climb trees.

My father was a banker and worked at the Savings & Loan that my great-grandfather had started. I began to model my career after his. Something with stability, longevity, and that was accepted as a “good job” by society. As a child, I remember longing to be an entrepreneur. I got my degree in Business & Marketing from UW Milwaukee. I was a resourceful, hardworking child: I began to babysit at twelve and always worked; I even ran a small business on campus as I put myself through school.

I got married at age 22 and graduated from college a few months later. I started my first career with Kohl’s Departments stores as a Management Trainee. I quickly progressed through the various Assistant Store Manager positions. As the company was expanding, I too increased my level of responsibility by moving to the corporate office and becoming the manager of customer service, store operations, and communication for over 150 stores. I continued with Kohl’s for thirteen years of growth and promotions. I remember observing my boss and thinking “His stress is so high he’s going to die of a heart attack.”  Is that what I’m aspiring to? NO!

Moving from Assistant Manager to Corporate Offices for Kohl’s


When did you start to think about making a change?
My husband and I took a three-week trip rafting down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. Our children were three and five and we left them at home with family. It was on this trip that I did some serious soul searching of what my next act would be. I knew I was attracted to natural methods of healing, but I had no education or experience aside from two of my favorite classes in college, taught by a Native American medicine woman, about philosophy and how to use Great Lakes plants for food and medicine. These were elective classes which had nothing to do with my business degree, go figure… I still have those class notebooks 30+ years later.

Rafting the Grand Canyon

I began to allow my mind to play with possibilities of a next act. I didn’t know what it would be but I created a list of desires, keeping in mind that I was the main breadwinner of the family. My husband was a stay-at-home dad who worked part-time on weekends and evenings.

One day, my brother invited me to look at a day spa with him. He is a massage therapist and was looking to rent a room in a beautiful spa on the North Shore of Milwaukee. I walked through the spa and immediately felt this was a business that excited me. Within six weeks of that day, my brother and I went into business together. I remember a conversation with the Russian esthetician who we inherited with the business. I naively stated, “You know, I’ve never had a facial or eyebrow wax,” to which she arrogantly replied, “I know.”

I remember thinking, I may not know this industry, but I have a passion to learn it and I do know is how to run a business, manage people, and excel in customer service—while always being willing to learn. It was very scary to take the plunge but because my brother and I made the decision so quickly, there wasn’t much time to overthink it.  In hindsight, this was a gift. I prepared by taking a three-month professional leave of absence from my corporate job in order to continue to provide health insurance for my family and provide a safety net to see if I could support in this new venture. My husband was very supportive and for many years helped with weekly operational tasks.

The early days: My brother is on the left, my husband on the right

During this time, I went back to school to become a licensed esthetician through the Institute of Beauty and Wellness and found out that I really enjoyed being in the treatment room and working one-on-one with clients. At that time in my life, I prized myself on my ability to multi-task and so I did it all. I managed all aspects of the business and offered facial services too.

Our most intriguing service was Reiki, healing energy touch, offered by a woman in her 70s. She worked on an on-call basis, which took a lot of coordination with scheduling—not a very efficient way to run a business! The businesswoman in me wanted to make Reiki more accommodating and the spiritual muse in me was intrigued with the idea of learning to do Reiki myself. Still, my overwhelming thought was, “Who am I to offer Reiki? I don’t have magic healing powers.”

As any Reiki practitioner understands, the Reiki energy and healing is independent of the practitioner. The Reiki flows through us for the client’s highest good and purpose. As Reiki practitioners, we are commissioned to be clear, conscious conduits and invite our own ego to step out of the way. I was certified to Reiki level I with Nancy Retzlaff in October 2001 and went on to complete my Reiki Master/Teacher certification in Sept 2008, at the age of 45, with Laurelle Shanti Gaia and Michael Baird at Infinite Light Center in Sedona, Arizona.

During this time, I chose to dissolve my business partnership with my brother and move into my next act.

What is your next act?

I am a Reiki practitioner with my own business, a Healing Center I named White Sage Spa. I worked with a life coach specializing in holistic business owners (Jaya Savannah) and structured my services to reflect inner and outer beauty along with wellness.

I offer Catalyst Life Coaching, Emotional Empowerment workshops, anti-aging facials, Reiki services & classes, Raindrop therapy (a balancing massage from Lakota Indian tradition using essential oils), and even officiate weddings, occasionally. I work in a beautiful shared space with other solo-wellness practitioners who offer services including massage, acupuncture, nutrition, and counseling.

Credit: Abigail Kathleen Photography

It wasn’t until age 47 that I had the courage and confidence to begin teaching Reiki. Reiki is an amazing self-healing tool that was the catalyst to my own journey in the importance of self-care. During the early years of running a business with my brother and raising two daughters, I strove to balance being a working mother and wife and business partner. Yet I was not the balanced zen-like healer I aspired to be. I recognized the stress and dysfunction in my business relationship with my brother. The grounding energy of Reiki led me to see the imbalance within me and harness courage for my true next act. Since then, I have become a Reiki master and teacher.

Reiki students

I have continued to up-level my education. At age 52, I completed an additional coaching certification with the International Institute for Emotional Empowerment and am also a teacher/mentor to others going through this certification process. I now understand that coaching/teaching and modeling self-love are my life’s purpose. It fills my heart to watch my clients make choices toward their desire vs. what they think someone else wants them to do.

I teach and model a life of balance and self-care. As I take care of myself at a high level, it allows me to hold space for others to learn the benefits and gifts available to each of us through the consistent act of self-care and nurturing. I’m in a business where I hold a safe and nurturing space for individuals to experience their own inner and outer beauty. I believe one of the greatest ways to teach others is through modeling the joy and happiness that flow naturally when we listen to our own needs versus living a life reacting to what we believe others need. I have lived both ways and I know the gifts that are available to each of us when we honor our desires through consistent self-care.

Coaching session

Why did you choose this next act?  

When I evolved my business from a bustling multi-faceted seven-room spa to a simple one-woman show, some folks asked, “Why would you downsize?” I looked at it as simplifying and stepping into what made me happy—not what society was telling me to do. i.e. bigger, better, more.

It was a great opportunity that excited my heart and spirit. I remember thinking,

“This is one of those meaningful points in life where I either take the risk and go for my desire or stay on the safe path that is draining my life force and happiness. I’m young and if it doesn’t work I can do something else.”

Teaching a workshop


What challenges did you encounter?

The most overwhelming challenges were rooted in poor communication with my business partner/brother. I chose to dissolve the business partnership with my brother because we were not in a healthy relationship. I could see and feel the dichotomy of being in a healing business—attempting to present a calm, healing environment—while raging inside at the dysfunctional relationship that my brother and I were engaged in. Knowing that he would not be easily persuaded to leave the business, I took a huge leap of faith and sent a certified letter to him suggesting that he buy me out, I buy him out, or we sell the business—because I could no longer be in a healing business with a partner whom I was not in a functional relationship with. Reiki taught me to increase my faith and let go, trusting that the outcome would be for each of our “highest good.”

This was a very scary time since I was the main breadwinner for our family. I loved the healing industry that I was in, however, I recognized that if I didn’t shift to take care of my own needs, I would burn out. My husband was 110% supportive of me separating from my brother. He’d watched the toll it took on me to not only run the business but also to navigate the various roadblocks that were created by having a non-communicative/non-supportive partner. The biggest challenge was that when my brother and I went into business, we never created a formal business agreement outlining what would happen if we wanted to dissolve the partnership. If I’d taken the advice of my lawyer friend who encouraged us to create a legal document of partnership prior to beginning the business, this would have made dissolving the business easier.

My brother was initially shocked by the letter. He hired a lawyer and we began the negotiation process. We continued to run the business together and kept the conflict completely confidential from our staff and our family members. We came to an equitable solution within four months, where I paid him a sizable amount of cash to buy him out. Even though this put my husband and me in a financial crunch, it was a situation where I knew my freedom far outweighed the cost.

My brother continued with his massage practice in a different location. Years later, when I re-structured my business into multiple practitioners working collectively, but not as my employees, I welcomed my brother back in to rent a room. During those years I had learned healthy boundaries and how to use my voice. While I recognized that I could not be in a business relationship with him, I was open to having him work adjacent to me, running his own business. I’m happy to report that our relationship is better today than ever.

With my brother Billy at a family party

Reiki helped sustain me. The Reiki prayer has been my daily practice to stay focused and grounded:

“Just for today do not get angry, don’t worry, be grateful, work hard and be kind to all living creatures. This is the secret of inviting happiness, the miraculous medicine of all disease for the improvement of body and soul.”  ~ Mikao Usui


What did you learn about yourself through this process?

After completing my Life Coaching certification in 2009 with Patty Jackson, I took a long look at what made me happy. I recognized that I love working with my clients, both one-on-one and in groups. What I was tired of doing was supporting all my employees and managing all the tasks involved with little time for myself. Hence the shift to my own one-woman business.

I launched my original business believing it was my job to support and take care of everyone. As I transitioned this business into my own solo practice, White Sage Spa, and continued on my personal journey by becoming a Life Coach, my greatest lesson was in learning the importance of taking care of myself and trusting that others have what they need to take care of themselves.


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

Get clear on what you desire is and why you seek this desire. Whatever you choose, recognize why you are choosing it and visualize how you will feel while you are living your new re-invented self. Listen to your heart/gut as your main guide and be aware of making decisions from fear vs. love.

With friends (Patty is second from right)

What advice and resources do you have for those interested in Reiki?

Focus on the aspects of the business that you are talented in and don’t hesitate to hire strong support people to help in the areas that you are not strong.  Create a team and empower your team to create for the highest good of all concerned.

If you have an interest in learning Reiki, first recognize who you are learning this for.  Many Reiki students have a big heart and desire to offer Reiki to others. The foundation is that Reiki is a self-healing tool. We must nourish ourselves before we can effectively transmit healing energy to others. Reiki will create deep transformative healing for you and all that you work with. It is important to understand that the Reiki is flowing through you, the practitioner, and is not dependent on your ability. We all have the ability to channel this Reiki love and light energy. Anyone can learn Reiki.

Teaching Reiki

I have attuned three children and their mothers. Attunement is the sacred practice of aligning the student’s chakras to be open and to receive and send the Reiki energy to all.  Ironically, the children understood and got out of their own way easier than adults. Why? The doubting-ego voice is not as loud at age 10 as it is at age 40. As you search for your Reiki/Master Teacher, be sure you connect with them on some level. I do not recommend being certified for Reiki via the Internet. I think it is important to have a group experience, a teacher you can reach out to with questions, a community to come back to for Reiki shares. If you are searching for a teacher, get clear on what your expectations are and ask questions. You will always be energetically connected to your Reiki teacher so be sure that this connection feels good to you. I also recommend waiting a minimum of 30 days between each Reiki certification level.

If you have the desire to learn Reiki, follow your heart and do it.  The mind might be saying, “Who am I to offer this healing touch?” Remember that Reiki is available to all.  The more Reiki practitioners we have in the world, the more unconditional love will be shared.

Recommended books: 
A Modern Reiki Method for Healing by Hiroshi Doi
Reiki Best Practices by Walter Lubeck and Frank Arjava Petter
The Book of Chakras: Discover the Hidden Forces Within You and Chakras and Their Archetypes: Uniting Energy Awareness and Spiritual Growth by Ambika Wauters
F.E.E.L.: Feel Every Emotion as Love by Michelle Bersell

Recommended schools/teachers:
The International Center for Reiki Training
Infinite Light Healing Center
And of course, I teach as well! Learn more here.

With my husband and kids

What’s next for you?

My next act is continuing to teach the benefits of self-care and balance through one-on-one coaching and group workshops and to continue to attune others to Reiki so that our world will become a kinder, gentler place to live.


Connect with Susie Raymond
Phone: 414-352-6550
Facebook Page

Where Are They Now? Updates on Sharon, Patti, and Margaret

Today we catch up with three of the women we’ve featured in the past few years, who update us on their continuing ventures and adventures…



Sharon Danzger: Continuing to Reinvent

Since the August 2016 Next Act for Women interview chronicling my move from residential organizing to corporate training, I have re-focused even further.

As a productivity consultant, a big part of my job is reading and learning to better understand how people can get more done with less stress. Since 2007, I have been sharing this information through my bi-weekly blog posts. For years, each time I sent out a post, my Aunt Joyce would respond with “this is great – when are you writing a book?”

Last spring, I was reading yet another book on productivity when it hit me: I have loads of useful information that I want to share. I felt that I could write a book in a way that would be concise, easy to read, and would empower readers to make small changes so they could be more productive and feel less overwhelmed. I thought to myself, if I could come up with a list of 100 productivity tips, that would be a good start to a book. In no time, I had well over 100 strategies and I began writing. It was really fun and very rewarding. My book, Super-Productive: 120 Strategies to Do More and Stress Less, was released in March 2017.

Over the past few years, I noticed a theme in the articles and books I was reading on productivity. The trend was the direct connection between positivity and productivity. This sparked an interest (now passion), in the growing field of positive psychology. I am currently attending the University of Pennsylvania, working towards a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology program. For those interested in positive psychology, there is a great certification course offered by the University of Pennsylvania on Coursera. I recently completed it and found it very worthwhile.

Many people have asked me what I will do with the degree. In addition to enjoying the aspect that relates to personal growth and development, I will continue teaching positive psychology as a tool for improving productivity and performance. But I am also open to the many opportunities the program may present in terms of what I learn and the people I meet.

Stay tuned!

Connect with Sharon Danzger
Website: Control Chaos
Book: Super-Productive: 120 Strategies to Do More and Stress Less


Patti Sherry-Crews: More Publishing Success

So, last you heard from me (back in my July 2015 interview on Next Act for Women) I’d embarked on a career as a writer at 50. Over this past summer, I learned that when your book hits #1 on Amazon they put an orange banner proclaiming “Bestseller” by your title. Yup, a contemporary western romance anthology I’m in, A Cowboy To Keep, hit #1 on Amazon for weeks and has stayed in the top 100 since its release in June. Around the same time, Desert Heat hit #3 on Amazon. It also won third prize in the category Short Contemporary, 2017 International Digital Awards (Oklahoma Romance Writers of America). I’ve gotten to a point with my writing that I don’t crave outside validation, but oh, this feels good!

I’m what is known as a hybrid author, meaning I write for a publisher along with self-publishing some of my work. For my publisher, Prairie Rose, I write historical western and medieval romances. I self-publish my own contemporary romances, and in addition, I’ve been asked to be part of three Indie boxed sets, all of which have been Amazon Bestsellers.

Visiting the Tetons with my new writer friend Andrea Downing

Since seeing friends at a party recently, I’ve been doing some reflecting. When I first appeared in this blog, I was in a circle of friends who’d taken our children through school together, and when the time came when the kids were old enough, we were all wondering, what’s next for us? Those friendships remain even though we went off on our own trajectories. Writing was a solitary pursuit to begin with. But as of this update, I’ve developed a new virtual community of women authors and have made some new friends for life. Already, we’ve seen each other through many important life events such as children’s weddings and graduations. I even published a book with my new writer friend, Andrea Downing, called From the Files of Nat Tremayne. Yes, I have one more update: My youngest graduated high school.

I also got my computer out of the kitchen and have my own office.

Connect with Patti Sherry-Crews
Author Website
Amazon Page
Pronoun Author Page
Desert Heat
A Cowboy To Keep: A Contemporary Western Romance Collection


Margaret Rutherford: Launching a Podcast—and a Book

I’m so delighted to be back on Next Act For Women with a 2017 update! Since being interviewed last fall, I’ve chosen to go through a huge learning curve and I’ve launched my own podcast – SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. !’ve learned how to record and edit, and am thrilled to say that SelfWork had over 10,000 downloads just in the month of July! My purpose is to reach as many people as I can, to educate them about mental illness or simply to guide someone through problems we all have as human beings. Each recording appears on my website weekly and is a welcome addition – hard work but welcome.

I’m also now in print, with the publishing of my new book Marriage Is Not For Chickens (and isn’t that the truth!). When my words originally appeared as a blog post on The Huffington Post and earned over 200,000 likes and 53,000 shares, I decided to make it into a gift book with evocative photos accompanying each of twenty-four simple, poignant, and pragmatic statements about what marriage is, and what it definitely is not. I’ve received feedback that brides and grooms-to-be love it, as do those celebrating an important anniversary. It’s a slim but powerful reminder of what marriage can bring those who work hard on their partnership.

I’m very excited to see what’s up for this year. We’re planning a relaunch of my website. On a personal note, my son is out of college and living and working in Los Angeles, a far cry from Arkansas. The distance brings another transition, but we’re all adjusting and making the best of “long distance love.”

Thanks so much for having me back! My only advice? Keep opening yourself to new opportunities, stay curious and relish the risk!


Connect with Dr. Margaret Rutherford
Book: Marriage Is Not For Chickens



Let’s Hear from an Expert: Robin Fisher Roffer, Author of Your No Fear Career

What was your motivation for writing your newest book, Your No Fear Career?
I wrote this book when my marriage to my business partner was falling apart. I was facing a totally new reality of being a single parent to our teenage daughter and running the company on my own. It felt like everything was changing at once and fear started to take hold of me. In response, I culled together all of the tools I’d honed over the years to navigate this overwhelming and utterly terrifying transition. In the end, I created Your No Fear Career as a guide for myself.

Which lessons from your book do you feel are particularly relevant to women in midlife?
The book has become my talisman—giving me the strength to increase my business, create a serene and stable home, raise my daughter to be original and confident, and deepen my relationships with family and friends. I know that by using the tools in this updated version, the same thing will happen for other women, particularly those in midlife. That’s because it’s all about moving from intuition to action. Intuition is a woman’s superpower and by midlife, she’s tuned into it, but may over-ride it. Your No Fear Career teaches you how to fearlessly use your natural instincts to fulfill your true purpose.


What advice do you have for women seeking to make a career change or re-enter the workforce after an absence?
Work in your passion. Think about what you loved to do as a child, what you dreamed about as a teenager, and work in that field. If you received a degree in accounting, but adore animals, become a bookkeeper for vet clinics and hospitals. If you love fashion and you’re always complimented on your sense of style, offer to edit closets of executive women and put together outfits for them. Go back to school if you need to amp-up your skill set. It’s never too late!

I believe that you have to do things that are totally different. You can’t just put your head down at work and shift from fear to faith. To turn up the volume on my courageous inner voice and confidently move through my work, I get away from the office. I travel to far-flung places with my teenage daughter Roxy. Every morning before she wakes up, I pull out my journal and write about our adventures and record my intuitive feelings. Getting away gives me perspective and I can once again find my true nature. In the mornings in Santa Fe, where I live, I hike with my dog Rufus before work. A lot comes to me on the trail. I want to invite everyone to find a way to quiet their mind and become available to that intuitive voice to guides you towards courageous decisions.

What resources do you recommend for women who seek to navigate their careers fearlessly?
In terms of books, I think every woman should read The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know. And, regardless of your gender, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom is a must for anyone who wants to be fearless in life and business. My favorite organization for businesswomen is The Girl’s Lounge.


Connect with Robin Fisher Roffer
Facebook Page
Twitter: @RobinRoffer


Brand strategist and storyteller, Robin Fisher Roffer has provided the rocket fuel that has launched and evolved dozens of media brands all over the world such as A&E, Animal Planet, CNN, Comedy Central, Discovery, FX, Hallmark Channel, History, Lifetime, MTV, and TNT.

As Founder and CEO of Big Fish Marketing, Inc., she leads an award-winning creative team adept at unearthing a brand’s essence and filter, its look, feel and tagline, market positioning, value proposition and key messaging to both consumers and the trade.

With a mission to inspire professionals to fearlessly reach their potential, Robin has authored four books, including Make a Name for Yourself: 8 Steps Every Woman Needs to Create a Personal Brand Strategy for Success (now available on audible) and Your No Fear Career.


Becoming a Healer in Midlife: Mary’s Story

After suffering from hearing and learning challenges in youth, it would take the loss of her daughter and of her father for Mary to begin her journey of healing, and wake up to her life’s mission.

Tell us about your background.
My family life was somewhat typical of the ‘60s and ‘70s. We lived in Glenview, IL. My mother and father met on a blind date when they were in their early 20s and were married one year later. They showered us, their seven children, with unconditional love.

I was a happy baby, a curious observer of life, and early on believed that all things were somehow connected. My mom says that I was always talking to spirits and trees and bugs, and playing with imaginary friends. But I was also born a “blue baby.” I didn’t breathe for six minutes, and my mother was always convinced that those six minutes caused my hearing loss. (Little did we know that I would one day devote my life to transformation through breathwork and become the founder of a modality called Whalebreathing!)

When I was almost three, my mom became aware that my speech was not developing as it had in my older siblings. I was frustrated and angry when people could not understand what I was trying to communicate. In addition to hearing loss, I was diagnosed with a “perceptual language disorder.” When speech therapy did not provide the expected improvement, I continued to get more and more frustrated, feeling increasingly disconnected from the outer world, having more temper tantrums, and still not able to talk clearly. I know there were probably days my mom was stretched to her limit, but she never treated me as someone broken or disabled.

Family photo in my youth (I’m on the left, standing next to my dad)

At age five, I was diagnosed with a high-frequency hearing loss—when people talked to me, I could hear them, but not hear many of the consonants, only vowels. Trying to understand speech was exhausting and learning to speak was also challenging. I got hearing aids and continued with speech therapy.

In 1964, with the blessing of my mom, my father decided to join a troubled business (Edlong Dairy Technologies) that was going bankrupt. That decision changed all of our lives. By 1970, the company, which produces flavors for the dairy industry, was doing great and my father was part owner; he would eventually become sole owner. The company continues to thrive.

My parents’ marriage ultimately ended and my mother launched her own business as a Jung therapist.

I started school in 1966 when there were far fewer resources for a person with special needs. I always felt like some kind of experiment, as professionals would try this or that in an attempt to see what would work. I really disliked school because I never seemed to grasp what they were trying to teach me. I withdrew into myself, which was easier to do once I chose not to wear the hearing aids—they overwhelmed my sensory world. I had a lot of siblings, and it was very noisy at home. I didn’t realize that not wearing them was allowing me to connect more to my intuition and now wonder if I was supposed to develop that other part of me.

Because I was always in the lowest groups in reading, math, and science, I decided early on that I was stupid and felt a great deal of shame and self-pity. At 10 years old, my parents became concerned because I was not keeping up in school and had me tested again. Because I tested so poorly, the school district recommended I be sent to a school where there was a specialist who worked with the hearing impaired. The school was located about 45 minutes from my home and required me to ride a special bus.

While at first, I was excited about this change, this did not last. Riding the special bus made me feel abnormal and ashamed. My new classmates were mean and made fun of the way I talked. I stayed in that school for three years and became very depressed and introverted.

When I started high school and reconnected with my old neighborhood friends, my social life became more important than the academics. I decided that there was no one who could help me to learn and dreamed of living with animals, ideally whales and dolphins.

My high school graduation photo

Everyone expected me to go to college but I did not believe in myself so I found a residential two-year college where I mostly learned how to party and have fun; I barely got my associate degree. When I transferred to a four-year college, I ended up at a huge university and, at 21, decided to quit school.

I went home and worked at a bagel restaurant, where I had a terrible experience. Sometimes it would get crowded and loud. I had a regular customer who came in daily, and I always made mistakes on his order. One day, he started yelling at me and said, “What is wrong with you, are you stupid?” I was shocked and said, “No, I am hearing impaired.” He said, “Why don’t you wear a sign and warn people?” and stormed away. I felt ashamed and angry, but I also felt a new determination to get an education and change my life.

My younger sister, Paula, who is learning disabled, was at Barat College (now closed), where they had special help for people with learning disabilities. She was aware of my frustration with school and encouraged me to enroll in her program. I was scared and felt like I was too stupid to learn but, as she encouraged me and shared her pain, it helped me to understand my own. She got me to take the next step by acknowledging my talent and strength and believing in me.

At 22, I applied and took three days of testing to help the school determine my learning challenges. When the results came back, the specialist said, “You have a severe learning disability and our goal will be to get your development up to date. Your whole life, they treated you as hearing impaired but did not address the LD issues, which explains your frustration in school. It’s not that you cannot learn; it’s how you learn, which is primarily visually.” The specialist explained that my reading level was at grade two and my reading comprehension was at grade three. I sat there stunned and hurt, but I was also angry and wondered what people had been doing for the past 15 years of my education. How did I get this far with all these challenges and not get the help that would have made such a difference in my life? I cried all the way home.

With a friend in college

Barat College did an excellent job of convincing me that I could succeed there and that they could help me to compensate for all that I had lost. They focused on my strengths. They had a note taker and tutor for me in every class and a person to read textbooks with me. I also met with an LD specialist three times a week for one hour. I was at school from 8 am to 8 or 9 pm and worked very hard.

While others’ belief in me kept me from giving up, I was also frustrated because even putting forth my best effort, I would walk away with a C+ and hear someone else had aced a test having just read the chapter the night before. My LD specialist knew I needed to be encouraged or she would lose me. In those days, very few hearing-impaired students graduated college. When I didn’t think I could make it through the final stretch, she asked me a lot of questions about how I saw myself, what my challenges had taught me, and how I could help others on similar journeys. She gave me the opportunity to see my unique strengths and new possibilities. I ended up finishing school with a 3.0 grade point average, which was wonderful for me. I never will forget what it felt like on graduation day, hearing my name and walking up to receive my diploma. My huge family was there, applauding me. My heart was filled with so much love and happiness; I had reached a goal that I truly never thought I would.

Graduating college

I graduated when I was 25 years old, started working as a lab technician, but soon developed classic symptoms of depression. I had no energy, no appetite, and had difficulty getting out of bed in the morning. The transition to the work world was difficult and I sought out resources to help with the change. I, fortunately, found my way to a Jungian Analyst, where working with the unconscious and the dream world was the primary focus. My analyst also helped me identify destructive inner messages. Through this work, I realized I did not see myself working in an office environment.

I loved the idea of connecting with, and being of service to, people and animals and nature. I ended my time as a lab technician about a year later and traveled across the country by myself. My journey took me to the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, a retreat center in California where I lived for about a week. I meditated with the students early each morning, a difficult exercise, but one I was able to embrace. Although I cannot hear birds when I do not wear my hearing aids, during one meditation, I kept hearing the sound of an owl. Leaving the meditation hall that morning, I spotted a huge white owl in a tree, looking straight at me. When I got home, I told my analyst that I felt the owl represented wisdom and that I needed to trust the wisdom of my journey.

Interestingly, in my life today, when I get off track, an owl frequently appears in my path. That initial experience happened about 18 years ago, and in the interim, five more owls have appeared. It seems to me that guidance is present in our lives if we are open to seeing it.

There were times when I desperately needed that guidance. I married in 2002 and my husband and I lost our first baby, whom I had named Catherine Rose. I’ll never forget the night my milk came in and the grief that engulfed me knowing my child was really gone. My husband was very present with me that night and supported me in a way that helped me see what a good man he was. Then I lost my dad in 2007 and went through a frightening time, certain that I had lost the one human being who would love me no matter what. My husband and I had a second child, a daughter we named Elyse, but the losses I’d experienced took a toll on us. We grew more and more emotionally distant from one another, and our marriage ended in 2009.

With Catherine Rose

I had to reflect on a new career that would support my child and allow me the freedom to explore my calling. Working at my family’s business gave me that freedom. I had many jobs there, from scraping paint off the floor, then working in production, operations, marketing, sales, and eventually in Human Resources doing staff development, orientation, and recruiting.

When did you start to think about making a change?
The loss of my daughter, Catherine Rose, in 2003, woke me up to my life’s work. Through my grief, I found a strength and courage I never realized I had. This lesson from my daughter was a gift—I can share strength and courage as I walk beside others and be a companion to their grief. I became whole again, yet I was not the same.

When I was pregnant with my second baby, I was aware of how much I needed to connect with my unresolved grief. I had come to a roadblock in my life after losing my dog and best friend and father all in 18 months. I was also overwhelmed with grief about the baby I lost. I was so afraid and I did not want my second child to feel this.

After my second daughter, Elyse, was born in 2004, I felt somewhat depressed and wondered what to do with my life. I still worked at the family business yet didn’t feel it was my passion. I picked up a book called The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement, by Eliyahu Goldratt and Jeff Cox, that asked me to think about when I felt at my best and most excited about life. I realized that I was my happiest when I taught others about their own lessons and that healing my own grief could allow me to help others.

With Elyse, as a young mom

In 2008, I experienced energy work for the first time. After one session, I felt clear and more present than I had in years and knew I wanted to integrate this work into my practice. As I continued my own healing, I discovered energy work and the power of breath. I thought about how I started life without breath, and how that lead to my deafness and my relationship with silence, and would ultimately lead me to become a breath coach. I started to embrace my challenges as gifts, and my path became very clear as I just kept following the passion.

I stayed at my family’s business until its 100th-anniversary party in December 2014. I was 52 years old. By then it was clear to me that my work was meant to be about supporting women to find their true, authentic selves. I knew it was time for me to make a positive change, and even though I was petrified, my spirit was calling and I had no choice but to follow it.

What is your next act?
I am a life coach and founder of an energy modality called Whalebreathing. I established Blooming Rose Healing (the name honors the memory of my daughter Catherine Rose) in 2013 in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, at age 51. I created this center to support women through the process of transformation, especially those challenged by stress, anxiety, or disease. I help them see the gift of their own personal story and use that knowledge to more fully embrace the authentic person they are becoming.

As a healer, I share the gift of my own story as well. My deafness taught me to be present and intuitive and communicate on many non-verbal levels. These skills benefit my healing work because I have to be completely present in order to hear my clients. By doing this, I teach my clients how to do it. Instead of trying to meet the hearing world, my job is to teach the hearing world to meet me in my presence and focus.


How do you work with clients?
I first do an assessment and watch their breathing patterns to get a sense where their body is. Once I understand that, we decide together on a plan to help them become more centered and grounded. My work is about educating people on how to align on three levels: mental, emotional, and spiritual.

As an example, I had a client with lung cancer. She was very distressed with the diagnosis. I did an assessment and we decided on six sessions to help her go through this process. As we connected to her body, we entered a world of deep grief for her father and also a fear of dying. She had been affected by the Holocaust and had lost her father. She’d also been taken from her family at age five, lived in many counties, and didn’t reconnect to her mom until age 18. As I helped her reconnect to her trauma and loss, her cancer went into remission. She told me her diagnosis had felt like a death sentence until she realized it was a gift. We allowed her body to communicate to her, which led to her reclaiming her well-being. She continues to be well.

A client in a Whalebreathing session

How did you go from your vision to making your goals a reality?
First I had to heal the old wounds I still carried as a result of my deafness. People who are deaf struggle with isolation. It’s so frustrating and exhausting to stay connected to others. I was constantly trying to be in a world that was impossible for me. It was like trying to make a monkey into a dog.

One day I heard an inner voice telling me to listen to the lyrics of a song called White Bird. It’s about a white bird who sits in her cage all alone, who must fly or she will die. My deafness and isolation have been that cage, and I knew I had to find a way to free myself. I could only do this by finding the gift in it.

I began my exploration by training for three years in with the Energy Touch School, founded by Tricia Eldridge, eventually earning a certification. During this time, I noticed that when I hit upon areas of trauma when working with clients, they would stop breathing. This increased my interest in breath work and led me to study Transformational Breath Foundation, launched by Judith Kravitz. I’m now working toward a certification in this modality as well.

I pursued my childhood interest in dolphins and whales and marine life by taking whale watching trips and eventually attended a Cetacean Summit in Hawaii. That really ignited my passion and I began volunteering for these retreats.

All of this led to the creation of my practice as the “whale whisperer of the Midwest” and my mission to bring whale energy to landlocked areas.

Petting a gray whale on my retreat

How did you set up and promote your new business?
I started by listening to my own inner voice and trusting, which was not always easy. I did a lot of my own breathing and connecting to myself so I could stay grounded and integrated through my own fears. I believe once we take that leap we also say ourselves, “I am truly ready to meet my fears around worthiness, financial fears, and my authentic self.” I came across amazing people who understand the work involved in creating a business around a vision. I worked with people from Just In Time Direction and One Complete Business who helped me execute my dream. My first client came when I was in training. I still have many clients from those early days and appreciate their dedication to themselves and their growth.

I promote my work through my WhaleBreathing workshops, which are based on Transformational Breath and Energy Touch. I do classes all around the Chicagoland area, blog, write newsletters, and hold events to give people the sense of just being.

What challenges did you encounter?
My biggest challenge was myself. Thankfully, I had people who saw my gifts before I was able to and believed in me before I did. My first encounter with a humpback whale taught me so much about the power of being. Before that trip, I was working with my mentor, who was an Energy Touch Practitioner. She told me to visualize a whale in front of me. She pointed out how much energy this whale had to have in order to hold his body together and swim. She asked me to claim that energy within myself and allow myself to be as powerful. Then I went to Fiji and met my first whale in the water. I was petrified! I jumped on my guide’s back and almost drowned him. That experience was challenging, but today I jump in the waters and dance with these amazing gentle beings, who teach me what it is we need to walk this journey called life.

In the water with whales

Figuring out my pricing was also tricky for me because of my big heart, but I realized this is my work; I have to put food on the table and feed my family. So I researched others who do similar work and came up with packages and a plan.

How supportive were your friends and family?  
I realized I could only surround myself with people who believed in me and in my vision. I was scared and had the voice of “You will never pull this off.” And it would have been very easy to turn back and not do this, but it also would have been more painful. Somewhere in me, I knew it was time to make the change and once I decided, all the love and support fell into place. I could not have done this without the love and support, and for that, I am so grateful.

Current photo with my mother and siblings

What have you learned about yourself in this process?
I learned that it takes a huge amount of courage to walk through fear. I learned that even if I have voices in my head that do not believe in me, I can honor those voices without giving them power. I learned how to become the witness of my own life and watch it unfold. I learned how to breathe and how to heal through transition. It’s not about the goal, but about the journey. That’s where you learn the great lessons in life. I learned that it is ok to be afraid and that it too will pass.

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?
Surround yourself with love and knowledge and support. We are all powerful beings who deserve to be happy and embrace our gifts.

For those who do not know their gifts or goals, just go back to your own story and remember when you shone, remember when life just felt great, and recall what it was you were doing that made you so happy.

When I was young and innocent, my love was about connecting to the earth and its animals. I wanted to be in the water with whales and be a part of their life. I never in my dreams thought it would be about being a breathwork practitioner, founder of Whalebreathing, supporting others in achieving their own dreams and change. Believe in your dreams, and allow them to direct you to your authentic self.

When you make the decision to change your life, know that it is normal to feel resistance and negativity. Find a great mentor to walk this path with you, one who can be completely honest with where you are. I work with people all the time who have made huge changes in their life, and no one yet has died from it.

I remember an idea that resonated with me. It went something like this, “When we start to experience boredom, the soul life is ready for a change, so be the change you want to be in the world.” I continue to work toward finding my authentic self and allowing that change in my life.  My work is all about that process, and grief lets us know what we need to let go of in order to take the next step on our own beautiful and unique journey.

Going to meet the whales

What advice do you have for women interested in becoming energy practitioners?
Whatever path you are guided to take, you’ll be required to look at yourself and walk through your blockages. People who really want to help others need to start from within and be brutally honest with themselves. The interesting part of my life was that I was a victim first because of my deafness, yet when I chose to see that as a gift, my life changed drastically and I started doing the work I am here to do. Trust your own healing first.

What resources do you recommend?
The books I recommend are:
Bruce Lipton, The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter & Miracles
Carolyn Myss, Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing
Rudolf Steiner, How to Know Higher Worlds: A Modern Path of Initiation
Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

What’s next for you?
I’m always open to what’s next. I’m traveling a lot and studying and watching the whales as they teach me more about breath and the energy field. I’m also feeling a strong pull toward researching the soul and what it really is in the human being. I’m writing and will probably publish a book from this journey. I’m also getting out in the world more, speaking about the importance of harmony and how to access it.


Connect with Mary Rondenet:



Let’s Hear From an Expert: Cathi Hanauer, Novelist and Editor of The Bitch Is Back

Photo Credit: Phoebe Jones

You’ve released a new compilation of essays called The Bitch Is Back, featuring many of the writers from your first anthology, the New York Times bestseller The Bitch in the House. What was your motivation behind your new book?

The first anthology, The Bitch in the House, had come out at a time in my life when I was angry and overwhelmed. Since then, I’d gone from a young, harried, struggling working mother with too much to manage and do, to a happy, middle-aged working mother with a ton of gratitude for my very nice life. And while a lot of that outcome was due to luck and privilege, a significant other part resulted, I felt, from having been true to what I wanted all along, to have really done the work of digging deep and trying to figure out things and ask for things and get things, even if they bucked the norm. And I knew the same was true of my friends—some of whom were contributors to Bitch 1 (as I now call The Bitch in the House).

For example, one contributor had gotten out of her problematic marriage and then married a much more suitable guy who happened to be 20 years younger; another contributor, who had been single and searching in Bitch 1, had since gotten married and had a child. Other women had taken other steps, some large, some small—changing partners or careers, having a child on their own, transitioning from male to female, going on anti-depressants, taking up new things in life…or just accepting the limitations of the lives they had chosen and developing a new perspective on it.

I wanted to be able to tell some of those stories—what happens AFTER those hard, Bitch 1 years? Do things get better, easier, less stressful? If so, why and how? What have we learned? And I wanted to do a book that wasn’t about anger, but about wisdom and enlightenment and gratitude. That makes the book sound very new-agey, which it’s not at ALL—it has the same edge as Bitch 1—but it’s a book about getting through those hard years and into the next phase, with the specifics of how a number of women—nine from Bitch 1, the rest new ones—did that. And with the advantage that many of these contributors are top writers or editors—so, people who are paid to think about and articulate these things in an interesting way. In other words, the book has an element of literature, too, of real, and impressive, writing.


How will this book speak to women in midlife and beyond?
I probably answered that in my long-winded answer above! But the book offers both wisdom and specific stories about middle-age, in topics ranging from breast cancer and sexuality to sex after 60 (by the amazing Sarah Crichton, whose husband dumping her was the best thing to ever happen to her), to no longer caring about your weight, to whether or not to do artificial things to your face, to how a marriage changes from the time of a baby being born into it to that baby leaving for college….lots of topics.

What are some of the challenges and opportunities facing us as we age, as heard through the voices of your writers?
Where to start? First, just the physical challenge of aging—how our health, looks, sexuality, perspective change. Then there’s marriage: how to figure out what we want from it and how to get it; how to move on if it’s wrong; how to move on if we thought it was okay but our partners didn’t agree and moved on (see Sarah Crichton, above!). How to deal with aging kids, from teenagers who are moving away from us to our kids physically leaving home. How to hold onto ourselves with the pressures of work and family. How to age into a better place, to make middle age the best years of your life rather than the beginning of the end.


What advice do you and your writers have for women as we age?
THINK. Read, question, dig deep. Go to therapy if you need to, challenge yourself…most of all, don’t become complacent (unless, of course, that works for you!). Figure out what you want, and then get it. Easier said than done, right? Be true to yourself. If you do, you are headed toward happiness and possibly the best years of your life. If you don’t… Never mind. We won’t go there.


What resources do you recommend on the topic of women and aging?
I love the new website NextTribe—smart and relevant. I love Michelle Rage’s website Rubber Shoes in Hell—hilarious and smart, and tacky in the best ways.

Books, where to start, there are so many great ones. Abigail Thomas’s What Comes Next and How to Like It—god, what a beautiful book. Almost anything by Elizabeth Strout, ditto Kate Christensen. Dani Shapiro’s sparse and lovely recent memoir Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage. If it’s not too obnoxious, my own novel, Gone, about midlife marriage and motherhood, art and depression. I recently reread A Brief History of Anxiety…Yours and Mine by Patricia Pearson—not about aging per se as about anxiety, but still about midlife, and so smart and great. There is great stuff out there.


Connect with Cathi Hanauer
Facebook Page
Twitter: @cathihanauer

Gone: A Novel
Sweet Ruin: A Novel
My Sister’s Bones
The Bitch in the House: 26 Women Tell the Truth About Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood, and Marriage
The Bitch Is Back: Older, Wiser, and (Getting) Happier

Cathi Hanauer is the New York Times bestselling author of three novels—Gone, Sweet Ruin, My Sister’s Bones—and editor of two anthologies, The Bitch in the House and The Bitch is Back. A co-founder (along with her husband, Daniel Jones) of the New York Times “Modern Love” column, she has contributed articles, essays, and reviews to The New York Times, Elle (where she’s a contributing writer), O—the Oprah MagazineReal Simple, and many other publications. She lives in Northampton, MA and New York, NY.

Supporting Parents of Adult Children: Barbara’s Story

After retiring three times, Barbara has reinvented yet again, this time seeking to bridge the divide between parents and adult children with her website and blog, Parents of Grown Offspring.

Tell us a little about your background…
I was born into a conventional middle-class, suburban American family: working father, stay-at-home mother, two children. I am now the mother of two and the grandmother of four. The only unusual features of my early years were being sent to 8-week sleep-away camp at the age of 3–and for the 13 years thereafter–and skipping my senior year of high school to start college. Looking back I seem to have been born driven, writing, and focused on the future. As proof of the third-mentioned, look no further than my last will and testament, which I wrote at the age of 8!

A portrait of me as a young girl

Although I’ve done many things in my long career, communication was the thread that connected them all. Researching, organizing, and writing an undergraduate thesis at my alma mater, Vassar College, was the very best preparation for my life as a writer. Right out of college, I joined the staff of The Book of Knowledge and then The New York Times.

After those stints, I wrote 4 non-fiction books: America Fever : The Story of American Immigration, which was inspired by my Russian-born grandfather (and put on display at the New York Public Library); Children Through the Ages, Forward March to Freedom., the civil rights leader; and Help: A Handbook for Working Mothers. More recently, I wrote two young adult novels, Animal Kingdom and Good-To-Go Café which were designed to encourage low-achieving students to aim high in the real world. These grew out of my volunteer work with would-be entrepreneurs at our local high school.

My books

Shortly after college I met my husband on a blind date and married him four months later. Making the wedding while working at a high-stress job became the subject of my first published article, “How to Get Married, Work, and Survive.” (We writers never waste an important life experience.)

My wedding day

When our younger daughter was in second grade, I joined the corporate world as a public relations practitioner, first for an energy company and then for a satellite communications firm. Upon moving from New York to California, I got in touch with my inner entrepreneur and founded my first company, Greenleaf Video, to take advantage of the how-to video craze. I ran it for several years and then was happily acquired by a public company. Upon this first retirement at the age of 47, I took classes in every craft known to woman: among them basket and fabric weaving, quilting, calligraphy, knitting, bookbinding, and paper folding. I also studied the piano, the ukulele, specialty hors-d’oeuvres, organic cooking, Pilates, and yoga. I was pretty bad at almost all of it, except for quilting, which I still do.

Eventually, my happy housewife phase petered out and I found myself putting on a suit and high heels to do the dishes. That’s when I knew it was time to go back to work. While volunteering for a political campaign, I met the head of a major accounting firm, who then hired me as a PR consultant. Strategic Communications/LA was born. I was fortunate in attracting such wonderful clients as Price Waterhouse, the RAND Corporation, the Santa Monica Pier, and the Southern California SPCA. It was during this phase that I wrote speeches, which turned out to be my favorite genre and earned me spots in Vital Speeches of the Day and a “Best Speech in Los Angeles” award. After 10 years, I split the company into two parts, found buyers, and retired again at 57.

During this second attempt at retirement, I played golf, became an environmental activist, and founded and ran the Santa Barbara Jewish Film Festival. After some time and some soul-searching on a milestone birthday, I realized I missed working for money. That led me to resuscitate Strategic Communications. I drew on my network of social contacts to reboot, and among my initial clients was Antioch University Santa Barbara.

When the school had an opening for a fundraiser and event planner, I was invited to apply and, lo and behold, I was hired! I got a big kick out of my lovely office, being part of a team, dressing for work again, having business lunches, being accepted by the younger staff (and they were all younger), and learning a lot about higher ed. It was truly a shot in the arm for me at this stage of my life. Alas, after a few years, circumstances at the university changed, so I retired for the third time at 73.


When did you start to think about making yet another fresh start?
I had been thinking of creating a blog/website for some time, but my third retirement was undoubtedly the catalyst for finally pulling it together. Over the years friends had shared their heartaches, happiness, and their own growing pains during that confusing time of life when their children left home, returned home, or started their own families.

As a historian interested in the evolution of human feeling and a mother myself, I began to ponder if there was any purpose to the nuclear family today once the children had grown up and gone their separate ways. In the past there was a definite connection: The generations often lived under the same roof, tilled the soil communally, or ran the family business together. Today, matters are much less clear-cut. In fact, parents and children often have very different expectations of their roles vis-à-vis one another, which leads to a lot of misunderstanding and hurt feelings.


What is your next act?
I feel my mission in life is now to help parents have a more fulfilling relationship with their adult children. My blog/website Parents of Grown Offspring (to remember, think “POGO”), which I recently launched at 73, celebrates intergenerational success stories, suggests ways to heal rifts, and lets parents know they are not alone or the only ones encountering problems with their grown “kids.”

Basically, there are three parts to our content. The first, “Think About It,” contains sticky situations à la Dear Abby, only the readers propose the solutions themselves. The second consists of interviews with experts and research on such sore-spot subjects as intergenerational communication (or lack thereof), how to give advice and when to zip it, and how to set limits when your child comes home to live. In the third, we offer cartoons, poems, movie reviews, songs, and jokes about parents and their adult children.

Designed to be interactive, POGO encourages readers to help each other by sharing their own experiences and tips for an improved relationship. As I am not looking to make money from the blog, signups are free and come with The Ten Best Things You Can Say to Your Adult Child.

At work on my blog

How hard was it to take the plunge?
As a serial entrepreneur, it was not difficult for me to start a new project. But, before I did any writing for the blog, I thoroughly searched the Internet to see if there were already websites devoted solely to my topic. I can’t stress strongly enough how important (and yet how often not undertaken) it is to do “due diligence,” i.e., your homework. If you have a copycat product, your chances of success are slim. In my case, I couldn’t find anything devoted specifically to my topic, which is when I knew I had a unique niche to fill.


How supportive were your family and friends?
When I told the family about POGO, my husband was immediately supportive. A real trooper, he’s always there for me, no matter how off-the-wall my ideas! Our older daughter was also enthusiastic, offering to do a podcast about the benefits of having a mother with whom to commiserate about bringing up “unusual” children like her. Our younger daughter, however, was cool to the idea. She felt the subject matter and tone of the blog were negative. After hearing her reaction, I looked at my initial material with fresh eyes and agreed that, indeed, the site reeked of exasperation. I went back to the drawing board to make it more solution-oriented and to highlight successes as well as frustrations.

As to friends, by now they expect me to always have some new project brewing. Although when I took my last full-time job, well past the age when most people have retired, one woman did exclaim, “Barbara, what’s wrong with you?!”

Recent family reunion at a Santa Barbara beach, celebrating my birthday

What challenges have you encountered?
In the months preceding the launch, it was a hard slog to put together so many original articles because my web designer felt POGO should look like a going concern from Day 1. Since then I’ve been finding that researching and writing while spreading the word and keeping up with social media is a lot more work than I had anticipated. But by far my biggest bugaboo is the technology. I have no aptitude for, nor interest in, things electronic, yet here I am operating in a digital world. I’ve committed to becoming more computer literate, but I’ll probably always need a lot of propping up. I also find it a little creepy doing business in the silent world of computers without any aural interaction. I’m afraid I’m going to become one of those crazy ladies who strike up conversations with strangers on the checkout line just to hear the sound of another human voice!


What did you learn about yourself in this process?
I thought I was empathic before, but I’ve become much more compassionate toward parents, who have been given an impossible set of standards to live up to. I see my mission as giving them a big group hug accompanied by the assurance, “I appreciate all you’ve done and are doing. I celebrate you not just on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day but all year round. You showed up for your families.”

With my grandson

Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
I should have left my last full-time position as soon as it became apparent that I could never fix what needed fixing. It’s not wrong to say, “It’s not my job,” but somehow we women often feel an enormous—and misguided—sense of responsibility to try to make things right. I should have listened to my gut feelings.


What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?
Make “What the hell!” your motto. At this stage of life, there’s little at stake; no one cares if you try and fail or try and lose interest. Give it a go, get what you can out it, and when it’s time to stop, stop. If you can afford it, undertake only what interests you and what feels right. I like participating in the world because I conceptualize life as a piggy bank: You have to put in to take out. My mother started to suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease when she was younger than I am and slowly deteriorated for 15 years. Given that family history, I’m grateful (and amazed) every day that I still have the brainpower to do what I love—work.


What advice do I have for those interested in pursuing your reinvention path?
Altruism does not come free. There are many start-up costs and ongoing fees associated with creating and maintaining a blog/website, not to mention Facebook ads and other social media boosts to build your list of followers. Unless you are remarkably adept at website design, know the ins and outs of the Internet, and live and breathe social media, you are going to need help and that help is going to cost. Even if you are doing this as a labor of love as I am, you have to face the fact that at some point you may have to monetize your site. You will also have to pay to get out the word because, as one blogger warned me, “If you build it, they may not come.”

What resources do you recommend?

I Only Say This Because I Love You: How the Way We Talk Can Make or Break Family Relationships Throughout Our Lives by Deborah Tannen. The classic on intergenerational communications.

You’re Wearing That?: Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation by Deborah Tannen. Drilling down to particularly fraught interactions.

Setting Boundaries® with Your Adult Children: Six Steps to Hope and Healing for Struggling Parents by Allison Bottke. A tough love approach with a Christian perspective.

When Will My Grown-Up Kid Grow Up?: Loving and Understanding Your Emerging Adult by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, Ph.D. and Elizabeth Fishel. For parents whose children are 18-29.

When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don’t Get Along by Joshua Coleman, Ph.D. You’ll find a lot of fresh, sensible, and actionable advice here.

Walking on Eggshells: Navigating the Delicate Relationship Between Adult Children and Parents by Jane Isay. Heartfelt wisdom shared parent-to-parent.


Grown and Flown. Insights for parents whose kids are just entering or just leaving college.

Next Avenue. PBS site with some articles on parents and their adult children.

Ga Ga Sisterhood: Grandmothers’ site with some articles on interacting with daughters-in-law and other aspects of intergenerational relationships.

Empowering Parents. Some articles on dealing with young adults.


What’s next for you? Do you have another next act in your future?
I sincerely hope not. I have ambitious goals for Parents of Grown Offspring that should keep me busy until the end of my days. I want to create an awareness that parenting grown children is a separate stage of life—with its own pitfalls, protocols, and opportunities—and initiate a national dialogue on responsibilities and reasonable expectations on both sides of the parent/adult child divide.

I’ve also acquired a new passion, assemblage, so perhaps I’ll be the Grandma Moses of art from found objects. I scour thrift shops and tag sales for odd items that will add interest to my pieces. Tellingly, no matter how disparate my pieces, they always seem to include at least some writing. As I just told a young audience at Girls Inc., if you cut open my veins, words will come tumbling out . . .


Connect with Barbara Greenleaf
Twitter: @bkgreenleaf

Becoming a Physician Assistant in Midlife: Michelle’s Story

After 16 years of teaching high school wellness, Michelle felt ready for a greater challenge to leverage her interest in health. After much planning and preparation, she is now studying to become a Physician Assistant, and loving the journey.

Tell us a little about your background…

I am a married, 41-year-old mother of two boys, ages 6 and 8. I received my BA in health and physical education in 1996 from Ohio Northern University (Ada, Ohio) and taught in the greater Cincinnati area for four years before moving to Chicago.

I finished my Master’s in Education in 2002 and taught at New Trier High School in Winnetka, IL for 12 years. I taught in the Kinetic Wellness department, which, in most schools, is better known as health and physical education. My primary teaching assignment was health education (sex education and personal fitness) but I also taught team sports and women’s health and fitness. In addition, I was very active in departmental activities: I was the sophomore health course coordinator, sat on the hiring committee and the policies and procedures committee, and more.

My boys

When did you start to think about making a change?

When each of my sons was born, I took a leave of absence from my job to spend time with them in their infancy months. With my second child, I did not feel that magical “pull” to return to work. Teaching had started to feel like Groundhog Day, every day; I could do pretty much anything and everything on autopilot. While this made work very easy, it also made it exceptionally boring.

Compounding this issue, I often felt like a second-class citizen at my high school because I did not teach what they considered a “solid” class, like English or math.

I am very curious about health, wellness, and disease, and if I couldn’t use my skills and talents in the classroom, I felt I should find other avenues where I could make a difference. It doesn’t help that I don’t have a lot of confidence in our state and federal government when it comes to public education—be it classroom funding, standardized assessments, or funding pensions. It was clearly time for me to leave teaching.

What is your next act?

I am a member of the 2017 Rush University Physician Assistant Studies cohort. Upon completion of the program and after passing the licensing exam, I will be certified as a Physician Assistant (PA) and will be able to practice medicine as a member of a collaborative team of healthcare providers.

I will become a PA-C, which stands for Physician Assistant – Certified. In every state, in order to practice as a PA, one must take and pass the PANCE (Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam) for initial certification and also take and pass the PANRE (Physician Assistant National Recertifying Exam) every 10 years. Additionally, in order to maintain their license, a PA must accumulate a specified number of continuing education hours each year, as defined by their state licensing board.

Rush’s program is 30 months to complete as it has the unique 6-month advanced practice rotation. Participating in a program structured like this, the graduate is prepared with both strong generalist skills and proficiency in an area of advanced practice. Most other PA programs are 24-27 months (Northwestern is 24, Midwestern is 27, Rosalind Franklin is 24 months).

Despite having very intense academic demands, I can honestly say that I am so happy I made this decision. I love studying medicine and science, learning how disease processes work, using critical thinking and reasoning to arrive at potential diagnoses, and beginning to formulate treatment plans. On the downside, there are days where all I feel I do is study, go to class, eat, study, then pass out from exhaustion – but I realize that this stage is temporary and so worth it! The volume of information and the speed at which it is disseminated is completely unreal; for example, our dermatology unit lasted one week where we spent five days in the classroom, had six Powerpoint sessions with over 650 slides, then had our exam. And, keep in mind that was only for one course! The volume and pacing is just brutal and, at times, I think to myself “how on earth am I going to remember all this?” but then I do review sessions for my certifying exam (two years down the road) and surprise myself with how much I actually know!

Study Carrel at Rush

There has been a huge growth in demand for PAs and in applications to PA schools. Why is that?

Implementing team-based, collaborative care coupled with the influx of more patients to the health care system (likely due to the Affordable Care Act) has emphasized the need for flexibility in care delivery to best meet the needs of patients. PAs are utilized in many areas of healthcare: seeing patients in clinic for routine or acute needs, rounding on patients in hospitals, assisting in surgery, performing various procedures, and providing patient education – often autonomously, but with collaboration from their partner physician.

Becoming a physician assistant, versus an MD, requires fewer years of study while still allowing you to assume a lot of responsibility in the field of medicine and rewarding you with an attractive salary. In addition, job opportunities are plentiful. According to a recent Forbes article, physician assistant studies is ranked the number one best master’s degree for finding a job. Here is a link to the US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics regarding PA salaries, requirements, outlook, etc. While I can’t speak for other institutions, the program director at Rush did tell us she typically receives six job inquiries from potential employers per student. Currently, 100% of Rush graduates are employed within six months of graduation. Many secure jobs even before they graduate.

With PA Students, in the ER department at Rush

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

I knew I wanted to do something in medicine, so I initially considered medical school to become a physician. After doing some research and talking to MDs and PAs, it became quite clear to me that the role of a PA was best suited for me. Knowing I would want to start school when I was 41, had I gone the MD route, I would not have begun practicing medicine until I was 50 and then I would have spent the next decade (or more!) paying off medical school debt.

Also, having had the opportunity to gain work experience and learn about the roles various individuals play in team settings, I am very comfortable with assuming a great deal of autonomy within the medical setting but am also comfortable serving as an adjunct in various settings.

Knowing that admission to PA school would be extremely competitive, I had to consider backup options. In the event I did not get into PA school, I also applied (and was accepted) to the Generalist Entry Master’s (GEM) program at Rush University, which would have awarded me a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) and allowed me to sit for the registered nurse (RN) licensure test. I could then choose to complete further studies to become a nurse practitioner (NP), an RN with advanced training in diagnosing and treating illness.

For me, there were three main drawbacks to this backup route. First, the didactic and clinical preparation for PAs and RNs is pretty different: PA school follows a medical model and approaches medicine as an organ-disease system, whereas RNs are trained under a nursing model and approach medicine as more of a lifespan issue. For the most part it means that PAs are trained like doctors and use basic sciences as a foundation for their diagnostic reasoning in the care of patients: They determine the workup, analyze how the patient presents (signs/symptoms), order and interpret various tests (labs, imaging, etc), create a differential diagnosis list (possible underlying causes for the chief complaint), then formulate a treatment plan. I mean no disrespect when I say this next part, but nurses are trained to care for the patients they receive while in the hospital. A patient is admitted to their unit and assigned to them. The nurse follows the orders as prescribed by the MD/PA/NP and takes care of the patient on a moment-to-moment basis.

Second, after completing the MSN program and becoming an RN, I would have to spend a bit of time as a floor/shift nurse before I could work toward becoming an NP. I was not so keen on this work. As a floor nurse, you work three shifts a week for 12 hours at a time and every other weekend. While the responsibility is great, the opportunity to actually make decisions regarding the care of the patient is pretty low. As a physician or a PA, you look at the data given and use your physical/mental assessments to make decisions about the workup and treatment plan. The nurse follows your orders/plans. If something should change in the patient’s status, you have to call the provider and await his or her decision to modify care plans, and sometimes they’re not so nice about this—especially when you’re calling them at 3 am! When I became a Certified Nursing Assistant to get the required patient experience, I learned that while the majority of the providers who saw patients on our unit were tremendously kind, there were some that were just rude and condescending.

The job of floor/shift nurse can be exceptionally grueling, both physically and mentally. I think nurses must possess a very special skill set of caring and compassion, above and beyond what is typically provided by the MD/PA. Nurses are absolutely brilliant caregivers and the best ones have a knack for knowing what to say, how to say it, and when to say it. I know, this sounds really “intangible” if you will. From my experience as a nursing assistant, I saw so many wonderful nurses be able to provide such wonderful care to patients and their families in this manner. I also realize that they do it so much better than I could ever do it!

All in all, in order to work in the capacity that I wanted to, PA school would ultimately be less expensive and take less time, not to mention give me the intensity and focus I was seeking.

Studying in our driveway, while watching our boys

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

By nature, I am a planner. I need to understand processes, chart a course to arrive at my destination, and do lots of preparation to stave off disaster or failure. Once I made the decision to go for it, I began researching, first figuring out which schools in the Chicago area offered PA studies and then learning what I would need to do to present a competitive application.

I had to retake some courses (anatomy and physiology, psychology) and take several for the first time (general chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, probability, and statistics). I completed these at City Colleges of Chicago and College of DuPage. Since I hadn’t touched most of these subjects in 20 years, I didn’t mind having to do all this work. Furthermore, my undergraduate GPA was a 3.0 so these additional undergraduate hours (with straight As) would significantly strengthen the academic portion of my resume for my application. Because I had to fit these prerequisites into my schedule, which also included working full-time and being a wife and mom, I took these courses part-time. It took me from spring 2012 through fall 2014 to complete all these class requirements.

As part of the PA application, I also had to gain direct patient contact experience. While there are many ways to do this, I chose to become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) and work at a hospital. Knowing that, I decided to leave teaching in the spring of 2013 so I could acquire as many hours as possible, since most schools really like to see 1,000 hours on the resume.

Shadowing physicians or PAs was another required activity for application. I was able to shadow in internal medicine, infectious diseases, obstetrics and gynecology, and interventional radiology. It was easy to find MDs to shadow but PAs were virtually impossible, as most of the PAs with whom I am acquainted work for medical groups that do not allow shadowing. Ideally, one of the MDs/PAs you shadow should write one of your letters of recommendation. In any event, the experience should shed light on the role that the PA plays in the healthcare team.

Finally, I had to take the GRE, a graduate admissions test, which is basically a math and English test. I had to prepare intensively for the GRE because it had been decades (literally!) since I had done many of the math problems I would be required to solve. I spent 6-8 weeks with a Princeton Review manual to ready myself.

Medical volunteers at Chicago’s Rock’n Roll Half Marathon

What was it like to go back to school to get your prerequisites?

Rarely did I have same-age peers in my classes. I think my background in teaching was exceptionally helpful in forming connections with my classmates. I was often the one organizing study groups outside of class. Also, since many of my peers were taking these classes for the first time, I was able to help them begin to develop good study habits such as creating/using mnemonics and making effective flashcards. I have kept in touch with several of my lab partners and study buddies from my courses.

The other students and my professors were very welcoming. Again, after being on the other side of the lectern, I understand the importance of building good (yet genuine) relationships with my professors. I’m still in contact with two of my instructors, and one even wrote my letter of recommendation.

With other Second Years

When did you possibly find time to become a certified nursing assistant too? Are there other ways to get the patient experience that’s required to apply to PA school?

I took an 8-week course in spring 2013 while I was still teaching AND taking anatomy and physiology 2 as well as organic chemistry. I’m not going to lie—it was BRUTAL. Fortunately, the CNA course wasn’t difficult at all; it was just time I had to spend to get it done and take the state certifying exam. Basically, you pay your $960 fee, buy your blood pressure cuff and stethoscope, pay for your background check, and state exam fee, and you’re done. It was super easy.

Some people come to PA school from another health field, such as being a registered dietitian, physical therapist, pharmacist. In those cases, the individual has earned at least a BS and has had acceptable patient contact. Most people, however, take the “entry level route” and pursue employment as an EMT or paramedic, phlebotomist, scribe, transporter, physical or occupational therapy aide, pharmacy tech, x-ray tech, etc.  Each individual school has their own idea as to what they deem acceptable; it is certainly not uniform across the board.

Practicing casting and splinting (my leg is NOT broken)

Letting a fellow student practice her phlebotomy skills on me



Tell us more about the application process.

Currently, there are 217 programs that offer academic training to become a PA. I applied to four schools (Rush, Northwestern, Midwestern, and Rosalind Franklin). This is a small number when compared to other students in pursuit of the same degree; because of the competition for admissions, many students apply to 10-20 programs. For example, Rush received 1,200 applications, invited 200 to interview, and offered admissions to 30 (in other words, a 2.5% admit rate). Midwestern, based on what I heard at open houses, receives about 3,000 applications for 86 spots.

All applications must be sent through CASPA.

It’s pretty easy – demographic information, enter ALL your coursework (so your overall and science GPA can be calculated), enter your direct patient contact hours, your shadowing experiences, GRE scores, former work experience, etc. The application fee was about $290.

You must include at least two recommendations but no more than three. Most programs want one from an instructor who can speak to your academic abilities and one from a PA/MD. I got my first recommendation from the infectious diseases physician I shadowed. My second one came from my Anatomy and Physiology instructor who had previously worked in ultrasound/radiology and used to be the director of the radiology tech certification program at her school. My third one came from my manager at the hospital where I worked as a nursing assistant.

The CASPA has one general essay: “Why do you want to be a physician assistant?” I hated it because it was so general and so totally open-ended. I also knew that initially, it would get about 2 minutes of eye-time, so I had to make sure my essay grabbed the reader immediately. Some schools require supplemental questions, like Rush and Northwestern. Basically, for Rush, it was asking, “Are you really serious about our school?”

Whiteboard wall in study lounge at Rush, preparing for an anatomy exam

You were called in for an interview at Rush. What was that like?

The interview went from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The initial session was informational, with the program director. The 20 of us who had been called in were split into four groups, where our activities rotated. My group started with a tour of the facilities, hosted by a first-year student. Next, we had a paperwork session where we had to submit a photo, unofficial transcripts of any outstanding coursework, and fill out a sheet indicating any change in our direct patient contact hours and shadowing since our application submission. Following that was a 30-minute one-on-one interview. After the interview, we all reassembled for a Q&A session with students in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd years. Next up was a 60-minute time slot allotted for a 70-question medical terminology exam. Finally, we had a 60-minute time slot to type responses to two essay questions that we had received upon our arrival.

Observing orthopedic surgery

What kinds of things did they seem to be evaluating?

It seemed to be a little bit of everything. Even though the formal interview was only 30 minutes, I’m not naïve to think that the other parts of the day didn’t matter. Here is my take on what they were looking for during each part of our visit:

Arrival and opening session: How comfortable are you socializing with strangers who are all in the same boat as you? Do you seem like the type who might be a good fit for cohort work?

Three-on-one interview: I interviewed with the director of clinical education, a third-year PA student who was currently in her advanced practice rotation, and a second-year PA student who was doing her clinical rotations. All three of them had laptops and took turns asking questions, then immediately started typing once I began to speak.

Medical terminology test: I purposely took a medical terminology class so I could ace this. Luckily, I passed it. If you do not pass it but matriculate at Rush, you have to retake it.

Essay: We had two essays and were given the prompts at the beginning of the day. They were both scenarios one might come across, one while in PA school, another once a practicing PA. During the breaks in the day, I started brainstorming and putting together my ideas. I believe they are evaluating one’s ability to think critically about a complex problem and convey a thoughtful, coherent solution in a concise manner (considering we only had 60 minutes to write both essays).

After our white coat ceremony

Can you tell us more about the three-on-one interview? What kinds of questions did they ask?

Here are the questions anyone interviewing with a PA school should expect:

  • Why do you want to be a PA?
  • What do you think a PA does?
  • Why do you want to study here?
  • How have you prepared to deal with the rigors of this program (academically, emotionally, and do you have a support system in place)?
  • What unique experiences have you had that you can apply to being a PA?
  • The requisite ethical question (mine was: you believe your attending/supervising physician is under the influence of alcohol, what do you do?)
  • Why should we pick you?

I was not terribly stressed out about this interview. In my role as high school teacher, I was on the hiring committee so I spent a good four years on the other side of the interviewing table. I remember what I liked (and didn’t like) to hear and see and could tailor my approach to better read the needs of my interviewers and give them what they wanted. For example, I’d look at their body language: Are they looking away/yawning as if bored or disinterested or are they leaning forward in their chairs, nodding along with me?

I also made a playlist for my iPod and listened to music on the drive to Rush that morning; it really set the mood for me and got me pumped up.  I also spent a great deal of time preparing for the interview by reading through the college catalog. I knew that I could drop keywords that demonstrated my knowledge of the school’s mission, tell stories that illustrated my skills using “their language,” and show enthusiasm. I wanted to be a good “match” for the school, so I made sure to speak to their mission, values, and vision, all of which were clearly defined over and over throughout the catalog. I wanted to leave no doubt that I a) knew what a PA was, b) knew that I wanted to be a PA, c) knew that I wanted to matriculate at Rush, and d) knew that I would be both a great student and alumni.

Our white coat group

How supportive were your family and friends?

I would never be able to do this without the unconditional support of my husband. He is my biggest cheerleader in this endeavor. When I was still teaching full-time AND taking my prerequisites prior to application, he assumed the bulk of the family responsibilities—sometimes four months would go by and I wouldn’t have done a single load of laundry. As a result, I was able to focus on my job and my studies without having to stress about the house or the family.

My boys were two and five when I started doing prerequisites and are five and eight now, as I’m starting PA school. This is “normal” for them. What I like the most is that I get to model hard work, focus, and perseverance in an academic pursuit; I hope they adopt my work ethic and drive. Although I was fortunate to have done well, this was NOT easy, and I’m proud of what I accomplished. I hope they can see that hard work can take you very far in life.

My friends have been very supportive of my desire for change and, I’ll be honest, it is exhilarating to share with my former colleagues that I indeed DID achieve my goal of getting into PA school!

With my husband

What challenges did you encounter?

I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist and was unwilling to accept anything but an outstanding academic resume to present for admissions, so I probably put myself under a greater amount of stress than was necessary. In fact, now that I am in the didactic year of my program, I am finding that I am LESS stressed than when I was taking my prerequisites!

Another challenge was planning for a decrease in our family income. Rush’s program costs approximately $100,000. All the programs in the Chicago area are private institutions, so costs would be similar but lower due to the fact that they are shorter in duration. I have taken out student loans to cover the cost of tuition. While they may seem daunting, I am in the fortunate position of having a spouse who works full-time (which means I don’t have to take out loans for housing or living expenses, etc.).  This has meant that we had to modify how we live and how we spend, but the impact hasn’t been too great. It makes me feel a little better about paying them back, knowing that we’ve been able to keep the family afloat while I’ve had no income.

Studying at the pool

Were there times when you thought about giving up? 

I’ll share a funny story here. Typically most PA schools have wrapped up their interview and offer process around the beginning of the year. On January 5, 2015, when I hadn’t heard from the PA schools where I’d applied, I decided that I would contact the GEM nursing coordinator and let them know I’d like to matriculate in the fall. I felt as if I had gone through the Kubler-Ross five stages of grief and decided I needed to begin moving forward with Plan B, nursing. I accepted that I could be happy with this decision knowing that I had done everything to try to pursue PA school. The very next day, I was invited to interview at Rush for a spot on the waitlist. Of course, I jumped at it—what did I have to lose? I interviewed on February 6, learned I was on the waitlist on February 17, and got the call from the director on February 19 with the invitation to join their program.


What did you learn about yourself through this process?

Spending 16 years teaching has made me a better student than I ever could have imagined. I understand learning and how to learn, and it’s been a huge help.

I’ve also learned just how supportive my husband is. He is a great partner, father, and my biggest cheerleader.


Celebrating the end of a quarter with friends at Coopers Hawk

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

It can be very scary and risky, so be sure to have backup or contingency plans. That being said, don’t let your fear of the unknown stop you from pursuing something when you know it is the right decision. Before making the leap, grab lunch or coffee with people in the profession to learn as much as you can. Don’t be shy asking them about the grades, experiences, and finances involved. Put together a reasonable plan to accomplish your goals—many of you might have a family that also needs you.  Build a solid support network around you that includes people who are enthusiastic about your choices.


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

Get good grades, pursue interesting and appropriate clinical experiences to earn the hours needed for application, start networking with physicians and PAs who will let you shadow and perhaps eventually write your recommendations.  Get into a hospital and make sure you see some of the most disturbing things: newly amputated limbs, trauma sites, infected wounds, gushing blood – these are all things that will be commonplace in your future career so get used to them now.  I’m at the point where NOTHING surprises me anymore!

Find the right PA program for you. Currently, there are 217 programs that offer academic training to become a PA. A list can be found here. Clearly, some programs are stronger than others. Interested students should look for ones that offer a masters level of education, as opposed to bachelors or associates. Also, the PANCE (Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam) first-time pass rate should be strongly considered as it sheds light on the rigor of the program.

Be absolutely certain to attend any open houses provided by the schools you wish to attend. Take your spouse or partner with you so they, too, know what you may be getting into.

My final project for my mental health rotation

What resources do you recommend?

­ PA Education Association

CAPSA or Central Application Service for Pas: This is where prospective students apply plus it has a wealth of other information

Follow the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

The Ultimate Guide to Getting Into Physician Assistant School by Andrew Rodican. I bought it and read it cover to cover numerous times.


What’s next for you?

Right now I’m focused on surviving my didactic (academic/classroom) year of PA school, which means being in class from 8am to 5pm on a daily basis for the next year. Once I get through the program and settled into a career, I think my next act will be retirement (in about 25-30 years!)


Contact Michelle Roush at