Let’s Hear from an Expert: Dr. Caroline Apovian, Director of the Center for Nutrition and Weight Management at Boston Medical Center

What unique challenges do women face related to nutrition and weight as they enter midlife?

Most women know that the ovaries produce estrogen, but many are not aware that fat cells also produce it. During menopause, the amount of estrogen produced by your ovaries decreases. Your fat cells try to compensate for the hormonal imbalance by swelling and becoming larger. These larger fat cells typically congregate around the waist, explaining some of the weight gain that accompanies menopause.

Aside from unwanted weight gain, extra fat stored in the belly increases risks for serious health problems. These include heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome. Hot flashes, headaches, mood swings, difficulty concentrating, and sleep disruption can also be triggered by the lower amounts of estrogen (and progesterone) produced after midlife.

Another challenge people face in midlife (not unique to women) is sarocopenia. This is the natural muscle loss that begins in our 30s and accelerates in our 40s. Our basal metabolic rate is primarily determined by the amount of lean muscle mass we have, so as we lose lean muscle mass, our metabolism slows down accordingly.

I might also add that stress and sleep deprivation significantly contribute to weight gain, and the pressures and stresses that middle-aged women face are a challenge that needs to be addressed in regards to weight and health.

 

Are there opportunities unique to women in midlife that they can leverage?

I would say so, yes. Women in midlife, as a general statement, tend to be wiser, more aware of their strengths and limitations, and have many years of practice balancing competing responsibilities. They also better understand their bodies and individual needs, and how caring for those needs is essential to maintain their physical and emotional health. This is also a generality, but many women in midlife who have families have children who are older, with a greater level of autonomy. This is a definite advantage when it comes to working in time for ourselves to engage in physical activity, manage stressors, and sleep 7-9 hours per night.

 

What are your best tips for women in midlife with respect to nutrition and weight, and living the second half with energy and health?

It’s difficult to say which aspects of nutrition and health are most important, but here are a few recommendations that patients have found helpful.

Eat a diet rich in protein. Protein is necessary to preserve, protect, and build muscle. I advise my patients to build meals around lean protein sources, such as fatty fish and poultry. As protein is the most satiating of the macronutrients, you’ll feel full longer and experience fewer energy highs and lows throughout the day. Enjoy a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables with your protein sources, as well as limited amounts of whole grains.

Work out with weights a couple of times per week. In order to counteract the process of sarcopenia, work out with weights a couple of times per week. You’ll be improving your metabolic speed and your strength, lowering your stress levels, preventing bone loss, sharpening your cognitive abilities, and reducing risks for cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. If you are new to weight lifting, start with lighter weights and fewer repetitions. Build up in weight and intensity as you get stronger.

Walk whenever possible. Stay active! It helps to burn calories, manage stress, reduce pain, preserve mobility, and improve quality of life.

Sleep 7-9 hours per night, every night. Sleep is crucial for our health. Adults who sleep 5-7 hours per night (or less) are 30-80 percent more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes, or to die prematurely, as those who sleep 8 hours or more. My weight loss patients are often surprised when I ask them about their sleeping habits, but the two are closely related. A chronic lack of sleep increases cortisol (stress hormone) and ghrelin (hunger hormone) while simultaneously slowing down your metabolism and decreasing leptin (a satiety hormone). Cortisol prompts the body to replenish energy in the form of hunger pangs. This is why chronic lack of sleep is contributing to the obesity epidemic.

Try intermittent fasting. Research has revealed that intermittent fasting helps with weight loss, decreasing inflammation in the body, reducing blood pressure, improving metabolism, and decreasing risks of type 2 diabetes.  At the clinic, I combine this principle with the fact that we need to feed our muscles protein to protect them, and the fact that most people who are trying to lose weight will have difficulty sustaining a complete fast as they go about their normal schedules.

Taking a temporary break from solid foods and having high protein smoothies instead achieves many of the same health benefits while simultaneously helping people to feel full and guarding their muscles. Swap out a few meals per week for protein smoothies and try having one all-smoothie day per week. I have developed a protein powder especially for this purpose, which can be found here. It’s a mix of whey and casein protein powders, as one of them works quickly to protect muscles, and the other digests slowly, over the course of several hours, to sustain a feeling of fullness. However, any unsweetened protein powder can work for this. Combine it with water, fresh fruit, and fresh veggies for a low calorie, high protein meal replacement.

 

What resources do you recommend to women in midlife who wish to maintain or improve their nutrition and weight?

Building Strength & Stamina by Wayne L. Westcott. This is an excellent book about strength training for health and weight loss, with plenty of helpful routines, photos, and an included DVD.

Ellen Dolgen for menopause-related advice and articles.

Weight Watchers is a reputable program that has helped many women and men to lose weight successfully.

The Age-Defying Diet: Outsmart Your Metabolism to Lose Weight is my latest book, and contains more information on all of the points I mentioned above. I also have a blog that features advice, articles, and recipes.  DrApovian.com

 

Contact Dr. Caroline Apovian at Dr.Apovian@gmail.com

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Book: The Age-Defying Diet: Outsmart Your Metabolism to Lose Weight

 

Caroline Apovian, MD, FACN, has worked as a leading researcher, treatment provider, and professor in the field of weight management and nutrition for over 25 years.  She is the director of the Center for Nutrition and Weight Management at Boston Medical Center, a professor of medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine, and the vice president of The Obesity Society.  Her federal government positions include acting as a nutrition consultant to NASA and an appointed member of the federal government’s panel on the evaluation and treatment of overweight adults.  She is the author of The Age-Defying Diet: Outsmart Your Metabolism to Lose Weight, in addition to hundreds of papers, reviews, and book chapters on obesity and nutrition.  Her publications appear in the New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of Women’s Health, International Journal of Obesity, Obesity Research, Digestive and Liver Disease, and Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, amongst others.  She has also co-founded the company Science-Smart, a provider of scientifically-supported products manufactured under strict laboratory conditions to facilitate healthy weight loss and sound sleep.




Launching a Furniture Business at 56: Lena’s Story

Moving back to the US from Greece in midlife forced Lena to rethink her career plans. She launched LAMOU, a unique online store featuring custom-printed furniture.

Tell us a little about your background…

My background is full of dynamic forces that have given form to my life and shaped who I am. I was born in Providence, R.I., to two Greek physicians who came to the United States for post-graduate studies in the mid-1950s. I am a post-war child, in the full sense of the word, especially considering that my parents witnessed World War II in Greece—the Nazi occupation and the ensuing civil war. I was schooled in New England, attending a Quaker school for girls from kindergarten through high school. It was a rigorous and empowered environment and a true prep school for life and learning.

I grew up in a bi-cultural environment—Greek and American, rather than Greek-American. My parents embraced Greek culture and exposed me and my two siblings to Greece from the time we were very young. Beginning in the early 1960s, we would travel to Greece in the summer and my memories of summers in Greece are strong, poignant, and part of who I am.

With Mom and my siblings in Greece, 1966

I received my Bachelor’s degree in Comparative Literature from Brown University in 1981, and worked at several jobs, before deciding to go back to school and get a Masters in Architecture. I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1989 with a mission: architecture and design.

As women, we have to balance our professional goals with family, and that is one of the biggest challenges we all face. I ended up living and working in Greece, and married in Athens soon after graduating from Penn. It was quite an adventure being a woman architect, educator, and designer in Athens, and a constant struggle to balance professional aspirations with marriage.

Magazine feature in Greece

I have a daughter, Artemis, who is just shy of 22 and a senior at Bard College. I divorced her father when she was quite young, but decided to stay in Athens until she finished high school so that she could have two parents influencing her life. I call myself a single parent, however, as the joys and responsibilities of parenting mainly fell on me.

Although I am sometimes nostalgic for the nuclear and close family model I experienced as a child, I nevertheless feel that parenting alone is a huge accomplishment and delivers a message of strength, especially in current times where family models are becoming more and more flexible. I did, however, have the love and support of my own family to see me through the many challenges I faced as a single mother and a professional.

In my professional life, I did many different “jobs”: I designed houses and gardens, entered plenty of competitions, taught at the graduate and undergraduate level, set up a non-profit with funding from the EU with two other women architects, started a furniture design company with production in Istanbul, and continued to pursue my love of visual arts through painting and drawing.

I must admit that I would not have been able to do all of the above without the help of several women whom I employed while in Greece to help with childcare when my daughter was young. I felt these young women were very understanding of my need to create and were excellent co-parents for my daughter’s upbringing. I could not have done everything I did without the advantage of having help with childcare.

With Artemis in Greece

When did you start to think about making a change?

This is an interesting question in my case, as sometimes historical events influence a person’s choices, versus decisions that come about as a result of deep reflection. I knew that I wanted my daughter to go to college in the United States and enrolled her in an IB (International Baccalaureate) program in a private school in Athens. I had cultivated this with her from a very young age, knowing full well that her exposure to schooling in the US would be a determining factor in her life and would broaden her horizons.

When the financial crisis hit Greece in 2010, jobs dried up and I lost my salaried position as professor of architecture in a private university in Athens that was forced to close. In addition, we lost my mother to cancer at the end of 2010, and it seemed to me like the earth was shifting. I was bereaved, far from my siblings and my father, without a steady income, and witnessing the political turmoil that was happening on a daily basis in Athens as a result of the financial crisis.

With Mom and one-week-old Artemis in Greece

 

With the help of my father, I was able to see out the last two years of Artemis’ IB program in Greece, and help her navigate the college application process. I also had lots of time on my hands, and turned to painting and the visual arts full time.

My daughter’s hard work paid off: She was offered a terrific scholarship at Bard and there was no reason for me to stay in Greece anymore. My father was still alive but heartbroken (my parents had been together since medical school in Athens). With Artemis enrolled at Bard and Greece falling apart at the seams, I moved to the US, into the house where I grew up in Providence, which my father has maintained to this day. It is odd to return to one’s childhood home at 56, but my father is alive and well at 91, and having a home to return to definitely made it easier for me to take the risk of re-invention.

Our family celebrating my father’s 90th

The first few months were excruciatingly hard. What was I to do? How could I possibly translate all those years of working in Greece into something here in the States? How could I enter the workforce in my 50s and compete with all the accomplished young? How could I give up friends, familiarity, my support group, and my routines?

Life sometimes is strange and very serendipitous. Things seem to happen for a reason and the universe conspires just when we despair. The summer before I was leaving Greece, in 2013, an old and dear classmate from Penn, Ann Clark, contacted me to say she was coming to Greece, accompanying her new life partner to a medical convention, and that she was moving to Providence. I too, was about to move, and this was a huge source of comfort for me. Maybe Ann and I could figure something out together.What is your next act?

I am the co-founder of LAMOU, which I launched with Ann Clark in 2015, at age 56. It is a new concept in furniture that offers the opportunity for customers to engage in the process of design through technology. Our initial product offering is wood tables that are custom printed. Our website hosts LAMOU’s proprietary collection of designs as well as guest artist collections. In addition, we have a toolkit builder on the site: Anyone can upload a photograph, print, painting, or design and purchase their own table, flat-packed and delivered to their door.

Classic Line end tables

The name is a combination of our initials “L” for Lena, “A” for Ann and the word “mou” which in Greek means “mine.” We thought it was a fitting name for a company that is involved with personalization!

I love the idea of slowly building a community centered around participation in design. It has been wonderful to see the personalized pieces that customers are ordering and how enthusiastic they are with the process and the product. I also love the process of building LAMOU and turning it into a robust business; every day is a challenge and there are new issues to be solved and problems to address. Building a business is like solving an ever-evolving puzzle, and as such, I see it as one more design project. 

With my partner, Ann

Why did you choose this next act?  

This next act, came about after many, many, brainstorming sessions and explorations, together with Ann and on my own.

When I first returned, I was lucky enough to be offered a stint teaching as an adjunct at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design), and that helped keep me balanced through a very challenging transition. I soon realized, however, that trying to enter the academic world at my age, with all the political intrigue and insecurity that accompanies an adjunct position, would not be possible. I reached out to builders and contractors and got a few jobs—an addition here, an interior there—but again was confronted with the reality that building a reputation from scratch in the already-established architecture scene here would be close to impossible.

I joined an artist’s collaborative, which I enjoyed, and I reached out to the community here in Providence, where I did manage to win recognition for my work in juried competitions.

Solo Show, Coastal Gallery, 2016

Ann and I started meeting more and more frequently and spoke often about the trials and tribulations of being uprooted in your 50s. Ann had a successful practice in Chicago and was going back and forth the first year, trying to keep the balance between her old life and a new beginning in Providence, so she was feeling similar frustrations.

We both shared an interest in furniture design: Ann had done several pieces for private clients, and I had a design company in Athens that had received considerable attention. We also both shared a love of art and painting. We were aware of new technologies in the design industry, and we each had myriad experiences with clients wanting to participate in the design process.

All of our talks and iterations of what to do next somehow naturally evolved into the idea for LAMOU: a platform that would introduce a new concept in furniture. By combining printing technology with furniture, we would open the door for people to engage with us in a community setting. We would start with one product and slowly build the company into a new platform for participating in design.

Epic Line Persian table

How hard was it to take the plunge?

It was hard. Becoming an entrepreneur in your 50s is not an easy task, especially as a woman, and in a start-up culture dominated by youth. It takes determination and a lot of hard work. You have to relinquish your role as an “expert” and become a novice all over again. It also involves a lot of patience and flexibility: You have to listen and learn, ride out the frustrations and the insecurity, believe in your idea, and persist.

I think you prepare as best you can, but it is really in doing that you learn. Starting a business is a risk; you can have an MBA and still fail. There really is no way to prepare when you do something for the first time: You just build stone by stone and nurture your wounds along the way!

 

How supportive were your family and friends?

My daughter, my father, my sister and my brother were extremely supportive and still are.

I really did not share much of what I was doing with many friends. I think you have to be careful when you start something new. People become risk averse as they age, and you can be talked out of ideas or aspirations if you are not careful. Sometimes it is better to discuss things once you are on the way and not before.

There is an advantage to starting something new in your 50s: You are wiser and more self-confident than in your 20s, and you do not need the approval that you sought in your youth. My few dearest friends were and are extremely supportive, but I still do not discuss with them in detail about LAMOU. I sometimes feel that talking replaces action, so I am a little guarded when it comes to sharing.

With Artemis in Brooklyn

What challenges did you encounter?

There are so many I do not know where to begin. Learning how to set up an e-commerce company, how to write a business plan, how to market in a digital age, the design of the website, designing the products, sourcing and manufacturing, accounting, presenting and networking constantly, choosing the right co-workers, raising money… The list goes on and on. The most important thing is having the right partner when you start something as challenging as LAMOU. That is where a true sense of teamwork comes into play.

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?  

Yes of course, I thought about giving up, on many occasions. There were times when I just wanted my old life back: painting from morning till night like a hermit or lecturing to students, or designing a structure. There were—and are—plenty of sleepless nights where I woke up startled and thinking about failure.

Again, I have to state here that having a strong partnership makes a huge difference when becoming an entrepreneur. Ann picks me up when I am down, and vice versa. There are times when we are both down, and those are hard, but somehow we are both equally persistent, both experienced in life’s struggles, and both stubborn. When times are rough, you have to have a fierce sense of commitment and belief to see you through.

Reviewing custom design with Ann

 What did you learn about yourself through this process?

That life is an adventure and you have to embrace it. That nothing is written in stone, and one can make changes even though change is hard. That I have stamina and have much more to learn. That the past has a way of resurfacing and influencing everything you do and who you are, and that will, perseverance, and belief can help you achieve.

 

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

I really do not believe in regrets or revisions, so no, there is not anything I would have done differently. Life is a process, and a learning one at that. So, as long as my conscience is clear, I feel I can take on many challenges.

 

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

Be true to yourself and believe in yourself. Do not be scared of re-inventing yourself and do not let others sabotage you. Life is precious and we have no time to waste. Failure is just a perception: Turn your defeats into victories and let them inform you. There are many amazing women around us; trust them, seek their advice, and depend on them!

Keep an open mind and be a lifelong student. Learn to pivot, to compromise, to give things up for the sake of an idea, a goal or a dream. Rely on your own process which will constantly guide you in evolving.

Etched in Stone table

 What advice do you have for those interested in launching a new product-based business?

You need to define your market and delve into the statistics of that market. It is important to figure out the competition and decide what your advantage is—your value proposition. It’s a good idea to conduct focus groups and get “early adopters” on board who can champion your product from the get go. You also need to figure out your business model: will you sell to consumers, to businesses, or both, and what are your distribution channels? How are you solving a problem in a more competitive way than others? What is your main message and how can you capitalize on it and stick to it?

You really have to take the process step by step and learn as you go along. One thing that is important is to hire experts who can help and guide you. Professionals who care enough about clients to listen and to educate them. We have been very lucky with our team: our web developers, our design team, our attorney, and our production team. However, we did a great deal of research and vetting before deciding on whom to work with, and we cultivate these relationships.

Another piece of advice I can offer is to constantly research and find resources when you do not know how to do something. Ann and I participated in a business plan seminar, in a digital marketing seminar, and we entered the RI business plan competition. We also took—and continue to take—advantage of the budding startup community here and various networking organizations.

We had plenty of hiccups along the way and had to let certain collaborators go, either because they were not pulling their own weight or because it was not the right fit. One thing we were told by a wise businessman: “Be slow to hire and quick to fire.” I think it is important to remember this in any venture: Take the time to really interview your collaborators, and cut the relationship quickly if things are not moving forward or the relationship is creating conflict. 

My desk at LAMOU

 What resources do you recommend?

For those wishing to become entrepreneurs, I suggest reaching out to the Small Business Administration in your city or state to find out what programs they offer. We were very lucky in Rhode Island. The University of RI has a Small Business Development Center and, through their program, Ann and I were assigned an excellent business advisor who meets with us regularly with no fee. He has been very influential in helping us through thick and thin.

I would also suggest finding non-profits that specifically deal with women in business. In Rhode Island, the Center for Women in Enterprise is one resource. (SITES)

Seth Godin is an excellent resource for anyone considering starting a business, and his book The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick)is a great read and one that anyone taking on a new challenge can relate and refer to.

Present your ideas at every opportunity to talented and knowledgeable people. We attended a meet and greet that Golden Seeds held in Boston. Golden Seeds is an angel investment company that funds women entrepreneurs. We met the Managing Director, who has continued to follow our progress and act as an unofficial advisor.

Our wonderful, brilliant, web developers and advisors are located in Athens, Greece. They have generously given us their time, their insights and their expertise. The company is called Greymatter and I highly recommend them. The beauty of living in a connected world is that you can source partners from anywhere.

Our web designers are James and Nina Lavine, two very talented RISD graduates, who helped us formulate the “look” and essence of LAMOU from the first meeting. They are incredibly talented, professional, and a joy to work with.

The experience we have had with Ted Howell, our attorney, has been so rewarding. Ted’s expertise is working with start -ups, and he has all the knowledge, patience and flexibility to execute anything an entrepreneur needs. Ted agreed to be on our board of advisors in addition to being our attorney.

Another Ted, but equally as important has been Ted Peffer at IOLabs in Providence. Ted runs an amazing print shop that caters to a demanding clientele. He was with us from day one offering all of his knowledge and guiding us through the development process.

Lamou tables at West Elm Pop Up

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

LAMOU is still an early-stage company so the next steps are growing and scaling the company so that we can achieve our vision of a robust online community for those who share our vision in design participation. We are hoping to add new products and are considering the idea of including actual surface treatments for the home, which can be personalized through printing technology. We want to open the design process to customers and give people as many choices as possible in designing their environments.

I definitely have another next act, and I believe it will be in the visual arts and design, as well as in community service or volunteering. I have had an adventurous life, and it is time to give back and really become active in the “political” sense by engaging with underserved communities either as an architect, a teacher, or a volunteer.

 

Contact Lena Georas at lena@lamoudesign.com

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Lamou Blog

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Instagram: #lamoudesign

Personal Instagram: #lenamoumou

Linked In: Lena Georas




Becoming a Contemporary Sacred Artist in Midlife: Amy’s Story

Grieving the loss of her brother and mother was the catalyst for Amy to leave her lucrative career in graphic design and honor her calling as an artist and healer, and activist.

 

Tell us a little about your background…

New England

I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire, the youngest of five children. Born at the end of the boomer generation in 1959. It was an era when my mother was able to be homemaker while my father provided for us through his work as a salesman. Being the baby of the family, and highly sensitive, I idolized my siblings and worked hard to please my parents. Although I was an honor student, there seemed to be an unspoken expectation that I would become a secretary, get married, and have babies like the women of my mother’s generation. That didn’t happen. I have never married and do not have children.

When I was a young teen, I started drawing the elephants and pirates from the “Draw Me” contests in the back of magazines in hopes of winning an art scholarship. I would painstakingly recreate them and show them to my mother but, sadly, she would say it was a gimmick. It wasn’t until my junior year that I took my first drawing class at our new high school. I was home.

I wanted to go to college but when my only brother Richard, the eldest child, dropped out in his senior year, my parents, who had helped him financially, were angry and my father declared to the rest of us girls: “If any of you kids wants to go to college, you’re on your own.” I was the only one at the time who wanted to go to college and didn’t know how that was going to happen.

Family reunion, 1982

Florida

In 1976, when I was finishing my junior year in high school, my parents made the startling decision to uproot us and move to Florida. I was the only one left in school, and was forced to move with them. Thankfully, a young couple who came to our house to play bridge with my parents offered to take me in for the remaining few months of my junior year. As it turned out, she was a visual artist and he, an industrial designer. I wrote to my parents and informed them that I was going to study art in college.

It was hard to leave my New England home but Florida offered educational opportunities that I couldn’t otherwise afford. I was awarded grants and waited tables while attending the local community college, completing an Associate degree in Fine Arts. After that I floundered for a few years. I was living with and engaged to a man who was ready to get married and start a family. I didn’t know what I wanted but I knew that I didn’t want that life. I was 22. Instead, I took “the road less traveled” to quote Robert Frost. A year later, I met a man who encouraged me to go back to school which I did, though the relationship eventually ended.

Early work

In 1983, I was still waiting tables and took out student loans to finance my education. I was excited to begin my Bachelor’s program in Fine Arts but, in my senior year, discovered the world of advertising. While working an internship at a local design firm, I learned the art of graphic design. Before computers, print materials were created by hand and I fell in love with the artistry of the craft. I was fed up with the restaurant scene, so this seemed an ideal path to follow.

California

After graduation, in 1986, I relocated to Southern California, where two of my sisters had settled. I was ready to get serious about a career although it was hard to leave my parents who were always nearby when I needed them between boyfriends and roommates. Two years later, they would join us in California—Mom needing to be near at least three of her “chicks.”

I didn’t plan well for the move. I had 300 bucks in my pocket along with student loans, credit card debt, a car payment, and no job—just a dream. I was financially destitute, living in a dingy studio apartment, working secretarial temp jobs, and one step away from homelessness, when I finally landed a job as a production artist at a design firm in South Pasadena. It was a high stress, fast-paced environment but I was learning a lot, working in my field, getting paid with steady raises, and had health insurance for the first time. I was 27 and on my way to “success.” So I thought. An easel with a blank canvas sat tucked in a corner of my apartment though at the time I didn’t have time to paint. Things were about to change, again.

With Richard, 1984

 When did you start to think about making a change?

The seeds for my next act were planted just two years later when I was 29. My brother Richard left home for college when I was seven but when I was sixteen, he became a mentor to me, taking notice of my early evolution as a young woman. We had always been close as a family especially during the 1980s when we were all young adults. Our family gathered yearly for Christmas or a special event, centered around my mother. I wrote often in my journals that if I had my family, I could survive anything.

On September 11, 1989 Richard died from AIDS. My mother flew to NYC and brought him back to Los Angeles that summer to care for him. Being present to his suffering and bearing witness to his death changed me. It was hard on all of us, but especially my mother. Nine months later, she died suddenly from heart failure when I was out of the country on vacation. I returned home the following day to find her gone. It was surreal and no words can really express the shock of having lost the two most significant people in my life in less than nine months. One of my best friends also died that year. Death was all around me. By the time I turned 30, money, success, all the things that I thought were important to me no longer were. I entered a very dark period in my life and was on a self-destructive path abusing alcohol and sex.

With my mother, 1990

One drunken night, I returned to my apartment, picked up a paint brush, and started painting my heart on the canvas. Around that same time, a friend recommended a therapist who I believe helped save me from what would have been an early death, too. It’s why I believe so passionately in the power of art and listening to heal the wounded heart. I was still working at the design firm since I had to pay the rent and there was no one to support me. As I slowly emerged from the darkness, I began reading philosophy and discovered The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. I embarked on an intellectual search for the meaning of life. Reading my brother’s journals, his spirit guided me in my search to answer: Who am I? What is my purpose? Why am I here?

Oregon

Through my grieving process, I was awakening to a new way of seeing the world. I envisioned a simple life of art and service. I was sick of now meaningless deadlines and wanted to flee Southern California. My family had splintered under the weight of our grief and my father retired to San Diego. In 1993, at 33 and alone, I moved to Portland, Oregon to start my life anew. Again. I had no job. No family or friends waiting for me on the other end. It was a leap of faith but this time I had work experience and money saved so the transition wouldn’t be as traumatic as the move from Florida seven years prior. I had planned to become an art therapist and work with grieving people.

Sculpting class, 1994

These were the seeds for my midlife next act eight years later. After arriving in Portland, I began researching art therapy courses and discovered that it was too soon for me emotionally. I was still too raw with my own grief to hold space for others. Out of this early exploration, I began sculpting as a prerequisite to the art therapy program and found a new love in the clay, one that continues today. I started a freelance graphic design business and was painting on the side. To fill my call to be of service, I volunteered with the local AIDS organization offering education and outreach, followed by eight years at The Dougy Center, the National Center for Grieving Children and Families.
What is your next act?

My next act came to fruition in 2001, at 41, when I answered my soul calling to work professionally as an artist and healer. Once I stepped onto this path my life opened in new ways, most profoundly during a ten-day training with environmentalist Joanna Macy when I had a life-changing mystical experience. When I returned home, I founded Sacred Art Studio and have dedicated my life and work to the healing of the earth.

As a contemporary sacred artist and spiritual activist, I draw inspiration from all our faith traditions and the wisdom of our earth-honoring ancestors. My artwork, public installations, ceremonies, speaking, workshops, and writing are meant to inspire and awaken hearts to the sacredness of the creation, our interconnectedness in the life web, and to raise awareness of endangered species. I’ve exhibited my art around the Pacific Northwest and my work resides in many private collections. I’ve also had the joy of creating numerous paintings, mandalas, and sculptures on commission.

9/11 Painting

In 2004, I returned to school and completed my Masters Degree in Spiritual Traditions & Ethics. I’m also a certified Spiritual Director and have studied shamanism with teachers both locally and in Peru. I’ve also had the honor of being invited to speak by local communities about my art and grief journey and have presented at conferences around the interrelationship between art, religion/spirituality, and the ecological crisis.

I believe that during this evolutionary time, we are called to co-create a new collective “story” for living in reciprocity with the living earth and with each other if we are to co-create a sustainable future. My work is a contribution and a prayer toward this transformative vision. I am blessed to be doing what it is that I love and to live a life of meaning and purpose.

Speaking at Eastminster Presbyterian, 9/11, 2011

 

Why did you choose this next act?  

By the late 90s, my graphic design business had exploded and I was doing work for high-tech companies such as Intel and hp. I refer to that period as the “balls to the walls” era and was putting in 60-70 hours a week, rushing from one deadline to the next. By the time the dot.com boom crashed in 2000, I was managing several other designers and grossing over $250,000 a year. I had a big bank account but at the end of the day, I wasn’t happy. Our culture was telling me I was a “success” but I knew in my heart this wasn’t what I was meant to be doing with my life though I was still making art “on the side” and volunteering at the Dougy Center.

Around the same time as the crash, there was another loss in my life that triggered the grief that I had been unable to fully process a decade earlier. This initiated me in a deeper spiritual awakening that propelled me towards this next act. I believe it has been my soul’s evolution to follow this path. Everything, including the losses in my life, has led me to awaken to my purpose in this life. So, I don’t know that I chose it so much as I continued to answer the call of my soul and follow the path to discover where it would lead next. There really was no other option.

The Offering commission, life-size bronze, 2007

 

How hard was it to take the plunge?

I was fortunate to have substantial savings from the high-tech years, so I had the financial means to step back from any urgency to generate income and take the time to consider my next steps. At the start of 2001, I began working with a life coach who guided me and helped shape how I wanted to live this next chapter of my life as an artist and healer.

The launch for this next act was in the form of an art installation I created around the paintings and sculptures that I had been making over the years, ones that emerged through my grief. The event, Art with Heart: A Journey of Healing and Hope, that August was a powerful evening for me and for all those who attended. Friends, colleagues, one of my sisters, and even my father (who was in town from California) attended. A friend performed an expressive dance piece symbolic of my transformation through loss and attendees were then invited to plant seeds in container representing the seeds for my future. This vision included leading workshops for women in grief called Healing HeARTs. It was a profound healing to be witnessed by others and gave me courage to move forward into this next act.

 What challenges did you encounter?

It’s challenging when people, mostly strangers, question my decision as to how “practical” it was to make a living as an artist. This was true especially at the beginning when I didn’t have a large body of work and wasn’t quite clear on the direction of my work. This would change after the events of 9/11 and the training with Joanna Macy that opened my work to the larger ecological and spiritual crises of our time. Because I haven’t followed a traditional art career path by seeking gallery representation, another challenge has been getting my work seen but technology and social media have helped make it possible to reach a larger audience.

The Translator, 2014

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

There have been times over the past 15 years, especially during the recession, that I questioned Spirit and considered going back to graphic design full time. So, it hasn’t always been easy but I piece together a modest living from various streams and live simply. When I am immersed in a painting, a commission, or holding space for people in grief, I feel that divine connection come through me and know that I am exactly where I meant to be. Also, my love for the earth as well as my grief over all that we are losing keeps me going on this path. We only have this one wild, beautiful planet and am committed to doing what I can to protect what remains.

Momento Mori: Oceans in Crisis installation

What did you learn about yourself through this process?

Great question. When I was young my father would said to me, “Amy, you won’t be successful in business (or otherwise) because you’re too sensitive.” The question is: How do we define success? I’ve learned that being an introvert, sensitive, and deep feeling is an asset to our world, not a hindrance. Without my art, I don’t know that I would still be here and am grateful for the courage and wisdom that has emerged out of my suffering. I am stronger than I knew.

 

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

No, although I wish I had the tools as a young woman to process my grief instead of numbing out but, otherwise, I feel that everything in my life has led me to where I am now.

Munay Pachanama, 2013

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife? Or an art career?

Don’t wait to follow your heart. We only get one twirl around the dance floor of life and it is over way too soon. Go for it!

Only follow an art career if you can’t not make art. This is an all-consuming passion and often a lonely path that one is called to without guarantees of financial success. We’re all creative and I am passionate about the healing power of art. In my workshops, I encourage participants to reclaim the artist within, but an art career is not for everyone. On the other hand, if you feel the call, I say leap and trust!

in the studio with Lovers of Creation triptych

 

What resources do you recommend?

Books:

The Mission of Art by Alex Grey

Creativity: Where the Divine and Human Meet by Matthew Fox

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield

Finding Beauty in a Broken World by Terry Tempest Williams

The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions by Wayne Teasdale

Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World by Paul Hawken

Websites:

Rev. Matthew Fox, founder of Creation Spirituality

Spiritual Artist Alex Grey

Joanna Macy

Animas Valley Institute

Alyson Stanfield, Art Biz Coach

 

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

I’m currently working on a spiritual memoir of my journey and the role art plays in our healing and evolution. Who knows where that might lead?

 

Contact Amy Livingstone, MA at amy@sacredartstudio.net

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Let’s Hear From an Expert: Tami Forman, Executive Director of Path Forward

You are the Executive Director of the nonprofit, Path Forward. Can you tell us about your organization’s mission?

Path Forward is a nonprofit organization on a mission to empower women (and men) to return to the paid workforce after they’ve taken two years or more away from their career to focus on caregiving. We fulfill our mission by working with companies to launch and implement mid-career internships.

What programs do you have in place to support your mission?

Our program has two big components. First, we provide materials and training for HR and recruiting teams at our partner companies so they can launch the program and recruit participants. This component includes training for the managers who will be supervising returnees. In our work we’ve discovered that managers need support to successfully work with returning professionals. Our manager curriculum covers recruiting, interviewing, onboarding, giving feedback and how to handle the end of the program, whether the returnee is offered ongoing employment or not.

Second, we provide training and development for the returnees in the program to help them successfully navigate their career restart. This component includes creating a plan to expand their skills and build relationships during the internship, giving them tools to navigate their work/life logistics, and developing skills around getting feedback and using it to fuel success. We also cover career management topics like resumes, interviews, and negotiating offers. Our sessions with the returnees boost their confidence and give them concrete plans for successfully transitioning back to their careers.

Our program began in Colorado with partner companies Return Path, ReadyTalk, SendGrid, MWH Global and SpotX. We expanded to California, where we’ve worked with PayPal, GoDaddy, Instacart, Zendesk and others; and to New York where we are working with AppNexus and Verisk Analytics. In all we’ve partnered with more than 20 companies to expand opportunities for women restarting their careers.

What unique challenges and opportunities do you find for women in midlife who are seeking to return to work after caregiving?

One of the biggest challenges is confidence. We see women questioning whether or not their skills are still relevant. Another challenge is how the work environment has changed. There is a whole new world of technology, terminology, team dynamics, and office set-up, to name a few of these changes. Last, a transition back to work affects the whole family. Returning parents may need to change how their childcare is managed and how their home is run.

The good news is that opportunities for women to re-enter the workforce are expanding. Companies are increasingly recognizing the value of diversity at all levels of the organization. We also find that when companies stop focusing on the perceived disadvantages of a candidate who’s taken a career break, they begin to see real advantages in hiring someone with a prior professional track record and a wealth of life experience.  For example, returnees often have really strong communication and collaboration skills, both from their prior work experience and from what they’ve learned through parenting, volunteering, and community work. Professional maturity and the ability to manage multiple projects and priorities are some other key benefits.

What is your track record?

To date, 80% of our program’s graduates have been offered ongoing employment at the company where they participated in the program. Another 10% are employed elsewhere, resulting in a 90% employment rate.

We’ve had so many successful women come through our program, but I’ll highlight a few. Lisa Stephens was an electrical engineer who took a 20-year career hiatus to raise her two sons. She taught herself several coding languages but needed someone to give her the chance to prove herself. Return Path gave her that chance and two years later she is still working there as a software engineer and was recently promoted. Marina Groothius had a prior career as a direct marketer and was able to use the Path Forward program to transition into a career as a marketing analyst. Marina was featured in a story in Fortune. PayPal brought nine women into their program and all of them are now employed as engineers—seven at PayPal, one at a small start-up, and one at Google. One of the women who stayed at PayPal is Shashi Dokania, who has an incredible story of being inspired to teach herself to code because of her son.

 

Do you have plans to expand? How can my readers find out more?

We are meeting with companies in Colorado, California, and New York, and are planning to expand into cities like LA, Seattle, Chicago, Austin, and Washington, D.C., among others. Readers should go to our website to sign up to hear about opportunities as they become available.

 

Contact Tami Forman at hello@pathforward.org

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Tami M. Forman is the executive director of Path Forward, a nonprofit organization that creates midcareer internship programs to ease the transition back to work for women (and men) after taking a break for raising children or other caregiving responsibilities. Path Forward trains HR teams and hiring managers on how to support these programs successfully and provides support to participants to make the experience successful. Tami is building this organization from the ground up, working with donors, partners and participants to fulfill the organization’s mission. Tami spent a decade as a tech marketing executive with data solutions provider, Return Path. Before that she worked in book publishing at Simon & Schuster and Houghton Mifflin and held senior-level web editorial positions at iVillage and News Corporation. Tami is passionate about helping women achieve work/life integration so they can find career success and personal satisfaction. She lives in New York City with her husband and two kids, aged seven and nine.




Becoming a Pilot in Midlife: Juliette’s Story

Juliette’s life has been full of adventure and brush with fame—Cat Stevens, Hugh Hefner, Bruce Springsteen—not the least of which is getting her pilot’s license and using that skill to help rescue animals after Hurricane Katrina. What an odyssey!

 

Tell us a little about your background.

I was born Juliette Bora in London, England, in 1951. An only child, I lived in Turkey with my parents for the first four years of my life. My father was Turkish, and died when I was 10. My mother was French and a very unbalanced woman. I think we know today she was bi-polar and suffered from extreme depression, but in those days no one really talked about that kind of mental illness, especially in England—you kind of lived with it. There were no therapists or help of any kind. You very much kept your troubles to yourself.

When I was five, we went back to live in England, where I grew up and went to school. My childhood/youth was pretty harsh. Because my dad died so early, life changed dramatically for us; mother was in a panic and we pretty much financially went downhill. When I was 13, my mother bought me a horse because she thought it might ease the loss of my dad but we really couldn’t pay for a horse, so to earn the necessary money to keep him, I worked as a stunt rider for MGM Pictures, which happened to be two miles from where I boarded my horse. I spent two years riding, falling, getting knocked off by bandits and jousting in full medieval armor—just about anything you can do on a horse—to make whatever money I could. I got hurt quite a bit, so when I turned 15, Mother sold my horse (without telling me) and that was that for my equine career.

On Amber, at age 13

I left school at 15 and went to work. I got a job after a year at the London Playboy Club as a casino dealer and tried as best I could to help my mom pay the bills. It finally all caught up with us and one night in the winter of 1969, the Bailiffs arrived at the front door to take my mother to debtors’ prison—yes, that was a thing back then! It took some fine double-talking on my part to convince them to give us a few days to come up with a certain amount of money. They didn’t know we owned a crumbly car, so the next day we packed the car and drove to Istanbul, Turkey.

Working as a casino dealer at the Playboy Club

The car broke down in Bulgaria. This was 1970 and you didn’t want to be two women stranded at 2:00 am on the main (cobbled) highway in the middle of a very communist country. We did survive this (very long and hair-raising story involved) and finally arrived in Istanbul, Turkey, in the back of a cattle truck.

At 19, I became a cabaret singer at the Hilton Hotel in Istanbul. Then, a year later, in 1971, I moved to Beirut, Lebanon, where I lived for four years singing in clubs and hotels. I basically got on a plane one day, while Mother was visiting Grandma in England, and left. When she returned to Istanbul, she was furious, but I had to get away; I was choking. The war started in 1973 and I got out in the beginning of 1975 on a super scary drive, with bullets flying around, huddled on the floor of taxi cab to the airport on the last day it was open.

After a few more years working as a singer in London and Europe, I moved to the USA in 1976—Los Angeles—where I then started working for Playboy, singing across the country in all their clubs.

With Hugh Hefner and Robert Culp, 1977

Singing at the LA Playboy Club, 1979

During that time, I moved to New York City (1979) and got married to a now very well-known Broadway actor, Terrence Mann. I always wanted to become a writer so I started writing plays and movies—mainly plays—and had a few produced in small, unknown, cold and drafty theaters but nevertheless I was loving it. I also started a workout class that was a kind of ballet/Pilates intense stretch class, which I taught in the city for the next 16 years. It was very successful.

In 1989, Terry found his soulmate. I honestly can’t say I blame him as I wasn’t the best person I could have been. I realize now how much influence and power my mother had on and over me—thus creating in me a second version of her, which was very damaging. But Terry found his soulmate and had to go. It was meant to be.

Of course I was completely unprepared. Terry had been the major breadwinner so everything—credit, nice apartment on the Upper West Side with a $3000 a month mortgage, most of the money in the bank—was in his name. My friends told me to leave the apartment and get a couple of roommates, oh, and burn all his clothes outside “her” apartment where he was living.

I was not about to leave my apartment; it was my home. I was way too old for roommates (I was 38 and didn’t much care for people anyway) and I was not about to break the law and burn anything, but I had to do something fairly drastic because money was running out. I doubled up on the classes I was teaching, established my own credit, and became more focused than ever before. I was running out of time and it was catching up with me, so I called the President of Citibank (not an easy task and I don’t think it would work today) and told him my story and asked for an extra five years on the mortgage to reduce my monthly payments. I think saying my husband had just left me for a ballerina helped! They gave me the five years and I struggled along. When I kind of ran out of food, I realized I was going to have to earn a lot of money to stay in my apartment and live in NYC, so I took a play I had written to ABC Daytime TV and applied to become a Soap Opera Writer for One Life to Live (OLTL). I got the job and stayed as a soap writer for the next four years, earning an Emmy Nomination and two WGA (Writers Guild of America) awards.

Hanging out with the “One Life to Live” gang

 

When did you start to think about making a change?

Working as a writer in Daytime TV was very stressful. I had to write a 90-page script, edited and delivered in five days, 52 weeks a year, and I could absolutely NOT be late on delivery. I loved the writing but I worked for very intense, ambitious women executives and that was a challenge. It was a lot about “who likes me this week?” I did well on OLTL and we got the Emmy nod which was great, so for a few weeks everyone liked us!

Then I moved to a show called Loving (which spawned Michael Weatherly who is now on the number one show Bull); they were doing a huge turnaround and changed all the staff. There was a new Producer, Haidee Granger, who is one of the finest women I have ever known, not to mention very talented in her own right as a TV producer. Haidee turned Loving around and we were getting serious notice from the networks.  As is very typical in daytime TV land – someone high up decided that Haidee was getting too successful; in three days she was gone and replaced by another producer

The two WGA Awards we received for Outstanding Achievement in a Daytime serial were entirely due to Haidee’s work. At the WGA awards ceremony in NYC at the Waldorf Astoria, I caused a big scene by holding up the show, asking Barbara Walters to sit down (as she was coming back to the stage to host), and giving Haidee the accolade she deserved. Everyone in the room applauded except the ABC table—they all turned their backs to me. Two weeks later, I was gone from the show. But I felt amazing. It was worth getting fired for doing what I truly believed was the right thing. That was the first time I felt the power of being truthful, authentic, and giving to someone with not a care about my own safety.

I met Jason in 1992 at a small cabaret hangout in New York City. He was dating a mutual friend and I was already divorced and on OLTL and had absolutely no thoughts of getting married again. I didn’t want children and I was perfectly happy just hanging with my friends. Well… God has a great sense of humor and after a few months I realized I had met my soulmate. We dated for two years then married in 1994. While we honeymooned in Jamaica, I sat on the beach and contemplated my future. I was 43. I knew daytime TV was not for me. I remember thinking, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” and “What would you do for free?”

Wedding photo with Jason, 1994

Fly an airplane!!

My father had been an aircraft engineer and it had always been in my blood.  Also, we were very fortunate at that time as Jason was doing very well in his voiceover career and, for the first time in almost 30 years, I didn’t have to work! We could afford this. When we got home to New Jersey (we had moved there in 1993) I called the local airport and off I went, at age 43, to become an airplane pilot.

At the controls, 1995

What is your next act?

I am an Airline Transport Pilot (ATF) and Master Flight Instructor, qualified to fly 19 different airplanes.

Flying is something quite extraordinary. You take off and climb to thousands of feet above the ground and you are in another world—literally. You are talking to Air Traffic Control (ATC); they are your lifeline, responsible for making sure that over 20,000 aircraft that are airborne at any given time, fly, land, and take off safely. I love the language of pilots and ATC, the unwavering professionalism that is so prevalent in the air amongst us. I always felt surrounded by “my people.” It is peace at its finest.

Back in those days, before 9/11 and all the shit that followed, all was well with the world. And there is nothing better than bringing that plane home to the airport and feeling the wheels gently thunk to the ground. Your airplane is not a machine like the car; it’s a part of the family. I purchased my own airplane and loved it. It carried us all over the country: me, hubby, and two dogs!

With my plane

 

How hard was it to become a pilot?

It took three years for me to secure my Private Pilot’s License and my Flight Instructor license. I was very fortunate as my first instructor was a young man named Marcus McCall (now a Jet Blue Captain). He was 22 and just a few weeks graduated out of Embry Riddle Aviation University. I was his very first student. He was so talented and guided me through this very difficult process.

Many times, I really thought I’d have to quit.  Sometimes our lesson was cancelled because of wind and weather and I remember in those early days being secretly relieved—I had a day reprieve!  See, I had fear. Not the scared of night shadows fear but real, mind-numbing terror. Here I was in a small—no, tiny—little lawnmower with wings; up in the air and feeling every wind bump and strange noise that little airplanes make and thinking, “have I lost my mind completely?” Marcus was so patient!

The academic side to flying is all about math—my worst ever subject—but I found that when I was learning the technical side of flying, the math fell into place. Why hadn’t that nasty math teacher I’d had in school told us that Pythagoras’s Theorem totally applied to airplane navigation?

With Marcus during training, 1995

Landing was the tricky part. Taking off is optional—landing is compulsory. It was my Achilles’ heel. For some reason my spatial awareness was all wonky. You really have to “feel” the landing as there is a time about 10 feet off the ground where you are on a kinesthetic journey of just knowing when the wheels will touch. I thumped that little plane down hundreds of times and poor Marcus was sometimes quite pale, but off we’d go again and again and again, round and round the pattern, landing—or should I say meeting the ground firmly. I was so determined to become a Master that I didn’t stop. I went to the airport every day and practiced. Sometimes I scared myself but I pressed on. Today, I can pretty much land anything, anywhere.

I remember the day I soloed. My instructor Marcus got out of the airplane—not as confident as he would have liked—and I was alone in this little tin cup.

And as I learned and gained knowledge, my confidence increased. I spent over 117 hours as a student before Marcus could sign me off to take my Private Pilot’s license. But because of that arduous, although thrilling journey of learning, I became an excellent instructor as I knew what it was to struggle in the flight training process. I found I could really help people with their fear—everyone has it.

With the help of some of the most extraordinary pilots I have ever known, I honed my craft. Every time—to this day—when I have a challenging flight, I think of all my teachers and what they used to say “Just wear the airplane and fly!”

Jason and I had moved to Red Bank, New Jersey after our wedding, in 1994, and right after we got there and I started flying. I struck up a friendship with Bruce Springsteen at our local gym. One day, I sat down beside him and he said, “What’s the topic of the day?” And off we went for the next few years having extraordinary chats about everything. This was Bruce’s local gym and he’s just that kind of guy—one of the most gracious and kind people I have ever met.  We would pretty much see each other every day at the gym and he sort of became my flying mentor in a strange kind of way. He loved that I was learning to fly and used to ask me every day how it was going. He nicknamed me Sky King (from the old series Sky King & Penny).

I remember the day before my first exam—the one that would give me my Private Pilot’s license and make me an official pilot. I was sick-to-my-stomach terrified, hoping for awful weather or that I’d come down with some lengthy illness—anything that would prevent me from going to the airport the next morning to face The Examiner! I was sitting in the gym and I told Bruce my exam was the next day. He was thrilled; I was not. I asked him, “Have you ever been scared to go on stage?” and without missing a beat he nodded and said, “Oh yes. A lot.” I was amazed. He has faced thousands of people and played for hours. Scared? Really? He patted my hand and said I was going to do fine and he’d see me in a couple days to hear the good news. Strangely, knowing that Bruce Springsteen got scared also was exceptionally comforting.

The next day, I aced the test and got my license. The following morning, I was getting out of my car at the gym and turned to walk in across the parking lot. There was Bruce standing with his arms open wide mouthing “Well?” I said I passed and he literally swept me up in a huge bear hug, congratulating me. That was a special day. He never knew it but Bruce Springsteen had an awful lot to do with my success as a pilot for the next 15 years. Whenever it got rough, I would often think of those days at the gym in Red Bank and the lovely friend I had in my corner.

With Jason at Best Friends

 

You’ve used your pilot’s license to help with animal rescue. Tell us about that.

As I improved and passed all my pilot’s exams with flying colors, I started to think, “What can I do with this?” “How can I be of service?” So in 2003, Jason and I moved to Kanab, Utah to work at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. They are the largest no-kill animal sanctuary in the world. Set on 3000 acres in Southern Utah, a half hour from the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Park, Best Friends is one of the most amazing places you will ever see.  Funded solely by individual donors, they bring in over $55 million a year and most of it goes to the animals. They have been instrumental in a lot of legislation changes around the country with regard to animal shelters and rescue. Just a look at their website tells you everything.

I took my airplane and worked as a Volunteer Coordinator and their animal transport pilot for ten years. They sent me to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to aid with their animal rescue and we rescued 6,000 dogs, cats, and various other species. I stayed down there for nine months. My first stationing was in Tylertown, Mississippi, where Best Friends had set up a temporary shelter/receiving area. We put in a 19-hour days, 7 days a week. At 1:00 am every night, a huge semi-truck would arrive filled with rescued animals from the city (New Orleans). We would take them and vet them. Some were in such a bad state we had to do emergency surgery there on the spot; some were so thin and cold they couldn’t walk; some were ok but so frightened they would bite everyone who came near them. But we didn’t care. They were our kids now and we would fix them.

Dog transport for Best Friends

 

What we were not prepared for, however, was how few people ever came to claim the dogs, cats, bunnies, snakes, reptiles, and varied assortment of critters we had accumulated. So after a while, we started adopting them out and sending them to other animal rescues across the country, which is where I came in: I flew the animals to various locations for adoption. I once had to fly a “family” of Tarantula spiders to a Tarantula rescue in Alabama. They were in a large roomy dog crate on the back seat of my airplane and I spent three hours steeling my nerves with those large, black, hairy creatures over my shoulder. I think I aged a bit on that flight!

In 2006, Jason and I moved to New Orleans itself, where Best Friends had set up a holding/rescue station in the city called Celebration Station, which Jason ran. This was very different: Every day we had a steady stream of people coming through the doors to adopt. Anderson Cooper even came from CNN and did an interview with me! I was primarily an adoption coordinator and we had to be very careful as most of our dogs were pit bulls. I worked side by side with my dear friend Cathy Scott, who wrote an amazing book about this experience called Pawprints of Katrina: Pets Saved and Lessons Learned. We had to be very careful as you never knew who was running a dog fighting ring and had come just because we had pit bulls.

Taking a miniature pony in the plane to the vet

One day, Cathy and I were working through a line of very impatient people wanting to adopt, when a guy who honestly looked like he was “straight out of Compton”—all black leather, gold chains, sunglasses that would have made Elvis squirm, with a posse of Dr. Dre wannabes—leaned over my desk, laid out three $100 bills and said, “I want the black one in cage 12.” His nose was about six inches from mine. My brain did that thing where it goes super slow—you know when you run through the list of options—as I figured out how to say no, as I knew in my heart he wanted this pit bull to fight. I then contemplated the various death scenarios that could possibly transpire as a result of my channeling Braveheart and facing down a gangster, not to mention Jason having to deal with the fact his wife was dead because she was “brave.”   Oh but it was such an easy decision. I stood up; looked Mr. Rapper square in one sunglassed eye and said, “No, Sir. That dog is not available to you. None of them are.” I could feel Cathy holding her breath as I basically waited to die. An eternity of seconds went by. Mr Rapper stared at me, pushed his nose an inch closer, turned on his heels, snapped to his boys, and walked out the front door.

I have no idea why he left but I felt like a million bucks. I knew I had just saved a life: the black dog in cage 12.

In New Orleans with rescued dog

How supportive were your family and friends?

It’s always ever just been my current husband. Everyone else thinks/thought I was mad, too old; too ambitious (for my age), etc. But when I succeeded in each endeavor – yup, they all said how great I was. How amazing! How I was so fabulous! My favorite was, “You are always so lucky.” Luck is when opportunity meets preparation. Or even semi prep in my case!

Jason and me today

 

What challenges did you encounter?

Sticking with it. Overcoming real fear. Getting into that plane every day. Trusting my instincts were right and this was my mission. Learning to understand that because this was so difficult and I had so much resistance, this was what I was supposed to be doing for a much larger and more important reason. I had no idea what that was as I wasn’t really that interested in only being an airline pilot. I just knew that even though most days were hard, I still had days of pure exuberance and joy like I had not felt since I was a child. I remember my first really good landing, where the plane met the ground and you didn’t even feel the wheels touch. That was beyond words amazing! That’s when I knew this was right. It was one of the first times I solely listened to my gut and ignored the chattering committee in my brain.

With rescued puppy

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?  

Yes. I think about quitting and just riding my horses and not thinking about being on a mission or changing the world, but that’s not my destiny. Thankfully I do have my amazing husband who is my consummate cheerleader, but that’s not enough is it? So I always go back to, “I’ve done this before.” When I was learning to fly I couldn’t land the airplane, I mastered it because I made it critical to my life. When I was learning to deal roulette and Blackjack at the Playboy Club and I couldn’t count fast enough and was on the brink of losing my job (and if I had, my mom was going to be put in debtors prison), I had to learn so I could keep the job. I found a way.

So I remember these times (and many others, when all looked hopeless) and remember how I focused and accepted nothing less than success. When it all looks hopeless, I create a critical commitment within myself.  I just say it’s time to make magic happen!

With my dog Peetey

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

Be brave beyond anything you could ever have imagined.

Ask yourself, “What would I do if I knew I couldn’t fail”?

And most important of all, scare yourself at least once a day!

Find mentors. I created my own: Maya Angelou for her wisdom in such few words; Eckhart Tolle to keep me in the Now; Bruce Springsteen for his extraordinary eyes on life; Tony Robbins when I need a kick somewhere. And always look for teachers who love teaching. They will be the best at what they do.

 

What advice do you have for those interested in becoming pilots? What resources do you recommend?

Get in your vehicle, drive to the airport and sign up with a flight school.  Find a good instructor and just do it. It’s really a hands on deal. You will get all your study textbooks from your flight school. But there are a few extra things I recommend.

AOPA is the Pilots association for private pilots. Become a member and you will also get the magazine.

King Schools: The training program I used for all the theory exams that you are tested on. Here’s an article about the founders, John and Martha King.

The cost varies depending on which kind of flight school you attend and a lot of other variables.  Here’s a good page for that info.

 

With Yusuf Cat Stevens, then and now

What’s next for you?

I am launching my new business, Act Three Productions where I hope to help women who want to change their lives and live a long-lost dream but just don’t know how or where to start. The kids are gone. Husband is doing what husbands do. Retirement looms in the distance. Now what? These women have been wives and mothers for so long, they realize they have lost themselves in who they’ve been for other people.

I am developing a Reinvention Program that will include one-on-one online mentoring and Reinvention Weekend Retreats, where we will delve into each person’s individual dreams and goals and work to achieve them by creating a new and different way of thinking about… What is my Third Act? How do I start? How am I in my way? What do I need to overcome to achieve ultimate success?

I’m also working on my speaking career and have officially signed with the Denver Speakers Bureau.

My book, Just Watch Me, will be coming out in spring, 2017. This is my autobiography told with nothing held back: my life starting as a child in England; my very first, fall-head-over heels-in-love-as-only-you-can at 17 relationship with Cat Stevens; my life as a Playboy Bunny and move into becoming a cabaret singer. Being raped at knifepoint in Liege, Belgium and taking two months to catch the guy, by myself, charge him, and put him away in prison for 15 years. Being tricked by my best friend into going on a holiday to Lausanne, Switzerland, and finding out it was just a ruse to send me into white slave traffic to an Arab Sheikh, then my subsequent hair-raising escape back to London, England. Telling Mother I was going on holiday to America in 1976 and never going back. Being told by some very nice Italian men from New York that I was going to play the lead in the movie of Judy Garland and finding out I was just their front for robbing casinos in Vegas. Walking the firewalk with Tony Robbins. And a lot more. The book will then continue on to the present day—very exciting.

I am self-publishing on Amazon and plan to make it a Best Seller! My hope is to catch the interest of a traditional publisher once that happens. And then the movie!

 

Contact Juliette Watt at Juliette.watt@gmail.com

www.ActThreeProductions.com

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Let’s Hear From an Expert: Wendy Sachs, Author of Fearless and Free: How Smart Women Pivot and Relaunch Their Careers

You are the author of the newly-released Fearless and Free: How Smart Women Pivot–and Relaunch Their Careers. Why did you feel it was important to write this book?
The book really came out of my personal experience. I think many writers write about what they know—and in my case I also wrote about what I needed to know. I had lost my job at an advertising agency, which was a bit random to begin with. I had never worked in advertising; this agency had actually been my client when I was working in PR. But now I was trying to pivot into one of these hot new positions at “content” studios that are emerging at agencies. Everyone is trying to figure out how to monetize this new breed of “content.” I had been reading about how this was the future—old school journalism, news, marketing and PR were changing, and I wanted in. I feared if I didn’t get a job soon, i would become a dinosaur. I felt like my professional currency was fading.

So when I lost my job at the ad agency (they ultimately couldn’t monetize the content) I started hustling for a new gig, and wherever I went it seemed like the person interviewing me had graduated college in 2009. That would have made them around 28 years old. It was shocking. More alarming was that the Millennials who interviewed me had a hard time figuring out how I would fit in; they couldn’t fit me neatly into a box. My experience is broad and deep. I’m really a multi-hyphenate and giving them my elevator pitch wasn’t working.

After one particularly depressing interview at a start-up, after I grabbed some kale chips and coconut water before walking out the door, I realized I needed to overhaul my pitch. I needed to rebrand myself. I needed to lean into my skills and probably pick up new ones. And that’s when I turned to some of the successful lessons that come out of Silicon Valley. After all, we have a cultural crush on Silicon Valley; it is our North Star guiding everything we do, from how we work to how we communicate. And there they embrace failure. They are masters of branding. They engineer serendipity. I started taking a closer look at what the start-up world is doing and decided to apply some of those strategies and lessons to women.

What challenges and opportunities do women face as they seek to make it big in their careers? 
There is no doubt that gender bias still exists. It’s often not overt, but it’s subtle—an unconscious bias. We are judged differently. As a culture, we still are grappling with what female leaders look like and sound like. We still admire a very manly, alpha male form of leadership; and that needs to change. The good news is that what I have found personally and through my own research is that female networks are exploding and women are really committed to raising women up with them. This isn’t just about mentors or sponsors, but active female networks that will share job leads and offer to introduce women to other people. I am lucky to be a part of one of these female networks and it’s been life changing. It’s emotionally supportive and has helped me professionally too, even with this book.

On a corporate level, we are also seeing a renaissance of commitment to diversity. Companies realize that they have bled female talent by losing women to motherhood and inflexible work schedules. And now many companies are actively trying to bring women back in through “returnship” programs or by simply reimagining work schedules. The other exciting development are platforms like Après and Landit that look to bring women who took time off or are simply at an inflection point in their careers and match them with companies. These platforms are like LinkedIn for women. They also offer services to help write your resume and practice interviewing—they even have confidence coaches to boost your mojo.

Have you found any concerns that are unique to women in midlife and beyond?
Yes! Many women who have taken time out of their careers and are looking to re-enter feel overwhelmed. They fear that they don’t have the relevant skillsets. They also worry that their networks aren’t as strong as they used to be. But most importantly, they suffer from a lack of confidence. Women tend to doubt themselves more than men. We want to be perfect—we are afraid of failure, and this fear can hold us back. The most effective way to grow confidence is to take risks, to take those chances. We need to get comfortable in the uncomfortable. That’s how we can move forward.

 

You talked to many women who successfully pivoted in their careers. Can you give us examples of women who did this in midlife or later?
At 60 years old, Jill Abramson, the Executive Editor of The New York Times—the most senior woman ever at the Times—was very publicly fired. Her firing made international headlines. But Jill don’t go into hiding. She decided she wanted to start teaching at Harvard and write a book. Interestingly, Jill believes that in her firing she has become more of a role model for women than when she was at the Times.

Deb Kogan, 50, keeps reinventing herself. Deb is now working as a Vice President at a global communications agency, writing books and writing for the TV show Younger. She always has a “side hustle.” Deb’s trajectory has taken her from war photographer to TV producer and novelist to writing for TV and now to her corporate job.

What are a few tips you discuss in your book?
We need to all think like entrepreneurs, even if we aren’t running our own businesses. We need to brand ourselves professionally, to let people know what we do and what we are looking to do. Visibility is extremely important;  that means you must network—often. Look to create opportunities for yourself by going to conferences and events and meeting people who maybe you would never think of meeting. Expand your circles. Also, remember that it takes work. Engineering serendipity means laying the groundwork so you are aware of when opportunities exist and then you are prepared to seize them. It’s all about taking some action. Small steps can lead to bigger steps. But you must get going. Inertia is a killer.

What resources do you recommend? 
Après, Landit, Ellevate are great platforms and websites. General Assembly offers some fantastic classes online and in person, in cities around the country.

Contact Wendy Sachs here 

Fearless and Free: How Smart Women Pivot–and Relaunch Their Careers

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About the Author
Wendy Sachs
 is the author of Fearless and Free: How Smart Women Pivot–and Relaunch Their Careers(AMACOM; 2017) and a master of the career pivot. An Emmy-award winning TV news producer, Wendy has worked at Dateline NBC, Fox, and CNN. She also worked as a Capitol Hill press secretary, public relations executive, CNN contributor, content strategist and editor-in-chief of Care.com. In a more random role, Wendy appeared as the on-air spokesperson for Trip Advisor. A frequent speaker, Wendy has written about work/life and women’s issues for multiple publications, including The New York TimesCNN.com, the Huffington Post and Refinery29. She has appeared on dozens of radio and TV shows, including Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, Fox and CNN’s Headline News. Wendy lives with her husband and two children in South Orange, New Jersey. For more information, please visit wendysachs.com and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter




Launching a Web Series in Midlife: Wendy’s Story

Reconnecting with an old acting friend and sharing her struggle with her sexual identity led Wendy to collaborate on the new web series, My Sister Is So Gay, just launched in January, 2017.

 

Tell us a little about your background…

I grew up in Florida, mostly. I say mostly, because at 17 right after high school, I started moving frequently. I’ve moved 35 times in my life—I’m an “army brat” of my own making! Dad and Mom were divorced when I was 13, which was more traumatic for me than I realized at the time. Probably my first big ‘shame’ adventure. I wanted so much to look and feel normal even then. That divorce, in my eyes, branded our family as “something was wrong with us.” Dad and my stepmother and Mom still live in Florida. My sister and her family moved to Colorado recently. My baby brother died in 2003 unexpectedly and this has been a great loss to our family. My mom and I are super close and, I have to say, I probably got my sense of humor from her. When we are together, we see the world the same way and always have a good laugh. She is a rock of support.

With my brother and sister

My first romantic experience with a woman was when I was 19—and she was my boss! It was 1979 and I was living in Tampa, Florida. I didn’t go to college right away after graduating from high school and I desperately needed a job. So, dressed in my favorite outfit—black floral skirt and midriff top—I headed to the mall. I’m not sure what message I was hoping to send interviewers in THAT outfit. There was a sign at an art gallery entrance that read, “Interviewing, experience needed.” Well, I had no experience in that line of work, nor any desire to work there, but I needed a job, and got hired, much to my dismay. This little decision would change the course of my life forever. During the turmoil of working in a place I hated, somehow this woman—the gallery manager—who appeared so creative, sophisticated, generous, and downright funny, became the focus of my thoughts. We went out a few times after work and both realized we had feelings for one another. We were together three years.

With my first girlfriend, 1979

After we broke up, I wanted to try being with men, but then I met another woman, older than me and completely in control (of everything) and that appealed to me at that time. We were together eight years, building a very successful home healthcare company in Miami, taking care of AIDS patients. CritiCare was the first home care company willing to take care of AIDS patients at the time. My partner was the nurse and I was the operations woman. During this time, I returned to college for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre.

Working at Criticare with Tonie

I built an entire career in acting for two decades while supporting myself in healthcare with the skills I learned at CritiCare. After I graduated from college in 1988, I immediately went to work in our home healthcare business. I was too scared to really put myself out there as an actress full time, but was auditioning.

It all felt and looked normal, except for the “girlfriend” part—I had my own homophobia going on. The problem for me was that I still desired to be “normal,” whatever that means. After I landed my first commercial and then my first stage play, I was encouraged to begin the steps of leaving this relationship. I could finally see myself outside the image of who I was with her. After eight years, my girlfriend and I parted (and I sold my share of the company) and I re-connected with my best friend from high school. We moved to Los Angeles in 1993 and married in 1997, when I was 37.

My wedding, 1997

 

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

After acting jobs dried up in Los Angeles and my marriage crumbled, I moved back to Miami in 2001 to be close to my family. I finally felt settled and rooted in a place I loved. I was mostly happy, had found a wonderful church, Church by the Sea, lived in a condo on the ocean that I was looking to buy, and was doing part-time consulting work for physicians, helping them restructure their reimbursement strategies. My left brain was on fire!

I had semi-retired from acting. It no longer interested me. I thought, “So, this is what it’s going to look like for the next 20 years or so?” I was okay with that. But God had other plans. A friend of mine was in a play and I went to support her and because I still loved being inside of a theatre. Her play was Speaking Elephants by Terry Lawrence and it would change my life, although I would not see the significance of that for years. I was so moved by the play’s story, which told the true-life experience of two elephants, Wanda and Winky, who lived at the Detroit Zoo and were going to be moved to a sanctuary in California called The Performing Animal Welfare Society.

While sitting in the audience, something deep within me felt a kinship and a jolting compassion for the plight of captive elephants. A stirring like I had never felt before. It was like my soul found home. Stage and elephants. As soon as I got home from the play, I devoured the Internet with everything elephant and sanctuary. I was now an activist for captive elephants.

Volunteering at the Miami Zoo

I volunteered at the Miami Zoo even though it broke my heart to see them on display and behind bars at times. I just wanted to learn more about them and be close to them. I mostly picked up elephant poop because I wasn’t qualified to be a zookeeper. That was fine with me. Exhausting for a 50-something woman, but soul filling to be near them. I would make these little care packages for them and the head zookeeper would let me feed them directly.

An elephant’s trunk is amazing. That’s where they smell you and feel you and will determine if you are a threat or safe. Unfortunately, if you are a threat, there’s nothing they can do in a zoo or circus. A bullhook keeps captive elephants from responding naturally to any outside influences. I started a campaign for Nosey the elephant, who had been part of a small family circus for 25 years, after 33 animal welfare violations by the USDA against her owner brought her attention to me. The fight to have her sent to sanctuary grew into a national campaign. Representative Raymond Lesniak even got involved.

Nosey

My life felt and looked full. I never saw ACT II approaching.

Was there some event or “aha” moment that precipitated your desire for a change? 

The aha moment did come and it was sort of a burning bush. Now, even though I was “retired” from acting—mainly because jobs had all but dried up for a few years—I was reading plays at night before bed. Just to, you know, keep that pilot light burning low. My spiritual life became huge during this time at the beach. Partly because of the minister at my church, Reverend Barbara Asinger, and partly because I was struggling with my sexuality and was willing to turn to a power greater than myself for guidance with everything.

With Barbara

In 2013, at the age of 53, while casually working at my computer for one of my healthcare clients, I heard the message in my head, “This is the year of the artist.” WHAAAAT? That can’t be right. I’m done with that. Finished. Too old. Too fat. Not “bookable.” Someone once told me, when I was doubting this message and the pathway it seemed to be building, that I needed “a bigger God.” That my mind could not conceive of the abundance that my God wanted me to have. So, I learned to have faith that I was being directed this way.

I went for it with my new big God. Sold my luxury car, began to rebuild my acting website, go new headshots, printed resumes. Then a couple of my healthcare clients moved away and I decided not to fill up my time looking for new ones. But then the summer arrived and no new acting jobs and nothing that gave me any sign that this was the “year of the artist.” Still, I kept putting one foot in front of the other.

As September rolled in, a notice in the online trades caught my eye: PLAY AUDITION…. ASPIRINS AND ELEPHANTS. Elephants? Gotta seek this one out. Well, it turned out to be a play at a playhouse in Los Angeles with a playwright I had worked with before in the ‘90s. I sent a taped audition for the role. A week letter I got an email: “Welcome to Aspirins and Elephants.”

I took the role, rented my condo, sent my cats to stay temporarily with my mom, rented a room from a previous roommate in Los Angeles, and headed West again. I’ve been back here ever since.

Cast of Aspirins and Elephants

What is your next act?

I am a writer, producer, and actor, and captive elephant activist. My acting roles have ranged from a lesbian criminal on the run to a grieving mother losing her 5-year-old son in a car accident to my current role as a homophobic uptight housewife in My Sister Is So gay.

I co-wrote, co-produced and co-star in the web series called My Sister Is So Gay. We launched in January 2017 on Tello Films. Here’s the trailer. It’s the story of Seth, a proud gay man, who’s invaded by his uptight, homophobic sister, Amanda (me!). She just shows up on his doorstep (with luggage) for the first time in 20 years after catching her husband having an affair with her best friend, Katherine. But it seems to Seth that Amanda is way more upset about Katherine cheating on her than her husband. Plus, there’s Seth and Amanda’s boozy, inappropriately sexy mother, Frances, played by the iconic Loni Anderson.

How did My Sister Is So Gay come about?

It’s such a synchronistic story that really re-enforced my faith yet again. My creative partner in this show, Terry Ray, and I were in the same acting class in 1995 in Los Angeles, taught by Broadway veteran director Charles Nelson Reilly. It was a scene study class, which means you choose a partner and then you and your partner pick out a scene from a stage play and present it to the class. Terry and I were each other’s first scene partners. We worked so well together that we were scene partners a lot in his class. I just loved Terry’s sense of humor (still do—he cracks me up) and my dream was to one day do a sitcom with him. We studied together in that class for two years but the opportunity to work together in a sitcom never happened. We also did a casting director workshop together and recently Terry came across a video he had of the two of us working a scene together back in the mid ‘90s in casting director Craig Campobasso’s workshop. What a hoot!

Terry and I had remained friends over the years and we had lunch in early 2014 after I moved back to Los Angeles. We started talking about my struggle with my sexuality (he is gay) and I was sharing some funny instances of that and the conversation sort of morphed into, “Hey why don’t we write something together?” I said, “Let’s write a web series! We can play brother and sister.” To which he replied, “Yeah, we can call it, My Sister Is Gay.” The more we talked, the more ideas about the content seemed to erupt. We decided the sister shouldn’t think she’s gay at all and the brother thinks she is SO gay, hence the title, My Sister Is So Gay.

With Terry

You also have a new play. Tell us about that.

I have written a play, GOD AND SEX, that I am so proud of and just feeling crazy amazed and blessed that it will have its world premiere next year in early 2017 in Santa Monica. The story started out as my one-woman show titled “10 days” about the 10 days surrounding my wedding experience and how un-special I felt at my own wedding. When anyone would ask me how my wedding went, I would reply with this statement: “It was like driving down a deserted highway all by myself, when suddenly a cow would fling itself at my windshield, like in the movie Twister, and I would be forced to swerve off the road to avoid it.”

Over a decade later, through rewrites and getting slightly more honest about what the story needed to be about (along with some growing up), it became a two-act play named GOD AND SEX with an entirely different story-line. Another synchronistic moment came when I found out that my original writing teacher, Lisa Soland, was coming back to Los Angeles for a weekend to host a writing workshop in July 2014. I had just been cast in another play following Aspirins and Elephants, so I decided to attend her workshop prior to starting rehearsals. That’s where my writing of this show came “out of the closet.” I had been doing rewrites of it in a writing group at church by the Sea in Miami with a few like-minded people but had put it away when I moved back to Los Angeles.

With Lisa Soland

This workshop would mean sharing it more publicly. Through Lisa’s workshop, I was able to polish the narrative and really unfold the meat of the story. She always pressured me to tell the story under the story. So the story under the wedding story is: After spending many years in a lesbian relationship, Amy decides it would be easier to “be straight.” The Husband/Target is Tim, her best buddy from high school who has loved her since the day they met. Assuming marriage and living a “normal, straight life” would be as easy as it appears in the movies, Amy commits to her goal of getting married to Tim. Eager to please his parents, Tim convinces Amy to have their ceremony in his parents’ quaint but “intolerant of homosexuals” country church. Amy forges ahead with her own kind of support so she asks Karen, her former lesbian lover, to be her maid of honor. Amy and Tim’s vision of the special day seems destined to go well until important details begin to crumble. Both desperate for their individual sexual and spiritual dreams to be realized, they plow forward and cling desperately to what they think they want, but divine intervention propels change in directions neither of them could have predicted.

It is loosely based on my experience leading up to getting married in 1997 and my first year of that marriage. I reached out to the artistic directors of the Santa Monica Playhouse, husband and wife team, Evelyn Rudie and Chris DeCarlo, asking them to consider my play for production because all of the important benchmarks of that marriage happened while I was performing on their stage. In four different plays!  It seemed only perfect that it premiere there as well. The play is now running on stage in Santa Monica, through May 13, 2017:  “A bride. A groom. A maid of honor (who just happens to be her ex-lover). What could possibly go wrong?!”

With Evelyn and Chris

How hard was it to take the plunge?

Without the support of the minister of my church, I would not have trusted God the way she taught me. All the arrows seemed to be pointing in the direction of returning to Los Angeles even though it wasn’t on my radar. I basically keep making leaps of faith. How did I prepare? Like I do for all changes and challenges. I stay close to God, listen for that small and gentle voice for direction, and watch. I get messages from books, from billboards, and from different people. Mostly I try and just stay in the day.

How supportive were your family and friends?

Terrific! If it hadn’t been for my mom suggesting that she take care of my two cats, this story would not have been told. I was so nervous about their welfare and uprooting them seemed like such an awful and selfish choice. My mom already had one cat, an elderly dog, and a rescue dog so this was not going to be a breeze for her, but she still volunteered and I took her up on it. By the way, my babies have never been happier.

With my mom

What challenges did you encounter?

The first was that being back in Los Angeles brought back memories of when I lived there before. By the time I had left the city in the early 2000s, I felt pretty defeated and broken, and all those feelings came rising to the surface as soon as I landed back in town. I spoke a lot to my minister back East, my best friend, and my mom. I’m sober 10 years so my program was front and center.

Then of course there were challenges getting our web series off the ground. We finished writing it in May 2015. The role of our mother we thought would be wonderfully played by Loni Anderson. But how to get a name actress to do our little project? As it turns out, Loni was married to Burt Reynolds and he and Charles Nelson Reilly worked together often in addition to being very close friends. Terry had worked with Loni briefly on a sitcom a decade earlier and, while on the set, he had introduced himself to her. They had a conversation about Charles Nelson Reilly. So, Terry thought, I can try and reach out to her manager. He did and she accepted the role immediately! The script was sent to Sam Irvin, a veteran director and producer and he loved it and said yes right away. Next came cast members Tilky Jones (Nashville) and Debra Wilson (Mad TV). We were set to go. Loni even won a best supporting actress award at the LaWebFest 2016, “the Sundance of web festivals” as quoted by the LA Times. Then we had to work on letting people know about the show before its premiere January 29, 2017 on Tello Films.

Cast photo for My Sister Is so Gay

Were there times when you thought about giving up?  

Absolutely! While I was performing in Aspirins and Elephants, the condo that I had been renting and was hoping to buy as a foreclosure was whisked away from me and bought at auction by Fannie Mae and then they kicked me out! I had to put all my stuff in storage and suddenly I was in limbo. I thought, “What have I done?”

But God, my minister, Mom, my acting work, and my best friend kept me going. My relationship with God has blossomed. I believe that my God truly wants a wonderful, abundant, and big life for me. And my mind thinks much smaller than God’s plans. My faith has evolved and my leaps are pretty frequent now.

 

With Julie, my best friend

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

What worked for me was to enlarge my spiritual life. I have too much anxiety living a creative life to not trust in something greater than myself. I still worry and get scared and wonder if I’m doing the right thing.

My path has been very non-linear (in my mind) and ultra-nontraditional. In walking a pathway that’s off the grid, so to speak, I learned to surround myself with cheerleaders—only people who think what I do is terrific and wonderful and funny and get me. That has been my saving grace. I just let people go who are not with me in a way that fulfills me and motivates me to keep taking risks. Otherwise it’s too much of a drain and I get derailed trying to either please people or get them to like me for who I am. I get just plain exhausted in the relationship. Cheerleaders fuel me and I continue learning to believe in myself.

 

With friends!

What resources do you recommend in your field?

Pam Grout

James Clear at james@dripemail2.org

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Even The Best Hookers Need Pimps: How to Be a Working Actor in Today’s Hollywood by Sarah Mornell

The Writer’s Motivation by Lisa Soland

Sanford Meisner on Acting by Sanford Meisner

Graphic Artist Julie Palas

 

Contact Wendy Michaels at wendymichaels6@gmail.com and mysisterissogay@yahoo.com

Website: Wendy Michaels

Website: My Sister Is So Gay

My Sister is So Gay Trailer

GOD AND SEX

Twitter: @wendy_michaels_

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Becoming a Daily Money Manager in Midlife: Susan’s Story

After almost two decades in banking, a string of personal losses led Susan to re-evaluate her life. She quit her job and founded My Trusted Partner, where she helps the elderly and busy professionals organize their finances and legal documents.

 

Tell us a little about your background.

Me, the baby, with my parents and siblings in 1966

I was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, where I currently reside (I moved away as an adult and came back years later). I am the youngest of four children. Both my parents are deceased. I graduated from Culver Academies and DePauw University and was married at 22 years old—one month after the suicide of my future father-in-law. I moved to St. Louis for a year to support us while my husband was finishing graduate school. We settled in northern Indiana, where I started my banking career. We had no kids and divorced several years later. Now, I am happily married to a man who has three grown children. We have a 3-year old granddaughter and a newborn grandson.

With my husband Paul, his children, and our granddaughter

I spent almost 20 years in the banking industry with two careers—one that included many roles on the banking center management side and the last 10 years as a Private Banker working with high net worth clients for a local bank in Indianapolis. I was the 52nd employee of almost 300 employees. Additionally, during my career, I was fortunate to have supportive bosses who encouraged community involvement so I was active as a volunteer, event chair, and board member with several organizations. I believe that to whom much is given, much is expected.

During the last ten years of my career, my husband and I entertained his donors and my clients or attended bank-sponsored events approximately four nights a week, including weekends. Some would say it was a fun and glamorous life; however, I grew to resent the time taken away from our family and leisure time, and the energy drain I felt on a daily basis. I was one of the few “regulars” called upon to attend these engagements. Combining this activity while doing my job to cultivate new business, manage a large portfolio, and serve as a loan officer and culture coach affected me, my health, and my relationships with those close to me.

With colleagues when I worked in banking

 

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

In 2014, my husband and I experienced seven deaths between our families and friends. It just didn’t stop for us. To make matters worse, I was terminating an assistant and experiencing some health issues related to feet and legs due to wearing high heels. It was during this time that I told my husband that I was making a plan to change my job rather than stay put and become miserable to the people around me. In January 2015, I met with my boss to discuss other job opportunities. Unfortunately, by fall, I knew that I was not taken seriously; I concluded that no job would be created  and no opportunity would present itself at a bank that I had truly loved and succeeded at.

This January 2016, on the one year anniversary of the day I initially talked to my boss, I left my job. When I announced my resignation, she asked if we could discuss another position; I responded something like, “You had a year.” She asked if I could stay to train my replacement and I said, “No, my new routine begins.” I told her it wasn’t personal. We are still friends. Frankly, I think leaving a long-time career and place that I invested a lot of time and effort in requires a period of grieving. It felt like a death of part of my identity. The end of a career is similar to the death of a loved one or of a comfortable relationship that didn’t last.

This winter, as I was driving to a yoga class, Diane Rehms of NPR was interviewing Barbara Bradley Hagerty about her new book Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife. She spoke to me so I went to the bookstore and bought her book. I tabbed a section of a person whose life was like mine, Laurie Plessala Duperier. I emailed Barbara and Laurie and still correspond with both. It was Laurie who led me to you, Hélène, and Next Act for Women. One of my hobbies is to write to authors of books that resonate with me. So far, at least a dozen have written me back! If they take the time to write, they certainly deserve to have feedback especially with people who like what they wrote, right? Someday, maybe I will write a book that others will feel the same way!

 

What is your next act?

I am a daily money manager with my own business, My Trusted Partner, LLC, which I launched last year at age 50.

While I was still in my banking job, I started receiving calls from clients in need of help with daily money management. Some didn’t have relatives living in the area and felt a need for support. Others had resources but no knowledge of how to manage their life. A daily money manager is someone who manages personal banking needs when the person doesn’t want to, or know how to, do it. It’s a much-needed service for seniors, busy professionals young and old, and those in transition due to death or divorce.

I can organize financial documents, legal documents such as wills, trusts, Power of Attorney (POA), and other important documents in one area for loved ones to locate. I can pay bills reconcile bank statements, open and sort mail, and address any other projects needed such as home maintenance issues. I provide an extra set of eyes for loved ones. It’s surprising how many people don’t have wills or POAs and may need some help with budgets too. Some things I do and other things I can refer to a professional.

I love the personal relationships I form with people. I love knowing that I am making things easier by being helpful, organized, and knowledgeable. It still draws on my banking experience—in a good way.

And I love owning my business. It’s been something I have wanted to do since I did a career test in college. The test showed I rated high as a small business entrepreneur or teacher. Funny, because I have always enjoyed teaching and mentoring my staff and younger employees!

Working with a client

 

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

Well, I spent a lot of time during the past three years getting to know who I was, what I enjoyed, and what I valued with the help of a life coach. I narrowed my options, based on my skills and values, to a community relations position or trainer, executive director of a non-profit, or a small business owner with a focus on service. My high level of service, professionalism, and planning are some of my strongest qualities.

 

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

I set up the shell of the business in 2015 but waited until I left the bank to launch the business this spring around the time I was attending a conference where I knew I would be running into former coworkers.

How did I prepare? Two days after I left my job, my husband and I went on Caribbean vacation to celebrate my 50th birthday—walking the beach, doing yoga, kayaking, and enjoying the sun. It was the best way for me to make the initial change to my routine. When I returned, I did nothing for a month, which was extremely difficult. During my previous life, I took great pride in accomplishing a lot on weekends, not realizing that it was exhausting me and those around me. I wasn’t doing myself any favors.

In March, I decided to do a 30-day yoga challenge on an impulse, which turned out to be one of the best things I have done. Since then, I am a regular yogi but keep myself in check that I don’t over-do it. I am cultivating new friendships. Even though I am an introvert, the absence of social contact through a career has been a challenge, so I look for opportunities to have lunch, coffee, walks with others, and join the board of a small non-profit called Paws and Think—an organization dedicated to improving lives through the power of the human-dog connection. 

With Kathy Janes, volunteer coordinator for Paws and Think

 

How supportive were your family and friends?

Once my husband understood the business and how aging Baby Boomers could be instrumental in my business development, he was on board and has been my biggest fan! Some don’t understand why I left a great job to start a new business. They say that this is a temporary stop for something greater down the road, while others say that this is great fit for my personality and background.

 

What challenges did you encounter?

Now, I don’t have the reputation of an organization to open doors, so to speak. Now, it is me and how I show up. First impressions are lasting ones! I am challenged by time. The business isn’t going to come to me so I have to put myself out there and let people know what I do.

To promote my new business, I applied the business development skills I used in my previous jobs. I made a list of people I knew, including centers of influence, those people who may refer business to me: CPAs, financial planners, Estate Law and Elder Law attorneys, bankers, trust officers, geriatric care managers, and healthcare advocates. These are people I feel comfortable referring business to and I can also ask them specific questions when dealing with a client’s issue.

Announcing your new venture is a great way to let people know that you have started something on your own. Preferring the personal touch, I called people I knew well and left the business relationships to emails and letters. Committing to calling a few people every day was a good goal for me. As I spoke to them, I asked for referrals. Word of mouth really is the best way to reach new clients and a vote of confidence!

This year, I started personal and business Facebook pages, and my website is up and running. I hope to blog about topics that I think are most relevant to my clientele.

I spent the last 10 years safely and quietly doing my job under the bank’s image. At times, I felt I didn’t speak up or show up. Now, I am marketing myself. It is time for me to shine my light and be the person I was meant to be.

With a client

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?  

Absolutely! Fear of failure is HUGE for me. If I fail, everyone will know. If that’s the worst thing that happens, then I guess I’ll just have to see what happens! Many years ago, when my boss told me I needed to entertain clients over lunch, I wondered how I could do it so I read Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers. It’s a great book that encourages you to push through the fear.

My husband has been very encouraging when I get down. I know that my late parents are looking down at me and are there to nudge me in the right direction too! Also, I feel liberated by this experience so I know I can keep going. I have no regrets.

 

What did you learn about yourself through this process?

I am a lot stronger than I give myself credit for. I have been given a lot in my life as well as a lot of adversity—suicide, three bank robberies in 8 years, and divorce. Those close to me would say I am resilient and courageous. Anything that I have taken a risk on has been greatly rewarded. One of my mantras is: No risk. No reward. Finally, I learned to trust myself. It was a huge epiphany when I realized that I was doing things to please others, and now I can trust myself with the decisions I am making at 50!

 

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

Yes, I probably would have taken more time off just being, and probably travelled more during the hiatus. My husband and I love to travel and explore. And, self-care has been something I have had to learn. There were no role models for me to follow. I look for opportunities to recharge and care for myself when days don’t go well or people don’t behave the way I hoped.

 

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

Don’t let your age or fear hold you back and keep you from doing something different. Even it you aren’t ready to change your job, make a plan to try one new thing a day, whether it’s driving to work a different way or sampling a new food. Get out of your comfort zone. That’s when we grow!

Since I have been gone, people I know ask me “How’s retirement?” to which I respond, “I’m not retired, just reinventing myself.” Don’t let other people’s comments on what they think you should do affect what you know about yourself. Find new people who will support, encourage, and believe in you. Leave the critics and jealous people behind. They are wasting your time and energy.

Hatha Yoga at The Yoga Studio

 

What advice do you have for those interested in becoming daily money managers?

I know several people, men and women, who would be excellent daily money managers. They are kind, patient, good with numbers, manage their own family member’s finances and home, and have integrity. It is a great job for people who want flexibility and variety. You can work for yourself, have a partner, or form a team, depending upon how big you want to grow. Finding the right people in other professions to refer clients back and forth helps. Determine who the people are who are like you and if you would like the type of people they have as clients. You can partner with them on presentations too.

Self-employment isn’t for everyone. It’s challenging and rewarding. It takes patience, perseverance, goal setting and a vision for how you see your life and time evolve. It takes setting healthy boundaries.

 

Favorite books

 

What resources do you recommend?

When I started researching this field, I came across AADMM, American Association of Daily Money Managers. They have a mentor resource and can answer any questions you may have regarding starting a similar business. Every month, we have a virtual call with other daily money managers to bounce ideas off each other and see what works for others in the field.

I have a life coach, Julia Mattern, who has been instrumental in my growth. She works with the entire person, not just the one who is trying to figure out a new career. I have learned a lot about myself.

I recommend the following books:

The Introvert Entrepreneur: Amplify Your Strengths and Create Success on Your Own Terms by Beth Buelow

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

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

50 Things to Do When You Turn 50: 50 Experts on the Subject of Turning 50 Ronnie Sellers

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes

The Richest Man in Babylon: Now Revised and Updated for the 21st Century – Common by George Samuel Clason

It’s Not About the Money by Brent Kessel

The Real-Life MBA: Your No-BS Guide to Winning the Game, Building a Team, and Growing Your Career by Jack Welch & Suzy Welch

The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom: Practical and Spiritual Steps So You Can Stop Worrying Suze Orman

With Paul, in Rome

 

What’s next for you?

I definitely have another next act in my future and would like to think that this is the beginning of a new chapter for me—that this is the stepping off point for other opportunities. I would like to consider teaching, speaking, and other entrepreneurial opportunities. Certainly, there’s a need to teach financial literacy in schools. Who says you have to do the same thing for the rest of your life unless you love it?  Life is short, and I am seeing that there is more to life!

 

Contact Susan St Angelo at susan@mytrustedpartnerllc.com

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Advocating for Mesothelioma Awareness: Heather’s Story

Shortly after her daughter was born, Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Now 11 years cancer-free, she has made it her mission to raise awareness of this deadly disease.

 

Tell us a little about your background…

I grew up in a small town in The Black Hills of South Dakota called Spearfish, which has a population of about 8000 people and is home to a small liberal arts university. My mom and dad moved us there when I was in kindergarten, so I don’t remember much before that. I have only one sister who is 4 ½ years older than I am. I graduated high school in 1987, took a year off and was a nanny on the east coast before I decided to go back home and give college a try. After a few years, I decided a regular college was not for me and enrolled in cosmetology school.

Our wedding day, 1999

I loved doing hair. I not only worked in a salon but was an educator for Redken, a color and product company. That job was what brought me to Minneapolis/St Paul, where I still live today. I met my husband, Cameron, shortly after moving here and we got married a short 10 months after. We knew it was right the first night we met. We decided to hold off on starting a family while I pursued my career; I eventually became part owner of the salon I worked in. After two years, we decided it was time to try and get pregnant, after all, I wasn’t getting any younger! Lily was born a little over a year later, on August 5, 2006. I was 36 years old.

After I had Lily, I started to experience some puzzling symptoms. I was losing an extreme amount of weight, and looking back, I had only gained 5 pounds during the whole pregnancy, so that was concerning. I had a low-grade fever that lasted a few hours every evening and I was beyond tired. I was bone weary, that is the only way I can explain it. I was also anemic and had been since my release from the hospital when I had given birth to Lily.

Then in mid-October, it felt like a truck was parked on my chest, I was having trouble breathing and would get out of breath after the smallest of exertions. Many of the symptoms I had were chalked up to being postpartum; I never dreamt it could be anything worse. Only after a very frightening incident—I had gotten a load of laundry up from our basement after I had put Lily in her swing, then sat on the couch and passed out for over an hour—that I knew something was seriously wrong.

Baby Lily

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

November 21, 2005 is the day the bottom dropped out of my world. I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, a deadly cancer that is almost always caused by asbestos exposure. I was exposed to asbestos as a child when my father worked with it and brought it home on his clothing. I remember wearing his dust-covered jacket to do my outside chores. I would grab his dirty coat to go feed our rabbits, rake leaves, or even just to go grab the mail. His coat always hung on the doorknob in our entry. I’d also run errand with him in his car, which was just as dusty as his coat.

My dad did construction, drywall sanding and clean up, and that joint compound had asbestos in it. He also did a lot of demolition, tearing apart old boilers that were covered in asbestos insulation, which meant he worked with a lot of it. Sadly, he died almost three years ago due to renal carcinoma, which can also be caused by asbestos exposure.

When I was diagnosed with mesothelioma, I was given just 15 months to live if I didn’t do anything. My baby was just 3½ months old and now I may not live to see her second birthday, my doctor told me with tears in his eyes. But he was prepared with a list of options for us. I could do chemotherapy and radiation, hope it would halt the cancer, and maybe give me five years, or try an experimental surgery, assuming I was a candidate, that consisted of removing my entire left lung where the cancer was. It would be performed by the best pleural mesothelioma surgeon in the world, Dr. David Sugarbaker, located in Boston at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Without hesitation, my husband said “Get us to Boston.”

After surgery, Feb 2, 2006

Facing a potentially life-ending diagnosis and dangerous treatment will change you on a foundational level. I lost my career, my salon, and many people who I thought were friends. The early days of my cancer battle were incredibly isolating, terrifying, but at the same time, life altering.

When I was diagnosed, I did what anyone would do. I went online and read up on what I was up against. Boy was that a bad idea. In all my reading, I learned that most mesothelioma patients didn’t make it past 18 months and that the 5-year survival rate was less than 2%.

Just let that sink in for a minute. You have a new baby. You just found out you probably won’t make it to see her second birthday, and the chances of seeing her turn five and go to Kindergarten are even worse.

I had to put everything I’d read aside and get it into my head that these are just statistics and that from the minute I was diagnosed I skewed the statistics. For one, I was about 35-40 years YOUNGER than the average mesothelioma patient. Second, I was otherwise healthy. I HAD to beat it.

Cancer in and of itself is isolating. People don’t know how to act around you. The people I had worked with all but pushed me out the door. I felt very little support from those who I thought would help me the most. Instead, I felt like a burden and a pariah.

After my diagnosis, I went into the salon that I had been part-owner of to gather my belongings and tools that I had bought throughout the years, only to discover they had cleaned out my station and let everyone claim them. I had to go around to everyone’s station and get back the hundreds of dollars of tools that people had claimed. I felt not only unwanted, but as thought they’d already written me off for dead. Who does that to someone? I quickly sold off my share in the salon and have not had contact with many people from there since.

To be honest, having the people I thought were friends turn their backs on me hurt more than getting diagnosed with cancer. I didn’t have many friends outside of my work friends, so I felt really alone. Thankfully, my clients stepped up. I had the best clients in the world. One of them paid my car payments for two months; another came over every week and cleaned my house. I found out who my true friends were and who really cared about me.

in ICU after the surgery

On the other hand, support from my husband and my families could not have been better. I have two sisters-in-law who live nearby in the Minneapolis metro area and they were there for us at a moment’s notice. My mother-in-law, Lois, would make meals and bring them over to us. My sister-in-law Debbie, who’s also Lily’s Godmother, would take Lily overnight every Friday or Saturday while I was going through treatment, to give my husband a break from his caregiving duties. My sister-in-law Karen was always available during the day to watch Lily when urgent medical issues came up, like the time I needed a transfusion.

Our families also banded together with my clients to put on a benefit for us. They all worked to make things easier for us during a tumultuous time. My cancer diagnosis brought us all closer together as a family, both on my and on Cameron’s side. We know what is important, and we are there for each other when it matters. It’s so good to know I can count on them when I need them and I’m happy to help them too, as the need arises.

My husband was my rock through this whole thing. Even though the possibility of losing his wife and being a single parent was very real, he never let that grief take over. I was pretty self-sufficient during treatment and could take care of myself ok, but where he was invaluable was his help with Lily. There were times during chemo when I literally could not get out of bed, so tending to an 8-month old was nearly impossible.

Cam, my rock

When I was done with treatment, Cameron when back to school to get his degree so he could get a better job, knowing full well I would not be able to return back to work. He worked full time while also going to school full time for two years, and graduated with honors. His schedule was brutal. He would get up at 6am, drive a delivery truck all day, go to school at night, study until 1 or 2am, then wake up and do it all over again. He got a job working in IT at US Bank before he even graduated and has been there for six years now and loves his career. So my diagnosis was not only the catalyst for my next act, but for his as well.

I decided not to concentrate on the hurt. I had a much bigger battle on my hands. I had no time for petty people or people who would not support me. I held my head high and put my energy into what mattered, my health and my daughter. My daughter is what got me through the really hard times. Just looking at this sweet innocent baby who was born into this mess and didn’t deserve any of this was my entire reason to fight and rise above. I refuse to play the victim.

My “aha moment” came when I realized I didn’t want anyone to feel the way I felt. If it meant personally reaching out to every newly diagnosed mesothelioma patient, then so be it. I NEEDED people to know they were not in this alone.

With Lily during recovery

 

What is your next act?

I am an advocate for the prevention and treatment of mesothelioma cancer.

I am a patient advocate: a mentor, sounding board, supporter. When someone is diagnosed with mesothelioma, they usually go online and find, like I did, all bad things and very little hope. I wanted to be that beacon of hope in a sea of despair.

It started simply with talking to other patients every time I returned to Boston to see my surgeon for checkups, a trip that will take place regularly twice a year for the rest of my life. After Dr Sugarbaker started telling journalists who reached out to him about me, news stories started cropping up on Reuters and the local newspaper.

However, what really launched my advocacy was meeting a woman by the name of Linda Reinstein at a mesothelioma conference, about four years after my diagnosis. She and I clicked right away. She had lost her husband to mesothelioma a couple of years earlier. They had started a nonprofit called The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization. She invited me to speak at their annual conference the next year.

Speaking at Senator Franken 2016 event to raise awareness about asbestos

After that, things just started to roll. I was approached by The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance to be an advocate and blogger for them and I couldn’t say no. The blog has been hugely successful and reaches far and wide. The blogging community has been instrumental in getting the word out and helping me raise awareness. It’s been an amazing journey and my life has been enriched by the incredible people I’ve been able to meet as a result of this.

By sharing my story, blogging, and telling patients and their families that there are treatments that are helping patients with mesothelioma live longer, I give them that bit of hope that they so desperately need. I am available to talk to anyone and help anyone who finds themselves facing a mesothelioma diagnosis. There aren’t many people who are willing to put themselves out there for that purpose. I also serve as a conduit for information; I’ve learned a thing or two in the 11 years since my diagnosis and if my experience can help someone, then I’m doing the right thing.

I help point people to the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation so they can understand all their options. I DON’T offer medical advice as I am not medically trained, but advice from someone who’s been through something similar always helps.

Speaking at the 2016 ADAO conference

 

Can you tell us more about mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the organs, of the mesothelium. There are three types: pleural (my diagnosis) which affects the lung; peritoneal, which affects the abdomen; and pericardial, which affects the heart. There is even a rarer subtype that affects only men and is found in the testicles.

Mesothelioma is almost always caused by asbestos exposure and has a latency period anywhere between 10 and 50 years. It’s a very rare cancer, with only about 3,000 people a year diagnosed in the US. Most people, upon diagnosis, are given mere months to live and are told to go home and get their affairs in order. The prognosis is poor, with most patients not making it past 18 months, or certainly beyond 5 years.

Many doctors don’t understand mesothelioma and therefore don’t know how to treat it. The best thing to do is seek out a specialist who knows how to treat the disease. That is who I credit with saving my life, my surgeon, mesothelioma specialist Dr. David Sugarbaker, who’s now at The Lung Institute at Baylor in Houston, TX.

Treatment varies depending on the type, but surgery is the main way people usually deal with it, along with chemotherapy and sometimes radiation. Treatments vary depending on the severity of the disease and whether the cancer has metastasized (spread to other places in the body). Immunotherapy is now being used as well in many clinical trials. Different treatment centers will gear treatment for each specific case; it is not a one-size-fits-all treatment plan.

 

Why did you choose this next act?

I’d say it chose me. I knew I wanted to help people, I just didn’t know how to go about doing it. Situations presented themselves to me and I jumped at them every time they came my way. It has not always been easy. I have to constantly relive those days of my diagnosis and the most uncertain time of my life, but when I do, it empowers me and takes the fear away. I didn’t know that this is what I was going to do—it was not a conscious decision to take it as far as I have—but I feel like there is so much more to do. I would love to do more public speaking and more fundraising. So many things to do! 

Kayaking for Meso, 2016

 

How hard was it to take the plunge?

Taking the plunge into advocacy and being an activist just feels RIGHT. A person’s story is powerful, especially stories of overcoming obstacles. I feel that my story can inspire others to think “If she could do it, I can too.”  I didn’t prepare for it; as I said before, the opportunities presented themselves and I took them. I still feel like there is so much more to do. I just know how I felt in those early years after my diagnosis and how I felt during treatment, I don’t want anyone to feel that loneliness and abandonment that I felt. Nothing like personally living it to prepare you for something!

 

Tell us about your challenges.

I try not to dwell on those. I have health challenges. Cancer treatment changes you. I don’t have the stamina I used to have. Chemo affected my brain in a way I never thought. I tend to be forgetful and have a hard time staying on task. It’s very similar to ADD and I recently started taking Adderall to help with the “chemo brain.”

I have to be careful of what I eat, how I eat, and when I eat because of stomach and esophageal issues due to my radiation treatments. I’ve lost most of the feeling in my left hand and don’t sweat on my left side anymore due to the surgery. There are all minor inconveniences, though, because I am still alive and well!

When you are involved in the cancer community, you are immediately thrust into a world of uncertainty and constant reminders of how fragile life is. People die. Sometime I lose three or four people I know in a week. Some hit me hard, but it doesn’t change the fact that cancer is an ugly ugly disease.

With Lily during my treatment

I lost my own dad to cancer. I watched him change from a health vibrant man to a mere shell. I held his hand as he passed, after we told him it was ok to go. It was one of the most humbling things I’ve ever been through. That is the ultimate in trust, to let another human take care of you in your most vulnerable state. I’ve been fortunate to be there for a few people near the end of their lives and it is something that changes you on a visceral level. I have a very different relationship with death than I did 10 years ago. It used to scare me, now I see it as part of the circle of life, something greater than you or me.

There are times when it gets to be so incredibly overwhelming. The stories are heartbreaking and the stark reality of being a patient advocate is that people die. Mesothelioma is particularly brutal; this cancer wreaks havoc on your body and you are a shadow of your former self.

I’ve lost more friends than I can count. There are weeks when our mesothelioma community loses 3-5 people. It’s devastating and my heart just shatters every time it happens. I’ve had to take time to take a step back, mourn my losses and recover. But I get up, dust myself off, dry my tears and jump back in. It is those losses that keep me going, as strange as it sounds. I feel like I need to be their voice.

With fellow advocates and women who’ve lost family members to mesothelioma, 2016

The patients’ loved ones are the biggest supporters I have. It’s incredible, really, when you think about it. These people have lost someone so dear to them, whether it be a husband, wife, mother, sister, or brother, but they tell me that they are proud of me. I love to hear the stories of their loved ones, who they were, what they were like. See, I only get to know the people when crisis strikes, after the diagnosis and not before. They are more than a cancer diagnosis. They lived full lives and now we are left with their memories.

The mesothelioma community is incredible and it is those relationships that I’ve built in my 11 years that keep me fighting. In the beginning, though, it was all about my baby girl and my husband. I was not going to give up for them, but the emotions got pretty raw in those dark hours in the middle of the night after I was diagnosed. I couldn’t sleep so I would get out of bed and go into my baby’s nursery. I would watch her sleeping by the glow of the nightlight and vow to fight for her. The tears would silently fall as I thought how unfair it was to her. She didn’t deserve to have a sick mommy; she needed me. That right there was 100% my reason to keep going. She just turned 11 this last August, and I am just in awe of the person she is becoming.

My family, 2016

 

What did you learn about yourself through this process?

Wow, where do I start? I learned I was stronger than I ever thought I could be. So many people tell me how brave I am, and I sometimes don’t know how to take that. I don’t think I was brave. I didn’t choose to get cancer. I had to fight, I had to live to raise my daughter. I don’t know if that is bravery or just stubbornness.

I learned that the desire to help people feel good about themselves when I was doing hair, crossed over into my advocacy work and that desire is even more ingrained than before. I learned that I have a voice and that I can use it to bring about change. I’ve learned that having faith is instrumental. For me, it is faith in God, faith in my medical team and most of all, faith in myself. I love that.

 

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

Honestly? No. Being diagnosed with cancer was all at once the worst thing that ever happened to me, and the best. It made me who I am today. The people I’ve met since are some of the most amazing people and we connect on a deeper level because of what I’ve been through. There is so much more I want to do that I don’t waste my time thinking of the “what ifs.”  My life is what it is because of what happened to me and the way I chose to react to it. I’ve never played the victim, and never asked “Why Me?” Instead, I took the position of why NOT me? I’m a fighter, I come from a long line of strong, independent women and I draw on that strength to move forward.

 

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

Ask yourself what is the worst that can happen? In my case, quite honestly, the answer was that I could die. I thought long and hard about that. So, if I do die, I want to leave a legacy. That gave me the courage to pursue this. For most people, reinvention is something incredibly scary. Find people who inspire you, people who have done something you admire, or have taken something awful and turned it around.

There is an author and speaker whom I admire greatly; her name is Glennon Doyle Melton. I was listening to Minnesota Public Radio and she was talking about her life and series of choices and circumstances that brought her to where she is. She says to run TO that which frightens you. Embrace it. I LOVE that! How often do we let our fears take hold and blow things out of proportion? If you face those fears it takes their power away, and lets you conquer them!

This is the whole premise behind our Lung Leavin’ Day celebration we have every year near the anniversary of my surgery, when I lost my lung on February 2, 2006. We write our fears on a plate in sharpie marker and smash those plates in a bonfire in our back yard. In Minnesota. In February! It’s a tradition shared by 100 or so of our closest friends. So, run TO that which scares you and conquer it.

Lung Leavin’ Day, 2013

 

What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing advocacy?

Draw on your personal experience. Speak from the heart and take chances. Advocacy is an intensely personal journey. It is born out of a desire to right that which is wrong, or to help others. It is incredibly rewarding but at the same time really hard. You need to be prepared to have your heart broken and to celebrate. Blogging? Well that is pretty easy, sit and write! Ok, easy may be pushing it. Having a love of writing helps, as does a topic or lifestyle that you want to share. Many blogs have started out simply as a way to document a journey for their kid and it grows into something much larger. That choice is up to you, as to how much time and energy you want to commit to it.

With Dr. Sugarbaker, 2015

 

If someone wants to learn more about mesothelioma, how would she do that?

The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

My blog on that same site: www.mesothelioma.com/heather

The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation

The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization

Imerman Angels (a cancer patient mentoring organization)

I Had Cancer

 

What other resources would you like to share?

I like inspirational women. Women who overcome, who do things on their terms, despite what people say. These women are strong beyond what they imagined.

Jill Smokler of Scary Mommy: She took a funny web page and turned it into a movement.

Glennon Doyle Melton of Momastery and her new book, Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life.

The Bloggess, Jenny Lawson, who speaks often about mental illness—bravo! She has three books out: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things, and You Are Here: An Owner’s Manual for Dangerous Minds.

Jo Hilder, a friend and author from Australia, who is a cancer survivor as well. She has written two books about cancer: Soul Letters for the Cancer Sojourner and Things Not To Say To Someone Who Has Cancer.

Luvvie Ajayi, who started The Red Pump Project, a nonprofit raising awareness about the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls.

 

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

I hope to write a book about my journey. We shall see if that comes to fruition. I would also love to be an inspirational or motivational speaker. TEDX! That is my bliss.

 

Contact Heather Von St. James at heathervsj@gmail.com

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Let’s Hear From an Expert: Beverly Jones, Author of Think Like an Entrepreneur, Act Like a CEO

Through your company, Clearways Consulting, LLC, you provide executive coaching and workshops to support professionals facing challenges and transitions. What challenges and opportunities do you see for midlife career transitions?

Change – sometimes dramatic change – is inevitable in today’s careers. In my book, I discuss how the idea of spending your entire work life doing the same kind of things now seems quaint. Today, it’s normal for careers to flow through many phases, involving varied skill sets.

The inevitability of change can feel daunting, but the new environment brings good news as well. You can take charge of your career, much like an entrepreneur. You can learn survival skills, experiment with options, and know that there is always room for fresh starts, whatever your age.

Tell us more about how your book, Think Like an Entrepreneur, Act Like a CEO, and why it might be of interest to women in midlife or older. 

The book is written as a practical guide for being more nimble at work. It’s intended to help you become more adroit and adaptable, better able to handle common predicaments and to capture opportunities, one by one. It explains how one key to resilience is mastering your own go-to system for getting started when it’s time to make a career shift.

 

What is your best advice for women in midlife who are seeking to make a career change?

Think about how you want your life to look in the future. Then create categories of action items with the potential to gradually transform your career to something that better supports your ideal vision. For each category, start methodically taking tiny steps.

 

Can you give us an example of someone whose midlife transition you helped navigate?

Generally my client conversations are confidential, and I can’t talk about them. However, I recruited a wonderful client, Nancy Augustine, who was willing to have NPR reporter Barbara Bradley Hagerty tape a series of coaching sessions over eight months. Barbara documented Nancy’s transition as she finished her term as a university visiting professor and launched her consulting activity. You can hear about Nancy’s change process in an NPR segment and read about it in Barbara’s great book, Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife.

In her book, Barb observed that Nancy’s transition occurred through a series of small shifts: “I think this is how Nancy and Bev charted Nancy’s future. No dramatic swings…she is just making tiny adjustments within the areas she excels at and loves… and bit by bit she nears her mark.”

 

What are your favorite resources you send your clients to?

I frequently recommend the work of Kerry Hannon, including my favorite of her books, Love Your Job: The New Rules for Career Happiness, and her website.

And I’ve found AARP.org to be full of excellent resources.

 

Contact Beverly Jones at beverlyejones@mindspring.com

Clearways Consulting, LLC

Think Like an Entrepreneur, Act Like a CEO: 50 Indispensable Tips to Help You Stay Afloat, Bounce Back, and Get Ahead at Work

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Beverly Jones, author of Think Like an Entrepreneur, Act Like a CEO: 50 Indispensable Tips to Help You Stay Afloat, Bounce Back, and Get Ahead at Work, is a model of career resilience and reinvention. She started out as a public radio/TV writer, next created and led university programs for women, and then trail-blazed her career as a female Washington law firm partner and Fortune 500 energy executive. Throughout her varied work life she has mentored other professionals to grow and thrive.

Since 2002, Bev has flourished as an executive coach and leadership consultant, helping professionals of all ages to advance their careers, shift directions, and become more productive. Based in the nation’s capital, she works with clients spread across the country, including senior attorneys and accomplished leaders at major federal agencies, Congress, NGOs, universities and companies of all sizes.  

Bev is a popular speaker and facilitator, she creates workshops and other events around the needs of her clients, and her blogs and podcasts are found at www.clearwaysconsulting.com and media sites such as WOUB.org.