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_

Facebook personal page

Facebook My Sister Is So Gay




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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Twitter: @beverlyejones

 

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.




Launching a Business to Teach People Digital Skills: Jessica’s Story

Being laid off after 28 years and some self-development classes led Jessica to discover her talent for coaching others to learn Microsoft Office programs like Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. She recently started her own company, Alt-Enter, where she trains adults in those and other digital skills. 

 

Tell us a little about your background.

I grew up overseas, in Africa to be precise. My father was initially in the Foreign Service and then in private business. We lived in Sierra Leone, Zaire (now the Congo), and then back in Sierra Leone. I came to the US for boarding school in 7th grade, enrolled at the University of Chicago for college, and have stayed in Chicago ever since. I made the typical trek north: from Hyde Park (where the University is), to Rogers Park (the northernmost neighborhood in Chicago), and finally to Evanston, the first suburb north of Chicago. I have lived in Evanston for over 20 years.

Age 4

Both my parents and my two brothers (and their families) live on the East Coast, so I don’t see them as much as I would like. Frankly, I envy families who have stayed in the same geographical area.

I worked for Unilever, a global consumer products company, for 28 years, which was a wonderful experience. I was a Facilities Manager, then transitioned to a consulting role after a layoff. I loved almost every minute of my employment in Corporate America. I was good at the office politics and the complex processes and procedures.

I have been married over 30 years (to a wonderful man I met as a sophomore at the University of Chicago), and I have a 25-year-old daughter. She lives in Evanston as well, with a wonderful young man, so we see her at least once a week, which is great. I have two terriers that keep me very busy with the required amount of dog walking! Good thing I have an enormous amount of energy.

Our family at the State Fair when our daughter was little

 

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

When I was laid off from Unilever, I realized that I had let some of my technical skills atrophy. I had gotten too “comfortable.” I embarked on a self-study program for Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. As I got better, I started answering questions at my local public library, where I volunteered. At some point, the Branch Manager at the Evanston Public Library and I decided to hold a “Tips and Tricks” program on MS Office. This was very successful, and we started refining the model (how long each program was, how often it was offered, the agenda for each program). Eventually, the main branch of the library became interested in the programs, and we launched a larger, more formal program there, teaching MS Word, Excel, and PowerPoint in multi-week series. All of these programs were free and I was conducting them on a pro-bono basis.

It was around this time that I started to think about starting my own company, but I was still very happy working as a contractor for Unilever. I did decide on a name, in case I ever were to start my own company.

Working in Bangalore, India while at Unilever

In April of 2015, Unilever decided to “insource” my role to the U.K. A wonderfully capable young woman was hired, and I had the task of “handing over” my knowledge, processes, and historical materials over to the team in the UK. This was a bittersweet experience, made easier by the fact that they were sorry to see me leave, and I genuinely wanted them to succeed without me. Also, I once had a boss who instilled in me the importance of being as good on the last day of the job as on the first day. This admonition has stayed with me, and informed my leave taking. And I am pleased to say that they didn’t have a question about anything until nine months into 2016!

I started looking for a new job in mid-2015, but noticed that my heart really was not in it. I wanted to decide my own priorities, and be valued because of my gray hair, not despite it. In mid March 2016, I made the decision to start my own company, using the name I had selected several years earlier.

Teaching Microsoft Word at the Evanston Public Library (photo credit: Lynn Troutmann)

 

What is your next act?

I am the founder of Alt-Enter, which I launched in July 2016 at the age of 53. As I mentioned above, I had already picked out the name several years earlier. It comes from the keystroke used to force a line break in an Excel cell. I chose it because of an experience I had when teaching a seasoned Excel user. I was showing her some very advanced things in Excel, like pivot tables, and then I used ALT-Enter. Her face lit up, and she was so excited. It turns out that this keystroke combination solved a problem she had been struggling with for a while.

My business is teaching people digital skills, focused primarily on Microsoft Office products (Excel, Word, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Outlook). I teach adults who want to improve their digital skills for various reasons:

1) Perform job-related tasks more efficiently and more effectively

2) Gain skills necessary to get a new job

3) Participate in hobbies such as photo organizing

4) Share files and communicate with friends and family

I provide individual coaching and group classes. I try to match the format with the needs of the student.

What I love about this business is seeing the look on people’s face when they realize that they “get it”—they understand something that they didn’t think they could. I strongly believe that everyone can learn to use these and similar programs (such as Google Apps). I do not believe that these skills are the province of the young. In fact, I believe just the opposite: the more you have learned in your life, the easier it is to learn something new.

Teaching “Scary Functions” on Halloween

 

Why did you choose this next act?  

I never had a burning desire to be an entrepreneur. As I mentioned, I was very happy working in a large corporation—I thrived on navigating the size, bureaucracy, complexity and politics.

However, at this time in my life, I did not want to start over. I know that there exists a cult of youth in many large organizations, who prefer to hire young graduates and train them. I didn’t want to fight the uphill battle to prove that my experience was valuable, not a handicap.

I had been turning this option over in my mind for several years, so when the time came, going in this direction felt natural.

 

How hard was it to take the plunge?

It wasn’t hard to take the plunge at all. However, I will say that at various points over this past summer I have realized that every step I take forward locks me into this path a little more. That realization stops me in my tracks (mentally) every time I have it. But then I just shake it off and keep going.

I did several things to prepare to be a successful small business owner:

I took a 12-week class on starting a small business (see Resources below). I cannot stress enough how important it is to educate yourself on the ins-and-outs of owning a small business. Just because you are good at what you do does not mean you will be good at running a small business.

I obtained certification from Microsoft in the Office programs, and joined the Microsoft Certified Trainer program. Membership in this program has given me access to a network of fellow trainers, small business owners, experts, and content. If you are planning to position yourself as an expert in something, find the other experts and join their organization. Expertise is not a zero-sum game; they can be an expert, and so can you!

I became certified in QuickBooks Online, because I knew that I would be using this software to manage my business’ finances, and could also develop this as a line of revenue.

I sent an email out to friends and family, notifying them of my intention to start my own business. Taking this step helped me state what my business goals were and why I wanted to do this. I remember hitting “send” on the email and thinking, “Well, that makes it final!” It was a way of drawing a line in the sand for myself.

 

Graduating from the Sunshine Enterprises Program

 

How supportive were your family and friends?

My friends and family were very supportive. While I always accept the possibility that I can fail, my support network has unflaggingly bolstered me. I don’t always agree with their very optimistic view of my business, but it is nice to hear it nonetheless.

While support is always welcomed, I have valued even more the constructive critiques offered by some. I have one friend who was brave enough to offer real criticism of my business card. She told me that she didn’t know what I was selling with the card that I had. (Keep in mind that I had already spent a lot of money on the card, and was proud of it.) But she was absolutely right. She and I re-designed the card, completely, and I couldn’t be more grateful to her.

My old business card

My new business card

 

 

 

What challenges did you encounter?

For me, the biggest challenge is patience. My business is essentially a word-of-mouth referral model, and it will take time to develop the referral network. During this time, I have to keep trying as many different advertising and marketing tools as possible. For example, I recently created a Facebook ad, spent $50 and got one hit. So now I have to figure out if the ad itself was ineffective, if the program was not interesting, or if I targeted the wrong audience.

This leads me to the second biggest challenge. As a small business owner, you have to be everything: worker bee, bean counter, cheerleader and janitor. There never seems to be a time when you are in a comfort zone. Because I am in Technology, I have to spend at least one hour a day on Research and Development. I love learning something new, but learning something every day can get a little tiring.

Finally, everything I do needs to be an example of my capabilities. If I send out a proposal, it needs to be a perfect document. If I post on LinkedIn, it needs to be something fresh and on-point about technology. These are high bars to clear on a regular basis.

And sometimes I don’t clear them. I still need to refine my website, based on recent constructive critiques. This is after re-designing it completely, based on another constructive critique. I am sure this will continue as I grow and my business grows. Be open to helpful critiques; they will help you far more than empty praise.

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?  

No, I haven’t thought about giving up. I know that the alternative (going back into a corporate role) would present its own challenges. I realized a couple of years ago that there is no “grass that is greener.” There are challenges and hurdles with starting a business, but there would be with anything I do. I have chosen this path, and I am focusing on being present in it.

Pepper

Jengy

What did you learn about yourself through this process?

I realized that in my midlife I have a much higher tolerance for failure and risk than I had when I was younger. In the process of passing some of the expert level exams for certification, I failed several times. Instead of hanging my head, I promptly scheduled my next test. I think that once you have reached middle age, you understand that failure is a label that has no real meaning unless you give it one.

My tolerance for risk has also grown, because I understand now that if I put in hard work, get the right training/education, and network like heck, I am likely to succeed. Maybe not immediately (almost certainly not immediately!), but eventually. Luck does play a role in all of our lives, but I firmly believe that we also play a hand in making luck.

 

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

I think I would have started developing my clientele before leaving Unilever. I had the opportunity to do this, but just wasn’t sure that opening my own business was what I wanted to do.

My family now

 

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

There is a notion in the U.S. that if you are “following your dream,” you will be happy from thenceforth. That’s not true. Following your path will involve disappointments, triumphs and lots of humdrum activity. Make sure that the path you are choosing is something that you will enjoy during the valleys and the ordinary everyday.

Make sure you are comfortable selling your services. I knew I was in the right business when I realized that I could speak comfortably about how good I was at training (and not feel like I was bragging). Creating your brand is a critical part of starting a new business, and you will spend a lot of time in the first year doing just that. You have to deeply believe that you are good at what you do and that you should be paid to do it!

Be prepared to work hard and feel uncomfortable. Making your living doing something new is scary! It will be a while before you have a reliable income stream (probably), and a while before tasks become easy. In the meantime, make sure you have some restful hobbies (I knit a lot), and exercise every day.

At “Open House Chicago” with friends

 

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

If you are interested in being technical trainer (of any kind), there are lots of avenues available. Most large tech companies (Microsoft, Google, Facebook, QuickBooks) offer certification options. These are great ways to show that you do indeed know the product.

Once you have obtained certification, most tech companies have great communities you can join. I am a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT), and the MCT community is warm, welcoming, and helpful.

Next, get experience teaching. I started by volunteering my services for my library, and I learned a lot teaching a variety of classes over several years. Do not expect that if you are good at the technology you will also enjoy teaching. They are two different skill sets, and to be an effective trainer, you have to like both.

Show up! Go to every networking opportunity, speak to everyone, haunt blogs and websites, comment on other people’s articles and posts. Apply for any opportunity that you are qualified for, even if it is a stretch. I recently got to serve as an Ambassador at Microsoft Ignite (the annual MS show) because, on a lark, I submitted an application. I did not think I would be picked, but I was. Attending Ignite was a great experience. I met lots of great people, found out about a lot of resources I had no idea about, and won a $3200 computer. Should I say it again? Show up!

  

My home office

 

What resources do you recommend?

First and foremost, if you are starting a small business, take a small business class. In Chicago, Sunshine Enterprises offers a 12-week class called the Community Business Academy.  Another great resource is the Women’s Business Development Center. I am sure that there are similar resources wherever you are in the country. Look around. I can’t stress enough that even if you are great at what you do, running a small business is a different skill set, and you need to train for it!

Perfect a three-minute pitch and your presentation skills. When you reinvent yourself, you have to pitch yourself and your skills all the time. One book I loved for learning about presentations is Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds. He also has a website packed with tips on how to hone your message and be clear on what your offering is.

Sign up for this blog, Next Act for Women, and read it every time it comes out. I reached out to one of the women interviewed, Sharon Danzger, and she was welcoming and helpful. She is the one who critiqued my original website. Because of her kind prompting, I re-designed the site completely, and it is much better. (It still needs more work, but the time she generously spent giving me specific on-point feedback really helped me!). Check out her website. She has great material there.

Also because of Next Act, I reconnected with another woman, Rebecca Berneck, who runs a business called Officeheads. She and I had met over five years ago, but there wasn’t any real synergy for us at that point in time. When I saw her featured in Next Act For Women, I reached out, we talked, and we are now brainstorming partnership opportunities.

Join your local Chamber of Commerce. You may get business directly from that organization but, more importantly, you will meet other people engaged in this same effort. I met a wonderful woman, Cindy Levitt, who runs an organizing business, Peace by Piece. Cindy was very encouraging, and graciously allowed me to riff on her business name to create my tagline: Building digital skills, bit by byte. Leverage the contacts you can make at the Chamber, but remember, help your contacts first before you ask for anything from them.

If you are comfortable speaking in public, do so. If you are not comfortable, get comfortable! Sign up for the SpeakNet group on Slack. This group is focused on technical presentations, but I am sure there are similar resources out there for non-technical speakers. And don’t be afraid to set a stretch goal. Sign up to be a speaker on something that you are comfortable with, then use the deadline of the engagement to make yourself an expert!

Below is a sample list of resources that I use to regularly improve my knowledge and skills in Microsoft and other tech products.

Public library

Your local public library (or one in the surrounding area) is a great source for books and classes. I teach beginner all the way to advanced classes in Excel, Powerpoint, and Word, at my local public library, all of which are free. Public libraries also have access to great sites for basic digital literacy, and of course, books! Most libraries focus their collection on beginner book series (such as the “For Dummies”) but check out your library’s entire collection.

Amazon

While I generally like to buy books from independent local bookstores, the only exception I make is computer manuals, which I buy on Amazon. I personally like the Inside Out computer book series but there are many options. If you can, check out a sample of the series you want to buy first, to make sure it has the right style for you.

They are all priced between $25-$40. All of these manuals come with sample datasets with which you can replicate their exercises.

SafariBooksOnline

I love this site. Of all the resources I listed here, this is by far my favorite. It is a subscription-based model, but if you like learning from books (and some videos), it is worth it. The breadth of its collection is amazing. Simply search on “Excel” and you will find over 150 videos and 700 books. This is well worth your investment if you are in “learning mode.”

Lynda.com

Lynda is a part of LinkedIn, which is now owned by Microsoft. You can expect that this site will start featuring more and more Microsoft material. However, there is already plenty of material on MS Office on the site. Simply enter the name of the program in the Search box, and you will see numerous videos at multiple levels. These are packaged in short videos, with an accompanying transcript.

Lynda is a paid service that costs $25/month or $240/year for the basic membership. To have access to the sample datasets used by the instructor, you have to pay more (although some instructors will provide them gratis). You can follow along using your own dataset. There is a free trial option that lasts 10 days.

Also, check with your public library. I know that my library provides access to Lynda using your library card.

PluralSight

PluralSight is a competitor site to Lynda. It costs $30/month, and I think it is more technically oriented than Lynda.com. With a free trial you could take a few of their online courses during that time.

YouTube

YouTube has a wide variety of content, from basic to advanced. Because that content is not curated, I use it on a spot basis, if there is a particular skill I want to know how to perform. There are excellent resources on it, such as the channel ExcelIsFun (for Excel).

Blogs

A Google search will yield hundreds of blogs. Because these are not focused on linear learning, I wouldn’t make the blogs your first stop. But they can be useful on occasion. Here is a list of some that I like:

https://blogs.office.com/excel/

http://chandoo.org/

http://datapigtechnologies.com/blog/

http://www.clearlyandsimply.com/

http://www.contextures.com/

http://www.mrexcel.com/

Google with search terms like “MS Office,” “MS Word,” “Presentation,” and you will find a huge variety of content.

Don’t forget to check out my Bit by Byte Blog. I cover a lot of ground, but most of it relates directly to technology such as MS Office applications.

Community Colleges

If you want to take a deep dive into Excel, you can see if your local community college offers a class. Oakton Community College offers two Excel classes, which are multi-week classes at specific times of day.

 

Contact Jessica Jolly at Jessica.Jolly@AltEnterTraining.com

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Follow me on Twitter: @JBJ2110




Helping dogs with water therapy: Laurie’s Story

With Gunny

After a demanding legal career, Laurie followed her heart to open a business offering healing water therapy for elderly and ailing dogs. She’d go on to write a memoir of her adventures with her beloved dog Gunny.

 

Tell us a little about your background…

I grew up in Port Arthur, TX, which is a small town on the Gulf of Mexico near the Louisiana border. I have a brother and a sister. We raised horses when I was young, and I showed my horse competitively until I was about 13. The first time my parents let me out of the yard, I came home with a puppy from the neighbor’s house, who I named Bandit. My current immediate family consists of me and my husband, Juan Carlos Duperier, and our chocolate Labrador retriever Dino.

I went to college in San Angelo, TX at Angelo State University and received a BA in French and English. I then completed a joint degree in law and a Masters in Foreign Service (JD/MSFS) at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, in 1990.

I started practicing law when I graduated from law school, and began my career in Los Angeles, CA for a big New York law firm (Shearman & Sterling) in the litigation department. I wanted to leave DC, because, honestly, there were just too many lawyers and it seemed that everyone I met and spoke to was a lawyer and wanted to talk about their work more than anything else. (In LA, everyone wants to talk about the entertainment industry, but that was more interesting for me because it was not an industry that I was working in.)

When I lived in LA, I spent most of my free time with my cousin Brian, who is like a brother to me. We decided to go to Madrid, Spain one winter on a “two for one” special with American Airlines, and that turned out to be a life-changing trip. A couple of days after we arrived in Madrid, we went to a little tavern near the Plaza Mayor called the Meson de la Guitara, hoping to hear some Spanish guitar music. Sitting at the bar that night, clapping to the Flamenco music, was Juan Carlos, who later became my husband. We struck up a conversation with him and ended up spending a lot of our vacation time with him. This was 1995, not long after Terry McMillan published her book How Stella Got Her Groove Back about falling in love with a guy in Jamaica when she was on vacation. When I returned home, I got teased a lot about how I got my groove back in Spain! Juan Carlos and I literally mailed letters back and forth for over a year, talked on the phone, and saw each other every 3 or 4 months, at which point I decided to move back to Washington, DC because it was a much shorter trip to/from Spain. Two years later, in 1997, he moved to the United States and we married.

 

We had discussed what to do about wedding presents, and decided that his present to me would be a puppy. I had not had a dog since college because my long work hours just didn’t permit me to care for another being, so I was pretty excited about the thought of a puppy. We agreed we would get a chocolate Labrador retriever, and he went alone to the breeder to pick out our dog. Although we did not know it at the time, he found my long lost soul mate for me—Gunny—and nothing was ever the same again.

After about five years in Los Angeles, I decided to move back to Washington, DC. By then, I was working for a Washington, DC based law firm (Arnold & Porter) in their Los Angeles office, so it was relatively easy to transfer to their DC office.  Eventually, I became an in-house lawyer at The Philip Morris Companies, now known as Altria. I was posted to Hong Kong, then Lausanne, Switzerland, to the headquarters of Philip Morris International, where I became Vice President of Compliance Systems, overseeing world-wide compliance for the company.

In 1995, I came back to Washington, DC to work for Altria as Vice President and Associate General Counsel, supporting the government affairs, trademark, and corporate affairs groups. I did a variety of things in my legal career—litigation, regulation, corporate affairs support, and compliance—and it was all interesting.

In total, I practiced law for 18 years, most of it quite happily. My work was challenging and I worked with incredibly smart and talented people throughout. But, as often happens, the further up the ladder you go, the further away you get from doing what you were trained to do (and love to do)—and the more time you spend on HR issues, conflict resolution, internal politics, and managing lots of people. Those aspects of the job I found draining and much less rewarding.

Living in Switzerland

 

When did you start to think about making a change?

I had a low level of dissatisfaction for a couple of years, whereas previously I really had loved my jobs and the people that I worked with. I was losing my passion for what I did, but I didn’t know what else I wanted to do or could do—and what I was doing was quite lucrative and made for an easy life financially. So, while I thought about quitting and doing something else, I also told myself that I could keep doing what I was doing for a while longer and figure it out later. After all, I was in my mid-40s and had a lot of life left ahead of me.

And I thought that by sticking it out for several more years, I would be more financially settled and better able to transition to whatever the next something was going to be. That said, the phrase that was always humming in my head was, “How long am I going to wait to start living my life?” I worked incredibly long hours, traveled frequently, and didn’t feel that I had much of a life outside my job.

Then, a really crazy thing happened. I was laying in my hammock in the back yard reading the Sunday Washington Post when the base of the hammock suddenly broke and the giant 4×6 piece of wood from which the hammock hung catapulted into my head. It knocked me unconscious and tore a big gash in my forehead, barely missing my eye and resulting in extensive stitches. Luckily, there was no concussion or bleeding on the brain, proof of just how hard my head is!

But for a couple of inches, I could have lost my life rather than have a scar on my forehead, and that is when I decided that the answer to my question about how long I was going to wait to start living my life was “not long”. I couldn’t wait to start living my life because, as I was reminded so jarringly on a regular Sunday afternoon, none of us knows how long our life will be. So, it was time to get moving and figure out what to do.

Lucky for me, my chocolate Labrador retriever, Gunny, had been working on a plan for me, and he led me to my next act.

What is your next act?

I own Gunny’s Rainbow, LLC, a warm water swimming pool for dogs. I focus mainly on rehabilitating geriatric dogs suffering from arthritis and dogs recovering from various orthopedic surgeries. I also am a Reiki master and incorporate that healing energy into my practice with many of the dogs.

The first thing I did after I quit my job in 2008, at 44 years old, was sell my house, buy a new house about a mile away from my perfectly good house in Bethesda, MD right outside Washington, DC, and build an indoor swimming pool to open Gunny’s Rainbow. Gunny was my heart dog, my soul mate, and the guiding light of my life. He needed a lot of physical therapy, including swimming, in order to maintain his mobility and his quality of life, so from his need sprung the idea for the next chapter in my life: I was going to build and run a dog swimming pool. Gunny knew that I needed a change from my legal career, and I think he knew that I could care for other dogs with the same compassion and love that I cared for him. He knew that I would do anything to help him, and if that meant that I needed to stop practicing law and build a pool for him and other old dogs, then that was what I was going to do.

There are many things to love about working with dogs all day, especially geriatric dogs. For starters, they are always honest and most always very kind. They take their aging in stride, much more so than people do, despite often suffering greatly from arthritis and other degenerative diseases in their later years. So, they are incredibly happy and grateful to have the chance to swim and float in warm water, which enables them to move without pain. It also helps to ease their pain as the warm water soothes their joints and allows them to float, weightless for a time, in the water.

What I love most about swimming with old dogs is the relationship of trust that develops between us, and knowing that I have brought comfort to them in their last years. By helping the dogs, I am also helping their people who so often feel helpless in the face of their dog’s physical decline. As one client said to me, “swimming at Gunny’s Rainbow makes an old dog feel young again.” And often, it really does!

Gunny lived for several years after I built the pool, and he was really happy that the other dogs had a place to swim and heal, although as it turns out, he had zero interest in swimming. Too bad! After getting me to quit my job, buy a house, and build a pool, he swam twice a week whether he liked it or not! It really was an important part of maintaining his quality of life. Unfortunately, he continued to fight various diseases along with his orthopedic problems, and when he turned 14, we knew there was not a lot of time left.

Gunny at the pool

 

You have gone on to write a book. How did this come about?

As Gunny’s health declined, and our inevitable parting loomed, another evolution began to materialize. We were two souls that had become one: I no longer knew where I ended and where he began. Soul mates. And for years, people who knew of our crazy adventures around the world and all of the life-or-death moments we experienced, had said to me, “You should write a book!”

I thought that WE should write a book. So I asked a friend who was an animal communicator to interview Gunny on about 20 topics or so, and over the course of about six months, she did. I incorporated the thoughts and feelings that he expressed into our memoir, The Endless Path: A Memoir. It is a story about love, loss, courage, and what it means to walk through life with a soul mate that you have known over lifetimes.

In many ways, publishing the book was actually much more difficult for me than opening the pool. I found it terrifying to share my intimate thoughts and feelings publicly, and I was concerned that people would think that I had totally lost my mind. As if opening a dog pool wasn’t enough, now I was publishing a book sharing my innermost thoughts and feelings about my dog, our immeasurable love for each other, and worst of all, the depth of my grief when he died. It was truly unnerving. But I promised him before he died that I would tell our story, so there was never any question that I had to see it through. And I did. The Endless Path: A Memoir was published in September 2015.

Much to my delight, I have had nothing but lovely reviews and messages from people about the book. Many people have taken the time to review it on Amazon—all 5-star reviews so far. Other people have reached out to me to tell me what the book meant to them and how they completely understand loving a dog so much; they shared with me the depth of their grief when they lost their heart dog. It turns out a lot of the world feels the same way I did. Like me, they just never felt comfortable talking to people about it because it didn’t seem “normal.” Several of my clients at Gunny’s Rainbow are therapists and they recommend the book to their clients who lose a companion. I did not set out to write a self-help book. Gunny and I just wanted to tell our story. But we are certainly happy if in fact our book—and me “going public with my crazy” as I call it—gives others comfort.

 

Why did you choose this next act

I really never considered doing anything other than opening Gunny’s Rainbow when I quit my corporate legal job. I was motivated by love for Gunny and wanting to help him and other dogs, and it coincided with my need to find a new career path for myself.

Early on, I toyed with the idea of maybe looking for a position on a Board of Directors for a company to earn some money and keep one toe in the legal/corporate world, but I quickly became immersed (pun intended) in doing water therapy and the two things did not seem compatible. One reason I say that is because I went from a job where I de facto put on body armor every day to withstand the conflicts and ordeals of corporate life, to a job with dogs where I really was able to work with an open heart and total vulnerability. A dog is not going to hurt you emotionally. Pretty much ever. And there are no hidden agendas and politics to manage. So, I felt like it would be Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde to try to do both well and I preferred to just be one person—the nice, open-hearted one.

Because I was totally “done” with practicing law, I have not missed it at all. I loved it almost all the years that I did it, but I did not want to do it anymore. So in that sense, it was not hard to quit. Financially it was very scary, however. I had always drawn a paycheck every two weeks, had paid vacations, and had good health insurance. Those days were over the moment that I quit my job. Under the best of circumstances, working in the pool I would be able to make no more than 1/10th the amount I had made as a lawyer, and likely a lot less. Plus I had the added expenses of building and running the pool. So, while I had enough savings to ride it out for a while, it was a plunge into the unknown in terms of financial security.

I wish that I could say I did a lot of thoughtful preparation, but I didn’t. I looked at the numbers to see how long I could last running the pool in the best and worst cases, and then I just did it. Because I was motivated by love and a deep desire to make this change, I did not do a lot of the financial due diligence that one frankly should do. I did take classes on how to swim/rehabilitate dogs, so I made sure that I knew what I was doing in my new chosen profession, even if I did not exercise as much financial diligence as I should have. The reality is that I was going to open the pool and give it a shot even it did not work financially in the long run.

 

 

How supportive were your family and friends?

It was a mixed bag. I think most everyone understood my desire to quit my job—they knew that I had worked awfully hard for almost two decades and how little free time I had in my life to do fun things. It was a great run, but it came at a cost to my personal life.

However, quitting a high profile lucrative job to open a dog pool was a bridge too far for many of them. Had I quit to do consulting, or work in a law firm, or practice law and use my degree in some way, I think it would have been more understandable for them. For starters, swimming dogs is not really a “profession” in anyone’s mind. Second, it is not anything that I had any background or training in, so it just seemed weird to people. Third, and very importantly, they did not see how I was going to ever have a client or make a living since most of them had never heard of a dog therapy pool.

In a nutshell, I don’t think anyone was against me quitting, they were just baffled by what I was going to do in my “new life.” They saw, I think, little chance of success. And for many, they also saw little value in it. That always amused me because why would I have more value to society as a tobacco lawyer than as a dog water therapist?

My husband was supportive of me quitting my job and opening the pool, even though it meant big changes to our lifestyle because I had been the main breadwinner in our family. We did not have a safety net other than our savings. No wealthy family members and no lottery winnings! No one knew better than Juan Carlos how stressed out I was, and I was often in a really bad mood. I worked late every night and many weekends, and was exhausted a lot of the time. That said, we had a nice standard of living and took great vacations and had all that we needed. They say that once you have enough money to cover the essentials in life of food and shelter, having more money does not correlate to happiness and I think my experience proves that rule. I did not need more stuff. I needed to be happy and have time to enjoy my life. The Spanish are expert at enjoying life so that was a concept that Juan Carlos was 100% in agreement with!

 

With Juan Carlos and Gunny

 

What challenges did you encounter?

Regarding the dog pool, the first challenge was actually constructing the pool room and getting all the equipment that I needed. It was also a huge challenge to run the business out of my home because of all the regulations on home businesses where I live.

Once I tackled all of that, the next challenge was to get clients and build a business. Serendipity found me when the first person who called to bring her dog to swim happened to be a website designer and she wanted to barter swims for website design! It was perfect because a real client, who really knew what I did, designed my website. I hoped that “build it and they will come” would be enough, and in a way, it was. Clients found me on an Internet search, and I really have not had to do any paid advertising at all. That website, a good reputation, and word of mouth have kept the pool full of clients for 7½ years now.

The third challenge was a physical one. It is very difficult to lift 80 to 120 pound dogs in and out of the pool, and tough to be submerged in water for 5 hours a day. I had sat at a desk for most of my life, and this was physically demanding work even if it was not mentally demanding the way my legal job had been.

 

We had to expand our home to build the pool

Lastly, there was a huge emotional challenge that I had not really properly anticipated—dealing with loss and grief. In many ways, what I am doing is hospice work. I am absolutely improving the quality of the life of the elderly dogs and their people, and bringing them joy and relief from pain, but the personal loss that I suffer with so many of them dying has been emotionally very difficult.

Regarding writing and publishing The Endless Path: A Memoir, there were innumerable obstacles.

The first obstacle was having the time to really concentrate on writing while running the pool. I had the person who was working with me work an extra day of the week so I could have that time to write. It is very difficult to write a memoir for half a day and then go socialize and swim dogs in the other half.

Book signing

Secondly, it was very challenging to confront all of the emotions that came up writing the book. The writing itself was not difficult—I had been writing my whole life, albeit in the legal world—but I am a natural writer so it comes easy for me. Gunny and I had made a promise that we were going to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, regardless of whether it reflected poorly on one or both of us, and some of those truths were hard to tell.

Third, I had to decide between self-publishing and trying to get an agent/publisher. I made a small attempt to find representation and ultimately decided that I would rather have complete control over how our story was presented, so I went the self-publishing route.

Lastly, the skills and tasks involved in actually publishing the book and marketing it are things that I could NOT do alone, so I hired some very competent people to help me and that is how I resolved those challenges. I found the perfect website designer to design the book’s website; found a professional proofreader; started publishing at the famous local bookstore here in Washington, DC (Politics & Prose); and, with patience, found someone to help me with a marketing plan to sell my book.

 

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?  

Although it sounds trite, failure was not an option. In terms of the dog pool, I believed that the business could work and it does. Dogs get better and live longer, people are happy, and new clients come to fill in the spots of the old dogs when they pass away. So honestly, no, I never thought about giving up. The closest I came to giving up was when the expense and stress of leaks and equipment failures overwhelmed me. Once I got those resolved, I did not look back.

In terms of writing The Endless Path, I would not say that I thought of giving up, but there were times when it was really quite emotionally difficult to keep writing. I did not really have a choice, however, because I made a promise to Gunny that I would tell the world his/our story, and I always keep my promises.

I guess through it all, the truth is that Gunny kept me going on both fronts. Both the pool and the book were his legacy and I did not want to let him down. Had I done this only for myself, I don’t know if I would have a different answer. But I wasn’t doing it just for me, so I was highly motivated to see it all through and to succeed. I was also fortunate to have a husband who really wanted me to be happy, and who was willing to make changes in his own life to help me make changes in mine.

 

 

What did you learn about yourself through this process?

I learned that there is nothing more powerful than the power of love. So now, when faced with a challenge or negativity, I throw love at it. I did not know that I was capable of loving so deeply, and did not anticipate the strength that I would find in loving and being loved with such intensity.

I also learned that I can do more than one thing in life well. We always hope that we are good at more than one thing, but now I know that I can practice law and argue with the best of them; I can run a business; I can write a book; and I also can go to the most quiet and tender part of my being and just “be” with a dog who is hurting and bring him comfort. Those are wildly different things, and I am surprised to find that I am able to do all of them pretty well. I already knew a lot about what I did not do well—such as accounting or sports, it is a long list—so it was nice to have a longer list of things that I can do. And hopefully I will discover some new things in the coming years!

 

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

I honestly don’t think so. I think I did what I needed to do at the time I needed to do it. I could not have written the book earlier. I could not have opened the pool later. And I could not have kept working in my lawyer role for much longer or I would have become physically ill. I feel that I listened to my heart rather than my head when there was a decision-making moment, and that my heart kept me on course.

 

 

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

Listen to your heart/your gut/the “knowing” place inside of you. If you feel you need to make a change or you feel an internal dissonance in what you are doing and what you want to do, value that and listen to it. I am not saying that your good brain has no role to play, but I think if you try to be only logical, only rational, or listen to others, you may not end up in the best place for you. I think we all know on some level what we are here to do and it is not necessarily just one thing in our life! So let yourself realize the full expression of your unique self and don’t let others who are timid or afraid hold you back or make you doubt yourself.

I think changing what you do for a living often involves getting in touch with parts of yourself that you may not have really been well-acquainted with before the change. So it is hard—on you, your family, and your friends. And I think it always brings change to your life in a variety of aspects from your friends to your finances. But it is your life, and I think it is important not to sit back when you are old and ask “I wonder what would have happened if I had . . .?” Better to know the answer to the question, and follow your heart and your inner desire, come what may.

Book club!

 

What advice do you have for those interested in working with animals?

If you think that you want to work with animals, fantastic! But don’t think that working with animals means you avoid working with people; the people are the ones who bring you the animals, love them, and are involved in their care. So you have to interact with and love people, too. And, know that there is almost nothing that you can do in terms of working with animals that pays much money, other than being a vet. It doesn’t matter how good you are. There is a ceiling on the amount of money that you can make unless you start to franchise and expand. And then guess what? You aren’t working with animals any more, just lots and lots of employees. That is fine; but just know, that’s how it goes!

For those thinking about writing a book, I would say that you need to remember that the book process has three distinct and totally unrelated parts: writing it, publishing it, and marketing it. It requires three different skill sets and it takes a really long time. So, if you have a story to tell, tell it! Hire good people in each of those three areas to help you as necessary. And persevere in the face of a rejection.

 

 

What resources do you recommend?

With regard to running the dog pool:

La Paw Spa in Sequim, WA teaches dog water therapy to adults, most of whom are looking to change careers.

Kathleen Prasad at Animal Reiki Source is a resource for people who want to learn reiki for animals.

For certain swim equipment for the dogs: Dog Leggs, Critter’s Inflatable, Ruffwear.

With regard to writing my book:

Teresa Spencer provides a variety of services to assist authors, from ghost writing to, as in my case, helping me outline the book before starting to write it.

Jo Spring for proofreading services and other author publishing assistance.

Politics & Prose was instrumental in handholding through the publishing process.

I ultimately published with Ingram Spark. They have drawbacks, but are the biggest book distributor in the world so the book is easily available on Amazon, B&N, etc.

Leigh Kramer at Helicopter Marketing, for assistance in marketing the book.

 

 

What’s next for you?

I think my next transition is to slowly move from working with dogs in the water to writing full time. As I age, it is harder and harder to do the physical work required in the water, and it is harder and harder to deal with death on a constant basis.

Having told my story in The Endless Path: A Memoir, I would like to keep writing to tell other people’s and dogs’ stories who are unable to tell them for themselves. Everyone has a story and, to me, they are all fascinating. So, I would like to help give voice to those stories, much as you do here on your blog!

 

Contact Laurie Plessala Duperier at info@gunnysrainbow.com.

Facebook

Twitter: @lduperier

Websites: theendlesspath.com and gunnysrainbow.com

 




Let’s Hear From an Expert: Romy Newman of fairygodboss

You are the Co-Founder and President of Fairygodboss, a “community of women helping women.” Tell us more about your company.

Fairygodboss is a business with a social mission: We want to help improve the workplace for women everywhere. Our goal is to engage a conversation between women about their careers and jobs, and get candid information about the challenges that women face.

Often, we find that there is a cone of silence around the daily workplace challenges that women confront. We want to open the dialogue so women can find camaraderie in their experiences and companies can get a more accurate picture of what women experience.

 

What challenges did you see for working women, that you are seeking to address with Fairygodboss?

We hear from our users that they face challenges in terms of unequal promotion, unequal compensation, and unequal evaluation. In addition, we hear often that they face “microaggressions” (a word I’d never heard before)—meaning, the struggle with lots of small cultural and institutional slights that add up over time. We hope that by allowing women to share their experiences, they can draw strength and support from our community. And we hope that by highlighting these challenges, we will help support companies to make effective change.

 

 

 

 

What is the range of information and insight your site provides to women seeking professional positions? How do you get women to contribute?

We ask women lots of different things: We ask them to evaluate their employer and we ask them to give advice to other women. We also crowdsource data about maternity leave policies and salaries. To get women to contribute, we use a lot of social media—and we ask our users to share us with their friends. We’re so excited about how viral we’ve gone!

 

How is this information relevant to women in midlife and older?

Since starting out with Fairygodboss, we’ve come to realize that there is something that we call “The Aha Moment.” Often, younger women are not aware or subjected to gender bias in the workplace. Yet when they reach midlife, become mothers, or achieve more senior positions, suddenly their experience changes. They have a harder time getting promoted, face discrimination, and have to manage work/life balance in a different way.

Fairygodboss is a site for women at all phases in their career. But we certainly find that it’s women who’ve reached “The Aha Moment” who most often seek us out.

 

How does this work? Is this a membership program? 

Anyone can access most of the data on Fairygodboss, but we do ask users to register and leave a review before they access our user review content. There is no cost to join.

 

What resources do you recommend?

We love Ellevate. They are a great organization and they publish highly useful articles every day.

One of my favorite books is Personal History by Katharine Graham. She was such a brilliant lady who achieved so much and broke a lot of barriers. I highly recommend that every woman read it at some point in her life.

And Allyson Downey recently published a great book called Here’s the Plan.: Your Practical, Tactical Guide to Advancing Your Career During Pregnancy and Parenthood.

 

Contact us at info@fairygodboss.com

Website: www.fairygodboss.com

Facebook

Twitter: @fairygodboss

Instagram: @fairygodboss

LinkedIn

Romy Newman is president & co-founder of Fairygodboss, a business with the mission to improve the workplace for women everywhere. Previously, Romy ran digital advertising sales and operations for The Wall Street Journal, and working in marketing at Google and Estee Lauder. Romy is the proud mother of 2 children, and spends her precious spare time doing yoga and crossword puzzles. She is motivated by helping other women have the same wonderful workplace experiences she’s been lucky to have.




Creating and Consulting on Public Art: Beth’s Story

After a lucrative business career in textile printing, Beth returned to her roots. She started with art classes, eventually earning a Master in Fine Arts at age 50. Today, she creates large commissioned art projects for public works, and consults on such projects as well.

Tell us a little about your background.
I grew up in New Hyde Park, NY on Long Island, in a very middle class community—we were one of the first communities right over the Queens line. My brother was two years older than me and we were great friends. It was mostly an idyllic childhood in an “Ozzie & Harriet” environment. My father worked and my mother was a stay-at-home mom. Although she was a fantastic homemaker—she cooked and sewed all of my clothes (and taught me to do both) and our friends were always welcome at our house—I could sense a longing within her. She was liberal, easygoing, and smart. Dad was the disciplinarian and very strict. Great with numbers, Mom was Dad’s bookkeeper. I think I sensed that she had no power; the power was in who held the purse strings. I was aware that I wanted power. I remember holding meetings in my bedroom where I was the “boss” and talking to my employees.

Due to the times, 1950s, and being Jewish, the subliminal (and not so subliminal) message was that the male child was important and the female child not so much. A female was expected to marry and have a family, so why invest in her? I was never encouraged to create art and never felt talented at home. However, there was a pivotal moment in first grade when I was chosen, along with a few other children, to create a mural of my family. Mrs. Pinto rolled out a large brown paper onto the floor, gave us each a six-foot section, and told us to paint. I felt special as an artist. I can still picture that painting—it was so large!

With my parents and brother, 1955

At some point, I guess my parents knew I was talented, as I do remember taking art classes as electives all through Junior High and High School, and my parents did enroll me in some art classes after school. As a teenager, I was the Assistant Art Counselor at Camp Laurel in Maine.

However, when it came time for college, my parents felt that an art curriculum was a somewhat limited education. They knew I was a very good student and suggested I go to a liberal arts college and take art classes as electives, which is what I did. When I graduated in 1970—in three years; “rushing” has always been my mantra—with a BA in Liberal Arts and a well-rounded education, I was qualified to do nothing. I was floundering and anguished as to what I would do for a career.

My dad told me to move back home to Long Island and go into New York City and find a job in “anything art.” It was great advice and led to my first job in textile design because I could type and had an art background. I was a secretary in the morning and the Studio Director put me in the studio in the afternoon to learn how to design prints for fabric.

At my design table at Wamsutta Domestics

I changed jobs seven times in eight years because each company paid me so little. One large company, Burlington Industries, gave me a $5 raise at the end of the year, so I went job hunting to get $25 more a week—I was “networking” before the term was invented! Through the connections I made, I got the idea that I should be in business for myself. I launched my own business with a partner as a print converter (converting raw goods into finished goods). My finished product was millions of yards of printed fabric. My customers were the manufacturers who needed fabric to make into garments. Their customers were the retail stores.

Twelve years later, and in business with my partner, I was married with three children, living in a 5500 square foot brownstone my husband and I renovated, with a weekend home on a lake in Pennsylvania. I made money beyond my wildest dreams, when that was never my ambition. My decisions in life have always been to do things that make me happy and feed my soul.

 

My wedding, 1977

 

When did you start to think about making a change?
I had started my business when I was 26 with a male counterpart, with whom I had incredible business chemistry: Without talking, we each knew what the other was thinking and we were extremely successful together. I was the creative end, he handled the financials, and we both sold. Twelve years later, we had close to forty employees and sales representatives in California, Dallas, and Canada.

Then my business partner met and fell in love with a woman who was still in college (a 20-year age difference). She was jealous of anyone and everyone in his life, and did not want him in business with another woman. After a difficult year working in this environment, my partner offered to buy me out, or for me to buy him out.

I was shocked, yet I realized how unhappy I was on this work treadmill. I was running a huge business, my stepdaughter had moved in with us, I had three young children, three nannies (one live-in, one come-and-go, and one for weekends at the lake house).

1987 in Central Park with my kids

I agonized at first, as my work was my identity and my income was needed to maintain our family’s lavish lifestyle. But when I pondered my situation, I realized I was just not interested in designing one more print on a piece of fabric. I had a yearning to be with my three small children full time (ages eight, six, and three at the time) and my soul needed to be nourished with art that was mine—not commercial. There was a hole in my heart; something felt incomplete and unused.

In 1989, at the age of 39, I took the buyout and received several offers to go back into business with new partners. I told my husband that I needed a year off, just to be a mother and to make art. I told all interested business people to call me in a year if they were still interested. I enrolled in the Art Students League of New York on 57th Street, where I went for a few hours each morning while my two boys were in school. I learned lithography then switched to oil painting from a live model. I picked the boys up from school each day and spent time with them and my infant daughter.

We still went to Pennsylvania each weekend, but I was enjoying New York City in a brand new way—even though I had lived there almost 20 years. I now could “smell the roses” and go to any event, museum, gallery, park. I finally had the energy to partake of all the incredible things New Your City has to offer. It was wonderful! I think I saw Broadway matinee shows for half price every Wednesday afternoon for a year.

The Best Thing You Can Give Your Child Is Time — Mural I designed and donated to my kids’ elementary school, 1999

 

What is your next act?
I am an artist and art consultant, based out of Coral Springs, Florida.

I love anything art. I create fine art in many mediums out of my garage studio. I am curious about new mediums and often take classes and travel to take workshops. Throughout the years, I have learned to work in glass, photography, woodworking, welding, and have created artwork in all of these mediums.  I have always been a painter and am proficient in several mediums: watercolor, oils, and acrylics.  I love to draw: pastels, oil pastels, and colored pencils. I am always making art, and often combine mediums. I have exhibited my art in galleries as well as the Museum of Art in Ft. Lauderdale.

My current focus is on creating public art works. When I apply for a public art project, the budget and medium are pretty much known. Extensive research goes into winning the commission in a very competitive field. I liken it to being an actor: If an actor is to play the role of a doctor, they will often shadow a real-life physician. The same process is true for me; I have to research a particular part of the country, and specifically the city where I am a finalist, then come up with a specific idea based on what I’ve learned.

In a project at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, for example, I was a finalist for a $20,000 budget for a new building called the Morgridge International Reading Center. Inspired by a group of laboratory scientists studying slices of the brain, they infused slides with colors and photographed them. The resulting images appear like brilliant, incandescent, abstract paintings. I created stained and fused glass to interpret the slide of the hippocampus, responsible for memory—vital to the ability to read.

I now have a public art portfolio consisting of ceramic wall projects, freestanding metal sculpture, and glass art (both stained glass for clerestory windows and a wall mural of slumped and fused glass). I have created bronze medallions, terrazzo floors, vinyl floors for two lobbies, and two outdoor plaza floors.

I just completed a 27-foot high by 14-foot wide glass tile mural for the new headquarters of Hacienda Development Corporation in Portland, Oregon. I worked on the mural on Hardie backer board in my studio, then shipped it to Oregon. I hired an installer in Portland and worked along with him. At the same time, I was recommended to a local developer in Florida, who needed a sculpture in a fountain for a new apartment complex he was building. I created a freestanding sculpture out of powder-coated aluminum. I could do both projects at the same time because I designed a model of the sculpture to scale and hired a metal fabricator to construct it. This freed up my time to create my glass tile sculpture in my studio.

 

“Celestial Dawn” wall mural, Portland OR

I have just won a commission in Charlotte, NC for a library renovation. They are building an extension and designed a second floor outdoor terrace. The call for artists listed a $51,000 budget for an artist-designed outdoor floor with artist-designed seating. I applied and became a semi-finalist. The Cultural Division flew me down and set me up in a beautiful hotel. I gave a 20-minute Powerpoint presentation to a selection panel and I won the commission!

I know I have earned my dues at this point, but with every project I get, I almost feel it is a miracle. And to use a cliché, “I feel so blessed,” because I get to be doing work that I love.

My art consulting consists of competing for contracts from municipalities. I am the Public Art Consultant, since 2008, along with a male partner, for the City of Lauderhill and the City of Tamarac, both in Florida. Public Art and Public Art Consulting are funded by a separate ordinance that a city decides to adopt. They usually consist of 2% (or less) of the construction budget for Capital Improvement Projects that a city has funded. The money is placed in a separate fund and earmarked for art only.

I find the consulting work by “calls for artists” and networking. These jobs are very competitive and include a comprehensive submission application. As the consultant, I am the person responsible for placing calls for artists and artwork for the cities I work for. For example, when Lauderhill was planning to build a new City Hall, meetings were set up all day long for me to meet with the Architect, Engineer, Landscape Architect, and Interior designer. We looked over the shop drawings for the buildings and in my role, I get to decide where I think art should be placed, and then determine a budget.

For instance, a double-height lobby was being built and I thought a suspended sculpture with lighting would be dramatic. Below the sculpture, I suggested a terrazzo artist-designed floor would be a great plus. Out of the $150,000 budgeted for art at City Hall, I allotted $35,000 for the ceiling sculpture, 15,000 for the terrazzo floor, and $17,500 for two painted murals.

Terrazzo floor, Lauderhill City Hall

I love the challenge of public art consulting, which allows me to use my expertise along with my people skills. I would love to get more consultant positions, whether in Florida or out of town. I enjoy lecturing on the side as well, being the juror of art festivals, and I have been a Gallery Director twice, which was also amazing.

I love the flexibility to control my schedule so that I can travel with my husband and grown children. When my husband retired two years ago, we took off in the car for two months—with no itinerary! Elvis was on my bucket list, so we went to Memphis. We realized that Anywhere USA has something interesting to see, whether it is an art museum, gallery, or museum—like Kentucky Derby Museum (Louisville) and Martin Luther King Museum (Memphis). Hotwire always got us into a hotel at the last minute at a reduced rate and Yelp got us unusual restaurants with good food and moderate prices.

I have never enjoyed time with my husband more. We have been together 41 years, and I thoroughly enjoyed being with him, driving from city to city. It was a very peaceful adventure, and I realized I was happier now than when I was pursuing achievement. It was an interesting epiphany.

“Lotus” sculpture for new apartment complex in Wilton Manors, FL

 

How did you become an artist and art consultant?
In 1990, when we first moved to Florida, I focused on learning and experiencing new art mediums. Every day, I attended a different college or art guild (a guild is an organization formed by local artists to work together as a group), either because it fit into my schedule, or because I was intrigued. Monday was stone sculpture, Tuesday and Thursday was clay, Wednesday was outdoor landscape painting, and Friday was indoor painting form a live model. The experience was totally nourishing and it worked well with mothering.

After the first year, I was a “jack of all trades, master of none” and realized I had an innate ability to envision three-dimensional space, which translates into sculpture. As a result, I focused only on clay sculpture for the next few years at Broward Community College (BCC), and created a series of over 30 abstract heads. This process led me to start exhibiting in galleries and selling the work. From heads, I began a series of 7 foot glazed ceramic totem like sculptures. Again, I met with success at galleries, and was exhibiting my work, which added to the legitimacy of my resume.

“Two Faced”

There was a great group of serious “older” people like myself at BCC, who either worked at a day job, were raising children like myself, or had retired and were pursuing their passion. This college had an active clay guild, which held events and exhibits. Through the guild, I learned of a national conference held every year in a different City, called NCECA (National Council on Education for Ceramic Arts). When I attended my first conference in New Orleans, I was in ecstasy sitting among hundreds of artists, all following their enthusiasm.

After attending ceramic classes for the first few years at BCC, my professors suggested I take a sculpture class at Florida Atlantic University, a 4-year University in Boca Raton, as they felt I should be working in sculpture materials other than just clay. I followed their advice and was convinced to apply for the BFA (Bachelor in Fine Arts) program, as I only needed 30 additional credits—since I had earned my BA in Liberal Arts—and the required Art History classes would add to my art education. I was nervous as I had not studied and taken a test for 25 years! Still, I decided to apply, got in, and got straight A’s in all of my classes!

I loved the art history classes and had a yearning to continue for my MFA (Master in Fine Arts), but the closest University with a Sculpture MFA was an hour away, and cost prohibitive. Through networking, I found a school with a progressive “low residency” program, Vermont College of Fine Arts, that only required being on campus in Montpelier, Vermont for 20 days a year (10 days in August and 10 days in February), for two years. My three children were now teenagers and my husband encouraged me to attend. I was accepted into this program and began my first residency in August 1997. To use a cliché, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven—my two years were completely transforming. And when I graduated in 1999, at the age of 50, it was the first time in my life I felt I could really, really call myself an ARTIST.

Celebration Totem

I returned to BCC, where I had first attended clay classes, and became a Professor! They gave me two Art History classes to teach the first semester. I was scared and thrilled at the same time. I remained a professor at this school for several years, teaching assorted classes, and even became the College Gallery Director for two years. All of these jobs were never an ambition of mine, but I loved them.

While I continued to create art, sales were few and far between and the effort to build my reputation and resume in this method was unsatisfying.

I read about the field of public art in the back of Ceramics Monthly magazine, as ceramics was a durable permanent medium suitable for outdoor wall art. I was intrigued but faced a catch 22 because a major submission requirement was to provide images of past projects—I had none. I contacted my kids’ elementary school to ask permission to create a clay sculpture and mosaic mural on an exterior wall.  They agreed, and I created a 20-foot long x 10-foot high exterior wall mural. I sent images of the finished mural to the Cultural Division in my County and got my first Public Art project from a neighboring town’s Landscape Architect. He contacted the Cultural Division as he needed a Public Artist to create a ceramic entryway feature into a park he was renovating. They recommended he see my mural, and I got the job, with a budget of $25,000!

I slowly started getting public art projects and left academia, as it was extremely time consuming for very little money as an adjunct (part-time Professor). However, I became quite an entertaining lecturer, having honed my skills speaking about art in my art history classes.

To this day, I get requests to lecture!

“Octopus’ Garden” mixed media artwork, exhibited in galleries

 

How hard was it to leave the business world?

It was very difficult. I am very clear that most people do not make change unless it is forced upon them. If my partner had not offered to buy me out of my business, I might have stayed (he went out of business five years after buying me out). Before my buyout papers were even signed, I was enrolled in art classes. It was heaven! I was creating art simply for the joy of creating.

When the year of “chilling” was up, I met with several businessmen (yes, they were all men), who had contacted me after my buyout. I was offered several attractive deals to go back into business. After one lunch, having been offered an incredible deal to go back into business doing exactly what I had been doing for the past 20 years, I went into a phone booth (yes, there were still phone booths at this time), called my husband, and started crying. He was very worried, and so was I. I could not express why I was crying other than the fact that I just didn’t feel right.

My family and friends couldn’t believe I really left my business, but everyone was incredibly supportive. I think they marveled that I actually did not want to go back into the same business. They thought I had a lot of guts to change my life so drastically.

 

What challenges did you encounter in your transition into the art world?
First of all, we could not afford our expensive lifestyle if I was not going to contribute financially through my business. And I was just not sure what I was going to do about that. This prompted our move to Florida, where the cost of living is lower.

The second challenge was depression. Although I was enjoying myself, I wasn’t evolved enough to feel that this was enough. The loss of power was acute. I went from being a high-powered executive where people marveled at my multi-tasking (before it was a trendy term) to replacing toilet paper and light bulbs in our home. I will never forget the first time I travelled out of the country with my husband. The customs officer asked my profession. I was silent as I was thinking for a second when my husband blurted out, “She is a housewife” I was horrified!

I have periodically suffered from depression. I can always feel it coming on—when I am confused as to my life’s path. I have always been an ambitious person and an over-achiever (I never felt good enough in my father’s eyes). If I am asked for something, I always have to give more than what was asked. No matter how much therapy I have received, and no matter how much I have worked on my issues, there are still times I become that “unloved” little girl. None of my friends and colleagues would believe this statement, as I am known to be the most positive person on the planet. I am everybody’s cheerleader, and can motivate almost anybody.

There have been times when I thought of giving up. I just wasn’t sure where I was heading.

I have to apply to 50 commissioned art projects to get the one. Sometimes as many as 300 artists apply for one project. The 300 are narrowed down to five, three, or two semi-finalists, and if I am still in the running I then have to come up with a fully fleshed-out idea to win the commission. So I can still lose at that stage. I liken it to the Oscar nominations. All five actresses are talented, but only one gets the award. The odds are daunting, yet I do get my fair share.

Still, I can have a week of opening up emails to rejections day after day, and it does make me feel like giving up. When that happens, I have to get away and do something else for a while. I remember feeling so horrible at some point I couldn’t get out of bed. All I wanted to do was sleep. My husband helped me through this period and invited me to work with him for a while. When the depression is less severe, I go do something new for a while, such as going to the beach, a movie, a Museum, lunch with a friend, a massage, anything to do something different until I feel refreshed again.

“Mindscape” a the Morgridge International Reading Center, University of Central Florida, Orlando

What did you learn about yourself through this process?
As an artist, I have learned that I don’t have to be a workaholic to achieve the next level. I have learned that it is extremely helpful to get away from the constant work for a long period of time. Getting away from what you are doing is a creative act. Ideas will flow from a day or week in a totally different environment. It frees up the mind to think and problem solve.

I must be more forgiving of myself, and not beat myself up when I don’t have a lot going on. I have learned, when ideas are not flowing, to go for a walk, read a book, go to the beach, go out of town, nap. I cannot be productive all the time.

I truly have no regrets. Although my path has not been easy (if it were easy everybody would be doing it), I think it is important to love yourself, treat yourself well, give yourself all that you need without feeling guilty, and be good to your family and friends.

“Whispers of Botanical Ribbons,” one of 8 stained and fused glass panels for clerestory lobby at the Renaissance community Center, Orlando,FL

 

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?
My standard cliché is: “If you do nothing, nothing will happen to you. If you do something, something will happen to you.” This is my mantra—and it really works!

Go for it!!!  If a woman has any passion for anything, it is important to find a way to achieve that goal. When I wanted to go to graduate school at 48 years old, I thought my teenage kids were still too young for me to dedicate my focus on another path. My husband was very supportive and told me to go for it and he would be Mr. Mom. So I went for it, not even knowing what I would do with the degree. But I knew my passion had always been art, and I had never treated myself to my own art education. I got my BFA, followed by my MFA, not knowing where it would lead.

If a woman does not do this, and feels depressed and locked into who she is at mid age, she will never achieve her potential. Life is a long time (hopefully), and it’s important to always keep it interesting and challenging.

A lot of life is circumstances happen to you. Whenever adversity strikes, it usually opens up opportunity. At the moment of happening, it doesn’t seem that way, but humans are resistant to change unless they are forced to change. I thought I would be in my fashion industry business forever. Because my partner forced a buyout, it led me to reexamine my life. It was very difficult at the time; not knowing what I was going to do, but I kept exploring and taking new classes, and it opened up a whole new world for me.

Think about a passion. I have a friend who worked in Government as a parole officer, and ended up being on a SWAT team toward the end of her career. She retired and loves gardening. She is taking classes and hoping that something will lead her to a new career.

Choose, choose, choose, and then act upon a given choice, whatever that is.

Our family together for my son Adam’s wedding

 

What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing a career in art?
To pursue anything art, start by building a resume. Join an art guild in your area so that you can begin exhibiting with them as a group in venues that the guild will find. Educate yourself by taking a class in your favorite medium (or learn a new medium that has always intrigued you) at a local community college. A college has a higher level of professionalism when learning a new skill, or continuing with a medium you already know—for instance, painting. The challenge of working with an MFA professor and other dedicated, serious students is a growth experience. It also starts the networking in your field.

Call your County Cultural Division and volunteer to be on an art committee. Again, this is networking in that you will be meeting important people in the arts. In addition, see if your city has a Public Art Ordinance. If yes, they will have a volunteer committee. Try to get on that committee as well.

Try to apprentice with another artist who is further along than you. I worked for years for artists who were working on Public Art projects and were glad for the extra help. If there is a “Studio Visit” night advertised anywhere near you, go.

Do anything art, and your networking will have begun.

 

What resources do you recommend?
Americans for the Arts is a wonderful organization dedicated to artists and advancing the arts in the US. Go onto that website, learn what jobs are available, and/or choose a conference that sounds interesting.

The Artist’s Guide to Public Art: How to Find and Win Commissions by Lynn Basa

Guide to Getting Arts Grants by Ellen Liberatori

Locate and call the local Cultural Arts Organization, the local Public Art Committee, and the local Arts Guild in your city.
Do an Internet search of State or National Conferences (Americans for the Arts advertises this).

 

What’s next for you?
When I think of how far I have come in my field, I am completely amazed. It has been a long haul—15 years—to become recognized as a respected artist, consultant, professor, or anything art; people come to me. The most wonderful thing is that at 66, I feel I still have not reached my potential, and I am hungry to continue achieving.
Therefore, I hope I live long enough to continue to achieve all that I want.

Retirement is not in my vocabulary.

 

Contact Beth Ravitz at bethravitz@gmail.com
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Let’s Hear from an Expert: Diane Flynn, ReBoot Career Accelerator

dianes-headshotWhat is the need you were trying to fill when you launched ReBoot?

When I returned to work after a 15-year pause, I felt confident about many hard and soft skills that don’t diminish over time. I had a background in management consulting and technology marketing, but I felt ill-equipped with current workplace technology skills that “passed me by” during my pause—LinkedIn, Social Media, Collaborative Tools (Google Suite), Presentation Graphics, Video Technologies (Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, WebEx) and commonly used communication software like Slack. This recognition, along with the overwhelming interest from peers in returning to work, made me think there’s an opportunity to help women interested in reentering the workforce.

 

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Tell us more about how ReBoot helps women.

ReBoot helps women become currentconnected and confident to re-start careers, start new businesses, or pursue new goals.  Accelerators offer an intensive experience to get you ready for reinvention through hands-on learning of current tech, workplace, and career skills. Club ReBoot, a monthly membership club available in cities throughout the US, offers twice monthly speakers, workshops, and networking with like-minded women.

ReBoot taps into a huge and growing pool of talent that has been largely overlooked. According to a study published by the Center for Talent Innovation in 2010, 43% of women pause their career and 90% want to opt back in. That’s 3.3mm women per year in the US alone, and all indications suggest this is an international trend. ReBoot is unique in providing 30 hours of curriculum that gets women current with today’s workplace technologies and helps them develop a growth mindset. We also provide a safe, supportive community for women.

ReBoot Career Accelerator for Women is now offered in Silicon Valley, Chicago, Seattle, and NY, with Club ReBoot programs opening in 7 cities this fall. Five hundred women have participated in our program. ReBoot was recently featured on The Today Show, WSJ, Forbes, ABC Business News, and PRI’s The TakeAway, all indications of the growing interest in tapping into this new and exciting talent pool. Key sponsors include IBM, Expedia, and Frontier Communications; training partners include Google, Apple, LinkedIn, and Enjoy.

ready-to-reboot-full-class-working

 

What unique challenges and opportunities do you see for women in midlife seeking to return to work?

The main challenge is that these women, who have so much to offer, have very low self-confidence. What they don’t realize is that their experience (whether paid or unpaid), connections, and soft skills are immensely valuable to employers. They are able to work autonomously, are energized, and know how to “get things done.” Women are often victims of the Imposter Syndrome, in which they undermine their capabilities and resist applying for jobs unless they feel 100% qualified. We encourage women to take a risk, apply for the job, and sell themselves with the valuable skills they offer.

 

Can you give us an example of a woman who ReBoot helped return to work in midlife?  

82% of our ReBoot alumnae seeking work find meaningful engagement. Whether they start their own businesses, work in part-time project work, or assume full-time positions, we help catalyze their careers. One of my favorite ReBoot success stories is a woman Engineer/MBA who took a 16-year pause to raise her children, and then went through Reboot. She was one of nine finalists for an Office Manager position with Jet Blue Technology Ventures, and secured the job because of her maturity, judgment, and exceptional workplace skill set. She has been in her role over one year, and is a valued, thriving team member. We hear more and more of these success stories. Each week, we receive calls from companies specifically seeking this demographic to fill both part-time and full-time roles.

The Reboot team

The Reboot team

 

What resources do you recommend?

I would start by subscribing to our weekly ReBoot newsletter, offering many tips, articles, and jobs for returners.

We have 5-day Accelerators running March 6-10 in Silicon Valley and Seattle, and March 13-16 in LA. We have an 8-week Accelerator in Seattle running March 29-May 24. We also recommend our partners who have great job boards, including Après, Maybrooks, Manera Solutions, Business Talent Group, Talent ReConnect, MomCorps, Werk and Encore.org.

For books, I’d suggest:

Work Pause Thrive: How to Pause for Parenthood Without Killing Your Career by Lisen Stromberg

Nail the Interview, Land the Job: A Step-by-Step Guide for What to Do Before, During and After the Interview by Michelle Tillis Lederman

Twist: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands by Julie Cottineau

 

Contact Diane Flynn at reboot@gsvlabs.com

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Diane Flynn is Chief Marketing Officer of GSVlabs, a leading Silicon Valley accelerator for individuals, startups and corporations seeking growth and innovation. She is also Co-founder of ReBoot Career Accelerator for women returning to the workforce after taking a work pause.  ReBoot gets women current, connected, and confident to return by teaching essential workplace tech skills and providing a community of like-minded returners.  

Diane is passionate about helping women reinvent themselves and find their purpose. She also chairs the marketing committees for several non-profit boards. She holds a BA in Economics from Stanford and an MBA from Harvard.