Launching an Online Retail Business in Midlife: Starla’s Story

After working long hours for many years to support herself and her son, a health crisis would force Starla to slow down and find another way to make ends meet. She opened Southern Rich’s, honoring all things southern.

Tell us a little about your background.
I was born along the Gulf Coast in Mobile, Alabama to a typical southern family. I was a Daddy’s girl: My father was a hard-working man, a skilled machinist with a keen eye for detail and precision. He was a strong provider and protector of my mother, younger brother, and me.

Our family was traditional. My mother was a southern June Cleaver, who kept our house spotless, our meals well-prepared, and never sat as long as there was something in the home that required attention. All the women in my family were strong southern women, who perfectly balanced feminine charm, Southern belle etiquette, and quiet strength. Daddy tended to everything outside the house – the car, the yard, repairs, the garden etc.

I suppose you could say my childhood was extremely sheltered and structured. Children were raised to respect their elders. I learned southern belle etiquette before I was old enough to even know what the word meant. While I was a “girly girl,” I also had much of Dad’s personality in me—a strong will and a stubborn streak.

Age 3

When I was twelve, my mother went to work as a bookkeeper, which caused one change in our household. I had learned to cook from some of the best southern cooks around (both my grandmothers and my mother) and since Dad got home from work before Mom did, he and I would get in the kitchen together and start “supper” for the family. I still love cooking and entertaining to this day.

My family was a very religious family, and faith was at the center of everything we did. Both my parents were leaders in our church and my brother and I “cut our teeth on the pews,” as they used to say down South. Their leadership in our church and in our community instilled in me both a strong work ethic and a generous heart. Children flocked to our house as Mom was always the perfect hostess with snacks, and Daddy’s unassuming ways and dry sense of humor always made them feel safe and protected. It was those childhood experiences and examples that developed my people skills and my gift of encouragement early on.

Early family portrait

Our extended family were all very musical and involved in church music in one way or another. I began piano lessons at the age of nine and practiced for hours each day. Everything growing up pretty much revolved around church, music, family, neighbors, community, and school. We were always singing! Because I had a natural talent and a love of music, it was a given that I would be either a church musician, a performer, or perhaps a music teacher. There was never really another path made clear to me even though I had other skills that I had not tapped into.

I have lived in other areas of the South, but have been back in my hometown of Mobile, Alabama since 1999. My parents, my 25-year-old son, most of my extended family live either in town or within a day’s drive from me.

During my formative years, I was an excellent student. I entered Lee University, a religious liberal arts college in a small town outside of Chattanooga, TN, on a piano scholarship. I eventually realized that the last thing I desired was to perform on a professional level and that I had little patience for teaching children. After getting a work-study job in the Public Relations Department of the University, and tapping into my writing and interviewing skills, I changed my major to communications, with an emphasis in public relations.

My college senior portrait

After graduation, I returned home, secured office administrative work, married, had a son, and (ironically) became involved in faith-based singing, public speaking, and performing. My passion for writing fell by the wayside though my love of public speaking continued to be a part of my career choices. After ten years, I ended my marriage. Now a single parent, I made many career choices based on what served me best in caring and providing for him. There was a great deal of “living” from that time until my “after 40” life change. My last two jobs, prior to the beginning of the change of course in my life were in Executive support roles in the telecommunications industry. I served as a Facilities Coordinator and then as an Assistant to the Regional Retail Sales Manager before life began to take an unexpected turn.

During the worst days of my illness, with my sweet son Josh

When did you start to think about making a change?
Sometimes life changes because of a strong desire for change or an “aha” moment, and then sometimes it changes out of sheer necessity. In my case, it was the latter. After relationship transitions and a personal health crisis, I was forced to make a change from the fast-paced corporate world that had completely eroded my health. I was working as much as 90 hours a week to progress financially for both my nine-year-old son and myself.

I ended up flat on my back, unable to get out of bed for no more than an hour at a time. All my independence came to a screeching halt. During the many months that it took to get a proper diagnosis (fibromyalgia and peripheral neuropathy) and find a path towards managing my health, I was forced to take a long look at another way to live and provide for my son.

What is your next act?
I am the co-owner of Southern Rich’s, which promotes the southern lifestyle, history, and tradition, through a variety of products. I launched this business in April 2016, at the age of 55. Southern Rich’s is a family business co-owned with my son Joshua. My father contributes through the creation of his one-of-a-kind wood handcrafted designs of tables, bowls, lamps, plant benches, coat racks, picnic tables, rocker/gliders, etc. We also have a private line of all-natural jams and butters that have no preservatives and are gluten free. Within that line, is a selection of naturally-sweetened jams for diabetics and those who do not want sugar in their diet. Those jams are sweetened with white grape juice instead of organic sugar. This product was a huge success over the Christmas holidays. We place great value in natural products and promote a healthy lifestyle. The jams are a private label for our company, manufactured by a wholesale distributor that grows the fruits and manufactures the jams and butters on their family farm in Georgia.

My dad’s handcrafted wagon wheel rocker-glider

Southern Rich’s does not have a retail storefront; all the work done on our handcrafted creations and subsequent inventory is kept in a shop on our private property. We sell online, but our customers primarily consist of contacts in our local community through churches, beauty salons, neighbors, friends, family etc. We are in the process of working with a local retail shop owner who is interested in displaying and promoting our products in her collectibles store. We are seeking to expand the jams to a regional grocery chain that showcases local businesses and their food products. In the last couple of weeks, we have also signed on for a new exclusive label product—all-natural soy candles that are infused with essential oils. The candles offer a variety of aromas that are reminiscent of life in the South such as Magnolia Blossom, Southern Sunshine, High Cotton, Ocean Breeze, Sweet Tea & Currant, Peach Nectar, Sage & Sweetgrass, Oakmoss & Amber, etc. These candles come in both feminine, masculine, and gender-neutral designs of mason jars, tumblers, and tins. We hope to have this latest product available within a month.

A major goal of ours is to “pay forward” our success by taking a portion of our proceeds and building a foundation that we call “Blessings For Belles.” Our mission is to help women and children in shelters and safe houses, or those who are living on their own after suffering abuse and abandonment. We have helped a limited number of women who were out of work and struggling with paying rent, groceries etc. but hope to fully establish the foundation and expand its scope as our business grows.

I am also a writer. I am re-launching my first book Journey Within My Heart and am working on the launch of my second and third books. My books are all related to Southern Rich’s in that they are an extension of the life I treasure as a true “southern belle.” Journey Within My Heart is a look back into my own life and struggles, both with my health issues and a time of domestic abuse. It’s also a journey to reconcile those experiences with my childhood memories, in an effort to discuss self-esteem and worth. My second book, Southern Whispers is a lighthearted look at life in the South as told by a true “southern belle.” It is filled with humorous anecdotes and family stories and experiences. The third book in the queue is titled Halo & High Heels and explores the role of women and their struggle to be true to womanhood, motherhood and more, while being unique and authentic. It makes the claim that it is possible to be a lady and all-woman too; and that while it is true that “little girls are made of sugar and spice,” sometimes we find we are much more spice than sugar! It is written from the expectations I personally experienced being raised in the South by southern women.

Aside from writing as a book author, I am a blogger for Fibromyalgia Living Today and a health contributor for the New Life Outlook online health network—both owned by Perk Media out of Canada. I maintain my own blog and discussion forum through my website and on my Facebook page.

Writing about what I treasure and sharing products that evoke memories of those treasures, makes what I do anything but work. It is simply sharing what I love. Walking this next act journey with those I love in a family business just makes it doubly rewarding. And did I mention I LOVE being my own boss! The creative and artistic side of me despises routines and schedules and having someone to answer to or hover over my shoulder. I suppose I lead much better than I follow. Also, due to some of the health challenges I have dealt with, flexibility is paramount.

How supportive were your family and friends?
The one thing I know without a doubt is that I would not have made it had it not been for the encouragement, support, and care of my family and close friends. My parents literally nursed me back to health and helped with day-to-day tasks. They, and other family and friends, patiently listened to me and encouraged me with each new idea I developed along the way.

The family business came through my sweet Daddy turning his wood crafting hobby into beautiful pieces that I could couple with my marketing skills to promote and sell. He was giving of his talent and what he loved to do, using it to help me financially and to help me find a way forward. As my son Josh grew up, he jumped in with a desire to learn skills from his “Paw Paw” as well as a desire to simply spend time with him in his wood shop. His ideas on how to reach a young market and trendy tricks of the trade have been immeasurable. He is a computer geek so he helped me with technical things that would bog me down when I had computer woes. He is also the one who encouraged me with the writing of my first book telling me to “think big” in my audience outreach. He believed I had a message for everyone, and challenged me not to think too small or to write to a narrow group of readers.

Finally, I had a couple of close friends who supported me beyond expectations. Laura challenged me to find my voice and my confidence in what I had to offer. She gave me constructive criticism and “tough love” when I needed it. She pushed me to enter an international “transformation contest” hosted by the Early To Rise organization. During that contest, my journaling was a part of our daily exercises towards transformation—the words in my little “journal” were being read by 47,000 people! At one point in the contest, the President of Early To Rise, Craig Ballantyne, asked me to be one of their featured contestants on their Friday “stories.”. This is where I found my courage to begin writing my first book!

The other friend instrumental in my life during my “next act” was my friend Clint. He was my encourager and esteem-builder. I had gone through so much that I had kind of lost “me,” and he helped me to see beauty again in myself, my gifts, my heart, and my spirit. I had really dwindled in self-esteem with the setbacks I had encountered. He was my kindred spirit and my resident fan club.

What challenges did you encounter?
As I stated, I think the biggest challenge was finally getting a proper diagnosis in my health issues so that I could find my new “normal” in life to balance my energy in such a way I could begin to reach my goals. Many people with health challenges tend to live in a state of denial for a while, wanting to get their “old” life back, and it takes time to realize that some detours take you on a path completely different—never to return to where you were before.

The other challenge for me was financial. Because of setbacks and of my responsibilities as a single parent, I didn’t have a huge financial foundation, especially when it came to launching the business Southern Rich’s. Writing was easier, in that you simply put yourself out there and research writing opportunities until you find the right niche and following. But launching a new “products-based” retail business was another thing altogether. As the adage goes “you have to have money to make money” so finding a way to develop a product line and even have minimal money to market it was challenging.

Handcrafted Deluxe Captain’s Table

Were there times when you thought about giving up?
I suppose I felt like giving up in my weakest moments, but when you really have no other option, it isn’t a thought you dwell on for very long. Each person who takes that step towards their next act should really look at it as a point of “no return.” If we are too comfortable in mediocrity, then we often do not find the courage to keep going and pursuing our dreams and goals. There are no shortcuts—and “easy outs” are very self-defeating.

What/who kept you going?
That is the easiest answer for me: my son, Josh. He and I had been through “hell and back” from the time he was born three months premature. I was in an abusive marriage to his father and then faced with a preemie baby towards the end of that marriage. I didn’t know if Josh would live or die, so my life had already been motivated and conditioned by that big brown-eyed little boy, my miracle baby. I developed the motto “Never give up!” When life had finally settled in and had become good again—only to be turned upside down with health issues—it was that sweet little boy who had grown from a fragile preemie baby to an energetic nine-year-old, who kept me motivated! It was also my faith in God and my family’s faith in me that kept me going.

With Josh, my right-hand man

What did you learn about yourself through this process?
That I didn’t have to be perfect and that messing up sometimes is a part of the process! I also learned that I didn’t have to have everything all figured out to take a step forward. I just had to have courage for that one leap of faith. I realized that I didn’t fully know who I was inside until I was squeezed a bit and what was in there oozed out! I learned that the very things I had spent a lifetime being afraid of were the things that pushed me forward and that they were mere shadows holding me back with no substance. Finally, I learned what really mattered to me and how to let go of those things that didn’t matter so much.

Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?
I would’ve listened to the “whispers of my heart” sooner! I spent way too many years trying to please others with life choices and also second guessing my own desires and choices opting for what was “expected” or “safe.”

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?
It isn’t always easy but it is liberating! If you find something that you love, then no matter how hard it is to obtain, it will never seem like a chore. Also, you must fully believe in what you do or in what you have to offer before you can expect others to. You must sell yourself first! Passion combined with need, desire, determination, and joy in the process will give you much of what you need to change course.

One thing that I share with people along their journey is to be kind to yourself. Sometimes we are our own worst critic and if we feel nothing is ever just right, then we lose heart. On good days, be your own cheerleader. On bad days, your own nurse, refuge, or encouragement coach. It is so important to take care of yourself in the process of “reinventing” life. Women tend to be all things for everyone else in their lives and spend no time on themselves. But what I have learned is that if we don’t treat ourselves well, and if we give all we have to others without giving to ourselves, then we aren’t at our best and everyone suffers! It takes times of rest, solitude, reflection, and honest soul-searching sometimes. It is the “being that energizes the doing.”

I wasn’t able to move forward into the areas I desired until I was brutally honest with myself. Transparency is necessary so that we can discover our true beauty and worth. Also, if we aren’t up to par physically then we struggle to reach our goals as well. Our worth isn’t tied up in our health, but our energy level is.

Historic Southern charm: Bienville Square in downtown Mobile, AL

What advice do you have for those interested in starting a product-based business?
If you are interested in a career path that takes you into the collectible retail market, find products that have meaning. Don’t just look for things you think others will like or that might be big sellers. People shop for everyday items out of necessity, but collectible or novelty items out of emotion and sentiment. Whatever products you choose, let it be something that you would love or want or that evokes special memories for you. Don’t cut corners. Make sure that what you offer is quality above quantity always!

Also, do your homework. There are fewer excuses with the Internet, Google, and YouTube. Educate yourself as much as possible. See what others have done and how they have done it. Then tailor that to your lifestyle.

Finally, realize that “no man (or woman) is an island.” Solicit help when needed and involve those around you. No one is successful trying to do everything themselves. You’d be surprised how many around you are waiting to be asked for help!

What selling products out of your home looks like

Any advice on starting a business with family?
Going into business with family does have its own challenges as well as rewards. Sometimes the family roles do not coincide with the business roles and the lines become a bit blurred at times. For instance, my father is the creative genius of our handcrafted creations. His love of the hobby and desire to bless others with his designs have produced a greater challenge for me in sales to our network of acquaintances. He had given away so many pieces as “gifts” prior to the launch of our business, that it has made it more difficult to sell to those who have not received a gift from him. Everyone wants something for free!

Also, because his expertise is in the design while mine is in the marketing, sometimes I have to take a more dominant role to ensure that he adheres to what we have established in the way of pricing, offers, etc. We can’t relate typically as father/daughter but as designer and business owner. So far, he has not caved in by reducing the pricing that I have set! Because of limited knowledge of retail pricing versus collectible designer pricing, he tends to want to sell the collection pieces for much less than their true value.

My advice is to make certain everyone understands and respects their roles in the business. My son, as a millennial, has many creative ideas and perspectives that I value and respect. We cannot allow his youth and my experience to deter us from finding the most innovative and productive ways to market our products. As with my relationship with my father, so it goes with my son as well. We are not mother/son but co-owners.

Lastly, it is inevitable that as a family business develops, there are outsiders—extended family members—who are not a part of the business, who see the growth and suddenly want to become a part of it. It is important to hold your ground as owner. Just as you would not allow outsiders in your public business just because they want to “get in on the action,” nor should you allow relatives. A family business has its many rewards; just remember though, it is a business and should be treated with the same professionalism as any other business.

The team: with my dad and son

What about advice for those interested in writing?
My advice is what I told one of my writer friends and penned in my book Journey Within My Heart. Here is the quote: “One thing I have come to understand as a writer, is that the words that come forth must be expressed regardless of who reads them, or even if I am the only one who reads them because a writer writes.”

I shared this thought with my friend Anita, who is a fellow writer, not too long ago. Here is what I told her “…if my words fall on one ear that is ready and in need of what I have to say or a thousand, I have given birth to a thought that is meant for someone, somewhere, or maybe even just meant for me to realize from the deepest part of me.”

If your words touch you, they will touch others who are meant to hear them. It is kind of like “if you build it they will come!”

My “writing den”

What resources do you recommend?
Writing:
The best way to develop your skills and techniques is to write, write, write! Also, you need to find your “niche” by researching companies, media groups, publications, etc. that are interested in contracts with freelance writers. After my time of illness, I felt that some of what I had learned could be of benefit to others in their own health struggles. I came across a few networks that were looking for health contributors, one of which was New Life Outlook based in Canada. They have sections for most of the major illnesses and health conditions and welcome application from freelance writers.

If you aren’t certain which genre you want to pursue, you could use a network such as the Freedom With Writing Resource Network. When you subscribe, they send out weekly writing opportunities to explore.

There are a few bestselling authors who offer valuable insight into the world of writing. I highly recommend Brendon Burchard’s books and seminars.

If you are interested in exploring the world of an indie author (self-publishing/independent publishing,) Amazon’s self-publishing division CreateSpace is a viable and inexpensive option to get your early writings into print or ebook form. They offer many services and tips along the way as you learn about the process and the world of writing… Through CreateSpace, you will be listed as an author on Amazon and can format your book in electronic form for Kindle Publishing also.

My books of inspiration

Retail Business:
Concerning launching your own retail business, it is of utmost importance to research the laws and regulations of your state. Go to your state’s Department of Revenue website and research business licenses and information. You can also learn a great deal from the Small Business Administration.

If you are not creating your own product solely but looking for products to sell, research viable distributors who accept wholesale customers. Some wholesale companies also offer “private labels” or exclusivity options, where the product is manufactured by their company but distributed under your company name. Make sure you do your homework on reviews and history of the companies you are considering. Those who will provide a sample of the product before requiring an order are usually the ones with a stronger business ethic and easier to work with.

If you are offering a product for consumption such as food, drink, or something like a perfume or body lotion, it is important to research liability insurance for your company should someone become ill or have a reaction to something you sell. Liability insurance isn’t all that expensive, but necessary. Contact your insurance agent or any local agent that offers business liability insurance.

What’s next for you?
I hope to turn my story into one seen on the big screen. I am talking with an independent writer/producer to see if it would make a good video or not. I want to branch out to doing more personal videos as well as blogging and life coaching.

I also have a strong desire to pay it forward. In addition to “Blessings for Belles,” I want to help people who are dealing with chronic illness and loss of income. My idea is to tap into the talents and skills of those who have faced lifestyle changes, not so much out of a desire for a “next act” but out of necessity for a “next act.” I want to build a network for them to showcase their talent and skills so that they can find hope and a hand up from their situation.

Connect with Starla Rich
Email: starla@starlarich.com
Starla Rich website
Starla Rich Facebook Page
Starla Rich Twitter
Starla Rich Instagram
Starla Rich LinkedIn
Southern Rich’s website
Southern Rich’s Facebook Page
Southern Rich’s Twitter 
Southern Rich’s Instagram




Becoming a Nomadic Housesitter in Midlife: Faith’s Story

After taking early retirement in their fifties, Faith and her husband, Alan, decided to retire to Mexico, but soon got restless. They now housesit professionally, moving from country to country for gigs—enjoying exploring the world and living a pared-down lifestyle out of one suitcase.

Tell us a little about your background…
I was born in Ireland, where we lived for a few years before moving to the UK for my dad’s job as a Police Officer. My dad was then recruited by the Canadian Police Force and before we knew it we were off to a new life in London, Ontario.

My mum, dad, sister, and eventually a little brother settled well in Canada but for me, there was always something missing. As a child at the tail end of the baby boom (1959), all the “good opportunities” felt taken. When I finished high school in 1979, I attempted to access a sound recording program at College but was told that it was for “boys only.” So I entered the work force only to be hit with the nasty recession, which meant horrible waitressing jobs. As a result, I decided to go home to England.

My sister Louise and I fishing as kids

I spent the next 10 years living in London, England, where I married and had my son. We lived in South East London, where I had a job I loved working in a Video Production Company that specialized in producing training videos for corporations. I was lucky enough to have great bosses who taught me about writing scripts and how to develop ideas for training stories. I became a script editor and often ended up creating small scripts for the training videos.

After my marriage broke up in the late ‘80s, I returned to Canada and hit another recession, so decided to go to University and finally get that degree. I adored university; getting to read, research, and study was heaven for me. I also became an activist on campus, fighting for single parents who wanted to go back to school, getting involved with developing a feminist newspaper, and much more. As a result of my activism, I was asked to be on several government boards and panels to bring about changes to student loans and social supports for single parents working to access higher education. I ended up with a degree in Anthropology and a dedication to community development and working to make change.

From this jumping off point, I became involved in entrepreneurship because it was my belief that community economic development was the only way to empower people living in poverty. I was motivated by the old adage about teaching someone to fish.

I started a business for women back in the mid-’90s that concentrated on providing local hospitals and the burgeoning health food industry with gluten-free baked goods for Celiacs. The company was comprised of three women I had worked with in the social justice movement. We all thought very much alike but brought very different skills and talents to the business and so we created a food company that specialized in working with local producers and growers. We worked with the Delaware community of indigenous peoples to create recipes that would appeal to the gourmet market for their white corn. We consulted and mentored new immigrants and refugees who wanted to develop food-based businesses. We acted as mentors for the Federal government Community programmers and helped rural communities develop value-added food products for the crops they grew.

Our business did very well and eventually, we sold it to a much larger producer in Toronto. From that point, I became an independent consultant advising food-based businesses on how to market their business and use the internet to attract customers. I also worked with a small business center to mentor food-based business development. As a result of my business experience, I became the local specialist on how to develop revenue streams for not for profits and charities.

During the development of our business, I remarried and we became a blended family with three boys all around two years apart (pictured below). My husband, Alan, worked at the Post Office and we had known each other for many years and had been fixed up by a friend. We got along like best friends from the beginning and our boys did as well. We always had a shared dream of retiring and traveling the world together.

When did you start to think about making a change?
Alan and I had planned to retire early and travel. My parents had retired at 55 to a Caribbean Island and we learned then that living a life elsewhere was never as expensive as you think it is. Island living was cheap—fresh fish, fruit, and veggies cost less than a third of Canada and no heating bills, no snow. It seemed like heaven. As a letter carrier, Alan knew that he wouldn’t be able to take the winter in Ontario forever so his dream was to get out and head somewhere warm.

Around three years ago, Alan took early retirement at 55 and waited for me to retire as well but there was absolutely no way for us to live in Canada without one of us working; it was simply unaffordable. I was really enjoying my work managing a Community Theatre but it was getting tougher and tougher to do the 60-hour work week in a not-for-profit organization. There was no job security, no benefits, and no paid overtime; it just became too much for too little. We had a 5-year plan in mind but things changed a little when the organization I worked for began to change dramatically, in ways I completely disagreed with, so the decision to move to Mexico was made.

Our beach in Chelem, Mexico

What is your next act?
I am a professional housesitter.

While Alan and I thought we would retire to Mexico and live a simple, quiet life, truth be told, we got a little bored. I had been researching housesitting for quite some time and we decided to take the plunge and join a few housesitting sites. We applied for around 15 sits in the UK and Ireland on a whim. We got offered a couple but they just didn’t pan out. We did get a Skype call from a couple in Tipperary who had seven dogs and were having difficulty getting a sitter. We took the job; it didn’t worry us we were accustomed to having lots of dogs and cats around and we knew we could handle it. So we had our first job booked seven weeks in Tipperary with seven dogs and a cat. After that first domino, things just fell into place. We got another housesitting job in Toronto just before we were to leave for Ireland and the timing was perfect, we could visit with all our family and friends in Ontario and then head to Ireland.

In Tipperary, with two of the seven dogs we were looking after

We had a brilliant six weeks in Toronto in a gorgeous, renovated home in a prime location. I had begun working on a travel blog when living in Mexico, just for fun and to keep family informed about our adventures. I had always written before that but mainly blog posts for my work—government grants and local food blogs.  Once I started my own blog, I found myself suddenly in demand to write for others on travel, culture, and food. I began guest writing for free and decided that I should try my hand at getting paid. I started working on Upwork, a freelance site, and began earning a little money. Eventually, once I had built a reputation on that system, I started getting offers to write for corporations and organizations needing blog posts, business plans, marketing plans, and social media management.

All of a sudden, I was a writer. I specialize in a few areas such as food, culture, and travel. Because I have an abiding interest in history and family legacies, I began a job writing for a company that is currently developing a website and business around preserving family legacies and memories. I also developed a talent for social media management and I continue to write and assist others with business and marketing planning, as well as editing white papers and research documents.

As a housesitter, I have now had the opportunity to travel for the past two years with no mortgage or rental expenses. We have had the chance to spend a considerable amount of time in Ireland and England—in Tipperary, Dublin, Donegal, Belfast, Yorkshire, Berkshire, and London, and Palomares, Spain. We are currently housesitting in Paphos, Cyprus for three months. After Cyprus, we are back for a 6-month housesit in Northern Ireland.

I make sure that each housesit we take has good internet access so I get to write anywhere in the world and earn a pretty good part-time living. I specialize in writing about a variety of things and have had jobs writing stuff as simple as how to build a blog and as complex as working with entrepreneurs who want to create a blog to highlight and enhance their existing businesses. I also do a lot of social media management for business people who want to utilize social media but simply don’t have the time for it.

My “office” in Cyprus

How hard was it to take the plunge?
We had been planning on early retirement to Mexico the Yucatan to be specific. We figured it was the cheapest option and we could easily survive on Alan’s pension there. We thought we might stay in Mexico for a few years (well around 10) until our government pensions kicked in, increased our income, and then travel abroad. Fortunately, housesitting sort of fell into our laps and that became a real opportunity for us.

We had been selling our antiques and getting rid of stuff slowly for several years but once we decided to leave, we got the house looking fresh and new, put it on the market, and began to sell off our other major possessions such as cars and a motorcycle. We put the stuff we felt we couldn’t part with into rubber tubs and stored them in our son’s basement and when we sold the house, we were ready to go.

 

How supportive were your family and friends?
Incredibly supportive! We have a very tight circle of friends that did nothing but encourage us to take the plunge. Our children were grown and working towards lives of their own, so it was a great sense of relief that we could just go and not worry.

In Spain with our best friends from Ireland

What challenges did you encounter?
To be truthful not many. In Mexico, the challenges were heat related—as an Irish redhead, 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) with 100% humidity does not agree with me, and for two months out of the year, it is unbearable. That was also a deciding factor in our wish to find another place to retire to. Where we lived in Mexico on the Yucatan peninsula was in a small fishing village, so it meant having to have a car so we would be able to get groceries and fresh food. Food in that area of Mexico was a challenge: The local produce was very poor, the choice of restaurants limited, and who has to money to eat out every day? Unfortunately, that meant having to shop at places like Bodega (Walmart-owned) and Costco. These were adequate but who moves to a foreign country to shop at Costco?

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?
No, not once did I ever feel like giving up; in fact, our goals just got broader and broader and when you are searching for a forever home the challenge of being able to see locations and places you never thought possible in your lifetime is so inspiring. We get comments about being “brave” all the time but it never occurred to us that we were doing anything brave; we just felt there had to be more to life and now was the time.

The Shambles in York

What did you learn about yourself through this process?
I am normally a pretty non-sociable type of person so getting to stay with different homeowners and learning about the house and pets was difficult for me. Having to make conversation with strangers and live in their homes is a delicate balance. You don’t want to say or do anything off-putting and you sure don’t want to complain in any way; I mean, after all, you are staying for free in their homes. However, some do take advantage and insist you do things you wouldn’t normally do and you have to abide by their rules. There is also a level of discomfort knowing you are in somebody else’s house and will you come up to their standards of cleanliness, pet care, and so on? It can be a bit nerve wracking.

I did learn to control my outspokenness and not discuss politics, religion, or things of that nature. I am a very liberal person, a feminist, and occasionally do have the urge to share that with the world. So I have learned to censor myself, somewhat, but I won’t compromise my values and beliefs when it comes to racism, sexism, and pretty much any ism.

One of the really incredible things Alan and I both learned though was how tied down we are as a society with “stuff.” We travel with two carry-on suitcases and have pared our lives down to owning virtually nothing. We, like everyone else, bought into the need for more and more stuff and getting rid of it all is immensely liberating. We donate our old clothes to secondhand shops and pick up “new” clothes as needed from the same place, or we simply make do and mend. We don’t need to buy things for our house since we are basically homeless and we can enjoy the world so much more for it.

Enjoying a market in Malton Yorkshire

Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?
I would take the chance on housesitting before settling in Mexico. I would have applied from my hometown and given it a shot to see if I liked it. I would have prepared myself with local house and pet-sitting jobs to get good references and build a reputation before applying abroad. I also plan to stick to my rule of if we find a place to retire, we will rent for a year first to decide if we really do like it.

 

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?
Jump! Just go for it, but make sure you have backup plans and enough income to support yourself. Get your ducks in a row—things like insurance, health care, and so on have to be taken into consideration in midlife. I travel with diabetes and Sjogren’s and have had no issues whatsoever. Dental care was a 1000% times cheaper in Mexico so we both had major work done there. In the UK, prescriptions are so much cheaper than Canada or the US; even if you have to pay $50 to see a doctor, the drugs you might need will cost you a 10th or less.

Oh, and research, research, and then do some more research; the information is all there online, all you have to do is look for it.

On our boat in Lake Erie, Ontario (I’m in the visor)

What advice do you have for those interested in housesitting as a way of life?
Try to start creating an income before you leave your country of origin if you can. There are hundreds of ways to start online by becoming a Virtual Assistant (VA) or a Project Manager. You can start with websites that hire freelancers initially; you won’t make much at all but it gets you a reputation and from there, you can build your own business as a specialist VA. If you love social media (SM), there are hundreds of people looking for SM Managers, all of which can be done on line. The key is to start a couple of years before you leave, to build a reputation and get some experience behind you.

If you have the potential to get EU citizenship through descent or birth, apply for a passport from your home country. In many EU countries, you can claim citizenship if your parents or grandparents were born there and that passport can make all the difference to ease your traveling in Europe.

 

What resources do you recommend?
If you want to housesit, start at home. Pet sit for friends, volunteer at the Humane Society or animal shelters or even your local vet. Work with animals of all kinds and get some references built up. It doesn’t matter if it is for friends and family, it is a very good beginning and it’s where we all start.

Do your homework. If you want to sit in Europe, is there a way to get your EU citizenship? Do you have parents or grandparents born in an EU country? How long can you stay on a tourist visa? And so on. More importantly, where do you want to housesit and do you know the local language or can you get by? Preparation is everything and there will still be something you miss, but you learn to go with the flow.

Mojacer, Spain

Here are some excellent resources for housesitting:

Housesitmatch: a new platform for us, but I have been really impressed by the support and customer service aspect and they appear to be growing in leaps and bounds every day.

Trusted Housesitters: a very popular site, quite likely the largest range of sits and sitters on the internet so a lot of competition. $99US per year. Recently they have changed their system and there has been much grumbling about the expense of getting their police checks and required certifications in place. This is also a very popular site and it can be difficult to get sits from here without much experience.

House Carers: Costs $50 US per year and this is the site we have had the most luck with. We have obtained all our sits to date from this platform

Nomador: I really like Nomador. You get three free applications for sits before you pay. The cost is around $89 US a year. Many of the sits are in France but they are starting to get a broader range of sits. It’s an easy-to-use platform and they also have stopovers, where you can stay in between sits.

Mind My House: Cost of this platform is $20 US and it covers worldwide with lots of sits available.

These are the top rated housesitting platforms and the most commonly used. There are other country-specific platforms as well. I recently discovered an even better way to search these platforms as some of the functions on each site are not very good. This site appears to be able to search easily amongst all the housesitting platforms Housesitsearch. I have a really good basic Housesitting for Newbies blog post on my website where you can find these resources and a lot more if you are interested.

In Spain

What’s next for you?
We are in the process of deciding what country we would like to retire to permanently. Where do we feel the most at home? Currently, we are torn between Ireland and Spain and trying to figure out if we can do both. So we shall see! You never know; we are off to Cyprus next and that may become our forever home.

 

Contact Faith Coates
Email: daehder@gmail.com
Websites: XYU and Beyond and The Artful Marketer
Facebook Page
Twitter: @daehder




Le’ts Hear From an Expert: Alan Alda, The Women in Business Project

You are the Founder of The Women in Business Project, part of Alda Communication Training. What need did you see that you were looking to address with this project?

I find it amazing and stupefying that women still get interrupted in meetings (way more than men, and even on the Supreme Court), they still get things explained to them that they already know, they still see their ideas appropriated by someone else, right under their noses, and — that old standby — they still get harassed. This is stupefying because studies show that the more that women rise in a company, the better the company does with its bottom line. Even if people never heard of these studies, don’t they notice that ignoring and even blocking the strengths of women is not all that profitable?

How do you work with women to address these issues?
In our Women in Business workshops, participants get to go through a set of exercises based on improvisation (which sounds scary but is completely comfortable and fun). Then they go through role playing exercises, where they relive and succeed at those difficult moments they tend to experience in the workplace. Each step in the day’s work leads to the next.

The end result is that participants leave with more confidence in their own strength. They often tell us they feel transformed. Partly this is because they haven’t been lectured to, or given some tips and a pep talk, but, instead, they’ve had experiences that change them. And it doesn’t end there. They leave the workshop with techniques to practice on that reinforce the experience they’ve gone through, and they’re encouraged to keep up contact with at least one person in the group so they can mentor each other, providing support and encouragement.

What advice do you have for women in the workplace who feel their voice is marginalized?
If it’s not possible to get into one of our workshops, I‘d say write down the obstacles that are being put in your way, then get a friend to play out those moments with you over and over until you know you can handle them easily. And keep encouraging each other, especially before a crucial event, like asking for a raise.

 

What resources do you recommend on this topic?
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead is terrific, as is Deborah Tannen’s Talking from 9 to 5: Women and Men at Work. And it might be helpful to read my book on communicating and relating, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?.

 

Connect with Alan Alda:
Website: www.alanalda.com

The Women in Business Project

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/alanalda

Books:
If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?: My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating
Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself
Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I’ve Learned

 

 

Alan Alda has earned international recognition as an actor, writer, and director. He has won seven Emmy Awards, received three Tony nominations, is an inductee of the Television Hall of Fame, and was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in The Aviator. Alda played Hawkeye Pierce on the classic television series M*A*S*H, and his films include Crimes and Misdemeanors, Everyone Says I Love You, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Bridge of Spies, and many more. Alda is an active member of the science community, having hosted the award-winning series Scientific American Frontiers for eleven years and founded the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. Alda is the author of two bestselling books, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I’ve Learnedand Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself.




Becoming a Voiceover Actor: Ruth’s Story

A divorce in midlife was the final push for Ruth to commit to a full-time career as a voiceover and on-camera talent, not to mention an author of romance novels.

 

Tell us a little about your background.

I grew up on the South Side of Chicago, then in the southern suburbs, with my younger brother, sister, and parents. In junior high, I did a few plays, made chorus in 8th grade, and shared the role of Oliver in the musical “Oliver!” In high school, I was on the speech team, worked at the radio station, wrote for the newspaper, sang in varsity choir, and performed in a few plays and a musical. I loved my summer as a theater “cherub” in the National High School Institute’s program at Northwestern University.

Playing L’il Abner in high school

At the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, I double majored in communications and economics, performed in a play or musical almost every semester, worked at the college radio stations as a DJ or news anchor, and did a stint as a justice for student government. I enjoyed living in a dorm freshman year and in my sorority (Pi Beta Phi) for three years. After graduation, I went on to earn a Master’s in TV/Radio and a law degree from Syracuse University while writing for the law school paper, singing in a symphony chorus, being the female anchor on a local cable TV comedy news show, interning at the public radio/TV stations, and ultimately working part time as a classical radio announcer.

In “Anything Goes” at University of Michigan (front and center in blue sequin dress)

I briefly followed the guy I was dating to Montgomery, Alabama, where a Top 40 station hired me as an account executive. The camaraderie and emphasis on weekly learning, along with the freedom to write and voice commercials, made it one of the best places I’ve worked. I moved back to Chicago for a job with Arbitron radio ratings, where I was on the advertiser/agency side and responsible for a ten-state region. Although that much travel—in the days before Mapquest, the internet, laptops and even the guarantee of a remote control in my hotel room—was tiring, I earned a national top performer award two years in a row.

In the early 1990s, I took a shot at full-time acting, which didn’t go very well. I think the reasons included looking too young to be a mom (the role I was often sent out for), lack of training (in the days before the internet made finding information about any career and classes so much easier), and my focus on on-camera commercial work.

When acting didn’t pan out, I used my law degree as an account manager for an online legal research service. For 13 years, I worked mainly with large law firms, training everyone from summer associates to senior partners and negotiating contracts up to seven figures in a several million dollar territory. I earned national and other top performer awards. I did keep my toes in the acting world by doing extra work in movie—my first was the parade scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

After getting married in 1994, I continued to take classes and do extra work and did a couple of community theater musicals. I devoted a lot more time to writing after buying my first laptop and completed my first novel, which I’d begun by hand in the late 1980s. I had an agent by 1996, but the book didn’t sell. I continued to write more manuscripts, which did well in contests but didn’t sell.

Will Rogers Follies in late ’90s

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

My divorce in the summer of 2000, at 40, seemed like a good catalyst to relaunch my acting pursuits. I was good at sales and training but didn’t enjoy it very much. I liked my clients and believed in the products I represented. But holding the same meeting multiple times a day while traveling from client to client didn’t fuel my creative dreams, although I appreciated the income and benefits.

The desire for change had been brewing for a long time. I’d wanted to be an actress since I had starring roles in grade school plays. I’d pursued acting on the side by taking classes, doing improv and the occasional paying gig, and a bunch of extra work (though paid, it isn’t really considered acting). I’d spent many evenings and weekends writing, going to my local Romance Writers of America® chapter meetings, attending conferences, entering contests, and submitting.

“The Great Gatsby”

Getting cast as a paid actor in fall of 2000, in the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Great Gatsby, starring one of my favorite opera singers (the late Jerry Hadley), was a dream come true. I’d seen an audition notice and was cast in a part because I fit into a costume from the Metropolitan Opera! Each night before the curtain went up, as I stood center stage in my maid costume, holding up my tray of champagne glasses and the chorus started singing behind me, I had one of those moments where all was right with my world.

I continued improv training and completed the program at ComedySportz to add to iO (where I’d performed with a team) and Second City.

What is your next act?

I am a voiceover (VO) and on-camera talent. I love performing and taking on different roles and characters. I also love meeting and working with fellow creatives and finally having what I’ve always wanted to do as a career, not a hobby or avocation.

These days, you have to be able to record, edit and deliver auditions and audio files from home. So I’m the director, producer, talent and audio engineer (my least favorite part). Via self-marketing and referrals, I have some returning clients in the US and Europe that send work when they have it. I’m also on a couple of what are known as pay-to-play sites, where for an annual membership, you have access to many auditions.

On-camera, I’ve done national commercials, corporate industrials, web series, independent feature films and more. If anyone is interested, here are links to a few projects:

For The Onion’s ClickHole channel, an episode of “Witnessing History” 

A web commercial and VO for Bionic.

VO for Children’s Advocacy.

I’m also an author. I spent 20 years pursuing traditional publication (and came close numerous times) but started self-publishing fiction in 2015. So far I’ve released four romance novels and a novella set in medieval times. Up next are two humorous women’s fiction novels; the first released June 15. I’ve participated in boxed sets with other authors and give a variety of workshops for authors and actors.

I definitely work more hours than I used to, but I enjoy most of those hours more.

Tell us more about the business of voiceover acting…

The first thing you need to do VO is knowledge of both the craft (including practice) and the business. I’d taken two voice-over classes, plus I’d worked at a couple of radio stations and done some announcing and commercials.

The next thing you need is a demo. A few months after quitting my legal job, I had a commercial demo made, which I sent to my on-camera agents. Over time, I added a narration demo, then a few more for VO genres such as e-learning and telephone.

Fortunately, a VO friend helped me shop for and set up my home recording studio. The number of options and opinions on what’s “best” is daunting.

Some VO jobs come through direct bookings from my demos or auditions from talent agents, but at the moment I get most on my own. Projects include commercials (radio, TV or internet), long e-learning courses ranging from technical to corporate to informative, videos explaining how to use medication, phone messages (“we’re sorry we can’t take your call right now”) and the occasional character.

I spend a lot of time auditioning and preparing for auditions. Some ask for self-taped submissions, meaning they send the script they want you to do along with a few character specifications, then you have to learn those lines, find someone good to read the other part(s) and help with recording—which also means good sound and lighting. Fortunately, the same friend who helped with VO helps with all of that, and the editing, too. Skype auditions are becoming more popular. I prefer those or in-person opportunities because you get to meet people who can book you and start to build relationships. And I often get feedback or direction—that helps with a second take.

I book some on-camera roles via my agents, some through friends/networking, and others via Facebook, Backstage.com, and even Craigslist. Some films and web series don’t pay, but I do them if I like the role, want to work with the production team, or think I’ll get a good clip for my website and demo reels.

Filming “Heavens to Betsy”

How hard was it to take the plunge?

Giving up a regular paycheck, four weeks of paid vacation (plus personal days and holidays), and benefits like health insurance was the hardest part. Even 11 years later, holidays are a challenge because I know so many people get paid to relax/celebrate/eat/socialize while I have no auditions or work coming in, not only the actual day but often for days before or after. And I’d become friends with many co-workers and clients in my legal job, many of whom were very supportive of my creative endeavors, so leaving that camaraderie was difficult.

I finally decided, “Someday is now.” And, as it happened, my dad had passed away more than a year before I quit my job, so my most vocal critic wasn’t around. I admit that sometimes I heard his criticizing voice in my head.

Before taking the plunge, I invested in a career coach to investigate whether I could get a job I’d want to do—and be happier at—that paid as much or more as what I was making. My theory was that if I had to earn significantly less to get a job I liked more than the one I had, I might as well do what I really wanted. After some self-exploration and homework, I realized most likely I’d earn around half or less of what I was making.

Filming a commercial in 2015

I also hired designers to create acting and writing websites I thought were competitive with those of experienced talent and authors, a significant investment at the time.

Taking the plunge was exciting and scary at the same time. I thought I had as many ducks in a row as I could arrange acting-wise. I already had a bit of experience, an agent for on-camera work, and was taking voiceover classes with the plan to have a demo produced. Writing-wise, my second manuscript was a finalist in a national contest with multiple rounds of online voting along the lines of American Idol called American Title. I’d just moved into a new condo, so a lot was changing.

Finding the discipline to move forward every day when you don’t have a boss or manager and to keep going in the face of frequent rejection isn’t fun, but after more than a dozen years of sales/training jobs, I was accustomed to planning my days independently and hearing “no” a lot.

In “The Natural” — episode 2, available on Vimeo

How supportive were your family and friends?

Some thought I was brave for taking such a risk. Others couldn’t figure out what I did every day if I wasn’t booked on a project, so I started my blog “Gainfully Unemployed.”

 

What challenges did you encounter?

Initial challenges included getting potential clients to listen to my VO demo and getting those first clients to book me when I didn’t have that much experience. My sales background definitely helped with technique, persistence, and handling rejection. I didn’t enjoy researching and contacting new clients, but knew how to cold call and network, and wasn’t afraid or upset if people said no. Then people started saying that my website helped convince them to hire me and were happy with my work, so some hired me again and/or referred me.

I had to learn how to run my VO business, including setting rates (in general and for individual projects) and quoting them in a proposal, audio engineering (including editing out breaths, mouth noise, mistakes, any processing of the audio, separating and naming files as per client requests, and uploading them), invoicing, and following up on the occasional payment that didn’t arrive. All of this took a lot more time than I’d expected. There’s a lot of attention to detail as every client has different performance and file delivery specifications.

Today, the most challenging thing is having little to no control over work flow and thus my schedule. Some weeks, I might have no on-camera auditions or jobs. Crickets. It’s hard not to worry. Other weeks, the challenge is fitting everything in. Recently, I had three auditions in one week (one at a casting director’s office, one Skype, and one self-tape) for projects that would require me to work out of town the following week.

Still from the “Heavens to Betsy” trailer

I was already booked one of the days. Then, just from my headshot, I was put on “check avail” (meaning the client is interested but may not choose me) for a corporate film (known as an industrial) on two days that overlapped days for the other projects. They were interested in a third day, the one I was already booked.

As it happened, I didn’t book any of the jobs I auditioned for, and the industrial was pushed to the following month.

Usually, there’s not much notice of an in-person casting director audition. You might get called in the afternoon for the next morning’s 11:00 am audition (only on rare occasions can you request another time), and the script might not arrive until after 5:00 pm. I check my email and phone a lot because fast confirmation is expected—or they may move on to the next person.

VO scripts don’t always arrive when promised, even though I allocated time and vocal energy (you can only record so many hours a day), so I have to adjust other commitments. Others show up out of the blue. I’m free to say no to anything I haven’t accepted, but I want to be their go-to talent and I want the work, even in an already jam-packed week.

Another challenge, at times, is finding motivation each day to press on, keep submitting, keep releasing books, keep wading through rejections of various kinds (including men via dating efforts over many years), and find ways to enjoy the journey rather than focusing on outcomes of bookings and hoping for more and better gigs. As much as I enjoy acting and writing, I also enjoy binge watching, so some days I have to remind myself to move forward.

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?

During slow times, it’s hard to trust the universe and believe that more work, auditions, and/or clients will arrive. I try not to compare myself to colleagues and friends, but when I know many who are becoming best sellers or booking more and/or better gigs, it’s hard to believe my turn will come.

There are days when I just don’t want to do any more marketing for my acting or my books, and others when I think I don’t do enough—because there’s always more to do. I have fleeting thoughts of finding a job with more predictability and regular hours.

What keeps me going is not wanting to return to corporate America. To me, that represents failure, even if by some chance after being out of that market for so long and being 11 years older I could find a comparable or better position.

Still from a video for The Onion’s ClickHole Channel

What have you learned about yourself through this process?

That’s a good question. The answer changes depending on how things are going (I know, I know… It’s supposed to be about the journey, not the outcome). In a good week, I’ve learned that by being multifaceted and persistent, I can have creative careers. When I’m not booking or getting auditions and my submissions (self-taped on-camera, VO auditions, or a submission requesting an audition—for book reviews, workshops, articles, etc.) aren’t receiving replies, I wonder if I should focus on acting or writing instead of doing both.

 

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

I would have purchased a smaller condo. I do need space for my VO recording and home office and love the location, but could have saved a lot of money over the years with a smaller place. Making time to get my place ready to sell while finding somewhere else to live keeps getting moved to next week as I add to my list of tasks.

My condo

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

Believe that someday is now. So many people say, “Someday I’ll do X or Y.” But when does someday arrive? Others say, “I’ve always wanted to do Z.” Start today, right now, by figuring out what that first step is and taking it! Then take another step toward that goal every day, no matter how small. For example, if you write just one page or 250 words a day, you’ll complete 365 or 91,250 in a year. Make a list of your goals and break each goal into steps so it doesn’t seem overwhelming.

We only have one life to live, and we don’t know how long ours will be or the state of our health in retirement. Women in midlife can’t afford fear of failure or success.

 

What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing voiceover work?

Start as soon as you can. Take acting and improv classes, build your resume with student and independent films and web series. There are many more casting opportunities for these kinds of projects now than there were ten years ago because filmmaking technology has changed so much. The downside is that many don’t pay, not even expenses such as mileage or gas. Do theater if you can afford the time. Do a bit of extra work for the highest profile project near you (though it’s not counted as acting) to show you have some awareness of how to behave on set.

Nowadays, it’s easier to shoot a film or video, i.e. create your own work, just with your cell phone or a small crew, but it’s also easier for that work to get lost in the crowd rather than go viral or be seen by people who can move your career forward. But you’d still have something for your website and resume and to send to potential clients and agents.

Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Award Winner, 2011

What about for would-be authors?

Anyone can self-publish, which is both good and bad. I see posts from authors who released their book(s) but are surprised they have no or only a handful of sales. Well, with over 445,000 romance novels in the Kindle store the last time I checked, authors can’t just write great books, they have to find ways to make them discoverable. And still produce as much content as possible.

 

What resources do you recommend?

If you want to be an actor, classes can teach you how to improve your skills, how to audition for different types of roles and different kinds of projects, lingo/jargon, and set etiquette. If you don’t have reputable acting or VO schools or classes in your area, a community college might offer something.

There are VO conferences and many YouTube videos, though I haven’t watched that many myself.

Voiceover:

Edge Studio

Global Voiceover Academy

Voiceover Studio Chicago, where I had my commercial and narration demos done. VOSC also offers Voiceover Exploration sessions to help people learn more about the biz and decide if VO is for them.

A couple of pay-to-play sites (do your own due diligence before joining):

http://www.voices123.com

http://www.bodalgo.com

On-camera:

To find auditions in your area:

www.actorsaccess.com

www.castingnetworks.com

www.backstage.com

Search for student film auditions at local universities and colleges. In Chicago, DePaul, Columbia College, Northwestern University, and the School of the Art Institute frequently post auditions.

Search for Facebook groups in your area for indie films, acting, film production.

Extra work is a great way to dip your toes in the water, but in most cases doesn’t count as acting or go on your resume (except perhaps to list a few as a line item near the bottom to show you’ve been on major sets).

In Chicago, the best way is to register for each extras casting agency, then follow them and their submission instructions on Facebook. You usually need to act (no pun intended) fast, as they often get more submissions than they need.

https://www.facebook.com/extraordinarycasting/

https://www.facebook.com/ChicagoFireExtras/

https://www.facebook.com/4StarCasting/

Writing:

If you want to write romance novels, Romance Writers of America, is the place to be. Not only have I learned about the craft and industry of romance writing, I’ve made amazing friends.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee

Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain

GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction by Debra Dixon

There’s so much to learn about self-publishing, and it can be a challenge to keep up with new developments and changes. I give workshops and offer coaching, and wrote Keeping Up with the Fast-Changing Self-Publishing Market.  

Gurus include:

Joanna Penn

Mark Dawson

Tim Grahl

Jane Friedman

Podcasts include:

https://selfpublishingformula.com/

http://rockingselfpublishing.com/

 

Connect with Ruth Kaufman

Email: ruthkaufmanbooks@yahoo.com

Website

Facebook Author and Actor Page

Twitter @RuthKaufman

Amazon Author Page

Goodreads

Instagram @ruthjkchi




Flipping Houses in Midlife: Lisa’s Story

Between Lisa’s small business and her alimony, she was able to support herself. But with only one year of alimony payments remaining, she had to find a way to supplement her income. She used her realtor and design experience to buy and renovate her first house and got the bug.

 

Tell us a little about your background.

I grew up in Overland Park, Kansas (a suburb of Kansas City), with my four siblings (I’m in the middle) and my parents, all of who still live in Kansas City. My dad is from Poland and my mom is from Mexico. I am the first generation American on both sides of my family.

As a child (the blonde)

As the proud mom of two sons in college (my oldest is graduating in a few weeks), I live in Dallas, TX. My boyfriend and I live in different cities but spend one week at his home in Kansas City and the following week in Dallas. Southwest Airlines loves us!

After graduating from college, I sold radio time for a talk radio station, was a special events coordinator for Macy’s in the Midwest, and then was the Licensing Director for Universal Licensing (a division of Universal Press Syndicate). I worked with Gary Larson (The Far Side), Cathy Guisewite (Cathy) and other cartoonists to secure licensing deals.

After I quit Universal, I became a professional organizer and started my company Everything’s Organized. It eventually evolved into another business called Home Office Life. I’ve written five books about working from home. They were published by major publishers, by smaller houses, and self-published.

When did you start to think about making a change?

In my business,  I was working with clients to help them design home offices and was giving seminars around the country. I was also a spokesperson for various campaigns for Office Depot, Avery, Day Runner and Fuji. I had been a work-from-home mom for years and while my business was profitable, my (then) husband and I didn’t rely on my income to pay bills.

After my divorce and a year before my alimony was set to run out, I knew I had to focus on creating a business that would allow me to support myself. One option was to find a full-time job but, after being an entrepreneur for so many years, I knew I couldn’t work for someone else.

What is your next act?

I buy houses to either flip or rent. I started my company, Imagine Property Group, in 2013, at the age of 52. Currently, I own seven single-family homes in and around Dallas, TX. Prior to my divorce, I earned a degree in Interior Design that has helped me with my house rehab projects. I also invest in multi-family properties. My success as a real estate investor allows me the freedom to write, another one of my passions.

As the project manager for each of the homes I buy, I schedule the subcontractors and track every aspect of the project. I buy homes with the purpose of setting them up as rentals, but on a few occasions, after seeing the results, I’ll put the house on the market. Tenants are hard on rentals.

I love taking a neglected property (the worse shape it’s in, the better) and turn it into a beautiful home I am proud to rent or sell to others. When we’re working on a home, the neighbors often come by to see what changes we are making and are happy to see the results. An updated or completely renovated home increases their property values and adds to the look of the neighborhood. Seeing a dramatic transformation encourages me to find more houses to rehab.

Kitchen — Before

Kitchen — After

Why did you choose this next act?  

I fell into this next act by accident. While compiling paperwork for my divorce, I called a guy with whom my family had invested; he told me about a real estate investment group he was in and I attended a meeting. After learning more about buying and rehabbing houses, I was hooked. I felt this was the perfect way to merge my design skills with a growing industry. As a former special events coordinator, I enjoy planning projects and seeing them through to completion.

Another option I considered was being a translator. I am fluent in Spanish and thought that may be a career path for me. I decided against it because my sons were still in school and I would have needed to take classes and train to be an interpreter. After juggling design school and my family, I wasn’t ready to enroll in classes again.

 

How hard was it to take the plunge?

Without the real estate investment group and the various members I met, I don’t think I would have had as much confidence to invest money right away. Mentally, my first house was the toughest to buy. It needed a lot of work: flooring, countertops, foundation, painting, new bathrooms, fixtures, etc. After I bought and rehabbed that house, I was ready to buy more.

Here’s the first house I flipped:

How supportive were your family and friends?

My boyfriend, Perry, and my sons have been the most supportive of my business. Perry encouraged me to buy my first house. Actually, his exact words were, “If you don’t buy it, I will.” I knew he wouldn’t, but it was what I needed to hear to move forward.

My family probably thought I was insane when I showed them the “before” photos, but when they saw the “after” photos, they understood what I was doing. My sons occasionally help me in the summer with various projects. I want to teach them to invest in real estate. I wish I had known how to do that when I was their age!

With my sons

What challenges did you encounter?

Finding the right subcontractors was challenging and staying on budget wasn’t easy. By the third house, I had a good system for purchasing materials (the materials aren’t expensive…it’s the labor) and had compiled a good crew to help me update or completely rehab houses on time and within my budget. With the exception of two subcontractors, I still work with the same subcontractors.

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?  

I’ve never thought about giving up because I love what I do. The construction and housing industry has changed so finding houses at a reasonable price is challenging. I haven’t flipped a house in over a year, but plan to do so again when I can purchase properties at a better price.

In the meantime, I manage my properties on my own. My tenants treat the houses well and when I put a house on the market to rent, I find qualified tenants within a week. Whenever someone asks me what I do, they often reply, “I’d love to do that!” Knowing that I am building a business I enjoy that allows me to support myself encourages me to continue following my career path. Also, not having a boss is a strong motivator!

My home office is my screened-in porch. I also work from my car and Starbucks.

What did you learn about yourself through this process?

I learned that it’s possible to do something you enjoy and make a very good living. I’ve also learned you’re never too old to learn new skills. I used to call my handyman to make simple repairs, but I’m able to fix a few things by myself. I manage an all-male crew and they respect me. I pay quickly and when I have a repair request, I can get someone to take care of it within a day or two.

 

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

I would have bought more houses when prices were low! It’s too bad I didn’t have a crystal ball to be able to predict the crazy housing market. But my focus moving forward is on purchasing foreclosures. By renovating foreclosed and neglected homes, I can add something positive to a neighborhood and grow my business.

Selecting flooring for a project

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

I didn’t believe the adage, “Do what you love and the money will come,” because I enjoyed my home office business, but I wasn’t making enough money to support myself. But, if you dig deep to find a passion, you can be financially successful and fulfilled.

Age should not be a barrier or excuse to avoid pursuing a new career path. When my sons were younger, one asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up. I think I’m still figuring that out! The possibilities are endless.

Canyoning in Costa Rica

What advice do you have for those interested in flipping houses? What resources do you recommend?

Be willing to take risks. Decide how much money you are willing to invest in a house. Read online what you can about being a landlord, rehabbing properties, and selling houses. I am also a realtor so I can save money when I buy and sell my homes.

Realtor.com offers valuable real estate insight.

The investment group I joined is called Lifestyles Unlimited (they are based in Texas). Check for similar groups in your area.

Beware of online courses that promise “the secrets” to flipping and owning real estate. They can be expensive and offer nothing more than what you would learn through a realtor who specializes in working with investors, which is someone you will want to find.

Before I had any interest in real estate investing, I read Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not! and then put it aside. Robert T. Kiyosaki’s book is a good introduction to flipping houses, but times and regulations have changed. The experts I follow are my fellow investors. One friend owns 18 single family houses and an 80-unit apartment complex. Another owns five 300-unit multifamily properties and is in the process of flipping two of them. They are always available for advice.

As far as TV shows, I have watched Flip or Flop a few times and it is a fairly true representation of the work that goes into flipping a house. They hire a contractor to do the work vs. other shows that encourage the investor to do the work on his or her own. The goal is to renovate a house quickly to be able to get it on the market, yet the work needs to be high quality. Being able to buy houses at an auction appears much easier on that show than it truly is. There are more investors now, searching and bidding on homes, than before. I buy my homes through wholesalers and banks. During one episode of Flip or Flop, I was on the phone with my sister as the couple toured the home. I could immediately see a few of the repairs they needed to make and told my sister before the contractor mentioned them. I’ve toured so many homes in need of repair that I no longer notice what horrible shape they’re in! All I see is the end result. My sister and her daughter are huge fans of Fixer Upper so I’ve started watching that show and Joanna’s design choices.

Transforming wasted space into useful space in a bathroom:

What’s next for you?

I’m going to look for more properties to flip and rent, and explore other real estate investment options (office/warehouse spaces).

Along with real estate investing, I am focusing on improving my writing skills and compiling a wish list of the publications and websites in which I would like to be published. Being a real estate investor provides me the freedom to pursue writing and other passions I know I’ll continue to discover.

 

Contact Lisa Kanarek at Imaginepropertygroup@gmail.com

Website

Facebook Page




Writing and Speaking After Her Cancer Recovery: Darryle’s Story

Hit with a cancer diagnosis in her 40s, Darryle found solace and healing in making mosaic art. A desire to sell her art online would lead her to write and speak about her recovery, and to co-found WHOA, an online platform for women in midlife.

 

Tell us a little about your background…

I make mosaics by taking a jumble of different pieces that don’t seem to fit together, and I assemble them into one beautiful whole. That’s exactly how I envision my life journey—a mosaic.

The first piece is Miami Beach, where I grew up in the sixties. It might seem like a very glamorous and glitzy hometown, but in reality, it was a safe, close-knit community. I was the oldest of three kids. We played outside in the street, we could walk or bike to public school, my mom gave us milk and cookies when we got home. My childhood sounds like a cliché of the American dream, and it really was, until one scene spoiled the pretty picture.

Family photo in Miami Beach

My incredible mom died in 1968 at 41, after my freshman year in college. She had been in the hospital for a couple of months; we kids were told it was just a back problem. Her death was a complete shock and it took five years for my father to finally tell me Mom had cancer. This truth reshaped my past and my future; cancer became my greatest fear.

Meanwhile, I transferred to Yale, graduating in the first class ever to include women. My degree was in History, and this extraordinary experience shifted my thinking—from assuming I would find a husband in college, to finding a career.

I fell into the perfect career almost by accident, becoming a TV writer, reporter, and anchorperson in Miami, working on documentaries and news. A romantic twist was added when I interviewed Mel Brooks, who played matchmaker, setting me up on a date with his manager. Four months later, we were married and I moved to Los Angeles, where I worked as a reporter and freelance writer and had two kids.

With Mel Brooks and my first husband

When did you start to think about making a change?

My early 40s brought big changes: divorce, remarriage, and moving with my children from Los Angeles to Carmel, California. Though Carmel is idyllic, my life was stressful, working full time and adjusting to a new community, new marriage, new everything. Making another change was the last thing I was thinking about.

Naturally, that’s when I got hit with my worst nightmare: cancer. I got my pathology report of stage III breast cancer on July 17, 1995, the day of my one-year anniversary with my new husband, V—definitely the most memorable anniversary ever. (We’re still married.)

I wouldn’t call this an “aha” moment; this was a nuclear bomb blast that shattered everything I thought was safe, good, or even possible.

Losing hair during chemo

I had a very bad prognosis, and I truly believed I was going to die, as my mother had, leaving my children motherless. At the start of my cancer journey, just living a little longer was my top priority, really my only priority. I was forced to shift my focus from taking care of my kids to taking care of myself. I had a full year of treatment: two chemos, five surgeries, and radiation. I tracked down every possible option to boost my odds of survival, and I write about that in my book. Today I’m very lucky, grateful, and proud to be a 22-year survivor.

One part of healing was trying to escape emotionally and mentally from the bombardment of stress. I tried everything from music to meditation to yoga but I could not get my cancer, or my fear, out of my head for even five minutes. Then one day I took my 7- year-old son into one of those little paint-it-yourself pottery studios.

I was never artistic or crafty. I had zero talent and even less confidence. It was a good diversion, and I really enjoyed it. So I went again by myself, and something kept me going back to paint at that little studio—really, my sanity. While I painted, I was so focused I didn’t think about anything else, including cancer. That realization was a revelation, one that turned into a reinvention.

My mosaic studio in Carmel

I was one of those people who never really had a passion for anything before. It was a shock to discover any interest or ability to create art. I went crazy for it—painting bowls, mugs, vases, a set of dishes, cookie jars to give everyone I knew. My addiction developed into obsession once I started making mosaics.

I developed my own art process. I would paint a group of different tiles, then break them up and rearrange them into mosaics. So many things about this appeal to me: the jumble of different shapes and sizes and colors, the mixture of patterns, the lack of order. Kind of like my personality.

My real epiphany was when I suddenly realized that mosaics are a metaphor for life. Life can break things that are most beautiful to us. To make mosaics, and to make my life work again, I was picking up broken pieces, rearranging them into something different that is beautiful in a new way. Just like we all do. This is resilience, being the artist of your own life.

I explain this in my TEDx talk and my book, I Never Signed Up for This…: Finding Power in Life’s Broken Pieces. That’s why my book subtitle is “Finding Power in Life’s Broken Pieces.”

My working life was always creative, but everything I had done before involved words. Art was a departure: using my eyes and my hands, not my brain. And I was healing myself. My series of whimsical women’s torsos called Boobalas came right out of my experience losing both breasts.

Mosaics were so therapeutic and rewarding; there was nothing else I wanted to do with my time and my life. I started selling them, making pieces by commission, and I opened my own studio. Maybe my most satisfying moment was being asked to create a piece for the same hospital where I had cancer treatment.

What is your next act?

In addition to mosaic art, my next act has been writing and speaking. Through humor and perspective, I focus on various aspects of my life experience—from resilience to parenting to loss to health to aging—that anyone can apply to his or her own life.

Honestly, this next act doesn’t fit neatly into a category or label. I’ve described it with the tagline and title I’ve used for my blog and my book: “I never signed up for this….” Because of all the times I’ve said those words.

Those words can apply to something bad, like cancer, or something good, like giving a TEDx talk. The common thread is that life takes you in directions you don’t expect, and we all can adapt. A book, speaking, social media, videos, workshops, websites—nothing about my reinvention was on my radar at first.

It started when someone suggested I try blogging to market my mosaics online. This was years ago, and I had no idea what blogging was. When I found out, it intrigued me, so I jumped right in and created my blog called “I never signed up for this….”

It had been years since I had written anything, years when I had experienced so much, and words started pouring out as art had poured out of me. In addition to my own blog, I started writing for the Huffington Post and other sites.

I rediscovered the joy in writing, and I’m still feeling it almost 10 years later. I loved the immediacy, the independence, the freedom to express myself, the wide range of creative aspects that could flow from a blog.

There’s another major reason writing felt so fresh and new, and so right. In my previous career, I was an observer. As a journalist, I told other people’s stories. Now, for the first time, I was telling my own.

What challenges did you encounter?

At first, I had no idea what I was doing. That’s typical of me. I don’t read instruction manuals. I can be impulsive. I often act or speak, and then think. There was no preparation or research; I felt that this was the next step for me, so I leaped, and trusted my instinct that it would work out.

Even so, I was intimidated by the technology and I really struggled with it. It took me weeks to learn how to post a photo on my blog; no one I knew was blogging yet and I didn’t know where or how to find help. I was entirely self-taught and just muddled through. Despite the aggravation and frustration, I loved learning a whole new world. There’s nothing like the feeling of accomplishment to figure out how to do something that scares you. Overcoming my fear of technology was a big deal.

This is a new age, the whole world has moved online, everything is evolving and changing so fast. That feeds my creative spirit and suits my sensibilities. I felt lucky to stumble into it early on. There are so many possibilities, my brain could not keep up with everything I wanted and still want to pursue. So my path has a lot of twists and turns.

Another challenge was my age. I was in my fifties. I have never felt defined or limited by my age personally, but bloggers my age were outliers. I had to put a page on my site explaining to my peers what blogging was.

I didn’t realize I wanted or needed a community and there was no community in existence for my age range. Very gradually, I started finding people, by writing for other sites, reading other bloggers, some young enough to be my children. I felt connected since we were all moms, and what might have been considered a negative became a positive.

I was living in a small town at the time and felt isolated. That changed when I attended my first event for bloggers and then my first conference, which was BlogHer 09 in Chicago; and I got to meet online friends in person.

 

How supportive were your family and friends?

My kids were the only people around me who knew what blogging was, and I think they were amused by the whole thing. My husband was supportive; my ex-husband was skeptical—mostly about me sharing my life, and by extension, his. My friends had no idea what this was all about but they loved reading my blog, especially when they were featured in it.

Mother’s Day with my kids

What did you learn about yourself through this process?

Partly I re-learned things I already knew. I learned to appreciate my strengths and accept my weaknesses. I learned I still love to learn. I learned I still hate promoting myself. I learned that I had skills I could dust off and use. I learned that to make things happen, you need to ask, to take risks, to put yourself out there. I learned that I should take the initiative, rather than wait for someone to approach me. I’m still working on that one.

I learned to use my voice, to share experiences and perspective that could be useful to others. I’d been supporting and advising parents and women with breast cancer for years. I had lots to offer and nothing makes me happier than connecting and sharing, and hopefully changing lives for the better.

Over the years, writing brought related opportunities. As an example, a pivotal part of my next act started when I was a BlogHer Voice of the Year. I read my post on stage, about how women over 50 can feel invisible. Afterwards, a woman I didn’t know in the audience tweeted me about my talk and wanted to meet me. We met out in the hallway. Her name was Lynn Forbes; a year later, we co-founded WHOA Network. Women Honoring Our Age is an online platform for women in midlife and beyond—to support and show that we are vital, powerful, and authentic at every age.

With Lynn Forbes

In addition to the incredible, inspiring people I’ve met, and opportunities that opened up, WHOA led to me doing a TED talk when one of our advisors recommended I do it. And the success of the TEDx talk led to expanding it as a book.

In my sixties, the main limitation I feel is time. Not that I’m going anywhere! But at this point in life, I make choices based on what speaks the most to my heart and my gut, what has the most meaning, what can make the most impact. Age is an advantage in that way. You learn how to prioritize and what’s important—it’s not how many people like your Facebook page.

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

Funny you ask. This directly follows from my last answer about choices that matter: I would have spent less time on things that do NOT matter, such as devoting a year to my second blog Cluttercast. Don’t even ask. Related: I wish I had been more organized, especially with time management.

 

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

I’m not sure women need to seek reinvention. Even if you don’t, it will probably find you anyway! I would say just be open and roll with it. Life is filled with challenges and change is healthy. I would embrace change and practice resilience in all ways you can. At any age, being adaptable is probably the most useful life skill anyone can have.

Our productive working lives span so many more years than they ever did, new fields and possibilities are being created by the minute. Reinvention in careers is already the new normal. And whether you succeed or fail, there’s always another opportunity to do something else.

Reinvention requires a leap of faith for most of us, and the first step is the hardest, just putting yourself out there, taking a risk, and trying something new. But without that first step, you can’t move forward.

Not to imply anything deep about reinvention here—but what just flashed into my mind is the scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where they jump off the cliff. Taking a leap is much easier when someone is there to hold your hand.

Looking back, I wish I had sought collaborators earlier. Aside from my husbands (and that was only 50% successful), Lynn was the first partner I ever had. Finding the right person can be dicey; it can be a risk. But if it works, having a great partner really makes a difference.

Last thing, and maybe most important: DON’T BE SO HARD ON YOURSELF. Particularly for women, striving for perfection is a prison and we should all break out of it. (This is the topic of my TEDX talk and I think most women struggle with this ) There’s a line I saw recently that I love: “If only I had the confidence of a mediocre man.”

Speaking at Hope Lodge

What resources do you recommend?

For me, Suzanne Braun Levine is the guru of women later in life, and I would recommend any of her books. For careers, I would start with Marci Alboher, The Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life.

WHOA Network has featured women who specialize in reinventing yourself, so I suggest checking out some of our videos and resources.

As their own second acts, my friend Ann Voorhes Baker has retreats called Women at Woodstock; and Johanna Herman Wise created Connect, Work, Thrive for women re-entering the workforce or reinventing themselves.

What inspires me most are stories of resilience. Since you contacted me, I’ve read quite a few interviews on this blog. It’s a wonderful collection of stories and a fabulous resource. I enjoyed learning more about my friend Helene Bludman and for obvious reasons I especially related to Mary Farina and her gorgeous glass art.

When it comes to cancer resources, there are so many today that it’s actually overwhelming. I think I am reading a book every week with cancer as a theme. I guess the best starting point no matter what your cancer might be is the American Cancer Society. Another resource I wish I had had is Facebook. I would suggest finding a group that fits your needs—whether you are looking for support or information.

What’s next for you? 

One reason I’m reading all these books about cancer right now is that I’m already working on my next next act. I’m deep into research on a book involving cancer.

Taking my own advice, I’m working with collaborators and loving that aspect of it. This book is very different for me, it’s intense research, an important story, and I’m incredibly excited about it. Although sometimes I can’t believe I’m taking on such a huge project at this point in life.

Plus I’m still doing speaking and freelance writing, so I’m busier than ever. I’ll always have a next next act until I stop breathing.

  

Contact Darryle Pollack at DarryleP@gmail.com

Website

WHOA Network

Twitter: @DarryleP

Facebook

WHOA Facebook page

Book: I Never Signed Up for This…: Finding Power in Life’s Broken Pieces




Let’s Hear from an Expert: Adela Mizrachi, Founder of Podcast Brunch Club

You are the Founder of the Podcast Brunch Club. What’s it all about?

The best way to describe Podcast Brunch Club (PBC) is “like a book club, but for podcasts.” Conversation and dialogue are at the heart of PBC. So, every month a theme is chosen and one member of PBC will curate a list of 3-5 podcast episodes into a listening list. The listening list is sent out via the newsletter to members worldwide. Then, people meet in smaller groups (called chapters) around the world to discuss what they heard.

We also encourage online conversations through the Facebook GroupTwitter, and by commenting on the listening list posts.

Finally, I just launched a Podcast Brunch Club podcast. Very meta, I know! The idea is to bring a variation of the PBC conversations happening around the globe directly to your earbuds. Each month, I invite a guest and we discuss that month’s listening list. Because my favorite part of PBC is the community, I’m also working on figuring out how to give PBC friends worldwide a voice on the podcast. That’s coming soon. In the meantime, you can find the PBC podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and wherever you get your podcasts.

How did this venture come about?

I am a huge podcast fan, but one day while I was listening to one of my favorites, it occurred to me how solitary podcast listening is. Much like reading a great book, you sometimes find yourself laughing out loud, crying with true empathy, or stunned by people’s (fill in the blank here: kindness, ingenuity, audacity, etc.). You’re left looking around to share it with someone only to realize that you are listening alone. For a true podcast enthusiast, you ultimately try to weave these pieces into the conversation, just for the sake of trying to connect the people you care about with the interesting content you spend so much time listening to. That is until a friend points out that the last three sentences you said started with “that’s like this one podcast I listened to….”

I was having one of those days when it hit me that a podcast club would be a great idea. I talked to a friend who agreed to be my co-founder and the very first chapter was born in Chicago. About a year later, I was talking to another friend of mine who lives in Geneva, Switzerland. She loved the idea and we decided to start another group there. I then decided to put the concept out in the world and it took off! We now have chapters in 25 cities on 4 continents and it’s growing every month.

I should also mention why “brunch” is included. The original Chicago group decided to meet once a month for brunch. Our other chapters meet when it’s convenient for them, whether that’s brunch, happy hour, coffee, etc. 

PBC Houston

How is the club organized?

We have chapters worldwide and they are open for anyone to join. Each chapter has a chapter leader who volunteers to do the on-the-ground coordination.

If a city isn’t listed and someone is willing to coordinate a chapter where they live, they can simply fill out this form and I can give them more information about what being a chapter leader means (it’s pretty easy) and I can help them launch their chapter.  We have two types of chapters: private and public. Private chapters are limited to the chapter leader’s network. Public chapters are open to anyone and are listed on the website. It’s up to the chapter leader to decide whether they’d like their chapter to be public or private. I try to make it as easy on chapter leaders as possible and I would consider quite a few of them friends even though I’ve never met them in person.

PBC Shanghai

Tell us about some of the interesting themes you’ve had in the past, and others coming up.

We’ve had such a huge range of themes over the past few years.

One of my favorites was our “Starting a Family” theme. It included episodes that talked about the wide range of ways people feel about whether or not to start a family and the lengths some will go to have one when society has made it incredibly difficult for them.

Another theme that prompted interesting discussion was “The World We’re Inheriting.” This was a very special theme because it was curated by our first-ever high school chapter. A teacher in Colorado decided to start a PBC chapter with her junior- and senior-level sociology class. They had a few lively conversations around various PBC themes over the course of the semester. Their final project was to curate the PBC listening list for January of 2017. They did an amazing job and it was so fun to partner with the students. I am hoping to start more classroom PBC chapters in the future.

In terms of upcoming PBC themes, I’m excited for all of them! Our June theme is “Creativity.” Also coming down the pike are “Climate Change,” “The Human Body,” and “Travel.”

PBC Boston

Who participates in these groups?

All sorts of people participate in the PBC groups. These days especially, I think it’s important to get people with diverse viewpoints and backgrounds to sit around a table, look each other in the eye, and talk. More than ever, we are so connected to each other, but it’s usually through the computer or our mobile devices. PBC gives people the opportunity to un-tether for a few hours once a month, sit down with people they may not have met otherwise, and discuss topics they may not have otherwise discussed.

Women in midlife and beyond are a perfect addition to any PBC conversation. The experience that they bring to the table can be very enlightening. It also provides a vibrant social network. As an adult, whether you are right out of college or in midlife, it is often very challenging to meet new people. PBC provides an opportunity for meaningful discussion with thoughtful people from a wide variety of backgrounds.

One thing I am constantly amazed by are how many wonderful people are out there. It’s so easy to hear all of the bad news coming out of the mainstream media. PBC has shown me that there are so many more wonderful people in the world than terrible people. Our NYC group is now doing potluck dinners and inviting strangers over to share in a meal and conversation. The chapter leader in Pittsburgh has started putting together music playlists to go along with our podcast listening list theme every month. A teacher in Colorado is bringing PBC to her classroom. These are just a few examples of the fabulous people I have encountered through PBC.

PBC Chicago

What are some of your favorite podcast series you might recommend?

Wow. Where to start!?!

The podcast that got me hooked was Radiolab. It’s a smart podcast that takes curiosity to the next level. And, for me, curiosity is one of the most important human traits.

I also love Invisibilia (exploring human behavior), Reply All (a show about the Internet, but not really), Sleepover (3 strangers get together to help each other with their problems), Strangers (stories about beautiful humans), The Moth (true stories told on stage, live), and Reveal (investigative reporting). I can go on and on, but I think those give a good and varied place to start.

 

Contact Adela Mizrachi at adela@podcastbrunchclub.com

Website for the club

PBC Twitter: @podcastbrunch 

Adela’s Twitter: @adelamiz

PBC Facebook Group

Adela’s Facebook

Adela Mizrachi is a curious human who is always looking for new ways to explore the world. She’s traveled all over the world, filling her passport once and living in Ethiopia for a year. Her background is international education, but she now works as a communications specialist. She describes herself as “a jack of all trades, master of none, but always trying.” Her passions include podcasts, real estate (she and her boyfriend flip houses), and travel. 




Publishing her Memoir in Midlife: Becky’s Story

Suddenly paralyzed at 38, Becky found writing as a way to cope. In her new book, Rethinking Possible: A Memoir of Resilience, she shares her story of optimism and perseverance despite a series of life-changing losses.

 

Tell us a little about your background…

I’m a native North Carolinian, a PK (preacher’s kid) raised to be a winner, who enjoyed careers in sales and marketing but had to reinvent myself as a writer, something I’d never in a million years imagined I’d call myself—until I became one in a million.

Our family (I’m seated next to my mother)

On February 12, 1997, nine days after my divorce was final (yes NINE DAYS), I joined the ranks of the rare one-in-1.34 million people who go to bed with a flu-like illness and wake up with transverse myelitis (TM), an inflammation of the spinal cord that causes paralysis. I didn’t know it then, but I would never walk again.

My life was already crazy complex. As a 38-year-old mother of four—two with special needs that included autism and epilepsy—I’d coped with more than a few of life’s curveballs, including the accidental death of my seventeen-year-old brother when I was twenty. But I’d muddled through that horrific grief and had managed my kids’ issues well enough that I’d decided to end a marriage that wasn’t working. I was ready to begin again and find someone who wanted to share my nutty life with me.

With my kids, 90 days before my paralysis

But writing? Nope. Never part of this gal’s game plan. Writing was something my pastor father did. Finding meaning in life and all its unanswerable questions was his expertise. Sharing insights and a message of hope was his passion, his calling—not mine.

I was a survivor, not a writer. Until I had to write to survive.

Before my paralysis, I was a high-strung sales gal who ran on deadlines and quotas and way too much coffee. I loved to build customer relationships, close the deal, and win! I’d excelled early in my 10-year career with IBM and, after the kids were born, I was back in the trenches, doing marketing for an outplacement firm. I put my head down and l plowed through the hectic pace of working and raising a family.

Until I couldn’t. But paralysis cut through more than my mobility. It. Stole. My. Life.

Desperately, I wanted to connect with the world that had been taken from me. Soon, I found a way: Email. My timing was practically cosmic.

Working at my computer, 1997, six months after my paralysis

Remember Netscape Navigator? Erols? Those 1997 Internet dudes became my new best friends after an old high school buddy read about me in one of my father’s columns and sent me an email. His subject line was what I’d been wondering every day when I looked in the mirror, “Is That You?”

Eons before blogging became all the rage, my exchanges about my adjustments to life with paralysis soon blossomed into an email audience that spanned the globe. From Hickory, North Carolina, to Guangzhou, China, from my elementary school days through my last job with IBM, hundreds of family and friends asked me to email them about my life and wheelchair escapades.

And I did. One at a time. I treated those email addresses like they were 14K gold. My cyber-buddies told me my e-mails made them laugh—and cry—and inspired them in their own lives. One persistent fellow suggested I submit my story about playing soccer with my son to the Baltimore Sun. To my surprise, it was published in the fall of 2000. I was 42.

Then a local Weekly asked me to write for them and my first regular column, “From Where I Sit” was born. Two years later, my father asked me to continue his Sunday Op-Ed columns, “Looking Homeward,” and a few years after that, I began, “Tuesdays with Madison,” a column about my visits with my daughter with autism as she transitioned from her school to the adult community.

What is your next act?

So now, I am a weekly columnist and share my articles through my newsletter, Thoughtful Thursdays: Lessons from a Resilient Heart. I love it! In fact, the thing is, I can’t NOT do it. It’s how I cope. How I cut through all the craziness that is still in my world and get real about what matters. It’s how I stay connected, despite all the loss.

Since my first column in 2000, I’ve published over 400 pieces through those three monthly columns I am also a regular contributor to Nanahood.com and Midlife Boulevard.com.

And my next act is the rest of the story—my book, Rethinking Possible: A Memoir of Resilience. The book spans most of my life, from one family dinner table at age six to another family dinner table at age 54 and all the ups and downs in-between.

I was born into a family that valued the power of having a plan. As the eldest daughter of a preacher and a stay-at-home mom, my 1960s Southern upbringing was bucolic, even enviable, I’m told. But when my brother, only seventeen, died in a waterskiing accident, the slow unraveling of our perfect family began.

Though grief overwhelmed our family, at age twenty, I forged onward with my life plans―marriage, career, and raising a family of my own―one I hoped would be as idyllic as the family I knew before my brother’s death.

But life, as it often does, did not go according to plan!

There was my son’s degenerative, undiagnosed disease and subsequent death; my daughter’s autism diagnosis; my separation; and three years later, my divorce. Nine days after my divorce was final, I woke up with flu-like symptoms that turned out to be transverse myelitis, a rare inflammation of the spinal cord that paralyzed me from the waist down.

I would never walk again.

Despite the waves of life-changing loss, I’ve maintained my belief in family, in faith, in loving unconditionally, and in learning to not only accept, but also embrace a life that had veered down a path far different from the one I’d envisioned.

I wrote the book for those for those who may have loved deeply and lost dearly. Who are going through a tough time and may need some encouragement. Who want to believe that a full and meaningful life is possible despite some of life’s deepest losses. And are curious to see how one woman lives, laughs, loves, and heals enough to finally find it.

Life can be good, no matter what. I firmly believe. My book is about the power of love over loss and the choices we all make that shape our lives ―especially when forced to confront the unimaginable.

Becky with college buddies, 15 years after paralysis

Why did you choose this next act?  

After my paralysis, writing connected me to people again, something I desperately missed. I tried going back to work for a brief time, but had medical complications and decided to stay home full time to give my body every chance possible to heal. Luckily, I could do this as my husband and I had made good investments while we were married, and he has been generous since our divorce.

For the first year, I had hopes of walking again since two-thirds of those with TM get some kind of recovery. But now that I’ve been paralyzed for 20 years, I’ve decided that any experimental offerings are not worth the risk to me. Stability means so much to me now. I have adjusted to wheelchair life and to be honest, I’m happy. I hate my wheelchair limits and would never ever pretend to be grateful for paralysis, but life is good now. I am comfortable and have people who love me and care about me.

My “stander” contraption

How hard was it to take the plunge? How supportive were your family and friends?

As I adjusted to the wheelchair life, I wrote from the heart as honestly as I could, sharing my thoughts and feelings. I had only a freshman English course, no creative writing or journalism classes so I was winging it. I knew no one in the writing community so my submissions were blind. My father was also a columnist so he reviewed my drafts and referred me to another editor who read everything I wrote and was supportive and helpful.

My family and friends LOVED my stories. They told me to keep writing and really enjoyed it when I landed on the Op-Ed page of the Baltimore Sun a few times. They encouraged me to write my book and many have worked with me in the editing process.

My kids, Brittany (29) and Peter (23), also enjoy my weekly columns, and are supportive of my memoir. They know writing keeps me busy and focused. When they were younger, I think it annoyed them because they never knew when they would be featured! I do run every article by them now if they are mentioned. No budding writers, though. Business-oriented kids.

And the Madison (age 25) columns (Tuesdays with Madison) have been some of my most popular ones. Her severe autism limits her—she does not read or write or understand the concept—but it has been a tremendous platform for educating readers about life with a child so severely affected.

Becky with Son Peter (23), Daughter Madison (24) Daughter Brittany (29), Son-in-law Brian (29), Grandbaby Blakely Faye (15 months)

Were there times when you thought about giving up?  

Writing then was straight therapy. I wrote; people responded. It kept my mind active and engaged as well as gave me an outlet for my frustrations. Back in 1998, I lived for that “ding” of “you’ve got mail.” Still do now, with my weekly newsletter, Thoughtful Thursdays. I LOVE it when readers respond AND when they refer me and others sign up. Really makes my day! Wheelchair life can be lonely.

 

What did you learn about yourself through this process?

I’ve learned that we can be very inventive when presented with challenges if we allow ourselves to respond in earnest. That in midlife, we can rethink our past, our history, the things that we have accepted as fact about ourselves that may need to be challenged. I had a ninth grade English teacher who labeled my poetry as “maudlin,” a term that haunted me as I was writing about my wheelchair life. I learned to discount her opinion and put myself in places to learn from professionals (conferences, newspaper editors, classes, and book coaches).

Dancing at a friend’s wedding

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

No, not really. I think I learned so much from the struggle of writing and its reward as I went through it. In 1999, I had an agent for one version of my book. She dropped me after she could not get one of the large houses to sign on. I was devastated at the time, but now see it as part of the process. There’s no way I could have handled publication at that stage of my life with my young kids. It was hard to accept at the time, though.

 

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife? What about writing advice and resources?

Slow down long enough to discover what interests you and then strengthen those interests through education and experience. Dabble before you do. And try to enjoy the process. Sometimes that is all there is for a while.

If you’re interested in writing, find the best program you can in your interest area and sample a class. Research like-minded writers and use social media to stay informed. There are tons of free webinars out there. Give yourself permission to graze a bit.

Great programs at Stanford Continuing Studies, all online.

Great blog from Jennie Nash on the book publishing industry.

Great newsletter from Dan Blank for creative professionals and finding your audience for whatever it is you write.

Great writing support services for writers looking to publish from Brooke Warner at Warner Coaching.

Book signing

What advice do you have for others who might become wheelchair bound in midlife?

  1. Move to your strengths: Remember to look hard at what is left in your life and keep trying new things.
  2. Examine your resources: Who and what is in your life that can be helpful to you. Find a website, blog, and Facebook groups who are specific to your disability, are reputable—and sign up!
  3. Get people in the boat with you: Create a team of folks whose expertise can help you.
  4. Let others help you: People like to help so if they offer, consider it a gift to them to let them help you.
  5. Keep positive people around you: Stay away from those who bring you down.
  6. Keep looking forward: Put something on the calendar to look forward to.
  7. Give yourself credit: When you accomplish something, celebrate it. I kept a diary and celebrated all the wheelchair firsts, even my first hot fudge sundae!
  8. Take time to be sad, but not for long: It’s ok to feel sorry for yourself on occasion. Get in a “pity pool” periodically, but don’t stay down there long. Make sure and let someone know when those times occur so you can celebrate getting back out!
  9. Help someone else: There is no finer joy than to feel like your struggle has helped someone else. For me, helping to found Pathfinders for Autism soon after my paralysis brought me tremendous satisfaction since I was able to help other parents who were struggling with the autism diagnosis. It kept me focused on something besides my paralysis, too, giving me a key element for healthy living–perspective.
  10. Find something to be grateful for: Even if it’s just the weather, find something to appreciate. We build positive outlooks with every grateful thought. Cultivate it purposefully. Daily.

Celebrating my Birthday with my family

What’s next for you?

I hope another book or two. I’d love to move my Thoughtful Thursday snippets into a “quiet time” book of inspirational thoughts and put together a matching daybook that combines calendar planning with journaling.

 

Contact Becky Galli at rfsgalli@gmail.com

Website

Newsletter Sign-up

Twitter: @chairwriter

Instagram: @chairwriter

Facebook: From Where I Sit

Rebecca Faye Smith Galli (Becky) is a weekly columnist and author who lives in Baltimore, Maryland and writes about love, loss, and healing. Surviving significant losses—her seventeen-year-old brother’s death; her son’s degenerative disease and subsequent death; her daughter’s autism; her divorce; and nine days later, her paralysis from transverse myelitis, a rare spinal cord inflammation that began as the flu—has fostered an unexpected but prolific writing career. In 2000, The Baltimore Sun published her first column about playing soccer with her son—from the wheelchair. With over 400 published columns, she writes, “Thoughtful Thursdays―Lessons from a Resilient Heart” – a weekly column for her subscriber family that shares what’s inspired her to stay positive. She also periodically contributes to The Baltimore Sun’s Op-Ed page, Midlife Boulevard, Nanahood, and The Mighty. Join her Thoughtful Thursdays family at www.beckygalli.com/signup. Her book, Rethinking Possible: A Memoir of Resilience, was published in June 2017.




Let’s Hear From an Expert: Claire Diaz-Ortiz, co-author of One-Minute Mentoring

You’re the co-author of One Minute Mentoring: How to Find and Work With a Mentor–And Why You’ll Benefit from Being One. How would you summarize the benefits of mentoring, for both the mentor and the mentee?

Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” It’s true. We simply can’t reach our biggest goals and greatest dreams without the support of others. Mentoring is a specific, targeted way to give and receive in order to help you get where you’re going.

We believe that behind every successful person, you’ll find a mentor—usually several—who guided their journey. There are many famous mentor/mentee examples out there—Socrates and Plato, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey—the list goes on and on.  With the pace of change today, we believe that mentoring can ground you and guide you in a way that few other activities can. The amazing thing about mentoring is that in many ways it benefits the mentor as much as the mentee.

My life was changed by mentoring when I arrived in Kenya after an around-the-world journey. I was planning to climb Mount Kenya and found an orphanage where I could spend a free night before my trek. There I met a child named Sammy Ikua Gachagua, who had lost his father to illness, his mother to abandonment, and his home to poverty. I never did climb Mount Kenya. My overnight stay turned into a year and led to a mentoring relationship that changed the course of my life forever.

People need to know that mentoring can literally change their lives. Yes, it’s true that mentoring will take some time and intention. It also takes time and intention to learn to drive—but once you know how, you can really go places! The same is true with mentoring.  We all have 168 hours each week. Investing a few of those hours in mentoring will energize you in a way that web surfing and TV watching never will.

 

For women in midlife, who are looking for a way to contribute, why is this a good time for them to consider becoming mentors?

Mentoring partnerships aren’t just about what you gain — but about what you give as well. The reason they are so effective is a successful mentoring partnership can reenergize any of us. That said, don’t be so sure you won’t be learning from your mentee at the same rate you are teaching him or her!

As for cross-generational mentoring, that’s when a young person is paired with an older person, so they can both learn and grow. Because Ken is a leadership expert in his mid-seventies and I’m a former Twitter executive in my mid-thirties, we are a living example of the lessons we’re teaching.

We’d like to see a lot more cross-generational mentoring happening. Baby Boomers are retiring at a rate of about 10,000 a day, which is causing a brain drain in our industries. At the same time, older people who are staying in the workforce could really use the skills and insights younger people have to offer. For example, I’ve taught Ken a lot about technology and social media—and he has taught me a thing or two about leadership. It’s a win-win, for sure!

 

What are the best ways for mentor wannabes to find prospective mentees?

There’s an old saying that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. We’ve found in our own lives that mentors are all around you once you start looking for them.  You might find a mentor in a boss, teacher, neighbor, friend, or colleague. Or you might find one through a professional association, volunteer organization, or online mentoring organization.

That old saying works both ways—when you’re ready to become a teacher/mentor, the student/mentee appears. We encourage people to step up and become mentors because you won’t fully discover, appreciate, or leverage what you have until you start giving it away.

As for identifying a potential mentor/mentee, it’s important to think about compatibility. In the book, we show that there are two aspects of working with someone: essence and form. Essence is all about sharing heart-to-heart and finding common values. Form is about structure—how you might work together. For a mentoring relationship to thrive, you need to establish that heart-to-heart connection.

There are many different types of mentors out there, and the type you seek will change the way you seek one. Whether you’re seeking New-Hire Mentoring, Peer-to-Peer Mentoring in a Company Context, Cross-Generational Mentoring, Adult-to-Adolescent Mentoring, or another type of partnership, be confident when approaching a mentor directly, or learn the specifics of the organization if it’s within an organizational context. As one example, if you’re an employee seeking to find a mentor within your organization, start with Human Resources. Many companies these days have programs already thriving within your organization. I also recommend the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

 

What are your best tips for a great mentoring relationship?

In One Minute Mentoring, we teach the MENTOR model, a 6-step formula for success in mentoring.

M = Mission: The first step is a clear mission statement, creating a vision and purpose for the mentorship. By creating a Mission, you’ll put the relationship on solid footing.

E = Engagement: When we talk to people about mentoring, one of the biggest barriers they worry about is time. It’s true that a mentoring relationship will take a little time, but a few hours a month is not going to do people in, especially when they realize how energizing and inspiring those few hours will be. The reason we call the book One Minute Mentoring is that we have found that the best advice we ever gave or received was communicated in less than a minute. In other words, the guidance that really makes a difference does not come in the form of long, complex theories—it comes in short, meaningful insights. But first, you have to create that mentoring relationship so the insights can come through. Make a commitment to regular meetings. By deciding how to Engage, you’ll have clarity about how to work together.

N = Networking: Cultivating productive relationships is critical. By Networking, you’ll expand your horizons.

T = Trust: Building trust takes time. By building Trust, you’ll deepen the bond.

O = Opportunity: Mentoring relationships bring with them great opportunities. By creating Opportunities, each of you will grow.

R = Review and Renewal: Regularly reviewing your mission is essential. Keeping a journal as you engage with your mentor/mentee will reveal the ways you’re fulfilling—or not fulfilling—that mission. For example, if your goal in a mentoring relationship is to create a career you love, you can record in your journal each step you take toward accomplishing that mission. And by Reviewing and renewing your partnership, you’ll know if and when your season of mentorship has ended.

While each mentoring relationship is different, all can benefit by aligning with the MENTOR process.

 

Contact Claire Diaz-Ortiz

Email: Claire@clairediazortiz.com

Website: Clairediazortiz.com

Twitter: Twitter.com/claire

 

Claire Diaz-Ortiz is an author, speaker, and technology innovator who has been named one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company. Claire was an early employee at Twitter, where she spent five and a half years leading social innovation.

In Claire’s time at Twitter, she was called everything from “The Woman Who Got the Pope on Twitter” (Wired) and “Twitter’s Pontiff Recruitment Chief” (The Washington Post) to a “Force for Good“ (Forbes) and “One of the Most Generous People in Social Media” (Fast Company).

Claire is the award-winning author of eight books, including One Minute Mentoring: How to Find and Work With a Mentor–And Why You’ll Benefit from Being OneTwitter for Good: Change the World One Tweet at a Time, Design Your Day: Be More Productive, Set Better Goals, and Live Life On Purpose, Greater Expectations, Paperback (Frames Series): Succeed (and Stay Sane) in an On-Demand, All-Access, Always-On Age, and Hope Runs: An American Tourist, a Kenyan Boy, a Journey of Redemption.

She is a frequent international speaker on social media, business, and innovation and has been invited to deliver keynotes and trainings at organizations like the Vatican, the US State Department, Verizon, South by Southwest, TEDX, and many others.

She writes a popular business blog at ClaireDiazOrtiz.com and serves as a LinkedIn Influencer, one of a select group of several hundred global leaders chosen to provide original content on the LinkedIn platform.

Claire holds an MBA from Oxford University, where she was a Skoll Foundation Scholar for Social Entrepreneurship, and has a B.A. and an M.A. in Anthropology from Stanford University.

She is the co-founder of Hope Runs, a non-profit organization operating in AIDS orphanages in Kenya.

She has appeared widely in major television and print news sources such as CNN, BBC, Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, Good Morning America, The Today Show, The Washington Post, Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, and many others.




Launching a Jewelry Company to Honor Her Son’s Memory: Elizabeth’s Story

When her son died tragically at 17, Elizabeth channeled her grief into ELLA Designs, making and selling beautiful jewelry pieces, with 50% of the profits going to bipolar research.

Tell us a little about your background…

I grew up in Oak Park, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. I have a twin sister, Eve, who lives in Highland Park, IL and a younger sister, Joanne, who lives in Vancouver, Canada. I am married to Brian Guz, a urologist, and we live in Franklin, Michigan.

I attended the University of Michigan, where I received a BA in psychology in 1983, then continued on to graduate with an MBA in 1985 from the Ross Business school, also at the University of Michigan. I met my husband, Brian, in high school, but we didn’t start dating until we were both in college together. We married after graduate school (he went to medical school) and moved to Cleveland, where he did his Urology residency at the Cleveland Clinic for five years.

At University of Michigan

I got a job as a Product Manager at American Greetings, working on many product lines including calendars, candles, and seasonal products. It was a great job. After Brian finished his residency, we moved back home to Detroit. We had just had our first child, David, and I opted not to work; I wanted to stay at home and raise my kids. I had Michael and Lauren a few years later and was a full-time mom. We lived in an apartment in Southfield for the first year after we returned, then bought a house in Huntington Woods, where we lived for six years, and then moved to Franklin where we still live today.

I was very busy for many years with my kids. When they were all in school, I took some classes in interior design and did some private work for a while. When my middle son, Michael, was entering adolescence, he became very anxious and depressed. He had always had those tendencies, but they became worse over time. It was an extremely difficult and heartbreaking time for us; the next few years were spent trying to do what we could to help Michael. At the end of his junior year in high school, in June 2009, Michael died of a drug overdose. He was 17. We were devastated.

How did you cope with this tragedy?

Dealing with Michael’s death was extremely difficult. We are extremely close and the thing we had feared most had happened. We went to grief therapy individually and a few times as a family. We talked about Michael a lot and I made sure that my kids knew that we have to continue living and thrive because that’s what Michael would have wanted for us.

After Michael died, I found out about the Prechter Bipolar Research Fund at the University of Michigan Depression Center.  They were doing groundbreaking research in the field of bipolar disorder, which we believe Michael had. I started the Michael Guz Memorial Fund, which was a part of the Prechter Bipolar Research Fund. I also met with Wally Prechter, who started the fund in memory of her husband Heinz, an automotive executive (he invented the sunroof) who took his own life about 15 years ago after suffering from bipolar disorder. I became friends with Wally and helped out with some fundraising events. I also joined the Advisory Board of the Prechter Fund and started to help raise awareness about the disease.

With Wally Prechter

Around that time, Judith Burdick, my daughter’s grief therapist after Michael died, was making a documentary called Transforming Loss and she asked if I would be in her film. The film focuses on seven people from Michigan who dealt with the untimely deaths of family members, how they coped and were “transformed” through their loss. It is a very inspirational movie. It was also the first time I spoke candidly and openly about Michael and his suffering. It was a very difficult time for me, but also helped my grieving process. I found that many people opened up to me to share their own stories and the stories of loved ones who suffered or are suffering from similar problems.

I still wanted to do more to raise awareness and money for bipolar research. My youngest child, Lauren, was going to college soon and I needed to decide what I wanted to do with my time. I play tennis and other racket sports, work out, and play bridge and canasta, but I knew that wouldn’t be enough.

What is your next act?

I started ELLA Designs Jewelry in 2013 when I was 53. My daughter Lauren, who was a senior in high school, helped me initially before she went to college (University of Michigan) the following year. ELLA Designs donates 50% of all profits to the Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Fund. Our motto is “Help Find a Cure for Bipolar Disorder, One Link at a Time.”

I find interesting pendants or chains and put them together in my own design.  Sometimes I take chains and other pieces to make earrings, or mix different chains and beads, adding a pendant to make a necklace. Other times I try to have different ways that a piece can be worn: Some of the necklaces can be worn at different lengths, wrapped and doubled, and even worn as a bracelet. Some of the pieces have magnetic connectors, which are easy to put on. Many of the magnetic bracelets can also be attached together to make chokers or longer necklaces.

Many of the pendants have meanings—scarab beetle, Buddha, crystal, etc.—so I made small written cards that explain the meaning behind the piece; I include them in the gift bag. For example, the scarab beetle means rebirth. People like to buy things that have a meaning behind them and it helps to have a little card that explains it. I have had a lot of success with my crystal necklaces and Buddhas, and I am making new things all the time and finding new items that people like. Last year, I started making leather bracelets with magnetic clasps that have sold very well and appeal to many people.

I get ideas from everywhere. Sometimes I see something in a magazine or just play with the chains and pendants in my work area and try different looks. I work upstairs in our house, where the kids’ bedrooms are, and we have a loft area where there is a TV. No one is home anymore, so I have a lot of room to myself to make a mess and experiment.

Making the jewelry is very relaxing for me. I tend to work on the jewelry in the late afternoon. It’s that time of the day that there is not a lot to do and I love going upstairs, putting on the TV, and making jewelry. If my husband has a meeting and doesn’t come home for dinner, it can be hours before I realize what time it is. I love it!

I also make many of my own jewelry displays. I buy lumber, have it cut, get steel rods, and build stands that work well with my jewelry.

We sell through holiday boutiques, luncheon events, and private home or office parties, as well as online. The website shows many of the pieces and also gives information about the Prechter Fund. Since the inception of ELLA Designs 4½ years ago, we have donated $148,000 to the fund from ELLA Designs. I believe that people have also made their own donations after hearing about the fund. I am honored to be a part of that and to bring much-needed awareness about this devastating illness. I just set up an endowment fund to help fund the stem cell research in honor of Michael’s would-be 25th birthday on March 27, 2017, and we went to see the lab and the amazing stem cell research they are doing to help find treatments and cures for bipolar disorder.

With Michael in Vancouver

In September 2015, I received the 2015 Woman of Vision award from the National Council of Jewish Women. This award honors “a woman who contributes her knowledge, resources, and skills for the betterment of the community.” I was the first recipient of the award. This year, I presented the award to the second award winner.  Jenna Bush was the guest speaker at the event; I met her and gave her some jewelry, which she wore that day and took home with her.

With Jenna Bush

My business keeps me busy and provides a great way for me to support a cause which I am passionate about. I feel a special connection to my son, Michael, by doing this and feel that it has also been an amazing way to connect with people on a personal level whom I would never have before. Strangers feel comfortable talking to me about their own struggles, and those of their loved ones, who are suffering from mental illness; I listen and try to give them hope and resources.

I am often contacted by people who have passed my name on to others who need help or somewhere to turn when they are dealing with bipolar illness. I also have handouts available about the Prechter Bipolar Research Fund when I sell the jewelry and give it to people who want information. My business cards also include information about the fund and have contact information for people who want to donate or find more about it.

I am also on the Board of Directors of Kadima, a non-profit mental health agency that provides residential and support services for children and adults with mental illness in Oakland County (Michigan).

Why jewelry? How did you get started?

I wasn’t very artistic growing up, but I loved art and my favorite courses in college were Art History. Over the years, I would make little necklaces or necklace holders for my sunglasses. When my kids had school projects, I LOVED it. I would really work hard on them and sometimes I even let them help me.  Haha…

One day, I went to a store where a jewelry designer was promoting her jewelry. It was beautiful. I went home and thought about what she was doing and thought I could do that too. I thought it would be fun if I made my own pieces to sell and donated a large portion of the profits to bipolar research. I started taking apart some of my own jewelry that I no longer wore and recreated them by putting them with different chains and making unique combinations. It was relaxing and therapeutic.

My daughter Lauren helped me at the beginning since she was still a senior in high school.  We named the company ELLA Designs using the first two letters of our first names: ELizabeth and LAuren.

With Lauren

I began buying chains and attending jewelry shows. I would even find interesting pieces when I traveled. After spending some time making my first ”collection,” we had an open house at our home, where we invited a lot of friends. It was very successful. I started making more pieces, mainly necklaces and bracelets, and selling them at local holiday boutiques, events, and private open houses in people’s homes or offices. The jewelry was very well received and people loved that 50% of all the profits go toward funding vital research for bipolar disorder.

I have tried to have a wide range of price points so everyone can afford something.  Most of the earrings are $35 and the necklaces and bracelet range from $40 to around $400, with an average price range of $100-$200. Most of the jewelry is made from base metals, but I do have some diamond pieces as well. I like to have a range of things that will appeal to all ages and budgets.

While people really like the jewelry, there is a lot of competition in the field. A big part of my success is because I donate so much of the profits to a cause that affects so many people. It is amazing to me how many people who are looking at the jewelry at an event or open house stop to tell me about their own struggles, or those of a loved one who suffers from mental illness. They want to support the cause and when they find a piece they love, it has more meaning to them because they know it is supporting something great and I think they feel my passion for what I am doing.

This has been a very life changing and interesting journey for me. I am a private person and never thought I would end up being in the public eye. When Michael died, I knew I had to be strong for my family, but I also knew I wanted to make a difference for other people who struggle with bipolar disorder. I guess things happen for a reason. I plan to continue growing ELLA Designs and raising awareness about bipolar disorder and the research, which is being done to help people live productive lives.

With my kids and Dr. Sue O’Shea, who is in charge of Prechter Bipolar Research Stem Cell Labs at University of Michigan’s Depression Center

How supportive were your family and friends?

My family and friends were extremely supportive of the business and the charity behind it. They have bought a lot of my jewelry for themselves and given pieces as gifts. Many have had open houses at their homes or offices and I get a lot of referrals from people I know. Sari Cicurel is a publicist and has helped me get a lot of press (sari.cicurel@gmail.com). I knew Sari through mutual friends and she offered her help after I began my jewelry business. A few years ago, I never even knew what a publicist did! She has been an amazing support, helping me book shows and get press attention. I have met so many great people through this and I have made many new and great friends that I would never have met if I didn’t start this business. It has been an amazing and life-changing experience.

With Brian

I have a fantastic husband, Brian, and great kids who have been extremely supportive and they are proud of me. Now that my kids are older—David just graduated medical school this May 2017 and will be starting his residency in anesthesia; Lauren just graduated this April from University of Michigan—I have a lot more time to work on my own business. I think this was the perfect time for me. I don’t think I could have done it when they were young and in the house. I was too busy being a mom. My husband and I do eat a lot of pizza these days because I don’t cook as much as I used to. Brian’s been a great support throughout this journey and he likes pizza, so it works out.

With David and Lauren

What challenges did you encounter?

The biggest challenge is that because each piece is unique, and made by me, it can be difficult to keep the pieces displayed online up to date and in stock. I can usually recreate a piece, but sometimes there are slight variations.

Another challenge is taking photos of the jewelry for the website. I am not a good photographer and often struggle with that area. Because I would rather give more money to the charity, I take the pictures myself rather than hiring a photographer. I do the best I can.

I always need people to help me sell at events. Setting up, selling, and packing things up again is hard work and time-consuming. I have been very lucky to find a great person, Lisa Clayton, who has been helping me for almost 4 years. I didn’t know her at all but met her when she was helping someone else sell at an event. Others have also offered their help. My son Michael’s best friend helps out when she can. They were very close and I have gotten to know her in a way that I never did before. She often talks about Michael and I have learned things about him through her. It has been a gift.

 

My website can be a challenge as well. That is definitely not my strength but I am learning and have help with that. I have an MBA from Michigan so I understand the business side, but the technology part is harder for me.

I am also working on improving my social media presence to reach a wider audience.  That is becoming a new focus and challenge. I met a great graphic and web designer, Jessica Rosengard, who helps me with that side of the business. She updates and maintains my website and helps promote me on Facebook and Instagram.  She has also become someone I can call anytime with a website or computer issue. We are trying to find new ways to promote the business and make people know about ELLA Designs and the cause it is supporting.

I do have an accountant who helps me once in a while with Quickbooks, but most of that I do myself. It is very important to have people that you can rely on to help, especially in the areas where I am not as knowledgeable. It is my business, but I can’t do everything myself and I have found it is vital to have people around me that can help me when I need it.

What did you learn about yourself through this process?

I feel that I have grown as a person and gained a new perspective on life. I don’t “sweat the small stuff” anymore and try to appreciate what I have. I am also a lot stronger than I thought, having dealt with one of the most heartbreaking challenges, losing a child, and coming through it the best I could. I also hope it has shown my other two children, David and Lauren, that you can survive difficult situations. Life is not easy and there are a lot of bumps in the road, but you have control of how you handle them.

 

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

Don’t be afraid to try something new. It may not work out, but you will never regret trying. You WILL regret not trying. Find something you feel passionate about and make it happen.

If you’re interested in launching a jewelry business, start slowly. I did not invest a lot of money into jewelry and supplies until I had sold some pieces. I never went into debt. I was not comfortable with that and, by starting out slow, I was never in a risky financial position. It made it much easier and less scary.

What resources do you recommend to others with a family member struggling with mental illness, including bipolar disease?

University of Michigan Depression Center
www.depressioncenter.org

National Network of Depression Centers
www.nndc.org

The Balanced Mind Foundation
http://www.thebalancedmind.org/

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
www.DBSAlliance.org

Depression Toolkit
www.depressiontoolkit.org

International Bipolar Foundation
www.internationalbipolarfoundation.org

Michigan Mental Health Commission
www.michigan.gov/mentalhealth

Mental Health America
www.nmha.org

Canadian Mental Health Association
www.cmha.ca

National Alliance on Mental Illness
www.nami.org

National Institute of Mental Health
www.nimh.nih.gov

America’s Mental Health Channel
http://www.healthyplace.com/bipolar-disorder/menu-id-67/

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
http://www.samhsa.gov/

BP Magazine – Hope and Harmony for People with Bipolar
www.bphope.com

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance online home for wellness
https://www.facingus.org/

Partnership for Workplace Mental Health – A Program of the American Psychiatric Foundation
http://www.workplacementalhealth.org/

United States Department of Veterans Affairs
http://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/

Michael’s Bar Mitzvah

What’s next for you and ELLA Designs?

Since ELLA Designs is still relatively new and growing, I am hoping to keep increasing my customer base and exposure. I am currently selling in 3 stores in Detroit and 2 in Chicago and hoping to increase that number. I’m also doing open houses in the Detroit area, and sometimes in Cleveland and Chicago. I hope to continue to grow the business and keep making a contribution toward helping increase awareness about the disease of bipolar disorder while raising much needing funding to continue research—and eventually, find a cure for this devastating disease.

 

Contact Elizabeth Guz at liz@elladesignsjewelry.com

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