When Sharon faced an empty nest and lots of job rejections, she launched her own career. Through her blogging and community building, she has become a powerhouse among midlife women writers.
Tell us a little about your background…
I was born and raised in Great Neck, New York. I lived there until I was 15, when my family moved to California. My father was a stockbroker, then he went into the foreign auto parts business. My mother got her masters degree when she was 40, practicing marriage and family therapy for 34 years until she retired last year.
I went to San Diego State University. I majored in English because I have always loved to read—I am never without a book, and never have been. I think I began to love writing because I loved reading so much. I started writing bad poetry in high school and moved on to short stories and memoir in college.
After graduation, I worked in the fashion industry, in management and as a buyer. I chose fashion because I have always loved it and was apprehensive about being able to earn a living as a writer. I had part time jobs all through college working in boutiques and department stores and was offered a position in the executive training program at Robinson’s Department Store in Los Angeles. While I loved working in retail, it didn’t pay very well, so I switched to the sales end of the business; I left that job to be a stay-at-home mom.
I met my husband in Manhattan Beach, California at a bar called Orville and Wilbur’s. At the time, he worked in aerospace manufacturing, and currently works as the COO of a small manufacturing company. Our two kids are now grown: Katie is 25 and works in talent publicity in Los Angeles and Adam is 23 and works as an assistant football coach and as a public affairs administrator in Tucson.
My husband and I just moved to our new home, not far from the ocean, in Long Beach, California.
When did you start to think about making a change?
I didn’t think much about it until my oldest child left for college. At the age of 46, I spent a year taking classes in interior design. When this proved to be a passion more than a real talent, and I realized that I didn’t want to spend three years in a classroom, I stopped.
Once my youngest left for college, I began to think seriously about what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I applied for all kinds of jobs, from administrative assistant to store manager. I must have applied to over 100 jobs and got only one interview. It was very frustrating; no one wanted to hire a 48-year-old woman who had been unemployed for 20 years—what a surprise!
I had to invent my own job, my own career. Writing, which I had always loved, grew more and more appealing.
Was there some event that precipitated your desire for a change?
Becoming an empty nester certainly was the catalyst for me finding a new direction in my life. I loved being a stay-at-home mom, and I needed to find something that I could do with as much passion as I’d had for raising my children.
What is your next act?
I am pursuing my first love, writing. I write on my own blog, Empty House Full Mind and on other sites, including Midlife Boulevard, where I am a founder and the editor-in-chief. I enjoy the immediacy of response I get when I write something. I also like that blogs are short and sweet. It’s not easy to write a good blog post in 1,000 words or less, but I like that challenge. And I love reading other blogs!
I am also one of the partners in BAM—Bloggers at Midlife, the conference for midlife bloggers. I love social media and connecting with people who I would never have the chance to meet in my regular life.
This community is the core of why I love blogging and working on our website. The sense of camaraderie and support is something I did not expect, nor did I know it was out there. I have made genuine friends who I spend time with in real life, and have dear friends I’ve never met in person. There are far too many good women for me to mention here, but they are from across the country and around the world.
Why blogging? How did you get started?
I decided to start blogging because it seemed less overwhelming than trying to get published in a traditional publication or writing a book. I had no idea where blogging would take me.
It was hard to start revealing myself on my blog, but the response was so positive that it quickly grew much easier. I didn’t do much preparation, just sort of jumped in.
The name of my blog just popped into my head. Had I known better, I would have called it Empty Nest Full Mind instead of Empty House Full Mind, for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) purposes—but at that time, I didn’t have a clue what SEO was!
I found the technical side of blogging interesting but a bit daunting. I learned from other bloggers and from a lot of Google research. I started on the Blogger platform and then, as I began to learn more and more about blogging, I moved over to WordPress. I had a lot to learn and I had some great people giving me help and guidance, which I now try to pass along to other new bloggers. Blogging is a friendly business.
How did you learn how to use social media?
The social media component was something I didn’t quite get for a while, but once I did things really took off.
Truly, learning about social media has been one of the most fascinating parts of my past four years—a surprise and a delight. I have met incredible people and learned a tremendous amount about how social media works. I find that it’s best for me, as a midlife blogger, to focus mainly on Facebook and Twitter. Facebook is where most of my contemporaries and readers are, and where I get the most interaction. Twitter is fun and it’s great when you can connect with someone you admire through a tweet.
How did Midlife Boulevard come about?
Anne Parris (who blogs at Not a Supermom) and I had been working together on another project before Midlife Boulevard, and when that project ended we knew we wanted to continue to provide an online magazine for midlife women. It was not difficult to transition to our new venture, as we work very well together. Interestingly, Anne and I didn’t even meet in person until six months into our first project together.
Tell us more about BAM…
BAM—Bloggers at Midlife came about because our community asked for it! Our conference is focused on what midlife women are doing and writing about, and what skills and tools we need to succeed as bloggers. The first year was a great success, and we were fortunate to have wonderful sponsors, including Stouffer’s and Nissan, who helped make it great.
Our next BAM conference will be in Las Vegas on April 15 and 16, 2016. It will be two days instead of one and will include sessions on writing, not just blogging, and sessions about video creation, Pinterest, and more. Plus, parties!
How supportive have your family and friends been?
It has varied. My husband and kids were, and still are, very supportive, but many of my friends and family didn’t really understand blogging at first. Now most everyone who knows me knows that I blog and I have many friends who are regular readers of my blog and keep up with me through it. Sometimes it’s funny to run into people I don’t see often and have them know so much about what’s going on in my life!
Initially it was difficult to get people to take me seriously. I especially resented the question “are you making money at blogging?” But once I was published on the Huffington Post and hit my stride with my writing, everyone began to look at me differently. And then in 2014 I was on the Katie Couric Show talking about the empty nest. Since then, no one has doubted my validity as a writer or questioned why I blog.
What did you learn about yourself through this process?
I have learned so much over the past 5 years. Most of all I’ve learned to trust my instincts and that to succeed as a blogger and on social media you have to be generous – though I think that would apply in most any aspect of life.
I’ve had some difficult experiences in the business aspects of my career, but I’ve never considered giving up writing. What I’ve learned from those challenges has only helped to make me a better business partner and even a better writer.
What advice do you have for women seeking to reinvent themselves in midlife?
Don’t be afraid to try things. It took me a long time and a few unsuccessful attempts at other things to figure out what I wanted to do. No one is judging you harder than you’re judging yourself, and in the end you’re the only one that matters. Seek out mentors and advice from people who know more than you do about your chosen career, and then pay it forward to others. Think about what makes you genuinely happy and figure out a way to do that every day.
What advice do you have for those interested in blogging?
Blogging is a great outlet for women in midlife—we have a lot to say! Speaking for myself, I have reached the point in my life where I am comfortable talking about what I really think and feel without concern or fear of criticism or disagreement by others. We’ve lived a long time, and learned so much. We’ve found our passions and interests and have become experts in our own lives. Plus, it’s fun and interesting and a great way to make a little (or a lot of!) money.
If you want to be a blogger or writer, just start writing. Don’t be afraid to say what you think and feel. The blogging community is an incredible place with thousands of people to meet online. Reach out to people who you think are interesting and have a similar point of view to yours, and open up conversation. Find experienced people to learn from about social media and managing a blog. If you can, pay a professional to set up your blog—it will benefit you in the long run.
Social media is really the only way to develop an audience beyond your personal connections. Join Facebook groups that focus on your interests or blog topics, and general blogging groups. Comment on and share other people’s blogs—they will start to reciprocate. If you are a food, fashion or travel blogger, be sure to focus on Pinterest. Get on Twitter and start following people who your favorite bloggers follow. But the most important thing is to grow your subscriber list. That’s where you’ll build your most loyal readership.
Figure out where you draw the line when it comes to sharing your personal life. My husband doesn’t want me to use his name on my blog or in any other writing I do, and I respect that. I always ask permission from my adult kids if I want to write about them, and so far they’ve always said ok. I tell stories about family members who have passed away, but from my perspective—I don’t assume that what I think is what others think. I don’t write about our finances, my sex life, or any of my friends specifically. I try to be very respectful of my relationships and other people’s boundaries.
Keep in mind you will encounter people who think that we bloggers are all hobbyists or wasting our time. Many bloggers are successful and earning money, although not all bloggers consider earning money to be a priority.
The best way to earn good money is to write sponsored posts, though ads can bring in some income, also. Get involved with sites like Clever Girls, SITS Girls, Sverve, Vibrant Nation, and Midlife Boulevard. All of these places offer income opportunities for bloggers based on reach and traffic.
Figure out what schedule and tools work best for you. I work 6-8 hours Monday through Friday, sometimes more, infrequently less. I am most productive at tasks in the morning and do my best writing in the afternoon. I work from home. Use shortcuts when you can: I use Buffer for scheduling tweets. It’s a big help.
What resources do you recommend?
Beyond Your Blog by Susan Macarelli
The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users, a book by Peg Fitzpatrick and Guy Kawasaki
Social Media Examiner newsletter
The Writer’s Circle Facebook page
What’s next for you?
I would like to someday write a book, a memoir about my family, but I don’t know if that will happen. I am content to continue blogging and creating a community for midlife women bloggers to stay connected and learn from each other. I am also enjoying my empty nest with my husband and I will never get tired of watching my children evolve into ever-more interesting adults.
Contact Sharon Greenthal at:
BAM conference: http://bloggersatmidlife.com – April 15-16, 2016