Carol has endured so much trauma, from cancer to rape to financial ruin, it’s hard to believe she has not only survived, but has turned her story into one of inspiration as a motivational speaker and interviewer.
Tell us a little about your background…
As many little girls desire, I wanted the perfect life complete with the white picket fence, two children, and a dog. But from a very young age, my life had more glitches than I could have ever expected. I grew up in Detroit, Michigan, in the 1950s. My parents were immigrants from Germany and I was the late-in-life baby to replace my sister who had died of rheumatic fever when she was only 12 years old. As the baby in a family of four siblings, my oldest brother was already a grown man when I came onto the scene. My father was a minister and I spent the majority of my young life in church: classes, meetings, and choir. I helped my father every Saturday by working as church janitor and learned strong work ethics at a young age.
The earliest memories of my mother are of her in bed. She was extremely ill during my entire childhood. I married at 18 and she lived only three months longer, but she played a huge role in my life as encourager. She taught me never to give up – never to give up hope.
When I was seven years old, I discovered I had a unique skill; it was to be tenacious and never back down from my convictions. The day I stood at the counter of Randall’s Grocery Store in 1953, I gained new insight into this discovery. I watched Mr. Randall reach into the candy bin, pick up an assortment, and place them into the hands of each of my anxious friends. I looked at my hands; they were dirty from playing outside. I was barely tall enough to see over the wooden counter but I stretched my arm above my head to place my nickel on top of the counter.
“A bag please” is what I said but I knew I was in for a fight. The big man dug into the bin, picked out the candies, and reached over the counter to place them into my hand.
“I would like a BAG please!” Mr. Randall’s face showed his disgust and impatience with me. I began tapping my nickel on the counter top in sync with my foot, while putting my hand on my hip. My body language didn’t lie and my friends stopped chewing, mouths open in fear of what might happen next.
That day, I learned the first rule of salesmanship: State your position, hold firm, and shut up! No negotiation. No apology. Just silence.
Mr. Randal grunted, reached under the counter, and placed my candy into a small paper bag. Handing it to me, he knew he’d met his match. I smiled and thanked him, knowing this experience made me stronger for any future encounters.
It was one of the life lessons my father taught me along with these:
“Do it right – Do it now!” This was one of his greatest lessons, which taught me to never put anything off until later and to do it right the first time. Those six words are an amazing secret; they have served me well in all areas of my life.
“Feed your faith – or feed your fear” Whichever one you choose will grow; the one you don’t feed will die. A basic and simple philosophy that has helped me maintain perspective in precarious situations.
“Forgiveness – it’s a choice” If we choose not to forgive, the only one we hurt is ourselves. It can eat at us like a cancer and destroy us.
My first marriage was an abusive one. There were serious ramifications when I finally had the courage to leave my husband. (That story was recently published in Focus on Women magazine.)
At the time of my divorce, I was working as a Gal Friday for a large construction company. I have always loved structure and started a small sideline business as a consultant to employees of large corporations, teaching them organizational skills.
I have been married to my current husband, Paul, for 43 years and we have experienced numerous setbacks that would cause most people to roll over and quit. But my mother’s words still ring loud and clear: “Never give up.” We have not and never will.
As a young woman of 27, I was diagnosed with uterine cancer and given two years to live. When the gynecologist told me my only chance of survival was a total hysterectomy, I told him I would not accept it and would walk into his office pregnant one day. He pointed his index finger in my face and told me to “go home, suffer, and die!” It was just what I needed to hear; it made me angry and determined to prove him wrong. My husband and I had already lost two potential adoptive children (their mothers took them back). I knew I would be a mother someday; no doctor was going to take that hope away from me. Fourteen years later, I walked into that gynecologist’s office – PREGNANT. I am now the mother of two, Jason who’s 34 and Rochelle who’s 29.
At the time of my cancer diagnosis, I was also crippled with rheumatoid arthritis throughout my body and I lived in intense pain. Using what I had learned from various naturopath/nutrition courses, not only was my arthritis completely healed within a short time, but I was also cancer free.
Following this experience, I became a certified health coach and a symptomologist. I study symptoms because they can often show the underlying causes of disease. Treat the symptoms and it brings healing. Modern medicine has a tendency to mask the symptoms, not treat them. Symptomologists determine what the body is lacking nutritionally and adds that to the patient’s diet. The body has the ability to heal itself when it has the proper tools.
I started a business teaching people how to build their health and immunity and was nicknamed Dr. Fertility as I helped many women become pregnant when they had been given no hope of ever becoming a mother. I maintain that business and continue to see miraculous results for people who have given up hope of ever seeing improvement. I am now a proud grandmother of four – a result of tenacity, perseverance, and faith.
When did you start to think about making a change?
My husband Paul was in the jewelry business as a gemologist and wholesaler of precious gems. Twenty years ago, when I was 47, Paul was in a car accident, which resulted in a serious brain injury, a stroke, and Parkinson’s disease. He was bedridden for six years. This threw our lives into turmoil and we lost our gems business and everything we owned. I was not able to work as I was his sole caregiver as well as a mom to our young children, ages 6 and 11 at the time.
In 2006, as Paul began to improve, we were able to open three jewelry stores, Nitestar Galleries. I was pole vaulted into helping him run his businesses as well as my own. We custom designed and manufactured high-end jewelry. Our workmanship was quickly recognized nationwide as exquisite in every respect: uniqueness, design and superior quality.
Life seems to have a way of throwing curves at you when you least expect it and my life was no exception. Many times, it seemed that every step forward was followed by two steps back. But I never ever gave up hope. The determination I had as a little girl only grew stronger with each setback.
When my daughter Rochelle turned 16, she had a puppy Dachshund named Louis Vuitton. I babysat him for two weeks during her absence and made notes of his incredible antics. I wrote the heart-warming story about one tenacious puppy who packed his own suitcase and climbed inside, hoping to take the trip to see his mommy. I published “Louis Vuitton’s Personal Journal” and gave it to Rochelle for Christmas. After tears and laughter, she demanded, “Mom, now you will write YOUR story.”
The following year she began a campaign encouraging me to write my memoir. No excuse was good enough. Thus began my therapeutic journey to places I never wanted to revisit. She insisted that the agonizing life I had lived would be an encouragement to so many people who felt hopeless. Reading about a woman who never gave up but maintained an attitude of hope and laughter would inspire many women who needed to believe they could make it as well.
I have understood loss in many forms. In addition to surviving cancer, I have endured many more traumas, from the loss of a child to the loss of our home. My book consists of 12 chapters with 12 traumas. I have chosen the attitude of being a victor instead of a victim and I knew it would benefit me as well as anyone who read my story.
It took ten years to complete my memoir, Battered Hope but, within a few weeks after publication in 2013, when I was 65, the book began reaping incredible reviews. Almost every review and all the emails I receive say the same thing: “could not put it down.”
What is your next act?
I am an advocate for conquering adversity.
As an inspirational speaker, I travel extensively—in the US, Canada, and soon in India—to share my life stories with Women’s Clubs, Church Groups, and Health Awareness Groups. I have many compelling, exciting, and even unbelievable experiences that are a great encouragement to any audience. The feedback I receive after my talks is usually in the form of emails, people who have been inspired never to give up. I have been speaking in over 30 cities in the past 2½ months and the feedback is always the same. Audience members are moved to tears and laughter and begin to grasp what it means to be hopeful. Recently, a woman in her 90s told me that it was the first time in her life that she felt hope for the future.
I also host a twice-weekly podcast, Never Ever Give Up Hope, where I interview others who have overcome huge challenges to come out on top. Hosting this podcast is changing me as a person. I am becoming more empathetic and sympathetic to the woes of my fellow man. Because I do not stop at just the interview but pursue an ongoing relationship with each interviewee, many have become friends. I continue to promote their stories on social media. At the last report, my show is in over 50 countries and growing at a rapid rate. It has only been four months.
I have interviewed some amazing individuals, people like:
Ben suffered long-lasting injuries when he was run over by a drunk driver as a child but is now a successful businessman who is also involved in the arts.
Joseph survived the Liberian Civil War and false imprisonment to become a motivational speaker and to start a nonprofit called Give Them Hope.
Kathy endured 25 years in two abusive marriages and is now helping other women (and men) do the same. She has also published a memoir, Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away from Emotional Abuse.
Amy suffered major intestinal trauma that left her in a 4-month coma and required 27 surgeries. She was told she’d never dance, sing, or eat food by mouth again, and she proved them wrong on every count.
How did you become an advocate for conquering adversity?
Prior to launching my memoir, I knew absolutely nothing about social media. I paid my publisher to handle the marketing of my book. I quickly realized that they were not fulfilling their end of the contract and also stealing my royalties. The resolve that I had as the little girl in the candy store rose up and I was able to break my contract and receive the royalties due me. I’m now selling my book via Amazon.
I knew that if anyone was going to do a proper promotion of my memoir, it had to be me. Throwing myself into every course I could find on social networking, I began my marketing strategy. I made many errors but, from the kindness of strangers, I learned what to do and what not to do. This was not an easy feat for a woman of 66 without any experience in marketing or networking; but my firmness of purpose drove me to succeed.
As my story gained exposure around the globe, opportunities to share it publicly came quickly. I had always loved public speaking and had worked as a special education teacher in a small school years earlier, teaching kids the secrets to becoming a confident public speaker. This came naturally to me as my dad had me share stories in his church from the time I was three years old.
When did you embark on your radio podcast?
My husband’s health had improved over the years, but then, in 2012, he was in a bizarre accident while traveling on a ferryboat that caused all the old injuries to flare up. He was now 64 and his disabilities were life changing.
Although he is a strong man who never complains and will push himself above and beyond, we had to shut down our jewelry business. The accident has left him permanently disabled and in great pain. We run a retail business and he is only able physically to be there two or three days a week. He IS the business (gemologist, designer, goldsmith) so without him, there is no business. Also, in our small town, the slowdown in the economy hit us hard and we were the last store to close on Main Street. I knew I had to work even harder to make ends meet. It was a matter of survival – again.
By this time, I was becoming an accomplished motivational/inspirational speaker and had the confidence to promote myself to the best of my ability. Doors started opening for interviews in a variety of venues, which resulted in more speaking opportunities. I was in my element. I enjoyed it more than anything I had previously done in my life.
As a little girl, my daddy would offer me twenty-five cents if I could stop asking questions for five minutes. I never earned a penny of it. Asking questions was second nature to me. I loved knowing everything I could about the people I met. I learned that everyone has a story. Each story is unique. Each story has merit.
Over the years, my husband would tease me that I could walk into any room of 25 people and within an hour know everyone’s life story. People quickly realized I genuinely cared about them and that I wanted to know what made them special.
Although I have tried, I do not recall where the thought came from to start my own radio show. My idea was to have a talk show where I would interview people who have overcome trauma in their lives and never gave up hope. I posted a request on LinkedIn asking if anyone had such a story. The first day, I had over 100 responses and it has never stopped. Not expecting this kind of response, I did not have a clue where to start. I had to figure this out – and quickly.
I did not have the means to hire any help or to pay for courses or equipment. But did I let that stop me? I spent hours, days, weeks researching. The more I learned, the more discouraged I became. I felt illiterate, still trying to figure out the language of the social media world and now venturing into whole new territory. I knew of no one who could help me. I was alone but committed to succeed.
I took every free online course I could find but understood very little. It was a new language. It seemed as though every time I thought I had a step figured out, I was actually regressing.
Learning how to record, edit, make an intro and outro (music score at the end of the show) for the show, and which hosting service to use were all definitely out of my comfort zone. I became a sponge absorbing every bit of information I could as I slowly learned the new language.
To maintain my momentum I was interviewing up to five times a week. I alerted my guests that this was a new show and it would be a while before it would air. Most of them understood.
Were there setbacks? Almost every week. Did I cry? Almost every week. Why did I keep doing it? What was motivating me? The people and their stories. Often, after an interview I would stare into space, tears rolling down my cheeks. I was deeply moved by these survivors of tragic circumstances and amazed at their fortitude.
New life was welling up inside of me. Everything would work out, I knew it! Even if my show never aired, I was encouraged beyond words. My guests had no idea they were speaking directly to my heart when they shared their lives with me. They told my audience (of one) how they crawled out of the hole of despair and knew they would succeed. Little by little, day by day, I grew stronger. I owe them more than I could ever give back.
Then I had a brainstorm. I would do a blog post for each guest. I had been interviewed many times and after it was over, it was over. I had no knowledge if anyone heard or cared about the interview. I had no way to promote it. I determined my show would be different.
On each post, I would write a bio of the guest, include all their contact links, their website information, and promote whatever they were marketing. I would also include their interview and anything else they wanted to promote. Finally, after ten months, I was ready to roll. I was terrified. Of what – I am not sure. Probably failure.
How supportive were your family and friends?
My family and friends encouraged me and wished they could help, but there was no one in my circle of friends and family who had any expertise in social media. They were proud that I had worked out all the details but could not begin to understand all that was involved.
What challenges did you encounter?
The online course I had taken said that I had 57 days to make an impact on iTunes. My goal was to be recognized and placed in the “New and Noteworthy” section. I had followed the course to the tee and was confident I would be accepted there.
The first day, June 24, 2015, I posted three shows, then one a day for ten days. I then scheduled two per week. Each guest said they would rate and review the show as well as promote it on all their networks. Yet no comments were showing up in iTunes. After several attempts, I finally got an answer from iTunes. They had a glitch in the ‘comment department.’ They were sorry but it took a few weeks to get everything back to normal. Those weeks were critical for the small window of 57 days I had to make an impact. All comments were lost and I was mortified.
Were there times when you thought about giving up?
I felt that all the months of endless hard work went down the drain. My husband reminded me that many people don’t like iTunes for podcasts and would rather listen to the show from my blog. That encouraged me a bit.
I was a seesaw of emotions. I loved the interviews and the new friends I was meeting, but felt I was doing them a disservice. Little did I know what was about to happen.
I watched the stats for each show and noticed that over 53 percent of my listeners were in Washington D. C. This puzzled me. Who was listening?
In July, 2015 I got the call—the call that will change my career forever. It was Baltimore, Maryland calling. As I listened to the publisher of Focus on Women magazine talk to me for over 45 minutes, I kept waiting for the shoe to drop. As she spoke, I shuddered. Could this be for real?
“Carol, you are exactly what we have been searching for. We have listened to every one of your shows and were so impressed. For one, it is so professional. You must have a great staff of people putting it together for you. We have tried to find out more about you as a person but soon realized that your show, Never Ever Give Up Hope, was totally focused on your guests, not on you. We then had our staff of independent book reviewers read your book and it was unanimous. They wanted you. Your book.”
I began to wonder what she was trying to sell me but was enjoying the attention – a lot.
She continued, “We are a nonprofit organization that seeks authors who have lived through a lot and have given of themselves. It’s your turn now. We want you on the front page of our magazine and an article in our centerfold. We will actively promote your book and put you on the map. We are very selective and our criteria are high. You and your book title are in a category of your own. You lived a life of shattered dreams, but you never quit. We want you on board.”
What’s the catch? I was trying not to get too excited.
“Many of the authors we discover have their books turned into movies. Your book comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comforted.” I knew precisely what she meant. I realized at that moment why my book disturbed some people out of their comfort zones. Often people were quick to judge me and I lost many friends over the years due to their inability to deal with all the drama in my life. When bad things keep happening to good people, many will assume there is something wrong with that person. It makes them uncomfortable. I was beginning to understand why so many hurting souls sought me out for an encouraging word. They knew I would be empathetic. They knew I would not judge them.
The conversation continued. She told me about the perks, which included a formal gala affair in Washington D.C., where I would receive a Woman of Impact Award. She kept saying, “Carol, it’s your turn!”
She shared that I would receive all the proceeds from the book sales but they would raise the price by $10. That $10 is then given to the Afghan Women’s Fund, which is a fund to help women who have been mutilated, set on fire, raped, and sent to prison. The organization had also saved 20 girls, ranging in age from 18 months to 14 years old, from a sex-trafficking ring. People buying the book would also be donating to a great cause. The tears flowed easily now as my heart was breaking and rejoicing at the same time – knowing that I would be part of a group that was making a difference.
They have put my book on their website and are starting to promote it. Very exciting!
What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?
My advice to women of any age is to never, ever give up. If you have a dream, pursue it. If you feel like quitting, don’t. If you get discouraged, it is part of the process. Don’t ever feel you are too old to start something new or to realize the fulfillment of your dreams. As long as you are alive and breathing, don’t let anything stop you from trying something new.
What advice do you have for those interested in public speaking?
I have often considered putting together a “workshop” but do not have the time or energy at this point. I listen to a LOT of speakers and very few are any good. Speaking is no different than writing – you have to “get” my attention in the first paragraph or I’m outta there. I am inclined to believe it is a natural gift you are born with – similar to salesmanship. Confidence in what you are selling is number one – in public speaking, you are selling yourself.
What advice do you have for those interested in starting a podcast? What resources do you recommend?
Before I started, I listened to hundreds. Most of them had my attention for only a couple minutes. The ones that kept it longer, I listened to and tried to pattern myself after them. The course below is excellent to learn the dynamics of podcasting but you have to be a good listener who is willing to shut up and make the show about the interviewee and not the interviewer in order to be successful.
Of all the websites and courses I researched on podcasting, the best one is John Dumas course on How to Podcast.
He covers every aspect from the equipment you need to a step-by-step guide from amateur to professional.
What’s next for you? Do you think you have another next act in your future?
For the past few months, I have been on the road at least two weeks a month. I am in a different city each day booked in a variety of venues sharing my story of encouragement and hope. It is my forte and hearing the feedback of how women’s lives have been enriched is the icing on the cake. No matter what I have gone through, if my story can help someone else or be a source of empowerment, it was worth the journey.
As we close our stores the end of this year, I will use what I have learned to help my husband set up an online business. This is a new area and another step out of my comfort zone but like any journey, it begins with the first step. When I see women my age fondly anticipating slowing down and retiring, I cannot relate as I feel like I am just starting out.
I recently have been approached by a producer; he would like to make my book into a feature film. It seems a bit surreal that my story of hopelessness, broken dreams and continuous discouragement could become the actual pivot that changes my life.
Contact Carol Graham at firstname.lastname@example.org
Memoir: Battered Hope