Reading: Reinvent Yourself: Covid Took The Love of Her Life But it Couldn’t Take Her Spirit

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Reinvent Yourself: Covid Took The Love of Her Life But it Couldn’t Take Her Spirit

PR powerhouse, Maureen Lippe, nearly lost it when her husband died. And then she fought back.

with Maureen Lippe

 “I don’t know anybody who had what I had,” says Maureen Lippe, founder and CEO of Lippe Taylor. “After losing him, I knew I was a business owner, I was a mom, but that other side of […] my life was completely gone.” What Lippe means is that when she lost the love of her life, her beloved husband, Jerry, unexpectedly during the Covid epidemic, she was shattered. In the years that followed she committed herself to friends, family, business, and – most importantly – her own recovery. Her new book, Radical Reinvention: Reimagine, Reset, Reinvent in a Disruptive World shares how to navigate devastating loss and recover your passion for life.

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Maureen Lippe is founder and chairwoman of Lippe Taylor. Over the course of 30 years Lippe has provided brand-building counsel to leading companies including Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Revlon, Elizabeth Arden, Intel, and more. She began her career as a fashion editor at Vogue magazine and then served as beauty and health editor at Harper’s Bazaar.


LJS: Maureen, you are somebody who was foundational in my getting started and my having an idea of how to do things in the old days, when there were magazines and PR and all kinds of crazy fun stuff that we did. So for people who don’t know you, just really briefly, I always like to find out: where did you grow up and how did you get started with what you did before?

ML: Sure. I was born in New York City, born and raised. Spent a few years – I don’t like to talk about them very much – in Short Hills, New Jersey, which was very transformational for me. Then [I] went to school, and when I got out of school I went right back to New York and had 400 roommates with one bathroom and had that wonderful, fun experience of being young and trying to have a great time in New York. My first job was at Vogue magazine. It’s a miracle. To this day, I don’t know how I got in, but I did. And then, like you – I think you did this too – I was an intern. It was called a “rover” in those days.

Beginning as a Condé Nast Rover

LJS: Oh, god, rovers! Yes, I remember rovers, yes.

ML: I was a rover for almost a year. I worked three months with S.I. Newhouse. I’m sure you read this in the book, because that’s an interesting part of my story that I didn’t even realize until I was writing the book, the whole S.I. Newhouse story. And I was with Alex Lieberman, I was with Amy Green, I went around to all the best and biggest editors and just had a blast and was holding out to get a position at Vogue in the fashion department. Well, it finally opened up, which was great, and then I eventually became a fashion editor, moved over to Harper’s Bazaar with Carrie Donovan. She took me over with her, to become senior fashion editor. And then they told me I was going to be the beauty director. Beauty and health. I said I would do it only if they would give me health, because you can’t have beauty without good health. 

So they let me do health as well. I always loved beauty, but [that’s when] my whole world opened up, because that’s where the marketing was. It’s where all the smart people were, where all the strategy was. So I learned a lot. Then I left Harper’s Bazaar and became a spokesperson for everybody from Clairol to P.G. – I introduced the beauty division at Procter & Gamble. So I would only go out two days every other week. And I also was introduced to the public relations industry by becoming their PR person for Dell Labs, which was Sally Hansen and Flame Glow and a bunch [of] inexpensive products, which I didn’t know anything about, coming from Vogue and Bazaar. But it was a great experience because all I had to do was take people like you to lunch and talk about these products. 

Moving on to Television and PR

So I eventually was doing a lot of makeovers and did one on Regis Philbin’s show. He asked me if I would continue. The producer pulled me aside and said, “Would you continue to do this?” I said of course. So for about a year and a half, I did makeovers on Regis and Kathy Lee’s show every Friday, which was great because it introduced me to television, and as a spokesperson what’s great is you go across the country and you learn about radio, you learn about newspapers, and you learn about tv. I only knew print, so it taught me a lot. I learned, really, all the media, so it was a great experience. But then, guess what? I was pregnant. So they wanted me to do my pregnancy on air, but I thought, no, I really want to enjoy this. So I didn’t do that. And then after Nicholas was born, I decided I didn’t want to go back to editorial. Honestly, Lesley, there was no money in editorial. And I could see that.

LJS: I know, there was never any money in editorial!

ML: We would get everything free, but we weren’t going to make any money. And I believe so strongly that a woman has to be emotionally as well as financially independent. And I had a fantastic husband, and he was very successful as a publisher, but still, I liked seeing my own money built. So I had my own bank account, he had his, and then we had a shared one for house expenses. But I really believe strongly in the importance of that. So I started Lippe Taylor. I knew enough about public relations at that point to know what they were doing wrong and how they were not marketing to editors in a creative or very strategic way. As a beauty editor, every day I’d get, like, maybe 25 or 30, and, you know, you were a beauty editor.

LJS: Oh my god, yes.

ML: They would go into a big black hole. So I tried to kind of reinvent the delivery and give it a life and a breath and at least hope that you would see it when it entered your office. So now, 30 years later, I’m still at Lippe Taylor, founder and chairman, and we’ve almost got 275 people.

LJS: That’s incredible.

ML: And I’ve been really lucky because, again, when I look back and think, “If I had stayed in editorial like a lot of my friends, I would be out of work.” And some of them are, so I’m very lucky. And it’s not lost on me. I’m extremely grateful that I have this wonderful career, because in those days, all the editors were saying, “Why are you going to the dark side? The PR side?” They have a light side. Well, who’s laughing now?

LJS: Who’s laughing now? Yes. Oh, my god.

Losing the love of her life to Covid

ML: With gratefulness and glee. So that’s a little bit of my background. Then Covid entered our lives, and we all went through the scourge of that. But during the pandemic, I desperately tried to keep my company together, because so many companies just – they ended during Covid because people were so disparate, and they were all over the country. I tried to keep my family together, and my husband alive and healthy. And while we more than doubled our business at that time, when most agencies were laying off and furloughing workers, I lost my husband and my business partner of almost 40 years to Covid.

So I obviously needed a very radical reinvention. And that’s how I kept myself and my company and my family together. I mean, it was devastating. You know, Jerry and I, he was the biggest love of my life and we were, as I said, almost 40 years together. And he became my business partner as well. So we were deeply entwined. So I went on a deep, deep journey of rediscovery. And it was hard, and it was radical. Hence the title, Radical Reinvention.

But I really believed that I learned a lot, and I believe that my story could help a lot of people who were really struggling with the same need to reinvent, reimagine, reset their lives and really transform, which I had to do, because I had no idea who I was. After losing him, I knew I was a business owner. I was a mom. But that other side of my intimate and personal and love life was completely gone. I remember going to a doctor’s office, and I had to check a box: “Single.” Of course, I checked “Married.” I wasn’t ready to do that.

But I’m no stranger to reinvention. I constantly was sort of reinventing myself one way or another, and I had a great ride with my career. I had a great career and still do. But that loss was brutal. Yeah, I’ve been blessed throughout my life. But the death of my husband, the loss and the loneliness, it was shocking. And it was also so unexpected because it was Covid. So I had no plan in place. I couldn’t imagine my life without him.

LJS: It sounded, from the story you tell in the book, like it happened overnight. He wasn’t terribly sick? It was: you were sick, he was sick, and it was […] not obvious, right?

ML: No, it wasn’t expected. We both had early Covid. You know, early March Covid. Obviously, we got it in New York, went out to the Hamptons, and then all the family came because the whole world closed down. And I was sick for about 8 weeks, but he just could not get over it. He just lost his mobility, and eventually passed away, which, again, was unexpected. But it was…I keep using the word brutal, but it was brutal. And it’s so much better now, but it was really hard at the time. So the combination of the loss, the personal loss of my husband and then the need to transform my company, like, what is my company now? And we decided early on, we’re not going to let anybody go. We’re not going to furlough anybody. We’re keeping everybody. We’re going to take that risk. And it cost a lot of money in the first couple of months, but then it took off, and within two years, the company doubled. It’s now tripled. So, while I had a horrific experience losing my husband, I was so fortunate to be able to keep my company and see it grow, because so many women lose their husbands and they lose their souls and they lose the house, and they’re in [terrible] financial distress.

LJS: I’ve seen that.

Learning to Reinvent

ML: I’ve seen it, too. I’ve seen it, too. And it’s why I speak so openly about the importance of financial as well as emotional interdependence. Not interdependence, but total independence. I have friends, lawyers, doctors, who gave it up because they got married and had children. And 10 years later, he comes home and he tells the story that there’s somebody else in his life, and he wants the house, and he’s going after the children. We hear this all the time. So, again, just staying financially independent is just so important. I had to put myself together, and I thought, I’m going to journal this. Everybody is encouraging people to keep journals and I never did, but I did start to keep a journal, and that is really the beginning of Radical Reinvention. It was the impetus to keep the journal, that turned into a book, and the book became my therapy. I believe in having a therapist. I explored it, but it didn’t work out for me. So I decided, I’m going to do it on my own. But the book was my lifeline to my outside world, and I really detail very carefully how I managed to sort of reset my life. And reclaim who I am, reclaim my identity, and get back to work.

The other lifeline was how lucky I was that I had a job, that I had a company, that I had colleagues who I loved and who loved me, and I would walk into work and I would be just thrilled to be there and just take my mind off everything else that was happening to me on a personal level. 

So I put together an 8-step reinvention toolkit, for me, that really worked. And I thought this could help other people as well. I realized that the book was going to be my reinvention, but it could really help other people. And I was thinking about doing a book on reinvention, but when I lost my husband, I realized that this was really radical. I just totally reimagined myself and opened my heart to write this. Really, as you read it, it’s deeply personal, and I don’t talk about myself, but I made up my mind that I’m going to do this. My reader is going to know everything that I know, and she’s going to know – or he – every part of my life. 

 I just decided to open up and tell the whole story and start from the beginning till up [to] now, because I just wanted to be fully transparent. The book is deeply personal. It’s really like a memoir and a love story [with] my husband. But it’s also a business leadership book. The back half is all about everything that I’ve learned, the importance of being a personal brand. We forget when we go online and we’re on all these sites, [that] when you go to get a job, I can tell you, our HR people … check everything that you have ever written online, or as much as they can. 

That’s important, and I go into that a lot because I think that we are personal brands, and as women, we have to realize that we’re selling. We’re always selling. We don’t think of ourselves in sales, but everything you and I did in the old days in the magazine world, our pages were selling, or they weren’t. And if they weren’t selling, we didn’t keep our jobs. But I think women don’t think of themselves – or don’t want to think of themselves – as being in the business of sales. And honestly, if Jerry hadn’t passed, I’m not sure I would have written a book. But it was just such a radical reinvention, and it was so immediate that I just felt, I can do this, and it will be so good for me. As I said earlier, as heartbreaking and painful as it was, I was on a new journey that I was starting, and I had to reinvent myself. Writing the book just made it so much easier for me. That’s what I’m … trying to say. And I just continue to reinvent and hopefully continue to transform myself and my company.

LJS: Can you talk about how you reinvented specifically? Can you give us some befores and afters? Like three befores and afters? You were this before, that after? Do you have three things to help us understand how radical that reinvention is?

Learning How to be Alone

ML: Sure. Physically, there were things that really helped me sleep. I was never a good sleeper. Became a better sleeper. I got an Aura ring. I now know I couldn’t live without it. Sleep. It just became so apparent that if I don’t get good sleep, I am never, ever going to feel good when I wake up in the morning. So sleep was incredibly important. I also, Lesley, got into nature in a way that I hadn’t before because.

I was living out in Long island, so I was at the house. I walked on the grass. The importance of bare feet into grass was so important. Going to any place that I can kind of ground myself in. Nature, flowers, gardening, all of that helped me so much. Music and movement. I figured out the music that really could calm me down and the workouts that would make me feel better about myself than when I started, because I hadn’t been working out during COVID. 

 I had to completely get on a new routine of movement. And it helps depression. And … music – I had music on in the house all the time. And I also realized that I wasn’t sure what my joy was in life. I had to find joy. I had to find passion, and I did. I started reading more. I started writing the book. I had to stay busy. I had to get out of the house. If I was alone for too long, my brain would sort of take over. I also read – speaking of the brain – a number of books on the brain, and … the impact of the brain on the body, and how depression sets in, and how to try to eliminate it. I learned a lot about the brain. I didn’t know anything about the brain. And I started taking classes in different things. I took a photography class, which I love. I love photography, because I use my phone and I can take good pictures. But I learned so much about how to take better pictures and better video, on my phone. I think the thing that helped me the most was work, was that I had the ability to go into an office and do any work. That helped tremendously.

Creating an 8-Step Plan for Others to Follow

LJS: I think that makes sense. I think that all makes a lot of sense. Very interesting. Do you want to talk about your 8-step reinvention toolkit, your actual 8 steps that you found and then you went out and explored with people on the outside? You don’t have to go into each one of them, but maybe talk about the 3 top ones that you think people need to know about. Of course, all 8 are in the book.

ML: The first and the most important one, really, was the review.

LJS: I thought that was interesting. Yeah. I was like, oh my goodness, she’s going to make me review everything. That seems like, “I don’t want to do that,” but it’s important.

ML: If you don’t review where you’re at at the time … in order to reimagine, you need to do a full review of what’s going on in your life and what are the pressure points, what are the pain points, what are the things that give you joy? Like my friends, like my beautiful son. Thank God, I have a son who is with me all the time. He works in my company. He lives 8 blocks from me. He just got married.

He was the biggest joy in my life. My son, my friends. But I had to take stock. I had [to] review. I had to know where I was at the time, and I had to have the courage to kind of reassess the life journey and to discover how was I going to transform and get better and get well and get over the disappointment and the loss? So the review was the most important. 

The review led me to I would say the second most important: the recovery. How am I going to get past this? How am I going to get past these days that are just so lost and lonely and depressing? I had to get out of that place because I was traumatized for a couple of months, but I’m very grounded, and I was really able to pull myself out – but I had to really think about the recovery. And it’s very different for different people. For me, it was being with my family and being with my friends a lot of the time. And I became the life of the party because I didn’t want to be that woman who has lost her husband and is sad and nobody wants to be around. 

 I would make plans. Let’s go to the theater. Let’s do this. Let’s go to the beach. Let’s have a beach party at night. I was constantly coming up with things to do with my best friends, and staying really busy was, again, my salvation, and it was really important, and it was a big step in my recovery, … knowing that if I stayed busy, I would be better. And then I learned how to get better sleep, and I learned to listen to podcasts at night, because I was used to having my beautiful life, my beautiful husband in bed with me at night, talking. So no podcasts, no television. I just got into podcasts at night and still [to] this day. And they helped me get through that. The initial 10 minutes of, oh, damn it, where’s my husband? I want him here. And career, volunteering, and I got on a few boards, went to Step Up, which is all about. I don’t know if you know Step Up.

Getting Out There Again

LJS: Oh, yeah. I’ve done Step Up before.

ML: The last 3 or 4 years I got very active in that, and I think that really helped me to look at [things] in terms of a recovery. I have to have a purpose. I have to have service. If I don’t have that, I’m blank. I’m unfeeling. So that was really important to me. And then, of course, all my colleagues here at work, how I could help them get through Covid, and we were all in it together. So, that was important. 

I had to kind of go into remembering, and sort of … it was kind of the process of my truth and doing all the hard inner work that it takes to get well again. I just had to remember what life was like. I had to remember the importance of life before Jerry, and what it’s like now. And I had to be really clear that I loved my life now. So family largely impacted on that development. And just again, remembering that I have to be grateful for what I have. I have this beautiful family. I have this beautiful company. I don’t have to worry financially. These are things that most women don’t have … when they lose their husband or … lose somebody else, a parent, God forbid, a child. You’re so behind the eight ball. 

But I was very fortunate that I had these other aspects of my life that just kept me in that state of gratefulness. It was never lost on me that I had the things that many other women didn’t when they were experiencing great loss. And then I would say the most important part was reimagining. I had to really reimagine, “Who am I and who do I want to be?” I had a vision, I had my values, I held tight to my values. I think values are really important. And when you’re in a bad place, to kind of realign … your values and stay true to them. What’s really important to you? For me, with all the values that I respect, family was the most important one. Staying close to my cousins as well as my son. I have a beautiful family, and I started seeing them more often, and they helped me so much.

Podcasts Kept Her Going

LJS: Can you talk a little bit about what podcasts helped you through this? Did you have any ones that were particularly helpful? I feel like podcasts have become the new magazines. I get all of my information,  all of my books to read. I get everything from podcasts now. Do you?

ML: I do. One of my favorites, my all-time favorites that I keep going to is We Can Do Hard Things, because, okay, … I was doing hard things. And they helped me so much. And there’s something also about their voices. Just because at night, you don’t want someone who’s screaming. About two years ago, I got into Smartless, you know, with those guys.

LJS: Smartless makes me laugh as I tried to do a detox. Yes, a morning detox. I got into Smartless.

ML: I know. I got into Smartless. I like Maria Shriver’s podcast. I also like Tim Ferriss and sometimes – some of the men who are more aggressive, I can’t take them at night, but I like them during the day. I like Hoda Kotb’s … podcast. Oh, there’s so many. I still like Oprah. I still like Oprah’s podcast. She brings on amazing people. She wrote a book with [Arthur Brooks]. He’s a doctor, and he’s an expert, and it’s a great book. But she did a 3-part podcast. I listened to it 3 nights in a row. I highly recommend it. So [I] kind of like the more relaxing ones, and then I love all the health ones, wellness. Love all of them. Learn so much. The thing that happens to me, though, is I get up and I start putting in my notes. I’m constantly taking notes. So I’m not sleeping. But it’s better than being alone and not being able to sleep.

So I think kind of reimagining and holding tight to your values and your truth and your vision of what you want your life to be is really important. [You’ve] got to be really clear and take notes, and I think journaling is very important. There’s something about writing things down. I’m old school. If I want to remember something, I have to write it down. That’s why during my podcasts, I’m writing everything I’m hearing because I’ll never remember it in 5 minutes, never mind in the morning. So, yeah, podcasts. I love them and I learn just so much from them.

Reviewing Her Life

LJS: In the review, what did you find that you wanted to change? When you said you start with a review, were there 1 or 2 things that very specifically you decided needed changing? Was it spending more time with family? What were the things that you discovered?

ML: I think the first thing is that I knew that I wasn’t working out and my body was not where it needed to be. And I think that was because of COVID and it was because I got sick. I was home and I had 12 people staying in my house during COVID. We were just having fun, cooking great dinners and eating.  I didn’t gain weight, but I knew I was out of shape, so that was the first thing. 

Exercise makes me feel better and I get really down on myself and can get really angry at myself if I’m not working out. So I would say working out, I would also say the sleep that I mentioned, really knowing that [without] sleep, I am going to be a basket case; I’ll never get through this trauma or the depression if I don’t get good sleep. So I learned,I bought a couple of books on sleep and the brain, as I mentioned to you. I also knew that I had to get outside of myself and I had to find things that gave me happiness. And again, that was the photography classes. I took some dance classes. Again, I just wanted to move my body, but I wanted the endorphins to go up to my brain. 

I just wanted to feel happy because that’s gone when you’re in a trauma state, there’s no roots unless you really work on it. So I really worked on it. And I also realized that going into the office was important for me, because I was out in Long island in a house, I wasn’t in my apartment in the city. I didn’t give it up, but I wasn’t coming in. And I realized, no, you get your butt into the office because you’re surrounded by people you love and who love you.

LJS: You needed the routine.

ML: I needed the routine. I needed to be challenged. I needed to get out of myself?

LJS: Yes, get out of yourself.

ML: Yes, get out of yourself and stop feeling sorry for yourself and just get out there and put your number on and be important and be important yourself. Otherwise, I could have stayed in bed and just pulled the covers over my head and everybody would have said, “Oh, it’s all right. She’s recovering.” Well, no, you can’t do it that way. You just gotta get up and you gotta move, and you have to be again. 

I think having a purpose in life is so important. What do you do for other people? Purpose and service. Two things that I found were really important for me. And again, I’m not thinking about myself when I’m mentoring young girls up in the Bronx. What could be better than to be sharing with them my life story and what worked for me and what didn’t work and how, and when I got into trouble and how important failure is. I feel that failure is totally transformational. I think you learn more from failure than you learn from success.

LJS: True! True

ML: At least I did.

LJS: I agree. So we’re pulling to an end here. You’ve given us so many tips, Maureen. Where can people find your book and where can they find you? Are you on social media? Do you have handles?

ML: I’m really not on social media. It’s embarrassing to tell you that. Having written a book, I should be all over social media, but I’m not. It’s so ironic to me that I wrote such a personal book because I am so private. I’m in the communications business, and I view other people, but I am not really on those places. But I’m in the city. Company is in the city. We’re downtown.

LJS: Can you buy the book in any bookstore or Amazon? 

ML: Amazon, any bookstore.

LJS: Amazon. Okay.

ML: I think the best place is to order it on Amazon. And if anybody wants to know, read it on their still. I think we … made it available on the kindle for, like, nothing. Like a dollar.

LJS: Oh, fabulous.

ML: What I learned, which I think is interesting: James Patterson, all those big writers, when they come out with their book, frequently it’s free online, at least for a couple of months.

LJS: Wow. I didn’t know that.

ML: I didn’t know that until I got into the book business. Anyway, it’s all good. And I just have to tell you and your listeners that I am in such a good place. I’m so happy. I realized I don’t need another partner, but I do like the companionship of – you know, the male companionship. But I just don’t think I could ever fall in love again. But it’s okay. When you had the biggest love that I had – I don’t know anybody who had what I had, so I am just fine with that. But I’m just happy, and I am just traveling and being with friends and [staying] very busy. And if anybody wants to invite me to the two party, I am the life.

LJS: I’m inviting you down to New Orleans whenever you come. Biggest parties down here.

ML: I will be there. I’m just so much fun. Yes, you lost your husband, but people have lost children. And losing a husband is terrible because it’s your partner, but you do and can get over it, but you have to work at it. You really have to work at it and buy some books, get on some really good podcasts. Anyway, I’m happy to tell everybody. So, advice? You wanted me to –

LJS: You gave us so much advice. We’ve got it all. Unless you have a few more things you want to tell us.

ML: One of my favorites, and it speaks to what I think I just spoke about, is I think confidence is a better look than doubt. I think that’s really important. Be intentional. When things are really looking down and you feel like you’re getting depressed, you’ve got to follow your passion and your joy. We have to have fun in life, even when we don’t think it’s possible to let it in. We have to start to let it in. Another thing, never worry alone.

LJS: That’s interesting, I’ve never heard that.

ML: Being alone or being depressed alone. It’s not a good thing. My girlfriends, oh, my god, and my son have helped me so much, so I stopped worrying or feeling sorry for myself alone, and I tried not to feel sorry for myself. So what else? Leadership. Leadership. We could do another podcast on leadership.

Getting Back to Leading Helped with Depression

LJS: That’s a separate topic.

ML: That’s a totally separate title. But also, this is my last because I know we’re running out of time: Have heroes, have your heroes, but also be a hero. Be one. And bite off more than you can chew.

LJS: Oh, I like that.

ML: People say, “Don’t bite off more than you can chew.” Go for it. Bite it off.

LJS: Bite off the whole thing, right.

ML: Bite off the whole thing.

LJS: More than you could swallow.

ML: Way more than you can chew.

LJS: Wonderful, Maureen, thank you so much. So wonderful to hear you’re good. I love all the information. People will go out and grab the book, and hopefully you will, as you always do, help other people move along in their lives, too. 

ML: Lesley,I love talking to you and … hopefully will see you very soon.

 

 

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