Issue 20

September 2019

Note from the editor, Lesley Jane Seymour

How to Get Off the Hamster Wheel

A male friend who is 67 (but looks 50 because of his compulsive exercise routine) told me over dinner last weekend that though he loves his Wall Street job, he’d really like to try something new or wind down. He’s set with money. His kids are launched. He still has his health. “But unlike you,” he said, “I don’t have a wide array of interests. What terrifies me is what would I do with myself on day one and every day after?”

Dozens of Covey members have told me they fear the same thing. You’d really like to find a new job that offers more personal reward, take a well-deserved break, or even start thinking about a second act, but you are terrified of what’s next. You desperately want change but feel like you are standing at the edge of a cliff, staring into the abyss. Instead, you take the path of least resistance and just stay on the corporate hamster wheel. Many of you say it boils down to not knowing what you’d do Monday morning if you didn’t put on your pumps and makeup and sit at a desk the way you have for the past 30 years. Some of you secretly admit that you’re so overwhelmed by inertia, the only way you’re going to make a change is if you’re forced to by the corporation itself.

Humans are change-averse. We are more comfortable with routine — any routine — even a bad one. Avoiding change is why we stay in unfulfilling relationships, let a boss slight us (once again), forgive an old friend for rattling on with her neurotic obsession.

But here’s the thing: not all change is impossible. Some of it is simply about creating new routines that help smooth the way. Routines make us feel soothed and comfortable, and remove a lot of anxiety from our lives. Routines dissolve the daily friction between tasks so we no longer have to spend 20 minutes hunting down our car keys but know in a nanosecond that they are in the bowl by the front door. One of the most unnerving parts of changing jobs is changing the routines around it. I swear, every time I changed a job it took me at least six weeks to figure out the location of the most convenient bathroom, which restaurants I wanted to take clients to or order lunch from, and another month to get all my new tech working properly. It takes mental stamina to nail down a new commute, a new dress code, the new office politics. All these micro-frictions ramp up the stress factor that comes with change and which we humans prefer to avoid. And so we stay on the hamster wheel.

The wheel creates its own endorphin feedback loop, too. Just getting through the multitude of tasks from breakfast to work and back to bed requires all sorts of physical and mental gymnastics and Amazon-type logistics. Add if you are also taking care of a family, children, or an aging parent, you are on serious overload. You drop into bed exhausted every night, too exhausted to consider getting off that wheel.

But let me tell you this. Though I was forced off the wheel (which I loved!) three years ago when they closed More magazine and had every intention of jumping back on it, I can now say — firmly — after three years on my own, never again. I realize I was mesmerized by the wheel, by watching myself put one Louboutin-clad foot in front of the other like a runner in a race. I liked the comfort of knowing what time lunch was (12:30 pm), what time the day finished (6 or 7 pm), and when I’d take a vacation. I loved the give and take and intellectual pull of working with an A+ team. I loved the way the momentum of the workplace pulled me along and into the flow of exciting things each day.

Today I’m forced to create my own routines: Monday is for meetings; Thursday for marketing; Friday is for editing pieces. I dictate my own terms. I work with people I love, and avoid those who seem difficult or sketchy. I’ve tossed out the fancy corporate clothes, and there’s dust gathering on my makeup brushes. I sign up for courses about cheese or how to create entrepreneurial growth, and I hang with decidedly noncorporate new friends. I worry about staying visible, relevant, and in the know. I worry about whether I’m making a big enough contribution.

But I also see that wheel for the trap that it is: a device for making us feel comfortable just to make it through the day. But it’s not the only way to lead a fulfilling life. Every now and then when I see a job posting online that makes my mouth water, I ask myself: do I really want to pull on my Spanx every morning, take an Uber home at midnight in the slippery snow, worry the next morning how my boss will rate my performance at an event? Do I want to fire people who were doing a good job simply because the guys on top need to make their quarterly numbers? Do I want to be meaner and tougher than my normal nature just to get a leg up?

And the answer is no, no, and no. Looking up from the abyss I can firmly say, having a Monday morning with nowhere to go is not easy. But it’s not death. Getting off the hamster wheel leads you to a different place, one which requires a new set of shoes, and a new spot for your car keys. It allows me to communicate with the outside world in a more authentic way. I no longer have to betray my values or sell the people I care about short. The bottom of the abyss is actually a happier, slower-paced, more authentic place. You just can’t see that when you’re peering over the edge.

Business

Your Job: Knowing When It’s Time to Leave

Simple steps can help you step away from the C-suite and leave you confident and ready for what’s next

By Tanya Ezekiel

Photo by Molly Porter

Not long ago, I received a text from an executive who had recently resigned from his C-suite position. He couldn’t stop talking about how great he felt. “I can’t believe I have the headspace to pause and evaluate what I want,” he said. I’ve even started looking after myself — exercising, meditating, and getting enough sleep — in ways I’ve never done before.” 

I couldn’t stop smiling because I knew exactly what he meant.

I started my coaching firm, Conductive, in 2010 after years of working on Wall Street as an executive for a major bank. I was ready to embrace a new phase in my life. And for that, I had to go through my own executive departure, a career transition that might have left many people feeling anxious and drained. Instead, my transition made me feel energized, optimistic, and confident about the next stage in my life. What I learned was that it is not always the most logical, easiest or safest road that I am going to travel. When I am faced with decisions,  I know that to reap great rewards, I need to push outside what is comfortable, muster up my courage and trust that with every step my vision will unfold.

Know When It’s Time to Move On

Here’s how it feels.

Something stirs inside of you. You feel restless. You perceive that there’s a lack of alignment between what you’re doing professionally and who you want to be. 

It can be a subtle thought that builds over time and slips into your consciousness directing your interests elsewhere, like when you’ve been driving for a long time and you suddenly ask yourself, “how did I get here?” Or it can be a seismic shock that hits you when you wake up one morning or in the middle of the night.

You start to ask yourself about your situation: How aligned am I with my company’s vision and direction? Could my energy be better spent realigning to the present or reimagining the future?  

No matter how the perception emerges, you are suddenly aware that there is a lack of congruence between your wishes for the future and your professional life.

With some trepidation, you share your thoughts with a few trusted friends and associates. Some sympathize and say “yeah, I have those thoughts, too.” Others protest, saying they cannot understand how you could even consider walking away from such a great career.  And yet others just jump right in and tell you what other direction is right for you.

Several months later you start feeling guilty or disloyal for even considering abandoning a team or company that has relied on you for so long. You might even believe that you can turn things around, that you can change the company and everyone around you to make things perfect again. 

You might even feel betrayed by your company for putting you in this situation. Or angry at yourself for allowing “them” to do “this” to you or for being too slow to realize that a big change is necessary. 

Maybe there’s even a sense of shame or selfishness for putting your needs ahead of others.

And of course, there is fear. Fear of the unknown; fear of failure; fear of disappointing others or that you’re not providing for them.

Know this: Thinking about leaving does not mean you will. It simply allows you to assess the situation. It even allows you the possibility of re-embracing your current role. 

Leave with Confidence, Clarity, and Conviction

Leaving a job you love can be disruptive and chaotic if you are impulsive or reactive. But the truth is you have the ability to press pause and assess your short and long term goals. You have a right to design your ideal future.

Begin with these two questions: If I choose to stay, what are the changes that I want to lead? What are the conditions and culture that I want to create?  

If you opt to leave, ask yourself: How do I explore the wide range of possibilities available to me? Could I take a sabbatical or “gap year?” What steps do I have to take to make that a reality?  

Remember that as you prepare to move on, your company will, too. That means you will be invited to fewer meetings and your decision-making opportunities will diminish. This may lead you to feel isolated or unappreciated after being at the epicenter of all vital decisions and actions for so long. It might shake your sense of identity.  

Allow Yourself to Grieve For an Old Job

Leaving a job is like leaving a deep relationship. When you consciously choose to depart, you will feel a sense of loss — for the relationships, the influence, the legacy. 

Part of your leaving plan should include shifting your focus and energy from anger or questions about “what’s going to happen to me?” to how I can best prepare those around me for my departure? This is important because you’ll be remembered for both leaving and how you left.

During her final weeks, a client of mine prioritized mentoring as many people as possible. ] She helped to address her team’s concerns and feelings about the upcoming transition and worked proactively to ensure continuity. She said a proper good-bye to former peers and direct reports over lunches and coffees.

As a result, her colleagues were genuinely excited about her next step. They responded with an abundance of support.

She emailed me on her final day. “I walked out today feeling on Cloud 9!”

Whether you leave or not is your decision. How you leave and how you will feel after you leave is something you can plan for.

You don’t need to have the answer in front of you for the next phase of your life. But you can dream big, own your decision, and embrace your journey.

Beauty

Thinning Hair: Your Best-Results Guide

New ideas, breakthroughs and tried-and-true products to help you save your locks

By Deanna Utroske

thinning hair against sunset
Photo by Mohamed Nohassi for unsplash

“Everyone loses hair,” says San Francisco–based dermatologist Kaveri Karhade, noting that by “age 50, we all have half of the hair we had as babies. The goal,” she emphasizes, “is to slow the natural process of hair loss.” 

Hormonal changes at various life stages act on the scalp and can impact hair growth and hair loss. Menopause, in particular, can seem to speed up the process. But all is not lost. There are many ways to save your strands, depending on your lifestyle, budget, and tolerance for intervention.

Thinning Hair Rule #1: Intervene Early

Once you notice signs of thinning — fall out, changes in texture, hairline regression — see a specialist.

Many types of hair loss tend to progress. The earlier you intervene, the better your chance is of getting it to grow back,” explains Karhade, who recommends “being seen by a dermatologist as soon as possible.” (Consultation and in-office treatment at the Berman Skin Institute — where Karhade practices and founder Dr. David Berman helped develop robot technologies for hair transplant procedures — is often covered by insurance.) You can also see a licensed trichologist, a hair and scalp health expert. Numerous organizations and companies offer trichology training and certification, so it’s best to shop around; get a recommendation from a local stylist and don’t hesitate to check references and online reviews as well. 

The Two Major Causes of Hair Loss

Genetic predisposition is the number one cause of hair loss among women, according to Karhade. Female pattern hair loss, as it’s called, affects women of every ethnic background equally. Certain “inflammatory diseases [which precipitate hair loss] do affect some ethnicities more than others,” she notes.

Jacqueline Tarrant, a former lead educator for L’Oréal USA and a licensed trichologist, agrees. Genetic predisposition is the top cause of hair loss among the women she sees at the Hair Trauma Center in Chicago, Illinois. 

According to Tarrant — who literally grew up in Tarrant’s Beauty Salon in Baltimore City, Maryland, which her mother owned and ran — the second most common cause of hair loss among women over 40 is traction alopecia. This is hair loss caused by styles that pull tightly against the follicles in the scalp or along the hairline. These are buns, braids, ponytails, extensions, and weaves, affirms DeShawn Bullard, a certified trichologist, licensed cosmetologist, and president and CEO of NouriTress Hair Products.  

 #1 OTC Treatment

Certain readily available treatments — topical products and in-office procedures — do work well for many women 40+ experiencing hair loss.

Karhade recommends Minoxidil (brand name Rogaine, from $5/month), the first FDA-approved hair regrowth treatment. She is 32 and uses it herself as a preventative treatment because her family history is full of female pattern hair loss. 

While Karhade says some women and men shy away from Rogaine because it requires daily use, she suggests you must make it a habit like brushing your teeth (not exactly something you do for a month and then give up). The fact is, as soon as you stop using Rogaine fall out will increase and your head will return to the baseline of hair loss you would have experienced had you never used the drug. 

Medical Options: Injections, Lasers, and Transplants

Karhade says some women find that platelet-rich plasma injections ($500 – $700/treatment) offer great results, but you have to try it to see if it works for you. The treatment starts with an ordinary blood draw. The blood is then spun out in the dermatologist’s office until only growth factors remain; that part is injected into the scalp. The whole procedure takes only 30 to 45 minutes. When this approach to hair regrowth does work, generally four treatments are needed to attain desired results. The injections “give you a boost, but you’re still susceptible to the original causes of hair loss; so we recommend a booster dose yearly after the initial four treatments,” says Karhade. 

Tarrant finds that many women in her practice benefit from cool-light laser treatment, which is FDA-approved for hair growth. The once-a-week treatment takes 30 minutes and needs to be administered for about three months. A single cool-laser light treatment costs $50 at the Hair Trauma Center and can be done, say, over a lunch break. And as Tarrant explains, if there is a genetic predisposition to hair loss, “ongoing treatment for maintenance is recommended.”

This is in contrast to an at-home cool-laser cap, which needs to be worn three times each week for 20 minutes and costs between $800 and $1500 (a price Tarrant points out is comparable to that of a smartphone or laptop computer). These caps rely on the same laser technology as similar in-office treatments, in which the laser stimulates blood flow and cellular metabolism so more nutrients are available to the hair follicles and more detrimental waste products and hormones like DHT are efficiently removed. (The jury is still out on whether or not these caps really prevent hair loss.)

And while a hair transplant sounds intimidating, it shouldn’t, says Karhade, explaining that “hair is taken from a part of the scalp that is not susceptible to the hormonal changes, so hair growth after the transplant is permanent.” Transplants cost $4000 – $15,000 and are done in the office, but do take several hours. The dermatologist, often with robotic assistance, harvests and processes some 2,000 hairs during the procedure.  

Do Natural Approaches Work?

“The demand for something natural — but effective — is creating prospects for hair oils (e.g. argan oil, castor oil, coconut oil), which both contribute to hair health and are perceived as ‘natural’ by consumers,” says Kayla Villena, senior beauty analyst at market research provider Euromonitor International. “The overarching idea of addressing ‘hair health’ and ‘scalp health’ as part of wellness is resulting in female-targeted hair regimens that include hair loss treatments in the shower, topical treatments out of the shower, and supplements.” 

Karhade finds that a lot of clients want to try natural home remedies, but she questions the efficacy. Tricks like rinsing with apple cider vinegar or finishing a wash with coconut oil may feel nice, but rarely get the job done. “Coconut oil,” she says, “is the only oil proven to penetrate the hair shaft and make the hair shaft stronger.”

And no treatment is a one-and-done proposition. Consistency, commitment, and patience” are key to good results, says Tarrant.

The Truth About Diet and Supplements 

Stress, trauma, diet, illness, and medication can all impact the health of the scalp and its ability to support hair growth. 

In her most recent book, Beauty from the Inside Out ($24.95; Chronicle Books), makeup artist and beauty entrepreneur Bobbi Brown includes a chart showing foods with nutrients that are beneficial to hair. She cites biotin (vitamin B7), folate (vitamin B8), and vitamin E. In the Beauty Foods section of the book, Brown passes on guidance from Dr. Frank Lipman, founder of the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in New York City, who encourages nutrients, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, silica, zinc, B-complex vitamins, and vitamin C.

Vitamin D and B12 do help with hair health, says Karhade, who notes that biotin, while popular, has unproven impact. She says: “There are no studies showing biotin does anything for the hair and no studies on the risk of taking too much biotin. I don’t recommend biotin to patients. I discourage it, because it doesn’t make sense.” 

If you want to do anything and everything that helps, she says, try natural supplements Nutrafol ($79) and Viviscal ($49.99), which are “both shown to work, but are inferior to Minoxidil.”

The Camouflage Options

For women with noticeably sparse hair, Karhade points to two products that can be helpful as “options to conceal the appearance of loss.” TOPPIK Hair Building Fibers ($24.95) is a powder that looks like hair fibers and is shaken on to the scalp. From a cosmetic distance of three feet, you can’t tell,she says, adding that TOPPIK comes off when you wash your hair. She also likes Color Wow ($34.50), a cosmetic that’s meant to cover gray but also makes hair appear thicker. Bullard recommends NouriTress Make it Fuller Hair Building Fibers ($29.99) for women with curly hair. 

Experts advise against using hair extensions to conceal thinning hair. “Extensions can sometimes pull on the hair and worsen hair loss,” explains Kaharde, who suggests wigs for more advanced hair loss. Bullard agrees: “If the hair loss is at a point of full [scalp] exposure, I recommend a wig rather than extensions because the wig doesn’t cause pulling.” She also advises women who wear wigs to conceal hair loss to remove the wig at home to “give the scalp room to breathe and allow for treatment.” That said, the extension design known as a halo (starting at $375 from HaloCouture) requires no clips or glue and promises to be a damage-free option for women with thinning hair. 

A New Generation of Preventive Hair Care

“Age,” says Sonsoles Gonzalez, “is really an opportunity to look and feel better.” Which is why in March, the former global president of Pantene and longtime executive at P&G and later at L’Oréal launched a direct-to-consumer hair care brand called Better Not Younger

Sonsoles and the brand’s formulating chemist, Dr. Debra Ling, worked through countless prototypes to develop products that effectively address the thin, dry, and brittle hair many women experience after age 45. Her goal is to deliver products that get results. And focus groups and conversations with friends confirm her own experience. She hears over and over again that women her age (55) and older “don’t know what to do with their hair…Everything that used to work in the past doesn’t work anymore.”

In addition to developing Better Not Younger products ($25 – $47) for hair, scalp, and inner health, Sonsoles and her team are out to alter assumptions about what women want and like. One of the women she was checking in with while developing the brand put it best when she said: “I wouldn’t be 30 again even if you paid me.” Members of her focus group asked for truly premium, elegant options with quips like, I may be old, but I’m not beige.”

Superpower Fortifying Hair & Scalp Serum ($47) is the brand’s best-selling product; Sonsoles describes it as a hair-fortifying, lightweight, alcohol-free serum that gets massaged onto the scalp nightly and delivers nutrients to the scalp and hair follicles. 

The Psychological Impact of Hair Loss

Though there are many hair-loss solutions, the truth is the psychological impact of losing your hair at any age can be devastating. This is why Tarrant’s practice is not a street-level shop where the community gathers for conversation, like they did at her mother’s salon, but is instead a discreet suite in a nearly 40-story building on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, where she personally welcomes and works with every client. The one thing I know about hair loss,” she says, “is that it impacts self-esteem in a way that many other things do not.” 

Secrets to Her Success

To All the Gals I’ve Loved Before

Sometimes the women who have the biggest influence on you are ones you don’t even know

By Dawn Colossi

heart
Photo by Izumi Jones on Unsplash

Most women don’t need statistics to tell them the value of female friendships. I am blessed to have a strong network of women who support me, from family to lifelong friends to colleagues through the years who have become sisters-in-arms. But there are also women out there whom I’ve never met, who probably don’t even know I exist, who have come in and out of my life when I’ve needed them. They helped shape me, influence me, and even save me, and I think it’s time I finally thanked them.

Lesson Learned

Let’s start with the high school English teacher I didn’t actually have. Ms. M was different than the others: she was young, loudly single, and she wore jeans — back then. I loved that she seemed like a bit of a badass by bucking the system, and I was impressed that she didn’t worry about people thinking she wore the same jeans every day!

But then one day, I was in the library when Ms. M walked past a table of kids. As she passed, one kid said, “Hey Ms. M, nice jeans,” and of course the whole table giggled. I think I held my breath as time seemed to stand still. I hoped she had a smart-ass remark to match her badass look. But instead, she became unhinged — I’d never seen a teacher that emotional and it was not a good look. 

All of my admiration went up in flames. That day led me to this conclusion: whether I like it or not, people make certain assumptions and will treat me a certain way based on how I present myself. Because of Ms. M, I always dress the part in professional situations — no matter how casual the dress code — and leave the jeans for the weekend. 

Role Models Inspire

My internship was at Working Women Magazine and at the time the editor in chief was Kate White, who later became the long-time editor in chief of Cosmopolitan. During my first month or so, Kate was on maternity leave. Then one day, she arrived at the office with her newborn and another baby in tow. I couldn’t stop watching as she moved around the office, baby on her hip, newborn in the stroller, having REAL conversations. It wasn’t a “see my new baby” visit. She came in to see the latest issue laid out (it was the days before digital) and to have some conversations before she started back the following week. I seriously think Helen Reddy was singing in my head: “I am woman, hear me roar.”

At that moment in my life, Kate was a superhero, a real-life example of you can do it all. Two short years later, I was working at a magazine, married, with a baby on the way. In my mind, Kate with those two babies — and being an EIC — was all the reassurance I needed. I never doubted that I could do both. Although she never even spoke a word to me, I considered Kate White a role model and someone I continued to follow throughout her career.

Perfection Is Overrated

Kate may have shown me that I could do it all, but a woman whom I just call ‘Messy Hair Mom’ (in my own head, of course) taught me that it’s OK to admit that sometimes it’s really hard and nobody is perfect. My children are nine years apart. After having my son so young, I truly believe someone “up there” decided I could only have one at a time because that’s all I could handle. So, when I did have my daughter after years of secondary infertility, I figured I had this. But as every mother learns, each child is unique, with their own personality and challenges. My daughter was a one-woman wrecking ball. Give her three unsupervised minutes and it looked like the Tasmanian devil just zipped through the house. Between my Type A personality and wanting to keep her safe, she was exhausting. In my quest to tire her out in safe places, I signed her up for toddler gymnastics. 

That’s where I fell in love with Messy Hair Mom. She had three boys under the age of five. Each week she’d run in five minutes late, almost like a cartoon scene, everyone in a big tangled mess and a cloud of dust. She’d literally push them through the door to the teacher and plop down on the bench behind the glass where all the moms watched the class. She didn’t talk much, but one day she said something that saved me. After shoving the boys through that door, she plopped down and, to no one in particular, she said, “This is fucking hard.” With that acknowledgment, she freed me from the mommy guilt I felt for failing to be perfect, and for not loving every minute with the child I had wanted so badly. “Yes, it is,” I said. We didn’t elaborate, we didn’t commiserate. In fact, unwilling to give up the 45 minutes of blissful solitude, we didn’t say another word. But for the next few months, although we never really said more than a few words, we were comrades.
 

My Turn

Two years ago my boss decided he wanted to “shake things up,” and reorganized his leadership team. Personally, this meant I lost the big, close-knit team that I had built. To the outside world, it appeared I had been marginalized. Long story short, I continued to show up each day and do my job. Six months later, not only had I built a new area, but I got my previous area back too because the “shake up” was a disaster. When I resigned eight months later for a great opportunity, a woman from outside my department, and with whom I basically only exchanged niceties when we passed in the hallway or met in the ladies’ room, stopped in my office before my last day. She said, “I have to tell you, I couldn’t be happier for you. I’ve been rooting for you all along. I didn’t think you deserved the re-org but you handled it with such grace and leadership. I couldn’t help but become  a big fan of yours. You deserve all of the success you’re experiencing. I consider you a mentor.” I was floored. I just did what I thought had to be done, but it seems my behavior had a major impact on people I would’ve never considered.

Sometimes life’s lessons and inspirations happen so quickly, we don’t even realize they are happening, but they stick with us because for some reason we needed them at that moment. And, chances are there’s someone out there whom you’ve influenced without ever knowing it. So I say, let’s put it all out there — the good, the honest, and even the ugly. It could help a girlfriend out. 

Second Acts

The Reality TV Reinvention: Chyka Keebaugh

At midlife she became an Australian reality TV star, influencer, and entertaining expert. This is how they do reinvention Down Under

By Lesley Jane Seymour

Chyka Keebaugh in red dress for Christmas
Chyka Keebaugh in Christmas red. Photo by Commission Studio 2019

Move over, Bethenny — the biggest housewife-entrepreneur is actually Down Under. Chyka Keebaugh, a former star on The Real Housewives of Melbourne and a stylist, design expert, author and business owner, sat down with us to talk about midlife reinventions, knowing when to say no, and meeting her style icon.

How One Career Change Leads to Another

TheCovey: You’ve changed direction in your career several times. Explain your last few reinventions — when, why, and how you did them.

Chyka Keebaugh: It’s funny when you start a career; you think that’s all you will ever do. 

At 45, I was asked to be on the cast of The Real Housewives of Melbourne, and at the time I thought it would be a bit of fun and I’m a great believer in giving everything a go, walking through doors and seeing where it takes you. For four years this show completely changed my life and suddenly people knew who I was and everything about me. My profile grew and I had a girlfriend who was in magazines who sat me down and suggested that with the follower numbers I had on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter I could have really good reach if I created an online magazine. 

I’ve always been passionate about things around the home, decorating and lifestyle. It was a perfect idea and something I loved creating from scratch and growing. It allowed me to be creative, and I had a lot of fun putting together things and themes that interested me. As my numbers grew I soon had brands that wanted me to be an ambassador for them. Creating content for them on Chyka.com, doing photo shoots for social media, and so on. 

I was asked to start talking and doing public speaking about my career and how Bruce and I began our company The Big Group, what it’s like working with your husband, balancing work and children, etc. For someone at school who hated public speaking, this was a new world for me and something I soon realized I actually enjoy doing.

It’s been so interesting to have women of all ages ask me for advice on family business when they are things that I have just learnt along the way.

The next part of my career came in publishing my first book, Chyka Home. It was always a dream to create something like this, and seeing it selling now in bookstores is honestly so exciting.

I am now just about to launch my second book, Chyka Celebrate, that shows my love and passion for creating and hosting different events throughout the year — everything from Christmas to Easter, Halloween, Chinese New Year, and so much more.

 At 50,  I’m having so much fun doing what I genuinely love to do — creating, growing, and sharing. 

The Joyful Part of Reinvention

TheCovey: What is the hardest part about reinventing at midlife? What is the most joyful?

Chyka Keebaugh: I now know myself better than I did in my thirties and forties and really own all the decisions I make. I feel very comfortable saying the word “No” — something I could never say earlier in my working career. I love the feeling of being  in control of what I’m doing now.

TheCovey: What are you able to do today that you were not able to do in the past when pursuing your bliss?

Chyka Keebaugh: I trust myself more to act on my gut instinct. I’m a very visual person and I know instantly when something is right for me. I no longer second-guess myself and believe that the decision I made at the time was the right one. I never look backwards only forwards, and I also believe that everything happens in life for a reason.

The Role Family and Children Play

TheCovey: What part do family and children play in your reinventions — in directing them or in making them change course?

Chyka Keebaugh: My children were both teenagers when I decided to do things a little differently and go on a reality TV show. I’ve always talked to them to make sure that the impact on them wasn’t one they didn’t like. We are a family that constantly talks about everything so I knew that at any time and place if my kids weren’t happy about something they would tell me. I’m incredibly lucky to be supported and loved by both Chessie and Bj, and Bruce, my husband. It’s incredibly important to have those that you love the most always by your side.

Reinventing Through the Empty Nest

TheCovey: How does the empty nest play into this current reinvention and the book you wrote? Does it make it easier because you have more time? Does it mean you really NEED a distraction now?

Chyka Keebaugh: Both my kids now live in the USA, which is incredibly exciting for them, and as much as I miss them I love that they are spreading their own wings. I definitely don’t feel like I have a void to fill as life has always been busy, and in fact has only become busier. Like I said before, I believe everything happens for a reason and when the time is right. For me writing and creating my two new books came at the right time.

The thing I have realized is that I need to slow down more and enjoy what’s around me. Weekends have become precious, and being down on the peninsula at our weekend house even more so. I have new hobbies like gardening and really hope to take up another hobby — botanical drawing.

I’m at a really happy and exciting stage of my life.

Words of Reinvention Wisdom

TheCovey: What are the phrases and insights you rely on to keep yourself going through this period? Anyone you admire or follow or read about out there whom we should know about?

Chyka Keebaugh: I am a great lover of quotes and have many that I live by. One of my favorites is “you can have everything you want in life, but not all at once.” “Perfectly imperfect” is another favorite, and “more is more” when it comes to decorating, fashion, style, and design.

I try and see the world as a glass half full not half empty. I always try and put a positive spin on any situation good or bad, and I also try and see only the good in people.

I’m an avid reader and love reading books by amazing women who have lived extraordinary lives. I am such a great supporter and believer in raising women higher, being there, listening and supporting. Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama are two women I love and admire. Recently I was lucky enough to meet Iris Apfel, a woman I have always admired for her strength of character, individuality and style. I want to be just like her in years to come.

TheCovey: What are the most important words of wisdom you can pass along to women 40+ who are trying to discover the purpose in their second half of life? What should they do? What should they avoid?

Chyka Keebaugh: I think when you turn 40 you suddenly realize that the things you constantly doubt about yourself are not that important and if they are then you’re in control of changing them. I’m feeling mentally stronger than I have ever felt in my life; I believe I am a good person and that whatever I want to do I can.

I’ve lived a life balancing all kinds of things that people are interested in and want as life lessons. Now that time is moving quickly and I need to enjoy every minute doing what I want and love. I surround myself with people who are like-minded, kind and generous of spirit. I don’t have drainers in my life anymore and have learnt to say no thank you to things I don’t want to do.

My body is the way it is because of the life I have lived, the children I have had, and it is the storybook of my life. I accept that. I’m kinder to myself and less judgmental. I wake up every day knowing I am in control.

TheCovey: Any parting words?

Chyka Keebaugh: I think it’s exciting to grow old and not have to worry about the things you did when you were younger. My girlfriends are a great source of inspiration and advice. I’ve never asked for help before and now I do. I say what I feel and don’t avoid a confrontation if it’s needed. I love that my kids’ friends see me as an equal and ask for advice, too. I feel incredibly lucky to still be married to my best friend and loving waking up everyday to whatever is in store. We are building a new home in the city at the moment and to have a project that Bruce and I are sharing together is wonderful. I can honestly say that right here and now, life is exciting and fun and I just love it all!!!

Insights

Lost

That thief, aging, is snatching away her words, her vision, even her fingerprints. But it can’t steal her optimism

By Lori Miller Kase

pink trees in foggy square frame
Photo by Evie S. for unsplash

“Remember that I am putting the car ticket in my back pocket,” I say to my husband at the airport. Yet, 15 minutes later, when it’s time to pay for the car at the valet parking place, I ask him for the ticket.  

I search in every room, through every bag, and on every countertop for my sunglasses, only to remember hours later that I purposely left them in that hidden compartment next to the driver’s seat in my car — so that I wouldn’t lose them. 

Recently, I came upon a photo of me and my family at my sister’s law school graduation. I have no recollection whatsoever of even having attended said graduation.

Forgetting is my new norm. It happens more and more often — bits of memories lost. Pieces of my brain shut off from access. The thoughts, words, recollections I try to retrieve are there — on the edge of remembrance — but they are blocked and cannot be called up.

Is This Just Normal Memory Loss? Or Something More Sinister?

I can justify forgetting where I put things. Too much multitasking, I tell myself. I may be able to do several things at once, but maybe my brain can only hold onto one or two of them at a time. But to not be able to retrieve a memory — even with a photographic cue? To see a picture of myself somewhere and to not be able to remember being there?

I wonder what is happening in my brain. I laugh at myself, admit to my friends, with a chuckle, that I am “so senile.” But then I think, where have the memories gone? To what remote corner of my brain? And what kind of gridlock in my neural pathways is blocking me from reaching them? 

Then I Start Forgetting My Words

I am particularly troubled by my newfound difficulty in retrieving words. Words are my specialty, my currency. How can I write without words? It’s like an artist failing to remember colors, or a dancer forgetting how to move her limbs. 

But I am sure of it — I am losing words.

I am writing a sentence and I know there is a word with just the exact subtle meaning I need to make that sentence sing. That particular word is the only one that will fit, but I can’t recall it. I spend more and more time with the thesaurus, looking for the words that used to come naturally. It’s like reverse language acquisition — instead of adding words to my repertoire each day, like I did as a child, my words are falling away. I reach for “disquieting,” only to come up with “worrying,” “disturbing,” “unsettling.” It takes three rounds of thesaurus checks on my laptop to arrive at the word I sought.

What Else Am I Losing?

There are other things I am losing with age. 

My eyesight — I cannot read the words on the side of the shampoo bottle. (Who knew that would matter? But suddenly it does.) Perhaps of more concern — I cannot read the words on the side of the medication packaging. Or those teeny, tiny letters on the laundry tags of all of my must-be-washed-on-delicate clothing (thus, I am no longer sure which items fit into that category). Or the minuscule font on menus in dimly lit restaurants.

And in the theater, where I like to read the actors’ bios before a play, I have to hold the Playbill far, far away from my eyes — so far, that the woman behind me offers me her reading glasses. I start stashing reading glasses in every room, in every bag.

If only I could find them. 

My hearing isn’t lost yet; in fact, I tend to notice this deficit in others more than in myself. But more and more often, when I ask my daughter to repeat herself, she asks in that exasperated tone, “What’s wrong with your hearing?” 

On her more empathetic days, if I say “What” too many times, she urges me to get a cat scan of my brain. She doesn’t consider the possibility that maybe I miss what she says because she says it too quickly and we are both speaking on cell phones. 

Even My Fingerprints Are Fading

My friend tells me over dinner that as women age, we also start to lose our fingerprints. Who knew? Despite having gone through the process of getting TSA pre-approval so that she and her husband could whisk through the gates at airports, she has failed the fingerprint part of the expedited boarding process several times. The TSA agent explained that many women have this problem — their fingerprints become too faint to interpret.

I am fascinated by the concept of losing your fingerprints — the mark of your identity, the one absolute thing that distinguishes you from every other person on the planet. I study the pads of my fingers, to no avail, since I can’t see the fine lines on my fingertips without my reading glasses.

Isn’t losing your memory — and, in my case — your words, in a way, also like losing part of your identity? What makes up your identity, if not the things that are stored within your brain? So I ask myself: Is this what aging is? The gradual loss of parts of the self?

But Here’s What I’ve Gained

One thing I gain with age, I suppose, is the equanimity to deal with what is being lost. And the good sense to focus on what has been gained: confidence, the love of an ever-expanding family, genuine friendships, the ability to appreciate the beauty in small things — a garden, a crisp autumn day in New England, a joyful greeting from my dog, a kind gesture.  

If someone had told my 20-year-old self that by the time I was 50 I wouldn’t be able to find a thing, remember a thing, or see a thing, I would have been horrified. Now I am perturbed, but I am certain there must be an antidote. I haven’t yet lost my optimism. 

Say what?

"If women stopped doing a lot of the work they do unpaid, then the whole economy would collapse."

Shahra Razavi, chief of the research and data section at UN Women

Wisdom

Time to Take Out Your (Psychological) Trash

So you’re no longer a corporate big wig. Feeling “less than” is the kind of trash that needs discarding

By Anne Devereux-Mills

Photo by Gary Chan

What’s your weekly routine? Laundry on Saturday and calling mom on Monday night? Listening to a podcast in the morning? Taking out the trash every other afternoon? 

But what about your psychological trash? When do you take that out?

Psychological trash is the stuff that gets into our heads and prevents us from seeing ourselves as we really are. It’s the self-criticism that reeks of “not good enough,” smells embarrassing, and nauseates us with fear. Most of us have negative feelings and behaviors that eat away at our true sense of worth.

Hauling that trash out leaves room for something better.

So along with laundry and podcasts, my new routine includes dumping my psychological trash on a regular basis. This week’s trash is my perpetual pattern of discounting my worth because I no longer helm a company.

For years, I was Anne the CEO or Anne the Chairman of the Board. But when I left my position running my last ad agency and recently gave up my Board Chair seat, I found myself sweating when people asked about me about myself. 

What am I, after all, if I am not defined by what I “do” for a living?

Logically, I should know better. I decided not to run another agency because I realized my business relationships were based more on the power I wielded than on authentic connections. When I was not in power, many who said they were my friends weren’t there for me when the going got tough. 

Tossing out this trash and replacing it with truth is not easy. I was a good leader, and I miss the reinforcement of that feeling every day.

But I’m so much more than that. 

I’ve raised strong children who are now thriving adults. I actively support causes I believe in, like women’s rights and social justice. I’m growing Parlay House, a global organization that empowers women to have authentic conversations through community and connection. 

These are all pieces of who I am — proof that my self-definition doesn’t reek like trash without a “job.” But without the income, without the routine, and without the “cred,” I still find myself feeling less-than. 

Of course, I know this “less-than” garbage is just that: garbage. Rotten lies. 

And yet I hurl these critiques at myself often. So starting here, I’m practicing taking out my psychological garbage…with a sticky note.

It’s one small thing that has had a profound effect on changing that narrative in my head.

I write on sticky notes (made of recyclable paper) the statement: “I am what I do.” I then use a red pen to draw a big, fat line across the statement, replacing it with some phrases that celebrate my other qualities and contributions:

– I am a champion of women.

– I am an activist about issues I care about.

– I am a nurturer — and proud of it.

I put those sticky notes on my mirror, in my wallet, and on the dash of my car.

Now it’s time for you to take out your own trash. 

Is there some voice that says harsh things to you that you would never say to someone else you care about? Write them down, cross them out, and put those reminders in places you will see daily and be reminded of your excellence when you need a boost.

Then tell those you trust that you are working on a psychological trash disposal project. They are to keep an eye out for the junk that tries to pop out and degrade your self-image when you talk or get together. They need to help remind you that your dirty self-talk is not your truth.

By being open about the self-improvement projects you are working on, especially those involving self-worth, you are setting a standard of self-love that can be contagious. 

And it all starts with the awareness of your personal mental trash. It ends when you spot the pattern, use the red pen to strike it down, and make room for the truth.

Breaking The Rules

Why a Museum Curator Will Be the Secret Weapon in Fighting Sexism

Karolina Oloffson on global inequality and why the world needs a Women’s Museum

By TheCovey

Photo by Sam Balye

When it comes to conflict resolution, you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone more knowledgeable than Karolina Olofsson. She’s got a PhD in humanitarianism and conflict response, plus a master’s in conflict management and another in post-war construction. She’s spent over a decade working in international assistance in Asia, Western Europe, Africa, and Latin America and is an organizational development and coordination expert for Global Women 4 Women.

So how would she manage conflict across genders to allow for more equality? Her answer might surprise you. CoveyClub spoke with Oloffson about being a woman in a global workplace, finding the strongest allies in traditionally patriarchal societies, and why old white men just can’t get enough of good data sets.

TheCovey: How did you get started fighting for women’s issues?

Karolina Oloffson: My journey is nonconventional. I’m half-Peruvian, half-Swedish, so two very different cultural backgrounds. I was born and raised in Peru for childhood. It was a very patriarchal environment. The Swedish part of my education was about equality. The impact was mixed: culturally, I would normally adhere to the masculine and then intellectually, and more of my mental process, [I would be about] gender equality and focus.

My career is in post-conflict and transition. In 2012, I decided to come back to Europe to get closer to [my] siblings. I realized all things [that made me] good at my job were problematic in [my] personal life. I was 32. Everything at work was decisive, authoritarian, strong. It made me not a good sister, friend, or girlfriend — all these social qualities didn’t have time to develop because I’d put my career first.

It was a journey of seeing the patriarchy inside me and how much it suffocated my feminine side. I was a woman, but didn’t know what it was to be a woman.

[Now] I do a lot of meditation and yoga. When things don’t work in my life I go on retreat and seek solitude and unpack things. It made me realize I didn’t know how to use my soft side to interact with people. I took down my harsh sides.

TheCovey: How does inequality play out in the global workplace?

Oloffson: I started to see that if there were ten men in a room, there was one patriarchal man suppressing women, one guy who was pro-woman who will stand up, but eight men who were silent. I always wondered: I know them. They’re not bad guys, but they will not yet stand up or say anything. Why do we have all these people in silence? For me it’s not only about women coming to their power and knowing who they are. It’s all about bridging the gap with men and helping them balance it out.

For the longest of times [men] provided a role. When we talk about removing that role, [one they grew] up attached to, [that became] a part of their identity, it becomes difficult for them to take positions. They want to take a stand, but don’t want to go against other men.

It’s interesting: in developing countries, we bombard them with Western, democratic norms of what we think development should look like. Lots of my former colleagues from other countries — Afghans, Nigerians — are more supportive because they have been so exposed to gender programs from other donors. They have some level of consciousness greater than the Western men. 

Men in the financial sector in Europe take for granted that women have made it, so they don’t feel the issue is still accurate. They say women are equal. They are raised thinking women are equal. But in other countries where the programing is going on, they create more energy and awareness. Some men will be culturally traditional but will speak more about it than in the West. 

TheCovey: Are things better or worse than when you started your career?

Oloffson: Sometimes as a woman, you say ‘there is a gender issue here.’ They say,  ‘don’t be so sensitive.’ When I see political changes: Brexit or the latest president in [the] US — or Italy — all these things are coming to the surface. Some people want to suppress it. I think it’s nice to finally have it out in the open. We have been talking about this and people didn’t believe it. It was below their vision level. Now, we can address it

When you are a minority in many different levels like I am, you walk through life talking about experiences the majority doesn’t understand. They think you’re weird or disconnected. Your version of reality doesn’t get acknowledged. So you get this sensation you are living in a world that is invisible to the rest of the world. But now with all the cockroaches running around, now finally it’s visible and not deniable. It’s concrete. 

Women have an important role to play here. The way we mitigate around the table can be very different than a man. We can be more inclusive. We are good communicators. We can absorb multiple sources of information and process it at the same time. We can help bring balance, [where it] is usually very heated and confrontational. It requires women to step up, go to congress, ask the difficult questions. 

Also, we need to create colleagues between males and females and have synergy and work together. We live in an environment where it’s not just men but white men — and white men 60-70 years old, with a vision from years ago. They lived through a society that was different from today. Take those ideas. But we need to work for a more prosperous future. We need to build a bridge between what was and what we want it to be. 

TheCovey: Do you have any out-of-the-box ideas for bringing awareness to women’s issues?

Oloffson: When you work with development issues and human rights you have things always marked for you: genocide in Rwanda, the Holocaust, World War II, the Soviet Union, and Eastern countries and the persecution strategies and the death from war. There are lots of records to look at. Why isn’t it that we have one collective museum where we look at the history of women? Why is it we don’t have how many women have been persecuted and burned during the witch trials? How many women are beaten into submission through domestic abuse? How many women are being raped because we don’t voluntarily give our bodies for use to someone else? What about the cost of emotional rape — the abuse of someone’s personality? All of that has not been reported. 

We get little bits and pieces of the puzzle. The UN says x amount of women are raped every month. Or are harassed. It makes it sound temporary. What is the aggregate amount? How has that gone over the years? What methods have been used to make sure women have been preserved at this lower state of citizenship? 

In terms of the research, we could have a curator. When I was talking about the ten men and the eight who did nothing, men don’t know where to go. They respond to very concrete facts. They are analytical beings reliant on data sets. Let’s put up the files, the pictures. What does domestic brutality look like, and confront it and see whether you’re part of it. 

We have museums to honor the past and the sacrifices [of so many different groups], and rightfully so. But so should women. What we have collectively taken, the collective damage, [our] wounds, the collective price to us should be recorded. It’s not about one woman, it’s about a collective wound we have. If more than half the population has these remnants from the past, there’s no way we can work in balance. 

The vast majority of people, if you give them the chance to gain the awareness, including men, would choose to change. That level of awareness has not been mainstreamed, and a museum could help start that.

Memoir

Growing Through Grief: Solo Travel and Finding Myself

My husband promised we'd see the world in retirement, but his life was cut short

By Angie Mangino

Opening the front door, I smiled when the carrier handed me the flowers. I placed the vase on the table before reading the attached card.

“Happy Mother’s Day to the best Mom! We would be lost without you. Thanks for everything you do and for who you are. Love always, your kids and grandkids.”

When I paused to reread, tears formed. I was used to the familiar “for everything you do,” but this time the “for who you are” was new, a cherished addition.

Before my husband died he asked our three adult children to always take care of me. At first they went to the extreme, worrying I might not be able to function alone, thinking they were all destined to become my caretakers after my role as caretaker for their father ended.

The sentiment was sweet, but did my children know me?

Each person’s journey after the death of a loved one is unique. My path confused my family, but now it looks like they’re beginning to comprehend it.

My late husband’s job at the New York Stock Exchange required extensive travel when the children were growing up.

“Don’t worry,” he would comfort me when my extra tasks because of his travel would overwhelm me. “We’ll take some family vacations together, and with the kids grown, when I retire we’ll travel the world.”

Who expected premature retirement from disability?

Even with health problems he was determined to keep his promise to me. We booked a New England cruise out of New York ending in Quebec, Canada. The itinerary was enticing, but we spent most of our cruise in the ship’s medical center, with the port excursion in Boston being my solo cab ride in the pouring rain to and from a pharmacy for the medication he needed not in supply on board. After a slight improvement with the new medication, he was able to go on a few non-strenuous excursions with me, with the ship’s crew helping with wheelchair assistance off and back onto the ship.

Feeling frustrated by his health limiting this cruise, he wanted to compensate for the disappointment.

“When I’m better we’ll take another cruise,” he told me. “This time it’ll be through the Panama Canal. I’ve heard it’s spectacular going through the locks, and something I’ve always wanted to do. I know you’ll love it!”

Only he didn’t get better, just progressively worse.

He never did see the Panama Canal, but in the days before his death he talked of it, apologizing for not being able to travel with me, imploring me to go on my own. Two years later I decided to take that cruise, despite my children’s apprehension when I chose to go alone.

As the ship pulled into Oranjestad, Aruba, I buried the anniversary date of his death into the recesses of my mind. Going ashore, I boarded the bus for an excursion to what the cruise billed as “One Happy Island.” Yes, it’s time for happy memories!

The drive included the California Lighthouse, the ruins of a landmark natural bridge, the Casibari Rock Formations, and the Alto Vista Chapel, the first Catholic church built on the island in 1750. We drove across the island with fascinating views of cacti, divi-divi trees, iguanas, and wild goats.

It was at the stop at the bright yellow Alto Vista Chapel, however, where the full impact of the date hit me. I placed a lit candle on the altar. Mourning includes tears, but my previous allocation was only private ones. The bus driver called us back to the bus, but then saw me with the tears streaming down my face as I prayed.

“Don’t worry. Take as long as you need,” he advised.

The catharsis of letting out all the tears I had restricted to measured amounts was healing. When I joined the group on the bus a smile replaced the grief as I thanked the driver for his consideration. On the way back to the ship we passed the Aruba Marriott Resort, where we had stayed with our three children on a family vacation. My smile grew stronger with the memories.

The Pirates of the Caribbean Casino Night welcomed me back on board complete with free raffle tickets for various prizes. Joining into the festivities I took the next step in my healing process. I had formed a quick connection to a young casino worker from South Africa the first night of the cruise. When one of my tickets declared me the winner of an exquisite blue Bella Perlina bracelet, she hugged me whispering “Your sweetie sent you an anniversary gift.”

Four days later passing through the locks at Gatun Lake, Panama, the light rain that hit the deck couldn’t keep me from the long awaited experience. As the ship inched along, a gentle spray hit my face, converging with the silent tears. The two months of torture I witnessed him experience in the hospital up to his death began to wash away. My husband’s presence embraced me.“Wow! Going through the Panama Canal like this is as awesome as you said,” I said aloud to him. I took one more step in this process called mourning into becoming the woman who today my children recognize I am.

Hot flash!

A new report from public policy research firm Kantar Public finds that 52% of the American public say they would feel “very comfortable” with a female president, including 45% of men and 60% of women. Kantar and Women Political Leaders have launched the Reykjavik Index for Leadership, which measures how people feel about women in leadership. The index ranks the US third among the G7 countries, behind the UK and Canada, where 58% and 57%, respectively, feel very comfortable with a woman as head of government.

Kantar Public

Insights

Of Love, Loss, Home Renovation & Men

She was a serial renovator — of both houses and men. And then she fell in love

By Mel Miskimen

victorian house
Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash

At 63, I figure I’ve got what? 25 years left? Thirty? Forty if I’ve lucked out and gotten my great aunt Frances’ genes. She lived to be 104. How do I want however many years I have left to play out? Same old, same old? Or maybe it’s time to move on?   

We’ve been together for almost 40 years. That’s a long time to be without a working shower, air conditioning, or uniform heat. Is it too much to ask for windows that actually open and close? When the wind blows they moan like paid mourners at a mob funeral.

It Was An Old House, But it Was My Old House

Should I leave her? Could I leave her?

We met through an ad in the classifieds: “Partially Restored Vic, double city lot, outbuildings.” I should have known, classified ads were works of creative nonfiction. It was 1982. My husband, Mark, and I had been avid watchers of This Old House. Every Thursday, we’d sit on the edges of our second-hand sofa’s cushions, slurping ramen noodles out of mismatched melamine bowls, and watch as Bob Vila et al undid the many wrongs that had been forced down a lapsed Victorian’s throat.

When the time came for us to buy a house that’s what we’d do! Restore! Renovate! Save the world! It all looked like so much fun!

Real estate agents told us newlyweds that we needed to be looking for something called a starter home. We were young, and according to their crystal balls, in five or seven years we’d be trading up to a better house in a better neighborhood before we finally found our forever home. Really? Their crystal balls hadn’t taken into account our degrees in art and theater. Would we even be married in five or seven years? The jury was out on that one, too.

Trying to Renovate Mr. Wrong

He and I met in a bar. I had gone out alone, not looking for a husband, but for a flirtation, that may or may not have ended with a retaliatory screwing because my live-in boyfriend of three years had decided to exercise the open clause in our relationship.

He had said he didn’t believe in marriage. He had been down that road twice, and each time it had spun off course, got stuck in a rut, and then the wheels came off and lawyers came and towed it to the marital junkyard. He told me he wasn’t a one-woman man. I had to give him points for honesty, laying it all out there, on the table in the restaurant, on our first date. Why had I agreed to his terms? Because he was Al Pacino in Serpico attractive. A ten to my self-perceived five, which rose to an eight by association.

I thought Serpico needed a little renovation, a few of his emotional walls knocked down for optimum flow, but as soon as I broke through one, he built another, bigger, thicker. Apparently all those magazine articles “You Can’t Change Him!” had been written for someone else.

He hadn’t seen the need to open things up until the night he came home from the bank to tell me had met someone in line. There had been something beguiling about the way she had filled out her withdrawal slip, how she handled the long ball chain that kept the pen in its place. I shouldn’t have been hurt, I had agreed, remember?  

Meeting Mr. Right-But-Boring

I saw this guy. At the bar. Underneath a blinking arrow, as if the universe was saying to me, “Over here! He’s The One!”

We talked. He bought me a beer. He seemed nice. I wasn’t used to nice. I was used to drama. Scheming. Grateful for any emotional crumbs that got tossed my way. This guy didn’t need a lot of work. He was move-in ready. So, after eight hours of talking, drinking, necking, after he had asked for my number, after I had told him about my current situation, I told Mr. Nice Guy (Mark) I didn’t want to date. Him. Or anyone else. Where would it lead? We’d move in. We’d have the “Where is this going?” talk, and in a year, I’d be back at this bar.

I was done dating. I wanted to be married. So, I asked him. To marry me. Cut to the chase, as it were. Did I expect him to say yes? No, I did not. Even the priest who performed the service thought we’d never make it.

With the ink still wet on our marriage license, we made a 30-year commitment to love, honor, and cherish this fallen woman of a Queen Anne, till death or the mortgage was paid off, whichever came first. She had been badly scarred from a recent porch-ectomy. Her roof needed replacing. She came with 13 pages of code violations.

Could I Have a Rescuer’s Complex?

My therapist told me I was a rescuer, and this house needed some serious rescuing.

Mark and I worked at our poorly paying jobs during the day and came home to urban decay meets construction chic — five-gallon buckets filled with tools, paints, solvents, scrap lumber, stacks of drywall. Every night before bed, I’d corral the sawhorses, tame the unruly extension cords, and push the buckets of joint compound up against the upstairs back door to prevent intruders.

I’d lie in bed, worrying. Had I made a mistake? I hardly knew this man snoring next to me. Sure, he was nice, but would nice become boring? Were the experts right about starter homes? Was he my starter husband? Where were those elves I had been promised? How come our mice couldn’t sew?

I could have thrown in the trowel and left. But, I’m not a quitter. I had made promises. Better. Worse. Rich. Poor. And then I had children, and with them came depression. Baby Blues. Which made it sound as if there should be songs written like: “Lowdown and Sleep-Deprived,” “My Baby Got Colic,” and “Ain’t Nobody Gettin’ Any Lovin.” I tried to Mrs. Miniver it, with pluck and determination, but most days pluck and determination were MIA, and I had no energy. To leave. To renovate. I went on autopilot. Ignoring the holes in the ceilings and walls was easier. If only I could have ignored the hookers and drug dealers.

Putting My Anxiety Disorders to Work

Crime-fighting is in my blood. My father was a cop. I watched Dick Tracy cartoons after school. Dragnet, anyone? I traded in Mrs. Miniver for Gladys Kravitz. I took to watching the street from behind my curtains. I jotted down license plate numbers. Noted times and types of activities. Christmas of 1996, I asked for night vision goggles. My husband worried. I thought I was being vigilant. He thought it might be time to call in the experts.

I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and chronic depression. Duh! You try living in a house that doesn’t live up to your standards, in an underachieving neighborhood! Was I worried about my kids? Constantly. I learned to use the hookers and drug dealers as teachable moments, warning my children that if they didn’t buckle down in school they were looking at their future.

My daughter is currently a Ph.D. candidate and my son is a buyer for a bicycle empire.

Lemons. Lemonade.

We’ve never taken flicking on a switch — and having a light come on — for granted. Plumb and level are concepts. I can’t tell you how many eyeliner pencils I’ve dropped on the floor and never seen again. I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit, yes, I coveted other people’s even heat. Central air conditioning. I fantasized about something younger. More up-to-date. Boring!

The Unsung Advantages of Hanging In There

Forty years later, I finally feel like all the dirt under the radiators is ours. I know her. There’s a comfort in drying mittens on her radiators, a feeling of safety in the basement during severe weather (eight feet below grade). Lilting Mariachi music has replaced the sounds of gunshots and squealing tires. It’s not a weekend without a bouncy castle in someone’s yard.

The marriage survives. Nice does have staying power. I have put my husband’s name in for canonization.

She may not be perfect. She has flaws. Who doesn’t? I’m sure the day will come when I can’t climb the staircase or shovel the 13 front steps, and I will be sad to see her in the rearview mirror of my flying car. I can’t imagine life without her. I guess what I’m trying to say is, after 40 years, I’ve finally fallen in love.

CONTRIBUTORS

Anne Devereux-Mills

Anne Devereux-Mills

After her first career as an Advertising Agency CEO, Anne Devereux-Mills founded Parlay House, a global series of gatherings for women that emphasize connections over transactions and foster authentic conversations among a wide range of participants. She is also the author of the One Small Thing newsletter and a book entitled, The Parlay Effect which will launch this fall. See more at annedevereuxmills.com and parlayhouse.com.

Tanya Ezekiel

Tanya Ezekiel

Tanya Ezekiel is a performance-driven executive coach at Conductive. Her leadership development coaching experience ranges from Fortune 100 C-Suite executives to startup entrepreneurs. She is a highly experienced career strategist and a passionate innovative leader and mentor who activates her clients to maximize their influence and impact. Tanya has over 15 years of experience in the financial services industry, initially as a bonds options trader at Salomon Brothers and ultimately as a Managing Director at Bank of America. She holds an MBA from Cornell University and an undergraduate degree from McGill University. She lives in New York City with her husband and two kids.

Deanna Utstroke

Deanna Utstroke

Deanna Utroske edits the beauty news website CosmeticsDesign.com, where she covers business, ingredient, and packaging news about the makeup, personal care, fragrance, and wellness industries in the Americas region. Deanna also publishes the weekly Indie Beauty Profile column, showcasing the inspiring work of entrepreneurs and innovative brands. Beyond Cosmetics Design, you can find Deanna on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter.

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