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A letter from editor Lesley Jane Seymour
The Humbling Truth About Starting Over at 60
Sometimes you just have to laugh.
A few months ago, I decided to imitate entrepreneur, vlogger, public speaker and Internet superstar Gary Vaynerchuk’s video releases. For months, I’d watched this over-caffeinated dude in a dirty t-shirt strut around his driveway exhorting his followers to reach for their dreams. I loved the way he spoke directly and authentically into the camera. There was no studio lighting, no hair or makeup person trying to make him look perfect. There was just his message.
To me, Vaynerchuk’s videos are the apotheosis of modern Internet communications: raw, unpolished, real. They are also the total opposite of the careful, studied media world in which I grew up–where not a hair is out of place. Since I’ve always been an early adopter, and now am a full-fledged entrepreneur, I decided to try his approach myself.
At that point, I was six months late producing the beta version of Covey and I was becoming increasingly anxious that my potential members–some of whom had signed up way back in February 2015—would start to feel I had left them dangling. I was dying to reach out and communicate. And one day, I just knew it was V-Day (as in Video). That Thursday, I was headed to New York City for an event, which meant I had dressed nicely and was wearing mascara. (So, yes, although Gary Vaynerchuk’s authenticity spoke to me, his dirty t-shirt did not.) I had 10 minutes before I needed to leave for the train, so I walked out into my yard, held up my phone and pressed record.
Three minutes later I tried to post the vlog but noticed that, while I could hear myself perfectly, the only thing I could see was a bright orange wall. I looked around my yard: no orange wall there. Did I push the wrong button and download an orange filter? (Pushing a button that blows up the world—or just everything on your phone—is the chronic fear of those of us like me who were born on the wrong side of the Digital Divide.) I Googled “orange filter on iPhone” but found no answers. I Facetimed my daughter at college. “Can you see me?” I asked. “No, Mother,” Lake said huffily. “I’m running to class but all I see is orange.”
Where was that corporate IT guy when you needed him? Maybe I wasn’t cut out for this entrepreneurial life after all. Maybe. This. Was. Just. Too. Hard.
Panic constricted my chest as I realized that instead of coming home after the event and chugging through my list of To Dos, I would now have to spend the afternoon at the Apple store fixing whatever was wrong with my phone. Experience has taught me that nothing in tech takes just a few minutes to fix, so I knew that this meant the whole day would be shot. I despised this fend-for-yourself world the Millennials had invented. I would start looking for a new corporate job—with an IT department!—immediately.
But wait. What train was I taking again? Since I no longer commuted into the city on a set schedule, I no longer had the train departure times memorized. To stop myself from constantly checking the Metro-North app, I’d come up with an ingenious solution: I’d write out the time of the train I was taking each morning on a sticky and paste it right onto the phone.
The note said I was catching the 8:58.
The bright orange note.
That I’d placed over the camera eye.
Geez. I’d gone from sharing the podium with First Lady Michelle Obama at a big More event to becoming a techno-idiot. I posted the video anyway, blank orange wall and all, hoping you all would laugh with me instead of at me.
But I want points for at least trying!
Share your own humbling moments with tech on the CoveyClub Facebook page by clicking HERE.
TV's "What Not To Wear" Star Reveals What Works/What Doesn't
Problem #1: Eye Makeup that Slips
Women tell me that as they age, eyeliner and eyeshadow winds up “traveling” down their eyelids, smearing and creating big black eyes. This happens because their eye makeup mixes with the natural oils in their skin and begins to slip out of place. If they have crepe-y texture or hooded lids, the makeup transfers upward.
Solution: You can fix this problem by using an eyeshadow primer such as Smashbox Photo Finish Lid Primer or Lorac Behind The Scenes Lid Primer to create a nice, dry surface to which the shadow can adhere. You can also create your own “primer” by applying a light layer of foundation over your entire upper lid from lashline to brow and beneath your lower lids–up to the lashline. Top with a very light dusting of translucent non-pigmented blotting powder. Now your eyelids are ready to accept makeup.
Avoid cream or stick eyeshadow formulas which tend to move around on older skin. Instead, choose a sheer neutral colored eyeshadow powder and dust it lightly across your lids. If your eyes are hooded, sweep powder across the lids and up over the creases or folds. If your crease has been lost over time, tap the shadow brush across the top arc of your eyeball to sense where the natural crease should be. Blend.
To create a nice smooth eyeliner that will stay in place all day, begin with a fine-tipped waterproof pencil; apply it as close to the roots of your lashes as you can. Look down afterward so that the liner, which might be a bit damp, has a chance to dry and “set.” Using a small angled liner brush, layer a small coat of eyeshadow powder in the exact same color as your liner over the top of the pencil to hold it in place and double it’s staying power.
Problem #2: Mascara That Smudges
Solution: If you have given up using mascara because of the dreaded raccoon eyes created by the big, bulky wands that smudge or leave specks on your lids during application, I have a solution. Switch to a mascara that employs what’s called “tube technology” formula: Instead of just painting each lash with color, these mascaras use a polymer to create a tiny sealed tube around each eyelash. I like Blinc Mascara. You should also choose a brand with a thin wand that allows you to coat your lashes without creating smudges. The best formula with a narrow wand is DHC Double Protection Mascara.
Now your mascara will last all day. But the best part is, that unlike waterproof mascara which can be difficult to remove (and can harm lashes during the required rubbing), you simply wash off tube-technology mascara with warm water and cleanser. The warm water releases the tubes and they just slide right off.
Problem #3. Bleeding Lipstick
If you have fine vertical lines surrounding your lips, you may think that choosing a long-wearing lip formula is the way to go. But stop right there! Long-wearing formulas can be extremely drying and the older we get the more moisture our lips actually need. Choose moist lip products that hydrate lips and keep them supple.
Another passe concept is using lip liner to seal in your lipstick. Because here’s the truth: as the lipstick wears off, the liner will leave you with an ugly ring-around-the-mouth.
Solution: Apply a light layer of foundation around the edges of your lips and onto the surrounding skin. Sweep a clear powder over to seal. Use a clear, colorless lip liner like my favorite Bite Beauty Line And Define Lip Primer to create a lip border. Remember that as we age, the edges of our lips become less defined so you may have to apply your border slightly over the normal edges of your lips. Place your lipstick within this perimeter and it will not bleed.
Problem #4. Thick Foundation That Doesn’t Really Cover
As we age, our skin begins to reveal discolorations–sun or age spots, rosacea; veins may also become more visible. This is when we really need to find the perfect foundation to smooth skin and give it a healthy polish. Unfortunately, this is just the moment that many women decide to start camouflaging these flaws by using a heavily pigmented or powder foundation. Not only do these “camouflage” foundations look dated but they actually make your skin appear dry and chalky; they can even enhance the look of wrinkles.
Solution: Choose a liquid foundation that goes on smooth and allows for a moist natural finish; I gravitate to Sonia Kashuk Perfecting Luminous Foundation. Use a non-latex sponge such as Studio 35 Ultra Wedges With Vitamin E to apply the foundation. Then dust on a translucent non-pigmented powder all across your face which will set the makeup and erase excess shine; buff the powder across your lids and under your eyes, into your hairline and down your neck. My favorite is Mac Blot Powder.
Note: when choosing a foundation, apply the color along your jawline. Be sure to view it in a mirror in the sunlight to find the one that matches your natural skin color perfectly. Fluorescent or indoor lights will not give you the right match.
Note 2: even if you use the right foundation, sunspots may still show through. Skip all of those new yellow, lavender, and green correctors on the market: they will just add extra layers of product to your skin and won’t really get the job done. Instead, dab a tiny bit of stick concealer–in a shade that matches your foundation–on top of each spot and blend.
Problem #5: Puffy Eyes
Solution: If puffiness around your eyes is your enemy and all the creams you have tried are not working then this trick can help.
Keep your eye creams and serums in the refrigerator. The cool temperature will help de-puff your bags and allow the creams to do their job. (My grandmother used to keep metal spoons in the freezer for this reason; she would just hold them under her eyes each morning to help reduce the swelling).
After a big salty dinner (or too much red wine), I also take vitamins which contain dandelion root before hitting the sheets. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, dandelion has been used as a natural and safe diuretic for years that helps reduce all manner of puffs.
Note: applying the new-fangled “eye brightening” concealers under your eyes will just enhance the puffiness. Instead, take a little bit of foundation or concealer in a slightly darker shade and dab it on the most prominent part of the puff; blend carefully to help make the bulge recede.
Make Your Voice Heard
Her generation accepted groping bosses. Today she claims "#MeToo" for her grand kids
Decades before #MeToo and even years before Anita Hill, in the late 1950s, my turn-of-the-19th century-born mother was smart enough to sit me down for “the sex talk.” But it wasn’t the sex talk; it was a conversation about how men in the workplace treat women. Her lesson came in the form of her own story, as it’s now being called, #MeToo.
Her story, her first #MeToo, took place 100 years ago, a century, before the #MeToo movement would begin.
To make sure a job advertised was on the “up and up,” my mother’s older sister, went with my then seventeen-year-old mother to the job interview. After a Q & A with the potential boss, my mother was offered the stenographer job on the spot; my aunt determined that the boss and the job were legitimate. The boss asked my mother to start immediately. My mother accepted and my aunt left the office.
Her new employer asked my mother to take a memo. As he began to dictate, he moved his chair closer and, within a few minutes, his hand was on her knee, moving up her skirt. My seventeen-year-old mother’s stomach dropped.
A quick-thinker, she said, composed, “I was so nervous about this interview that I never ate breakfast. My stomach keeps rumbling and making so many embarrassing noises I can hardly hear your dictation. Do I have permission to eat an early lunch, just for today? As soon as I get back, we can continue.” My mother walked out of the office and never returned.
She found out early that when a young woman needs a job there is an expectation: men have “permission,” without permission given, to take advantage of, mistreat, sexually harass (though no one called it that then) women. Unfortunately, because of the culture of the 1950s, my mother’s story was more of a “heads-up,” a lesson in tolerance, rather than a feminist moment or a lesson about how I, as a “working girl,” should fight back, speak up, change a broken system.
A half a century later, I was working at a prestigious New York City public relations firm. On deadline and focused on a press release, I was unaware that someone had entered my office. Without warning, from behind my back, two hands grabbed at my breasts. I screamed.
I screamed, first and foremost, because I’d been in a work-trance and was shocked by the intrusion. Almost simultaneously, my arms whipped off the typewriter keys, over my head and down onto the space invader’s forearms. I jumped from my seat to see one of the top executives of the firm standing at my desk; and, just as quickly, I saw him run from my office.
Many heard me scream.
Many saw the man dash out of my office.
But no one saw what happened.
No one said anything. No one asked me anything.
In a prestigious firm in Midtown Manhattan, an executive stood in my office, his unwanted hands cupping my breasts and not a word was spoken about it.
And I spoke to no one about it.
Who would believe me? And, who would I tell? A male boss? A boys-club colleague of my surprise attacker?
And then, decades later, came Anita Hill.
In the years before the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas debacle, nobody spoke openly about sexual harassment, even those who had spent a lifetime being harassed. However, it was because of Anita Hill, that women of my generation, including me, finally began to tell their own stories to each other, privately. It was a tsunami of words: friends told friends about what had been happening in their worlds. What was remarkable was that we were all surprised to discover that we were not the only ones. How had we believed that we were the only ones? And those of us who had #MeToo’s (and there were so many of us), believed Anita Hill because we’d endured what she had endured.
I have one daughter and three granddaughters (23, 22, 16). I cannot imagine any of them having to suffer the assaults my mother and I suffered. I could not bear it. We’ve lived this way for way #toolong.
On behalf of my mother, #MeToo.
The painting app we’re going crazy for
Was the last artistic thing you mastered a ceramic spoon-rest in kindergarten? Um, us too. Luckily with Waterlogue by Tinrocket, LLC ($3.99) you can summon your inner Cézanne with the tap of an app. Transform any photo you take (or have sitting in your photo cache) into a gorgeous watercolor painting—instantly. There are sepia settings for an antique effect; you can even turn your work into a spare, sketch-like outline. Even though Waterlogue was picked by Apple for inclusion in the App Store Best of 2014, most of our CoveyClub buddies missed the release. Everyone we showed the app to spent hours transforming their photos into gorgeous paintings for screen savers and cards. Now just think of all the time you’ll save by crossing “learn how to paint” off your bucket list!
She turned her passion for writing into a business to save her Montana dream
The most powerful question I know is: What can I create?
I’ve used it all my life. It’s the question that holds my heart together. The hope. The possibility. The spaciousness of it. As a child, I used this question to process life and the safest place to do so was in a journal. Each blank page was a world of possibility, for my eyes only—usually under the covers with a diary, pen, and flashlight, when I was supposed to be sleeping. I would get in trouble for it, but I didn’t care. I was relentless. I knew sustenance when I saw it. I have every journal I’ve ever written back to the fourth grade and in them all, you see the map of a seeker-–a girl, then woman, artist, wife, mother, middle-ager who knows that this practice, passion, meditation, prayer, way of life, and sometimes way to life…is non-negotiable. Because every single time I sit down to write, it is to ask that powerful question, what can I create?, and live into the answer. To reinvent myself over and over, page by page, moment by moment.
Sometimes those reinventions are small. Nobody would notice them but me. Maybe it’s a thought pattern I’m transforming that doesn’t serve me, or maybe never did. Or maybe I’m creating a new idea altogether—a new invention. But all of it builds on the original moment when I wrote those words: what can I create? and it begat answers. Answers that work, and some that don’t. Even-so, I know that I am always better for having asked it in the first place.
It’s been a fifty-year long passion play of invention and reinvention, all rooted in that written and mused upon question, mostly for my own good use.
And then the carpet got ripped out from under me. I was glad, then, that my passions were in a row, even though my ducks weren’t.
My marriage was over, our house was in foreclosure, the savings account was drained, neither my kids nor I had health insurance, and I was looking down the barrel of losing my twenty-year old Montana dream. I’d given up a lot for that dream and I wasn’t anywhere close to having fully lived it. There were so many more moments of mothering and growing what was left of our family, on our gorgeous twenty acres, in our farmhouse we’d built and dreamed alive before my husband’s crisis hit and threatened to take it all down.
What can I create? I wrote in my journal one afternoon after a brutal divorce mediation in which the mediator and my then-husband said, point blank, “The first thing that has to go, is the house.” “You’re gonna have to move into town like all the other divorced people.”
My house and my land are my safe haven in Montana. They are why I live here and why I stay here, and leaving this place meant leaving much of who I am. It’s never healthy to have your identity so wrapped up in a place, but however it had happened, it was my terra firma, my grounding, my container. And I’d worked so hard for it for so many years. Tears broiled in my eyes and I stood up, red-faced, and pointed at them. “Just…you…watch…me!” And I marched out of there, breathlessly driving toward what had replaced my mother’s lap years ago. I needed my home. I don’t do well with assault on my security and that of my kids.
“I am not losing you!” I shouted as I crowned the hill, scattering the white-tailed deer grazing in the meadow. “I’m going to figure out a way to keep this safe haven for my kids and for me, if it’s the last thing I do!”
But I was terrified.
I paced the front porch, the pulse of so many birthday parties, so much late night star gazing, so many jam sessions, singing into the wee hours. I would keep this dream alive even as my husband was trying to pack it all up. His exit strategy was not mine. Not in the least. There’d been enough damage done to the three remaining members of this household. I would not have any more. No way! I just had to figure out how to mine my talents and passions.
At that point in my life, I was a best-selling author and a speaker with a strong empowering message that had helped many at conferences and on TV, print publications, radio, and in social media, all over the world. But just because you have those accolades, it doesn’t mean you’re rolling in the dough. And frankly, I was sick of being this messenger because the message starred me as the main character in a time of crisis. That had gotten old. How could I be of service in this world, build on my successful platform, and monetize it? What need could I fill? How could I use the way in which I was already showing up in the world to create a business that would fulfill my needs, while still being congruent with my integrity?
I brought it to the page. What can I create? And as I wrote, it occurred to me: Even though my career had been built on retraining the mind by finding self-awareness in our thought patterns…the bulk of what I’d heard on the road from my readers, audience members, and interviewers had to do with something else. What I’d heard, like a broken record, was this: “You wrote your way through a rough time. I’m going through a rough time. I’d like to write about it, as a therapeutic tool, or to help others know they’re not alone.”
And that’s when their eyes would drop to their shoes and the qualifiers would come in:
“Who do I think I am? I’m not even a writer. It’s already been done so much better than I ever could do it. It’s self-indulgent at best. I’m not creative, anyway. I don’t even have a voice to begin with.”
Over and over I had told people, “Of course you have a voice! Of course you are creative! Everyone has a voice that is unique to them. Everyone is creative. You chose the clothes you’re wearing. You choose the words that come out of your mouth and probably the furniture in your living room. You’re creative! Just ask yourself the most powerful question I know: What can I create? Put pen to paper and answer that question. Especially if you’re using writing to move you through hardship toward new self-awareness and liberation! It’s the most powerful way I know to answer that beyond-powerful question and transform your life!”
A spark would ignite. And then fade.
I could do something to change that. People simply needed to use writing the way I had all my life. I knew how to do it for myself. I could teach others, whether or not they considered themselves writers of any kind, to find their way to the essence of what they had to say, through the brilliant and transformative practice that is writing!
So I kept writing. What can I create that would help people find their voice, using what I know and who I am? What would that look like?
An hour later, I had a plan. I would lead writing retreats. I would teach people that they had a unique voice, and that they are in fact creative beyond their wildest imaginings. I would show them how to bring that practice into their lives, whether they considered themselves writers, or hadn’t written anything since school days. Whether they were a best-selling author, or just starting. Whether they had that book idea burning inside them or that one personal essay or poem, or message, or needed to find the permission to honor their original thoughts in the first place.
Only they wouldn’t get in trouble for it or need to hide it. They would learn to delight in it! They would learn what writing meant to them, in process and project, based on exactly who they were, what their responsibilities were, what their habits were and their dreams and their stuck places. I had these exact skills in spades! I would create a program that would meet them where they needed to be met. And I would teach them to hunger for their writing and to use it to help them move forward in their lives, book or no book. I had done it alone. They didn’t have to. I would create community and support and a program which would hold their heart and not let it go.
I would call it Haven.
So, with a sketch of a program, and more passion than I’d had in months…I put it on Facebook. Hey—anybody want to come on a writing retreat with me in Montana?
Mind you, at that time in my life, I had a lot of trusting fans who had written me to say that they felt like I was writing my book directly to them. That I felt like an old friend. That I’d helped them not feel alone. I suspect that it was for this very reason that within two hours, twenty-four people signed up for a retreat which had no place, price-point, design, reputation, cred. Yet I had almost booked three retreats!
That was five years ago. Haven Writing Retreat is now ranked in the top writing retreats in the country. I’ve worked with over five hundred people from all over the world, in small circles of seven to ten, who have come to Montana to do this work. I have looked into so many tearful eyes upon departure and heard these words: “This just changed my life.”
I have grown a flourishing online community by writing daily inspiration on our private Haven page. I have created advanced programs that when combined with my primary program, many have told me, are consistent with a MFA program. I do one-day private Haven Workshops in the homes of alums for their friends and communities across the country. I offer Writer-in-Residencies in Montana, and do consulting, editing, coaching, (for Haven alums only). And I see alums stay together, have reunions, and come back for more. I’ve worked with well-known best-selling authors and people who have no interest in ever publishing. I’ve worked with celebrities and with people who have saved for five years to make it possible to come to Haven. The only currency that matters at Haven is your ability to take this stand for yourself when no one else asked you to, to go outside your comfort zone, to put your heart in your hand and be kind and supportive and honest in a small group in the woods of Montana. To take a free fall into a free zone and trust that I will hold the net and never drop it. Outside of my motherhood, Haven Writing Retreats and Workshops, and now the Haven Foundation, feel like the miracle of my life.
And it all grew from a question: What can I create?
What question do you have burning inside you that could make all the difference in your life if you lived into it boldly? If you are in a place of re-invention, what is the one thing that is holding your heart together right now? What do you know how to do that could be of service to many? How are you already showing up in your life in a way that is possible to monetize, and in a way that could make all the difference for you and many others? It’s possible. Very possible. I am living proof. Because that’s what I have found at Haven. As much as mothering, and writing, and speaking are my callings…this work is the perfect confluence of who I am and how I’ve always shown up. You can find this confluence too, and it doesn’t have to be so hard.
As I tell my Haven attendees, “Notice when what flows from you comes naturally. Easily. Not necessarily because the subject is easy. Sometimes our work is centered in deep challenge. But notice where the ease is within it, the natural flow. That’s when you know…you are in your true purpose.”
“A woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman. But the search to find that voice can be remarkably difficult.”
Secrets to Her Success
Her secret weapon was finding a "Forceful Congratulator" to bolster her self esteem
The Covey: Jaunique, you are SVP, Marketing and Media of Braidy Industries, have a degree in civil engineering from Duke and a law degree from Harvard and a brand new book out called Regroup: The How-to of Never Giving Up. You’ve been ultra-successful in business, from the music world to, now, cosmetics. But when we met you at a Duke event for entrepreneurs, you said the actual secret weapon to your success is something you didn’t learn in school. What is a “Forceful Congratulator,” how does it bolster your self-esteem, and why do we all need one?
Jaunique Sealey: A Forceful Congratulator (FC) is a person who insists that you recognize your accomplishments even in the midst of what you’re experiencing as failure. It’s someone who’ll twist your arm to make sure you pat yourself on the back. The term came up when I did my first home shopping network television show. My company had spent a year developing a skincare line, and debuting the collection on QVC was our opportunity to let viewers know how much work, time, testing, and love had been poured into that little bottle. I had watched the movie “Joy” and convinced myself that I had to sell out! But in that seven-and-a-half minutes, I didn’t get to talk about the ingredients or explain the test results. I felt like I’d blown my big chance.
I was beating myself up when my dad almost yelled at me: “Are you crazy? You sold hundreds! In just seven-and-a-half minutes! You did great!” He had been listening to me over the entire year, so he knew the ins and outs of how QVC worked. His congratulations were specific and credible. He was so passionate that I remember thinking it was almost like we were having a disagreement! The word “forceful” came about because it took a lot for his voice to break through my negative self-critique. He did more than just say “Congratulations” or “You did a great job.” Afterward, my perspective started to shift, and a disaster started to look more like a partial success. I pulled lessons for my next airing.
The Covey: Is a Forceful Congratulator only for entrepreneurs?
Jaunique Sealey: Our culture is so focused on the “big win” that it is easy to overlook the small wins along the way. The biggest threat to success is damaging self-talk, your ability to clearly identify the path in front of you. You internalize the negatives and start to think they have something to do with you. A Forceful Congratulator stops that cascade and helps you see clearly, so you can build yourself back up and fight the next battle with your self-esteem, optimism, and vision intact.
Anyone embarking on an uncertain future—whether in business or school—needs someone to remind them they are moving forward—even when it feels like they’re moving backward! A Forceful Congratulator is insistent beyond the norm, making sure you hear, identify, and internalize your win.
The Covey: Do women need a Forceful Congratulator more than men?
Juanique Sealey: Women internalize failure more often and deeply. Men are adept at finding an external attribution for their shortcomings; women tend to blame themselves. So, yes, women could probably use one more often.
The Covey: What does a Forceful Congratulator do that a mentor or sponsor can’t?
Juanique Sealey: A mentor or sponsor who acts like a map or compass can also be a Forceful Congratulator. Their experience brings a perspective that allows you to see your win or progress while your path is still uncertain. A mentor or sponsor can say “I’ve been there” or “I’ve seen that before,” but they can also say, from a place of authority, “It’s not as bad as you think” or “Here’s the good to be found in this situation.” They can give focus and power to the positive that is being overlooked.
The Covey: How can you become a Forceful Congratulator for a friend, partner, spouse?
Juanique Sealey: Learn about the endeavor that your friend, partner, or spouse is pursuing so that the congratulations you offer are specific. Focus on the kind of congratulations that goes beyond a feel-good moment and will instead drive deep understanding. Approach it persuasively, like you are proving a point during a disagreement because that is what you are essentially having: You and the person you’re congratulating have a fundamental disagreement about whether she is a failure or success! Think of yourself as their ad hoc publicist: How would you promote their successes to others? What’s amazing is how it feels—not just for them, but for you!
Age and a difficult boss forced Claire Marin on her courageous reinvention journey
Once a top New York magazine executive decked out in Chanel and Manolo Blahniks, Claire Marin now suits up in a beekeeper’s white jumpsuit and fencer’s veil. That’s because Marin is the founder of Catskill Provisions and NY Honey Rye Whiskey, a reinvention that moved her out from under Madison Avenue’s glass ceiling and “hanging out with crazy humans” and “an abusive boss” to the much sweeter world of honey bees.
The Covey: Why did you reinvent yourself as a beekeeper?
Claire Marin: I was disillusioned with where the publishing business was headed. I was miserable and no longer working with people I wanted to spend time with. I wanted to quit my job.
During my last six months to a year in magazines, I worked under a male manager (everyone above me was male) who was very abusive, saying terrible things to our all-female group. When I created a list [of his abuses] and went to human resources, top managers and legal got involved. Their attempt to diffuse the situation was to tell me, “He is just being funny,” while telling me I was “wrong” for coming to them to protect my staff and the company. I had given 15-years of my life to publishing and this company made me out to be some high-strung bitchy female. They marginalized me. That’s a huge reason I left.
Since 2003 beekeeping had been a hobby. On the weekends I would work on the 8 to 10 hives of bees at my country home in the Catskills and they made me feel better; but, then I would return to work.
There is a rage we feel as women constantly being marginalized. We are constantly told when expressing our opinions, that we are being hysterical. I had been raised in that [kind of] environment, being told that my brother shouldn’t lift a fork but that I, as a girl, should cook and clean. It was my independent thinking that helped me grow up and out of that way of thinking.
The Covey: What made you finally make a move?
Claire Marin: There are certain pillars–or moments [in our lives]–that are our reckoning. For me, it was that I could no longer resign [myself to working for] someone who was hurtful, disloyal, sexist.
Courage is something you recognize you have when you head into fear. I was afraid; but, I needed to feel afraid because I needed to start over again, to feel strong, to get my self-worth back. It was very scary. It was very difficult to shed the comfort of walking into a big building, having assistants and all the trappings–including the money–that can keep us in a miserable situation. But I was being marginalized so I embraced the fear.
The Covey: Why honey?
Claire Marin: For the holidays in 2003, I gave a friend a beekeeping kit–and I fell in love with it. It became my country hobby. Beekeeping became an [alternate] world, like being underwater for a diver. I found the bees inspirational [because they] work in a democratic way as a community—everything for the good of the hive. Bees are [also an] Amazonian society—a bunch of “women” working together [Editor’s note: in many hives, female workers out populate male drones 100/1 and do most of the work].
Then, over the years as I gave honey to friends as gifts for holidays, friends said, “You have to do something with this.”
I quit my job in April 2010 and by September put a label together, starting Catskill Provisions, Inc.
The Covey: Why Whiskey?
Claire Marin: In 2009 there was a farm distillery movement, a lobbying effort that would allow New York State farmers to distill and sell [craft liquors and ciders–which had been limited to large producers since the 1920s and prohibition]; it’s a strategy to help farmers [fix] their terrible depressed financial situations, allowing them to use 100-percent of their output [by recycling damaged or unpicked fruit into spirits]. I decided that Catskills Provisions could be[come] more than just a jar of honey: it could become an umbrella label for many artisanal foods.
With whiskey, I saw a way to use honey to replace all the fructose in products and drinks. It wasn’t my goal to make a product for women. I just felt that there was something missing in the spirits arena. I did what appealed to me and discovered a market that was not being served: women who like a good drink that isn’t too sugar-filled or sweet. I knew I could make a set of spirits for a segment of the market no one paid attention to, a confident drinker who [doesn’t need it to drink] the oldest, most expensive version of a spirit to impress their friends. My whiskey is 80-proof so a woman can “still walk like a lady” while enjoying the flavor.
The Covey: Why did you feel you had to open your own distillery?
Claire Marin: I worked with two male distillers and it was not productive. I helped them, I worked collaboratively with them; I was fair and they ended up not being fair and charging me more as the quality of their products went down.
So, I made the decision at the end of last year to do a little more reinventing. With it comes a little more fear, but then the courage kicked in. I am sticking my neck out [and going to learn to distill my own spirits.] I either do it or I walk away.
I’m working with a master distiller to set up my distillery. Prior to that, I’m taking two different distilling courses, one in Napa in March and one in Portland.
The Covey: How did you fund your reinvention?
Claire Marin: The entire brand has been funded by my personal money and the money that the business makes, reinvested. Note too, I don’t have children that I am sending to college.
I have also made a conscious effort to downsize [my life]. I used to buy designer items to dress a certain way for the [publishing] business. Now I want the money for this cause, this passion, this business that does good–and for hiring people at a decent wage.
When I founded the business, I also pledged to give back a percentage of revenue to food and animal causes, the environment. We currently “give back” 1% of our annual earnings to Friends of the Earth to support their bee-focused efforts. I also plan to be growing a lot of the grain and botanicals we’ll use in the distillation process which will be non-GMO and pollinator friendly so we can have sustainable results.
The Covey: What are the advantages of reinventing as an older female?
Claire Marin: I am meeting a lot of 20-something women who I find to be more courageous than women of my generation. These women feel an empowerment that women now in their 50s didn’t have when we were girls. And these women are inspired by 55-year old women [like me]! They ask questions. They are already realizing at an early age that they do not need to settle if they don’t like the world they are in.
Sponsored by Catskill Provisions
Truths & Lies
Medical experts warn that cancer kills desire; instead desire became a driving force for her to live
My partner could barely touch me without crying.
I had flown out to California to spend New Year’s 2016 at his desert cabin. In the photos of us from that trip, we laugh, posed in front of slot machines at a kitschy casino; he plays his guitar next to the cabin’s pot-bellied stove; I beam at him in a restaurant, my hair long. The photos are not lies, exactly—after all, these moments happened. But what the photos don’t capture: the moments when my partner and I were terrified.
Just a month earlier, I had been diagnosed with breast cancer. After discovering that the cancer was in two locations in my left breast (plus there were two different types), I decided to have a bilateral mastectomy rather than a lumpectomy with radiation. The surgery was scheduled for January 8 in Chicago.
So, those sunny desert days had the surreal quality of nostalgia even as they were happening; those were our last normal days.
Except that they were in no way normal. My partner and I normally behaved like teenagers who couldn’t keep our hands off each other. During a hotel stay just prior to my diagnosis, he had sucked my left nipple so long and avidly that we’d both fallen asleep that way. Post-diagnosis in the cabin, we held each other in an asexual fog, listening to Jonathan Richman, Jay Bennett, and the logs burning in the stove. “You’re going to be okay,” he told me. “It doesn’t make any difference to me whether you have breasts.”
It wasn’t that I didn’t believe him. We were both nearly fifty, and of course I knew he didn’t love me just for my breasts. And one week later, as he held my hand while I awaited surgery, then rubbed my feet and back as I came out of the anesthesia, I knew I should be grateful for his devotion and to be alive.
But I also couldn’t help wondering whether my life as a sexual woman was over.
I had absolutely no idea where to turn for answers to this question. I was in the middle of being passed around an oncology department with lightning speed––from a painfully shy, mousy breast surgeon to a bow-tie-wearing, middle-aged plastic surgeon to a nurse who coordinated appointments but looked like a Catholic school teacher. No one mentioned sex to me. In fact, none of these professionals asked anything at all about my life.
I am fortunate to have a smoking hot friend who has been through mastectomy and reconstruction, so I texted her. She encouraged me to give my partner time and to try and “direct” how my new bionic body would be perceived within our sexual dyad. Since neither she nor I was interested in becoming a “broken sister” to our lovers, she suggested I strike a balance between intimacy and honesty and retaining mystery and fire. “We’ve had fantastic, sometimes strange sex, post-surgery,” she wrote, making me confident that my partner’s and my fire would also return.
But what happens, I wondered, to women who don’t have such honest and encouraging friends? What happens to those who want to keep their cancer private? The lack of support—or even concern––for my sexual health from my medical practitioners was shocking. Even more stunning was that when I tried to think of a female role model in contemporary media who had survived breast cancer while managing to keep her sexuality alive, I could only come up with Samantha on Sex and the City. And she never lost her breasts!
Where do women get information, education, and encouragement when their doctors and the media are failing them?
“My [oncology] team did not prepare me at all for post-cancer sex,” said Natalie Serber, a New York Times Notable Book author whose memoir Community Chest tackles her journey through breast cancer when I asked about her experiences. “The topic never came up except for the one question I asked my oncologist regarding sex during chemo: was it safe? Honestly, he seemed taken aback, like it would never have occurred to him to be sexually active during the three months of chemo.”
Serber’s experience dovetails with my Internet search that uncovered thousands of blogs, medical journals and hospital websites warning to anticipate the “loss of desire” that accompanies breast cancer and its treatments. “Lack of desire is the most common sexual problem for all cancer patients,” announces U.S. Health News, on its page titled “Information on Sexuality and Cancer.” A 2010 Journal of Sexual Medicine study reports that, two years later, 70% of women diagnosed with breast cancer face issues with sexual functioning. And researchers Melisko, Goldman and Rugo find in “Amelioration of sexual adverse effects in the early breast cancer patient” that 64% of sexually active and recurrence-free breast cancer patients (who had completed surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy) reported an absence of sexual desire, 42% experienced problems with lubrication, and 38% suffered from difficult or painful intercourse. Sexual dysfunction occurs more frequently in women who had received chemotherapy, or in younger women who were no longer menstruating. “[C]hemotherapy can wreak havoc on a woman’s ability to orgasm,” warns Kelly Connell, a writer on Caring.com. Leslie Schrover, sexuality and health educator observes in A Cancer Journal for Clinicians that, “Ever since psychological issues became a focus of attention in oncology, breast cancer treatment has been seen as especially traumatic to women’s sexual relationships.”
Even the free reference books given to cancer patients by the hospital oncology department warn women that their lack of desire is normal and not something about which they should feel guilty! This is sound advice for those facing a life-threatening illness, but could such medical group-think become a self-fulfilling prophecy? Might women fear and avoid sex because the medical community is telling them that sex will be painful or that they may no longer orgasm? Might women who are already fighting cancer not feel up to a second battle?
For me, it turned out that the worst was over. My partner—though he may not have been aware of it—was so afraid for my safety during the wait for the pathology report that sexual arousal was the furthest thing from his mind. Six days after my mastectomy, we met with my oncologist and were delighted to hear that the cancer was gone and my lymph nodes were clear. My partner and I scurried back to my house and, with my children at school, had giddy, passionate sex. It mattered to neither of us that there were four fluid-collecting drains hanging from holes in my body or that my chest was a flat mass of wounds and stitches.
When I told my therapist that I had resumed my sex life less than a week post-surgery, she literally gasped, “What?”
Her shock, of course, made sense. Media and advertising focus on breasts and “youthful” health so exclusively that many women find it hard to feel feminine or sexy post-surgery. Dylan Landis, author of Rainey Royal, described to me how for several weeks after her lumpectomy, she “covered our mirrored bathroom wall with newspaper, so I could shower without seeing my newly deformed self.” Landis said her reconstructive surgeon offered no advice about how to handle her fears of undressing in front of her own husband. “[My husband] would have loved my breasts if they were purple,” Landis said. “My problem was less sexuality than self-image, which of course one brings to bed. That’s vague stuff for a surgeon, whether the patient is twenty-eight or eighty.”
After my first cycle of chemotherapy, I went into premature menopause.
Through all four cycles, however–through the attendant hair loss and nausea, mouth sores and body aches, and thinning of the vaginal walls which makes intercourse painful–my partner and I treasured, and relied on, our sexual connection. Lubrication helped, but the real truth was that sex was a life force for me in those months, with the emotional payoffs feeling like a bigger plus than the physical impediments. Friends who knew I was still so sexually active were, like my therapist, stunned and made it clear I was behaving outside of the “norm” for what was expected for a breastless, bald, non-menstruating woman pushing fifty.
But was I really an outlier? Might there be a silent majority of women who are less sexually impacted by breast cancer than the medical community, the bloggers, and the researchers anticipate? Might they fear speaking up because it feels “unseemly” for a woman forty or older to talk about things like desire, lubrication, or orgasm? Could it be that older women–or anyone labeled “sick”–keep quiet about sex because society refuses to sexualize anyone deemed less than perfect? Where does cultural conditioning end and physiology begin?
A friend, who I’ll call “Cate,” has been coupled to a woman for over forty years and so, I imagined, might be immune to fears that she would seem “less feminine” to her wife after surgery. I was wrong. “I hated my right breast after the lumpectomy,” Cate told me. “Hated that it looked disfigured on the right side where the surgeon took the tumor out, hated how green and swollen it was, hated that it was smaller than my left breast. Before the surgery, I was concerned that my wife wouldn’t like the way it looked afterward because she loves my breasts. It never mattered to her if I gained weight because it meant that my boobs got bigger and she loves that. But my worry about that was unfounded because she really doesn’t care; she’s just glad I’m alive.” Cate also said that for “nearly a year after the surgery, my breast hurt to be touched or pressed on, so we had to navigate around that. And my right side was tight and sore from the axillary dissection, so there was a lot of trying new positions. A lot of crying and also laughing went along with that. During chemo, I had no desire at all. I was so sick all the time and felt undesirable with my bald head.”
I had often assumed that my libido stayed strong throughout my cancer treatments because my relationship was new—I was diagnosed with things still fresh and steamy. But conversations with other women convince me that it is the strength of a relationship rather than its duration that matters. When deep intimacy is present, desire returns despite physical or emotional challenges. Landis and her unconditionally loving husband, for example, “began an epic collection of silk negligees. Nine years later, I still wear one to bed every night. I can drop the left strap, exposing the ‘good’ breast…or peel the negligee off when the lights are out,” she reports. “It gives me control, and it looks and feels sexy—no flannel for me, baby.” Cate credits her partner’s patience and acceptance with helping her sexual desire to resurface. “I value so much that my wife and I have such a history together…that nothing was going to make her run away or leave me. I’ve often wondered what it must be like to go through this as a single person…and how that would affect feeling sexy and desirable. The thing that helped me the most was knowing how deeply [my wife] loves and wants me.”
I had not considered the sexual plight of single women with breast cancer until I Googled it. Luckily, sites from Match.com to CURE are crammed with articles about women’s post-cancer experiences, both positive and negative, offering advice about everything from getting comfortable being naked again to the best moment to reveal one’s medical history to a lover. In “Dating After Breast Cancer,” comedian Lisa Kate David explores how a double mastectomy liberated her from the tyranny of body worship. “I used to beat myself up and try to hide every imperfection about my body,” she writes. “But the fact that I have scars and no nipples is impossible to hide. There is something so liberating about everything being out in the open. It’s like any ideal of perfection I could have ever hoped for went out the window with my breasts. Everybody has scars, mine are just more visible.”
Not surprisingly, though, article after article focuses on body image, self-esteem, and “breaking” the surprise of surgically altered breasts to men; the focus is woman as object. All ignore issues of the breast-owner’s sexual desire or fulfillment. Of course, single women facing cancer deal with additional challenges that go way beyond worries about libido. Survivor Deidra Bennett writes on Refinery 29: “I once sat in on a breast cancer support group only to leave feeling more burdened and more fearful—and to be honest, jealous and angry, too. ‘I do it for my husband and my kids,’ one woman said tearfully. ‘I couldn’t do it without them’…[t]hese women already had their partners and their kids; they had a reason to go on. I wasn’t sure I’d ever get the opportunity to even meet someone one day.”
Research published in the Journal of Psychology and Health reveals that both single women and single mothers are at higher risk of depression after cancer than women who are coupled. They are forced to worry about how to run a household with kids while sick and how to deal with loneliness.
To women newly diagnosed with breast cancer who face fear and uncertainty, I offer this: female sexuality appears to be as diverse as every other aspect of contemporary womanhood. There is no one-size-fits-all description of what to expect. If your doctor, your partner, your friends aren’t talking frankly, keep searching and asking. Sexuality is a constantly evolving part of us that doesn’t wither with age or illness. Every woman I spoke to defied the statistics and regained a sexual life and orgasm.
Breaking the silence around midlife female sexuality, around the sexual desires of those who don’t conform to physical stereotypes, may help you view your sexuality as a positive life force, especially after cancer. As Lisa Kate David states: “I felt sexier and more comfortable in my body than I had ever been… After getting my double mastectomy, I found new respect for myself and my body.” Indeed, most women indicate that their sexual lives are richer and deeper now than prior to illness.
Walking through fire with your partner and still being totally desired, having someone caress or kiss your scarred breasts not because they look perfect but because they belong to you, now that is what is truly sexy.
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And what to do if you work for one
Ann Shoket is the former editor in chief of Seventeen magazine. With her book The Big Life: Embrace the Mess, Work Your Side Hustle, Find a Monumental Relationship, and Become the Badass Babe You Were Meant to Be, she became the voice of women in their 20s and 30s across the US. Listen to The CoveyCast as Ann and Lesley Jane Seymour dive deep into the psyche of this next generation and unearth the tips and tricks for motivating them, helping them gain a foothold in the world of adulthood, and how to handle yourself if you walk into work one day and find one of them sitting in the C-suite.
Carmindy is a world-renowned makeup artist with over 25 years of experience. She is best known, perhaps, as the resident beauty expert on TLC’s What Not To Wear, where she appeared for 10 years. At her beauty blog Carmindy.com, she keeps women like us up to date on beauty trends.
Laura Munson is the New York Times, and international, best-selling author of This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness (Putnam) and the founder of the acclaimed Haven Writing Retreats and Haven Foundation. Laura believes everyone has a story to tell–even if you write it for yourself.
Darren is the co-founder and Managing Director of Brand and Design Agency Six. Darren and Lesley’s paths crossed when Lesley spotted the work Six had done on several projects, notably for lifestyle magazine Kinfolk. Darren and his fabulous team (Danielle, Laura, Emily) created the CoveyClub site.
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