Breaking The Rules
Want to read more?
Join CoveyClub now for FREE! Just give us your email and read!Join now
Note from the editor, Lesley Jane Seymour
I am 62 and I am a full-fledged adult.
And I’m doing something really crazy.
I’m buying a white couch.
Yes, you heard that right. White! I have already ordered it, and it will be the centerpiece of our new home in New Orleans.
Buying a white couch, in my mind, is a right of passage. Kind of like the right of passage I hit in 2013 when I bought a two-seater ragtop car. I was throwing off the shackles of the SUV kids-mobile. I was also determined, for the first time, to actually “feel” my bonus (one of my last!) instead of letting it leach invisibly into the kids’ college account.
And you know what? Every time I drive that sexy red car, I feel a sense of accomplishment, a sense of adulthood, a sense of plunging forward with my life. Up until then we only had giant family mobiles — SUVs with three seats so that the kids couldn’t fight while we were driving. This time I wanted a car where a kid was forbidden to bring a cheese scraper. (Yes, I once plopped down on said scraper in my new business suit on the way to the train station! It was not a pretty moment. My daughter, who loved to eat cheese while on the way to dance practice, had left it on the front seat.)
So a white couch represents movement. A new start. A reinvention.
After all, you can’t have a white couch when there are little people wandering around with peanut butter on their fingers. Or when teenagers are playing beer pong in your dining room.
No, a white couch means I’ve accepted that the family stage of my life is over. It means that as much as I grieve for that wonderful, chaotic time of watching children grow up, I’ve decided to become excited about my future instead. I even plan to take out and use the real china and glassware as well!
P.S. I was on my way to buying an upholstered white couch when the seller begged me to choose a slipcovered one instead. Just. In. Case. You know, when visitors or twentysomethings get a little crazy with red wine or margaritas.
So maybe I’m not entirely done with that stage after all.
Breaking The Rules
For 19 years she put her son first. At 61 she decided it was time for herself
“You’re supposed to put me first,” said my son — just home from his first year in college, his eyes welling up with tears. “You’re always so selfish. You can’t just decide this on your own. I have a say in this, too.”
We were in the basement and I was helping him gather materials for a project — building a game table for the backyard.
“We will have to clean out this basement before you head back to school,” I said.
“Why?” Jared asked.
“Because our lease is up and I want to move back to Manhattan. Steve and I are moving in together, and I need to be in the city for my business.”
“What about me? What am I supposed to do?”
“We’ll have a big two-bedroom and your stuff will be there. You’ll always have a place to stay.”
“I can’t live with you and Steve — that would be just, well…weird!”
Then he hit me with it: “You’re so selfish. You’re my mother. You’re supposed to put me first.”
I’m a selfish mom!
It was a shot in the gut. Then I started thinking he was right. I am a selfish mom.
I was taught that I’m supposed to sacrifice for my children. That’s what was modeled for me.
My mother left her job when she started having babies. She was president of Band Parents, helped us with our homework, and was the local “Welcome Wagon” representative for new neighbors.
It was my dad who put his career first. Every few years we moved to a new state as he was climbing the corporate ladder. I never got a say in those decisions. I just had to somehow find the confidence to adjust to a new school and make new friends — not easy for a super shy and very insecure girl.
My mother had her last child at 40, and I had my one and only late in life. I’m now 61 and he’s 19.
Along the way, I have made sacrifices. I “nested” with my ex-husband for three years after our divorceto create a stable home for our son, who was then in middle school. The last thing I wanted to do was rock the boat for a 12-year-old.
When he was 15, I sold the house and moved into an adorable rental in the village of our little resort town. Jared didn’t drive yet, and although he wasn’t happy about moving (all of two miles), being able to walk to town and be in close proximity to friends was a big bonus.
I quit my corporate job and started coaching women on how to reinvent themselvesin midlife, drawing clients through my writing and speaking and online training programs. Working from home enabled me to be the class parent in 11th and 12th grades — a time that can be really tough for kids, with standardized tests and college applications.
I kept Jared close and knew all of his friends. We were a team.
When it came time for Jared to leave for college, I missed him but didn’t feel the emptiness that so many other mothers talk about with the “empty nest”syndrome. I had no worries about “what do I do now?” I had a business to grow. That was my new baby.
Without interruptions from teenagers walking in and out of the house on a workday, I spread out my work and started focusing on me and what I wanted to be when I grew up.
And at least once or twice a month I piled into the car, dog in tow (shaking and panting for the entire three-hour drive), and headed into New York City to speak, network, and drum up new business.
I found the love of my life at 59, and he happens to live in Manhattan. A convenient home base for me when doing business there. Although his studio apartment does get a bit crowded with two adults and two dogs, one desk and one bed.
We had both simplified our lives after our divorces. His son is now out of grad school and on his own, and mine mostly so. Or so I thought.
They have a nice vibe between them, my man and my boy. Jared readily accepted Steve the summer he lived with us to write his book. Steve helped Jared build a boat for his senior project over the winter. Steve created the perfect distance — friend and supporter when needed but in no way trying to step in as a father.
During the school year, Jared and I had a weekly FaceTime call. Sometimes I’d have to chase him down, other times I’d get a text, “can you talk?” I dropped everything when he asked.
When it came time to pack up his dorm room, we were FaceTiming about what to pack and what to store. I’m a mom to the core, and helping support this young man develop into the man he wants to be is my priority, my responsibility, and my biggest joy.
But it’s not my only joy. I matter too. My happiness and ability to provide for myself for the next decade are paramount. Truthfully, I didn’t think it even mattered so much where we lived, with many of his friends taking summer internships and traveling abroad. Beyond this first summer at home, I thought he too could live anywhere.
Last spring break I barely saw Jared. After two days at home, he said, “I’m bored here. I’m heading back to the city where I can at least see my friends and have something to do.”
I thought, “moving back to Manhattan will be easy.”
But Selfish Mom was wrong.
At 61 this is about me, too. It’s hard to live apart from my new partner. Time holds no guarantees, and I’d rather wake up in the arms of the man I love than next to my furry friend. I also want to provide for my life ahead, travel, and do things I enjoy while this body is still strong and stable and the mind still works as it should.
I plan to live a long and happy life. Am I really meant to put my life on hold for three more years so my son has a place to crash in the summer? I’ll be on the verge of 65!
Am I a selfish mom? No. I am a very giving mother who also has needs of her own to tend to, while continuing to do the dance with this boy/man whom I adore — allowing us both to grow and blossom as we should — with love and mutual respect.
The conversation isn’t over, and I probably should have been more sensitive with my words and timing. Jared and I will get through this next transition together — just like we got through the divorce and downsizing and the transition to college.
We have been through a lot together, this boy and I. We are partners to the end. But it’s no longer about me sacrificing my needs for his. It’s about mutual love and respect and doing our best to ensure we each have what we need to move forward.
Her brows started thinning and this writer got to experimenting. What you should know about microblading ahead of time
When I ask women who have worked at InStyle and Refinery29 for a NYC-based salon offering eyebrow microblading, they come up with the same name: Emilia Berry of Permaline Cosmetics, with salons on the Upper East Side of New York City, and in South Hampton and Huntington on Long Island. A consensus! I am all in!
But when I call to book an appointment, I suffer a severe case of sticker shock. Rates aren’t quoted on the website and here’s why: the procedure costs around $1,000. Note, too, that the “perma” in “permaline” is something of a misnomer: my new eyebrows will last from one to two years at best.
But what is also bonkers is how, with age, I had come to look expressionless in photographs. My brows are sparser and lighter now. Worse, they are stuck in a shape that was popular in the late 1970s — skinny with a high arch and a too-prominent wedge of hair near the nose. Microblading promises to reshape my brows by replacing missing hairs with fine, feathery deposits of pigment laid into cuts made in the surface of the skin by a technician wielding a pen-like device. These razor-thin brushstrokes mimic the look of real hair; the color matches my original brow shade.
Berry’s website says I will be in the hands of an artist!
For a price, though. While mulling the cost, a friend helps me cut to the chase. “Either do it or don’t do it,” she says. “But please don’t think that your eyebrows are a good place to save a couple of hundred dollars.”
She is right.
I call Berry and make an appointment. I am immediately comforted. Berry works with me to create the brow look I like — from the right thickness to the perfect arch. And she pens the plan right onto my face. Thanks to the topical anesthetic the application of the color doesn’t hurt. (I’ve actually felt more discomfort having my eyebrows threaded!) In less than an hour, my brows look nearly perfect. Though the skin beneath the cuts is slightly red, it heals within 48 hours. I didn’t even need the four-week follow-up touch-up, offered free of charge. (You can watch Berry in action here, but be sure to ignore the client’s slightly hysterical approach; the procedure was, for me, entirely drama-free.)
And here’s the bottom line: My microbladed brows mean I no longer have to fill them in every morning — especially on the days I don’t wear makeup. Overall, I look more polished and well-rested. But best of all, I got my expressions back. I look lively again — like me — around the eyes.
A checklist for women considering microblading:
Jen Deane ditched dog-eat-dog corporate life to fight like a dog for a breed she loves
Jen Deane was living the life many women crave — important corporate job as a director at Merrill Lynch, a six-figure salary, and all the perks you can imagine. Her bosses, customers, and colleagues all loved the work she did.
The only one who didn’t reap joy from her work was Jen.
“I was certainly earning a lot of money and living what most people call the good life,” said Jen, 49, during a recent telephone conversation from her home base in Jacksonville, Florida. “I was recruited and planned to go the whole financial route in my career. I thought I’d keep advancing to a major executive leadership position, own a big house on the beach, have all the trappings. I’m a driven person and I did very well, but I realized my passion for that work was gone.”
That wasn’t easy to admit. After all, Jen had worked her way up from an entry level job at Merrill Lynch to a position created specifically for her, overseeing customer service for every client with a Bank of America account. A few times a month you could find her on a jet traveling between Florida and New York as she worked to resolve issues, fix dysfunctional systems, and create new ways to power her areas to success.
One day, Jen was more than a bit taken aback when a family member suggested she adopt a pit bull.
“I said, ‘Absolutely not. They’re very dangerous,’” she recalled.
It was a common reaction to pit bulls. Some groups claim that pit bulls are overwhelmingly responsible for vicious behavior, and some communities have banned these dogs. Yet The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior notes that identifying a dog’s breed accurately is difficult, even for professionals. In fact, mistaken breed identification is so common that the Centers for Disease Control stopped collecting breed data in dog attack fatalities all the way back in 1998.
The ASPCA weighed in on the debate with a position paper that noted all dog breeds were developed for specific jobs, such as hunting. Although pit bulls are ancestors of the English bull-baiting dog — that bit and held bulls and other large animals — today’s pit bulls are mainly mixes.
The report goes on to note that pit bulls, like all other dogs, are individuals and should be evaluated as such.
“Judging them by their actions and not by their DNA or their physical appearance is the best way to ensure that dogs and people can continue to share safe and happy lives together,” concluded the ASPCA.
Deane came to the same conclusion after researching pit bulls.
“They are very misunderstood,” she said. “They are great dogs.”
So she adopted a pit bull.
“I loved that dog to death. I even adopted a second,” she said. “One day my sister and I went to a city shelter and as we walked up and down the dog runs, all we saw were dogs labelled as pit bulls. It was terrible. I remember saying ‘this is so wrong. We have to do something.’”
Jen was already volunteering for an array of animal rescues and programs. But she knew she needed to do more.
So how to start? Choose a logo, select a name, secure licenses, find facilities — Jen rattles off all of the mundane tasks involved in the 2011 founding of the Pit Sisters rescue. She did all of it while regularly logging 16-hour days for Merrill Lynch.
The juggling act brought with it the realization that she was more drawn to the rescue than she was to the finance career she had built.
“One day, I just realized all I wanted to do [was] the rescue. I was in finance and had a great job, but my passion was just not there,” she said. “I tell people it took me 40 years to figure out what it is I was put on earth to do.”
Jen caught hints that the after-effects of the financial crash would force Merrill into a round of layoffs. She called an HR director and asked if the rumors were true. They were. She took a breath and asked if she could be included in the layoffs.
“There was just silence on her end of line,” said Jen. “I repeated to her that it was time for me to say goodbye. It was scary. I won’t kid you. People tried to talk me out of it. But I knew it was the right move.”
Discrimination against pit bulls didn’t stop just because Jen realized it was unfair. She remembers going to a Florida animal shelter to rescue a pit bull. The supervisor on duty refused to allow her access to the dog.
“I will never forget him telling me no pit bull would be surrendered to any rescue,” said Jen. “His words were, ‘Ma’am, that ain’t never gonna change.’”
Little did the man know that Jen, a dog trainer, regional director for the Miami Coalition Against Breed Specific Legislation, and a nationally known canine expert, was fueled by his words.
Today the 100-percent nonprofit Pit Sisters oversees a much-lauded prison canine program that rescues and rehabilitates pit bulls bred for fighting into K-9 members of police force, therapy dogs, and loving pets. Dogs from Jen’s program are prized for their ability to sniff out drugs, rescue missing people, and otherwise support police and those in need of medical aid. Police are often quoted talking about the number of human lives Jen’s dogs save.
Such kudos are gratifying, but Jen would do this work even if no one else was watching.
“The dogs keep me going. This sounds very corny, but this work just speaks to me,” she said. “It makes me feel I have a purpose. In the corporate world I made my clients happy and my bosses happy. Now I’m helping save the lives of dogs and the people they serve.”
She thinks back to her corporate job, the expense accounts, the high salary, the travel. It was a nice life, but it wasn’t her life’s work. What does she advise those who have passion but are afraid to pursue it?
“I always say ‘Just jump and the net will appear.’ I’m proof of that.”
This “invisible disease”can lead to depression and anxiety. Dr. Christian Whitney disrupts the equation
Caused by injury, an ongoing illness, or sometimes nothing obvious, chronic pain can be difficult to treat and wreak havoc on one’s physical and emotional state.
Dr. Christian Whitney, DO, a board-certified pain management physician and anesthesiologist, grew frustrated with the limited care he was able to provide with conventional medicine. There were too many limitations on insurance, and there was poor patient follow-up and a general unwillingness to coordinate care with nontraditional wellness experts.
Committed to helping people restore their lives and live pain-free (as a medical student, he suffered from debilitating back pain), Whitney opened Restorative Pain Solutions — a holistic pain and wellness treatment center in Greenwich, CT.
Dr. Whitney says the only way to help his patients is to get to know them on a deeper level. Instead of the traditional 10-minute appointment, he gives patients 90 minutes so he can explore their lifestyles and habits and get to the root cause of their pain.
TheCovey sat down with Dr. Whitney to get his perspective on how to handle chronic pain today, particularly in light of the opioid addiction crisis: a staggering 8-12 percent of Americans have developed an opioid use disorder.
TheCovey: What is the definition of chronic pain?
Christian Whitney: Chronic pain is defined as pain lasting more than three months and persists beyond the expected duration from an injury or illness. Your body keeps hurting weeks, months, even years after the injury.
TheCovey: Why is it so hard to get help? Is it because pain is invisible?
Christian Whitney: Chronic pain is an “invisible disability.” I often hear from my patients that their friends, family members and even doctors have said to them, “You don’t seem sick.”
Chronic pain is difficult to treat as not only do the physical symptoms need to be addressed, but also the emotional component. Over time, living with chronic pain can cause depression and anxiety.
One of the major reasons why chronic pain is so difficult to treat is that often times, the root cause of the problem has not been identified. Patients often get told the pain is “not real.” As health care providers, we need to be vigorous in our attempts to find the root cause of the pain as that will determine the appropriate treatment.
TheCovey: How does chronic pain impact your social life, family, or work?
Christian Whitney: Chronic pain impacts practically every aspect of one’s life and since it is often misunderstood by others who are not living with pain, maintaining relationships and social connections is very challenging.
Pain actually changes the way the brain processes emotions including the pain itself. Over time those suffering lose the bandwidth to perform tasks such as cooking, cleaning, walking the dog, driving, etc.
TheCovey: Let’s talk about women and chronic pain. I have this feeling we’re told more than men that it’s all in our heads. Do you hear that? How do we fight that?
Christian Whitney: Pain does affect men and women differently.
While the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone play a role, psychology and culture play a role as well. Women feel pain more intensely due to the effects of estrogen. However, most researchers agree that women tend to recover more quickly from pain, seek help more quickly, and are less likely to allow pain to control their lives. They are also more likely to utilize coping skills and a support system.
There is a well-known “gender pain gap” where women are often under-treated for pain and dismissed compared to men. One of the reasons this occurs is that most diseases are based on the understandings of male physiology. For example, heart attack symptoms in women present differently than in men and the classic symptoms of crushing chest pain can be absent, and they may present only flu-like symptoms.
Women are more likely to receive prescriptions for sedatives, rather than pain medication for their condition. If something doesn’t seem right or [your] gut is telling [you] that something is wrong, speak up. If your doctor is not receptive, then find another doctor who will listen, take the time to hear you, and perform the appropriate workup and effective treatment plan.
TheCovey: What kinds of chronic pain are on the increase today? Why? Is any kind of pain decreasing?
Christian Whitney: Our aging population includes an ever-increasing number of elderly people. Baby boomers who make up the largest demographic of society recently began to enter their 70s. That is the decade during which we begin to experience a much greater prevalence of arthritis, spinal pain, obesity, surgical operations and cancer.
In fact, more than half of all adults older than 65 experience arthritic pain of the spine and other joints.
Mortality rates for cancer continue to decline: greater than 40 percent of cancer survivors now live longer than 10 years. [But] cancer survivors can experience treatment-related chronic pain.
Also, the country’s obesity epidemic leads to diabetes, causing an increased load on the back and joints as well as peripheral neuropathy.
There is also the problem of chronic post-surgery pain, which is estimated between 20 and 50 percent. Relatively minor operations, such as inguinal hernia repair or a C-section, seem to lead to this problem in approximately 10-12 percent of all patients. As we perform more and more surgeries every year, this number will continue to escalate.
TheCovey: It seems like physicians have freaked out about giving people painkillers today and in reaction to giving opioids, don’t give us the right medications. Is that a fact or fiction? Why can’t we go back to the old pain-killers like Darvon and Percocet if the opioids are so dangerous?
Christian Whitney: The Opioid Crisis is the rapid rise of the misuse of opioids (prescription and non-prescription) starting in the late 1990s and continuing through the present. Nearly half of all opioid overdose deaths in 2016 involved prescription opioids.
The Opioid Crisis started with the over-prescription of opioid pain relievers. At that same time, a third of the US population was affected by chronic pain.
As a result, drug companies and the federal government pushed for the expanded use of opioids, which led to the over-prescription of opioid pain relievers. I was in medical school in 2000 and can still remember being lectured that there is no ceiling effect on the dose of pain medication prescribed and that patients cannot become addicted if they are in pain. Another contributing factor to the opioid crisis is the fact that only one in 10 patients addicted actually gets into treatment for addiction.
The lack of resources available for those struggling with addiction is certainly a contributing factor to the current opioid epidemic.
There are several types of medications available to treat pain. The choice of pain reliever depends upon the severity of the pain and the type of pain that is being treated.
Over the counter (OTC) pain relievers include:
Prescription pain relievers include:
Due to this ongoing crisis, guidelines have been implemented by the CDC regarding the proper prescribing of opioids. Physicians are more reluctant to prescribe opioids now. However, there certainly are patients who require long term treatment with opioids.
In these cases, the prescribing physician should closely monitor the patient with drug screens, opioid agreements, and prescription monitoring programs to ensure compliance and to detect opioid misuse, abuse, and diversion.
It is also important to mention that patients should feel comfortable discussing their concerns regarding addiction with their health care provider and [be] aware of the resources available to treat addiction if a problem should occur.
TheCovey: What kinds of chronic pain do you see and treat most often? What are the misconceptions?
Christian Whitney: The most common types of chronic pain that I treat include neck and low back pain, arthritis, headaches, TMJ, shingles, and nerve damage. When patients see me, they are often pleasantly surprised that there are treatment options that were not offered to them in the past.
TheCovey: You are approaching treatment from a holistic point of view. What does that mean? What kinds of unusual tools do you use for treatment today?
Christian Whitney: Pain is best treated with a multi-modal approach. What that means is that I incorporate a wide array of traditional and alternative treatment options to provide the best outcome for the patient.
The approach is individualized and custom-tailored. It is not a one size fits all approach. Rather, I look at what was tried in the past, what worked and didn’t, and what I can offer, or do now that will have an effective impact and provide a better outcome.
While over the counter (OTC) and prescription medications are often used to manage pain, a combination of treatments and approaches is most helpful.
Some of the other treatment options other than medications include:
Physical modalities such as physical therapy, exercise, massage therapy, yoga, Tai Chi, chiropractor, osteopathic manipulation
Alternative treatments: acupuncture and acupressure, biofeedback, cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation, relaxation techniques, aromatherapy, breathing exercises, imagery, healing touch
Interventional options: injections (nerve and joint blocks), pain pumps, spinal cord stimulator, PRP and stem cell injections, etc.
Devices: TENS units, topical creams and medications, heat/ice, herbal supplements, nutrition — such as an “anti-inflammatory diet.”
Surgery is usually a last resort if the condition is not life threatening or urgent.
TheCovey: What role do insurance companies play in preventing people with chronic pain from getting the help they need?
Christian Whitney: Insurance companies do not recognize the value in holistic care or the “multi-modal” approach.
Alternative therapies like massage and acupuncture have not been widely available due to lack of insurance coverage. Thus, many people in chronic pain have not had access to any therapy except opioids. This can partially explain why there was an increase in the number of opioids prescribed from 2001 to 2014.
Insurance companies also do not reimburse for the value of care, or the amount of time that is truly required to evaluate someone living with chronic pain.
TheCovey: How can society treat individuals with chronic pain in better ways? What can friends say/do to be helpful?
Christian Whitney: The first thing is to learn about chronic pain. Understand that it is an invisible disability with an emotional, behavioral, and physical component. Listen to the person and create an environment free of judgement where they feel safe. Continue to treat them as the person you know and provide support.
TheCovey: What mistakes do people suffering from chronic pain make?
Christian Whitney: They don’t ask for help as they believe that they are a burden. This leads to isolation, loss of motivation, and eventually they lose their sense of purpose. When this happens, depression and anxiety set in and it can create a vicious cycle of pain and emotional distress.
For those suffering with chronic pain, ask for help. Look for support groups and find a physician that is empathetic and provides effective treatment options and coping strategies.
TheCovey: Where do individuals with chronic pain go to get help? What should they avoid?
Christian Whitney: The first thing is to find a doctor that has empathy and listens. When pain becomes chronic or difficult to treat, consultation with a pain management specialist can be of benefit. A board-certified, fellowship-trained pain management specialist like myself can evaluate the painful condition, order additional diagnostic tests, and offer a variety of treatment options, including interventional treatments for the painful condition.
To schedule a consultation with Dr. Whitney, call (203) 992-1845 or visit rpsgreenwich.com.
“Probably the happiest period in life most frequently is in middle age, when the eager passions of youth are cooled, and the inﬁrmities of age not yet begun; as we see that the shadows, which are at morning and evening so large, almost entirely disappear at midday.”
Don't let middle-age malaise set in. Call in the cavalry. Get serious about looking and feeling better
On a trip to New York City with my husband and young son last spring, I was struck by the number of beautiful young women everywhere. Women with long yellow hair, women with long brown hair, women with long black hair. There was so much long hair, I began to see these women as members of a herd.
I longed to grab onto one of their manes and ride off into the sunset of twinkling street lamps.
Maybe this species of wild beasts would take me to her leader and return me with my own glorious locks — and perhaps a decade or two younger. That’d be nice, I thought.
I was 44, and I’d had a tough year psychologically. I no longer possessed that laissez-faire attitude I had toward my looks in my twenties and thirties. To be honest, though, being attractive was fairly effortless back then. One pair of tall black boots and I breezed through two entire decades, looking like I’d stepped out of a Times Square billboard (or maybe a J. Crew catalog, but you get the gist).
Once I reached my forties, I kept traveling back down the alleyways of memory, galloping after my former selves. The one I chased the hardest was 26-year-old me, caught up in the moment, exploring coffee shops and reading pub flyers, oblivious to men’s awareness of her. She was attempting red lipstick for the first time and feigning enough confidence to sport a leather jacket the color of western saddles in the sun.
I missed this elusive breed who favored diners and cigarettes, who could eat 2,000 calories in one sitting, day after day, and never have to loosen her belt, her tight jeans staying perfectly snug in all the right places. She was adventurous, too, taking off across country on her trail of freedom, creating a new life on a foreign coast.
She had grit, and man, she was beautiful. Without even trying.
But I was wearing out my running shoes in pursuit of her, working too hard to catch the clopping horse hooves echoing in the distance.
And then, something happened, a turning point.
The summer after that New York trip, I stopped gracefully accepting the tightness of my old “Life is Good” tees and the middle-age malaise that was setting in — and decided to call in the cavalry. I got serious about feeling and looking better.
And so can you.
It’s simple. Just take a long, hard look in the mirror, have one last cry in the shower, and start forging a new path. Here’s how:
Now go out there and spread the word. Fortysomething can be a beginning, a time to stop chasing wild horses, to blaze a new trail, to age like a pioneer woman.
10 Lessons I Learned in Over 10 Years of Trying (And Then Succeeding)
Have you always wanted to write and publish a book, but felt held back? Have you found yourself doubting your ability or losing the courage to pursue your dream? Perhaps, like me, you’ve worked hard on the process for many years, only to find yourself back at square one again and again.
At 40+, after a decade of trying to publish my first book, I figured it was time to finally face the fact that my pursuit was futile. But if I’d given up at that moment, my debut relationships advice book-cum-memoir, I Just Haven’t Met You Yet, wouldn’t be in bookstores now.
If you want to write and publish your book, do it. Here are some lessons to help you cultivate stamina, avoid pitfalls, and stay the course on your journey to becoming an author.
1. Believe in the value of your voice and your story
Resist the urge to measure yourself against other writers. The greatest gift you have is your unique voice and story — that’s what makes you stand out, in a positive way. Build your self-confidence: you have the ability to create a manuscript just as wonderful as that other writer whose work you admire. If you don’t feel secure in your writing skills, enroll in a workshop and soak up the teachings of writers who’ve been successful. Read Anne Lamott’s advice in Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, especially the chapter “Shitty First Drafts.” Remember that writing and publishing a book takes a lot of time and energy. Success doesn’t happen overnight (except for a rare lucky few).
2. Study the form
Anyone can write a book. But writing it well requires mastery of form. If you’re writing a YA novel or a thriller, read as many YA novels or thrillers as you can. If you’re writing a memoir, immerse yourself in those books. Note what hooks you, what bores you, what is made clear to you, what confuses you, and exactly how the writer creates those attributes on the page. Learn about the techniques of pacing, description, and narrative arc, all of which are imperative to effective storytelling, no matter the genre of your book.
3. Spend time writing!
If you don’t prioritize your book, it will never become a reality. Make a daily commitment: write for two minutes, ten minutes, or a half hour —more than that if life circumstances allow, but if not, take what time you have. You don’t have to stay up all night: martyrdom is not a requirement to becoming an author. You’ll be surprised by the way small chunks of writing time add up over the course of a week, a month, a year. While writing my current book, I was working a full-time teaching job and two part-time jobs, and I wrote in the ten-minute breaks I had between classes.
4. Join a writer’s group
If you want an instant community, find a local writer’s group. But be careful— you want a group that isn’t just going to sit around and shoot the breeze while drinking wine. That’s a social group, not a writer’s group. You want a group that is friendly but structured around deadlines and giving feedback, with ample guidelines.
This is especially hard if you’re an introvert, as I am, but it’s key to breaking into the publishing business. I spent several years going to various writers conferences and forums, talking with authors, editors, and agents, learning about how to best prepare my work for submission, how to query a literary agent, and how to tailor my approach to publishers. I gained contacts I could reach out to for advice or assistance. I also learned which agents and editors might be a better “fit” for my particular story and writing style. The more information I collected, the more confidence I gained in how to successfully navigate putting my work out there.
6. Expect rejection, but don’t let rejection stop you
Don’t send out your work before it’s polished. Then, know that rejection is the norm. I have a policy: when I receive a rejection, I counter it by sending out another query. Don’t allow declines to discourage you or define you; rather, let a “pass” make you more determined to find the perfect agent/editor fit for your story.
7. Surround yourself with positive, encouraging people
Over the years, I encountered many naysayers, people who told me to stop writing, that my story would never get published. Some people went so far as to shame me for the attempt. What I focused on instead were the messages from those who saw promise in my work. I’m talking about good friends, family, or mentors, as well as publishing professionals. Seek out those people who “light” your path and think of the naysayers as mere bumps on the road to your destination.
8. Think nontraditionally
I mean this not only in the sense of considering nontraditional publishing (self-publishing, for example) but in terms of your overall journey. Perhaps you think you’re “too old” to start writing your book now. That’s a myth that sets us up for failure. Most of my peers found their life partners 20 years ago, but I’m still looking for mine, which doesn’t mean I won’t ever locate my mate (even though it might feel that way some days). It just means I’m on my own path and timeline.
The easiest way to not publish your book is to stop trying. I queried more than 300 agents over the course of many years. I signed with three of those agents (not simultaneously, but for separate projects). In the end, my book was sold after my third agent stopped circulating my book and I subsequently published an essay about my difficulty in finding a publisher. My current publisher read the piece and reached out to me requesting my manuscript. I’d all but given up. Two weeks later, I was offered a book deal.
10. Keep the faith
In the words of Harriet Beecher Stowe, “When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, ’til it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”
The hair on our heads is falling out. But it is sprouting in new places. A 21-cent solution to the Midlife Mustache
I will tell you a little story about the Rock Star and the Reporter.
The Reporter was asked to cover a big designer’s store opening.
The Rock Star was a well-admired female punk musician. The Reporter loooved the Rock Star and listened to all of her music. The Rock Star had amazing personal style and was all over the fashion magazines because of it. The Rock Star had been invited to hang out at the event as one of the cooler guests.
When the Reporter got to the event, she was introduced to the Rock Star and got to shake her hand up close and personal. They had a lovely verbal exchange, but the Reporter remembered none of what the Rock Star said because she had zeroed in (admittedly! shamefully!) on the Rock Star’s thick black mustache. The Reporter tried to look away and discard society’s judgment, but, alas, she was too shallow and spent most of the conversation wondering if the Rock Star knew she had a mustache.
Ok, so the Reporter is me. And I admit that other people’s hair dilemmas fascinate and distract me. So I was pretty horrified to discover that, post-menopause, my own upper lip sprouted a Rock Star ‘Stache! Luckily, one of my daughter’s roomies told me about Nad’s Facial Wax Strips. Small enough to warm in your hands, you peel the little green strip open, apply, rip, and within two minutes are ‘stache-free. All for about 21 cents an application!
Now if I could only understand why the Rock Star didn’t want to do this!
Her 38-year marriage ended when she was 63. Then she met someone who wanted to nurture her
“Would you like a foot rub?” was a question my husband of 38 years never asked.
Don, the man I fell in love with a year after my divorce, made the offer the first time I arrived at his house in Connecticut. I was bowled over by his sweet suggestion after my long drive. I’m not sure I’d ever had a genuine foot rub before, other than the perfunctory manipulations of an underpaid salon practitioner. It was heavenly.
I did not grow up in a family where men nurtured women. I did not wed into a family where men nurtured women. My mother and mother-in-law exhibited few needs and were rewarded with few being met.
Thank goodness I’d been working on myself through much of my marriage so that I would be able to accept this kindness when it arrived. The old me would have said, “Nah, I’m fine!” But after years of therapy, self-help programs, and the growth-producing rooms of recovery, by the time my marriage ended in 2011 and I was 63, I was ready to receive.
I’m not sure where Don learned to be a giver, but for the first time in my life, I felt taken care of. Two weeks after we’d met online and then in person, I came down with a bad cold. I had to travel to Boston for a professional conference. Don offered to “scoop me up” into the backseat of his truck and drive me there. For someone whose longings had never been acknowledged, let alone met, his proposal opened my heart.
My focus on self-care — my decision to give myself what I desired —deepened when I began practicing macrobiotics a few years before my marriage collapsed. Included in the art of this ancient tradition is a body scrub that detoxifies the skin at the deepest level. When I met Don, I mentioned this routine. On my next visit to his home, he had purchased a bale of white cotton washcloths at Costco and had the hot water ready to go when it was bedtime.
He gently massaged the folded terry square across my forehead, circled each cheek, my nose and chin until my skin tingled. He articulated the digit of each finger and toe and scrubbed my shoulders, back, arms, and legs.
Years earlier, on a wish list I wrote to the Universe, I’d included a “weekly delivery of fresh flowers” to my home. I’d long coveted the overflowing vases in the Met Museum lobby. To me, this is the height of luxury. Don, who mowed lawns for income and had access to the flourishing gardens of Litchfield County, brought bouquets of seasonal hydrangeas, black-eyed Susans, or zinnias each time he came to see me, often extracting a nosegay from his jacket pocket, a small glass vase, and a baggie of water fastened with a rubber band. Another longing fulfilled.
Chaucer said, “All good things must end,” and this relationship did. I began to notice invisible strings that were attached to these gestures, and a diminishing of regard over the six years we were together. But, I take away the knowledge that I deserve to be treated with generosity and kindness and will never settle for less again.
"When led by a woman, they had an average of 5.4% GDP growth in the subsequent year as compared with their male counterparts' 1.1%." Study of 188 United Nations-recognized countries by Susan Perkins (University of Illinois) and Katherine Phillips of the Columbia Business School.
Woman of Passion & Purpose
When Barbara Bylenga helped a young Rwandan woman get into a U.S. college, she didn’t know it would change her own life
Barbara Bylenga was running her own market research company in San Francisco and mentoring female entrepreneurs in Rwanda when a young woman there asked for help getting into a US college. Working with that one student back in 2009 led her to establish a thriving organization called SHE-CAN (Supporting Her Education Changes a Nation). Fifty-six scholars from post-conflict countries (Cambodia, Rwanda, and soon, Liberia) now attend 25 US colleges on full scholarships and 220 American women work in teams of five to mentor each girl.
Bylenga spends much of her time on the road these days, recruiting scholars abroad and building her network of schools, mentors, and supporters. Here she talks with TheCovey about the twisting path that led to the “interesting life” she craved.
Peggy Northrop: As I recall, you didn’t really have a plan when you began this venture. It almost started as an accident. Is that fair?
Barbara Bylenga: I think I was looking to do something like this without admitting it to myself. I’d had a career in advertising and then I ran my own market research company for 14 years, and it was going, you know, fine. But in my head, I was ready for something else.
When the crash of 2008-09 hit, the lease was up on our office in San Francisco and we decided to close it. I still had some projects, but gradually my employees found other things to do. And I just knew I wasn’t going to grow old as a trend researcher.
The crash, in retrospect, was my ticket out. I picked up that card and thought, this is my chance. I need to find out, what’s my next thing? I sold my house in 2009. I wanted to be free. I took a break and went and lived in Paris for three months.
Peggy Northrop: You’d been volunteering in Rwanda for some time when the crash happened. How did that experience help you start SHE-CAN?
Barbara Bylenga: I had been to Rwanda several times with an organization called BPeace. The first time I just went to teach the mentees how to do a response card for their business — basic marketing. Then my mentee wanted to do a beauty school for genocide orphans and I was asked to spearhead that. I remember sitting there thinking, “You know what, just say yes. Say yes to everything.” And that’s what I did.
I was having a ton of fun with the beauty school, but that never got funded, because after the crash who was going to fund a beauty school in Rwanda? But then the daughter of the woman I was mentoring asked me to help her get into a US school and I said yes again.
I came home thinking I was just going to talk to her. But some friends got really excited and said, “Let’s get her into Wellesley. Let’s get her into Bucknell.” She ended up going to Bucknell. She would come and visit me on Christmas and at spring break, and my friends thought it was really fun. So the light bulb went off: I knew all these women with good connections and passion. And then there were all these amazing young women and schools are looking for amazing girls.
That was the beginning of the model for SHE-CAN.
If I were asked to list one of my lessons, that’s what it would be: Just say yes. Don’t overthink it. I think the universe brings you these things and if nothing else you’re going to learn from them. But they open up other doors.
Peggy Northrop: I’m always curious about the ideas left behind on the cutting room floor, because most people experiment with, or at least think about, a few different things before they launch something new. Was SHE-CAN the only idea you tossed around? What did you reject?
Barbara Bylenga: After I sold my house, I stayed with two of my friends, one of whom was an architect and the other a decorator. We called it Girl Camp. They’d helped me build a cabin in Tahoe, and I have a passion for cleaned-up junk antiques. It was when all of those furniture sites were launching, like One Kings Lane, so I wanted to do something like that.
We’d sit around at dinner and I’d say, “We have to talk about this idea, we’ve got to do this.” But you know when people are not all in. I don’t know if it could have worked, but in talking through the idea, it made me realize that I was serious.
I started to realize what I might be able to do in Rwanda (to get more young women scholarships at US colleges). I had a lot of expertise in hard-to-find people for market research so I knew how to find the girls. And I had this whole network in Rwanda because of the beauty school. I asked friends in Rwanda for feedback on my idea and they said, “Come!”
I decided that if there were enough frequent flyer miles in my account to get to Rwanda, I’d go. I didn’t have any money. I wasn’t working and I wasn’t going to spend my savings. And I looked, and there were enough miles to get me there.
I went back to the same people that we’d been to for the beauty school. They loved the idea, connected us with some local organizations and then we were rocking and rolling. We picked seven women; I found somebody to teach them the SAT and I came home and found mentors for them.
Peggy Northrop: Did you always have the idea of a group of mentors for each girl? Speaking as a SHE-CAN mentor myself, giving women a way to work together on a project like this is a big part of the appeal.
Barbara Bylenga: No, in the beginning, it was just one. Then somebody said, “This was really fun, but I wish I’d had my friends helping me.”
Peggy Northrop: What has surprised you about building this organization?
Barbara Bylenga: What surprises me is that there are a lot of senior women who are interested in us. It struck a nerve. Melanne Verveer (the first US Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, now at Georgetown University) spoke at our gala in 2017. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia met with us. When I reach out to the executive director of the Nobel Women’s Initiative, she writes me back immediately and introduces me to anyone I want to know.
I feel like there’s energy at a high level. That’s what I’m on fire about now.
“Sometimes people think you should know how to do it all, and you don’t. You can’t.”– Barbara Bylenga
Peggy Northrop: You’re becoming a role model for women who want to start international organizations. I met someone at an event recently who said, “I’ve got to talk to Barb Bylenga and figure out how she grew her organization so fast.” What can you pass on to other women who might be interested in following in your footsteps?
Barbara Bylenga: I had no idea how to run a nonprofit, so I hired a consultant in the nonprofit world. I could not have done it without her. She worked with me for three hours a week for seven years and really helped me figure it out. I think sometimes people think you should know how to do it all and you don’t. You can’t.
I’m sure I asked a lot of really stupid questions. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. For instance, in the beginning, all the girls applied to school regular decision. And do you know why? Because I’d never heard of early decision. I just kept meeting with people and eventually figured it out.
The other thing that really impacted me was being a part of BPeace. BPeace was only three years old when I started as a volunteer, so I knew all the key women, and I watched everything. I saw them make mistakes, I saw them start and stop; I experienced the roughness of starting something. And I look back now and realize, they kept on going, they didn’t let it hold them back, which helped me say, “I can do this. I don’t have to do it perfectly.”
Peggy Northrop: What do you want people to know about getting involved as a mentor with SHE-CAN?
Barbara Bylenga: Often people tell me that it helps them feel more like global citizens — not just them as individuals, but their family and networks too. When [the opposition party was banned in the recent Cambodian election], we were all riveted by the news, when before Cambodia wouldn’t have been on our radar. The same with Rwanda. When your scholar comes, and your kids or your neighbors meet them, then they’re paying attention too. I believe that when people are connected personally, when they care personally, then change can happen.
Plus, one of our mentors who has four children always says, “Christmas is just better once your scholar is in your life. Everyone is on their best behavior!”
Peggy Northrop: Back in 2009 when you sold your house and started trying to figure out your next thing, could you have imagined this? Is this what you wanted it to be?
Barbara Bylenga: This is exactly what I want. I didn’t envision what the model would be. But I knew I wanted a more interesting life. I wanted to know interesting people, I wanted friends that made me grow.
I’m traveling all the time and people say, How can you stand being gone so much? But I’m going to conferences and schools and meeting passionate people, and it is exactly what I wanted. Every day I say, Wow, I got it.
Tracy Strauss is former essays editor of The Rumpus and winner of the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund Award for nonfiction. She is the author of I Just Haven’t Met You Yet: Finding Empowerment in Dating, Love, and Life (Skyhorse Publishing).
Like what you’ve read? Join the Covey flock now!Join now