USA Today: Women share their tales of triumph in Sarah Brokaw’s new book: ‘Fortytude’ |

USA Today: Women share their tales of triumph in Sarah Brokaw’s new book: ‘Fortytude’

This is an exclusive excerpt from Sarah Brokaw’s new book Fortytude: Making the Next Decades the Best Years of Your Life – through the 40s, 50s, and Beyond. Brokaw describes how it’s not too late to be a mom, connect to your body, change careers, or follow your passion in Chapter 12: Never Too Late.

One of the biggest mistakes we can make as we move past our 30s, through our 40s, and into our 50s, is to start telling ourselves, “It’s too late.” Too late to start a new career. Too late to follow our dreams. Too late to have a family. Too late to run a marathon. Too late to volunteer for a non-profit. Too late to learn to play an instrument. Too late to find happiness. Too late to be the people we most want to be.

Some of us may feel that there is something missing from our lives, in spite of our many achievements and blessings. Even if we are in a satisfying relationship, have enough money to pay the bills, enjoy our children, and feel accomplished in our careers, we might still feel that we’re lacking a sense of vitality. But we can seek out novelty at any age. It is not too late to take on challenges, to push ourselves out of our comfort zones, and to find our way to true fulfillment.

Not Too Late to Connect to Your Body

With a grounded, powerful presence, Patty Ivey of Washington, D.C. is one of the most fit, youthful-looking 56-year-olds I have ever seen. She serves as an example of how it is possible to find a connection to your body, and hence your self-confidence and strength, after the age of 40.

Patty grew up in Long Island in a strict, conservative Catholic family, and married young to escape. Her husband was a kind man with a good sense of humor; a hard worker, loyal, honest, and true. “He’s the kind of guy women dreamed of being married to,” Patty said.

But at the same time, Patty quickly began to realize her husband’s flaws. He would become depressed and get quite negative. Furthermore, he couldn’t communicate about his emotions. Patty explained, “I need a deep soul connection with people. I’ve got to crawl inside and get to know you. I can’t just talk about politics and sports. So as our marriage went on, I got more and more lonely.”

Nevertheless, the marriage lasted for 16 years. It survived a move to Washington, D.C. when her husband got a job there, Patty’s discovery in her early 30s that she was infertile, and her opening a small baking business called the Cookie Lady at age 35. But eventually, Patty realized that she couldn’t take the sense of isolation in her marriage anymore. She and her husband went for couples counseling. She asked him to open himself emotionally, but he said he couldn’t do that. They left the therapist’s office in tears and agreed that day to divorce. She was 37 at the time.

Many of her friends and family members told Patty that she was making a mistake-her husband was a great guy, they said, and she shouldn’t let him go. Only years later did her mother pull her aside and tell Patty that she, too, had felt lonely in her marriage, but never had had the courage to do anything about it.

Patty struggled after her divorce. Since her husband had told her that he wasn’t able to change for her, she had been left feeling as though she wasn’t worthy of being loved. “It was the ultimate rejection,” she said. “I was devastated. I couldn’t wrap my head around it.” Patty felt as though she had failed on several levels as a woman: to have children, and to keep her marriage alive. She sank into a depression.
Living with ‘Fortytude’
Sarah Brokaw’s Five Core Values, from her new book, Fortytude:

•Grace: “When a woman lives with integrity, capitalizing on her own strengths while admiring the strengths of others.”

•Connectedness: “Experiencing satisfaction in connection with others.”

•Accomplishment: “The sense of realizing goals and getting things done which is necessary in today’s world, when women are expected to cram 48 hours of living in to every 24-hour day.”

•Adventure: “A willingness to seek challenges outside the normal comfort zone.”

•Spirituality: “A personal approach to religion, and an understanding that life has a meaning beyond the day-to-day details.”

When Patty started dating at age 39, it only made matters worse. “Time and again, men rejected me when they found out how old I was because they wanted to date for a few years, then get married, then have kids. They were doing the math and saying, ‘You’re too old.’ I hadn’t even told them that I was unable to bear children.”

And so, Patty started doing whatever she could from a physical perspective to look younger. She wore short skirts to attract attention, but it only made men think that she was easy. She also worked hard to get thin. Always a bit chubby as a child, she went on diets and took up serious exercise for the first time in her life. Soon, she had developed an eating disorder.

“I had anorexia.” Patty explained, “I was pretty much not eating. I’d have maybe 700 calories a day, and I was running five miles a day. Plus I just had the anorexic mindset-I thought I was overweight. I was a mess.” When friends tried to tell her that she was getting too thin, she simply stopped hanging out with them.

In her early 40s, Patty found out that her mother was dying of a brain tumor. She sold her cookie business, and began seeing a therapist. Within the next couple of years, things began to shift. Patty started recovering from her eating disorder. She also met a terrific guy, an artist who offered her support when both her mother and her dog passed away, and patiently helped her to piece her life back together. “He nurtured me,” Patty said. “I so needed nurturing.”

Nevertheless, Patty still didn’t love her body or who she was. Then, at age 47, she got a knee injury and had to have surgery. Her doctor advised her to lay off the compulsive running and do yoga to heal. Around that time, a friend asked Patty to open a yoga studio with her-not because of Patty’s minimal yoga experience, but because of her business know-how. Patty agreed, and a few months later they had opened the first of three Down Dog Yoga studios in the DC area.

But there were more changes in store for Patty. “I’m a big believer that the universe puts you where you’re supposed to be,” she said. Six months after starting Down Dog Yoga, her partner quit and left Patty with the business. At that point, Patty still “didn’t know the first thing about yoga or how to teach it,” but she had to start learning fast. She hired a bunch of teachers, and did a teacher training course. It didn’t take long for her to fall in love, and for her new business activity to become her passion.
Living with ‘Fortytude’
Sarah Brokaw’s Five Core Values, from her new book, Fortytude:

•Grace: “When a woman lives with integrity, capitalizing on her own strengths while admiring the strengths of others.”

•Connectedness: “Experiencing satisfaction in connection with others.”

•Accomplishment: “The sense of realizing goals and getting things done which is necessary in today’s world, when women are expected to cram 48 hours of living in to every 24-hour day.”

•Adventure: “A willingness to seek challenges outside the normal comfort zone.”

•Spirituality: “A personal approach to religion, and an understanding that life has a meaning beyond the day-to-day details.”

Patty spoke with absolute conviction when she said: “Yoga changed my life. After I started teaching yoga, I really came into my body with love and compassion for the first time. And I realized that this is my work in this lifetime. Yoga for me is power. As my body got stronger, my mind got stronger, and I became a stronger person.”

I wondered what advice Patty might have for women who hadn’t found a connection to their bodies, and who perhaps felt intimidated by yoga or other physical activities. “Just show up and keep showing up,” Patty counseled. “I remember when I was going through the divorce, there were days when I felt that I couldn’t get out of bed. I just had to put one foot in front of the other. Exercise is the same. Just keep doing it. Show up. Connect to your breath. Don’t worry about wearing cute little outfits, either; wear whatever you want. But be committed. Stick to it. Hold onto faith, believing in what you can’t yet see. Change will come.”

Not too Late to Become a Mom

Samantha Loehman, age 50, lives in Seattle, where she works as an oceanographer. Many aspects of her life are adventuresome, from her exciting career aboard research vessels, to her passion for mountain climbing. But perhaps her greatest adventure was adopting her first child at 44 years old, and her second at 48.

From a young age, Samantha had an interest in nature, science, and how things work. So she chose to major in biology as an undergraduate. But after working in a lab stress-testing cardboard boxes to see how much pressure they could withstand, and feeding cows at 3 am to study milk production, she decided in her late 20s to get an advanced degree in marine science.

During and after grad school, Samantha found herself in an exhilarating job, working day and night with fabulous people aboard ships at sea, barely sleeping, drinking coffee, listening to music, and making fascinating scientific discoveries. She joined expeditions to Hawaii, Tahiti, Barbados, Senegal, and throughout the Atlantic Ocean.

Samantha envisioned herself as married with three children, but although she dated several fantastic guys, she never completely clicked with any of them. However, she feels now that things happened that way for a reason. Had she married one guy she had fallen in love with, she might never have come across many of her current life opportunities. “I think the family part would’ve accelerated and the career part would’ve slowed,” Samantha said. “But anyway, I didn’t meet the person who would’ve made the mom option possible.”

Samantha moved to Seattle for work when she was in her mid-30s. There, she joined a climbing club where she met her husband, Max. They got married one day after her 40th birthday.

Although Samantha and Max tried for some time to get pregnant, they did not succeed. Eventually, when they sat down and considered their options, adoption seemed right. “Just look at the problems the world faces, and the number of kids who don’t have a place to call home, or a mom and dad. It felt like adopting was a good thing for the world-for us as parents, and for the kids.”

When she was 44, Samantha and Max adopted their first child, a six month-old boy from Guatemala. Four years later, they adopted a seventh month-old girl. They chose Guatemala because they found a wonderful orphanage there where the children all were held, cared for, loved, well fed, sung to, and kept in good health.

Samantha expanded upon the process. “At the time I was going through the fertility stuff, I was sad not to have a biological child. But ten years down the road, if I ask myself, ‘Am I still saddened by my infertility?’ The truth is: I’m not at all. These children I’ve adopted, I mean, they are a gift! They were joyful, laughing, and happy from the moment we got them. Of course, all children are a gift. But I honestly can’t imagine feeling any closer to my kids if they were biologically related to me.”

As for her career, Samantha still works, and continues to love what she does. She’ll go on three-week long research cruises at times. She leaves the kids with her husband, and also gets help from her sister-in-law, climbing friends, and a babysitter. She feels able to balance work and motherhood, and has no regrets about her choices. In sum, “Life is pretty fantastic.”

Not Too Late to Change Careers

Susan Wayne left an impressive corporate career to pursue a very alternative one after the age of 40. Susan grew up in a “WASPy, well-to-do, white suburb of Chicago.” Her father was a doctor, her mother a stay-at-home mom. While her parents had no expectations of her going into business or having a particular career, they were very achievement oriented.

After college, Susan worked briefly in corporate finance. She then got an MBA, and switched to a career in advertising. She worked hard and did well. At age 28, she bought her first condo and met her life partner, Diane. For the next decade, Susan’s life continued fairly predictably, with her making significant career advances and gaining more responsibility each year.

At the same time, Susan started taking classes in spirituality and training to be a reiki healer. “It was my side passion,” Susan said matter-of-factly, as if energy work were the norm for any high-ranking advertising exec.

When she was 38, Susan got a terrific job offer from another company, which brought her and Diane to San Francisco. And that’s when something shifted for Susan. She and Diane went to Hawaii for Susan’s 40th birthday. After her stressful year of moving and taking on a new job, she just wanted to sit on the beach and relax. But then, the day before her birthday, she took a book that her assistant had given her called In the Footsteps of Gandhi to the beach. The book contained profiles of inspirational people, such as Cesar Chavez, Joan Baez, and Thich Nhat Hanh. As she started reading it, Susan burst into tears.

“I was sitting under this little umbrella chair looking out at the ocean and just sobbing,” Susan said. “I couldn’t stop, either. The meltdown lasted the whole day. I wasn’t grieving; it wasn’t sadness. It was my soul speaking to me, saying, ‘You need to pay attention.'” Susan went back to the hotel room and said to Diane, “I’m not doing what I want to be doing with my life.”

A year later, Susan left her job, and she and Diane took off to travel the world for a while. Susan found this to be a challenging time. While she was relieved not to be in the corporate world anymore, she also was stressed about what she would do next. “It’s a dilemma being both spiritually-inclined and having a type A personality!” she laughed.

Eventually, Susan decided to become an interfaith minister. While studying to be ordained, she is doing energy/reiki and shamanic healing work, teaching spiritual growth classes and giving talks, and developing a book/training project involving archetypes.

Susan has no regrets about having spent so much time in a corporate career; she feels as though she was meant to do what she did in her “previous life.” Because of the money she earned at that job, she has been able to live for three years without a steady income. Also, she developed great skills in leadership, strategic thinking, visioning, teaching and mentoring, and business-all of which she uses every day in her new career. “I consider myself a spiritual entrepreneur,” she explained.

Susan feels that “success” means doing work that is meaningful and joyful, and that she can support herself with. “Due to my pay cut, especially since the economy crashed, Diane and I have had to dramatically ratchet down our lifestyle. I used to buy more expensive clothes. We spent a lot on travel, but now we’ve cut back. We’ve been forced to look at our life and say, ‘What do we really care about?’ We’ve realized that we are happy to have enough money to live a comfortable life- buy healthy, organic foods, go to the gym and practice yoga-but that we don’t need any of the trappings. If I made one-third of what I used to, I’d be ecstatic. It’s a very different measure. The seeds of my new career are germinating, but they’re still young in their life cycle.”

Like Susan, Renee Harcourt, 53, and Monica Pasquale, 48, also shifted their careers mid-life. But they didn’t just take on any new profession-they decided to become rock stars.

Renee started playing guitar when she was 12, and wrote her first song when she was in her 20s. But she didn’t do music, except as a hobby, until she was in her 40s. Her reluctance stemmed in part from watching her father struggle throughout her childhood to make ends meet as a professional musician.

In her early 20s, Renee worked at an ad agency in Los Angeles. By the time she’d reached her mid-20s, she already had struck out on her own, working as a freelance graphic designer. For the next two decades, her design business was not only a passion, but also a reliable source of income.

At age 37, Renee moved from LA to the Bay Area. She entered a singer/songwriter contest and won. It made her think that perhaps she should start pursuing a music career seriously. At the same time, however, she felt panicked at the idea. “I thought, ‘At age 39, no one will take me seriously!'” Renee said, “Truly, if you’re over 20 in the music business, the record labels just aren’t interested-you’re done, you’re all washed up.” That’s when she met Monica.

Monica had studied classical piano since the time she was a kid, but health issues interfered with her ability to perform professionally until much later in life. When she was in her 30s, a friend started pushing her to get on stage. They signed up for an open mic competition in Mill Valley together. Only the friend got sick and didn’t show, so Monica had to sing on stage for the first time ever. “After that night, I started to take voice lessons, and I found that I loved singing!” Monica said. “Suddenly, I was like, ‘This is what I want to do with my life.'”

Monica and Renee were at about the same point in their musical careers when they met that fateful night. They hit it off immediately as friends and colleagues. Since they both lived in Marin, they started playing together at times. “But mostly, we were in competition, vying for the same gigs,” Monica laughed. “It wasn’t until we formed Blame Sally that things really took off.” Renee was 44 at the time, Monica 39. Monica brought Pamela Delgado, a guitarist and percussionist, and Jeri Jones, guitar and bass, into the mix. The band has now been together for nine years.

Blame Sally had a ridiculous amount of fun from the start. All the women were in their late 30s and early 40s. During their rehearsals, they would have dinner, drink wine, and work on the vocal parts. Each member wrote and sang songs. Renee explained, “Our attitude was, ‘Let’s just do this. Screw the music business. We’ll get together once a week and learn songs. It’ll be like a book club for musicians.'” They had no expectations of success, not even getting a gig. “I don’t know if it’s because we had zero expectations, or if there is simply a magic that is Blame Sally because we love each other so much, but the band took on a life of its own and has been unstoppable ever since.”

At first, mostly just the member’s friends and families came to their shows. But then Blame Sally got a regular monthly gig at a tiny coffeehouse in San Francisco, and they started to build an audience. Soon they were playing at music festivals. A year later, a local radio station began airing Blame Sally songs, and eventually the band was picked up on XM radio. Six years later, the women were playing over 50 shows a year, including opening for Joan Baez in San Francisco.

Then, in early 2009, the band hit big time success. They signed on with a record label for a six-figure, five-year, three-album deal. Although Blame Sally had released three self-produced CDs over the years, Night of a Thousand Stars is their first commercially produced album. As a result, the band members have for the first time been able, from a financial perspective, to pursue their musical careers full-time. Take note, ladies: this happened when the band member’s ages ranged from 44 to 53.

Renee offered this advice to younger women. “If I’ve learned anything, it’s that it is never too late. Age is all in our minds. When you’re very clear about what you want, you can get it.” Monica added, “It’s funny that we think there are these benchmark ages for when we should or have to do something, when real life clearly demonstrates that such is not the case.”

Inviting Adventure into Your Life

You might feel bored with your life. And you may have lost the courage to do some of the things that you dared to do when you were younger. That makes sense, especially if you have many more responsibilities these days. However, part of the struggle we women face is our tendency to become so encumbered by our daily tasks and obligations that we sometimes forget to really live.

Here is an exercise to help you figure out what sort of adventure to take, if you are at a loss as to how to step forward into uncharted territory. Imagine that you’re going into a bookstore, and you have an hour or two to browse and read at your leisure. Which three sections would you go to? Travel? Cooking? Philosophy? Children’s literature? Politics? Religion? Business? Pick the first three that come to mind without thinking too much about it. Write them down. Now your challenge is to figure out how to create an exciting job, trip, hobby, or creative pursuit out of these three elements.

Let’s consider the case of one of my clients, Chris. Chris had a job at a bank, but felt stifled in her creative life. I advised her to try the exercise. When she envisioned herself at a bookstore, Chris found herself drawn to the travel, business, and architecture sections. Next I asked, “What kind of pursuit would allow you to incorporate these three disparate interests?”

Chris struggled at first to come up with an answer. And so I asked her, “What specifically do you like about travel? Is it the escapism? Being immersed in a different culture? Learning another language? Is it because you’re interested in the history?” My goal was to encourage Chris to get creative. I wanted her to think about the ways in which she might marry her separate passions to meet her individual needs. She explained that part of what she loved about travel was exploring the different architectural styles of the places she visited, bringing her interests in travel and architecture together.

Chris and I brainstormed. Since she couldn’t travel all the time due to work, why not start traveling regularly through the architecture in her own neighborhood? Simply in Manhattan alone, Chris could study the local buildings of architectural interest and take herself on new walking tours every weekend. If a historical society already offered such architectural tours, Chris could participate in these, first attending the walks and then perhaps becoming a guide herself. Or if such a service did not already exist, perhaps she might offer free walking tours to other people, in which she pointed out sites of architectural interest along the way. Chris thought this would be a great way for her to give back to her community and stay in shape, all while doing something she found tremendously interesting.

Something that starts out as volunteer work might eventually develop into a paying job. Given that Chris also expressed an interest in business, we talked about how, if Chris’s walking tours became popular enough, she might decide to make a fulltime career out of the concept. She could hire other people to lead the tours, as well. Or perhaps she’d end up creating similar tours in different cities, which would also give her an opportunity to travel. It might have seemed like a long shot when we were sitting in the therapy room that day, but Chris had the drive, ambition, and business interest to make it possible.

Some women might say, “But I have everything I need! I know who I am and I’m totally content with what I’m doing in my life. Not only do I not need a career change, but I’m not interested in pursuing any new activities or hobbies…” It is possible, if this is the case for you, that you might be stuck in a rut of routine and familiarity without even knowing it. I suggest that you try to find a way to seek out adventure in your life anyway. Do the bookstore exercise and see where it takes you. At a minimum, you might try preparing a new recipe or listening to a different radio station. There are ways-both small and large-to allow a bit of the unfamiliar into even those most comfortable lives.

Excerpted from Fortytude by Sarah Brokaw. Copyright (c) 2011. All rights reserved. Published by Voice Books. Available wherever books are sold.

For more on this story, please visit USAToday Online.

Posted on: March 2, 2011