For day three of our Fifty and Other F-words book launch interview series, we're talking with Lorraine C. Ladish. Lorraine is a whirling dervish of enthusiasm. Founder and CEO of the popular bilingual online 50+ community Viva Fifty!, she is a survivor and a visionary, encouraging women to become the best version of themselves. Born in Spain into a family of writers, Lorraine spent her weekends as a child helping her grandfather collate books created on his printing press. Her passion for writing has led her to publish 18 books, beginning with her first non-fiction book where she shared her struggles with an eating disorder she battled for years before turning 30.
In 2008, she found herself divorced with two young children, broke, and unemployed. Rising like a phoenix from the ashes of her defeat, she took her writing and editing skills into the digital space as editor-in-chief of Mamiverse.com. A year later, she met and later on married the love of her life, Phillipe Diederich also a bilingual, multi-cultural single parent and writer. Her writing has appeared in a dazzling array of publications including HuffPost, NBC News, AARP, Redbook, NBCNews.com and more. She recently published an e-book Reach: from Single Mom on Welfare to Digital Entrepreneur and Tu Mejor Edad: Para tener una vida extraordinaria for HarperCollins.
I met Lorraine last year at Blog Her, and her energy was electrifying. She’s a dedicated practitioner of yoga, which has resulted, at 54, in a toned, slender physique that 20 somethings would envy. However, she’s not the kind of woman who inspires envy, she’s the kind of woman who inspires other women to become the best that they can be, whatever that means to them. She is not defined or limited by her age, in fact she believes that whatever age you are is your best age.
There’s something about women who have risen from the ashes, a fortitude that is built from losing everything and refusing to give up on yourself or your dreams. You radiate that kind of vitality. You are a powerhouse, a dynamic and enthusiastic woman who inspires other women to become the best version of themselves. When faced with what seems insurmountable, how can women survive and thrive? What do you think the secret of your success has been?
Oh, goodness, when people ask me: “how did you keep on going when you were broke and middle-aged,” my answer is, “I had no other option.” I´ve gone through life without a plan B, and always going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm. Sure, I´ve been down, I´ve even battled clinical depression at least three times, and anxiety. I still do. It´s not easy. I´m not always happy, joyful and enthusiastic, either. Menopause hit me hard at 51 to the point that I had to sometimes spend an entire day in bed. Hormone replacement therapy was the best thing I could ever do for myself, but it´s no substitute for the willpower needed to forge onward no matter what. When my daughters try to cheer me on a down day, I tell them that as they know, I laugh hard, but when I´m not ok, I need to feel that down-in-the-dumps feeling with the same intensity, so that I can overcome it. I don´t shy away from crappy feelings. I do my best to feel them, and then work through them. We´re all handed difficult cards in life, now and then, or maybe more often than not, but we all have the capacity to overcome being knocked down. I´ve done it so many times, I´ve lost count!
Viva Fifty! is a bilingual community for women in mid-life. What drove you to build this platform? What were the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them? The internet has changed so much over the past 5 years, it’s so much noisier and there is a lot of competition for attention. Your platform seems to be thriving despite these changes, what sets Viva Fifty! and your message apart?
When I turned 50, I felt on top of the world. I was engaged to the love of my life, whom I married a few months before turning 51, I was in good health, in good shape and in the best mental and emotional state I´d ever been in. I grew up without a mom (my grandmother raised me) and I had really bad self-esteem perhaps until my mid thirties, when I started trying to have a baby. I spent my youth hating myself and thinking I was just not good enough. I didn´t even finish college, I was so depressed. But at 50, I was thriving. After losing it all to the Great Recession and divorce at 45, here I was at 50, making a living writing online. I started posting on social media how wonderful it was to be 50 and only then did I realize other women did not feel the same way. It was hard for me to understand why … I didn´t feel – and still don´t feel – I had peaked and I certainly did not and still don´t, feel over the hill. So Viva Fifty was born out of the desire to share with English and Spanish speaking women that life isn´t over at 50 or at any age, really. My surprise came later, when younger women started following me and thanked me for posting my yoga photos alongside my age. They said it helped them lose their fear of aging. Then Viva Fifty and everything else became about just thriving.
What helps me make a full-time living with Viva Fifty Media, and support a family of five with it is mainly that I´ve always worked for myself. If I could do it in the 80s when there was no Internet, no cell phones, no faxes, imagine what I can do now! I´ve spent my entire life adapting to changing markets. If you consider I stared working full-time at 18 and I´m 54, that´s a long time. I´ve also lived in different cities, different countries, which requires mad adaptation skills. I always try to focus on solutions instead of complaining about a problem. When people are on Facebook bitching about the latest change in the algorithm, I´m already figuring out my next move. I have zero time to waste dwelling. My brain is wired for social media apparently, and yet I can´t even copy a phone number (I have awful short-term memory). Another reason behind my productivity is that I learned early on in life to turn an addictive and compulsive personality into being productive in ways that matter to me and hopefully make a difference. I have multiple streams of income – all having to do with the written and spoken word – and I´m also bilingual and multicultural. All of this helps make my business successful. I can, and do, reach different audiences. Also, as I mentioned, I hardly ever have a plan B, so plan A just has to work. What does change overtime is what plan A looks like.
Your first book was about your struggles with an eating disorder as a younger woman. Now that you’re in your mid-fifties, you practice yoga and you’re in amazing physical shape. How did you get here from there? A lot of women over 50 are fighting menopause and weight gain, their bodies are changing. Their metabolisms are slowing down. Do you think anyone can benefit from yoga?
I started out in sports when I was 12 and haven´t looked back. I´ve never not practiced a sport or a form of fitness. I started running and practicing yoga at 12 in an attempt to control sad and dark thoughts. By my teens I was battling full-blown depression and an eating disorder. I´ve been blessed and cursed with self-awareness. Running always helped me have a certain feeling of control. In my 20s I became a certified fitness instructor in a (failed) attempt to control my bulimia. When I told students anyone could be fit, they told me I was wrong. They said I was fit because I was young and hadn´t had kids. Now I´m 54 and I´ve had two babies. Older people still tell me I´m fit because I´m young. Go figure! I started modern and jazz dancing in my 20s, when I was “too old” for that. I cried after each and every class, because I didn´t get the steps. But I never stopped going and of course I got better at it. Never made a living dancing but it was a wonderful escape. It also proved to be a lifesaver when I continued dancing through my divorce and poverty and met people on the dance floor willing to give me work writing. Had I stayed at home feeling sorry for myself, I would not be doing what I do now. I took up yoga again at 51 after I injured my hip at 48 after a half-marathon. One week into yoga, my hip was fine again. I don´t practice yoga to look good. I do it to feel good. If I don´t exercise in some form and/or meditate daily, my mood takes a nosedive. And yes, anyone can practice yoga. I´ve even seen people who are missing a limb practice yoga. Even visualizing yoga moves helps. I was on bed rest on one of my pregnancies, and visualizing workouts helped a lot!
As to having managed so sidestep weight gain in midlife, I´m naturally thin, as is all of my family, including my 101-year old grandmother and my 80-year old dad (who I started running with as a kid). My doctor told me I lucked out during menopause because of this. But being thin isn´t always a great thing. I get a lot of side-eye and not exactly great comments from people telling me they´d love to have my “problem” of not being able to gain weight. I don´t follow any kind of diet, I eat what I like and I´m not vegetarian. I drink beer for goodness sakes! I´m half Spanish and I believe in enjoying life. I would tell woman concerned about weight gain in menopause to see a doctor her for menopausal symptoms, whatever they may be. I did and I am ecstatic that I did. If your doctor won´t listen or plays down your concerns, change doctors. Speak up, it´s your life, your body, your menopause! I also don´t take anything for granted. I know being fit doesn´t guarantee being healthy. I´ve shared about my midlife health scares online. I try to appreciate what I have for as long as it lasts.
Kathy Cano Murillo and I have talked often about reinvention. We’ve both reinvented ourselves many times, usually with each new decade. The idea of reinventing yourself can seem impossible, especially after 50. Yet, we live in a time when job security and that lifetime career are becoming less certain. A lot of women in their 40s and 50s are returning to the work force after raising children. You have reinvented yourself multiple times, most recently online. Do you have some pearls of wisdom for women who find themselves facing the daunting task of reinvention?
Yep, I´ve reinvented myself plenty of times. I know it´s easier for me to adapt to change because I´ve been a rebel all my life and just the idea of having a 9-5 job gave me nausea. What was initially perceived by others as a defect when I was young turned out to work in my favor later on in life. People I went to school with are now jobless or stuck in poorly paid jobs they hate. Being weird, always working from home etc. proved to be an asset for me in the long run. I would tell women who feel lost professionally in midlife to seek out others who are like you and ask them to help you find your path. A job – in my eyes – is the most insecure way to live. You get canned and then what … You´re just not prepared for the hustle. This moment in time is the best to be an entrepreneur, to be a consultant, to work on your own terms. But not everyone is cut out for it, and it has nothing to do with age. My daughter is 17 and I can already see she´s not going to settle or try to fit in, whereas other kids her age are happy making hourly wages. Become obsessed with where you want to be and what you want to do, forget that age is supposedly an issue, and go for it. Heck, I make a living talking about my age. It´s absolutely liberating. If I can do this, anyone can!
You remarried at 50, creating a blended multi-cultural family. I have several friends going through painful divorces and others whose spouses have passed away. It’s hard to imagine finding love again, especially in mid-life. Do you have any thoughts on how to find love in mid-life? How did you meet your husband? Can you share some of your love story?
Of course. I never was great at picking the right partner. I have no idea whether this stemmed from a lack of self-love, and fear of abandonment. (My mother was not a part of my life after I turned 5). I´ve made my share of mistakes in the love arena. I´ve suffered heartbreak, and plenty of it. But one thing I never became was jaded. Perhaps because I suffered tremendously after my parents´ divorce and my dad´s remarriage, I promised myself I would never have that happen to my kids. Of course, I did not marry at 35 to later divorce. But when the marriage was unsustainable, after giving it a million chances (and plenty of couples counseling) I thought I could not teach my daughters it was ok to stay in a toxic relationship. It was not an easy decision and I somehow felt some PTSD when I went through my divorce. But I worked with my ex to make sure my girls would have both parents and never see us yelling at each other. So far, so good. I´m a dreamer, I believe in love and good stuff. I kept my heart open. I still dreamed of having a family … maybe not the kind I had envisioned, but a family. I wrote a list of attributes that I wanted in a potential partner. It included detailed stuff like “bilingual, bicultural, responsible, loving, has a kid,” etc. To my surprise I met that guy. He had also come out of a divorce, had a kid similar in age to that of my daughters, he had also never had a 9-5 job … was a photojournalist back in school to switch careers. He wanted to be a book author, something I had already done. Long story short, we were introduced by a common friend and after our first date, we pretty much knew we wanted to know each other better. We were both committed to building a new family and well, in November it will be 9 years. Our kids were 5, 6 and 8 when they met. We´re a clan. And none of this would be happening if I hadn´t made some crappy choices earlier in life. I moved to the U.S. from Spain at 41 because of my ex. I owe him that!
I love the new video podcast! You maintain multiple websites, manage several Facebook groups, and you just published a new book. You’re constantly expanding your reach, which is admirable. What’s next for Lorraine?
Well, first of all, let me make it clear that I have a team. Three people help me with the website, VivaFIfty.com and some of the social media handles. I have two Twitter accounts and five FB pages. But I also have writers and translators. My husband takes my photos. I do manage Instagram and YouTube on my own because that´s more personal. I started working with a business manager, Johanna Voss, one year ago, and could not be happier. I knew I could not grow without someone managing the business aspect of Viva Fifty Media. This is both my livelihood and a lifestyle. What´s next is I´m already working on my next book, in English, about how to turn our flaws into assets. I´m in awe of the opportunities that come my way just from showing up online every day and doing my best, whether I´m paid for it or not. I will also be getting certified as a yoga instructor at 55, not to teach in person, but to better serve the women who follow me for inspiration and advice. No better way to learn than by teaching!