Loneliness after a difficult divorce led Paula to launch her website Starting Over at Sixty, where she provides perspective and consulting to women seeking a new beginning later in life.
Tell us a little about your background.
I grew up in Cincinnati and came to Columbus, Ohio to go to The Ohio State University, where I graduated with a B.S. in Journalism. I have been here ever since. After a decade in media sales, I married, had three children, and stayed at home with them for about twenty years. I dabbled in other businesses, including owning a restaurant franchise and retail clothing truck.
When did you start to think about making a change in midlife?
Change was forced upon me! My marriage had always been a difficult one, but really became strained when we had been married for about 15-20 years. I spent most of my time trying to patch it together, which as we all know, is futile. I waited until my youngest child had moved out for the last time, until we were completely empty nesters, to confront my husband and begin the hard work of ending the marriage. I thought it would be simple: He would move out and we would calmly untangle ourselves from our more-than-30-year marriage. It was anything but simple.
My husband refused to leave the house, so I began the process of figuring out where I was going to go and what I was going to do. It took nearly a year, but one day, after my husband pulled his car out of the driveway and headed to the office, I pulled a truck in, loaded my stuff into it, and by the time my husband returned I had moved out. The only communication from my husband was a text asking where he should forward my mail. In case I was having any second thoughts, that was the sign I needed.
I rented a one-room loft downtown with my dog, Red. To say it felt surreal would not do it justice: I had been married my whole adult life and now here I was in a small apartment, alone. My children were aware that I was moving and were very supportive, but they are spread out across the country so they could only support me from afar. Just a few close friends knew about the move. My stomach churns even as I write this. I couldn’t believe I had actually left.
What is your next act?
Now, I work with single women over fifty who want to change the path of their lives but need help figuring that out. I have a website, Starting Over at Sixty, where women can find original content about anything from dating at our age to loneliness to making new friends. Two new additions to the site are the Starting Over at Sixty Sisters Program and the Starting Over at Sixty Wing Woman Program (check them out here). Each of those fit a need that I realized existed when I heard from followers all over the world.
The Sisters Program is a monthly membership program with guided content and a private Facebook page to build community and camaraderie. Many women just don’t feel like they have a place where they can share and get ideas from other women who are also single—and I am a big believer in always growing and moving forward. So, we focus on one topic each month with a few brief exercises and by the end of that month the hope is that our Sisters know a little more about themselves and how they can make change happen if that’s what they desire.
The Wing Woman Program is designed for women who want to get there faster and feel that they need a specific kind of help. They know they want something different but just don’t know how to start or what direction to go. We work together, one-on-one, to get them there.
How hard was it to take the plunge?
I honestly fell into this. I was newly single, living in a one-room apartment. It was February and about 10 degrees below zero, it was a holiday weekend, and I was miserable. I had never felt so alone and lonely in my life. It seemed impossible to me that anyone else had ever felt so low. So, I started writing, first for myself, just to get the words out of my body. Then I shared my writing with a few friends, who forwarded it to some of their friends, and before I knew it I had a little following.
While I had graduated with a degree in journalism, I had specialized in public relations, so I didn’t expect to ever be a writer. But I can only describe the way I felt when I started writing as words actually pouring out of my fingertips.
How supportive were your family and friends?
When I told my children that I was writing about my feelings about my divorce from their father, I wasn’t met with lots of pats on the back. However, it wasn’t long before they realized that I wasn’t writing about how bad their dad was, but how I felt about getting divorced after what can only be called a lifetime of marriage. Starting Over at Sixty has never been about my husband, but about me and what it feels like to be single and over fifty. Now, I think they are proud of what I’ve accomplished. I think they are proud of me. Period.
What challenges did you encounter?
I had no idea how to do anything but write a Word document and print it. Publishing online content was far from my expertise. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a site, but I just needed help with some basics. I saw an ad seeking an admin for a site design company and called the owner and asked her to meet me for coffee. She was very nice and agreed.
When she sat down, I told her that I am not an admin. But she was open to working with me, so I wrote blog posts for her clients and she designed a basic website for me in exchange. I also helped her gain a client or two so I felt like we both got something out of the deal. I was very proud to have a real website, so thank you Alice Foeller of SiteInsight. You saved me!
The real challenge for anyone online, I think, is gaining an audience, a following. It is a lot of work and I constantly try new ideas to be seen by the women I want to serve. I know the audience is out there, I just have to keep working to let them know about Starting Over at Sixty.
What did you learn about yourself through this process?
One thing that I learned was strictly a workplace issue: I was spending too much time alone. I had a one-room apartment and I could wake up, get dressed, walk five feet, sit down at the computer and be there all day, then stand up, get something to eat, and go to bed. I was totally isolated. One day I overheard some women talking about an office space that they shared with some other businesses, so I rented a desk in that space. I made a point of working out of that office most weekdays and the isolation vanished. Plus, we were all women business owners and were able to share experiences and tips with each other. I am not there anymore because I live in a larger place now, where I have a dedicated office; I really miss those women.
I also learned that I am good at something. I know that sounds very basic but having come from an unhappy marriage and having failed at a business before, I thought I was pretty worthless. Guess what, I am not worthless after all. I now know that I am a good communicator. I may not be a perfect writer, but I write content that single women over fifty can relate to and understand. They are moved in some way by my writing and that is the best compliment I can receive. I am learning to take that in.
Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?
When I hear people say that they have no regrets or would not do anything differently, I am shocked. I feel like I would do everything differently (my children excluded, of course)! I made such a mess of my life: married the wrong man, stopped my first career short, entered the wrong business later and lost lots of money, and ended up divorced. I didn’t get anything right! So, now I have to work harder, faster, and better to get it right this time. This is my third and final act.
What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?
Do it. Do it boldly. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you or whether or not you are a big success at what you want to try to do, just do it. I can’t imagine leaving anything on the table when I die. Midlife isn’t really midlife, it’s later in life. I am 63 and I hope that I still have nearly one-third of my life left to live, so the thought of not taking every risk I can to get me to my finish line, I just can’t imagine it. While I tried everything I could to save my marriage, had it lasted forever, I would have died a sad and unfulfilled woman. If you want to reinvent yourself, do it. What happens if I fail? Nothing.
What advice do you have for those interested in launching a website, and what resources would you recommend to them?
If you want to start a website and think you have a unique point of view on a particular issue, do your homework. Research what other sites are covering and see if you can make what you put up there different. There are thousands of websites covering just about every topic under the sun, but if you can’t find one that is exactly like yours, you may have a winner.
When I started my website, I went to several conferences for influencers, and I am so glad I did. I picked up so many ideas and tips from those sitting around me, from the breakout sessions, from the speakers, and from the vendors. Even if the conference wasn’t specifically for my genre, I learned from others. I went to a fashion influencers conference once just to see what it was all about and I later hired one of the presenters as a consultant. So, you just never know who you will meet and what you will learn. Style Collective, BlogHer, Social Media Marketing World are all very different but I learned something new at every one of them.
For example, at the first conference I attended, I met a woman who told me that she became an early contributing writer for Huffington Post and that really took her business to another level. That was some time ago and things are markedly different now, but I did contribute to HuffPo for a while and even had one of my posts featured. I also contribute monthly to Sixty and Me, a worldwide site for women above a certain age—and now my second largest source of new followers for my own site!
And, the bonus is that the women I met at all of those conferences remain followers, and I feel like I can reach out to them for advice or information. I can’t stress enough that conferences were a big help to me when I was just getting started.
As far as resources on women and aging, I read anything by Joy Loverde; she knows everything there is to know about aging. Check out her books, The Eldercare Planner and Who Will Take Care of Me When I’m Old?
I have been a guest on the podcast Zestful Aging and listen to it often. It’s a great resource for women as they age.
And there is a book I refer to quite often, and while it has nothing to do with women 60+ (it’s na organizational and time management book), it’s a very good reminder that in order to keep my life interesting and moving in a forward direction, I need to plan, plan, and plan. The book is Design Your Day by Claire Diaz-Ortiz. I suggest it to many women I work with.
What’s next for you? Any plans to further develop your business or ??
I am starting to do small workshops for women 50+ who want to continue to improve their lives in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond. Topics include “It’s Not Too Late to…” and “Building Confidence.” I love working one-on-one with women who want to keep their lives on an upward trajectory.
Connect with Paula Harer
Contact form: https://www.startingoveratsixty.com/connect-with-me/
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/paulaatsixty/