You are a celebrity ghostwriter, award-winning journalist, and Emmy-nominated reality show creator. Now you’re out with your first book, Zen Bender: A Decade-Long Enthusiastic Quest to Fix Everything (That Was Never Broken). What was the catalyst for this book?
Zen Bender was organic, in terms of how it came to be. I lost my job in TV news like so many other people in 2008, thanks to the recession, so I started ghostwriting self-help books for celebrities. As part of that process, I started reading self-help books for research. And then I just got really into them.
Your work as a writer and filmmaker questions ingrained expectations of womanhood. How did you come to take on this role?
I was living these expectations every day–and trying to make sense of the pop culture messages about how to do womanhood ‘correctly.’ I felt bad about how I looked, wondered whether I was too smart and threatening to men, and worried that I was single into my 40s–even though I was actually living a pretty fun life.
You are the Founder of Lady Boss Collective, which brings women solo-preneurs together for support, guidance, and inspiration. What need did you see that you were trying to fulfill?
It started with my own experience as an entrepreneur. Within the first couple of months, I realized that although I love many aspects of being on my own, it can be incredibly isolating. You need a group of champions around you who understand what you’re experiencing and give you the companionship, insight, and encouragement that powers your success (professionally and personally). Beyond that, I wanted to do something that brings women together in a positive context – there’s nothing more powerful than women standing together to create a better world. It’s truly awe-inspiring.
Who is a good candidate for Lady Boss Collective and how does membership work?
You are the author of the new release, Death Is But a Dream: Finding Hope and Meaning at Life's End. What prompted your desire to write this book?
Caring for the dying was something I was ill prepared for after medical training. As a part-time job, I began working in hospice 20 years ago and was struck by the non-physical aspects of the dying process, particularly the remarkable and transforming experience of pre-death dreams and visions. I found very little to support the significance of these events and was frustrated in trying to teach their clinical importance to young doctors who needed data. So I began taking an evidence-based approach to validating the frequency, comfort, and meaning such events had for patients at the end of life. I began videotaping patients and published several studies in medical journals. I received no response from the medical community. However, the non-medical community found out about our work and the response has been overwhelming and our studies have been published throughout various forms of media around the world. I was, and continue to be, struck by the value our work has to those who have witnessed such phenomena or facing end of life. For many, validating such end-of-life experiences has provided much needed comfort, context, and reassurance. On this basis, I decided to write the book.
You recently published Raising an Aging Parent: Guidelines for Families in the Second Half of Life. What need did you see that this book could address?
I saw the need to capture all the important conversations that can take place to add to our quality of life, if we, our parents, and siblings are willing to talk about these things — to explore, to share, to find out we're not alone, and to discuss the changes and challenges we might be going through. There's also the benefit from peer education, peer support, and gaining a sense of normalcy for what we're all going through as our parents get older.
Growing up, Sheila experienced poverty and saw racism first-hand. She became the first in her family to attend college then worked in pharmaceutical healthcare. After taking a career break to launch her four sons, she smacked into age bias when seeking renewed employment. She has partnered with internationally acclaimed speaker, author, and anti-ageism activist Ashton Applewhite to build a grassroots alliance focused on identifying age-friendly employers.
Tell us a little about your background.
I was born in Atlanta, Georgia, to fresh high school graduates from North Alabama who had moved to the big city to find work. After a decade of city living, they returned to Alabama to be closer to their extended families and to help my paternal grandfather who had health issues.
Throughout their lives, my parents picked up different jobs wherever they could. My dad worked a number of years in an aluminum production facility. After he was laid off, he worked as a carpenter and even on an offshore oil rig. My mom worked part-time as a server, clerk, and later a cook in an assisted living facility.