“Some women are afraid of change. Others thrive on it.”
We all have dreams we left behind, dreams we tried to achieve to no avail, dreams that never got even attempted: quitting a job that leaves us depleted and unfulfilled; trying a new career; upgrading our education after spending the best years of our lives attending full time to house and family; dreams of reinventing ourselves, mentally and physically, after a failed marriage, an abusive relationship, or the loss of a loved one. Traumas, life-changing experiences, existential crisis are the number one motivation to create a new dream or pursue an old idea, but if for some women that defining moment (a lay-off, a divorce, a life-crisis of some sort) represents a springboard toward a new life-cycle, for others that need for transformation hits a brick wall. Those women who struggle to rekindle their dreams have something in common: the overwhelming feeling of being stuck and the fear it could be too late to try and change.
The good news is that we can all start over again, despite the facts, despite the conventional wisdom, despite the discouraging statistics. We must dare to dream again, because nobody can do it for ourselves but us. “Impossible is just something that hasn’t happened yet” should be our daily mantra, so that our future becomes something we can invent, not predict.
Those women who found, in their evolving, challenging and sometimes even desperate life conditions, the determination, the vision, and the courage to abandon the beaten path, soar above the odds, and open a new chapter of their lives, inspired actress and activist Marlo Thomas to author a new uplifting collection of real life stories, the stories of personal reinvention, resiliency, and self-motivation of five dozen women who refused to smother in the stagnation of a wrong job, toxic relationships, and ungratifying life paths.
When in 2010, Thomas launched her own website on AOL and the Huffington Post, her weekly series “It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over”, a destination where women could gather together, tell their stories, and encourage one another, became an instant sensation. Over the years, the actress, philanthropist, and New York Times best selling author decided to collect and chronicle the amazing reinvention stories of some of those women in a meaningful whole that could inspire other women to do the same. Marlo Thomas’ It Ain’t Over… Till It’s Over: Reinveinting Your Life – And Realizing Your Dreams – Anytime, At Any Age (Atria Books, April 2014) is a first-rate collection of inspirational stories you will love to read. So, here they are, some of the most remarkable personal reinventions, humming with hope and emotion – women who dared to dream, who changed their life patterns, who gave back and today walk to the beat of their own drum:
50 year old Marguerite Thomas who was brave enough to leave a successful 20-year career as an architect to try her hand at something completely new. For her mid-life career change, she decided to volunteer at a small school on a nearby Native American reservation and help kids struggling with reading and communication disorders.
Natasha Coleman, a 35 year old woman who had to ‘lose’ in order to win. Precisely 400 pounds. Heavy but pretty, her obesity had never been a big deal for her and her family, until she boarded a flight to Mexico with her husband and couldn’t even fit in her seat. A drastic diet later, Natasha doesn’t recognize herself in the mirror, but what she sees today is a woman who has vastly increased her chances to live a longer and healthier life.
Kit Gruelle, age 59 and a past of domestic violence behind her. She can tell you what it means to be a battered woman and get asked repeatedly why she didn’t leave her abusive husband right away. Domestic violence is not only about black eyes and cracked ribs: sometimes the worst ‘bruises’ are the ones no one ever sees. The physical violence is just the punctuation mark of coercive tactics and mental cruelty…sometimes these forms of abuse and control can disable a woman and keep her ‘hostage’ even more than a broken nose. Today, Kit trains police officers about how to handle domestic violence.
Sue Rock, a 51 year old woman from Brooklyn who found a new purpose in life after her neighbor was killed by her abusive husband. Tyleasha was trying to flee home the night she died. All she was wearing was her sweats. The shocking murder awakened Sue to a somber reality: women escaping domestic violence flee with only the clothes on their back. They need clothes. Skilled at knitting and crocheting, Sue started collecting fabrics and other sewing treasures destined to the trash and with the help of her tailor husband she put them to good use. Using reclaimed fabrics, Sue created a small line of easy-to-wear women’s clothes to be sold to boutiques and online. Soon, the idea of a contemporary eco-fashion line became the funding bedrock of a clothing charity for victims of domestic violence. Working with shelters, nationally and internationally, Sue Rock Originals Everyone Inc. gives victims of abuse a chance to craft their own possessions, thanks to donors and volunteers.
In 2008, Jessamyn Rodriguez, age 36, launched Hot Bread Kitchen out of her Brooklyn apartment, creating a place where immigrant women like herself not only could capitalize on their baking skills, but could also acquire language and marketing skills that would help them and their families to escape poverty and move into the middle class. Three years later, the Kitchen expanded its mission, launching HBK Incubates, a program that supports graduates who wish to start their own feed businesses.
Nancy Hughes‘ new life started at age 71. Yes, 71. As a volunteer who used to cook dinner for her medical team in Guatemala, Nancy realized that the most dangerous activity for women in the developing world was cooking, because they do it with their kids strapped to their backs while leaning on fire. In unventilated houses. She launched Stoveteam International, an organization that helped raise $ 1.2 million to open factories in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragus, and Mexico to produce Ecocina, the innovative low-carbon-emission stove.
Some women built empires out of a single idea, others found a way to fulfill themselves in the wake of a personal loss. They are the living proof that we are defined by our own courage and endurance. Dare to dream again, because it ain’t over till it’s over.
Marlo Thomas is an actress, producer, social activist, bestselling author and recipient of Emmy, Golden Globe, and Grammy awards. She serves as National Outreach Director for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which was founded by her father, Danny Thomas, in 1962. In 2004, she created the Thanks & Giving campaign and donated all royalties from sales of her book and CD Thanks & Giving: All Year Long in support of the hospital. She is one of the founders of the Ms. Foundation For Women, a non-profit organization created to deliver funding and other strategic resources to organizations that elevate women’s voices and solutions across race and class in communities nationwide. In 2011, Thomas received a Lifetime Achievement Jefferson Award for her 20-year commitment to raising funds for pediatric cancer research and involvement with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.