03 Sep Lorraine C. Ladish: Interview with a Midlife Reinvention Maven
When I first met Lorraine C. Ladish, over ten years ago, she was on food stamps, and trying to crawl her way back from bankruptcy, divorce, and depression. The end of her marriage had coincided with the 2008 recession, and the print publications she wrote for had close down or run out of funds.
She found herself in a small rented apartment with her two little girls, then 4 and 7 years old, no money, lots of debt, and no work. She was forced to sell her family’s heirlooms, her clothes, and even her wedding band to pay the rent, while looking for freelance writing jobs.
I had no idea this was going on when Lorraine was referred to me by a colleague and I hired her as a translator, writer and blogger for BabyCenter, where I was Editorial Director of the Americas at the time. It was one of her first steady freelance gigs post-recession, but it wouldn’t be her last.
With determination, hard work, and talent, Lorraine moved her freelance business from print to online, and found her path to success. She discovered that her bubbly personality, her generosity in sharing her knowledge, and her willingness to be vulnerable and show up as her authentic self were perfectly suited for connecting with her audience in social media and blogs. As she often says, she found her tribe.
Today Lorraine, at 57 years old, is married to the love of her life and has formed a happy blended family. She has also become a social media powerhouse and a top Latina influencer. She is gaining more accolades every year, including being featured in Oprah’s magazine as a Top Influencer over 50. Whereas once she considered me her mentor, I now consider her an inspiration, not just for me, but for many women of any age who want to live their best life.
I recently talked to Lorraine about her journey, and I hope our conversation will uplift your day, as it did mine.
Isidra: I’ve heard you say often that the reason for your success is that you have transformed your flaws into your greatest assets. Can you tell me what you mean by that?
Lorraine: One of my biggest flaws is that I have an extremely obsessive and addictive personality. I realized that when I was around 17, and I developed a severe eating disorder that lasted twenty years. As I battled this challenge, along with anxiety and clinical depression, I realized I could get obsessed with and hooked on anything, so why not get obsessed with and hooked on something positive? I learned to redirect my addictive and compulsive personality to practicing sports and to writing— first, more than a dozen books and hundreds of print media articles, and later building a digital publication, VivaFifty, from the ground up. To other people, I come across as prolific and disciplined. That is the asset they see. I know the truth behind that and I’m ok with it because I get the results I want.
Isidra: What helped you the most as you tried to overcome your eating disorder and mental health issues? And how do you keep strong today?
Lorraine: Perseverance. I never gave up. That’s all, really. I tried everything, from different sorts of traditional medication to alternative medicine, therapy … you name it. The beginning of my true recovery came when I became a mother at 37. For many, motherhood is a trigger for eating disorders and depression, I am well aware of that. But for me, being a mother provided a greater appreciation for my body and for myself as a human being. Thanks to that, I have another twenty years of recovery under my belt.
I’m still human and of course I have my bad days, just like everyone else. However, I don’t stay in a negative rut for long. I practice yoga, meditation and/or some form of bodywork daily. And I take medication for mental health. Fifteen years ago, a doctor finally hit on a combination that works for me. It changed my life.
Isidra: In 2008 you were recently divorced, bankrupt, and on welfare. How did you turn your life around?
Lorraine: With the help of family and friends and the knowledge that I had to feed my daughters, then 4 and 7, and be a good role model for them. I had always been a freelancer by choice. As print media dwindled, I realized I didn’t have to change careers or continue trying to get a menial job which I wasn’t even qualified for. I had to take my writing and communicating career online. I was 46 then, and at 57 I’m still making a living full-time, and a good one at that, by creating content for the Internet, both on my websites and on social media.
Isidra: What helped you achieve success when you moved your writing career online?
Lorraine: Quite honestly, wanting to do it. Once I realized that was the way to go, I made it my business to learn everything I could about writing and publishing online and about social media. Because I’m obsessive and compulsive, I dedicated myself to that until I cracked that nut. I’m self-taught, and if I can make a living online at my age, anyone can! When I was completely broke and on welfare, a young businessman who saw on my Facebook profile that I was a writer asked me whether I could write some blog posts for his couponing website. I said yes. Then he told me they had to be SEO friendly. I had no idea what that meant, but in twenty-four hours I was already writing SEO optimized blog posts. He paid me $12 bucks for each one. Now I charge close to $3000 for a sponsored post on my website. This would not have happened if I hadn’t taken on that first gig.
Isidra: You launched Vivafity in 2014 and you call yourself a Midlife Reinvention Maven. Can you tell me what moved you to launch this business?
Lorraine: I had already been making a living online as a blogger, writer and eventually as editor-in-chief of a digital publication for Latina moms. I wanted to go back to running my own show. I had just turned 50, I was marrying the love of my life to create a blended family, I was in the best shape I had ever been physically, mentally and spiritually. I asked myself what I could create that I would be committed to for the next ten years, and the answer was a bilingual website for women over 50. Now, to my surprise, the women who follow me online, especially on Instagram, are not mainly over 50. My audience is a mix of women ranging from 20 to 60, and there are not more of one specific age group versus another. This is making me reassess how I’m going to continue my digital journey. I realize young women don’t have solid older role models who listen to them and acknowledge their struggles as they grow older.
Isidra: You are the main breadwinner in your family. Can you tell me how you choose your clients and what is your main line of work?
Lorraine: I don’t really choose my clients. They choose me! And then I get to say yes or no to working with them. I post about my past struggles, my current ups and downs, and my goals, like mastering a yoga handstand by 60 (I ended up doing it by 57). Brands whose values resonate with mine reach out to me. If we align on the messaging, budget and scope of work, we shake hands. Virtually, of course. 😀
Wellness brands are the ones I’m working with the most, because that’s what I post about the most. I’ve always taken good care of myself, especially after I had kids: I nap a lot, sleep enough, exercise, eat a balanced diet (just a bit of everything), and I have zero issues taking time for me. What’s changed is that I share it online more often. My daughters are already taking good care of themselves and they are 19 and 16. I hope they keep it up.
Isidra: You were 51 when you started getting intensely into yoga and you got certified as a yoga instructor at 55. What moved you to take on this new challenge and career?
Lorraine: I injured my hip at 48 during a half marathon and I pushed myself to finish in excruciating pain. I’d trained too fast and too hard and suffered the consequences. I had to dial back my running and went back to other forms of sports. Six years ago, I accompanied my husband to a retreat he was teaching photography at. There was a yoga class early in the morning. Despite not being a morning person, I went every day for five days. My hip pain was gone! Once again, due to my obsessive and addictive nature, I delved into daily yoga. I enjoyed the physical aspect of it, but I knew there was more to it. I wanted to understand the philosophy behind yoga. I wanted to meditate. I wanted to live more mindfully.
One of my best friends was dying of cancer and then my grandmother died. At the same time, I had a close brush with colon cancer. All that made me sign up to become a yoga teacher. I wasn’t quite sure that I wanted to teach, but I wanted to learn. I initially signed up for a 200-hour course which is the basic certification. When I finished it at 55, I just couldn’t stop. I signed up for another 300 hours of training and became a Registered Yoga Teacher with 500 hours of training. And of course, I did end up teaching. I mainly teach yoga teachers now, and I’ve also recorded yoga videos for AARP. I really enjoy making yoga accessible for anyone, although my personal practice is pretty challenging.
Isidra: You’ve got a toned, lean body, and look great. Lately, however, I’ve seen you publish photos flaunting your signs of aging: wrinkles, sagging skin, etcetera. Why is this important to you and how did you gain the courage to do it?
Lorraine: Well, age leaves its mark. I started noticing that despite having practiced sports all my life, my abdomen, arms and legs were sagging … I started feeling shame and changing the way I dressed. Short shorts went to Goodwill and dresses above the knee to younger friends. I was smoothing the skin on my online photos. I was ashamed of my signs of aging. One day, my husband and I were at the beach and I asked him to take some pictures. I was horrified by what I saw. My stomach clenched. Then I remembered all the years of my youth I wasted loathing my body and myself. I’d come too far to go back to that at this stage of the game, so I started posting what my husband calls “honest photos”—unretouched photos in any position, many of them in a bikini … I almost cried when I posted the first ones, but I got so many messages from women saying, “I thought I was the only one!” And so I kept on going.
Now with every photo I post of the reality of an aging body, I feel a greater sense of freedom. And it’s not just about my body, it’s also about exposing the fear and anguish too many women face as we surpass a certain age. My best friend, Belinda, was taken by cancer two years ago in October. She will never be my age. She will never have sag. I think of her every time I post those pictures.
Isidra: You manage multiple websites and social media handles, from Lorraine Ladish, to Viva Fifty to The Flawed Yogini. Being a native Spaniard, you are also bilingual English – Spanish, so in some social media networks you have these handles in both languages. How do you keep on top of things? For most people, just one handle in three social media networks is enough to drive them crazy! Also, how do you keep your personal life separated from your digital life and protect face-to-face human interaction from being completely taken over by your digital personas?
Lorraine: I hire help with social media and I also work with an agent. We’ve been together for three and a half years and she makes my life much easier, because she deals with the business aspect of my work, and I’m free to focus on the creative side. My husband is a professional photographer, so he takes my picture for everything I do. I also enlist writers for one of my websites. I have a publication calendar and I batch work. Being organized (not one of my strong points, but I know I have to do it), is key!
My personal and public life merge and that’s ok. My family, including my father, husband and children, are often a part of my work. They are featured in sponsored campaigns, and they are fine with it. They know that’s how we make a living and they appreciate it. I don’t share absolutely everything online, but what I share, I do candidly and honestly. At least, that’s my goal.
Isidra: Finally, how has the coronavirus affected your daily life? Do you have advice for people who may be suffering from depression and anxiety in these trying times?
Lorraine: My day to day hasn’t changed much. I’ve always worked from home and worked out at home. I only notice the COVID world when I leave the house. A lot of business and personal travel was cancelled, and I’m ok with that. What is harder is that all my family, including my eldest daughter, 19, live far, and it’s hard to think I can’t (or won’t) jump on a plane to go visit.
To anyone suffering from anxiety and depression, I would recommend seeing a doctor or a therapist sooner rather than later. I know from experience it’s easier to treat it when it hasn’t gotten out of hand. After a lifetime of dealing with both, I’m tired of the stigma that surrounds asking for help for mental health. Please get the help you need and deserve.
(All photos are copyright of Phillippe Diederich.)