The idea of a midlife crisis might seem cliché, but what about a midlife re-evaluation? Most women I know in their 40s and 50s have been giving serious thought to what’s next? And what do I really want out of my life? You may not have hit every milestone you want at this point, but you probably have the majority under your belt, and if you’re like me–an almost empty-nester, you are about to hit phase two of your adult life. Which is where Amy and Trisha come in. They are longtime partners in work and co-authors of their fourth book which just launched, Just When You’re Comfortable in Your Own Skin, It Starts to Sag: Rewriting the Rules of Midlife. The book delves into how to think about the next chapter in your life and it covers everything–redefining success, divorce, creating a new community of friends, menopause. Amy and Trisha didn’t set out to tell you what to do, they are along for the ride, and interviewed experts and hundreds of women to help find answers. The book not only provides thoughtful ways to approach what’s next, but also a lot of welcome relief–trust me, whatever your thoughts are, you are not alone. Because writing their fourth book wasn’t enough, they also launched their next-phase passion project, ASH + AMES, a line of jewelry made by women around the world and sold exclusively online and through women brand ambassadors (similar to Beauty Counter). It is a look good, feel good, do good venture. Oh, and they have a new site, WeArePerennials, where you can find more information on upcoming book events (they are on tour now) and more. This is a long interview, but I wasn’t about to cut anything out, because I think there is something here for most.
Please introduce yourselves and tell TFI readers who you are/what you do:
Amy: I am one half of a duo. We are social anthropologists and female empowerment purveyors. We are co-authors and entrepreneurs.
Trisha: I’m a mother of three [Amy is a mother of two]. I’m an author and a cofounder of a jewelry brand that works with women globally to help them.
This is your fourth book. How did you both come together at the beginning? Where did you meet?
Amy: It started with a friendship in our twenties when we met in New York City and cut to, we both ended up in the Bay area [San Francisco], where Trish is from and my husband got a job offer. Then we both had babies around the same time. I fought to be a good mom. Trisha did too, but we were both were falling apart at the seams. Motherhood was much more challenging that we thought.
We would go to our respective mom groups and hear everyone waxing poetic about how beautiful, wonderful and perfect it was. How they loved their husband and couldn’t wait to get back to the baby, and we’d call each other at midnight and cry. Literally tears every single day. We would say to each other “What is wrong? Is everybody lying? How come we feel this way? Is it just us?” So we went on a mission to find the truth. That resulted in our first book, I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids. We interviewed hundreds of women and the only way we got the truth was anonymously on the phone. The book hit a nerve and became a best seller immediately, because women were craving that kind of honesty, support and help.
Trisha: We were craving it. It was very cathartic for us. Like all of our books that we write, it really is something that we’re in at the time and we need that support and community and each other to get through. We’re not solo writing our own issues, it really is about the voice of what’s happening in this generation and time.
What led you to this newest book?
Trisha: After that book the journey continued, we had a lot of great publicity for it, the Today Show and Oprah and we wrote our third book I’d Trade My Husband For A Housekeeper that’s really all about your marriage after the baby carriage–your marriage and taking care of it and how to redefine it and continue to grow with it after you have kids. Then we had a long break. We were looking at each other going “What do we want to? What is it that we’re going through right now?” We started pitching our publisher ideas, but nothing felt right. One day Amy and I were sitting around wondering, what is our next chapter? Here we are, our kids are a little bit older, but we’re looking for our next thing and we ended up going on a trip together to Haiti on a sort of mission. Doing yoga and working with kids there….no expectations, just trying to find some sort of message.
And that’s where Ash + Ames came from. We found this woman on the street creating jewelry out of horns and it wasn’t our style but it was like gosh, this is beautiful craftsmanship. We decided that we could help women globally create these pieces and we can help women locally here be our ambassadors to sell it. It was this whole idea of women empowerment and helping women globally provide financial freedom for themselves.
Amy: During that time we were interviewing women to become ambassadors, there was a common theme which was all those women were looking for the next chapter. Whether they were teachers or lawyers, we talked to a lot of different women who weren’t finding meaning or purpose in their life or doing something that they loved. That’s when we realized, that’s what we were doing too. That’s what we’re all looking for. We were questioning ourselves: Who are we? Who are we becoming? And who do we want to become? That’s when we started this journey with this book and we started interviewing women and all across the nation again, talking on the phone, “What’s happening with our generation?”
Trisha: And how are we different from our moms?
Amy: Our books find us. We’re in the middle of running a start up [Ash + Ames] and we were like uh oh, we have to do this. Because every phone call would turn into an interview where we would start asking questions and feel cathartic and bond with these women. We called each other one day and I remember exactly where I was standing and it was like okay…..
Trisha: We were kind of like “Oh no, we have to write.”
Amy: And we had to write it in secret.
Trisha: Because our husband and friends and everybody around us were like “you guys are nuts!”
Amy: Our plates were full.
Trisha: And we were like “it’s okay because it’s gonna write itself.”
Amy: And it did.
Before we get into the nitty gritty, what would you call your books? Self help books? What I like about this one is there are ideas and you give advice, but it also admits life is messy and that maybe you can’t tie everything up in a nice bow.
Trisha: Our books kind of just happen this way. We did sit and theorize–they’re gonna be part this and part that, but the way they always end up is part problem. “Here’s the issue with our generation.” So we’re talking about the issue—”Did you even know? And oh yeah, my mom really wasn’t a perfect role model for me and this is why.”
Amy: There are quotes and examples to show you that a lot of women feel like this. A lot of women would talk to us in a closet, literally. Because our lives do get really insular. Your kids are older, you don’t have your school groups anymore and you’re just trying to figure yourself out. We’re trying let everybody know, “We got you, you’re not alone.”
And then it’s more thought starters, instead of “this is the path that you have to take to feel better”, it’s a lot of “what about this?” “think about this,” “ask yourself this.”
Trisha: We’re all so different.
Amy: Because we’re different the answers are going to be differentiated, but we all have to ask ourselves the same questions in order to get to some solution or deeper understanding.
Trisha: Even just to get unstuck. A lot of women stay stuck for years and years. One woman read the book early on and she’s incredibly accomplished, amazing woman, you’d never know that she was stuck. She read the book, called us and said “I know this may sound like a small thing but I never put myself on the priority list. One of my life goals has been to go to Cuba with my girlfriends and I’ve been putting it off for a decade.” So she booked it.
Amy: Gave herself permission.
Trisha: And for her it opened up a whole new mindset that it’s okay, that I do something what she called, selfish. But it’s not selfish, it’s self care.
One of the topics that really sort of stuck with me was, What does this success look like for you now? Because you always have an idea of what it will mean to be successful when you’re older and then you get older and you’re like “well I’m kind of that but I’m kind of not that”….
Trisha: Success is a hot button for women because we need to find it for ourselves in a certain way. You have a check box of what that success means–I have a great education, I rose this high to be a CEO or whatever title, I have raised three kids and they’re all off to college. All of these things that sound like success and once we check those boxes we’re still feeling like, “Huh, I don’t feel satisfied.” Success doesn’t feel like success should. It should feel fulfilling, it should feel like “I’ve done it.” That happiness needs to be redefined in a lot of different ways.
Amy: This generation especially looks success as accomplishments and then they tie happiness to that. They feel like “if I’m successful then I’ve ticked all these accomplishment boxes then I’ll be happy”. We’ve talked to woman after woman after woman who list their resume and say “Well, why am I not happy?” And it’s the redefinition of what success means as a human being.
We would ask “When are you happiest?” They would say, “When I’m laughing with my kids having a dance party but I don’t think that’s being successful.”
Another thing I thought was very topical was the focus on finding community again. Because you’re not necessarily friends with all the parents that you were in kindergarten and and with modern technology people need to connect and it’s not happening like it should.
Amy: That’s 100% and that’s the loss of the women who are feeling so alone, they’re not having those conversations that we need to be having and there is a sense of as we get older, there’s no resource for us to have girlfriends and have those conversations and be together.
Trisha: The majority of women we talked to said I do feel a little bit lonely, I used to have a tribe but it was tied to my kids and we’re all fractured. We have married groups of friends and now that’s being fractured. And now I’m single or my best friend is single. So that need for community and the craving of community is huge and it’s affecting women in a very strong way. We launched our website so there’s a landing spot for women to come to and we have a Facebook page where women can talk openly and honestly. It’s really important. It has to happen.
One thing I have to admit, I didn’t read the chapter on relationships and divorce, which in retrospect I should have. How do you think that affects women today? What did you learn doing the book?
Trisha: We talked to a lot of women in a lot of varying stages, getting divorced, single, happily married. We talked to a lot of experts and one of the things we know divorce is on the rise, partly because women are no longer willing to stay in a situation that does not serve them. Whereas they watched their parents suffered through it. Women are initiating more of the divorces.
Amy: 3 out of 5, it’s really high.
Trisha: After forty, it’s initiated by women. Once women hit forty they’re much more apt to finally use their voice and get out. And you know what? We talk to a lot of women who are having affairs. Unapologetically. Literally just “You know what? I need to fill this for me.” There’s still a huge amount of taboo.
Amy: They’re still whispering into the phone, but inside they’re like “Guess what? I don’t feel guilty at the end of the day because I have been doing this for so long.”
Trisha: There’s less judgment.
Amy: There’s more support from other women who say “You need to do what’s right for you right now”. That’s very new in this generation. We’ll support you where you need to go and what you need to do in your life right now.
Trisha: And women in their forties are feeling sexier, more fit and at the top of their game. A lot of times they’re feeling stuck so they’re like what am I supposed to do with this?
And then the big M [menopause] section. That was great because nobody wants to talk about it.
Amy: We almost didn’t put it in there because our editor was like “Oh God no, please no.”
You tackled it in what I thought it was really honest way too. What made you want to talk about it?
Amy: Well everybody wants to talk about it but no one wants to talk about it. There’s this fear. “I’m having these issues, is this the beginning?”
Trisha: Yeah I was sweating last night and you think “Is it here?” There is all this unknown, and I’m asking my doctor and she’s like “Oh no, you’re fine.”
Amy: “You’re fine” is based on age.
Trisha: No one’s talking to us about it. And we’ve talked to women who are hiding it from their husbands, literally, because they feel like it’s the loss of their sexuality and being a sexy woman. One woman has a whole cabinet of creams she keeps locked.
I was with a couple at dinner the other and the woman, she’s beautiful and looks super young, was having a hot flash. And we’re like what’s going on? And she said “just let me be”. The fact that we were all having a conversation about it and it was okay made me feel so like “Oh my gosh, thank you!” This is happening and we all can talk about it.
We also talked to tons of doctors and they’re advice was all conflicting. So at the end of the day there’s a lot of confusion, there’s a lot of shame, we just felt like we needed to get out some of the basics.
One more topic I wanted to cover in the book is about choosing the right passion or purpose in life. As people think about what they want to do next. Have I found my passion is part of that.
Amy: It was interesting because we are a generation of overachievers, but when we’ve asked them, “What do you think your purpose is?” which is a really big question, they’d all flustered and almost annoyed by that question like, “Oh my gosh, am I supposed to know it?”
Trisha: “I need to have a purpose too? I have to add that to my list?!”
Amy: And then when we kinda backed up it. When do you feel most purposeful? A lot of the time that leads to, “It might not be my purpose in life, but I do miss this passion of mine. Wish I would have pursued X, Y, Z and how can I incorporate that into my life?”
Trisha: There’s also something about this time in our life where you’re thinking, “What’s my legacy going to be? Is it the job that I had? Is it the clients that I had? How many houses I sold?” What does your legacy mean to you and that question comes with purpose. Looking back on your life and at what you have done, there’s a lot of amazing things that we’ve all accomplished independently that we can look at and say, “Gosh, my life was full of purpose I was just looking at through a different lens. I’ve got great kids or I helped this one women change her trajectory.” So much that we’re not even cognizant of because we’re looking at that big checklist.
Amy: Right and looking at that purpose as accomplishment-based versus when you talk to one woman who says, “You know what, I want to be known as a really good friend. A really loyal friend. When I wake up, I think about that and I make sure to reach out to one person every single day to get outside of myself and to feel good and to know that I want to make that my purpose.” And that’s amazing. It’s incredible that idea of giving and serving and what that means for everybody.
And that almost sounds so small, trivial, but….
Amy: But it’s not. It’s kind of everything.
Which leads me to ASH and AMES because it is something you were both passionate about and is a project that gives you purpose. What do you love about doing it?
Amy: Essentially it’s jewelry made by women for women and all the way around women are benefiting. So the female artisans that make the jewelry, they’re business are being elevated. Some of these women have the tiniest little business. In El Salvador we worked with a woman who picked seeds of trees and we figured out a way to elevate these items by adding some polki diamonds. Then she had to hire additional people on her team. We’re supporting that whole community of families through supporting the artisans. And then supporting the women like us, the investors who are looking for a different path, looking for their next chapters. For us it kind of ticked a lot of different boxes.
There was no point in launching a company that didn’t give back and didn’t serve women all the way around which is what we love about it.
Trisha: So many of women’s choices are driven by not having financial freedom. They are dependent on somebody else and so that was really important for us, to give, to help women find their own voice.
Amy: Because women want choices. We talked to one woman who was a lawyer and she said, “I don’t want to do this at all. This is what I was groomed for. What choices do I have?” And so for us to build a company that provided a viable choice because you really can make quite a bit of money and you can get to 6 figures if you want. So we thought that that was really a great way to….
Trisha: Be a part of something. We were talking about community, well ASH and AMES really serves a purpose of community. We can all independently run around and do our own thing, but when you’re part of something that can have a bigger impact that’s exciting.
What has been the easiest part about starting your businesses and what’s the hardest?
Trisha: I think the easiest was just plain old ignorance. The first time we wrote our book, we were just like “Let’s write a book”. Everyone said “Nobody really sells books anymore.” And we like, “Oh well, no. We will.”
Amy: We write about this—looking at something through a child’s eye. You can learn so much from our children who are like, “Why not me? Let’s try it. So what if it doesn’t work, I’ll just try something else.” We’ve been conditioned to fear failure and better or for worse that’s how we operate.
Trisha: I guess the hardest part is the reality.
Amy: The harsh cold reality when at 3 am you’re still writing.
What has been a milestone you’re proud of?
Trisha: When we wrote our first book it was like, if one women turns to us and says thank you, we’ve done our job. I think it’s always been our mantra through everything we’ve done this far.
Amy: Another example is there’s a girl in Haiti named Meeshu and we have supported her for years now through Ash and Ames. No one in her village could speak English and so through Ash and Ames she’s been able to go to school and learn English. Year two of her classes we came in and she came running up to us and said, “Hello Amy, Hello Trisha. How are you?” She could speak English. And she was teaching all the girls in her village.
Trisha: My mom. I think it’s such a gift that you can give to your daughter to just believe in themselves. To just go for it. You can’t succeed in life if you don’t believe in yourself.
Amy: Mine is Ms. Nieburg who was my English teacher in 8th grade and was the head of our school paper. I thought she was such a strong independent woman. I had such a hard time using my voice and I remember her pulling me aside and she said, “You are smart. You can do more and you’ve got to step up. You just do.” She kind of took me under her wing.
Best career advice:
Amy: I’m gonna steal what Trisha said which is see life through the eyes of a child. Do not limit yourself by what you think you can or can’t do. Literally white board out the sky and go for it. I know another one. Fail fast. We’re all gonna fail. Fail fast.
Trisha: We’re very slow failures.
Amy: We hang on to things. We squeeze the living life out of things where we should have let them go. If you’re gonna fail just fail.
Amy: We are going on a book tour nationally which is really exciting. Out of nowhere we do have another very big idea.
Trisha: Things just knock on the door. And we just open it.
Amy: Literally knock on the door.
Another big idea?
Amy: Yeah. Whole different sector, it’s the evolution of Ash and Ames. More of a lifestyle brand so that’s all we can really say.
Do you guys sleep? Are you like … insomniacs?
Trisha: We take it where we can get it. We just feel like…
Amy: We’re aware of our instincts and we’re really spiritual and we mediate. When your eyes are really wide open and you see what the signs are and the doors you have to go through…sometimes you want to go through.