BWW Interviews: MARLO THOMAS Chats New Book 'It Ain't Over..Till It's Over'
Emmy, Grammy and Golden Globe Award-winning actress Marlo Thomas is a best-selling author whose career has included memorable moments on both stage and screen.
This week, the legendary 'That Girl' star spoke to BWW and other members of the press about her newly released book, "It Ain't Over...Till It's Over: Reinventing Your Life--and Realizing Your Dreams--Anytime, at Any Age", which features 60 stories of extraordinary women who have all dared to dream again.
Marlo: I'm so happy to be here with you. I've been traveling with my book and meeting women from all over the country. It's very, very stimulating for me to realize how much this book is needed. So many women are trying to either start over, or just start, and they want to know how. How do you start a business? How do you change your career? How do you get the career you want? How do you make your dream come true?
One of the things that I've learned is the first thing you have to do is never face the facts or you won't get out of bed in the morning. That's my mantra, anyway. I have that hanging over my computer. People are always telling you that you can't do it. You don't have enough money, or you're too young, or you're too old, or you're too tall, or you're too short, or whatever. Don't listen to any of those facts. Make up your own facts. That's the first thing.
The second thing, maybe the dream that you have needs another skill set. Maybe in order to get to that dream, you have to learn something new. Or maybe you should intern somewhere where you want to work, in the field you want to work. Everybody is very happy to hire you for nothing, so you can intern somewhere and learn what you want to do.
Maybe it's too scary to start alone, so maybe you need to do with a girlfriend, or a couple girlfriends, or with your mom, or with somebody, with your boyfriend, with your husband, whoever is in your life. Maybe the two or three of you need to get together to do it. The most important thing is to try to figure out what is something that you love to do?
The book has 60 different women that I interviewed and they come from all walks of life. Some of them were really broke and sleeping on their friend's couches, sold their clothes through EBay to make enough money just to begin to start a business, to fund a business. Other women mortgaged their houses. Other women borrowed money on their retirement funds, or sold the things that they had, but a lot of women that really were able to get started, were with things that they already did well and liked to do.
One woman liked to make jewelry. She was in her early 30s and her husband died and she had three little kids. She certainly wasn't planning on going back to work at that point in her life. She didn't know what to do and her friend said, well, you're always making jewelry and giving it to all of your pals. Why don't you try selling your jewelry? She said, would anybody want that? And she said, yes. Sure. Try it.
So she stayed up for nights making ankle bracelets, and nose rings, and earrings, and bracelets, and necklaces, and all kinds of things, and started taking them to stores in her neighborhood and sold them. She went on EBay and Etsy and sold them some more, which is great about the web, because you don't have to have money for a storefront. You can actually have a virtual store. So she's making a living doing something that she loves.
Another woman made caramels. She was trying to make some money and everybody loved her caramels. She made little packages of caramels and took them around to different offices in her neighborhood and left a card. People started calling her and saying, gee, we love those caramels you left off. You could bring some more? She said, yes, but this time you have to pay for it. So she sold them to all different businesses and office buildings where she lived. She also took them to a local bakery and they sold them. She's made a business out of these caramels.
Those are two examples of taking something that you love to do and making that into a business. Or the other way of doing it is to learn a new skill set and to do it with somebody that you know. I encourage anybody that wants to start a new business, or make a new dream come true, you can do that, you just need to have some passion about it. You need to say, okay, I'm really going to go for this.
One of the things that I have learned from talking to all of these women, a mistake that I sometimes make, that if you really want to do something, if you have a dream, you can dream big but work small. Sometimes all of us, me included, we dream big and we try to start at the very top.
One woman had an idea for a product. She was a mom and she had an idea for - I don't want to give her idea away because she hasn't sold it yet, but it's something that would help her deal with all the things she needed to do to take care of her kids, or when her mother came, her grandma came, to take care of the kids. She took it to QVC and they rejected it. She was devastated. I said, you can't be devastated because you went to QVC. You're going to the top of the mountain.
Start at your local stores. Start by sending it to your friends. Start selling it on Etsy and other places like that. Just start working small. Make a call every day. Try to do something every day for six months, just a step every single day. As I say, get a new skill set, intern somewhere. Make calls to people that can inform you.
There's a saying that it's not who you know, it's who you get to know. If you don't know somebody in the area that you'd like to learn about, find somebody who does know somebody and make a call to somebody you don't know. Just keep trying every single day to do one thing to get you closer to your dream. So those are some of things that I've learned by being on the road and talking to women. I get very excited when I see women say, I could do that. Alright, I'll try that.
What I also like about the book, and I think it's important, is that with the 60 stories, or the 60 different women, you can look at it as a roadmap. Every single woman has some little tip in there that might be useful to you, or your friend, or your mother, or your sister. If you look at the book that way, not looking at the book as oh, wow, aren't these 60 women fabulous because they did this? Which they are, but if you look at it as, where is a roadmap for me? What is something I can take from each of these women and make my dream come true?
So that's my last tip and now I'd love to hear from you all.
How did you discover the women that you're featuring in the book?
I went out on my Facebook and Twitter pages and asked for them, if anybody wanted to start over and was looking for advice or wanted to share their story. We got thousands of answers. As you know, I work for AOL and Huffington Post, so I went on their Facebook pages. Then I also found some women in the country that I hired and asked them to go through local stories. I didn't want to miss anybody.
I wanted to be sure that if a local woman had done something - like this woman had started a nail taxi business, which was great, but it was a local story. A friend of hers was pregnant and she'd had some trouble with her pregnancy. She was in bed a while and she was about to deliver and she felt really grubby. She said to her friend, it would be great if you could find me a manicurist to come give me a manicure and a pedicure before I deliver the baby. Her friend said, sure, I'll find somebody to do that.
It was in Ohio. She couldn't find anybody and she thought, what a great business. So she created a business called Nail Taxi, which really didn't take a huge investment because she lived in Ohio, all of her friends had a car, and she had to make an investment in all kinds of nail equipment and nail polish and so forth. She, herself, went to beauty school so that she could also be one of the manicurists.
Then she was a dispatcher and she took in orders. She made herself visible in the community and she started a whole business called Nail Taxi. Now she's in several other cities. That came from a need from a friend. That was a local story. We wanted women from all parts of the country and we wanted women from different ages and different backgrounds. I think we accomplished that by putting out feelers in these three different ways.
Sometimes people believe that only those with money, or a degree, can reinvent themselves. How would you encourage those people to get past the "I can't?"
First of all, almost all people who have started businesses started with nothing. I'm sure there others that had money to start other businesses, but most of the women in my book started with nothing and had to go, as I say, learn a skill set, intern somewhere, borrow money, go in with a friend. Those are the ways in which people start businesses. I think that a lot of the women in the book did start with absolutely zero. Some of the women were already in a business and then wanted to start over in another business, but there are all types in the book.
But to people who don't have anything, and don't know how to start, I think those are the ways in which to start, which is to take a step every single day and figure out what is it that you want to do and do you know enough about it? Do you need another class to learn about it? Do you need to borrow money? Do you need to go in with a friend, or three friends, to start this business? Will you all pool your talents and your money? I think it's very doable for somebody starting from zero. I really do.
I'm interested in the fact that you interviewed women of different ages and of different generations such as boomers, the Greatest Generation, Generation X, and Generation Y. During the course of interviewing each of those generations, did you notice differences or similarities among the women?
Yes. I felt that they were mostly stuck. They were stuck in a place that they didn't know how to get out of. They had to work really hard to reinvent themselves from feeling like they were in a hole. Whether they had been laid off at a job, or whether they were stuck in a job they didn't like and they felt they couldn't get anywhere in it, or they didn't like their boss, or they didn't like the whole atmosphere of their job. They had a dream in the back of their mind, but they never really could get to that dream because they had to make a living to raise their kids or be a part of supplementing the family income. Now was the time that they wanted to at last go back and pick up that dream. I think that there were all different situations that they were in, but mostly they felt stuck.
You found it to be a commonality across the generations?
I did. Feeling stuck was a common theme. Now they felt that maybe they could go after it because they had saved a little money. A lot of it was, how do you start? How do I start? I don't know how to start. That's why, when I was saying the thing about one step a day. Just do something every single day.
If you want to get somewhere in six months, if you do something every single day, and I really mean every single day, you will be way further along in six months. One of those can be meeting a person who thinks like you that wants to do it, too. That could be one day. The next day could be learning a new skill set, taking a class, signing up for a class.
Just keep doing something every single day. My acting teacher, Lee Strasberg, used to say, acting is not in the mind. It's in the doing. That's the same with life. You can't sit home and wish for it and talk to your friends about it. You have to do something. Do something every single day to get to where you want to go.
I'm looking to expand on the career that I'm doing right now and finding that Extra time to take care of the little things that really need to be done to be very successful is difficult for me with everything else that I'm doing.
Then I think you have to make a priority list. That's what I do. As you probably know, I have my own website on AOL and I create 80 pieces of content a month. I have to raise money for St. Jude's Children Research Hospital. I'm doing a new play, and I'm writing blogs for Huffington Post, and I'm married with a husband who'd like to have some of my time.
I have to prioritize every single day. I start on the weekend. On the weekend, I just sit down and sit at my computer at my desk and say, okay, what is it that I want to get done this week? What do I need? What do I want to get done that doesn't have to do with all these other jobs I have?
For example, all of a sudden I'm writing a book. When am I going to have the time to write this book? I have to pick the hour. Do I have to get up an hour earlier so that I can do it then? Do I have to stay up an hour later at night so that I can do it then? Which days do I do which thing? Which day will be my hour or my two hours? When will I get them, because you have to plan that out.
So planning out everything and then, in between all of that everything, planning out the extras that you need to do?
That's right. In other words, if you've got to get your kids UP in the Morning at 7, then maybe at 6 o'clock is your hour for yourself. Or maybe when your kids are napping, or going to school, or you've fixed the dinner, now it's your hour. I don't know if you're married and you have somebody, that's going to take pieces of the day.
Whatever it is, you have to look at your whole day, every day, and say, which hour, or hour-and-a-half, or two hours, is going to be mine? This is going to be my time. I think that's the only way you're going to find it, but you have to figure it out. You can't say at the end of the day, another day went by and I had no time for myself. You have to make which time is going to be your time and stick to that.
I'm approaching 50 and I've started a new blog business myself. I've got the support of my husband, but some of my friends think that I've kind of lost my mind. I'm not corporate anymore and what am I doing with my time? For your experience, and for the amazing women in your book, is there some theme when you're not getting the support you need for your current set of friends and family? How can you go out and find it?
First of all, you have a husband. That's a huge bonus because a lot of women find that their husbands think they're crazy. So it's great that you have a husband that is supportive of you. You know inside of yourself this is the right thing to do. I think we spend way too much time worrying about what other people think anyway. Even if it was your husband, we spend way too much time worrying.
I don't know what they're doing with their lives, but let them be happy and well and do what they want to do. In the meantime, whatever you're working on, you need to find some other women, or men, who are doing what you do so that you have a community, some people to talk to, Bounce ideas off of. I think that it's tough to be isolated.
You're a blogger. My goodness, there are a whole lot of bloggers, maybe you can connect with one of them. Or if you have a Facebook page, go on your Facebook page and say, I'm looking for people who I can start a community with. I'd like to talk to some other women who are working in whatever field. I love my Facebook page because it's a community. It's a new community of women. My mom had passed away and I was feeling kind of bad that I wasn't going to get any new advice from my mother. I was making lists of all the advice she'd ever given me so I wouldn't forget. I went on my Facebook page and I said, do all of you, any of you, have advice your mom ever gave you that you really cherish?
So many women wrote in about different pieces of advice that their mother had given them. One woman wrote in and said, my mom just passed away a month ago and I'm really feeling sad about the fact that I will never get another piece of advice from her. Another woman wrote in and said, "I know just how you feel, I lost my mom a year ago and it makes so sad not to be able to hear her voice and be able to tell her what I'm going through and get her advice. I really feel for you." Another woman wrote on the Facebook page her feelings about her mom.
It really brought tears to my eyes to see all these different women comforting a woman that they had never met. They probably will never meet, but here they were talking to each other and sharing their feelings on my Facebook page. It made me feel so good to know that I had created a space where they could do that. I think you could pose a question on your Facebook page and ask, I'm looking to communicate with other women, I'm not getting a lot of support from my friends and I really need support and I'd love to hear from you and just start talking and you'll find a community right there.
I wonder if you're going to ever, in the It Ain't Over idea, speak about, or interview people that have taken on major changes to improve their health and things like that.
One woman, Natasha Coleman, weighed 432 pounds. She went from a size 32 to a size 10. She had never been on an airplane and she and her husband had won a trip. She got on the plane and she had this humiliating experience. They couldn't put her into the seat. They couldn't clasp the seatbelt. She said she was so embarrassed and people on the plane were impatient and looking at her like, what's this fat lady doing holding up the airplane while they try to strap her in?
She was very embarrassed by that, so she said, now I'm really going to try. She went to her kitchen, and she had two little kids who were also getting heavy, and she threw out and gave away everything that was cookies, and crackers, and cakes, and all that stuff. Got rid of all the packaged goods and just started buying vegetables and fresh produce, fruits and things. She went to a gym. The first time she went to a gym, she broke the treadmill. Can you imagine the humiliation? But she just kept at it and she lost weight.
In fact, she's going to be on The Katie Couric Show with me on the 2nd of June. You will see her, the evolution of her body, but it took a lot of work and a lot of assertiveness to get herself to do it and now she just feels great about herself. You have to decide if that's what you want. You have to eat different, drink a lot of water. You have to exercise and you also have to change what you have in your house.
Did any of the women that you met or interviewed have to divorce their spouse to achieve their dreams or women who had to deal with an unsupportive spouse?
A couple of the women did get out of an abusive marriage. One woman left a husband that she found was cheating on her and broke her heart. A lot of women had to sit down with their husbands, including me. I had to sit down with my husband at one point and say, look, this is who I am and this is what I need. I have to feel free to do it without worrying that I'm an inconvenience to you, because a lot of times a man's dream is something that we all know how to support.
Sometimes women's dreams are not supported because they're an "inconvenience" to the family. They're an inconvenience to other people. One of the things that I think, women have to learn a new language, which include words like I need, I must have, I insist. You need to do that. You need to put those words into your vocabulary. It's interesting when you say to somebody, a husband, whoever, you say to them, look, I really need this. I need to have this. I need to do this work. I love this and I want to have this in my life.
If they can't support it, do it anyway. Just do what you need to do and hopefully it won't kill your marriage, but you do deserve it. This is your life and you have every right to your dreams. Sometimes we can live with somebody who is unsupportive and get our support from somewhere else, but we still need to do what we want to do because we love it, we want it, and need it. If you can't, if in fact that is going to threaten your marriage, that's another decision you have to make.
The most important decision, the first step, is expressing what it is that you need, and want, and must have, and you love it. Some women say, well, they don't want to admit to their husbands that they love their work. They say I have to work, but they love their work. It's okay to love your work. I love my work. I wouldn't let anybody take it away from me.
I have to negotiate with my husband and say, I'm not going to work at dinnertime. Or if I have to some nights, I have to, but I'm going to try to be giving and make time for my husband, but he also knows that I love my work and if I have a deadline, I have to do it. I have to finish my work. Just remember your vocabulary - I need it. I must have it. I have to have it and I love it.
I was at a blogger convention and Katie Couric was asked about women over a certain age being marginalized and ignored. In relation to your book, how do you encourage women not to buy into that? Katie responded to it by saying, to hell with that. I don't think that's true. How do you help women in your book, or how do the women in your book, get over that, I'm being marginalized?
I think by the things that we've talked about today - A) Don't face those facts. They're not your facts. It doesn't matter what the polls say, and what statistics say, and what people say - you're too old for this job. You're not the right age for this job. Don't listen to that. Go to the places where you can find other people who think like you, who are open to women your age, or get together with other women your age and create something that belongs to you.
I certainly would not spend my life worrying about what somebody else says about me. When I turned 50, the parts that I could play in television and movies dried up. There were not as many parts that I could play because they wanted younger women. That's not going to be the defining moment of my life.
So I started doing more theater. I started finding other ways where I could perform as an actor. I may not be able to be That Girl, but I can be in a lot of plays and enjoy it and love it. I'm also now working on doing another television show. I keep continuing to go after what I want my way, but it certainly does exist in the world.
I met a woman who was in her 40s who wanted to a hostess at a restaurant and they only wanted 28 year olds. They wanted women under 30. Well, you can't fight that. So move on to something else, either another restaurant, or become a manager of a restaurant. Take a course in that, but just keep figuring out what you need to do to get what you want. Forget what the world wants you to do or any other person wants you to do. This marginalization does exist. Of course it exists, but that doesn't mean that you have to buy into it. Don't buy into it.
About MARLO THOMAS:
Marlo Thomas is an award-winning actress, author and activist whose body of work continues to impact American entertainment and culture. She has received four Emmys, the Peabody, a Golden Globe and a Grammy, and was inducted into the Broadcasting Hall of Fame. She is also the recipient of the National Civil Rights Museum Freedom Award, the Helen Caldicott Award for Nuclear Disarmament and the Jefferson Award for Public Service, which she received in 2011 along with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Born into a show business family-her father was TV star Danny Thomas-Marlo worked her way up through summer stock and TV roles, and in 1966, created and executive-produced That Girl, the first situation comedy about an independent young woman living on her own and pursuing a career. The overwhelming fan mail from That Girl politicized Marlo: She became a delegate to the 1972 Democratic Convention, an organizer for the Equal Rights Amendment; and a co-creator, along with Gloria Steinem, of the Ms. Foundation and the national Take Our Daughters to Work Day.
In 1972, Marlo brought her passion for fighting cultural stereotypes to a younger generation, conceiving the celebrated children's project, Free to Be...You and Me, which included a number-one bestselling book; an Emmy Award-winning TV special; a gold record album; and a stage play. Embraced by teachers and librarians nationwide, Free to Be eventually became a part of school curriculum in 35 states.
Throughout it all, Marlo has continued to be a presence on television, producing and starring in dozens of issues-oriented films, including Consenting Adults, Ultimate Betrayal, and Nobody's Child, for which she won the Emmy for Best Dramatic Actress.
On stage, she has explored such complex issues as death and dying (The Shadow Box), wrongful conviction (The Exonerated) and the emotional aftermath of 9/11 (The Guys). Her Broadway credits include Thieves, Social Security, The Shadow Box and Elaine May's comedy George Is Dead. Regional theatre productions include: Who's Afraid Of Virginia Wolff Woman In Mind, Paper Doll, The Effect of Gamma Rays and Arthur Laurents' final play, New Year's Eve. She appeared in the National Company of Six Degrees of Separation; and is currently co-starring in a pre-Broadway show at the George Street Playhouse entitled Clever Little Lies, written by Tony Award-winner Joe DiPietro.
Marlo has produced six New York Times best-selling books: Free To Be...You and Me; Free To Be...A Family; The Right Words at the Right Time; The Right Words at the Right Time, Volume 2: Your Turn!; Thanks & Giving All Year Long; and, in 2009, her memoir, Growing Up Laughing. Her seventh book, It Ain't Over Till It's Over, is scheduled for release in Spring 2014.
In 2010, Marlo launched her innovative website, MarloThomas.com, in partnership with AOL and the Huffington Post. Her informative articles, expert forums, and wildly popular interview show, "Mondays With Marlo," have earned her 100,000,000 page views in 2013 alone.
Marlo is also the National Outreach Director for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, which her father founded in 1962. As the public face of the hospital, she spearheads the team that raises $850 million annually. In 2004, she created St. Jude's annual Thanks & Giving program, an unprecedented collaborative campaign, in partnership with more than 60 of the nation's leading corporations and retailers, that raises millions of dollars from holiday shoppers across the nation.
Marlo is married to TV talk show pioneer Phil Donahue. They live in New York City.
Be sure to check Marlo out on Facebook (www.Facebook.com/MarloThomas), Twitter (www.twitter.com/MarloThomas) and on www.marlothomas.com. You can also pick up a copy of her book on amazon: http://buff.ly/1hJfFOh