Glorious Broad #12: Elizabeth White

PHOTOS: Scott Pasfield

PHOTOS: Scott Pasfield

liz chair.jpg

GLORIOUS PROFESSION: Resilience Advocate, Author, Intellectual

GLORIOUS PERSONA: Stylish, Afro-Centric, Truth-Teller

GLORIOUS QUALITIES: Scrappy, Wise, Confident, Worldly

GLORIOUS PHILOSOPHY:

Your net worth really is your network

I love a gutsy Broad. A ballsy Broad. A brazen Broad.

And that in-your-face gumption is what drew me to Elizabeth White.

We met at The Atlantic’s New Old Age conference — and her speech knocked me flat. She talked about being jobless in her mid 50s— after havin' a HELLUVA career. But this time she was unable to “restart” — the way we ALL expect to “restart” — when your job “restructures” — aka, FIRES YOUR ASS. 

Sound familiar??? She suffered: shame, sadness, shock — and the unending grind of being BROKE AF. And then she said ENOUGH. She was sick of acting like everything is normal. Cause everything AIN’T normal. She was tired of faking it … she came clean. 

So she talked about it. She created groups about it … And she wrote about it. 

Her self-published book, 55, Underemployed, and Faking Normal, got covered by PBS, then she did a TEDTalk ... Her genius PR lady? That would be Elizabeth White. Her marketing guru — also Elizabeth White. And her updated second edition was published by Simon & Schuster in January 2019, thank you very much. 

Ebeth's commanding-yet-inviting presence projects “ask me anything.”

And so I did.

THIS QUOTE FROM YOUR BOOK SLAYED ME:
“You know me, I am in your friendship circle, hidden in plain sight. My clothes are still impeccable, bought in the good years when I was still making money. You wouldn’t know that my electricity was cut off, but if you paid attention, you’d see the sadness.”

I’VE BEEN THERE. YOU’VE BEEN THERE. SO MANY OVER 50’s HAVE BEEN THERE. TELL US ABOUT THE PAIN — THE SHAME …
I was in my mid 50s when the great recession happened. And from there, it all went downhill. The robust network — decimated. I am used to racism and sexism but now there was the new ism of age — and age discrimination changes your whole experience.

HOW DID YOU GET GOING ON YOUR “RESTART” …
I’ve had a life and career of restarts — I worked for the pillars of capitalism, then started my own Afrocentric lifestyle chain with stores in DC, Philadelphia, and NYC. But THIS was my biggest restart. When I got no traction, I got interested in starting a new career working with at-risk youth. So I did what I do: wrote letters/shook networks — NOTHING. I thought it would be a cool re-invention story …

OH! THOSE EASY-PEASY RE-INVENTION STORIES ARE TOTAL BS. REAL RE-INVENTION IS EFFING HARD WORK! SURE, IT CAN HAPPEN — BUT I’M SO TIRED OF THE BANKER TURNED PASTRY CHEF FAIRY TALE
And when I tried to pivot and couldn't, when this latest search failed, I was in deepest despair.

Around that time I wrote an article for NEXT Avenue about what I was going through. It was then that my path to resilience was paved. It went viral.

LEAD US DOWN THIS PATH...
1.     First you’re “Fine”
2.    Then a catastrophic “event” happens (GB: like you lose your fucking job)
3.    You begin to define life “before X happened” – “after X happened”
4.    Then you wander the wilderness
5. Then – the glimmer flickers — for me, the NEXT essay

If you don’t pay attention or you become cynical — you won’t see that flicker. It’s a train coming at you — not a light at the end of the tunnel.

But I looked up — I saw the flicker — the reaction to my article showed me that I have the background, experiences, and discoveries to share a book — an inexpensive book filled with light.

AND WHAT ARE THOSE DISCOVERIES? WHAT IS THAT LIGHT?
That there is liberation in letting go and coming clean. And remember: IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT. That doesn’t mean you made perfect decisions — I did a bunch of dumb things when I had money …

LETTING GO OF THE SHAME IS A BITCH …
Oh please — my Harvard MBA couldn’t make the case. And I found myself in this emotional place at 57? Double loser!

SO, WHAT’S NEXT?
Now I am interested in a bigger picture —and thinking ahead in this different financial climate. Frugal innovation, learning from developing countries, $2,000 cars, tiny houses and — always — resilient circles.

AFRICA PLAYS A BIG PART IN YOUR STORY AND HOW YOU PRESENT YOUR FABULOUS SELF TO THE WORLD …
I worked in different parts of Africa with the World Bank for 12 years. Then, I was Chief Operating Officer of an economic non-profit focused on Africa. After that I sold products from Africa for my decorative home store. So — always — Africa …

If you don’t pay attention or you become cynical — you won’t see that flicker. It’s a train coming at you — not a light at the end of the tunnel.

WHAT WAS A FAVORITE TIME IN YOUR LIFE?
When my family moved from Libya to Italy. I LOVED the values, the style. Late trains, who cares. But a bad risotto now that’s a disaster.  Love that about Italy. I was there from 7th to 10th grades — and I’d stop traffic. I felt so appreciated for my ethnic beauty …

ARE YOU A WOMAN’S WOMAN?
I’m going to quote Mary Pipher’s here— and say “women friends are mental health insurance.”

ANY DESIRE TO BE 20 AGAIN?
No. I think of that 20 year-old with tenderness. Vulnerable. Experimenting. I am none of those things now.

DO YOU FEEL FREER AS YOU GET OLDER?
I am standing on the cusp of possibility. And financially too. So, yes.

HAS HAPPINESS CHANGED FOR YOU?
I am not seeking happiness as much as contentment. I love my work —it’s clear. It’s certain. And I can contribute.

WHAT DOES BEING GLORIOUS MEAN TO YOU?
Glorious feels full. Present. Clear, with direction and self direction.

Now, that’s a ballsy broad who has plenty to say about resilience, living frugally and living — GLORIOUSLY.

For more truth-telling, follow Ebeth @55fakingnormal and email her at fakingnormal@yahoo.com. Unemployed and Faking Normal is available on Amazon. And it rocks.