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Katherine Snow Smith: “Lean hard on your friends”

Lean hard on your friends. Have dinners, drinks, walks, talks, sleepovers and calls with friends. My friends were there for me locally and on the phone from miles away. They didn’t always know what to say but often they had just the right words. Even when women who weren’t my closest friends who saw me […]

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Lean hard on your friends. Have dinners, drinks, walks, talks, sleepovers and calls with friends. My friends were there for me locally and on the phone from miles away. They didn’t always know what to say but often they had just the right words. Even when women who weren’t my closest friends who saw me in the grocery store or sent a text offering to talk or grab a drink, I took them up on it. I didn’t spill my guts or cry with everyone, but it kept my calendar full and felt less alone.


As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce Or Breakup”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katherine Snow Smith, author of Rules for the Southern Rulebreaker: Missteps and Lessons Learned is principal of SnowWrites Public Relations & Writing and a longtime business reporter, parenting columnist and magazine editor for the Tampa Bay Times.

A graduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Journalism, she worked at newspapers throughout the south before going into public relations two years ago. She now has her own firm and is a PR practitioner and freelance reporter and editor. Katherine is the mother of three children ages 17 to 23 and the daughter of two parents ages 88 to 96.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

At the moment, I have three career paths: author, journalist and public relations specialist. Make that four, if you count being a mother, the mother of all careers.

I am a new author, with my first book coming out July 21 (EDITOR’S NOTE or “having hit stores and the Internet July 21” depending on when this runs.) I decided to write this book after I fell on President Barack Obama during a photo opp at a White House. For much of my life, including more than 20 years as a newspaper reporter, bizarre things happened to me that made for funny stories I’d share with friends. After I borrowed 4-inch heels for this holiday media party and fell on the host, I decided I’d take a memoir writing class and finally start a book.

As for being a journalist, I majored in advertising in college and had to take one news writing class. I was hooked and switched my major to journalism. I started as a reporter covering three tiny S.C. towns, went on to be a reporter, columnist and editor at the Tampa Bay Times, the biggest paper in the southeast.

Two years ago, I left the Tampa Bay Times when I was offered a better-paying job at a public relations firm. Within a year, I had made enough contacts and gained the experience to start my own business.

Can you explain to our readers why you are an authority about “divorce”?

I suppose anyone who has been divorced is some kind of authority. I believe I rose to Kristin’s attention for her series on thriving after divorce because my book, Rules for the Southern Rulebreaker, Missteps and Lessons Learned, includes several chapters about the end of my 24-year-marriage and facing the new world of dating, a new career, beating cancer as a divorced woman (yes you have to check that box at the hospital) and how I moved forward, stronger than I was when I was married.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I got dumped because I secretly glanced at my date’s phone about six months into dating after divorce and shortly after I started working at a public relations firm. It clearly was wrong of me, but in my defense, I picked up the phone while he was in the bathroom and only started to scroll through texts to see what he was texting friends about me. I then came to my senses and put the phone down before opening any conversations. The man, whom I had been dating for about a month, didn’t say anything at the time, but then didn’t contact me for three days. I texted him to check in and read his response a couple of hours later during a meeting with my new boss. 
“I know you looked at my phone. This isn’t working for me,” he texted.

My face turned purple and my boss asked if I was okay. In my state of panic, I just decided to confess what had happened and she calmly asked if this was routine or out of character. When I convinced her this was very atypical behavior for me, she went into crisis management mode and we scripted a strategic response. It was a good one, but he said he was hurt and couldn’t continue dating.

The next day I found out he was going out with a woman 20 years younger than I was and 30 years younger than he was. I told my boss and we analyzed the whole incident more and came to the conclusion that he was actually testing me, with his phone, which was never unlocked. I failed his test but actually came out ahead with my new boss.

I learned, of course, never to look at another phone, but also that being human and vulnerable can actually be an asset in the workplace.

If you had a close friend come to you for advice after a divorce, what are 5 things you would advise in order to survive and thrive after the divorce? Can you please give a story or example for each?

Here are my five tips, in no particular order:

Don’t ask friends what people saying

Just as I had often said “Did you hear so-and-so got divorced,” about friends and neighbors when I was married, I knew people, even friends, were talking about the end of my long marriage. The conversations weren’t necessarily mean-spirited, but it’s what people discuss. I wondered what my friends were telling their kids about why Mr. and Mr. Smith got divorced. I wondered what work colleagues thought or said, especially since my former husband and I continued to work 20 feet apart in the same newsroom.

But I just decided not to ask any of my close friends what they said or were asked. The only conversations focused on were with my three children.

“Everything else is just noise,” a divorced friend and mother of two told me.

Make a playlist of songs about moving forward, being solo, being with friends and NOT being with him.

Mine included:

Something More by Sugarland: “Gotta be more than this. I need a little less hard time. I need a little more bliss.”

Independent Woman by Destiny’s Child: “The house I live in, I’ve bought. The car I’m driving, I’ve bought it. I depend on me.”

A Little Bit Stronger by Sarah Evans: “It doesn’t happen overnight, but you turn around and a month’s gone by, and you realize you haven’t cried. Not giving you an hour or a second or another minute longer. I’m busy getting stronger.”

And several by Miranda Lambert

Baggage Claim: “At the baggage claim, you got a lot of luggage in your name. When you hit the ground, check the lost and found because it ain’t my problem now.”

Dead Flowers: “I feel like this long string of lights. They lit up our whole house on Christmas Day. But now it’s January and the bulbs have all burned out, but they still hang like dead flowers.”

Unhappily Married (Lambert and the Pistol Annies): “With all the baggage you and me carry, we’ll spend forever unhappily married.”

This came out after my divorce but would have been on the list. Breaking Up With Your Is Like Taking My Bra Off by RaeLynn: “Yes I should be crying, grieving some kind of loss. But it’s like taking this pink and lacy, suffocating bra off.”

Establish a few mentors

Think about women (and children of divorced parents) who have thrived after divorce.

I didn’t cry on their shoulders or even speak to them regularly, but the way my mentors live their lives reminded me every day that mine, as well as my kids’ lives, could be very good even after divorce.

I often thought of my aunt who divorced when her children were younger than mine were at the time of my divorce. Her three children (my cousins) are all married for well over a decade and have good relationships with both of their divorced parents.

I thought of several friends from high school, college and later life, who have divorced parents and they have gone on to have very well adjusted and happy lives. I also reminded myself of children who aren’t doing so well as young adults who have parents who are still married.

I reminded myself daily of a friend in her 80s who never married, though she did have long relationships, a successful career, and has served on the boards of Fortune 500 companies and nonprofits. She has a very full life and friends everywhere.

Shortly after I divorced, she said to me in an e-mail:

“All I can say is that until I was about fifty-five or sixty, people sort of went ‘awww’ and felt sorry for me when I said I wasn’t married. Since then I’ve experienced nothing but envy.”

Lean hard on your friends.

Have dinners, drinks, walks, talks, sleepovers and calls with friends. My friends were there for me locally and on the phone from miles away. They didn’t always know what to say but often they had just the right words. Even when women who weren’t my closest friends who saw me in the grocery store or sent a text offering to talk or grab a drink, I took them up on it. I didn’t spill my guts or cry with everyone, but it kept my calendar full and felt less alone.

Don’t limit yourself to divorced friends for support.

I was surprised at how well my married friends understood the pain of breaking up. They hadn’t been through it, but their mom had or their sister, or they had suffered through their own pain and loss. Most of my friends are married and they were there for me in every way. I remember the night I moved into my own place, one married friend brought over a bottle of Vodka, a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and a box of condoms. I joked that my teenage son would probably use them before I would, but, because of her, I really belly laughed on this hard, dark night. A year later, when I moved from that rental house with a huge garage to a house I bought with much less storage, another married friend spent two Saturdays helping me clean out my garage. She helped me sort through my wedding and honeymoon albums, the family portraits my kids had painted of a smiling mom and dad and other painful but also happy memories.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that helped you in this work? Can you share how that was relevant in your real life?

I got my life lesson quote that helps me in all things professional, familial, emotional and beyond from a man I sat next to on a plane about six months after I was divorced. He was 10 years or so ahead of me in divorced life and told me to this:

“There’s a reason the windshield is a lot bigger than the rearview mirror.”

I actually have a lot of very good things in my rearview mirror, but I use this quote to remind me that I should think about what’s ahead, work for what’s ahead, and dream about what’s ahead, more than focusing on the past mistakes or past successes.

What are the most common mistakes people make after they go through a divorce? What can be done to avoid that?

Giving up the family pet. If no kids are involved, I suppose it makes sense to cut ties with your former spouse. But my former husband and I continue to share custody of our third son, so our 12-year-old dog goes back and forth with him every week. (We’ve been divorced almost three years.) We even had splitting costs for vet bills included in our marriage settlement. People are astounded by this, and when I think of it, I don’t know anybody else who shares custody of a pet. But it works well. We both love our dog and are less annoyed with each other that neither one of us got custody of Charlie. I know my dog helped me immensely every other week. All of us need someone who loves us unconditionally, and unlike our parents, never offers an opinion on anything.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources related to this topic that you would recommend to our readers?

Unlocking Us by Brene’ Brown — Interview with Glennon Doyle is especially good for those recently divorced.

Oprah’s Supersoul Conversations — Her talk with Gayle King, also helpful for recently divorced.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

My most exciting project is the release of my book, Rules for the Southern Rulebreaker: Missteps and Lessons Learned. It’s a collection of 22 essays about times I veered off the expected path, from falling on Barack Obama during a photo opp, to claiming my place as the middle school lice mom and humiliating my daughter to realizing my 24-year marriage was over and starting a new career and life at age 50.

I think my book will help readers accept that life is messy and we should embrace it instead of sweeping it under the sofa with the T.J. Maxx pillows over the red wine stains. We take detours in life, some more off course than others, but they lead to unexpected chapters that aren’t all bad.

In this age when so many people curate their lives to appear Christmas-card and Instagram perfect, I wanted to share stories of the opposite. I’m not advocating for self-sabotage or reckless behavior. I just believe in accepting and even championing the fact that we are far from perfect. We need to laugh or cry at these parts of our life, but not be ashamed of them.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

The chapter in my book about my divorce is called “Miranda Lambert is not a Licensed Therapist.” Each chapter title is a rule I have broken. I write that my former husband and I had seven marriage therapists over ten years, but it was listening to her song lyrics that helped me understand my marriage was over.

So many of her songs are honest, and sometimes humorous, looks at challenges in life and getting through them. I would love to have her read my book, at least her chapter, and see what comes out of that connection.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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