“You already know the right thing to do.” I’ve had anxiety throughout my life, and I have questioned a lot of decisions I made before I made them and even after. I think I have a strong gut and I haven’t always listened to it, so I wish someone had reinforced that I know deep down what the right thing to do is for me.
Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.
How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?
In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lauren Fritsky.
Lauren Fritsky is an award-winning journalist, blogger and content marketer whose work has appeared on CNN, AOL, USA Today, Travel + Leisure, The Telegraph and more than a dozen other publications. For the last 10 years, she has overseen content strategy for global B2B companies. She lives in New Jersey with her Philly-born husband she met in Australia and their two kids.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up at the Jersey Shore in a town few have heard of called Brick, NJ. My parents were 25 and got married by a Justice of the Peace when they found out they were pregnant with me. They both grew up poor and did everything possible to make sure I didn’t go without as a child. I was precocious — I was reading by age 2 and developed an early love of writing and the rest of the arts. By the second grade, I was getting recognition for my storytelling ability. I also became a dancer around that time and loved to draw. Music helped me cope with life and my emotions from an early age.
When I was 15, my father, with whom I was very close, got diagnosed with late-stage Hepatitis C. He died when I was 16. It was the pivotal experience in my life that set the course for my future. Those first few years of high school when he was sick, I stopped paying attention in class and focused more on my social life. My entire life I had been a stellar student. After he died, I recommitted to academics and to getting into college, because that was his dream for me. Neither of my parents had four-year degrees.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” by Mary Oliver. After my dad died, I knew I wanted to make my life “count.” That included academic and career achievement but also experiencing life and seeing the world. I knew I wanted a family. I set out to make all of these dreams come true — because I had learned at a young age that life could be short and that you didn’t want to regret not living it when the end came for you.
It’s one of the biggest reasons I decided to move to Australia after I lost my job in the 2009 recession. I had wanted to move abroad for a few years and hadn’t been able to figure out a feasible way to do it. After all, I was a broke journalist! Losing my job — and breaking up with a long-term boyfriend just before that — actually opened the door to me taking a major risk. I left for Australia never having stepped foot on the continent before, and I knew no one there. But taking that risk gave me so much. It led to my second chapter — a new career, the man who became my husband, experiences traveling that I never fathomed and new friendships.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
- Drive: I have always known that the things you want in life don’t just come to you, you have to work hard for them. I have my parents to thank for that. So from a young age, I studied, read, practiced and did whatever it took to become better at what I was doing or achieve the next level or goal.
- Humor: I love to laugh and to make others laugh. It is my biggest medicine in life. Whether it’s a joke or a meme or a comedy sketch, I am always looking for something that makes me laugh and love exchanging banter with loved ones and coworkers.
- Resourcefulness: I think part of being creative is being able to assess how to apply different things — objects, skills, previous writings or pieces of art or ideas — in other areas. I try to repurpose things so they don’t go to waste. This applies to everything from projects at work to projects at home. And it has also helped me stretch my resources at times in my life when I haven’t had a lot of means — namely, most of my 20s.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?
When I graduated college, I spent a year tutoring kids and freelance writing for a few different publications in Philadelphia. Then I was a full-time newspaper reporter for two years. By early 2008, I was editing a healthcare trade publication while beginning to dabble in both personal and professional blogging. This is around the time I started blogging regularly for AOL, which went on for years. I built up enough freelance on the side that I actually doubled the income from my full-time job and was able to buy a condo with my then partner.
And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?
I wound up breaking up with my partner in the winter of 2009. We lived together for five months while we sorted out the property we owned. I moved into a studio apartment that June and lost my magazine job two days later. I had no car, I biked to work — my coworker had to load up my desk and bike in her car and drive me the two miles home.
I was at the lowest of lows. I couldn’t get out of my lease. I had no transportation, no significant other. My family couldn’t help me. I was stuck, at least for the next six months. I decided to start building up my freelance again to see if that could sustain me while I figured out my next step. I was able to build up enough gigs to make a decent living by a single 27-year-old’s standards.
As a parallel storyline, I had been scoping out a potential move to Australia for about a year. I was following American expats on Twitter and even began an online friendship with another young woman from the Philly area who had moved to Melbourne (this woman, Lindsay, became a good friend, and we are still close to this day now that we all live in the US again). That summer of my layoff, I decided to apply for a work-and-holiday visa to Australia without telling a soul. I was accepted and then told people I was planning to move to Sydney that coming January. I met with resistance because it was a crazy thing that not many people in my life had done before. My oldest and best friend, Amber, had moved to China to teach English the year before, and she was the one example of someone close to me who had made a move across the world.
I was broke so I cashed in the few thousand dollars I had in retirement and cobbled together the 5,000 dollars I needed to prove to the Australian government that I could sustain myself on their shores. To condense the story, I wound up meeting my husband two weeks after I moved and staying in Sydney for 3.5 years instead of one. I freelanced for the first year-and-a-half and then took a job at a digital marketing agency. After that, I got my first full-time content marketing gig for an Asia-Pacific IT company which was the pivot to the career I still have today.
Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?
It’s funny because when I made this decision, I was spending so much time alone for the first time in my life. I had never lived alone before. I was sitting with all of my baggage, all of my fears, and really working through them for the first time. And the idea to move to Australia had been percolating for a while. My lease was ending in four months and I wasn’t in a relationship with anyone. I was swept up in the excitement of freelancing for all of these major publications. I had just secured my first print magazine piece. And I think all of that was the momentum I needed to just say to myself, “You can do this. You can be alone with yourself, and you can go change your life. There is nothing holding you back and nothing to lose.” And so I did.
What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?
By the second year in Sydney, I was burning out on freelance. Sydney is very expensive — the money I made would have taken me far in Philly, but did not in Sydney. I wanted to explore and not be held back by money like I had been my entire adult life until that point. A friend hooked me up with a contract gig at a digital agency. It was my first exposure to that type of environment, and I liked learning more about the marketing and advertising side of the internet. So when the gig wrapped, I set out to find a marketing job. I secured a content specialist position on a small, growing marketing team at an IT company. I had just turned 30 years old.
My boss was American and she quickly became a friend and gave me the mentorship and motivation to keep going down the path of marketing as a career even after I left that job. It was the first time I realized I could do something other than journalism, which didn’t pay very well in my experience up until that point. Tech marketing was a stable career and it also helped me eventually draw upon previous experience with social media, SEO and PR while learning about revenue and event marketing and marketing operations.
How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.
This new career path has helped me maintain a lot of flexibility between work and life in addition to helping me discover skills as a people manager that had thus far been untapped. I kept working my marketing role in Sydney even after my husband and I moved to New York City as newlyweds in the summer of 2013. After I had my son in the spring of 2014, I found a job at ad tech firm MediaMath, which allowed me to work several days from home until I felt comfortable leaving my son with a babysitter full-time. I stayed at that company for six years, rising through the ranks to become Head of Content, Creative and Digital and overseeing half of the marketing team. In that time, I had a daughter and moved cross-country twice for my husband’s job. The company allowed me to become a mostly remote employee, which gave me the ability to be there for my kids.
I just started a similar role at a martech company based in Philadelphia called Piano and, so far, I am loving it.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I went off to college the daughter of a single mother who still had another younger child to raise at home. Her own mother died when she was 15, and she didn’t have an easy life after that, and it all led to her losing her own spouse at a young age.She was always a survivor, no matter what happened along the way. She helped put me through school, always let me come home when I needed or wanted to, gave me money when I needed it and supported whatever I wanted to do. I got very ill with an autoimmune illness called Guillain-Barre during my senior year. I had to learn how to walk again and use my hands. My mom helped bathe me, feed me and take me to occupational and physical therapy appointments for two months while I recovered. I will never forget that time in particular and how she cared for me.
Since I became a mom myself, my mom has also helped watch my kids when I needed to travel for work and now during COVID when they have been off from school. This has helped me continue to be successful and grow in my career knowing that I have her to back me up.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
I consider my new direction everything that came after I moved to Australia. I feel like there are many interesting stories. I do think one of them is becoming an ad tech professional in the Big Apple. Moving to NYC had always been a dream, but I didn’t have the Sex and the City experience — I arrived there fresh off an expat experience in a much more laid-back city, married and then, shortly, after, pregnant. I loved my time in NYC and still miss parts of it. It gave me that extra layer of grit I needed to propel myself through a new, intense, fast-paced industry while also becoming a mother. My six years in ad tech developed me into the professional I never knew I could be, and I found that I liked it and was good at it. I also made some life-long friends.
Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?
When I was in the process of getting a new role within one of my companies, someone shared with me that a male colleague, with whom I was friends, had said behind my back, “She’s a mom, is she going to be able to do this?” I never forgot that question, and put all my focus into proving that I could do both, even though I was often filled with anxiety when I’d bolt from my office in the Financial District to get my kids from daycare way uptown or when I had to leave early because one of them was sick.
But in the time that has passed, I’ve learned to embrace that I am both an employee and a parent, and my job just has to deal with the latter. I have always shown up for my job, have always made sure to get whatever project or assignment was on my desk done by deadline and managed and mentored my reports and colleagues. I’ve also always shown up for the school party or performance, helped my son with his homework and been the one to cook them dinner and put them to bed most nights since they were born.
We put a lot on working mothers in this country without giving them the proper support, almost daring them to defy the naysayers telling them they can’t do both. So until corporations and the government figure out how to better support parents and make things equitable between women and men in the workplace, I will be unapologetic about the fact that my life often interrupts work, especially during this pandemic.
In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?
I have a trio of best girlfriends who have been there through the most important parts of my life for the last 20 to 30 years. My friend since first grade, Amber, moved to China to teach English the year before I moved to Australia. She gave me a lot of the encouragement I needed to make a similar leap.
In the year leading up to my move, I spent a lot of time with my friend from college, Nicole, in her Harlem apartment. She’s been through a lot in life and at the time was getting her Master’s in Social Work from Columbia while dealing with a lot of personal situations. I slept at her apartment the night before my flight to Sydney and called her in a panic from the airport a few hours later saying I was having second thoughts. She said, “You won’t fail if this doesn’t work out. If you are not feeling it, just move home. At least you will have tried.” That was the boost I needed to get on that plane.
My friend Megan, also from college, is one of my sweetest friends and was the one I ran to visit whenever I was home from Australia. Her parents had always been very kind to me, and the whole family was like a welcoming nest that calmed me and kept me humble.
Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?
Well, I moved to the other side of the world alone, so that was definitely getting out of my comfort zone! After I decided to move, I was just open to life. Whether it was dating or my career or traveling, I adopted the mindset of my friend Nicole when she was coaching me through my moment of anxiety before my flight to Sydney — “If this doesn’t work out, it’s not a big deal. You tried.”
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
I do not lead an organization, but I will share the five things I wish someone had told me before I moved to another country and changed my life and career:
- “You already know the right thing to do.” I’ve had anxiety throughout my life, and I have questioned a lot of decisions I made before I made them and even after. I think I have a strong gut and I haven’t always listened to it, so I wish someone had reinforced that I know deep down what the right thing to do is for me.
- “You will be a whistle-blower.” Because I’m a woman and have spent my career as a journalist and working in tech, I have experienced and witnessed a lot of sexism, discrimination, misogyny and harassment. I never realized I would get the gumption to confront these behaviors both head-on and through other channels of authority.
- “You will want to stay home with your kids.” I famously said before I had children, “I will have no problem leaving them in daycare so I can have a career.” Yet after I had my son, I couldn’t leave him in daycare until he was 15 months old. I was shocked at how much I wanted to be home and even considered (and, at one point, tried) quitting.
- “You will be an empathetic manager.” Managing a team through COVID while being a working parent with very young kids at home (mine were 5 and 2 when the pandemic started and home full-time from mid-March to July) was intense and required a lot of emotional honesty. We pivoted team meetings to talk about what was going on in the world, especially after George Floyd was murdered. I cried in front of them. They saw my kids interrupt meetings — my toddler even peed all over the floor in the background of a Zoom call. The experience united us both as colleagues and as human beings, and while I no longer work with them, I think we are bonded for life after spending this raw, open, unique time together.
- “You will be more patient than you thought.” I think becoming a mother while hitting the acceleration point of my career has given me extra patience. It’s hard to really want to go into work and lose your cool on someone after a two-year-old has stared you down over eating her breakfast or putting on pants to go to preschool. Once you deal with the ridiculousness of mothering young children, scenarios at work just seem so tame in comparison, and it’s easier to not invest the negative emotional energy even if colleagues are behaving badly.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I have always wanted to make some hybrid of creative writing and therapy available to underserved youth, particularly those who have lost parents young like I did or do not have a parent at home due to incarceration. I have read a lot about how trauma affects you long-term both mentally and physically, and I think a lot of children and adolescents are just forced to push through it and the consequences to their health and happiness turn up later in life. I would love to start an organization with locations around the country that caters to this need using writing as a primary outlet.
We are very blessed that some very prominent 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. 🙂
Tina Fey. She is so hilarious and brilliant and she’s also a working mother and writer like me. She didn’t come from fame and worked so hard to get to where she is. I love her story and the stories she tells.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!