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Prissy Elrod: “Humor”

When my daughters lost their father, they needed to see me strong, vibrant, and happy. What they had witnessed still traumatized them. I told myself a grieving mother wasn’t fair, and they deserved a normal life. With that in mind, I allowed myself to crawl from beneath the weight of grief and accept fate as […]

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When my daughters lost their father, they needed to see me strong, vibrant, and happy. What they had witnessed still traumatized them. I told myself a grieving mother wasn’t fair, and they deserved a normal life. With that in mind, I allowed myself to crawl from beneath the weight of grief and accept fate as it happened. I went to work full-time for the General Counsel to the Governor of Florida. A year after my husband’s death I had my first date after almost thirty years.


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 Prissy Elrod.

Prissy Elrod is known as The Butterfly Girl. She is a columnist, inspirational speaker, and the published author of two books: Far Outside the Ordinary and Chasing Ordinary which have been chosen favorites among book clubs around the country. She branded her award-winning image and released three Far Outside the Ordinary adult coloring books, capturing her popular butterfly. She is also a contributing editor to Flamingo (awarded 2020 Best Magazine of the Year) where she writes her Panhandling column inside every issue.


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?

Thank you so much for this opportunity to share my story with others. I had a gifted, nurturing, and loving childhood. I think I won the childhood lottery as far as parents go. They inspired, influenced, and instructed me from crib to college, and thereafter.

A lifetime Floridian, I was born and raised in Lake City- a small, charming town in the panhandle of Florida. My father was the towns’ physician and loved by all. He was a Southern gentleman, and happy to accept vegetables if a patient had no money for care. He was a general practitioner and surgeon, as well as benevolent friend to everyone who knew him. The caring man is still mentioned decades after his death.

I am the middle of three daughters and carry the pleasing gene. My mother, strikingly beautiful, hailed from New Orleans. She was a ‘hippy’ with flair, as well an organic guru before anyone knew what it meant. When I was growing up cocktails and cigarettes were the American staple. Yet, my mother purchased groceries from the health food store in a neighboring town. I couldn’t pronounce the products’ names in our cupboards or refrigerator. Everything different than normal food. I did learn the word tofu early on. My father ate Sunbeam white bread, Vienna sausage, and smoked Salem cigarettes every day. Those two, my parents, were as mismatched as stripes and checks. She looked like my sister and acted like a teen. Hence, my daddy became the strict parent to three, wild teenage girls.

By the age of 15 we were hired to work in his medical clinic. It was a non-negotiable job we never applied for, and long before the law and legality governed medical doctors. I assisted with surgery, administered shots, irrigated ears, filed insurance, and alphabetized patient files. Those keen eyes of his guarded us until we left for college. Spoiler alert: He needed more guards!

My childhood may have been a bit leftfield, but it was happy, harmonious, and crazy fun. But I’ve been told I view the world like Pollyanna wearing her rose colored glasses.

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

I have two favorite quotes, and both are relevant to me.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “What lies behind us and what lies in front of us pales in comparison to what lies inside us.” This one speaks to me every day, in every way.

Francis of Assisi, “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

Known as The Butterfly Girl, I metaphorically portray my incredible journey of transformation with semblance to the epic caterpillar to butterfly metamorphosis. Just when the caterpillar thought the world ended, it became a butterfly.

When a brain tumor stole my husband it also stole my identity. I was faced with an unfamiliar, colorless landscape. But I chose to believe when one person dies two people shouldn’t. With this belief I began an excavation of self to find my new purpose in life. I did so by reimagining, recreating, and resurrecting the untapped talent which lay dormant inside me for decades. I challenged myself to step out of my comfort zone and write the book I could never find — -what happens behind the closed doors of a terminal diagnosis. In doing so, I would help the next person sabotaged by the unexpected in life. The first page of my first book Far Outside the Ordinary became my Second Chapter in Life. It propelled me from the shadows to the spotlight and created a new career and my new identity.

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.

Tenacity

I’ve been told my tenacity stands in stark contrast to my welcoming demeanor. To me, almost anything can be created, improved, or solved with careful thought, planning, and action. If you believe it,you can achieve it. I have this ‘dog with a bone’ mentality in that l will take an idea, interest, or endeavor and paw it, circle it, and bury it. Later I will dig it up and chew on it, sometimes for a long time. That bone has changed into many forms over the years — -but my compulsion to keep gnawing continues today.

Benevolence

When my daughters were small, in elementary school, my non-negotiable rule was they could only have a birthday party if every person in the class was invited — even if they were mean, or no one liked them. I believed inclusivity, and generosity of heart, as children are the seeds that will one day blossom to create charitable, and beautiful human beings. I was proven right when my youngest daughter saved a dying girl as the only match in the bone marrow data base. She saved her not once, but twice. First donating her bone marrow, then two years later her stem cells. They have yet to meet but remain virtual friends to this day. While she couldn’t save her father, she saved someone else.

Humor

I’ve always tried to be the funniest one in the room. I crave happy, not sad. I was told by a reader, who had been through tragedy, my book helped her get up in the morning and keep going. Humor is what kept me going and it is weaved throughout both my stories. Laughter through tears really is a wonderful emotion.

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?

I graduated from Florida State University and majored in Speech Pathology and Audiology with a minor in Psychology. Originally, Psychology was my major but changed after my first day in a lab class. I was assigned as custodian of a white lab rat for the semester. Nope, no way. I switched my major by noon the same day. After graduation I continued and enrolled in graduate school. I received a master’s degree in Rehabilitative Counseling.

While raising both daughters (Garrett and Sara Britton) I worked from home with three part-time jobs simultaneously, over a twenty-five-year span. I was Fashion Consultant for Doncaster, a unique clothing company in North Carolina; a Portrait Consultant for a renowned artist in Birmingham, Alabama. I was also a Travel Consultant. I planned and escorted groups of 25 travelers to New York City for several years. Then branched out to Italy and Hong Kong. To this day, I still plan and escort my “Far Outside the Ordinary” adventures. Pre-covid it was to Kathryn Ireland’s (Bravo’s Millionaire Designer) summer home in the South of France for a week of antiquing, painting, designing, and cooking. When travel permits — -we will again fly away. Hooray!

And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?

When my daughters lost their father, they needed to see me strong, vibrant, and happy. What they had witnessed still traumatized them. I told myself a grieving mother wasn’t fair, and they deserved a normal life. With that in mind, I allowed myself to crawl from beneath the weight of grief and accept fate as it happened. I went to work full-time for the General Counsel to the Governor of Florida. A year after my husband’s death I had my first date after almost thirty years.

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?

A specific trigger was when I read the New York Times reported 81% of Americans have a book inside their heads. Yet only 2% of those get that book out of their heads and published. I challenged myself to step out of my comfort zone and be one of the 2%. I would help the next person sabotaged by the unexpected in life with my story. I would write what happens behind the closed doors of a terminal diagnosis –a book I could never find when I needed it most. I loved learning and a good challenge, so it was a perfect marriage. I just didn’t know how I was going to do but I knew I’d figure it out. 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?

I never aspired to be a writer, author, or speaker. In fact, in the beginning, when I spoke about my memoir, I referred to myself as an accidental author and laughed. I didn’t yet know nothing in life happens by accident. It was God’s intent I be doing what I am doing right now. He blessed me with the gift of words that turned into a book that’s helping thousands through their own tragic circumstances.

“The caterpillar dies so the butterfly can be born. And yet, the caterpillar lives in the butterfly and they are but one.”

My story seeded in my head for several years before it slowly sprouted, working its way out. When I first decided to write it — my intention being for my daughters to explain my crazy quest to save their father — I had no idea how to begin. With no real writing experience, or training, I knew I needed to learn the craft and start from the beginning.

It was my birthday, a significant one. I woke up and decided I had an expiration date, so I better get busy. I went out and bought myself a few presents: On Writing by Stephen King; Bird by Bird: Instruction onWriting and Life by Anne Lamont; The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion; You’ve Got a Book in YOU by Elizabeth Simms; and 90-Day Novel by Alan Watt. I’m still laughing about that last one. I began my self-taught learning that very day.

There would be 48 books by the end of four years, each one read more than once: yellow highlights and dog ears on almost every page and all were marked, bent, and worn. I was compelled to tell the story right, knowing I wouldn’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

I pretended a person was riding me piggyback and revealed, in vivid detail, the tragedy and comedy, and the laughter through tears. Trust me, to survive you must find the humor. I wrote raw and vulnerable and revealed all my imperfections, mistakes, and regrets. I made myself comfortable being uncomfortable.

How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.

By the power of two –two people telling two people, etc. –book clubs from around the country have selected my books. When the first book released it was profiled in multiple Southern newspapers. Bloggers from California to New York reviewed and shared with their readers.

I’ve been among the chosen authors for several Writers Forums in Florida: Contemporary Women Authors of the South; Writers in the Round. After Far Outside the Ordinary released, my butterfly cover was featured in the esteemed Print magazine after winning one of the top 350 best designs.

In 2017, I was invited to be a contributing columnist in Flamingo magazine-Florida’s only life-style magazine. I share my stories and truths about growing up in the panhandle of Florida in my Panhandling.column.

As a speaker, I have keynoted for Merrill Lynch, SunTrust, PEO, Altrusa and Flagler College to name a few.

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?

Indeed, there is a particular person I’m grateful for who helped me get where I am today.

It was a year after my husband’s death I opened my mailbox and found a card buried with all the bills and junk mail. The handwriting was a very neat print with an edge of cursive. The note inside had been typed, cut, and pasted in perfect symmetry inside a Hallmark condolence card. I knew his words had been carefully selected before being inscribed and pasted to the inside of the card and sent through the mail into my life. He had waited and wanted his wording perfect. The letter was from my college boyfriend. We had not spoken or communicated since my junior year of college. I’d heard once, from one of his best friends, he had never married and was a confirmed bachelor. He once asked me to marry him. “Ask me later.” I’d replied. We never really broke up, just enrolled in separate colleges. Soon after, Boone, my late husband, came into my life. I never saw Dale Elrod again.

I slid the sympathy card back into the envelope and waited a few days before I wrote him back and held on to my stamped letter for two more days. Finally, I slid it into the mailbox. He wrote back again, and soon our letter writing became emails. We never spoke on the phone or even exchanged photos. We had no idea what the other looked like. This was before Facebook, Instagram and all the social media blitz. After five months of email communication, we decided to meet somewhere between our two cities — -Indianapolis and Tallahassee — and try and pick each other from a crowd. He chose the Peabody Hotel in Memphis where the ducks swim inside the lobby fountain. It was magic. Only six weeks later, he asked me to marry him. Only then I said ‘yes’.

Some would argue I was rescued. You know the prince rides in and rescues the forlorn princess for a happily-ever-after finale. So not true. Thankfully, my prince didn’t do anything but reintroduce me to the girl he once knew…a left-handed version of her right-handed self. I had to see what I wanted, and want what I needed, then create the vision to move forward — -as an artist, author, and well, butterfly girl!

He watched, allowing me to emerge slowly, and naturally from a trapped cocoon. And when I did — emerge I was different and unrecognizable to all who knew me before.

Until we reunited again, I wrote only poetry. His encouragement inspired me and gave me the courage to tackle a manuscript. He never gave up until I gave in. Far Outside the Ordinary and Chasing Ordinary birthed after our marriage, and he is the reason why I am an author today.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

This is interesting and fun. I like to follow creative, artsy personalities on Instagram. I’d been following this all women mother/daughter company (KR Squared Production) for a year or so. I loved their style, personalities, threads and stories. One day they posted they were nominated for some big award and were seeking votes. Well, I didn’t know them — not even their names — but I liked them. So, by golly I was going to help them win. I posted their feed on all my social media, asking my followers to vote for them.

I left town to travel and took a break from technology. A week or two later I returned and logged into my IG and found a message in my inbox. It was from one of the owners, the one I’d tried to secure votes for in the contest. She left her phone number and asked I call her back. I thought to myself — oh no, what if I got them disqualified. I should have asked permission before I shared their thread. Would you believe I started crying? Good grief, Prissy! Anyway, I blew my nose and called her back. The minute Katy Rhamey answered the phone, I began a whining apology for sharing without asking. She cut me off.

“Are you kidding- that was so nice of you. When I realized you were an author, I downloaded your book. I couldn’t put it down and read until 4am. Prissy, it’s exactly what we’ve been looking for in a feature film.”

It was a ‘paying it forward’ moment. Whether it happens or not, I have adorable, new friends. My last trip — prior to Covid — was flying to LA and meeting the mother and daughter team, Kate, and Katy.

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 decided to write Far Outside the Ordinary, I wasn’t mentally prepared to revisit the pain. I wanted to forget that period in my life and enjoy my present life, which was wonderful. But I couldn’t. Some things you shouldn’t forget, but instead, perhaps, try to understand so you can accept. In truth, I guess I needed to give purpose for Boone’s (my late husband) stolen life, his death, our pain, and all the suffering.

I decided I would create a “Mosaic of Art” from the pieces of our broken life and show others beauty can come from brokenness. The mosaics became Far Outside the Ordinary, a story of my refusing to let a terminal cancer steal my husband. Then Chasing Ordinary, the sequel,shareswhat happened after it stole him. The art was in the butterflies.

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?

For support, and to be around other writers, I enrolled in a memoir class at Florida State. I attended writing conferences in Los Angeles, New York, and Atlanta. I joined a writing group composed of four older, wiser women, from different cultures and different stations in life. Their stories of loss and despair equaled mine and they inspired me even more. We were guided by a retired journalist from the Washington Post who drilled us like soldiers, showing no mercy with our dangling modifiers. Our group soon dissolved leaving only me. She was fierce but I was fearless. Furthermore, I was no quitter.

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?

Honestly, you can’t be comfortable writing a memoir. You must be comfortable being uncomfortable and lasso some humor. Even better, write fiction.

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.

  1. You can’t please everyone- but it’ll be okay.
  2. Perfect is an illusion.
  3. Be who you are, not who others want you to be.
  4. There is no cure for regret. Cherish the present before it’s the past.
  5. Gratitude can abolish grief.

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?

Every single one of us have the possibility to be extraordinary. My mission is to help those jolted from a life-changing, unexpected event, find a new way forward. I’m living proof you can redefine yourself and, if lost, create a new identity. I know this because on an ordinary day, in my ordinary life, my balance, once solidly grounded was lost. But through the most extraordinary events I learned to stand again — even stronger — and I became a better version of myself.

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. 🙂

Three women I admire and would love to meet one day.

  1. Amanda Kloots — a beautiful being. Through profound loss she embraces life for the sake of Elvis, her baby boy. Covid stole her husband — -but not her life.
  2. Kelly Clarkson. She keeps a smile on her face and feels like a girlfriend I’d share secrets with.
  3. Dolly Parton — -THE most benevolent, positive star. I love the way she shields her husband who hates glitz. I have one just like him and few ever see his picture.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

www.prissyelrod.com

http://www.prissysblog.com/

https://www.instagram.com/prissyelrod/
https://www.facebook.com/prissy.elrod/

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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