Build your team as your build your business. My team includes my partner, web designer, social media expert, and my own coach. It is paramount that if you are going to work as a coach to have your person to talk with and to process your work. A coach needs a coach.
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 Rev. Anne-Marie Zanzal, M.Div.
Rev. Anne-Marie Zanzal, M.Div came out as a lesbian at fifty-two and now coaches people coming out later in life to the LGBTQIA+ community. She is a graduate of Yale Divinity School, Hartford Seminary, a hospice chaplain, grief counselor and an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. She is also a blogger, author, community builder, speaker, partner and mom.
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 in Connecticut, a child of the seventies and eighties. I am the youngest of five children by nine years, therefore I have the unique experience of being both a youngest and only child. My father struggled with alcoholism so my home life was chaotic. Books were my companions and my Catholic school upbringing brought me both solace and order amidst the chaos of my home life and an opportunity to excel in academics. This experience formed me in many wonderful and not-so-wonderful ways.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My life lesson quote is a question, a challenge, by the poet Mary Oliver in her poem The Summer Day, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
The beginning of my life transformation began after the birth of my fourth, and unexpected child, at thirty-nine. His birth made me realize it was my life and it was the catalyst for me to ask the above question. Like many people in mid-life I began a process to become who I was created to be, not who I was told to be. The steps of this path took me a circuitous root through seminary to chaplaincy and ordination. It was over a ten year process for me and when I was ordained I finally was able to acknowledge my sexuality. Not because of my faith journey, but because I finally had space in my brain to seriously consider the decision to come out. I want to be very clear the choice was not about my sexuality, the choice was about coming out.
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.
I have a willingness to embrace change and reinvent myself. In my forties, with four children between the ages of two to fourteen, I returned to Yale Divinity School to obtain my Master of Divinity in preparation for ordination. I learned how to be a minister and chaplain through an intensive process called Clinical Pastoral Education and practical on-the-ground experience.
I have a natural curiosity about people, about what makes them tick and how they make sense of the world around them. I worked hard in my career to develop this curiosity into a non-judgmental presence. I have done this for years working in health care and now with my coaching business.
I am able to learn from my mistakes. In my early life I would dismiss or deny that I even made a mistake so this is huge personal growth for me. I am able to take responsibility for my actions, apologize if necessary, and move on with out beating myself up. Or more succinctly, to move on from the guilt or embarrassment.
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 always worked throughout my life in many different jobs including stay at home mom. Before returning to graduate school, my most significant job was with The Girl Scouts of America. I held three different positions in five years ending as an adult development manager, which was an opportunity to work educating and training the adults I served. I went back to Hartford Seminary and Yale Divinity School to become a minister in 2006 and I found a calling in chaplaincy. I worked for the next twelve years in both hospitals and hospices, where I learned to care for patients and families in crisis and confronting death. I also served as a pastor at several churches.
And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?
I finally acknowledged who I was created to be and came out as a lesbian to the LGBTQIA+ community. I also reinvented my work life as I struggled to be a part of a religious system that I no longer seemed to fit.
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?
This is a long and complicated story with many starts and stops, but it took me almost a decade to come out to the LGBTQIA+ community. I always was vaguely aware I was gay, questioning instances in my life when the feelings would come up, but I had already started down the heteronormative path of marriage, family and career. I did not realize that I could step off the path, until I read an article in Oprah magazine about the fluidity of women’s sexuality in 2006. Suddenly I had the words to describe my experiences and I realized that I no longer had to stay on this path and that I could be with a woman life partner. Over the next ten years my life was taken up with seminary, chaplaincy, ordination, and the busy life of the mom of four kids from the ages of three to fifteen. After working as a minister for almost a decade, I was ordained in 2016 in the United Church of Christ, a progressive Christian denomination.
The process of my “taking the plunge” started with a patient. Mary was an alert and orientated 90-year-old woman who was hospice patient. She lived for about eight months in our care. I spent a lot of time with her and like most patients, we talked about her life, her family, her griefs and her faith. My job was to help her make sense of everything. She said to me once “why am I still here?” I was often asked this and I would tell my patients that I truly believe that our lives are interwoven, more then we can ever imagine. So sometimes we stay around so someone in our circle can learn something about life. Like many people who are in hospice for an extended period of time, Mary began to become restless and impatient. She turned to me one day and said: “I feel like I have been waiting for something my whole life.” I remember falling silent after she had spoke. Those words struck a chord with me and it felt like the deepest note of a vibrating base string. A glass of bracing cold water was thrown into my face. I understood this to my core, because I also felt like I was waiting for something my entire life.
Mary died about a month later. Ninety-nine percent of deaths in hospice are peaceful. My dear Mary did not have such a death and because of an unexpected complication, she died in my arms, struggling to breathe, as I urged her to go. I was stunned and I kept wondering why would this sweet little old lady die such a difficult death? When I watch war movies on TV now, and the buddy is dying in his/her comrade’s arms, I can have empathy for the soldiers.
My therapist and I began to discuss Mary one day during therapy. I did have PTSD from this death and I was trying to make sense of this poor outcome. I told June the story and I told what Lucy had said. June, the consummate therapist, said to me, “What are you waiting for Anne-Marie?” In a nanosecond, the answer popped into my head. “I think I am gay.” I will forever remember the time between when the thought became the spoken as I stared off into space. I thought about the previous ten years when I had made various attempts to come out. I would stick my toe in the waters and quickly withdraw. I sought advice from various therapists and CPE supervisors and received no help. I told my husband twice before about my suspicions. I told my two adult daughters I was struggling with my sexuality. All those thoughts were tumbling in my head. But this time it was different, answering this question became a sacred moment in my life, filled with fear and trembling, but also feeling the presence of God. I knew if I spoke those words aloud this time everything, I mean everything, would change. With tears running down my cheeks, I turned to June and I said, “I think I am gay.” I began to cry harder and I said, “This is going to open a pandora’s box.” June, again the consummate therapist, said “No, that doesn’t have to happen.” I am so glad she lied that night.
This started the long and painful process from deciding to divorce to ending a twenty-six year marriage. I also came out to a new community and culture. As I entered the later in life community I realized that there was a need for professional support for people who were struggling with all this change and transition. I started a mutual support groups for people navigating the difficulty of coming out often while divorcing. The grief held in tandem with the joy is very real.
Group members began to ask me to individual counseling, and I realized a need for people to process things one on one with someone and not just in a group setting. What started as a side hustle slowly became a full-time coaching business.
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 realized that I am fully capable of creating a “brand” that is me. I have plans and dreams for my business and a direction that I want to go. I want to teach people skills to navigate any life transition or change.
I have also stopped giving away my power to others and literally selling myself short. I learned to greatly value the skills I have, because I realized that not everyone can do what I do.
How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.
This is my full time job and once I started to think of myself as a coach versus a counselor my business began to grow steadily. I have to admit I had a negative bias toward the coaching world, but with the help of my support team I began to see it in a different light. The best coaches are someone who has often played the game themselves and they bring an intuitive understanding of how to navigate the life journey a person is on. The skills I gathered as a hospice chaplain were invaluable to me in this new business as I guided people from “dying” to one way of being and “living” into another one. The greatest joy for me is that people don’t literally die but I get to witness them create a happy and authentic life. This is truly a lesson in shifting, owning and embracing who I am and what I offer.
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 am grateful to all my hospice patients who taught me something about living and dying, including Mary who I mentioned above. Working with patients and families has taught me so much about transition, change, loss and endings which is ultimately the human experience again and again. Life is continuously about birth, life, death and rebirth, all through life we do this again and again.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
The most interesting story is that I discovered it is not that unusual for people in all walks of life to come out later. There are thousands upon thousands of people who discover their most authentic selves in the second half of their life.
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?
In some ways I did struggle to believe in myself. My limiting belief was that I was straight and I am clearly not. I worried too much about what family and friends thought. Once I let go of the opinions of others my life transformed and became better.
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?
My support group includes my fiancé, web designer, social media person and my own personal coach. I began to treat my business like a business and found people who not only supported and understood my mission, but wanted to see me succeed. I also have many clients that still reach out and are my biggest cheerleaders, they truly touch my heart.
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?
My whole story is about getting out of my comfort zone of a heteronormative married woman to live authentically as a lesbian. That is the definition fo leaving a comfort zone.
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. I could do many things with my coaching business, grief counseling (especially in the LGBTQIA+ community) and working with other people to help them to learn how to be with people in a compassionate way. However I have a niche. My first piece of advice would be find your niche and stick with it. My niche is working with people coming out later in life and all my marketing focuses on this fact.
2. When a potential client reaches to out you through social media take care of them! When I first began to do this work people would approach me for care. Not wanting to be pushy I would drop my scheduling link and say please schedule an appointment when you are ready. Don’t do that — interact with them — ask them what day and time would be best? People like to feel cared for so this little extra attention will not only benefit them, it will benefit you!
3. You have to promote yourself in this business. It is normal to feel uncomfortable doing this, because people in the care taking field loath to say “look at me — here is what I do.” Think about which platforms you will use on social media, I use Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest to reach my audience which are generally are identifying females between the ages of thirty-five and sixty-five. There are great resources out there that make it easy including platforms such as Canva and Hootsuite.
4. Spend money on your business. When I started out, I built my own website and struggled to learn social media posting and SEO. It took up a lot of valuable time. I waited until I was making enough money to hire an SEO expert for my website and a social media person. The good thing is by the time I hired them I understood what I needed for my company. Unfortunately, I spent a LOT of energy on learning something that is not my strength, instead of focusing on what I do best, caring and educating people on this later in life journey. I can now put this energy toward writing, leading a secret online Facebook support group with over 1500 members, and coaching for my clients.
5. Build your team as your build your business. My team includes my partner, web designer, social media expert, and my own coach. It is paramount that if you are going to work as a coach to have your person to talk with and to process your work. A coach needs a coach.
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?
For LGTBQIA+ people to own who they are without shame and to live fully into their authentic selves, not only in life, but in business. I also would like to change the narrative about coming out to let people know it is NEVER too late to live as we are authentically created to be.
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. 🙂
I would be truly honored to meet Brene Brown.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can find me at www.annemariezanzal.com on Instagram @annemariezanzalcoaching or on Facebook at Anne-Marie Zanzal Coaching or on Pinterest @comingoutsupport
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!