Meet Emily McDowell: writer, illustrator, speaker, entrepreneur and host of the podcast “Quitted.” Emily left working in advertising to launch her own greeting card business called Emily McDowell Studio (now Em & Friends). She wrote and illustrated cards that speak to the genuine, sometimes difficult, relationships we really have. The brand is best known for its Empathy Cards designed to help people connect more authentically and honestly with loved ones experiencing major illness, loss, and yes, even menopause!
In this episode, Emily details her unique journey with medical menopause and tells Christine and Robin about her heavy and long periods, joint pains, brain fog, migraines, exhaustion, irritability, night sweats, and mood swings after starting perimenopause at just 39. Emily also talks about the power of quitting things that don't serve us, her vulnerability to admit she was struggling during a time of intense achievement, and her new commitment to focus on personal contentment.
Learn more about the nonprofit Let’s Talk Menopause: www.letstalkmenopause.org.
Thank you to Always Discreet for sponsoring this episode of Hello Menopause. Always Discreet because we deserve better.
Christine Maginnis (00:00):
Hey, friends. The views of our guests do not necessarily reflect the views of Let's Talk Menopause. Let's Talk Menopause does not provide medical advice. The content in this podcast is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions that you may have.
That's the worst part of depression is. Every day it's like a new battle that we have to fight. You lose your sense of purpose. It's isolating. It's really just a lack of feeling. Lack of motivation and lack of optimism.
Robin Gelfenbien (00:36):
How do you think menopause affects relationships, whether platonic, romantic, and/or sexual?
Decreased sex between partners. Your area gets kind of dry. I feel like if it's same sex, they probably have a common understanding. If you're both doing it at the same time, God bless, because I can't even imagine. In hindsight, I could have been a lot more understanding of my wife. I guess it boils down to empathy. Empathy. Empathy and understanding and education for the other one to try to bridge the gap.
Christine Maginnis (01:06):
This is Hello Menopause, a podcast where you'll hear real menopause stories from real people.
Robin Gelfenbien (01:11):
Whispering behind closed doors, not here.
Christine Maginnis (01:14):
We promise, it is not just in your head.
Robin Gelfenbien (01:17):
And you are not alone.
Christine Maginnis (01:18):
I'm your host, Christine Maginnis.
Robin Gelfenbien (01:20):
And I'm your other host, Robin Gelfenbien. Let's Talk Menopause. At the top, you heard our Menopause on the Street segment. Now, if you don't know, this is a segment where I go out on the streets of New York City and ask complete strangers about, you guessed it, menopause.
Christine Maginnis (01:49):
Oh my goodness, Robin. Every time I listen to one of your montages, it usually brings a smile to my face. This one is so good that it squeezes my heart. I felt people were so honest with you.
Robin Gelfenbien (02:07):
I have that effect on people, Christine.
Christine Maginnis (02:10):
What was it like on the street?
Robin Gelfenbien (02:11):
The thing that really stood out to me with this particular montage was the guy who said, "In hindsight, I could have been a lot more understanding of my wife." When I approached him, he was sitting by himself with his dog, and I sat down and I think I said something like, "Can I ask you a few questions about women's health?" He had no idea where this was going to go. He said to me, as we talked about so many of these topics, he said, "Did somebody send you down here to talk to me?" Because there've been so many issues within his marriage and they were actually getting divorced.
Christine Maginnis (02:47):
Wow, oh my gosh. There was emotion from start to finish. Every single person speaking on these subjects was filled with emotion. I had a really strange reaction while listening to this is, bear with me as I try to articulate this. I heard a lot of words for loss and lack, and even I think I heard in there a lack of optimism, a lack of motivation, and it felt to me that you could almost universally say that depression is a massive depletion of so many things. Oddly enough, into my head popped the image. I don't know how many people have read Harry Potter, but there's the character that appears called the Dementor and the Dementors are the scariest characters in the book.
Even as an adult reading it, they freaked me out because they would come and give what was called a Dementor's kiss. When they would kiss you, they would just suck out all your joy, all your memories, all your happiness. It was a cold experience, this chilling experience, of having the Dementor's kiss, and it was the most dreaded thing. I know that J. K. Rowling has said openly that she created to talk about her own experience with depression.
Robin Gelfenbien (04:04):
Christine Maginnis (04:05):
When I heard this lack of feeling, lack of motivation, lack of optimism, that every day... I'm getting teary, the guy who said, "Every day is a challenge, it's a whole new challenge." I thought, what an unbelievably beautiful job she did personifying depression by a Dementor's kiss. I know, I went a little wide here.
Robin Gelfenbien (04:26):
Oh no, it's okay. I mean, people were really eager to talk about it, so I think that's why you heard so much about it. I loved the piece about empathy too.
Christine Maginnis (04:35):
I thought that was everything.
Robin Gelfenbien (04:37):
Well, I mean, it's clear that we all need to have it, I mean, just for any number of reasons, things that are happening in the news, certainly experiencing the pandemic, and just obviously with menopause, you need to have so much empathy, not just for the women who are experiencing it, but also for yourself. I think that that's probably the hardest part of it.
Christine Maginnis (04:59):
Right. I think, to kind of wrap it up, it's like what seems to work from what we're hearing from the public and what we are trying to do in our mission at Let's Talk Menopause is empathy, understanding, and education. Without much further ado, because I'm really eager to talk to this guest, let's get into the conversation. In today's episode, we are thrilled, quite honestly, I'm a little fangirling, to speak with writer, illustrator, and speaker Emily McDowell.
After a career in advertising, Emily launched Emily McDowell Studio, now known as Em & Friends, creating greeting cards and gifts for the relationships that we really have. The brand is best known for its empathy cards designed to help people connect more authentically and honestly with loved ones experiencing major illness, loss, and yes, even menopause. Please join us as we speak with the compassionate and uber creative Emily McDowell.
Robin Gelfenbien (06:08):
Emily, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today. We are absolutely thrilled to have you here. Could you please introduce yourself to our listeners?
Emily McDowell (06:18):
Yes. Hi, I'm so thrilled to be here. My name is Emily McDowell. I am a writer and illustrator, and I founded a brand called Em & Friends about 10 years ago that makes greeting cards for the relationships we really have, and not the ones that we wished we had. I am about seven years into perimenopause. I'm 46, so it started a little bit on the earlier side for me. My company was recently acquired by Barnes & Noble. I'm doing part-time consulting right now, and our team stayed in place, but they are continuing on without me. I am looking towards the next phase of my career, whatever that is. Your guess is as good as mine.
Robin Gelfenbien (07:09):
Well, we're excited to see what you do next, and we are going to chat with you about some of your huge accomplishments. But wanted to start with, what did you know about perimenopause before yours actually began?
Emily McDowell (07:22):
Basically nothing. Like all of us. I had Cathy Comics from the '80s and '90s of like ack and like an angry woman running around. Really all I knew about menopause and perimenopause was... I knew the word perimenopause, which I know that a lot of people don't even know.
Christine Maginnis (07:45):
Yeah, that puts you ahead of the curve.
Emily McDowell (07:47):
Right? I'm ahead of the game there. I knew that it was a thing, and I knew about hot flashes, and I knew about anger. Literally, my context was just mostly unfunny male comedians making jokes about their wives. I mean, I really didn't have much context beyond that.
Christine Maginnis (08:12):
You began experiencing your symptoms at 38, which is a bit early. What changes did you first notice?
Emily McDowell (08:19):
The first symptoms for me were changes to my period, so really heavy. I'd always had pretty light periods and pretty regular periods, and I found that suddenly they were really, really heavy and really intense and lasting a lot longer than they ever had. And that I also didn't know. I had to look that up, because I had believed that when you start perimenopause, your periods get lighter. They're on their way out. Sure, that's going to happen. I had never heard that actually for most people, they go through a period of getting heavier and more difficult. That was my introduction to that.
Christine Maginnis (09:00):
I don't know if you know this about me, Emily, but I think we have something in common in a little bit of a way is that I went into menopause at... I was 34 or 35, 34 turning 35. What I was diagnosed with was premature ovarian failure, which is now called premature ovarian insufficiency, and it only happens to 1% of women. It's unusual. But I think I've heard you say that you think your early entrance to menopause may be a result of medical treatments. I would love for you to talk about that, because I want to tell our audience a little bit about what that means, medical menopause.
Emily McDowell (09:35):
Well, it's really unclear. I had Hodgkin's lymphoma when I was 24 and 25, and I had chemo and radiation for that. At the time they said, "This might affect your fertility/ it might affect reproduction stuff for you, and it might mean that you end up entering menopause a little bit earlier than you normally would, but we don't really know. It doesn't happen to everyone. Basically good luck and God bless." At the time they said, "You have a higher risk of breast cancer," because I had a media spinal tumor, which is that space between your heart and your lungs. My breasts were in the radiation field, and so that elevated my breast cancer risk.
Right now I get an MRI and a mammogram every six months, and I've had this protocol following me for 15 years. I was under the impression because what I was told by the doctors at that time was, "You should never take hormones. Because you have this elevated breast cancer risk, it's not safe for you to take hormones, and you should never do it." And that was what I thought actually up until about six months ago when I started working with Heather Hirsch, who is a menopause care specialist at Harvard, and she gave me an updated and comprehensive education in hormone therapy that led me to draw the conclusion for myself that actually I think that I wanted to try estrogen and progesterone.
Christine Maginnis (10:57):
Right. Well, it's such an important thing to do to consult with a doctor about the risk-benefit ratio. I mean, breast cancer is something to be mindful of and to address, so I'm really glad to hear that you met with someone who talked to you through that. Just for our listeners, I think that medical menopause gets even less time than premature ovarian failure. I don't think people hear about it often. I just want to say that basically it's when you reach menopause through some medical treatment or certain medication.
For instance, if you've gone through chemotherapy, radiation, and even ovarian suppression therapy. And because it happens so fast, medical menopause is often the most difficult menopause. You have a wholly host of symptoms, and it doesn't come gradually over time, it kind of comes very quickly. I'm actually glad to hear that your doctors talked to you about it before you reached it.
Emily McDowell (11:48):
Yeah, and that I wasn't in treatment in the middle of it, that my treatment was 20 years ago. I had recovered and it was more just a side effect.
Christine Maginnis (11:58):
Did anyone suggest that the chemotherapy you had years ago might cause you to go into menopause early?
Emily McDowell (12:03):
Yes. That was what the doctors... The reason that I started to suspect perimenopause when I was in my late thirties, I normally I don't think I would have, I think that I would've thought, oh, this is too early. Menopause is for older women.
Christine Maginnis (12:15):
Emily McDowell (12:16):
Right. But doctors had said to me back in my twenties, "This might happen to you a little early. Watch for that." And that was really the thing that gave me a clue as to what was happening. If I had not had that, I think that in my late thirties I would have tried every supplement under the sun or gone to every doctor without suspecting even that it could have been perimenopause.
Robin Gelfenbien (12:44):
You've mentioned that you experienced really heavy bleeding and irregular periods and obviously what the doctor shared with you tipped you off to that. But I also read that you at some point had come across 37 symptoms online and you were like, "I have 34 of these." Two questions. One, which ones didn't you have, and then which ones did you have?
Emily McDowell (13:07):
In 2018, I was experiencing everything from joint pain, brain fog, headaches, awful migraines. I was exhausted all the time. I was irritable. There was one day a month where I couldn't go to work because I felt too nuts. I just felt like I couldn't have conversations with people because I was too much of a loose cannon and I couldn't control it. I felt like my brain had been hijacked. I was having really terrible night sweats, sweating through three T-shirts, awake in the middle of the night looking up active wear sheets.
Robin Gelfenbien (13:46):
Oh my god.
Emily McDowell (13:48):
This led me all down this rabbit hole of perimenopause where I was like, all of these symptoms are on this list. What can I do? At the time I thought that for myself, hormone therapy was off the table. I made some really drastic lifestyle changes to my diet, trying to do stress reduction, mindfulness movement, just basically all of the stuff that I scrubbed the internet for what to do. I stopped eating sugar. I stopped drinking alcohol. I was already mostly gluten-free, but I completely stopped eating gluten, which for me, I am really gluten sensitive.
I am very happy to report that about a month into making those dietary shifts, my symptoms were really lessening in everything, from mood stuff to hot flashes, to night sweats, to everything. Sugar, I think is, really the... For me, my body does not want to metabolize it. I wasn't a big drinker to begin with, and I had already reached the point of middle age where I would get halfway through a glass of wine and start feeling hungover. It would really mess with my sleep. Really bad insomnia was another thing for me.
I made a lot of lifestyle changes. It was the beginning of my series of decisions that ultimately resulted in selling the company. It was the beginning of about a five-year period of really looking at the role of work in my life and how much I work and my stress levels and really trying to reduce stress.
Christine Maginnis (15:22):
Right. I know this is a personal question, and the only reason I'm asking it is because you said that you had so many of the symptoms, and I think people don't connect this symptom is recurring urinary tract infections.
Emily McDowell (15:33):
I didn't have UTIs. Some people get vertigo. I didn't have vertigo. I didn't at the time have anxiety. Just in the last year, I started experiencing some really wacky anxiety, like being anxious as a passenger in a car or driving over a bridge or stuff like that that I'm like, what is this? Not just existential anxiety, but really specific situational anxiety. Back in 2018, I wasn't experiencing that. And then by the time this happened to me this last year, I knew enough about perimenopause that I was like, oh, this is a menopause thing.
Christine Maginnis (16:12):
Yeah. It's interesting, the depression, but not anxiety until much later. For me, personally, I think the mood changes were the hardest for me. I mean, I can relate to what you said about feeling that you can't trust yourself around other people. I think they're the scariest symptom of all. Did you feel that way?
Emily McDowell (16:30):
Oh, absolutely. The mood swings really freaked me out because I felt out of control of my agency. I was like, what? Who is this person who is in my head? This isn't me. I didn't trust myself to go to meetings and be normal. It was so challenging and so confusing.
Christine Maginnis (16:50):
There's this sense of, what happened to me? Where's the old me? Is she coming back anytime soon? This sense of, this is not me, what's happening?
Robin Gelfenbien (16:58):
You did something that a lot of people would consider incredibly ballsy, which was you shared your perimenopause story on Instagram. Now, I know you are so big on making people feel less alone. Vulnerability is your superpower. It's like no surprise, you're friends with Brené Brown. I'm just wondering, how did you get the courage to actually do that, and what pushed you to share that story?
Emily McDowell (17:27):
Well, it's interesting. A friend of mine, she had had a surgery and was put into medical menopause, and she posted something about it. Reading all of the responses, there was something in my brain that kicked on and was like, wait a minute, why am I not talking about this? This is something that I absolutely should be talking about that isn't being talked about, and that most of us don't know what we don't know. There are so many women who are thinking that they're going insane or that something is wrong with them or don't have any idea where these symptoms are coming from and don't even know the word perimenopause.
I didn't quite realize how in the dark most women are about this until I started looking into it and was like, oh, one in five OBGYNs get training in menopause care and most doctors don't know what to do. We have all this cultural silence around it, and this is such a big deal. I made a post about it, and then the response to that post was so many people, so many more than I thought, coming forward and saying, "Oh my gosh, me too, me too, me too." And then it was like, oh yeah, clearly we need to be talking about this. One of the things that I really hope and I see happening around me is that as this generation, Gen X, reaches menopause, we normalize it.
That's what you guys are doing. That's what I feel committed to doing. I'm seeing more and more of it. It's really exciting. I have really mixed feelings about companies popping up to sell products to women in perimenopause and menopause that are just repackaged vitamins that say now for menopause that are like $30 instead of six. At the same time, there's a part of me that's like, well, there's awareness. Where do you draw the line between normalizing and representation and awareness and seeing the word menopause out in the world? That's cool, but then also preying on women who are like, "I need a solution to this." I have some complicated feelings about that.
Christine Maginnis (19:44):
Yeah, I think you're not alone. It's a bit of a dilemma, a moral dilemma. I want to just switch the conversation up a little bit and talk about your cards, your greeting cards. You've described your empathy cards as whiskey for the wounded, and I think that's why you're a writer because that's so brilliant. Can you just tell our listeners what is an empathy card? What does that mean?
Emily McDowell (20:08):
An empathy card was our answer to this traditional get well card. A "get well soon," a card that says "get well soon," is kind of weird if you might not. If you have cancer, you're kind of like, "Cool, thanks, I'll try." Or a card that says "with sympathy" that has a picture of a flower on it. It's nice and it's a nice gesture, but it's more about social convention than it is about actual connection. One of the things that I learned from having cancer is that we as a culture generally don't know what to say when people we love are going through something hard.
With empathy cards, I really wanted to create a tool that would help people who were going through the hard thing feel seen and heard and understood, and that also would help the friends and family with being able to say something that felt like them and that felt supportive. So many of the things that we are taught to say in these times are platitudes and everything happens for a reason, or God's plan, or whatever. Those things ultimately, almost all the time, end up making the person on the receiving end feel more alienated and more alone.
You don't get it. Because if you got it, you would never say that. Those things are not comforting. We really wanted to create cards that felt supportive and that were the antidote to the traditional unhelpful messages.
Christine Maginnis (21:43):
They're so innovative, though. You did something so out of the greeting card industry standard. It was so refreshing to see it.
Emily McDowell (21:50):
Well, thank you. I mean, the industry has changed so much in the last decade, and I really like to believe that we were a part of that. The reason I started EM & Friends in general was because cards were aspirational. I always felt like I struggled to find cards that reflected my real relationships. I had a complicated relationship with my mom, and so Mother's Day was none of the cards ever applied. Or what do you get someone for Valentine's Day when you're kind of dating, but not really? How do you address that awkwardness? And all of the options were gushing poems and that just never felt like it applied.
For me, I was creating something that I needed. The industry, I'm happy to say, has changed so much. It's so much more inclusive in terms of allowing for only one version of something. And now you can find all kinds of cards for all different kinds of families and coming out cards and LGBTQ cards. It's much more inclusive in all ways than it was 10 years ago.
Robin Gelfenbien (22:58):
I think one of the reasons we really sparked to all the cards that you made were because they are so real. I think that's why it exploded. You did so well, because people are like, "Oh, finally, somebody's actually speaking from a realistic experience." Like you were saying, I feel seen. I feel heard. I mean, you even created menopause cards, which is brilliant. I was wondering if you could rerun those for us.
Emily McDowell (23:27):
Yeah, absolutely. Let's see. I have one right here, and it says, "Welcome to menopause. On one hand, there's brain fog, headaches, insomnia, moods, swing, and whatever the hell is happening to my knees. On the other hand, there is the breathtaking power of truly not giving a shit what anyone thinks anymore."
Christine Maginnis (23:48):
All of that is so true, especially the last part.
Robin Gelfenbien (23:51):
It just captures just the essence of it, I feel like, so perfectly. When you were first working on these, was it your own perimenopause experience that inspired them?
Emily McDowell (24:03):
It was really my own experience. For the last few years, I haven't been doing the writing or illustration for the brand. I have a team that I've been creative directing and they do most of the work at this point and I creative direct it. But these I stepped in and wrote them because I really wanted to.
Christine Maginnis (24:18):
Move over, I got this.
Emily McDowell (24:21):
They had great input and insight, and we talked about them. I wrote a bunch of them and everybody had opinions about which ones we should do. This was all very autobiographical, this particular project, and it was fun for me to do it.
Christine Maginnis (24:38):
Okay. You said that you consider yourself a feelings translator, that you have this gift for finding words for truths, and a lot of times truths about things the rest of us tend to avoid talking about. It doesn't mean we're not feeling them, we just aren't as gifted at finding the right words for them. You have a new podcast called Quitted. Can you tell us what made you launch this podcast? What's the origin story?
Emily McDowell (25:02):
Yeah. I have a podcast called Quitted, and it's co-hosted with my friend Holly Whitaker. It is, as the name suggests, about quitting. We have infinite resources in our culture for building and growing and persevering and sticking it out. We have very few around walking away from the things that are not serving us. There is this cultural narrative around quitting that it's like giving up. We are a culture that's really obsessed with grit and perseverance and often to our own detriment.
I mean, there are, of course, places where grit and perseverance make absolute sense, but then so much of what we do and so much of what we end up doing is a result of cultural conditioning, is a result of things that we believed particularly when we were younger, like this is what I'm supposed to do or this is what. What I have found and what I know so many folks have found is you get to midlife... This, of course, can happen anytime in life.
But in midlife in particular, there is a point at which I think people begin to reevaluate and say, "Wait, does this life even fit me? This choice that I made when I was 25 or 30 or 38 or whenever, is this actually how I want to be spending my life? And does this make sense?" We also live in a culture that really doesn't want us to change. There are big social and emotional costs to changing.
You'll lose a community. You lose friends. You lose security. You lose identity. Quitted, the podcast, is really, really about not just quitting jobs, but quitting all of the major things that make up an identity, what it's like to do that, what it's like to make that decision, what it's like in the liminal space that follows after where you don't know who you are anymore, and then how do you move forward once you've made a change?
Robin Gelfenbien (27:03):
So much of quitting is synonymous with failure. I feel though over the last few years, something has shifted in our society because so many people are embracing the Great Resignation. Why do you think people are now more willing to jump ship?
Emily McDowell (27:25):
Things have been really broken for a long time or just not working and so broken. I think that there was something about the disruption of the pandemic, the disruption of this forced perspective, that it made us look at our lives in a different way and stop and step outside of our lives and have a certain awareness about what our normal patterns are and all of that. That really affected so many people in terms of being able to ask themselves the question of, is this what I want? Is this the life that I want to live? It just shook a lot of people out of autopilot and into an awareness of what's happening.
Christine Maginnis (28:08):
I want to briefly talk about you had this moment of being a media darling. You were everywhere. Your work was everywhere, and the company had massive growth. And at the same time, you were struggling with it. Can you say that better than I just did?
Emily McDowell (28:25):
You said it pretty well. I mean, honestly, the height of when the company was exploding, I had just published a book, I was so busy and I was so stressed out, and I was under so much pressure, and I had people on Instagram saying, "I want your life," and me saying, "No, you don't." It was the time when I had all of these outer markings of "success," and yet I was really miserable. I didn't enjoy running a company, and I was good at it. It took me a while to really understand that I didn't actually enjoy it because I was good at it, and because people kept telling me that I was good at it, and because we were doing well according to all of the economic and cultural markers of when a company is successful.
I really was attached to this idea of myself as somebody who was going to be really into running a company. It took me several years to really understand that actually I don't love this, that I don't love managing large groups of people. There's certain aspects of being a CEO that were really interesting to me and that I liked, but for the most part, it was really difficult. I was also doing seven people's jobs. I was doing all of the writing and illustration for the brand and all of our marketing and all of our social media. It was just too much. It would've been too much for anyone. My thoughts about success and what success is and what it means have shifted a lot as I've gotten older over the last decade.
I think part of it is a natural thing that happens as we age and part of it is as a result of my own experiences. I really had a very unhealthy relationship to work that I have spent the last five years untangling or working on untangling.
Christine Maginnis (30:12):
Robin Gelfenbien (30:13):
I find that very inspiring.
Christine Maginnis (30:15):
It speaks to you.
Robin Gelfenbien (30:16):
Christine and I were talking about this idea of I really thrive on achieving and being productive. I don't know if that's because, according to Christine's theory, I'm the firstborn. A friend of mine once said to me, "Robin, you're a human being, not a human doing." I was like, "Oh my God, truth." It really stuck with me. It makes me think about your whole perspective on letting go and nurturing quiet time and how incredibly valuable that is. I was wondering, when you were first learning to be still, was that challenging, and are you able to be still with a lot more comfort and confidence and really just truly being present at this point?
Emily McDowell (31:05):
Yeah. I mean, it's an ongoing process, right? I'm a work in progress, but it is infinitely easier now. When I first started, my nervous system was so dysregulated in that I only knew how to function in chaos. I only knew how to function in stress. Chaos and stress felt normal to me. If I wasn't in chaos and stress, my nervous system would go, "What's wrong?" Even though I recognize that I didn't like, it was familiar. Our brains really want familiar. We are hardwired to seek out familiar, even when it makes you miserable. I had been a 20-year plus veteran of talk therapy, which I think is really wonderful and useful and super important, especially if you haven't taken a look under the hood and seen what's in there.
But I think that for me, especially because I spent most of my life feeling like a floating head on a stick, I was very intellectualized and not in my body, that when I started five years ago or so doing more somatic therapy, which is about being present in the body and meditation and breath work and all of these things, practices that were designed to get me out of my head and into my body and working with my nervous system, that was what allowed me to start being more comfortable in stillness and being more willing to sit with the discomfort in making some of the changes.
Christine Maginnis (32:39):
Something that you said on the podcast, when I heard you say it, I literally said out loud in a room with no one in it, I said, "Yes!" I hit rewind and I played it again. And again, I'll paraphrase. You said, of all the major life changes in your life, the most positive have not been from the things you started, but have been from the things you stopped doing. Literally, I was like, oh my gosh, yes. That's so, so true. Now, after everything you've been through, you've built things, unbuilt them, rebuilt them with your company, now, after all the lessons, all the things you've learned, if someone asked you to define success, what would be your answer?
Emily McDowell (33:20):
Oh, it's such a good question. I think about this all the time. I actually have a running list of definitions of success. There is this one Maya Angelou definition of success that I love, that is, success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it. I think she really nails it with that one. What I can say is that personal contentment has not come from achievement. I spent 40 years trying to achieve my way into happiness, and I can say with certainty for myself that I ultimately stopped knocking on that door.
Martha Beck said something on our podcast and she says it in The Way of Integrity, her most recent book, about how Americans are uniquely... When something doesn't work, we do it harder. If I do it enough, then it's going to work. Really what it is is backing up and saying, wait a minute, is it possible that happiness is actually unrelated to this completely, and I'm approaching this problem from the wrong direction? We don't do that, and I didn't do it until I was about 40.
Christine Maginnis (34:29):
But I think in the same way people had not been talking about menopause for so many years, I love that you're now talking about this issue. I agree with Robin that it is somehow linked to the Great Resignation. This is something we should talk about.
Emily McDowell (34:40):
Yeah, I think that this next phase of my work, again, no idea what form it's going to take or what it's going to be, but I'm really interested in transition as a subject and in why we don't change and how we can change and how we can feel safe to change when we are afraid of security and when we have very practical considerations like caregiving responsibilities or mortgage. How do you make changes in your life to be more in alignment with who you really are when you are also balancing all of the requirements of being a person in the world?
Robin Gelfenbien (35:21):
As a fellow New Englander who was raised to not talk about anything, I appreciate the fact that you are so open to being vulnerable and helping people feel less alone. First of all, I wanted to thank you so much for joining us today. Also wanted to ask where our listeners can follow you and find what you're going to be doing next.
Emily McDowell (35:42):
I have a podcast called Quitted that you can find on all major podcast platforms. We are a listener supported podcast. We don't have a sponsor. We don't do ads. If you like the podcast, you can join our Patreon community at patreon.com/quitted. You can also find me on Instagram at @emilyonlife. I am sporadically there at the moment. Where you can really find me is if you go to emilyonlife.com, you can sign up for my newsletter, which is really the first place that I'm going to be sharing what is next for me when I figure that out.
I write right now it's about monthly, although I think that I will be increasing the frequency of newsletters. I'm just writing about whatever. You can get on that mailing list and that would be lovely.
Robin Gelfenbien (36:30):
Awesome. Thank you so much for sharing all of your wisdom, all of your great stories. We loved having you today. It's a really fun chat.
Emily McDowell (36:37):
Thanks so much for having me.
Christine Maginnis (36:39):
And thanks for bringing the joy that your cards brought us.
Emily McDowell (36:42):
Oh, thank you. I super appreciate that.
Robin Gelfenbien (36:51):
I knew I'd like Emily. I already love what she's doing. I think her empathy cards speak to so many people. And just talking to her, she is like how she writes. She's just very real, very down to earth, and very, very relatable. I thought it was great. I thought it was really fun.
Christine Maginnis (37:09):
When people go through such challenging times such as a major illness and grief and loss, I think we can all relate to that feeling of, I'm not sure what to say, and how can I help? When I read her cards, I think, what an amazing talent to put it into a way that feels human and real and not overly saccharin and not filled with platitudes. Maybe not for the grief cards, but when I read her cards, it makes me smile and feel the joy in being human. I know that sounds over the top, but she's got such a gift.
Robin Gelfenbien (37:40):
Well, it just makes things like less awkward. What she created with empathy cards was just a nice bridge to getting in touch with somebody without any pressure and then with just a real human approach to it, which clearly was very needed in the industry.
Christine Maginnis (37:59):
Honestly, how cool is it that she writes cards about menopause? They're funny and they also make you feel not like you're going crazy, that other people are having these same strange feelings. Again, they made me smile and made me feel part of a community.
Robin Gelfenbien (38:12):
Oh, for sure. And then also just when she was talking about her own menopause experience, on the days when she's like, "I'm not going into work. I don't know what's going on inside my head. I don't really want to lash out at people."
Christine Maginnis (38:23):
She said, "I don't trust myself."
Robin Gelfenbien (38:26):
I mean, that is super scary. But also, like I said, she's very relatable. I think that will clearly serve her in whatever she does next, because she just has a really interesting pulse on people.
Christine Maginnis (38:40):
Yeah, she does. I wish her so much success with her podcast. Hey, listeners, if you enjoy this podcast as much as we enjoy recording it, we'd love it If you could help us out.
Robin Gelfenbien (38:53):
All you have to do is rate and review the show and it will help us reach more listeners. It only takes a minute, and it makes a huge difference.
Christine Maginnis (39:02):
It really does. If you want to follow the show while you're at it, we won't mind.
Robin Gelfenbien (39:07):
No, we won't. Don't forget to tell your friends to check it out too.
Christine Maginnis (39:12):
Our mission at Let's Talk Menopause is to give people the information they need so they can get the healthcare they deserve. Please visit our website at letstalkmenopause.org for a wealth of menopause information, including a symptoms checklist, information about long-term health risks, how to navigate menopause at work, interviews with health experts, and so much more.
Robin Gelfenbien (39:34):
A big thank you to Always Discreet for sponsoring this episode of Hello Menopause. Always Discreet, because we deserve better. And by the support of Astellas, on the forefront of healthcare change.
Christine Maginnis (39:47):
Hello Menopause is a production from Let's Talk Menopause made in partnership with Frequency Media. I'm your host, Christine Maginnis.
Robin Gelfenbien (39:54):
And I'm your host, Robin Gelfenbien.
Christine Maginnis (39:55):
Ina Garkusha is our supervising producer and Alana Hurlins is our producer. Laura Boyman and Catherine Divine are our associate producers.
Robin Gelfenbien (40:05):
Sydney Evans is our dialogue editor and Claire Bidagari Curtis is our sound designer. Hello Menopause was concepted by Jessica Olivier, Jill Bisheznik, and Becca Godwin.
Christine Maginnis (40:17):
This podcast is available on Spotify, Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, and wherever podcasts are found.
Robin Gelfenbien (40:24):
So, check it out.