In this episode we talk to Maria Leonard Olsen.
We talk with Maria about living her authentic life, living with intention and how she is creating her best life. Listen here!
00:00 You’re listening to the live happier, longer podcast, episode 38.
00:15 Welcome to the live happier, longer podcast. We’re your hosts, Molly Watts and Angela McDade. We are here to help you build the habits of happier, longer life starting now.
00:27 Hey Angela. Hey Molly, how are you today? I am well, how are you? I’m well myself. It’s very blue outside so it’s always a good start. We really, the weather really does make a big difference. Well, You know, we’re, we’re Oregonians. What can we say? So you and I both know that life doesn’t always go as planned. We both have four kids and I think we can both honestly say that there are things happen. Yeah. Ups and downs all the time. Ups and downs all the time. And certainly as people age things happen, we are going to be talking with someone today who really had life kind of blow up. Yeah. Uh, found herself in her late forties with just kind of a mess and some of it’s self inflicted. Self described. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, we’re not, you have no decided this is what she said. Right. Self-Described and potentially a little bit self inflicted. I think she thought, or at least you know, there was some, some culpability responsibility for her. She made a complete and total shift in her life based on the fact that circumstances kind of demanded it. Yeah. And took off in a whole new direction. Wrote a book called 50 after 50 that was based on her decision to do 50 new things in her 50th year. Things that challenged her, took her out of her comfort zone and really embarked on a new and inspiring part of her life. Yeah, she shared all of that with us. Here’s our conversation with Maria Olson.
02:05 Hey Maria. Hi Maria.
02:09 Thanks so much for joining us today. We’re, we’re excited to get to talk to you and share with our audience, uh, 50 after 50.
02:18 Thank you so much for having me. I am honored to be on your show.
02:22 Yeah, well I think that a synergy is obviously just very natural, um, because we’re really focused on helping people, especially at Midlife, take that next step and really start making a plan for living the next 50 years of their lives. And obviously for you that that manifested itself in a little bit different way. There was a little bit more crisis involved I guess. Um, absolutely. Yeah. So take us, share with us a little bit about how 50 after 50 got started and or where, you know, what happened in your, and what inspired you to start this?
03:02 Sure. At Age 49 became divorced, uh, separated. Um, well my children went off to school so I became an empty nester and I also got sober from alcoholism. So these three things conspired to force me to change everything about my life. So I at age 50, decided to try it, do new things, to explore the contours of what I wanted the next chapter of my life to look like. And as people started asking me, well, what are you doing for your 50th? And I’ve spread the news of trying all of these things. Women started asking me in particular for my list. So I decided that a lot of people were experiencing midlife angst of some sort. That my list and what I learned from each of these endeavors could be instructive and helping others. So I got it published and now have been on a multi city tour speaking with readers about how to reinvigorate their lives post trauma or just simply because they want to, that their lives have become repetitive or boring or that they have been spending time pleasing others of themselves. And 50 is a reckoning point for most people in our culture. Actuarial speaking at 50 we are in the third third of our lives. Our childcare responsibilities typically have diminished at this age and we’re in the sweet spot before any true physical decline takes place. So it has struck quite a nerve with people, especially where I live on the east coast and I’ve had great experienced, great joy in helping other people find ways to become their best version and reinvigorate their life, trying new things and stretching their comfort zone.
05:16 So did you when..
05:17 That’s why the why?
05:19 Yeah. Did you, did you, I mean when you first started it, was it really a journey of self-transformation? Did you have this end goal that you were going to write a book and that you were going to help other people or was it really just more about helping yourself? Yeah, just for you?
05:36 In the beginning it was just for me, but then I saw the capacity of my journey to help other people and the ability that I had to turn my life’s trauma into a force for good and having lost so much in my personal life, I was energized by finding sort of the silver lining behind my troubles. So what started as a very much a personal quest to figure out who I was and who I wanted to be in the third third of my life became a much more public endeavor and mechanism through which I helping so many people. Another aspect to my journey is being a woman in long term recovery. Part of my recovery is based on helping other people paying it forward. So I experienced the elevation and self-esteem by actually helping people one on one. And that was magnified by the, by the more public platform that I had via this book and my speaking engagements.
06:52 [inaudible] right. So that, so I mean, and I, and I totally understand that. Um, I think that when you come from a place of personal experience and what it has meant in your life, in that authentic type of sharing, you often find that that that sharing in and of itself is helpful for people just being your authentic self and obviously, you know, sharing that journey for you. I mean, and that crisis was probably, uh, not an easy decision.
07:25 Agreed. Yes, it was. And I had to be very careful about not, mmm. Trespassing over the boundaries of other family members. My children, my ex-husband. I Wanted to be respectful, but at the same time I was quite self-revelatory about such things as sexual assault that had happened in my life, sexual abuse and my, um, alcohol use and what havoc it reeked of on my life.
07:58 [inaudible] yeah. So, so, okay, so you decide this, you get this, you know, you’ve, you’ve got the wild hair, you’re going to do 50 new things after 50 tell us about the list. Tell us about how the list, you know, what was the, the genesis for, for different things and what, what costs, you know, what, wait, where did you first start? What was your first, this is, this is what I have to do in, this is where I’m going to start.
08:26 Okay. Well, my very first thing was perhaps the most radical. I sold most of my belongings, put the rest storage, and then traveled to the other side of the world. I went to Nepal. I lived high in the Himalayas for two months, volunteering at a school in a village so remote that they had never met a westerner. I lived with the family in their house with no heat, electricity or running water, and there was snow on the ground using an outhouse and helping to bring just a little bit of relief to an area that felt forgotten by the rest of the world.
09:11 That’s a pretty big number one, Maria. Yeah, pretty big. I got to say that, that wouldn’t have been my number one, I would not have been jetting off to Nepal. I mean, where did that interest come from? Where did you even, where did you even figure out that’s what you wanted to do?
09:31 Okay, well first of all, I wanted to hide, and this was somewhat of a geographical cure for my woes because, because I had so much shame from blowing up my family with my alcoholism. However, what it became for me was an exercise in cultivating gratitude. I went to a place where the people had so little and yet they were the happiest people I had ever known. It helped me to focus on all that I had instead of all that I had lost. And when I got home, I no longer took for granted and I no longer take for granted. Now the the many blessings we have simply by being, by virtue of being born in the United States, we will always have clean water. I will always have a meal. I have heat, I am able to walk and get what I need. The people in this village had no access to healthcare. So what the night I got back from Nepal, I was in, I’m not a fancy restaurant, but I was in the restroom and I started marveling and I said, oh my gosh, it’s so clean in here. You have paper towels, it’s so so good. And bathroom quickly emptied and people thought there was an insane woman in that restroom. But what it did for me is it completely re-framed my perspective that I felt so lucky to have all that I had that I had taken for granted for my whole life. So it set the stage for the next 50 things were not so dramatic.
11:22 Okay, good. I was going to say we can’t go into all 50 on the show, but, but I mean, so let’s talk about maybe one of the smallest things that you, that you sought to do that just has made a huge difference.
11:39 Well, the experience in Nepal also reconnected me with nature and the healing that nature provides for us. So now I walk anywhere I possibly can. And in so doing, I have seen so many things that I skipped by without noticing. For instance, two churches in my neighborhood that I’ve passed hundreds of times while rushing through my life have these beautiful meditation gardens and Meditation Labyrinth that I’ve passed hundreds of times and never noticed before just because I was always rushing. So walking brings an instant connection to mother earth, it slows you down. I employ, um, meditative walking every day. Even if I only get a chance to walk from my car to my office elevator, I take deliberate steps, I concentrate on my breathing, I get myself centered before I enter my busy litigation practice. Wow. So that has been a fundamental change that was easy to do and affected everything in my life.
12:56 Yeah, that’s funny. I mean I literally, we just literally shared on social media a couple of days ago, um, about walking because walking is our daily action number one is move. And we say it all the time. It’s number one for a reason because of its benefits for longevity and in preventing loss of mobility. But the number one thing that people can do in terms of moving is simply walking. And, um, and you mentioned what I love about what you said is that you mentioned some of the unheard of, the unheralded benefits of walking and that is simply noticing things that you may not have ever seen before in your, in your community. It’s the chance to connect with people as you’re walking through your, your town or you know, and doing things of that nature as well. And obviously getting out into nature, which is just a great benefit as well. So I love that you, that that was one of the things that you’ve, you’ve found in your life that has made a big difference.
13:58 Yes, definitely.
14:01 Tell us about another one of the bigger moments in terms of, okay.
14:06 Well another thing that I did was I got my motorcycle license on her cycle, which, uh, my kids were horrified by. For me, it was an exercise in going beyond my comfort zone. And it is quite thrilling to have thousands of pounds of metal at your command to feel the sun on your skin, the wind in your hair under a helmet, of course. But what it did for me was. I It felt, it felt a bit naughty. And I liked that rebellious failing. And then when I was my two parents in my neighborhood, I came across a woman from my former life, the parent of a child that my son Tony’s Prep school whose mouth, whose jaw dropped open in disbelief when she saw me. And I could feel this mantle of shame and judgment falling on my shoulders once again. And I said to my shame, I feel you are not welcome here.
15:18 So when I pulled over and talk to her and she said, oh my God, Maria, is that your motorcycle? And I said, yes, my, my children are horrified. And she said, and so am I. Oh my. Well got to go full throttle right away. And for me that was a moment of tremendous growth as a recovering people pleaser and someone who thought I could control what other people thought of me, which is false. Yeah. I was able to drop the mantle of judgment and shame and live my life in a way that felt good to me.
15:58 Yeah. You, you must have felt quite triumphant in that moment, you know too. Well, one, that feeling of, stuff you, whenever she gave you that look, but also the fact that you said to yourself, what she thinks of me is, is not up to me. It’s up to her and move on. So that must’ve been, that must’ve felt really quite good. I think we heard it. It’s, I think it was in Rachel Hollis, this book that she said, what other people think of you is none of your business. You know, it’s such a, it’s such a great, uh, it’s really, uh, an obviously it’s much easier to say it out loud than it is to really practice that internally all the time. But I think there is certainly, uh, just like you said, it’s, you know, telling yourself you have no, she would have no place here. You know, you’re shaming me has that, I’m not going to feel that. I’m not going to allow that thought to be present in my day. It’s empowering.
16:57 Yes. Yes. And then that leads to another extremely significant thing that I did, which was to use my time with intention and surround myself with people who helped me to be the best version of me, to stay away from negative people and uh, energy vampireish people.
17:22 And I liked that energy vampires.
17:26 And most importantly is when people ask me to do things, I no longer say yes to everything I’ve learned to say, to ask myself the following questions. Is this something I really want do? Am I pleasing someone else? Is this something that brings me closer to my goals and my authenticity or further away or end? Is this something that will unnecessarily deplete me and keep me from doing what I really want to do? And if the answer to any of those questions is no, then I say no. I have another commitment and that commitment more often than not, it’s just a commitment to myself to recharge or fill my needs, not at the expense of, I’m not doing things at the expense of my own self. So, um, we never know how much time we have left in this world, but every day I spend with intention. It’s awesome. That’s fun. And yeah, life.
18:34 It’s a fundamental lesson for sure. And something that, uh, we talk about all the time. Being mindful and practicing, you know, taking, living a life that’s intentional and making choices about how you, what you’re focused on in spending, you know, taking the actions that we say are going to help you live that happier, longer life. One of the things that I think I want to ask you if it’s not too, and I know this is a, I mean certainly you, you don’t wish, uh, crises on anyone, but did you, I mean, have you found, is it possible that your life after, uh, the crisis and after turning 50, do you have optimism that it’s, it’s may even be your best life yet and something that you is unexpected. Like, you know, like you said, I mean, your family kind of blew up and certainly you’ve, you know, but is it possible that your, your best moments are still ahead of you?
19:35 I completely agree with that statement. Had you asked me five years ago that question, I would think you were crazy and say, no, I had a beautiful life. What? I was wearing many masks at the time and letting my actions be governed by what I thought other people wanted of me. Now I am living life, truly authentic to my values and understanding that every situation and person in my life has the potential to be, uh, lesson to me to serve as a lesson if I’m open to serve as a teacher, if I’m open to the lesson and now I understand that many of the things I went through, we’re, um, to teach me something about myself and I accept what happened in the past and now I’m using my past trauma to inform my work with other people and also to inform where I want my life to go in this chapter. So it is an unexpected result of a lot of growth.
20:47 [inaudible] yeah, I think that’s very important. As, as, as difficult as it was for you, it’s really important to say, okay, that happened. And if you figured out why it happened and you have grown from a lot of people might not have the same forward thinking. They just would sit back and go, whoas me, it’s been terrible and it’s just a terrible life I’m now living. The fact that you have really turned around and taken all of that expedience to turn it into a more positive outlook is really, it’s inspiring. It’s a great thing you’ve done.
21:31 well. Thank you. I appreciate that. I have to say that not everything in my book, 50 after 50 is something I will ever do again.
21:41 Yeah. So what, so tell us a couple of those. What are the, besides quit, are you going back to Himalaya? Is the Himalayas anytime soon. I
21:50 helped to build a library there so I would like to go back and see the library. But an example of something I will never do again is I went to an open mic at a restaurant. I’m a terrible singer, but I wanted to stretch my comfort zone and see what it felt like to be onstage singing in front of a lot of people. So I got up on stage, belted out a song left with quiet applause and said, I will never do that again. My children are right. I am terrible at singing out of myself for trying that and just exploring what that would feel like. So that’s one. How did that ever do it again?
22:35 How did it feel? How did it feel when you were doing it? Just absolutely terrifying.
22:39 It was terrifying and uh, felt like I was imposing on all these people because I was so horrible. But it was something that I really wanted to try and I did go somewhere where I knew no one so that I could never hear of this experience again.
23:02 And in my chapter called dating for Dowagers, I’d talked about online dating, which was a nightmare for me. It just didn’t work. I had to try other things to get myself back into the dating scene and it was not online dating for me. That was the key to meeting people that I wanted to spend time with because my number one criterion in someone I want to socialize with is that that person is kind and secondly honest and I met so many people online that were dishonest. Even in posting their, they’re suppose that picture look nothing like them.
23:52 Like I will be waiting a rose and that was, that was like as that the person?
24:01 Exactly. For instance, at age 55 I don’t mind bald men, but I do mind when a man posts a picture with a full head of hair and shows up. Bald head just seems like duplicity to me.
24:14 Right? Yeah. Right. You just couldn’t get, yeah, I can’t get past that. So share with us just, and this probably be the last story, but share with us if you have one another, one of the bigger ones that a bigger thing that happened that really has changed you on a, on a daily basis that you know something that you’d look at every day that you are just grateful for in this journey and what has what has happened?
24:45 Oh boy. It is hard to narrow it down. I would say one of the lifestyle changes was, uh, starting each day with an attitude of gratitude. Every day I write down, I think of five things for which I’m grateful, usually more than that, from the profound to the prosaic. And it can be as simple as the fact that I can walk. I, um, my mother just had hip surgery. It’s laborious when she walks. I don’t take that for granted anymore. And framing your day with an attitude of gratitude makes everything go better. Yeah. I think that meditation as a lifestyle change, even if it’s just the walking meditation for a few minutes, fundamentally changes my spiritual condition and my centeredness and ability to respond rather than to react to any stimulus in my environment. It enables me to protect my serenity and not let other outside influences steal it from me because I’m coming from a place of calm. So that would be the simplest way that I changed my life.
26:17 That’s awesome. So that as far as what, where this journey has taken you, where you want to see it go, um, I know you’re still practicing as you mentioned it as a practicing lawyer, um, you know, what has happened and is it, you said, you mentioned going out and speaking to, to other women and really sharing your story with them. Do you see, I mean, has this been something where you, it’s creating a new, uh, goal for you, a new life that you, you didn’t really see happening before?
26:55 It has, I make my living as a lawyer, but my passion is really writing and speaking in ways that help other people. So if I did not have living expenses, I would be full time on the speaking circuit, writing articles and books and other manuals to help people get beyond blocks in their lives. So I can’t do that as the practical matter, but I have greatly increased my speaking engagements and my writing and, um, am spreading my messages on many different, different platforms. And that has really become a passion for me. And none of this could have happened had I not gone through the valleys of my life in my forties and before that. So yes, I’m quite surprised at where my book has taken me. What started as a very private year’s celebration became very public. It transformed to me and the lives of so many women that have received my message and it just keeps going. I have as many speaking engagements or 2019 as I did in 2018 and I just keep, want wanting to continue as long as I possibly can. Yeah. I have another book in the works. I will keep going if I feel like I’m making a difference and even one person’s life.
28:38 Well, I think your message is very inspirational and I’m certainly glad that, uh, we’re able to share it with our audience. If people want to connect with you, find the book, uh, where, where can they do that?
28:52 Well, my website is MariaLeonardOlsen.com and all social media as fiftyafter50 , f I f t, y after and then the number of 50. Okay. And my book is available on Amazon and any bookstore and lots of libraries actually since it got a good review from library journal, so it’s widely out there and I love connecting with readers. So please reach out to me through the website or any social media.
29:24 Perfect. We will of course include all that in our show notes as well and um, just appreciate you taking the time to talk with us today, sharing your journey, uh, 50 after 50. And I know it’s going to continue to inspire women, uh, through now and into the future.
29:44 Thank you for all the goodness you put out in the world as well.
29:47 Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thanks Maria.
29:53 Thanks for listening to the live happier, longer podcasts. Now it’s time to move, learn, share, give and let go. Five daily actions to make the rest of your life the best of your life. See you next week.
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