Thursday, March 3, Sarah Brokaw will visit the City Opera House in downtown Traverse City for the Traverse City National Writers Series to discuss her new book, Fortytude, which explores the ways in which women can live their best and most meaningful lives after age 40. The daughter of legendary news anchor (and 2010 Traverse City National Writer Series guest) Tom Brokaw, Sarah is a licensed therapist and professional certified coach with a practice in Beverly Hills, California. She holds a Master’s degree in social work from New York University.
Fresh off appearances on the Today Show and a feature in USA Today this week, Sarah spoke with MyNorth about the inspiration behind her new book, the five core values she believes are essential to happiness, and the advice she gives women on how to live their best lives.
MyNorth: The idea for this book, “Fortytude,” came out of what you describe as a “sparkling” moment—what others might call an “a-ha” moment. What was that moment for you?
Sarah Brokaw: That moment was when I was 38 years old and had my high school twentieth reunion coming up. I chose not to go, because I wasn’t married and I had no children and even though I’d achieved so much, I thought I wasn’t accomplished enough. I got so mad at myself afterward, because here I’m telling my clients to live life on their own terms, and I wasn’t following my own advice. So I decided I needed to start living with fortitude. I wondered if other women were going through this same process, and what their internal dialogue was like. I started doing research, and there were very few books on the subject. The most relevant one I could find was from 1972.
MyNorth: You say in the book that there are five core values women can develop that will help them live their most meaningful lives after age 40. What are those values, and how did you arrive at those specific traits?
Sarah Brokaw: These five values are ones we’ve had all along; they’re already part of our vocabulary as women. The difference is learning to define them for ourselves versus having them defined for us by society or our families. The values are grace, connectedness, adventure, accomplishment unconnected to financial or material gain, and spirituality.
How I arrived at these values was by traveling across the nation to facilitate discussion groups with all kinds of women, whose one commonality was age. They were all between the ages of 35 and 55. To create a platform that was neutral and safe, and to allow women to share their innermost thoughts, I provided them each with a list of 20 values and asked them to choose the top five that were the ideal guiding principles of their lives. I told them, “If you hear someone’s voice other than your own telling you to pick a value, don’t pick it.” And from a group of over 300 women, these same five values kept coming up again and again.
MyNorth: You mentioned earlier that it’s important for women to identify these values in terms that make sense for them individually. For some people, the term “spirituality,” for example, might seem foreign. How can someone define that in a way that works for them?
Sarah Brokaw: Spirituality is a very interesting word. People often equate it with religion, and needing religion in your life to feel spiritual. I don’t consider myself a religious person. However, that doesn’t mean I’m any less spiritual. For me, that word means being in nature, and the feeling I get when I’m on my surfboard and there’s a certain calm and peace in the world and nothing else matters. Someone else might define spirituality very differently. The key is recognizing what that is and incorporating it into your life.
MyNorth: What seem to be the greatest roadblocks for women achieving these values or living their best lives after 40?
Sarah Brokaw: There are internal and external roadblocks. The biggest external roadblock is society telling women “it’s too late.” For example, one of the values I mentioned is adventure. Society often defines adventure by recklessness, which a lot of people in their 20s experience. So a woman in her 40s may say to me, “I’m a responsible woman now; I can’t have adventure in my life.” I’ll try to help her see that adventure isn’t defined by recklessness. You define what adventure is in your life.
Society has also laid out these traditional milestones: Getting married. Having kids. Starting a career. Developing new friendships. A major internal roadblock is getting hung up on these milestones and thinking you’ve failed if you don’t meet them. What I’ve realized, based on my own path and those of the women I’ve spoken to, is that we can create our own milestones. We have our own voices. That is when I see women most relieved: when they realize it’s not too late. Sure, there are situations where things actually can be too late—it’s very difficult to get pregnant at age 45, for example. But if you want to be a mom at that age, you still have that choice. You can adopt. You can use a surrogate. These traditional milestones don’t have to define you or your life anymore.
An Evening with Sarah Brokaw, a Traverse City National Writers Series event, will take place on Thursday, March 3 at the City Opera House in Traverse City. Doors open at 6:00 p.m.; the event begins at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $20 and are available at the City Opera House or online at cityoperahouse.org. The evening will include an audience Q&A and post-event reception and book signing. For more information, visit nationalwritersseries.org.