Congratulations to Natalie Y. Wester and The Last Place I Ever Thought I'd Be and all the winners of our 2022 Quarter 2 Creative Non-Fiction Essay Contest!
Natalie is a former second-grade teacher and National State Teacher of the Year who retired from teaching as a second career at 59. A radical reinventor, permission-giver, and storyteller, she encourages midlife women to give themselves permission to change the life they’re living so they can live a life they love.
By 60 she became a solo around-the-world traveler and recovering social media avoider. At 61, she launched The Hot Goddess blog for midlife women, and started a “blackboard to bourbon” journey by becoming a whiskey distillery intern. Now 62, she’ll become an expat when she moves solo to Portugal this fall.
Natalie has been featured on Solo Traveler Insiders, Reinvention Rebels, Calm the Chaos, Her Bold Voice, and 365 Women platforms. As a freelance writer decades ago, her work was published in the Chicago Sun-Times, The Plain Dealer, Cleveland Magazine, and other regional publications. Previous writing awards from the International Association of Business Communicators and Society of Technical Communication were on behalf of PR clients in her first career. This is her first literary writing contest entry.
If you haven't done so already, check out Natalie's talent in writing with the moving story The Last Place I Ever Thought I'd Be and then return here for a chat with this amazing author.
WOW!: Congratulations again on placing in the Q2 Creative Nonfiction Contest! I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Last Place I Ever Thought I'd Be and learning more about your story! Thank you for taking time to chat with me today!
What was the takeaway you were hoping readers would receive from reading your submission?
Natalie: To believe in the power of tomorrow. That sounds trite, I know, and nearly impossible to do when submerged in darkness. I was given a second chance by a friend who saved my life by calling 911, and that life eventually transformed into something I never imagined. The journey isn't over. Tomorrows hold change and discovery we simply cannot fathom today. There’s nothing more powerful than that.
WOW!: Not trite at all - your story is very moving and impressive - speaking of impressive, you have an impressive bio - what made you start your blog? What advice do you have for others when it comes to second careers and reinventing oneself at any age?
Natalie: When I came home from my 70-day solo around-the-world trip I then went to South America for my 60th birthday. COVID lockdowns began soon after I returned from that trip. As I was isolated at home alone, I started trying my hand at travel writing in a journal. Those writings morphed into more of a memoir format, so I registered for a free online memoir-writing course through Wesleyan. I also registered for various social media classes and a digital marketing certification program. I had to create a website for one of the digital classes, so I created The Hot Goddess, and uploaded some of my memoir class assignments under a "blog" tab. The site was not public. I finally challenged myself to muster the courage to launch the site for my 61st birthday. I discovered I don't enjoy digital marketing (just can't do daily social media as a recovering social media avoider), but I loved writing blog posts and engaging with the blogging community as a way to keep me writing every day. As far as reinventing and reimagining your life, the first step for me was giving myself permission to live a life that made me happy. And then giving myself permission to take my own time figuring out what that life is. Giving ourselves permission to put ourselves first is huge for women. It's just not something we naturally do because we're always putting others' needs before our own.
WOW! You're spot on with taking time for ourselves - let's talk time for self care! What advice would you give to others (specifically female authors) when it comes to self care and dealing with dark times in their lives?
Natalie: I wrote on The Hot Goddess blog about moods and self-care, and the harmful stories we tell ourselves. I've learned the emotions we feel are based on and controlled by the messages we tell ourselves. A quotation from Dan Harris's book, 10% Happier, has stayed with me: "The voice in my head is an asshole." Identifying and addressing that voice in third-person writing in a journal has transformed the way I deal with dark times, by quieting the critical chatter and changing the narrative I tell myself. Accepting ourselves as we are, and giving ourselves permission to meet our own needs, are the first steps to embracing self-care as a routine. Solitude, time in nature near water, journaling, and writing are part of my self-care routine. I used to feel guilty for doing what I need to do to take care of and soothe myself. I don't anymore.
WOW!: Such excellent advice - thank you! Do you have advice for your younger self when it comes to making decisions, believing in yourself, and/or writing? What would your current self say to the younger you? (to see a pic of a younger Natalie - you can find that here)
Natalie: Much of my journal writing is letters to my younger self. I've written about this here and here on my blog. "I wish I could go back in time and tell my 20-year-old self that a lot of what she will chalk up to her “intuition” will actually be her insecurity talking, and it will lead her down a path of recurring self-sabotage and self-fulfilling prophecies. Intuition comes from a place of confidence, power, and strength. Insecurity comes from a place of fear and doubt. I wish I could tell my 20-year-old self (life) gets so much better. I wish I could tell her this is coming." My younger self, you need to know: Being different is good. Silent suffering is not. Happiness is deserved. You are good enough.
WOW!: Such great advice - thank you for sharing some history for us! And speaking of history what is your history with writing contests? - tell us what prompted you to submit to this particular contest? What would you like to tell other authors concerning contests and submitting their work?
Natalie: This is my first writing contest. In a previous career in public relations I won business writing awards on behalf of clients, but I've never entered my personal writing in a contest before. Just as I challenged myself to launch my blog for my 61st birthday, I set a goal of entering a writing contest for my 62nd birthday. I researched contests, and discovered WOW! and its awards as a highly regarded contest and resource for writers. I certainly didn't expect my entry to be in the top 10. I just wanted to take a first step. That's what so much of writing – of living – is. Just taking a first step.