From Editor-in-Chief of Marie Claire Magazine to Alloy Women's Health, the Hot New Menopause Start-Up
Anne Fulenwider, former editor-in-chief of Marie Claire magazine, discusses midlife career pivots, menopause, and ditching the glam world of magazine publishing.
She’s a mom, a wife. A feminist and an entrepreneur. A self-described “recovering magazine editor” who spent years in an industry of prestige and perks, appearing as a mentor on Project Runway Allstars, a judge for the Pulitzer Prizes, and garnering countless awards, including Media Industry Newsletter’s Editor of the Year in 2013. (Impressive, for sure.)
So, why leave behind a successful career to become a co-founder and co-CEO of a health start-up focusing on menopause?
“We need to bring menopause out of the shadows, and get the conversation going,” says Anne. “So many women feel isolated and confused at this point in their lives."
Change can be a struggle, especially in midlife. By this time, many of us are firmly entrenched and comfortable in our lives, our careers, our relationships, our homes and our everyday habits. Our brains aren’t always wired for change, either. Pivoting into a new career in midlife may feel tough to even imagine: daunting, intimidating, frightening and even impossible.
I’m too old, we might think. It’s too late. That ship has already sailed.
Yet pivoting is possible. Many times, it takes some sort of “defining moment” to propel us forward and lift us out of our comfort zone.
SHERYL KRAFT: Were there any special life events that led to your pivot?
ANNE FULENWIDER: Yes, it was when my mother suddenly died of a heart attack. We all have that moment of ‘what do I do now?’ Although I wish my mother was still here, I had a quick and profound realization after my mother died that I wanted to begin a more intentional phase of life: to make an impact on women’s health.
In my last year at Marie Claire, we’d done a lot about a segment of women who had changed careers and funded new companies. These women were living in a world of possibility that I wasn’t used to. I found it intoxicating and inspiring.
SK: Why do so many women in midlife begin to think about - or actually make- a pivot?
AF: When you’re younger, you have so many things in the air: school, career, family…it’s like standing in a river with the current coming at you, bringing rocks and branches. You have to be totally active to dodge and juggle it all. I had been racing, running, chasing who-knows-what.
But then you reach a point in your life when you don’t have to worry about it anymore. You’ve gained strength and experience. You learn that there’s much more to life than reacting, and you can now be proactive.
There’s something magical about this time of life; an awakening of sorts that happens, and a great un-burdening of all the obligations of your life that opens you up to wonderful possibility.
Check in with yourself: Ask yourself what are the things I’ve always wanted to do? Don’t lose track of them.
SK. Changing course in midlife can be so frightening to so many women. What are some key things women need to be able to accomplish change?
AF: You have to be willing to open yourself up, be vulnerable and willing to engage in new behavior.
I was seeking more stimulation and had an intense curiosity that motivated me. There was a huge learning curve in my new position, and it was challenging. But at the same time it was extremely satisfying. I feel like I earned a JD, MBA and MD all in a few years!
People say, ‘it’s so risky; you’re so brave.’ But to me, it seemed obvious; almost necessary.
SK. Is pivoting a privilege that only people with financial stability can afford to do?
AF: It does help to have a financial cushion - but it’s not entirely necessary. Just having financial stability doesn’t guarantee happiness or fulfillment. Sometimes the only route out is change.
If you don’t have financial stability there are changes you can make in your life, like living less expensively or cutting back on things.
There’s a lot of stuff that can be shed, and it can be very liberating.
SK: What surprised you about beginning your new career?
AF: I actually underestimated the skills and power I had. There are so many people out there telling us no. But after a while I realized that I knew enough to know that was not true. It’s so important to listen to yourself. I realized I had to trust my intuition and skills.
There was so much to learn, and I felt like an apprentice at times. Although it was humbling, at the same time it was fascinating. I actually could feel new neuropathways in my brain being built!
Your experience is transferrable, even if it’s totally different. It’s worth a lot more than you give it credit for. Use what you’ve learned in the past to face an unknown challenge.
SK: Is there anything you would have done differently?
AF: I would have listened to my gut about doing this earlier. But I’d caution women not to panic and make a drastic decision in the middle of a crisis, which is some of the best advice I got after my mother died. It took me about two years to actually decide what exactly would be the right change.
Since I’ve made this change, women are actually coming to me and sharing their stories. I’m hearing more and more from women who are bored and up for a change.
Thanks to Anne for a most inspiring interview. Destigmatizing both menopause and the idea that women are stuck and can’t change are certainly gifts that keep on giving.
Note: This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Disclosure: I have the privilege of working with Anne at Alloy as one of their writers for their blog, which covers topics like weight gain, mood swings, sleep, hair loss and why we can’t drink like we used to.
For a Pause…
Before you check out Alloy’s awesome website, make sure you use code PAUSE25 for $25 off your first order.
If you like listening to podcasts, here’s a fun one you may or may not be familiar with: The Breadwinners. This episode is all about women forced to pivot later in life.
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Thanks for sharing this interview. Anne's experience resonated with me.