Kalin’s Chronicles: Filmmaker Accomplishes Dream in Her 40s

Daisy Bates Poster Women at FortySharon La Cruise is one of my dear friends and former CNN colleagues. After working at CNN, the 1996 Summer Olympics, and Coca-Cola, she left Atlanta for Boston and New York to pursue her dream of becoming a documentary filmmaker.

She has worked on several award-winning films, including:  “Shut Up and Sing” about The Dixie Chicks, and “This Far by Faith” about religion in the African American community.

But at age 49, Sharon reached her goal of writing, producing and directing her own film.  “Daisy Bates:  First Lady of Little Rock” is the product of seven years of hard work.  The film profiles the life of an African American woman who, while in her 40s, fought to integrate Little Rock High School in Arkansas in 1957.

I have the pleasure of traveling as part of Sharon’s “2013 Southern Circuit Tour” to screen the film, and decided to interview her about accomplishing her dream in her 40s.

On Turning 40:

I had reached a point my life where I wanted to live life on my terms without all the BS. I was finally a grown up! And I was on the way to becoming who I wanted to be—a documentary filmmaker.

On why she chose Daisy Bates as the subject of her film:

In 1997, I was 35 years old living in Atlanta. I attended a photo exhibit that would change my life. “I Dream a World” by photographer Brian Lanker included a companion guide of 75 of the most incredible African American women to ever live, including Daisy Bates. I was shocked that I had never learned about her in school.  I started to research more about her and decided to make the film.

On finishing the film after seven years of work:

Producing “Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock” was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. This profession is not for the weak of heart. It takes lots of time researching, writing, editing and fundraising for money.  In the film world, if you get funding from government entities it is mandatory that your film broadcast on PBS or you have to return those funds.  But there are no guarantees that PBS will broadcast your film. I was fortunate to be picked up by “Independent Lens,” which was the culmination of my dreams as a filmmaker. When the film aired on PBS on February 2, 2012–I was 49 years old.

On traveling the country to show the film:

The film has been screened everywhere from Hawaii to New York. Sitting through a screening with an audience has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. I love connecting with new people, and it has helped to reaffirm why I made the film in the first place.

On being productive in your 40s:

Daisy Bates helped to shake the foundation of America in her 40s.  I spent most of my 40s working on the film about her life.  It was both wonderful and stressful.  But I am really proud of all the things I was able to accomplish during that decade of my life.

Advice for women turning 40:

Don’t live your life in fear–take chances–and don’t settle for less than an extraordinary life.  While I was working on the film I had signs up all over my office to encourage me — my favorite was from the film “Million Dollar Baby.” It said “Winners win because they dare to do what losers won’t.”

I hope Sharon’s experiences inspired you.  Your 40s is the time to make no apologies for what you want in life.  So get started now, and never give up on your dreams!  For more information on Sharon and Daisy Bates, visit http://daisybatesfilm.com/.


Editor’s Update: I’ve added this clip from the documentary on PBS’ Independent Lens website.

Watch A Feminist Before the Term Was Invented on PBS. See more from Independent Lens.


 Kalin Thomas is Women at Forty’s Travel & Leisure Editor. She is also Senior Writer/Photographer for SoulOfAmerica. Before starting her own multimedia company, Kalin spent 17 years at CNN where she won several awards for her work as producer/correspondent for CNN’s weekly travel program, CNN TravelNow. She is currently writing a book about her travels. For more information on Kalin, visit www.seetheworldproductions.com.

DNF that sucker and move on

life is short

Life is too short to finish something you wish you’d never started at the expense of starting something you wish you had. It’s too short to miss out on something worth fighting for because you’re too exhausted from fighting for something that isn’t. And it’s way too short not to know the difference.

I’ve been reading and DNFing (don’t worry, I’m not cursing – at least not here on the blog) a lot of books lately. DNF means “Did Not Finish.”

It’s a term that’s used in sports. And apparently a DNF is the kiss of death.  Athletes try hard to avoid getting a DNF. Most people, athletes or otherwise, don’t like DNFing.

We want to finish whatever we started because it’s been ingrained in us since childhood that winners never quit. We never, ever, ever give up.

But what if we did. What if we gave up on certain things to make room for the right things.

I now have over 500 titles on my Kindle. 500. How that happened is a story in itself, but I’ll never be able to get through all 500. Years ago when I spent more time reading physical in-my-hands books, I always finished them, no matter how awful they were. Because that’s what you did.  Because you always finish what you start, and I felt bad for the author if I DNF (as if she’d know.) These days, I still kind of feel bad for the author, but I stop reading if I don’t like it. Why finish a book I’m lukewarm about at the expense of finding one I’ll adore?

Outside of the book analogy, why spend time with people or activities just because you think you’re supposed to, at the expense of meeting people and engaging in activities you’d really enjoy.

Why stay in that relationship, on that career path, in that organization just because you think you’re supposed to. Think about what you’re not starting because you’re so busy finishing something you really didn’t want in the first place.

I think it was Abe Lincoln who first said, “DNF that sucker and move on.” Although I’m not sure because I never quite finished reading his biography. I DNF that sucker and moved on. What are you DNFing today?

New Year’s Resolution: No new goals?

Editor’s Note: It’s that time of year again: time to plan, predict, calculate and lay out our goals for the new year. Setting goals is a good thing right? How will you ever get what you want if you don’t have clearly established goals? Well over at Zen Habits, Leo Babauta has some interesting ideas about setting goals. He, for the most part, lives without goals and argues that letting go of them prevents us from being limited. I’m not sure I can “un-goal” to the degree he has, but does he have a point? Read what Leo has to say and then decide for yourself…

the best goal is no goal – Leo Babauta

The idea of having concrete, achievable goals seem to be deeply ingrained in our culture. I know I lived with goals for many years, and in fact a big part of my writings here on Zen Habits are about how to set and achieve goals.

These days, however, I live without goals, for the most part. It’s absolutely liberating, and contrary to what you might have been taught, it absolutely doesn’t mean you stop achieving things.

It means you stop letting yourself be limited by goals.

Consider this common belief: “You’ll never get anywhere unless you know where you’re going.” This seems so common sensical, and yet it’s obviously not true if you stop to think about it. Conduct a simple experiment: go outside and walk in a random direction, and feel free to change directions randomly. After 20 minutes, an hour … you’ll be somewhere! It’s just that you didn’t know you were going to end up there.

And there’s the rub: you have to open your mind to going places you never expected to go. If you live without goals, you’ll explore new territory. You’ll learn some unexpected things. You’ll end up in surprising places. That’s the beauty of this philosophy, but it’s also a difficult transition.

Today, I live mostly without goals. Now and then I start coming up with a goal, but I’m letting them go. Living without goals hasn’t ever been an actual goal of mine … it’s just something I’m learning that I enjoy more, that is incredibly freeing, that works with the lifestyle of following my passion that I’ve developed.

The problem with goals

In the past, I’d set a goal or three for the year, and then sub-goals for each month. Then I’d figure out what action steps to take each week and each day, and try to focus my day on those steps.

Unfortunately, it never, ever works out this neatly. You all know this. You know you need to work on an action step, and you try to keep the end goal in mind to motivate yourself. But this action step might be something you dread, and so you procrastinate. You do other work, or you check email or Facebook, or you goof off.

And so your weekly goals and monthly goals get pushed back or side-tracked, and you get discouraged because you have no discipline. And goals are too hard to achieve. So now what? Well, you review your goals and reset them. You create a new set of sub-goals and action plans. You know where you’re going, because you have goals!

Of course, you don’t actually end up getting there. Sometimes you achieve the goal and then you feel amazing. But most of the time you don’t achieve them and you blame it on yourself.

Here’s the secret: the problem isn’t you, it’s the system! Goals as a system are set up for failure.

Even when you do things exactly right, it’s not ideal. Here’s why: you are extremely limited in your actions. When you don’t feel like doing something, you have to force yourself to do it. Your path is chosen, so you don’t have room to explore new territory. You have to follow the plan, even when you’re passionate about something else.

Some goal systems are more flexible, but nothing is as flexible as having no goals. Continue reading New Year’s Resolution: No new goals?

Aint no half steppin. Well maybe just a little…

Editor’s Note: Big Daddy Kane lyrics aside, we’ve all heard the expression, “one step at a time.”  But what if you feel like you don’t have the time/energy/motivation for even one step?  What about a half-step?  In the latest post on his website Zenhabits, Leo Babauta shares some wisdom on getting unstuck, a challenge so many of us face in our 40s.  He reminds us that sometimes getting unstuck doesn’t require a huge leap. Sometimes all it takes is a tiny half step in the right direction…

The Half Step That Will Change Your Life – by Leo Babauta

You’d be surprised to know how many emails I get where people are stuck in their lives.

They’re broke, or unmotivated, or in a job they hate, or they can’t find their passion, or they can’t get motivated to get healthy.

And they don’t know where to start.

It hurts to read these emails. It brings back to life the pain I lived through not too many years ago, when I too was stuck.

I know the feeling of despair when you are unhappy with your life and don’t know how to change. When you’ve tried lots of changes, but couldn’t find the discipline to make them stick. When you feel crappy about yourself because you know you should get off your butt and start improving your life, but you’d rather put it off for another day.

Problems go away when you ignore them, right?

I also know that there is really only one way out of this mire of despair.

It’s to take an action, no matter how tiny.

You don’t need to fix everything in your life right now. You don’t even need to fix one thing.

You just need to do one little, miniscule, almost nothing thing.

Make a list. Go outside and take a walk. Get rid of some of your junk food. Clear off your kitchen table. Cancel something tomorrow so you can make time to create something, no matter how small.

Don’t do all of these. Do one. Or half of one, or one thousandth. It doesn’t matter how small — the smaller, the better.

Take that first step. Celebrate that first step. Love the step, not the destination. That step, even the motion of taking the first foot off the ground and moving it forward — that’s everything.

That’s the truth, and you’ll not read it in many self-help books: put every microparticle of your existence into that half step, and be nothing but that half step, and love it with all you have … and your life has changed.

With this half step, everything is different. You haven’t achieved any goals … but you’ve moved. You haven’t created something amazing … and yet, more than ever before, you have.

You’ve created beauty and joy and movement where none existed before, where previously only constriction and paralysis and confusion lived. You have changed the world.

The First Habit

Choose one little habit to add joy to your life. Just one, and tiny is miraculous.

It can be writing or painting or making music for 2 minutes a day. It can be a ridiculously easy walk or jog or enjoying a bowl of fruit. It can be 2 minutes of meditation or reflecting in a journal.

Enjoy the hell out of it.

Create this one habit, and you have a success. This is a foundation, a first step, to build on.

Then you can do a second, and a third, but you can’t do those without a first.

Don’t change your entire life. Just change this one little thing.

You’d be amazed how much that matters. I was.

What’s one little thing  you can change in your life today? Will you take that half step?

Read Leo Babaut’s original post on half stepping here.

2011, 21 days at a time

21Editor’s Note: Happy New Year WAF! I took a couple of weeks off but I’m back in front of the old laptop (nope, didn’t get a new one for Christmas) ready to hear and share a new crop of stories from women at forty. What are your big plans for 2011? I’ve decided to write my plans in pencil, starting with my plan not to make resolutions. Sort of…

It’s taken me 40 years but this year, for the first time ever, I didn’t make any new year’s resolutions. Why? Because as far back as I can remember making them, I remember breaking them. Every one of them. Don’t get me wrong, I have made significant changes in my life over the years but very few of them, if any, came as a result of something I wrote on a piece of paper on December 31st.

That said, the start of a new year is a great time to take a life inventory, so I’m not knocking resolutions entirely. I’ve just decided to handle them a little differently.

For starters, no more sweeping declarations about what I am and am not going to do…blah…blah…blah. If I learned one thing in 2010 it was that the plans we often have for our lives, are just that – plans. Reality usually takes us in a completely different direction. So this year I’m taking advice from an unlikely source, Jon Bon Jovi, who says, “Map out your future, but do it in pencil.”

Continue reading 2011, 21 days at a time