Family Relationships

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Virtual Book Tour: Dr. Carol Orsborn Talks with Sandwiched Boomers

Today we are delighted to welcome Dr. Carol Orsborn, internationally-recognized author and senior strategist with Carol is the author of the recently published "The Year I Saved My (downsized) Soul."

Carol began keeping a daily journal of her tumultuous journey through recessionary times, struggling to make sense of both personal and societal tribulation. Along the way, she found herself testing spiritual principles she’d been sharing over the course of the 15 books she’d authored, ultimately embracing both the despair and delight of what it means to be fully alive. "The Year I Saved My (downsized) Soul" is the exuberant record of her vibrant, chaotic but always inspiring search for meaning…and a job:

Nourishing Relationships: Why did you write this book?

Susan Orsborn: I began the year that resulted in my book “The Year I Saved My (downsized) Soul: A Boomer Woman’s Search for Meaning…and a Job” thinking that I had recklessly broken my very core. My own salvation began the moment I took up my pen every night after my long days at work to record my experiences. I instinctively knew I needed to do something to make sense of what was happening to me. While I’d written 15 books over the past 25 years, many of them inspirational and advice books, this was not a work I intended for publication. I literally wrote this book to save my soul—and it wasn’t until the year I set out to save my (downsized) soul was nearly over that I thought to share this with Patti Breitman, an old friend, and my former agent, wondering if there might be something in this for others. Outside of my own personal journals, I’d never written anything so exposed. Had I shown too much of myself? Her response excited and alarmed me. “This is a brave book” were her exact words.

N R: What do you want your readers to learn or take away from reading this book?

S O: Even successful people are not immune to undeserved hard knocks. However, whether we prosper or not ultimately has more to do with how we respond to the things that happen to us than the things, themselves. Through my own trials and tribulations, I learned that it is possible to be both downsized and spiritually healthy at the same time. Here are the ten key take-aways I learned during this year that I wanted to share with others:

1. All you can hope to control, however long you have and in whatever the circumstances, is whether you will bring your best or worst to bear.

2. There are times when all you can do is remember to breathe.

3. It is the willingness to engage in the struggle for what really matters that merits God’s intervention—not how deserving you think you are, nor whether you manage to emerge unwounded.

4. Because our futures are open and free, many influences contribute to how our lives will unfold over time. Ironically, your ability to hope becomes one of those factors, carrying just enough weight to make the difference.

5. Not everything that happens is a message. Sometimes a rat is only a rat.

6. Embrace the possibility that many things are bound to get in your way. Success comes not in spite of the things that happen to you but because you have grown large enough to embrace it all.

7. It is in the void that the status quo has the lightest hold on us. Released from the constructs of our everyday life, we have the least to lose. In the void, we are freest to make changes.

8. You don’t need an upbeat or even a brave attitude to make progress. You just need discipline, putting resumes out, making phone calls, following up leads and the like. This you can do happy or sad, anxious or full of faith.

9. It’s the economy that’s broken, not you.

10. When you give up the illusion of control, it’s true that you can’t always stop bad things from happening. But you can’t stop good things from happening, either.

N R: What research did you do to write this book?

S O: I have my doctorate in the history and critical theory of religion from Vanderbilt, which provided me with a solid foundation in terms of understanding the psychology, sociology and anthropology of what makes people grow and change spiritually, especially through crisis. (My areas of specialization are ritual studies, conversion theory and the transmission of beliefs from generation to generation.) Plus, I’ve written 15 books based on my studies of spiritual masters from multiple religions, eras and geographies: Sufi, Zen, Chassidic, The I Ching…you name it. That said, the only ultimate research I did was to use myself as a guinea pig, to see how my spiritual knowledge fared when personally put to the test. Short-term: not to well. Long-term: stronger than ever.

N R: Who was this book written for?

S O: Honestly, it was based on my own journals so you’d have to say it was written for myself. Only when I showed my journal to a friend in the publishing field did she tell me that this had value for others. The people who are responding to this book represent a surprising range of ages and circumstances, although ground zero are people 50 plus who have been downsized.

N R: What problem does this book solve for your reader?

S O: At a minimum, it will provide the knowledge that if they are in a similar position, they’re not alone. I’ve heard that my story is very validating.

N R: What has been the reaction to the book?

S O: Of all my books, this has received the most enthusiastic response. People tell me they sit down and read it in one sitting, and that when they put it down, they feel better about themselves, their prospects and life.

N R: What is your background/expertise in this field?

S O: In addition to my credentials in academia, I’m Senior Strategist with, the largest online community of smart, passionate women 50+. Because of the vulnerable, honest, optimistic dialogue engaged in by our members, I felt encouraged that if I were to share my story with others, it would be well-received…that I wasn’t some kind of loser, but rather, part of a larger movement, so to speak.

N R: Is there anything else you’d like to share about your book or experience in writing it?

S O: The main reason I ended up in corporate life, in the first place, was that I had put my writing career behind me and I needed to find a new way to make a living. It’s not that I didn’t love being an author—I always feel most passionate about life when immersed in the writing process. But I felt that a new time was dawning for authors and readers, alike. The era of authority telling us how we ought to live our lives is definitively over. What we crave, rather, is personal experience, to touch it and feel it—not principles shared from the top down, but the raw, gritty stuff of the fully-lived life.

Thanks for your candor and insight, Carol. If you'd like more information about Carol, click on the title of this post - you'll also find lots of support and a fund of useful information at Now it's your turn, readers. Carol is available all day to answer your questions - just click on 'comments' at the bottom of this post and follow the prompts. And log on tomorrow - we'll be summarizing your questions and Carol's responses.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I sgree with what you say about how sharing can make you feel less alone. I lost my job six months ago but I'm not talking. Where do I begin?

7:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You mention that you've never written such a personal book before. What have been the after effects of, as you say, "exposing" yourself? Catherine

7:32 AM  
Anonymous Carol Orsborn said...

First of all, I emphathize with you and all the many of us who have gone through the "downsized" experience. In addition to whatever in-person resources your community may offer, many women 50+ are finding relief in being able to share their experiences online. There are a number of websites (check around) but I do a lot of my venting on a wide range of topics at You can come on the site anonymous or use your real name. In either case, I think you'll find it rewarding to discover what a relief it is to be able to speak your mind to like-minded women. (I think you'll find that you'll find yourself in some rich conversations--and it's free and easy to get started, 24/7. Good luck!

7:47 AM  
Anonymous Carol Orsborn said...

You ask about the effects of exposing myself in a memoir. Well, I braced myself for huge negative ramifications and then nothing bad happened. Of course, I did back way off my first draft that read more like "The Devil Wears Prada", overshadowing the spiritual heart of the book that was really the point--so I did edit back a lot. In fact, I edited out 100 pages! That said, a friend of mine did a memoir about her relationship with family members and doesn't speak to any of them any more--so you never know. My suggestion to all memorists is first write it for catharsis fearlessly, then upon rewrite, remove anything that doesn't advance the story and that is either vindictive or therapy.

7:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've heard from friends that journaling is helpful. I've made a few attempts but don't stay with it. Any hints?

9:18 AM  
Anonymous Carol Orsborn said...

I try to journal every day, especially when I'm working through an issue or feeling generally "off", and yes, it helps me a lot! In fact, my book grew out of my daily journals, as you know. How to keep at it? My first advice is to not overthink it. Assume nobody will ever read it and don't worry about spelling, grammar or even making sense. In fact, you might try capturing stream of consciousness: just write whatever's in your mind, i.e. jump from the fact that you're upset to that you need to buy toilet paper--again, without judgement. Eventually, if journaling is going to become "your thing", it will start surfacing deeper wisdom/self-knowledge and clarity. If it doesn't, just might not be your best tool. For me personally, I'm kind of "worded" out so I'm going to start doing a visual journal, where I draw abstract (or whatever) with colored pencils to capture my mood. I'll report back at some point if this worked!

9:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just found out that my company has been bought out and after the holidays I won't have a job. Carol, what's your best tip about keeping up your spirits, especially at this time?

10:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A lot of women talk about the void - I can't remember the author's name but she writes for boomer women and coined the term. What do you mean by it? Jan

11:03 AM  
Anonymous Carol Orsborn said...

First, my condolances regarding finding out you're going to be unemployed--esp. difficult when through no fault of your own. (Even if like most of us, you are tempted to take some level of responsibility...that's my first advice, don't take that on! Let yourself be sad/angry or anything other than turning against yourself. Secondly, that's a big questions about how to keep your spirits up. I'd like to direct you to the four-part series I just completed for You'll see me and parts three and four on our home page, but if you start there, you will easily be led to parts one and two and can read the series in order. Best of luck!

11:20 AM  
Anonymous Carol Orsborn said...

Hi Jan, I've been using the term "void" for twenty years--but don't take responsibility for coining it, as I'm pretty sure it's a literal translation of a Buddhist term. In any case, the way I use it is to describe that uncertain place between status quo's, where you are in transition but to you, it feels like you've fallen into utter darkness and hopelessness. In Christianity, they refer to this place as being akin to "the dark night of the soul." Almost every spiritual tradition has something similar.

11:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this may be a silly question but how did your spirituality help you during the time you felt so low? i'm going through a divorce and i can't seem to find myself. cassidy

2:50 PM  
Anonymous Carol Orsborn said...

Hi Cassidy,
The point about spirituality is that we all believe in something. The philosopher William James says that believing things are going to be alright in the long run (i.e. that this is a loving universe) helps in the same way that the attitudes of two mountain climbers who have to jump a crevice will make a difference. Who will have the better chance of making it across? The one who thinks it's impossible or the one who thinks if he/she tries hard enough, she'll make it? People who are "spiritual" examine their beliefs and if they discover that they believe they're "on their own", take the leap of faith of believing there's a power greater than themselves that actively cares about them--even if it doesn't seem so at the time. The thing is, they call it an act of faith exactly because you don't know for certain...One final thought, I have found that the very impulse to pray--the willingness to give it a try--is what God responds to, not the choice or eloquence of the words or even the certainty of belief.

4:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You say that readers want to hear personal experiences from the trenches instead of 'words of wisdom' from professionals. Self help has been so big for so long. Do you think the pendulum will swing back?

4:13 PM  
Anonymous Carol Orsborn said...

It's the end of the day and I'm going to be signing off now. Thanks for all who checked this out--and especially those who posted comments. Thanks so much to Phyllis and Rosemary for hosting me. If you'd like to stay in the loop with my perspective/thoughts, I Tweet as Carol Orsborn; and of course, you are welcome to stay in touch with me and our community of women 50+ at

4:15 PM  

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