Thanks for tuning in to the first episode of the Wise Not Withered Podcast. Our first guest is Karen Joy Fritz, a lovely woman that I met while on a weekend retreat in a beautiful forest in California.
All right, so let’s get straight into it! How old are you?
Karen: I am 57. And a little bit.
All right, so what was or is your relationship with your mother like?
Karen: I adore my mom, and as far as I know, I always have, and all my friends always have. Until recently, she’s probably been my primary confidant. My sounding board on anything personal, anything in my business, whatever. She’s 87 now, and tends to repeat her own stories rather than listening to mine. And… That’s a huge loss for me. I mean, she was my person.
Karen: She’s just starting to fade a little bit. She’s still real active, has her own business, volunteers, and goes out to her beading clubs. But yeah, there’s just a little bit less of her present for me.
Oh, okay. So what kind of person is she? Or maybe was?
Karen: She’s very open-minded and curious. There’s kind of an inviting innocence. Like whatever is there, what is it? I want to find out! A curiosity… And she likes to explore, but she’s also extremely humble, self-deprecating. Was kind of a generational thing. She’ll say she’s not creative, and then she makes all kinds of things: beadwork, and sewing, and knitting. And she’ll say she’s not that smart, but she runs her own business still, at 87.
Oh wow! Is it a beading business?
Karen: No, it’s bookkeeping!
Oh, okay. Interesting. So in what ways are you similar to her?
Karen: I think that I’m also very open-minded, tolerant. I like to hear different people’s perspectives, without necessarily feeling like in order to validate them, I have to take them on, right. So it’s just like, I’m curious. How does that work, how does it fit together for you? And I’m very, very creative. I think she and I share that hugely. And I love to go explore, and travel, just find out new things. Curious.
“I like to hear different people’s perspectives, without necessarily feeling like in order to validate them, I have to take them on. I’m curious. How does that work, how does it fit together for you?”
Yeah, that’s great. And in what ways are you different from her?
Karen: Well a lot has just been life experience, because the expectation for me has always been that I would have a job, I’d be in the workforce, whereas she was primarily a stay-at-home mom, until I was in high school. So I think that’s different. And I think the other thing that’s different is I was raised to believe in myself, so a lot of empowerment and confidence. So I don’t have that self-deprecating piece. (laughs)
That’s probably a good one to not have. (laughs)
Okay, so where did you grow up, and what places have you lived throughout your life?
Karen: Oh my goodness. I grew up primarily in Michigan, so Midwestern culture. I was born there, then the family moved down to North Carolina, so I learned to talk with a drawl. And when we would go to Michigan to Detroit, to find our family and have reunions, they would just try to get me to talk so that they could hear it. So that was fun. And shortly after I started elementary school, we moved back to Michigan. And then right at the end of high school—last two years of high school—moved out to the California coast. So I finished school in Monterey. And then went back to Michigan to university. Worked in Silicon Valley, and then pretty much have landed in Colorado for most of my adult life.
And was it mostly traveling, moving around just for work, or family?
Karen: No… My family moved about every two years, just because they liked to. Big risk-takers. My dad sold the house, bought one in California, then asked for a company transfer. And I’ve continued that on—I’ve done a lot of travel as an adult. I’ve been on five of the six continents I care about. (laughs)
Awesome, that’s great. So are you currently employed?
Karen: I’m self-employed.
Okay, yeah. What exactly is your job?
Karen: I would call it someplace between a coach and a consultant. So I help online business owners who are service providers, like coaches and web developers, and very creative people who are great at doing the thing that they do but hate the technology side of it. So I come in and try to support them with just enough structure to keep their flow moving forward, so they don’t kinda just go all over the place.
Right. Yeah, how did you get into that?
Karen: I trained as a coach in the late 2000’s. And then I had a motorcycle accident, and a little bit of a head injury, and I couldn’t remember anything, so I started using computer tools, to do everything for me. And as I started to heal, I realized you know, there are a lot of heart-based people who could really benefit from using the computer a lot. I can serve the people who aren’t like me, and they can go out and love on lots of people.
Interesting! So what was the first job that you ever had?
Karen: My first job, well beyond baby-sitting. In high school, I worked at a little retail shop that sold knick-knacks. And then they had a section on doing needle-point. So the yarn and creativity and color was the thing that got me into it.
Okay, and how about since then? What jobs have you had?
Karen: Oh… Well after college, I went to work for Hewlett-Packard in Quality Assurance—software QA. And then went from that into management. And when I realized that I did not want my boss’s job, I realized that it was probably time to leave. So I left that in 1991. And I’ve been doing a variety of my own thing ever since!
Cool, so talk about the romantic relationships you’ve had throughout your life. What kinds of people have you loved, and what did you learn from each of them?
Karen: You know, I didn’t have much in the way of romance in high school. I was way too interested in the scholastics, probably a little scary.
Me too. (laughs)
Karen: There was a guy that I met in college. It was something like, in the dorm. All of my relationships have been because we’ve been in the same environment. (laughs) It’s never been like going out beyond and being found. And I would say that they’ve all been very smart people, who could match me on conversation and also had the capacity for the breadth of things that fascinate me. Cause I really like a lot of different stuff, and tend to pull in different pieces in a conversation, so you gotta be able to keep up. So that’s probably the primary common thread.
“All of my relationships have been because we’ve been in the same environment. It’s never been like going out beyond and being found. And I would say that they’ve all been very smart people, who could match me on conversation and also had the capacity for the breadth of things that fascinate me.”
The first guy in college also happened to be a dungeon master, so I learned about Dungeons and Dragons. Then I dated a guy as I was moving into Colorado, who was a Porsche racing instructor. So I got a Porsche and learned to race. So there’s this thing of “Wow, that’s a cool thing! I want to do that too!” Traveling… A lot of travel together.
Are you married now?
Karen: No, I’m divorced. I was married for 19 years. Love the guy that I married, love that he was the father of my children. And as we grew, both of us, into different people, I love that we got divorced amicably. Still live nearby, the kids go back and forth—they’re adults now, so yeah.
Yeah, that sounds pretty peaceful.
Karen: Yeah, it helped that we met as adults. We were both in our… I think I was 28, and he was like 33. And we were at Hewlett Packard, and we’d already had all the corporate communication training. (laughs) So we were pretty open and able to be clear, right from the start. And I think that really helped.
Wow, yeah, definitely. There’s a lot of just figuring things out at the beginning. So that would be very helpful.
Let’s see… So what’s 1) an item that you spent a small amount of money on that has a lot of personal value, and then 2) an item that you spent a lot of money on that didn’t have as much value after all?
Karen: Now this one, I actually thought about. And for me, the first thing that came up when you said small monetary value… I have always loved beach combing. Going and finding shells on the beach.
Karen: What I noticed as I was reflecting was… When I was younger, I was looking for perfect specimens. If they were broken, forget it. I was only looking for the perfect ones. The brightest colors, all the edges clean and everything. And I still have quite a collection of those—they’ve traveled with me everywhere. And as I got older—I would say after kids—the ones that were more interesting were the ones that I picked up and kept. If they were just perfect ones, it was kind of cliché, and I would leave that for the little kids to find. But if it was broken, and you could see inside of it, and you could see how it grew into the way that it was, or how it was inhabited, then it was interesting cause I could pick up more story around it. So that was kind of an interesting reflection.
“When I was younger, I [went beach-combing] looking for perfect specimens. If they were broken, forget it. I was only looking for the perfect ones. … As I got older, the ones that were more interesting were the ones that I picked up and kept. … I could pick up more story around [the broken ones].”
And then the other one, the expensive thing… One of the businesses that I did shortly after leaving corporate was a network marketing business. And part of the culture was… Well, if you wanna be a leader, you have to demonstrate that this works. So fake it til you make it. And so I sold my race car, and went ahead and got a Lexus sedan. Which I thought I would probably need someday anyway, because there would be kids, someday.
And it was the most boring thing. I mean, a Lexus was high-end, an expensive car. There was no torque, you couldn’t make it slide around the corners… It wasn’t that much fun to drive. And I realized eventually that I had given up my authentic experience to try to project this image so that other people would like the image, but that didn’t mean they liked me.
Karen: Yeah. So it was pretty contorted. I’m glad I got that one out of the way. (laughs)
Yeah, sounds like a lesson that a lot of people never learn. (laughs) So name two or three mentors that you’ve had over your lifetime, excluding parents or other family members. How did you meet, and what did you learn from each person?
Karen: You know, the ones that come to mind are university professors. I had one guy—he was part of the great books program. And he thought his alter-ego was Charles Dickens. So sometimes you would see him walking around campus with a cane and a top hat. And he looked like Gene Wilder.
And he was just so creative, and so enthusiastic about the things that he taught. I really appreciated that. Yeah. So that was kind of a mentor in that way… I can’t say that I really had any other specific mentors. I’ve had spiritual teachers that have kind of taken me forward on the path, and then I’ve gone a different way. And yeah, so it hasn’t been real consistent after college.
And you had to be your own mentor?
Karen: Right. Especially with having my own business. I mean when I started my first business… You didn’t want to look like you were having a home business. So you would put your street address, and then you would put “Suite 101”. But there weren’t a lot of people doing home business at that time, so there really weren’t mentors for it. I ended up being the mentor more often.
“When I started my first business, … there weren’t a lot of people doing home businesses at that time, so there really weren’t mentors for it. I ended up being the mentor more often.”
Oh, interesting. And when did you start that? Was that 1991, you said?
Karen: 1990, actually. I had it started even before they offered the severance package.
Yeah, interesting. Cause I feel like having your own business nowadays… Just like you said, there’s more resources now, but back then… Wow, that’s really interesting. So getting a little heavier, what was your first experience with grief?
Karen: The first one that comes up was my Nana dying… And that would have been when I was 11. And part of why it comes up—obviously it was a big deal, but right in that same period, the pet cat and the pet dog also died.
Yeah, and little me got this thing like… “I better not love anything, cause if I really love it, it’s gonna die.”
Karen: It’s all my fault.
Karen: So it was kind of a really intense… I don’t know, just a constellation of things that happened all at once. And it was hard.
Was it mostly internal? Did you talk with family much?
Karen: I don’t remember talking about it. I don’t remember being shut down either. I remember my mom having her grief over losing her mom, and that was fine and okay. Yeah… I remember I journaled, in my little 11-year-old three-word sentences, lots of punctuation marks!!! (laughs) But yeah, I don’t remember any particular external referencing around it.
Okay… So what was one of the biggest challenges that you’ve overcome, either a specific situation, or simply over the course of many years?
Karen: I think that for me the challenge has been as a smart girl, I was seen as a unicorn, even in elementary school. I was always encouraged to be more smart. “Wow, you’re amazing!” and “You can do anything!” and “Just stay focused on your academics!” Which was kind of taking the part that was really strong, and making it stronger. As opposed to my heart connection and my relationships. Because when one is encouraged to be teacher’s pet, one is not very popular with the peer set.
Karen: And so I think that a lot of my peer interactions at that age really got caught up in competition and humiliation. If I got a spelling word wrong, the laughter was endless, because they could finally poke a chink in the armor.
Karen: And I think that carried on, in that I became very defended, and I would use arrogance: you can’t even get close to me, so don’t bother… That way I’ll never get hurt. So when I left corporate and went out into “the real world”, I didn’t know how to start to engage, to make friends, to really create connections. Because my history was well, people only interact with me cause they have to. They wouldn’t do it by choice, but they need something from me.
So for me, the overcoming of that through… Starting with the overflowing love for babies—my babies, and then starting to meet other moms, where there was no expectation, right? They’re not there to do business, they don’t need something from me—it was just companionship. And I would say really coming to a head even in the last five years, of learning what it means to belong in a circle of women, without feeling like “Well, I can’t be here unless I have something that I can give to you guys, cause otherwise you wouldn’t want me here.”
Karen: So yeah… That resting in a heart connection, and having that be enough-ness—has been a huge challenge, because of the way I am and the way society valued it.
“I was always encouraged to be more smart, … as opposed to [strengthening] my heart connection and my relationships. … People [would] only interact with me cause they have to. They wouldn’t do it by choice, but they need something from me. … [I started] to meet other moms, where there was no expectation. They’re not there to do business, they don’t need something from me—it was just companionship. … That resting in a heart connection, and having that be enough-ness—it has been a huge challenge.”
I feel like I need to just let that sink in a little bit. (laughs) Wow. Okay, so you mentioned you have children. What things do you feel you’ve been able to accomplish because of them?
Karen: Well, partly meeting other people beyond work. And growing in terms of my capacity for living with differences. My eyes don’t work real well, so for me visual clutter is almost a danger. I can’t sift through it fast enough to know what to pay attention to.
Karen: Well, kids leave a lot of clutter.
Karen: So there’s been a lot of expanding my comfort. I’m okay. There’s stuff all over. I’m okay. (laughs) They didn’t put that away. I’m okay. And then I can make a choice: do I want to go put it away, or do I want to get them to do it, or whatever. But that expansion of my shell, it feels like, has been partly because of kids.
“Growing in terms of my capacity for living with differences, … expanding my comfort. I’m okay. There’s stuff [that the kids left] all over. I’m okay. (laughs) They didn’t put that away. I’m okay. And then I can make a choice: do I want to go put it away, or do I want to get them to do it, or whatever. But that expansion of my shell, it feels like, has been partly because of kids.”
And it was really interesting: my older son had a really tight group of friends in high school, through a spiritual community, and I would go as chaperone on their rallies. And they accepted me. Right, so here I am, 20 years older, 30 years older, and I’m finally feeling accepted in high school circles. And so I decided, I’m just gonna rewrite my high school script. And this script of acceptance is now mine.
I like that!
Karen: And so it was really a beautiful thing, to be able to say, you know, I’m acceptable in high school circles! (laughs)
Yeah, you know, whenever! However long it takes!
Karen: Right? And a lot of those kids, they friended me on Facebook. And we still interact, you know, five, six years later. So it wasn’t just because I was a sponsor in the room. It was real.
Yeah, tying back to that heart connection. Interesting.
Okay, let’s see… What would you consider your greatest success in life so far? You’ve mentioned lots of things you’ve overcome…
Karen: Oh, certainly the men my boys have become. I am so proud of how they’ve found their own self. It’s not like they’re just like me, and it’s not like they’re just in rebellion.
I got to watch my older son in that circle—their primary mentor at church died. Pretty quickly, of a brain tumor. And as the group sat together, I got to watch him sit there and hold one of the girls as she was crying on his shoulder. And his own tears were there. And he never said, “Don’t cry.” He never said, “There, there, it’s all right.” He was perfectly at ease being in her emotion. And I was like, “YES!” (laughs) So that was just a wonderful thing. So as I see them go out and be full humans in the community, I feel like that’s a huge win for the world.
“I am so proud of how [my sons] have found their own self. It’s not like they’re just like me, and it’s not like they’re just in rebellion. … I got to watch my older son in that [spiritual] circle. … [He held] one of the girls as she was crying on his shoulder. And his own tears were there. And he never said, ‘Don’t cry.’ He never said, ‘There, there, it’s all right.’ He was perfectly at ease being in her emotion. And I was like ‘YES!’ (laughs) … So as I see [my sons] go out and be full humans in the community, I feel like that’s a huge win for the world.”
Right, yeah. Great. Was there a defining moment in your life when you felt you became an adult?
Karen: I think I was born an adult. Yeah. I feel like a lot of my childhood, I was already being the adult. But the moment that pops into my mind is, after college, moved out to Silicon Valley, had my job, and my car got wrecked and I needed a car. The first one had been my parents’ car, that they sold to me for like $100 or something. And I needed a car. And I went into the car dealership, and found what I wanted. It wasn’t crazy or anything. And they let me drive it off the lot with just a signature, because of where I worked.
Karen: Yeah, and I was like, “I can do that? This is a $10,000 car, and they’re just gonna let me drive away with it! Wow!” So that was a moment of like, the “adult world”. And a competency, like damn!
And you mentioned you drive a motorcycle? When did that start?
Karen: Ha! That was my present to myself for my 50th birthday!!
Karen: I went out and took the training, and the first bike I got myself was a red Crotch Rocket. And I rode that one for a year, and then I got an Adventure Bike, so it’s good on the freeway, but it can also go off-road, and camping. So that was the one, and I put 10,000 miles a year on it for the first four years. So I was doing a lot of touring.
And what was the inspiration behind getting a motorcycle?
Karen: There were a couple of little things… I rode on the back of somebody’s bike, and I couldn’t see, and I couldn’t be in control, and I didn’t know what was happening, and I was like, “I will never do this again. This is scary!” And then I took my younger son to finish off his scuba certification, and on a day off I wanted to rent a scooter, and just go around the island. And they wouldn’t rent to me, because I didn’t have a motorcycle certification. And I was like, “Oh, well that will never happen again!” So I got it.
And what I discovered was I could have all of the acceleration of the in-body experience of having my car on the race track without having to wait for a race day. I could go out any day and ride the motorcycle, and it was fun!!
“[My motorcycle] was my present to myself for my 50th birthday! … What I discovered was I could have all of the acceleration of the in-body experience of having my car on the race track without having to wait for a race day. I could go out any day and ride the motorcycle, and it was fun!!”
Yeah, awesome! Let’s see… So in what ways do you believe you’ve had the most impact on other people?
Karen: I think that there’s something about having had my own business, and having done well with it early that then as I mentored other people starting their own businesses, I got to be a model of… You can do really well, and not be a greedy bitch.
Karen: Right!? Because so many people have this idea of well, millionaires are greedy, arrogant, they exploit people, etc. And my point in one of my conversations with a gal was, no, what it really means is there’s an extra 0 on my charity check. It doesn’t change who I am. It just makes me more of who I am. And I think that ability to stand in that, and just show it. Not even so much have to talk about it, let people know it’s okay to be successful with your own business. It’s safe. It’s not gonna “make you” mean.
“You can do really well, and not be a greedy b***h. … What it really means is there’s an extra 0 on my charity check. It doesn’t change who I am. It just makes me more of who I am. … It’s okay to be successful with your own business. It’s safe. It’s not gonna ‘make you’ mean.”
Mhm. Okay, the last question! What piece of advice would you share with younger women that you wish you had known when you were younger?
Karen: It’s your own life, you can’t get it wrong. You can’t get it wrong. You’re not doing it wrong. You’re not in the wrong place. You’re not too far behind. You can’t get it wrong. And you continue to change, the world continues to change. You’ll never get it right, forever. You don’t have to find the “forever” answer. So if you can’t get it wrong, and you can’t get it right, you may as well just get started. And hold it lightly.
Ah, I love that. Can’t get it wrong, can’t get it right, just get started. Awesome! Well, those are all the questions I have. Do you have anything you want to add?
Karen: You know, now I’m thinking about friends I have that are still doing river rafting. I have a friend who’s a guide in Zion National Park, and she takes people on wilderness retreats. I mean, there’s so much out there that in some ways, women are more engaged. I wouldn’t say more active—it’s like, we’re not out doing rock climbing. But less in the kitchen. (laughs) I appreciate what you’re doing, because obviously there’s more and more aging women! (laughs)
(laughs) Yes! And there will continue to be!
Karen: Yeah. Maybe this group of aging women can set it up so that we have good role models, so that when all the millennials become aging women—because there’s even more of them—it’ll all be set up, and not a big deal!
Yes! I hope so! I really hope so.
“It’s your own life, you can’t get it wrong. You can’t get it wrong. You’re not doing it wrong. You’re not in the wrong place. You’re not too far behind. You can’t get it wrong. And you continue to change, the world continues to change. You’ll never get it right, forever. You don’t have to find the ‘forever’ answer. So if you can’t get it wrong, and you can’t get it right, you may as well just get started. And hold it lightly.”