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Social Impact Heroes: How Catherine Grace O’Connell is empowering women to combat ageism

Ageism is hitting us earlier than ever before. If you are aged out of the workforce at 40, that leaves you with 40 plus years left to live. To be clear, I am NOT an influencer. I have no desire to influence anyone. I empower women to be their own source of influence.

As part of my series about “companies and organizations making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Catherine Grace O’Connell. Catherine Grace is an Ageism Positivist, the Chief Executive Catalyst of Forever Fierce Media, and the Founder of The Forever Fierce Revolution. She is the host of the Mastering Modern Midlife Talk Show/Podcast and the creative behind the lifestyle blog, CatherineGraceO.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to start on your career path?

Just a few years ago, my life looked vastly different. After a lifetime of emotional abuse and trauma, including PTSD, I was diagnosed with late stage Lyme Disease and spent a year unable to walk or function. The illness almost took my life. It culminated in a Near Death Experience in which my Spirit chose to stay. I didn’t understand why I survived at the time. Now, I do. Today, I have a mission and a life filled with meaning and purpose. During my frustrating battle to get well, my daughter began encouraging me to get dressed up and began taking photos of me. I had always loved fashion and it invigorated me. I began by setting up an Instagram account.Honestly, I had never heard of Instagram! My daughter taught me about captions and hashtags. I began sharing my story. People began reaching out. I sent my cell phone to every single person. The first year, I spoke with hundreds of people, many with Lyme Disease or another chronic illness, and everyone needing someone to listen, a shoulder to lean on. Before I knew it, I was healing rapidly and a business began to form. I started creating a blog centered around a personal mission to use fashion as a medium to share my message of hope, hope for older women. The irony was, I was a woman in my mid 50’s when I came back to life. I found there was no place for me. That needed to change … for me and for other women! Through 25 years of self development and studying the inner world, I had never felt more empowered, relevant, and confident. I began using my voice to inspire women at Midlife and Beyond to believe in themselves and to ignite the potential within.

Did you set out to start a movement? If so, what was your vision? If not, what did you imagine would be the impact of your work?

I didn’t have a Tribe, but I wanted one. So I decided to create my own with women who desired similar things from life. The idea came through in a yoga class. The message was crystal clear. I would launch a social service campaign called The Fierce 50 to unite bloggers over 50 and to create a collaborative, supportive, community to celebrate and empower women over 50. I teamed up with 3 other Midlife bloggers and within a few weeks, we had over 70 bloggers. The campaign launched and lit up social media. We attracted a lot of attention, including national brands who hired us to create multiple national digital campaigns and in-store events. From there, I created a Facebook Community that became The Forever Fierce Revolution. This was in response to the many younger women, the Gen Xers who felt invisible, who wanted to join the community as well.

It’s a global community with women in almost every state and many countries around the world. When I began on social media, a community like this didn’t exist. Older women were completely disconnected from one another. I decided to be the change that I needed. The mission of The Forever Fierce Revolution is to shift the perception of women at Midlife & Beyond to one that is vibrant, empowered, and relevant, a true reflection of the life we are living today. We are also shifting a culture of the way women treat women. In Forever Fierce, no mean girls are allowed. We are a community based in kindness and compassion. We believe in collaboration over competition. We believe in women lifting other women. We don’t just believe it. We live it. We are on a mission to spread the word to millions of women around the globe. You may not notice one Midlife woman walking down the street, but you can’t miss millions of them!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I have a business partner who joined me in this venture with zero experience like me. We were both in our mid 50’s. We didn’t have any experience in video, the digital marketing world, or in social media, but we did have passion. When The Fierce 50 went viral and we were receiving calls from national brands, we were over the moon. One national brand asked us to produce, film, and edit a video commercial and hire multiple bloggers from across the country and Canada to join us to promote their fashion brand, we said, “YES!” Then, we hung up the phone, took one look at each other and said, “What the hell do we do now?!?” We had absolutely no idea where to begin. We had never produced a video. We had never created a national campaign and hired bloggers to work with us. That’s the Fierce part. Midlife lights a fire in your belly. You give us a task and we will work around the clock and figure out how to do it. My business partner is also my photographer and producer. Like me, he is 100 percent self taught. He had never used a camera in his life! We believe that Google is our best friend. Google has the answer to every question. The internet is filled with a wealth of resources if you’re willing to learn and we were willing to learn. We ended up creating multiple national campaigns for this brand. Our last video campaign took in over 200k views on Facebook alone at a slim fraction of the cost and time it would take anyone else to do it. It also featured all REAL women from 50 to 70. Not actors. Not models. The greatest challenge for us was we were given 10 days to produce it! We’re Fierce. We did!

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

The Forever Fierce Revolution is both a community and a movement. It’s meant to empower women to Reinvent, Rewire, and BE RELEVANT! Our culture isn’t kind to older women. We are going to change that. Ageism is the only “Ism” every single person on this planet will face if we don’t do something about it. We are living longer and longer with our average life expectancy over 80. The irony is that we hit “Midlife” earlier in our lives than ever before. Midlife isn’t an age. It’s an experience when the world begins treating you differently or you begin to see yourself differently. And guess what? Women at Midlife & Beyond are the first demographic in history to have health and vitality, wisdom and life experience, and a pocketbook to match … all at the same time! A well known influencer in her 30’s joined one of my social service campaigns. She had never told her age on social media because she was advised she would lose 90 percent of the brands she worked with. A major global electronics producer invited me to an over the top event in Malibu thinking, from my photos that, I was quite a bit younger. They were trying to market $15,000 TVs to Millennials. When I arrived and introduced myself as a woman in her mid-fifties, they proceeded to ignore me for the rest of the evening, spoke only of the under 35 age group, and would not return any emails inquiring as to why they were unwilling to learn to market to the demographic that controls over 80% of the nation’s disposable income.

Ageism is hitting us earlier than ever before. If you are aged out of the workforce at 40, that leaves you with 40 plus years left to live. To be clear, I am NOT an influencer. I’m a Cat-Alyst. I have no desire to influence anyone. I empower women to be their own source of influence. The Forever Fierce Revolution and my work in Mastering Modern Midlifeis to inspire women to stand in their power and make their own decisions for what they desire in their lives. The community works together to lift one another. We are injecting belief and confidence back into older women so they can be their best selves and live a life of purpose and meaning. One of our members, Linda Williams, shared a profound social media post on Facebook after attending our annual event, FierceCon. The post is called, “I Am Not.” You can read the entire post here. She had a life changing experience at FierceCon that allowed her to let go of old stories and beliefs that were holding her back, keeping her trapped in the “I Am Not” stories we tell ourselves. The women of Forever Fierce band together to reflect back the beauty and power we see in one another. It can be very difficult for us to see the beauty in ourselves. We act as a powerful mirror for one another to see the truth of who we are. It’s an inside out revolution. The revolution begins inside of each woman igniting the potential within. The ripple effect continues to spark a global revolution and usher in a paradigm shift on the planet.

Wow! Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted this cause?

If you join The Forever Fierce Revolution Community, you’ll see stories almost every day of women’s lives and beliefs changing. One of these women is now the Editor in Fierce of our community newsletter, The Spark. Lana Lindgren joined Forever Fierce at a very low point in her life. Like so many of us, she was struggling with depression and a false set of beliefs. She didn’t believe she had value. She had little confidence and self worth. It didn’t take long for her to spring back to life. Since joining the community, Lana launched her blog, “MyNewHappy,” and openly shares her personal journey with courage and vulnerability. She had no idea how to run a newsletter. I believed in her and called her to ask her to consider taking on this responsibility and becoming Editor. I knew she could do it. She said “Yes” and then went into a typical panic with the “I Am Not” stories beginning to stir. Her husband looked at her and saw the same thing I did. He told her that he knew she could do it as well. Today, she’s running the entire newsletter including interviews, working with national brands and running a newsletter team and has expanded to a weekly edition. Not only that, she’s been asked to join a new venture, Salt Light Lifestyle, with two friends and she helps her husband run their business from home. Oh, she’s a Mom too. Now, that’s a Fierce woman and another life changing story within The Forever Fierce Revolution Community!

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

We need a lot of help to shift a culture and paradigm that’s been in place for centuries. It’s funny that Ageism is the only “Ism” we don’t talk about. There seems to be a movement for everything but Ageism.

First, we need brands, marketers and advertisers to shift their marketing to include multiple demographics. Women over 40 need to see themselves reflected in marketing or we don’t buy. There has been a slight shift by featuring women with grey or silver hair or the elderly woman with the giant glasses and provocative clothing. We must be careful as that is just another stereotype that’s being reinforced. You can’t expect one silver haired woman to represent all women over 40. There is a fundamental belief by advertisers that they must focus on the Millennial generation. Brands believe that by getting their products in the hands of younger generations, they will develop customers and relationships that will last for decades. That’s a flawed argument. First of all, Millennials have very little disposable income. Second, the tail end of the Millennials heading into Midlife are the least financially prepared demographic in history. Third, women over 50 are the number one demographic launching new businesses. This means, companies have decades to sell new products and technology to a new customer base that will be using their products for decades. Finally, they are choosing experiences over things. They aren’t buying homes and all the things that go into a home! Focusing solely on this demographic is financial suicide.

Another flawed belief by brands is that older customers are set in their ways and the products they use. That’s an old stereotype that may have held true in our parents or grandparents day. Today, we are an entirely new customer base, a highly educated customer with a new way of living. We are health conscious and continually trying out new products. We don’t want the latest, greatest product. We want products that will allow us to live longer and healthier. We want products that will help us be our most productive selves. And, we use technology! There is an outdated belief that we are terrified of technology. I had an entire Facebook research team at my home trying to figure out how I was doing what I was doing with their technology. I asked the researchers how I fared compared to the Millennials they interviewed. They said they were blown away. They had never seen a more sophisticated and comprehensive use of the technology. I was teaching them how to use Facebook to change lives and reach millions around the globe through my social service campaigns and run a large volunteer team around the world.

We also need to realize that women are a continuum. As I like to say, “Inside of every Midlife woman is a Millennial that was, and inside of every Millennial is a Midlife woman to be.” I founded a social service campaign called, Bridging the Gap, that reached almost 10 million in following on social media. It included celebrities, best selling authors, supermodels, huge influencers and many more all volunteering their time to effect change. We united 100 Millennial and 100 Midlife Influencers for the first time in individual pairings ever on social media. Both groups were floored at how much they had to learn from the other group. We called it Reciprocal Mentorship. We can’t shift a perception of older people alone. We must include younger generations. Once they get to know us, who we truly are and not who they think we are, their perceptions shift and change organically. We need each other. We are stronger together.

We do need politicians to take up this cause and join us in our efforts. I used to work on Capitol Hill in the 80’s. I was a legislative assistant to Howard Baker when he was Majority Leader of The Senate. It’s funny, that we see so many older men in politics and government yet so few older women. That only reinforces the stereotype. Did you know that only 2 percent of venture capital goes to women owned companies? That’s because companies tend to be run by men who make the decisions. There is a continual unconcious bias against women, particularly older women. They don’t see us as the powerful CEO’s of our households. We are driving the majority of the purchasing in our consumer economy. We are not only making purchasing decisions for ourselves, we are the ones our children are looking to for their own consumer purchases. Many of us are directing the purchasing decisions for our parents as well. Politicians have a lot of power when it comes to changing our laws by creating new legislation. We must educate politicians and corporate leaders that they are missing an enormous “Longevity Economy,” an economy of consumers that has never existed before. This is where the majority of tax revenue will come from. More importantly, Ageism results in the loss of productivity leading to depression and health issues. The cost on our society is enormous. It is an immense drag on our overall economy and productivity. We need our politicians to take a stand and to mandate not only gender equality, but age equality. Corporations need the wisdom that can only be found through life experience. Older employees bring a wealth of wisdom, life experience and value that can’t be found in younger generations. We need both. We need balance. We need to respect and learn from one another.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I had never been a leader. It was odd to find myself in that role. I quickly came to believe that the greatest responsibility of a leader lies in creating more leaders. A leader is someone who unites people together around a common cause or purpose. Great leaders always unite and never divide. Their purpose is inspiration and aspiration, instilling confidence in others. The greatest leaders of all time operate from a space of little ego. They are fueled by passion, purpose, and meaning. They live to leave this world a better place. A great leader isn’t about having a massive following. Hell, three years ago, all I had following me was a dog! It’s about a leader walking alongside people who believe in a common purpose and standing together as one to effect change around a significant issue.

In The Forever Fierce Revolution, I’m the Founder but we have many leaders. It’s a community that supports budding leaders. Many of these women have never seen themselves as a leader. It’s amazing what happens when you step into who you truly are. It happens very organically. Being a woman with a heart centered mission that’s authentic is naturally magnetic. You tend to draw people to you who have a lot in common. The greatest leaders don’t lose sight of their original intention. It’s never about them personally. It’s about a common cause that’s so much bigger than them. It’s the cause that fuels them. It’s the cause that gets them out of bed even when they’re beaten down. It’s knowing that they are changing lives that matters most. A great leader is driven by love, not fear.

Within Forever Fierce, we have movements within the movement itself. For example, Loretta Sayers built her platform and blog, The Introspective Adventurere, around vulnerability. With that, our Associate Editor, Deb Gutierrez launched a bi-weekly newsletter centered around “Shields Down.” We lauched Project Shields Down which is incorporated throughout our annual event, FierceCon. It’s based on the work of Brene Brown. We believe that being vulnerable is the most courageous thing a woman can do. True belonging and connection can only happen when we open our hearts and share our greatest challenges and our greatest fears. Now, Loretta and Deb are their own leaders of movements within a movement. There are many success stories like that within Forever Fierce.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Much of what you see on Social Media isn’t real. Influence can be a slippery slope and many, many influencers buy their likes and followers. Brands have remained only interested in metrics, even when those metrics aren’t real, they are robots. Due to an actual fraudulent experience, we changed our contracts with Influencers we work with to reflect this. Another national brand that worked with us took our lead and changed their contracts as well.
  2. Movements don’t happen overnight. Having passion gets you fired up to expect instant results but shifting paradigms takes time. You are planting seeds and seeds need time and lots of patience and nurturing to grow.
  3. Focus. Focus. Focus. It’s very easy to get pulled off course and go in too many directions. It’s a natural inclination for a movement starter to want to help everyone. You’ve heard the old saying, “When you try to help everyone, you help no one!” Knowing the limits of your bandwidth and staying on course and true to the original mission and intention is critical.
  4. Self Care is paramount. Make sure you create the space in your life for your health, your happiness, and your well-being. Pace yourself. If you burnout, you will achieve nothing.
  5. Changing a social culture is extremely difficult. Look at the number of brands that have been destroyed by the retail apocalypse yet they still use the same old tired marketing strategies that don’t work. It takes patience and perseverance to effect societal change. It’s a slow process of education and awareness.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Midlife: when the Universe grabs your shoulders and tells you “I’m not f**king around, use the gifts you were given.” — Brene Brown

It’s one of the reasons I chose a Phoenix as a symbol of being a Cat-alyst. Midlife is not a crisis! It’s an awakening. It’s the most powerful time in a woman’s life if she grabs that power and wields it to become the woman she has always desired to be. Midlife is when you stop listening to the voices around you and start listening to the voice of your heart and soul. Midlife isn’t an end. It’s a powerful beginning.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I love sharing my thoughts on Mastering Modern Midlife. Readers can find me on my blog, CatherineGraceO, where I always start off the week with Moxie On Monday! My Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are all @catherinegraceo. Join the Forever Fierce Revolution in our Facebook Group, and most importantly: consider joining us at our life changing conference for women at Midlife & Beyond, FierceCon LA 2019 this coming October! Visionary companies that would like to engage our incredible team to develop female focused, message based digital media, can connect at Forever Fierce Media.

Your work is making a massive positive impact on the planet, thank you so much!



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