Change isn’t just for the young. Portland artist, illustrator, and author Lisa Congdon has built her career on a big one: she left an education nonprofit at age 40 to pursue art professionally. Her seventh book, A Glorious Freedom: Older Women Leading Extraordinary Lives (Chronicle Books) is a collection of profiles, essays, and interviews from women who’ve sought challenges and changes past their so-called primes.
Where did this book come from?
I’m sort of a self-described late bloomer. Part of what people know me for is my art, and part of what people know me for is my story. When I conceived the book, it was based on my own experience. I didn’t just want it to be my perspective about aging, because I don’t actually have very much to say about it yet. I’m only 50! I wanted to pick women who stood out as different because they started late, or they had been working at something for years. This book is really a conversation between me and other women.
You write that one of the most life-changing lessons you’ve learned is to embrace all of your experience. How so?
Aging means you’re losing. You’re losing your physical attractiveness, therefore you’re losing your value. That’s just a total myth! The older you are, you actually gain value. The things you can give back to the world grow exponentially. If every woman can view whichever decade she’s in as a learning experience—if we can change the question from “what do I want to accomplish” to “what do I want to learn”—it takes the pressure off meeting some sort of marker at a certain period of time.
Which essay resonated with you most?
Debbie Millman [writer and branding guru] talked a lot about questioning your beliefs. So much of the pride women take in their own lives is based on what they do for other people, not what they’ve done to pursue their own goals.
Any final advice?
Expect that when you disrupt your life, it’s going to be challenging. Embrace that challenge, and use it to learn and grow. We think of vulnerability as being weak, but it’s a sign of strength. Being vulnerable allows you to be yourself. A lot of women look back saying, I had no idea that I could actually do this, and look what I accomplished. That is more satisfying when you’re older.