“You want to look for the good and focus on the good because whatever you focus on expands — It’s universal law.”
— Jill Sockwell, Co-Author of The Optimist's Guide to Divorce: How to Get Through Your Breakup and Create a New Life You Love
We interview Jill Sockwell of The Optimist's Guide to Divorce: How to Get Through Your Breakup and Create a New Life You Love, co-authored with Suzanne Riss. This is a great new book!
About the book: "Wise, comforting, and uplifting, The Optimist’s Guide to Divorce captures the experience of sisterhood through the voices of its authors and their community of women in the Maplewood Divorce Club—women who understand what you’re going through, who know the practical issues as well as the emotional ones, and who can help you keep a sense of hope and a sense of humor.”
You will enjoy this book and this interview. Check out the website and get the book below!
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Shawn: Today on the show I have with me Jill Sockwell. Jill is the author of The Optimist's Guide to Divorce: How to Get Through Your Breakup and Create a New Life You Love, Co-authored with Susan Riss. Jill, welcome to the show.
Jill: Thank you Shawn. It’s so nice to be here.
Shawn: Jill, I really enjoyed your book. We’re going to get into some of the lessons and chapters. Before we do that, why don’t you tell us about your background and why you wrote the book. Maybe also even mention the Maplewood Divorce Club.
Jill: Sure, I’d love to. I got separated at the end of 2010. As a former advertising copywriter – that’s the person that dreams up jingles and writes commercials –I love to read and I really just wanted to read my way through my separation and divorce, and kind of benefit from all of the women who have gone through the process before me, and take all that information to help myself out through the process. What was really astounding to me was the lack of resources.
I think everyone is familiar with these great kind of fantastical adventure type memoir books where people can go to far-flung places and find themselves. Those were very entertaining but they really lack the advice and guidance. On the flip side there were a lot of dry, more clinical books written by industry professionals. What I was really looking for was something that was kind of warm in tone, and girl-friendly, and maybe entertaining but really packed with practical advice. For me, then and there I kind of thought, it’s just a shame that this doesn’t exist. I’m just going to have to write it myself.
I was going through the divorce process in the suburbs where it seems like you’re surrounded by so many people with happy intact families. One of the ways I thought I could best support myself was to kind of make my own micro-community of other single mothers; people going through separation and divorce that would kind of help mirror my experience so we could learn and share with each other. So I started the Maplewood Divorce Club in 2013, and it was amazing. At my very first meeting we had fifty people show up.
Jill: Yeah. So I was like, “I’m not the only one.” I knew there were a few other people but I was so surprised and so thankful that we’d been able to form this group and this club that has really helped all of us through the whole process. Now even being a few years out from my divorce, a lot of us are still in the group and the group it is still going strong as new women join, but also as it’s still relevant because it’s kind of become the foundation for our new lives as single parents.
Shawn: That’s great. Can you give us an overview of The Optimist's Guide to Divorce, which just came out in December?
Jill: Certainly. Again, speaking to the fact that we really wanted to have a book that had a lot of great advice filled with helpful information and tips from women who have been in the trenches. We’ve been there, we’ve gone through it and here’s what you need to know. What we did was we sectioned the book into three sections:
Deal, and that’s really the most practical of the sections. It’s like right now, you’ve just had the conversation, either your husband gave you the conversation or you had the conversation with him. That’s Chapter one. Chapter two is telling the kids and how to help them with the transition, how to go from one house to two homes. We have everything from the legal stuff, tips for hiring a lawyer, to chapter four –which I know we’re probably going to speak about today –about making a budget, a lot of the financial concerns, to even the home issues. Are you going to sell the marital home? Are you going to move out? Get a new condo? All that is covered in chapter five. We also go into communication tips with your ex. Just things that kind of really help smooth things over. When you’re in the emotional pressure cooker of negotiating a divorce it’s easy for simple conversations to kind of escalate very easily. We have a lot of tips in that chapter to help you have a smoother exchange with your ex.
The chapter in the first section is called Your Ex and the Warm Body Replacement. That’s how to handle the new woman in his life. The middle section of the book is called Heal. It’s really more about the emotional journey, about accepting the fact that the divorce is happening, kind of letting go of how you thought things were going to work out in your life, learning how to practice meditation and find peace and acceptance, and really kind of working to open yourself to how your life may turn out. It’s almost like embracing plan B, which is really to sum up the middle section.
The last section of the book is definitely the most fun. That’s called Reveal, and that’s all about socializing and dating again for whenever you’re ready for that. The very last chapter of the book, chapter 17, is all about creating community. Within that chapter we give women all the tips and tools, and everything they need to start their own divorce clubs so they can benefit like we did.
Shawn: I think that’s great. I read the book and I enjoyed the wide ranging and deep advice, and particularly as you mentioned, it’s not just you and Susan speaking. You have tips and advice directly from the mouths of other people who’ve gone through the process. They get to share a lot of helpful tips and different perspectives and very different situations from everyone who is in the book.
Jill: I think that’s something that makes it very readable and easy to jump into. There are ten different composite characters that are all made up of two or more real life women, so that no matter what your story is or your current situation, I think you’re very likely to find someone that resonates or echoes your experience. Each character has their own little illustration. Whenever the character appears throughout each chapter there’s little illustration to the side.
One of the ways to read the book could be just to go through and follow one character’s trajectory, and then you can just jump in and go to the sections that you feel like you need the advice or the help in right now
Shawn: The beginning of the book the deal section, as you said, is the most practical. It would be useful, particularly for my audience, to jump in to some of the elements and sections and things that you talk about. The advice is very practical and very helpful. So a few topics that I just want to jump into from that section of the book is, for the people who are in the early days of separation, what should they be doing?
Jill: I think every situation is different but I think in general most women tend to be kind of shell shocked, even if it was your idea. You don’t really know how that conversation is going to go. I think there’s an element of feeling like you’re in a surreal version of your life for a while. What we recommend is that you take this time –even if you’re walking around in a daze –to do a few key things just to kind of protect yourself moving forward. We have a whole list in the book in chapter one. I’ll just share a few of those with you now.
Jill: I think it’s really important that women set up alerts on their joint bank accounts; so whatever that number is for you and your own financial life. For me I remember doing alerts for five hundred dollars. So any time five hundred moves out you get a text message. Not to say that anybody is going to move the money around, but if they do you should know about it. Also, becoming aware of your finances to print out all your most recent financial statements, and write down a list of the accounts that you have and know about, and take that on even though it might not be fun and it might not be something you’ve done. Maybe in your relationship with your husband you never cared about the money, or you didn’t know where the money was. It’s important now to take that on immediately and stay savvy, and stay in the know or you might regret it later
You want to be able to pare down your life. If somebody asks you to be the new president of the PTA, or you’re up for a job promotion, maybe kind of take a step back and pass on those kind of opportunities in the early month of the separation because it’s really easy I think, to get overwhelmed. You want to take care of your health, I think it’s important. Do not let self-care go by the wayside. Even though you’re upset and everything feels a little bit upended, you want to really make sure you’re eating three meals a day, you try to get some rest at night, you try to go for walks even if you don’t really feel like going to the gym or bumping into people. Just try to not let self care really fall off the list of things that you’re doing everyday because it will help you in the long run.
Shawn: I’m going to jump in on that point. That’s actually one point that’s a consistent theme throughout the book when you and I were talking earlier. As the divorce is over and you’re preparing for the rest of your life, taking care of your life is kind of at the top of the list. Staying healthy and working out, and maybe getting a makeover. You had great hair advice which I said I laughed at. If you’ve ever seen my picture, I have a fully shaved head and have had for my whole life. There’s a lot of good. It seems to be a very important point throughout the book.
Jill: It’s not all just fluff stuff either because at the end of the day I think it’s important –especially women early on in the process – understand that divorce is not a sprint, it is a marathon. For many people it takes on average, two years. You do not want to go into something like that with so many key issues up for negotiation without sleeping, without eating meals, and making something that’s already challenging even harder on yourself because you’re so depleted. It really is crucial I think to elevate self care. It’s worth it and you are worth it, and it’s important.
Shawn: I want to continue on a little bit of a financial topic. We talk a lot about preparing for divorce and as you said, the early days of separation. If you’re working at a job, and many of the people who are listening here are, what tips do you have for not letting the divorce which a company might just look at as a personal issue –but not really have a lot of sympathy for you, unfortunately –how do you manage that? What kind of advice do you have for people who are working and this is going on in their life?
Jill: Well, I think that it’s really important that you kind of, if you can, compartmentalize for when you’re going to work. You have to kind of think to yourself, “I’m going to work.” From whatever your hours are, nine to five. “I’m going to be professional Jill”, for example. “At five fifteen, if I need to, I can go down to my car and cry or return phone calls, or figure out what I need to do.” You need your job and you want to safeguard your job during the divorce process. Of course this depends on what your job is. Some general advice would be; you don’t want to go in to your boss in tears. If you feel like it’s important to share what’s going on with your boss, go in whenever you have a plan. In a matter of fact way, you can simply say, “I need five minutes of your time. I wanted to let you know Bob and I are separating and we’re going to be getting a divorce. It’s not going o affect my job other than, I might need to use two or three of my vacation days. I just wanted to let you know.” It totally depends on your job situation but we give an example in the book of Susan, who is my co-author. She waited until she had a plan in place and she went in to her boss, and she just basically said along those lines, “We’re separating. We’re going to be divorcing. The only thing I would like to change and the only impact that would have on my job is, I’d like to come in an hour earlier in the morning, and leave an hour earlier in the afternoon. Is that alright with you?” Her boss was like, “Fine. No problem.” And they basically never brought it up again. So she didn’t go in until she had a plan.
The other things you would definitely not want to do is take advantage of the shared photocopier. In your more fragile state, you do not want to leave all of your divorce documents and stuff for your attorney, and financial statements in a shared copier for prying eyes to see. You want to limit your personal phone calls at work. Everyone’s going to be worried about you, you’re going to have extra calls from your mother, your sister, your cousin, your best friend. Ask them to call you in the evening when you can speak to them privately. You don’t need to get upset at work, it’s better to kind of just stay focused. There’s also an example in the book of one of the characters, Jamie. She did not limit her calls at work and she was called in to her boss’s office and got a reprimand about it. Then, she had to be on the defensive and explain what was going on. So it’s just better to go in knowing that you want to limit those calls at work.
Shawn: Yeah, I think that’s very good advice. It sounds like the most important thing you can do, if you can is compartmentalize, and separate what’s happening in the divorce from the way you conduct your job.
Jill: If you can do that that’s really, truly the ideal way for you to get through each day. Just let yourself know that you know what? I’m going to tap in to all these feelings at five fifteen, but right now I’m just going to get through the day. If that means you don’t chit chat at the water cooler as much, or maybe go out to lunch with some of your co-workers, then so be it. You have to do what works for you.
One last tip would be, save your vacation days and some sick days. You will likely need them for court dates to meet with your attorney if there’s issues with a shared schedule with your ex, the kids and school. There might be a few times where you have to stay home with a sick child, where before, your ex was willing to do that for you. Just save some days because you’ll probably need them.
Shawn: Sticking on the career theme. Something that I haven’t seen almost anywhere in terms of in other books or websites, or anything else. You have this great section on after the divorce, and you need to start thinking about a new career and options might be that don’t require you to go back to school for three years and that kind of thing, and then start at an entry level job after three years of no income. You had some jobs that you can get into that pay reasonably well and don’t require too much training. We don’t have to go in depth into all of them but why don’t you toss out some ideas for people who will potentially need income after this process is over?
Jill: Sure. The list was basically six jobs you could start in six months or less, with training. So really just a chance to kind of jump back into the job field if you need to, as soon as possible. Maybe you need to stay home, or maybe you need to switch careers for whatever reason. One of them is a phlebotomist. That’s the person at the nurse’s office, doctor’s office, the hospital that draws blood. You can get a certificate for eighty hours or less in general for doing that, and then the pay would range between like twenty-five and thirty-seven thousand. If you have a second language that you speak you could get a job as a health or medical interpreter, helping people at the hospital who are English as a second language. If you were fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, different languages, that’s something that could be an option for you. That pays up to sixty thousand dollars according to our research.
Jill: Yeah. So it’s just something that you might not even realize that you have a skill, and then the training for a certificate. I think the hours range between forty and four hundred. I think the hours range depending on what state you’re in. What I did was I went to real estate school. You need seventy-five classroom hours in New Jersey, and I got a real estate license, passed the state test, and I started working within three weeks. With that job the salary is, sky is the limit. You meet with clients on the weekend, you’re typically able to take the kids to school and pick the up from school. That was very important to me. I wanted to have a job where, I was for the most part, in the town where my kids were at school. If somebody gets hurt on the slide or throws up, I can be at the school in ten minutes. That was very appealing to me.
You could also get some training at a restaurant, you could go back to work as a waitress or bartender. Of course the more expensive the restaurant, the better the tips you’re going to get. You could also be a certified nurse assistant, and that can pay up to two hundred dollars a day.
Shawn: Wow, that’s great. That’s a lot of interesting ideas that most people don’t really think about. As you said, you got your real estate certifications within what, a three-week period?
Jill: The class I took was everyday for two weeks straight and then the next week I went and did the state test and did fingerprinting, and the things that I needed to do. In three weeks I was up and running. The one I forgot to mention was paralegal. There’s not even regulated certificate programs for that. Sometimes you could even do on the job training. We’ve seen people make between forty and fifty thousand dollars a year doing that.
Shawn: Wow. Those are all great tips and great advice for people. I want to zoom out for a little bit and kind of take a step back from the hard practical skills and steps, and maybe talk a little bit more general. There’s one message in the book and it’s that divorce isn’t the end. There’s also a way to make it something positive for your life. Can you tell us about the techniques that you used, and that you recommend to other people to perhaps pursue and use as well?
Jill: Sure. Well, the focus of course, the title is The Optimist's Guide to Divorce, so throughout the entirely of the book – whether it’s finances or acceptance and forgiveness, or just kind of working on yourself before you begin dating – you want to look for the good and focus on the good because whatever you focus on expands, it’s universal law.
One of the techniques that we mentioned in the book that’s actually from chapter twelve, Write Your Own Happy Ending, which is in the Heal section. It’s called the reclaim and reframe technique, and we give the example of Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. She is left at the alter, basically defrauded of her fortune, and for the rest of the book she never takes off her wedding dress. The cake is rotting; the clocks are all stopped like when she got the letter. Basically, what she did was, this one disappointing man shaped her entire life. The reality is it’s only because she let him do that.
We give positive examples of women in the book who kind of use the reframe and reclaim technique to learn how to tell their story of their divorce in a way that was more positive and more powerful to them. So it’s something that they could tell at a party. If somebody says, “Oh, I heard you got divorced. What happened?” So you don’t launch into a long tale of woe that will make someone want to jump out the window. Instead you could be like, “Yup. We were married for fifteen years. It didn’t work out unfortunately but now I’ve learned that I need to make myself a priority and I’m enjoying my new job at the advertising agency, and I get to decorate the house however I want.” So the personal way you could do that would be, you want to write down the facts of your divorce, think about what the story is that you tell others when they say “What happened?”, do you launch into a kind of long tale that’s really depressing or do you keep it a little bit more simple? Think about what the positives are that have come out of it. There’s always something. Maybe it’s that you finally have some time to yourself. Maybe you’ve reconnected with friends and family, or you always wanted to live at the beach and you move to the beach. There’s always something that you can find, and that something we have in the book. Every character has something that is a direct result of her separation or divorce that she never would have considered before as being important, or was there before and that now she has that.
Shawn: For people who want to get the book and also who maybe want to contact you, what’s the best way for them to do that?
Jill: Well, you can visit our website at optimistsguidetodivorce.com and our contact information is on the website and also, you can order the book from the website as well.
Shawn: Excellent. Well Jill, thank you so much for coming on to the show
Jill: Thank you for having me
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