'I'd Like to Thank Everybody Who Ever Fired or Divorced Me': Looking Back, at 70

I was laid off as director of broadcast production at an edgy little ad agency because we lost our only TV account. My 20-year marriage ended and 9/11 happened. All in the same month. For the next 10 years, I was just a floundering fear ball, a deer in the headlights.
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"Everything will be all right in the end, and if it's not all right... it's not yet the end." -- The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

I spent so much of my life worrying about stuff that never happened. Worrying about getting fired, or about money, or if people liked me.

And in one of those elegant paradoxes, when I did get fired, or I did get evicted, or I did get divorced, there was an odd sense of peace and release from the bondage of worry.

My parents met at Hollywood High and worked for Walt Disney Studios in the 1930s. My mom was an airbrush artist and my dad a film editor and they worked on many of the classic films during the Golden Years: Bambi, Pinocchio, and Fantasia. We lived in a Quonset hut in Roger Young Village, temporary housing after WWII, in what was later to become the Griffith Park Zoo.

For both my parents, career almost pathologically came before family. When they divorced, I was sent to live with my grandmother. I was three. In spite of this neglect, I wanted to be them, or an amalgam of them: an artist and a film editor. Which, ironically, is what I do now, 50 years later.

I landed in New York in the swinging '60s. Took a speed writing course I saw on a subway ad. Armed with this arsenal of secretarial skills, I landed my first real job as an assistant to a big director who did commercials. I did everything: casting, styling, schlepping. I made $50 a week.

My first commercial shoot was for Bulova Watches with Joe Louis, Buster Crabbe and Johnny Weismuller. From that day on, I was hooked on moviemaking. I got a job at Young & Rubicam, the ad agency, as an assistant producer for $75 a week! I was rolling in dough; it was 1967, I loved everything about it. I guess you could say it was the Mad Men days, although we had a lot more fun!

I had one of the first American Express cards, when women didn't have credit cards..."Card member since 1972."

For the next 30 years, I worked my way up producing television commercials. I made six figures for 20 of those years; I worked at all the best places at all the right times. I was the Forrest Gump of advertising. I wrote three books, I was a mom, I had a closet full of Prada and a lot of stuff. I traveled the world on an expense account, I ate Macadamia nuts with abandon from the mini bars of the finest hotels in the world. I won every award, people knew my name, I didn't return calls.

Sure, I got fired, or hired, but always went to a better job for more money.

And then this strange thing happened: I was laid off as director of broadcast production at an edgy little ad agency because we lost our only TV account. My 20-year marriage ended and 9/11 happened. All in the same month.

For the next 10 years, I was just a floundering fear ball, a deer in the headlights. Nobody was hiring anybody in my old career; at least, certainly not a 57-year-old woman.

I was terrified because I was alone and jobless for the first time ever. But when I look back on it, it was the greatest gift. There simply wasn't room for my old life and my new life.

It was during this time two profound things happened.

A friend who was a wildly successful producer said to me: "Once you're a producer, you can produce anything: a movie, a concert, a TV show." This hit me like a ton of bricks. I had been saying for 40 years, I produced television commercials. I was my business card. But when that went away, I had lost my identity. I didn't exist anymore.

So I started thinking about what a producer actually does and I started to expand my vision of what I did. I redefined, and began to completely reinvent myself. I wrote down everything I ever did for work. I wrote down every person I knew. I thought about what I would do if I was really rich and didn't have to worry about money ever again. What would I do then?

I'd always loved music. So, when I met a guy who was a performer, I started following him around with a camera and shooting music videos. And then I started talking to cab drivers and filming musicians in the subways and telling stories and, before I knew it, I'd made a thousand short videos. Michael Moore saw one on YouTube and asked me to his invitation-only film festival, proudly announcing that I was the "oldest first-time filmmaker in the history of the festival." I met Steven Spielberg and he said he liked my "moxie." And my films started winning awards and I started writing. (Hey, I'm writing this!)

And, I qualified for my coveted, official NYPD press credentials, at 70, by running around the streets of New York every day with my camera.

I abandoned all self-respect... and donned a red suit.

And I just did this simple thing -- I did the thing I love the most, the thing I would do if I was rich and didn't have to work, the thing that makes time stand still. The more I did it, the better I got.

And being 70 years old wasn't a liability, it was an asset. I can't wait till I'm 80. Grandma Moses didn't start painting till she was in her sixties and painted well into her 90s.

I was the sum of all I had ever done, everything I'd ever learned.

Before, I was my business card, that was easy, but now... I was everything!

So here's my advice: Forget how old you are.

Find what you love and do it ten thousand times. Buy a waitress guest check pad and write down your visions, and date them -- put your order in today. I promise you, this works.

Please follow me on Twitter (@sandibachom) and let me know your progress. I can't wait to hear your miracles.

Previously Published in Purple Clover.

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