Midlife Mentors – Laura Belgray | Copywriting Genius & Kick-Ass Businesswoman
On ‘Mid-Adulthood', Money and Hokey Practices
Laura Belgray is intimidating in the same way I imagine Michelle Obama is – a lot smarter than most of us yet disarmingly down to earth.
The first time I spoke to her, it felt great to work with someone at the top of their game. Our conversation was punchy and productive; barely a minute of it wasted on superfluous chitchat (probably because I don't watch Real Housewives). I was preparing to launch Midlife Mentors, and I needed some first-rate advice on my pitch to high-powered thought leaders.
10,000 miles of Pacific Ocean separated us, but it felt like I was perched on the arm of her sofa in New York City. Through a series of thoughtful questions and firm suggestions (just the way I like it), her wisdom flowed and my copy started to shine.
Few can deliver creativity and nous on the fly, but as many will attest, Laura's something of a legend. I spend so much time on a laptop these days, I've forgotten how to hold a pen, and my hand was struggling to make notes on my printed document. This is Laura's superpower, and she wields it with the same confidence Nusret Gokce handles red meat.
Her headlines are works of art; her taglines super clever, and her copy so engaging you can't look away.
And let me warn you: her emails are dangerous.
Many times, I've fallen down a rabbit hole of literary gorging only to glance at the top of my screen and realise I've just lost an hour. As a veteran writer for some of the biggest names in television and business, she's mastered the black art of hooking you and holding you with nothing but words. And she gets me every bloody time.
If you've chortled with Joan Rivers, Ted Danson, Kathy Griffin or Kevin Hart, chances are you've sampled Laura's work. Her gal-pal, Marie Forleo (Creator of Marie TV and B-School, and another kick-ass entrepreneur) calls her “pure genius” and “beyond amazing”. Others say: “my secret weapon”; “sharp, witty, hilarious”; “a word magician”, and my favourite, “I almost cried!”
It's little wonder she's the darling of so many entrepreneurs. Her words sell. Not with P.T. Barnum chutzpa, but peer-through-the-bedroom-window insight; brutal honesty and sheer relate-ability. Try reading one of Laura's weekly emails and see if you don't catch yourself saying, “Damn, I love this girl – I want to be her BFF!”
Or like me, “Damn I hate this girl – I'll never be that good!”
Her writing is unlike anyone's I've experienced – scalpel-sharp, New York confident and dripping with humanness. Watch your step.
It's all quite remarkable for a Talking Shrimp… (I'll get to that later).
For a while, I thought I'd be forever consigned to licking the crumbs from her baking dish of genius. But then I discovered her life-changing course, The Copy Cure. The love-child of Laura and Marie, it turns olde worlde hackers like me into scribblers of promise. I'm still a bit awkward (think early morning pee if you're a man), but I'm learning to loosen up and get the job done.
For those preferring a hands-on approach (who doesn't?), Laura offers that, too. She ain't cheap, but when you need the best, ‘cheap' is awfully subjective. And with packages like Kiddie Cone, Power Hour and The ‘Pretty Woman' Special (that's a full day for you youngsters), there's something for every card limit. You don't even need to fix your hair or floss your teeth (praise Skype).
Like Yoda with a ridiculous smile (it can't be real, it's too perfect) Laura will stop you fumbling in the dark and help you find your voice. She'll teach you, coach you or do the whole thing for you.
I've enjoyed the first two but not the third – I'm more of a do-it-yourselfer (don't snigger) – and the results have been remarkable. Effective copywriting is a bit like a great hairdo or a beautiful outfit. It's hard to know why it works, but you instantly recognise that it does.
Sure, writing the way you think and dispensing with all the facades is a big part of it, but there's more. Something eventually clicks, and from there on, it's just evolution.
Laura really is intimidating. She only takes client calls on Wednesdays, she creates unicorns with nothing more than a keyboard, and scariest of all, she shows us we can do it all too.
They say our greatest fear is the fear of success (or another Trump term if you're from this planet), and this is why I was afraid of Laura. It's because she personifies what each of us could be, and that terrifies us.
Like something you can't un-see once you've seen it, Laura's zone of genius is helping ordinary people like me recognise we can all be brilliant in our own unique way. We just need a guide to show us how to do it.
Getting back to the name, Talking Shrimp; Laura conceived it with her husband, Steven Eckler, a successful restaurateur. It covered everything but didn't really mean anything – kind of like the Seinfeld show. But as she says, it was perfect for what she does: copy that stands out. Because what stands out more than a shrimp that can talk?
Laura's Take on Midlife
Let's peer through Laura's window and discover what makes this remarkable mid-lifer pop and lock (she's a mad hip-hop dancer) – and remind ourselves that our 40's, 50's and 60's are the best times to reinvent ourselves.
Do you consider yourself middle-aged, and how do you feel about this moniker?
I know that technically, I am. And I know that it’s how someone under 30 would perceive me. But I don’t think of or refer to myself that way. I don’t feel “middle-aged.” I just feel like…me.
Is there something you loved to do when you were young that you've since ‘rediscovered' and embraced in midlife?
I’ve been writing my entire career, but it’s only since I started my blog that I’ve dug back into writing longer-form, more prose-based stuff (as opposed to 30-second scripts, which is what I was doing in promos). I used to write just for fun when I was a kid. I’d get lost in it for hours. I’m happy to have rediscovered that pleasure.
I also discovered at around age 30 that I love to dance. The clue I ignored at age 11 was the two weeks in gym class, during 6th grade, that were devoted to square dancing. I rocked at a do-see-do. But I was so bad at other sports that it didn’t occur to me, “I love dancing.” The only kind of dance kids did year-round was ballet, not of interest to me. There weren’t hip-hop classes then. Also, if you did dance, you had to wear a leotard, which was a deal breaker.
Do you believe middle age (say, 40-65) is different today to what it was for your parents? If so, how?
Absolutely. Middle age for their generation was the time of life when you became supremely uncool and cut off from style, pop culture, and whatever kids were into. Now, thanks to the internet, there’s way more of a blurring of generations. New music isn’t just something a teenager blares in their room, with the door shut. Their “lingo” isn’t a secret. We all have access to whatever’s going on.
What was the most challenging aspect of reaching middle age? What fears or concerns did you have?
My only fear is physical ageing, something I have minimal control over. I use all the collagen-stimulating face creams, I try to sleep a full 8 hours, and I exercise like a bit of a fiend. That’s the best I can do.
At the end of each year, I list the habits, practices and beliefs I'm going to say ‘yes' to and ‘no' to next year. As a mentor to other mid-lifers, what would be some of your ‘yeses' and ‘nos'?
- Read more books
- Delegate parts of my business that someone else can do
- Take on more of a leadership role in my industry and expand my audience
- Say yes to change (instead of automatically saying no)
- Finish writing my damn book
- Change my website to reflect my business pivot (From “copywriter” to…something bigger. We’ll see.)
- Wake up earlier (which means going to bed earlier, sigh)
- Checking social media every 5 seconds, like a tic
- Toggling between tasks every 5 minutes – FOCUS!
- Taking on little jobs that don’t really interest me and which I’ll resent
- Responding to every little email and text as it comes in, like it’s an emergency – it’s NOT
- Letting draining people drain me, and then draining my other friends by complaining about it.
- Choosing to stay stuck in patterns that don’t serve me, and saying “I wish I could change that.” I can.
What's a tactic you've used to gain more control over your life? It might be a daily practice, a way of making decisions, or a filter through which you view people's behaviour – or something else.
- Raising my prices and shifting all clients to Wednesdays.
- Viewing my own behaviour (or misbehaviour) as a choice.
What's a limiting belief you've abandoned (or reframed) in the last 12 months?
That I’m not a “big fish” in my industry – I felt behind, like I was riding other people’s coattails. (I was, a little bit.) I decided I’m just as much of a voice, with just as much worth sharing as the people with the 7-figure businesses and multi-6-figure lists.
What is your dominant cause of anxiety or frustration, and how do you deal with it?
Money and time. Money and time. I never feel like I have enough of either. Whenever I do have plenty of either, I fritter it away. I’m trying to throw everything at it – including methods I always rolled my eyes at. Including tapping. Why not, right?
How different are your feelings about midlife today vs when you first considered yourself Middle-aged?
Again, I never considered myself middle-aged, but I do see things differently from when I turned 40. Back then, I thought ageing wouldn’t happen to me, merely because it hadn’t yet. There’s a reason everyone posts those “This is 40” selfies on their birthdays. 40 looks great. It doesn’t look like 40. But 45 looks like 45.
Also, while the gulf between 30 and 40 seemed enormous when I was 30, after 45 or so, I’ve seen 60 as a blip away. And I don’t see 80 year-olds as old. I understand that I’ll be there before I know it, and I won’t feel it. I won’t feel 60, I won’t feel 70, I won’t feel 80. I might feel 100. I can’t imagine you can make it to that age and not feel it every time you try to get up from a chair.
Did you suffer a midlife crisis of some kind? How did it show up for you and what helped you most to overcome it?
Nope. The biggest age crisis I felt was the mid-30s, “I don’t know if I want kids” crisis. Once I decided that I didn’t, it’s been pretty smooth sailing. I love my marriage and the life we live together. It’s happy and fulfilling. If this is what the rest of my life looks like, lucky me. Poo poo poo – that’s the Yiddish version of “knock wood.”
I suppose there have been times when I’ve felt burned out in my business and contemplated the daily relentlessness of it all, wondering, “is this what the rest of my working life looks like?” (That’s more of a mid-career crisis, I guess.) But I’m finally figuring out how to reshape my business so it doesn’t feel like that.
After 40, what event, decision or perceived risk was pivotal for you? How did it manifest and how did you respond?
It’s all been in my professional life. Speaking gigs give me huge anxiety and always feel risky. But the payoff is always huge, both in terms of prestige and the high of “I did it!”
Turning down work that pays fine, but gets in the way of my bigger work — that’s hard. I have a tough time turning down money and keeping my eye on the Big Picture. Working on it.
What book (or books) have you read or written that you'd recommend to someone over 40 who wants to reinvent their life, and why? How have these books impacted your life?
I don’t read those kinds of books, if we’re talking about instructive, self-development stuff. Sometimes I pick them up at airports, but instead of reading them on the plane, I end up watching the seat-back TV. I only get through fiction and narrative non-fiction.
Great stories I’ve read don’t necessarily change my life in a tangible way. They and their characters stick with me, which gives me memories just as if I’d had that experience. I can’t articulate how that changes me, it’s just a feeling.
For people who want to write better, I recommend reading David Sedaris. I love his writing style.
Many mid-lifers say they feel lost, unfulfilled and shackled by circumstance (much of their own making). What advice would you offer them?
You may think you’re staying where you are for someone else’s sake — people to support financially, someone you don’t want to hurt or disappoint — but, in the long run, if you’re not happy with who you are and what you do, you’re not much use to anyone.
If it’s failure you’re afraid of, ask yourself whether you’d a) rather have tried and failed, or b) spent every single day of your life with the same loop of thoughts in your head about what you really want to be doing and why you’re not. If you don’t try, prepare to settle for option B.
Finally, for my fellow sceptics, be open to trying something new. Something you’ve rolled your eyes at. Maybe something new-age-y or hokey sounding. You can say, “that stuff doesn’t work,” and stay the same, or you can give it a shot and see if it changes something.
What advice would you give to a mid-lifer who believes they're stuck on a certain path and should just accept it?
Accepting it means accepting it – not deciding that it has to be this way and complaining about it. You can’t accept something and feel disgruntled about it at the same time. One or the other. If you don’t accept it, then reject it with action. If you don’t know what path you want to be on, start trying and learning new things. Travel to new places. Meet new people. Even the path to a new path is…well, a new path. It feels good to be on one.
Can you think of a way you’ve surprised yourself at an age where many people feel ‘set in their ways’?
I’ve always thought of myself as an “I am what I am” kind of person. A lazy, chronically late, disorganised hot mess. I haven’t conquered all those things, but creating a few simple habits in my mid-adulthood (A-ha! That’s what I’ll call it!) has changed my whole perception of myself.
They are: making the bed every day (before there was a Ted talk or book about it) and unpacking my suitcase the second I come home from a trip, instead of leaving out of it for weeks. I picked that trick up from my husband. Game changer.
To say Laura's work transformed mine doesn't really say enough. Type-A nitwits like me have a propensity to over-analyse and over study like there'll be a test afterwards. Reading Laura's emails have been instructional enough – a bit like Cole Trickle in Days of Thunder learning to drive NASCAR by watching ESPN. But like steering a car through a banked turn at 200 mph, there's only so much you can glean through observation.
Thanks to Laura's brilliant courses and our value-packed Skype session together, I probably learned more about writing in six hours than in the preceding six years. I'm not kidding.
Today, more than ever, businesses depend on quality engagement to sell their wares, and it all begins with words. Conversation. Copy. On this, Laura is a master teacher and practitioner. I mentioned earlier that she's not cheap – at the time of writing, $950 an hour – but I truly believe when you buy cheap, you buy twice. Thankfully, her Copy Cure course and also her 60-Minute Makeovers course are genuinely cheap for what they offer, so for anyone who's serious about levelling up their game, there's no excuse.
If you're building a business and you want to imbue your copy with authenticity and saleability, there's no one better to teach you than Laura. She is, quite simply, the best.You can’t accept something and feel disgruntled about it at the same time. One or the other. If you don’t accept it, then reject it with action. Laura Belgray Click To Tweet
More of Laura
- Midlife Mentors – Laura Belgray | Copywriting Genius & Kick-Ass Businesswoman
- Midlife Mentors – Michael Yardney | Wealth, Luck & Imposter Syndrome
- Midlife Mentors – Catherine Rains | Finding Your True Calling
- Midlife Mentors – Seth Godin | Entrepreneur, Best-Selling Author & Speaker
- Midlife Mentors – Ken Fife | Starting Over & Living Fully Beyond 70
- Midlife Mentors – Corbett Barr | CEO of Fizzle
Am I having a midlife crisis? How to know and what to do.
How it feels to live on your own terms
It’s time you decided what you REALLY want.
Make 2018 Your Midlife Reinvention Year
Midlife Crisis or Chance to Reinvent Yourself?
Also published on Medium.