Interview With Isidra Mencos
A little over a month ago, I received an email from I woman I didn’t know. Her name is Isidra Mencos. Isidra told me that she had seen my website, felt aligned with it, and asked if she could do a guest blog or be an interviewee. She is in her late 50s and writes her own newsletter focused on living with purpose and self-acceptance. I immediately went to her website and was so glad that she reached out! Isidra is an amazing woman with vast and varied experiences and an outlook on life that lifts and inspires! In her email, Isidra offered to help me in any way she could. Just by reaching out, she’s helped me. Connecting with others is exactly what we all need right now. Connecting. Listening. Discussing. It is my pleasure and honor to connect you, today, with Isidra Mencos. Be inspired!
Diane: I’m so glad you reached out to me, Isidra! You mentioned that you saw my guest post on Greta Holt’s blog . I love Greta!
Isidra: Yes, she’s great. And when I saw the post I went to your website and investigated and thought, oh my God, we are so aligned.
Diane: I think that’s such a wonderful example of what we can do in the world. You read something you aligned with and sent an email. Women don’t usually do that. We should do it more often.
“If I Go to a Networking Event, I’m That Person Who Is Holding Her Drink Tightly and Doesn’t Move Around or Connect Too Much”
Isidra: Absolutely. That’s such a big part of an artist’s or writer’s life because these are solitary professions. Being able to reach out and find somebody that you’re aligned with is so helpful when you are working alone in your studio all day long.
Diane: It’s critical.
Isidra: By nature, it’s hard for me to do. If I go to a networking event, I’m that person who is holding her drink tightly and doesn’t move around or connect too much. But I’ve realized that it’s a two-way street. It’s not like I’m just asking for something, I’m offering a connection and mutual support. I’m training myself to do that.
Diane: Good, and I’m glad you thought of me. I don’t know about you, but I’m much better about doing those kinds of things now than I used to be. I used to be like, who am I to go and ask this person to do something for me? Even if I’m offering them something in exchange. What do they care about me? They don’t know me.
I used to devalue myself. But in my experience, people love when others reach out to them. It’s nice to have somebody say, “Hey, I saw this. I liked this. I want to have a connection with you.” What’s the worst that can happen?
Isidra: That they say no, and that’s it.
I Grew Up in a Very Unique Period in the History of Spain, under Franco, Who Was a Dictator, in Power for Almost 40 Years
Diane: Yeah, they’ll say no!
I looked at your website too. What an interesting life you’ve had! You had a gazillion different types of jobs. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Isidra: Sure. I’ve had my life divided into two very distinct halves, the first when I was young in Barcelona, Spain.
Diane: I wish people could hear your lovely accent.
Isidra: Thank you. I grew up in a very unique period in the history of Spain, under Franco, who was a dictator, in power for almost 40 years. I was born in 1958. He passed away in 1975. So, during the first 18 years of my life, he was ruling the country. When he passed away, Spain transitioned to democracy very quickly and peacefully.
We came from a very repressive culture. Not just politically, but also religiously—because the Catholic Church was linked to the government—sexually, and linguistically. Spain has several languages, but only Spanish was official. All the other languages were forbidden. You couldn’t speak them in public or study them.
We went from this repressive government and culture, to becoming one of the most liberal countries in Europe, in a very short time. Three years after Franco passed away, we had our first democratic election. But the social customs changed even faster. All of a sudden, youth discovered the hippie mentality, and everybody started experimenting with their new freedoms. Sex, drugs. Actually, the memoir that I’ve written is about that. It’s my journey from repression to liberation, mirroring Spain’s journey from dictatorship to democracy.
“When I Came of Age at 18 and Started at University, I Went a Little Nuts”
Diane: That sounds so interesting!
Isidra: When I came of age at 18 and started at university, I went a little nuts. I experimented a lot, became friends with people in a commune, then people in the counterculture movement. I changed jobs all the time, changed boyfriends, changed apartments. It was very unstable. I had a BA in Literature, but I didn’t really have a career, and I didn’t care about it.
Diane: Were you having fun?
Isidra: I was having fun, and I was suffering. Both. I wasn’t mature enough yet to have a clear sense of self. So I really looked for that sense of self through relationships, not always with the most positive individuals. I was trying to find love. It was a time of experimentation and adventure, but also some self-destructive behaviors. Until it came a point when I was around 31 or so, where I said, “I can’t keep going that way. I have to find my center.” And I went back to what had always been a big passion of mine, which was books, reading and writing.
Diane: One thing we talk a lot about on the blog is looking inside, instead of at other people’s opinions, to shape what you think about yourself. Did you consciously decide that?
Isidra: I just realized that I was going on a path that was going to destroy me. I had so many love liaisons, and some of them not very positive. I was drinking a lot, too much. I needed help. I started therapy with a Jungian therapist, and it changed my life.
“The Period of My Life That Had Been So Crazy and Bohemian … Ended.”
I went back to university. I started my PhD in the University of Barcelona, hoping that it would give me a stable career in academia, but the program wasn’t very good. The boyfriend I had at the time happened to be from the U.S. and he told me, “Why don’t you apply to the U.S.? They have great PhDs.”
I applied and got accepted into several universities in the U.S. And, literally, the Olympic Games ended August 9 of 1992 (I had been working for the Olympic Committee the last two years), and on August 14, I was in Berkeley, California to start my PhD.
Once I came to the U.S., I started a completely different path in my life. I loved the PhD. I loved teaching. I became much more centered, much more stable. I met my husband. The period of my life that had been so crazy and bohemian, fun and adventurous, but also self-destructive, ended.
Diane: I saw on your website that you got some teaching awards.
Isidra: Yeah. While I was studying the PhD at UC Berkeley, I taught as a graduate student instructor, and I got those two awards. Then I stayed on as a lecturer for a total of about 12 years.
Diane: Nice. And then you became an entrepreneur?
“Once I Focus, I’m a Go-Getter”
Isidra: When I graduated, I couldn’t really move to pursue an academic tenure track career, because my husband’s parents were older, and we didn’t want to leave them alone. There weren’t many opportunities in my field in this area, so I started working as a lecturer for UC Berkeley part-time, and I launched my own business as an editor and writer part-time for Spanish-speaking media. I did the two jobs for about six, seven years.
I also had my son during that time, and I got tired of having two jobs. It was too much. In October 2007, I started working full-time for a company called Baby Center. They had the number one website in the U.S. for parenting, and they wanted to launch it in Spanish. They hired me as executive editor of Baby Center in Español, and I ended up launching the website also in Mexico and in Spain.
Diane: So did you translate the stuff, or did you get different articles?
Isidra: I didn’t do the translations myself. I hired a team of writers, editors and so on. The content we took from the English site, we localized, meaning that it was a cultural translation, with additions specifically for Hispanics. And we also added new content just for the Hispanic sites.
Then BabyCenter promoted me to editorial director of the Americas, and I started also managing the website in Brazil and in Canada.
Diane: So you’re a go-getter.
Isidra: Once I focus, I’m a go-getter. But as I said, the first 15 years of my adult life were completely out of focus. I only started to focus when I took my first big risk, leaving Spain behind and coming to the U.S.
“Oh yeah, let’s meet … I have time in two weeks from 1:00 to 1:30.” I’m like, “What the hell is that?”
Diane: That’s huge. We didn’t even talk about that. That is a new culture, a new language. I assume you spoke English well, but it’s still not the same.
Isidra: I spoke English, yeah. Not as well as now, but I did.
Diane: Were you scared?
Isidra: I was excited but very scared. It was a hard transition culturally. Spaniards are very gregarious. We’re very spontaneous. You don’t plan meetings with friends. It’s like, “Hey, I’m going to come by your house in half an hour.”
Diane: It’s not like that here, right?
Isidra: No. Here it was like, “Oh yeah, let’s meet. Let me look at my agenda. I have time in two weeks from 1:00 to 1:30.” I’m like, “What the hell is that?” It was really hard, lacking the social glue and the spontaneity of it. And also, the busyness. Everybody was so overworked and so busy all the time, and it was an incredible shock for me. I had an ulcer a couple of months after I got here. But I overcame it, and I ended up making great friendships and really enjoying my time in the U.S. And I have learned that the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward.
Diane: I love that.
Isidra: Same thing when I let go of teaching at UC Berkeley. That was a huge risk, because I didn’t have anything to fall back on. I had my freelancing, but we had just had a recession, and my business had gone down a lot.
“If They Don’t Like It, You Feel Crushed … I Learned to Overcome That Fear”
But I was like, “No, I’m going to find something else.” And I did in two months. My job at BabyCenter was a huge learning experience, because I was used to working for print and all of a sudden, I was in digital media. I learned so much. And then in 2016, when I was at the height of my corporate career, I had a plum job, I was earning really good money, I quit.
Diane: I love it. Why’d you quit?
Isidra: I quit to have more time for writing. I knew it was a huge risk financially, and that we would take a lifestyle hit as a family, but I couldn’t delay it any longer.
Diane: What was that pull?
Isidra: I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Always. I wrote a little here and there, I published a couple of books, but I wasn’t consistent for many reasons. One of them fear, of course. Fear, resistance to make the effort.
Diane: What was the fear?
Isidra: Fear that you’re not going to be good enough, fear that it’s a lot of hard work and you don’t even know if you’re going to have the reward of getting published. Fear of success as well, because-
Diane: You were successful in your field, very successful. Why were you afraid of success in the literary world?
Isidra: I don’t think it’s a conscious fear, it’s more about putting yourself out there in a very vulnerable way. When you write, it’s not the same as being a corporate leader or a teacher, because it’s your own flesh and blood in a way.
Diane: Yeah, it’s like getting undressed in public, when everyone else is wearing clothes.
“I Can Say I Learn from Everything in My Life. I’m a Very Curious Person”
Isidra: Exactly. And then if they don’t like it, you feel crushed, or at least I did feel crushed. I learned to overcome that fear.
Diane: Teach me!
Isidra: I do feel like you have to face your fears and just go for it. It’s going to be really hard, but that’s when you’re going to learn the most.
I can say I learn from everything in my life. I’m a very curious person. I’m interested in all kinds of people. I don’t judge them; I learn from them.
I learned so much from being very flexible and adapting to very different kinds of people in my youth. It was such an interesting period of time, politically and culturally in Spain. It was exhilarating, coming from a culture of repression, to have that explosion of freedom. I went from the commune, to the counterculture, to the Latin American world with my passion for salsa music and dancing, and a writers’ circle later on. As I moved from place to place and group to group, absorbing from everybody, one of the most important things that I learned was to be open and curious.
Diane: That’s so important.
You’re touching on so many of the main threads that we talk about on the blog. Are you familiar with the book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway?
Diane: It’s a great book. It’s really old, but I reference that all the time. That’s how you grow, by stepping out of that comfort zone . You decided that you wanted to write. You needed to spend more time writing. And was the memoir in your mind at that point?
“Instead of Doing Resolutions, I Ask Myself, How Do I Want to Feel at the End of the Year?”
Isidra: Yeah. I had started doing some work on the memoir while I was still at my corporate job. I had always carried with me this sadness and disappointment that I hadn’t accomplished my dream of writing consistently. I knew that I wouldn’t be happy unless I did it, but I didn’t know where to start. I was incredibly busy. I had a demanding job, a two-and-half hour commute, and a child. It was a lot.
But I decided to take a one-day course called Meditation and Writing at the Green Gulch Zen Center, close to where we live. It sounded interesting. The course was taught by a Zen monk and a writer. I liked this teacher so much, I decided to take his six-week online workshop about memoir writing. I had never written memoir. I had always written fiction or academic work, but I loved it. I was like, “You need all the craft that you use in fiction writing, but you already have the characters and the plot!” I thought it was going to be a piece of cake but found out that it wasn’t. Writing a memoir is extremely hard. But I enjoyed it so much, I just kept at it.
Diane: It’s such a great example of how you don’t even have to know exactly what your passion is. If you just try different things, it often shows up. If you didn’t go to that Zen workshop, memoir might not have happened for you. It wasn’t like, “Oh my God, I’m dying to do the Zen thing.” You just said, “That sounds interesting.” And you went for it. That’s so important.
“My Three Words This Year Are Open, Unbounded, and Engaged”
Isidra: Absolutely. It goes back to what I was saying about being open and curious. Actually, I have it written on my white board right in front of me. Each year, for the past four years, I choose three words that describe how I want to feel at the end of the year. Instead of doing resolutions, I ask myself, how do I want to feel at the end of the year? When I do something, I wonder, is it going to make me feel that way?
Diane: That’s wonderful.
Isidra: My three words this year are open, unbounded, and engaged.
Diane: Wonderful. And so, with each thing you take on, you say, “Is that going to lead me in that direction?”
Diane: Oh my God, that’s fabulous. I love that.
Isidra: For example, contacting you was part of being engaged. Engaging with the world. And also, unbounded: without the limits of fear.
Diane: I love that. I’m going to try that. I’m definitely going to adopt that as a thing.
Isidra: It has to be feeling words. How you want to feel.
Diane: Yeah, I want to feel this way, that way, that way. That’s amazing.
Isidra: You think about what you’re lacking and what you need more of, and then you choose your three words. Last year, one of my words was inspired. So I was very mindful. My husband and I went to many art exhibits as part of feeling inspired. And I read a lot more poetry.
Diane: That’s so much better than being specific.
Specific closes doors you may not be aware of.
“I’ve Always Thought That My Life Wasn’t Just My Life, It Was the Life of a Generation”
Isidra: Yes, it’s more flexible than saying, “I want to finish the first draft of the memoir,” or whatever. If you don’t achieve that very specific goal, then you feel like crap. This way, it’s open and inspiring. It’s very helpful for me.
Diane: That’s wonderful. Really, that’s very inspiring for me. Tell me about your memoir.
Isidra: As I was saying, it’s this journey from repression to liberation, and reflecting or mirroring Spain’s journey from dictatorship to democracy. So it has a pretty strong historical context.
Diane: I love when people relate their stories to the larger world. That’s fabulous.
Isidra: It was very important to me. I’ve always thought that my life wasn’t just my life, it was the life of a generation. We went through such a unique historical period and it affected us collectively in very peculiar ways. So I couldn’t talk about me or what I went through without talking about what everybody went through, because it changed us all in a very short period of time.
Diane: I love it. It makes me wonder of the memoirs that will come out in 20 years from now, because this is another kind of… Confinement.
Isidra: Exactly. So that’s the backbone of the story. But the theme of the story really is about recovering your voice after feeling that it has been somehow suffocated by a series of things. It can be the patriarchy culture in Spain, sexual abuse or harassment that most women go through, not to speak about the whole political and language issue.
“It’s a Long Journey to Recover That Self-Worth, Recover Your Voice, and Value Yourself”
Also, I was one of 10 siblings, and when you grow up in such a large family, you don’t get a lot of attention. There’s no time for that. In a way, you grow up feeling unseen. You may also grow up with lack of self-worth. And it’s a long journey to recover that self-worth, recover your voice, and value yourself. That’s a strong undercurrent in the memoir.
I have a literary background. I have a PhD, I love books. It’s my life. So my memoir is literary but I’ve tried to make it engaging, a page-turner, at the same time.
I would say there have been two great challenges with the memoir. One is theme, just going deeper and deeper, layer, and more layers, and more layers. That has been a whole journey. And the other challenge has been the structure.
When I first wrote it, it was chronological. And then, an editor who read it said, “I think it would be more interesting if you made it less chronological, start from the time Franco dies, which is a more universal piece of content that a lot of people will relate to, and then go backward and forward.” I knew she was right, and I had thought about doing that, but it’s one of those things that you resist because you know it’s going to be very difficult.
Diane: Yeah. How do you do it, right? Yeah. Very hard.
Isidra: It was so hard. I’m still polishing it. The memoir has been finished now for six months or more. But I’m still tweaking that structure, tweaking and tweaking. That has been a very, very challenging part of writing the memoir, but at the same time, I think it’s a lot better with this new structure.
“My Newsletter is Very Reflective Because I Write a Lot about Finding Purpose and Accepting Your Whole Self”
Diane: Do you have an agent?
Isidra: I’m querying right now.
Diane: That’s another process.
Isidra: Yes. It’s a long process.
Diane: I’m sure you’ll have a lot of people signing up to buy it once they get to hear about you and meet you. Do you have a working title right now?
Isidra: Yes, The Conquest of Pleasure.
Diane: That’ll catch some eyes!
I think it sounds fabulous. I really do. And I love the mirroring aspect. I think it’s amazing.
You write a blog and a newsletter too.
Isidra: Yeah. I’m very engaged with my newsletter, which has been one of those things that I was terrified of doing. I was like, “Who is going to want to read it? And what am I going to write about?” I had so many doubts, and it was so incredibly hard for me to launch it. When I started it, about a year ago, I had a lot of ups and downs. But I can’t tell you how much it’s given me. It forces me, first of all, to write consistently. Number two, my newsletter is very reflective, because I write a lot about finding purpose, and accepting your whole self, so it helps me to keep digging.
Diane: That’s wonderful.
Isidra: And third, I’ve gotten such rewarding feedback from people. A lot of people tell me, “I read it and I see myself.” It’s a small newsletter; I don’t promote it much, but it has become an important part of my life and my way of connecting with people.
“I Really Just Started to Find Myself after 50”
I thought long and hard about what it was going to be about, and I made a conscious decision to go with what Jane Friedman says is the most difficult type of newsletter, which is kind of literary, very crafted, and very topic oriented. So, it has a lot of depth to it. It takes me hours to write it.
Diane: But it is a great way of connecting to people. And it’s wonderful when you have that experience. For everybody who reaches out to you and says, “Hey, this touched me,” there have to be others who don’t let you know but have been touched as well. It’s sort of like you never really know who you’re going to reach in any moment.
Isidra: And that’s so important, because when you’re working on a book, you’re working for years without any feedback from anybody. Sending that little newsletter into the world, and getting a few people answer back and say, “I loved it,” it gives me such a boost, because it makes me feel like, maybe there is an audience for my memoir once I publish it. So it’s worth the effort for me.
Diane: Readers out there, leave comments!
This has been such a wonderful surprise for me, getting to learn about you. Fascinating. I do feel we’re very aligned. So many of the things you mentioned were like, oh my God, I so feel that. This has been a wonderful experience for me, and I’m so glad you reached out. Is there anything else you want to share to women over 50?
“What Really Matters to You is What’s Going to Bring the Most Benefit to Everybody Else”
Isidra: I really just started to find myself after 50. It has been such an eye-opener. This period is about going back into myself, letting go of a lot of societal constraints and fears, and just saying, this is the last third of my life, and I’m going to make sure it counts by working on things that are very meaningful to me and that bring something valuable to others.
I want to hear and speak in my own voice and bring some light to others. That’s my daily meditation. And I think that you only get to that point, or you especially get to that point after a certain age, when you don’t care so much about the external prestige; you care more about that deep work that allows you to be the best you can be, and bring the best to others. It’s not a time to fear aging, it’s a time to do whatever you can to stay healthy, take care of yourself, but also really double down on leaning into your authentic voice, who you are, what really matters to you. And very likely, what really matters to you is what’s going to bring the most benefit to everybody else.
Diane: That’s beautifully put.
Isidra: Thank you.
Diane: Thank you, Isidra! It’s been a pleasure
Read more about Isidra in her website. Subscribe to her newsletter to receive reflections on how to live with purpose and accept your whole self. You can also friend Isidra in Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Please post a comment or send me an email.
See you July 6th!
Isidra is interesting & inspiring. Thank you for introducing us to her in your wonderful interview, Diane! Love the idea of thinking about how we want to feel, in three words, at the end of a new year, in lieu of resolutions. I’m looking forward to learning more about her from her website 🙂
Love the three words too, Sarita! You will really enjoy Isidra’s website and newsletter–she is quite a remarkable woman!
Love this interview, Isidra gave me my first job writing for Baby Center and her trust gave me the wings to expand my blog and build my whole career. She is not joking when she says she is curious, I still don’t know how she found me!
Thank you, Pilar, for sharing your wonderful experience with Isidra! How am I not surprised!?!
I’m sure you both are grateful you found each other!
Wonderful interview. Such an incredible woman. “Finding’s purpose and accepting your whole self” – the way through life. And, surely, to get there, we must be “open, unbounded and engaged.” Loved her words, and your way of bringing it to us.
Thank you, Elaine! I love Isidra’s words too! I continue to be incredible inspired by so many women over 50–it definitely takes a certain number of years and lived experiences to develop such deep insight, perspective, and wisdom.
Thank you, Dan! Applying some of the principles we learned in your MasterMind!
Great interview. I could definitely relate to finding one self after the age of 50.
Margaret! So glad to hear from you! And isn’t finding yourself after 50 just the best?
It is fantastic!! I have worked with Isidra and she has always seemed a fascinating woman to me. -Great job.
Thank you, Liliana, for your “insiders” view! I am no at all surprised!
Thank you, Liliana! Love you girl!
Diane – this was SO fun for me to read! I “met” Isidra in a mastermind group and we have stayed in touch ever since. I love her!
I’m going to adapt her morning meditation phrase: Help me speak my authentic voice and bring light to others!
Thanks, Nicky! Isidra is full of those neat practices to incorporate in your day–so inspiring!
What am inspiring interview . Thank you!
Thank you, Julie!
Nice interview, Diane. Also, I love the inception. Seeking each other out to have a conversation.
Thanks, Andrea! And the way we met was just wonderful!!
What a great and inspiring story!! Thank you Diane!
Thank you, Laura! Isidra is so inspiring!
Great interview. I especially love the “three words” thing – thank you!
Thanks, Alison. The “three words” thing got me too!