Gwenn Voelckers, founder of ‘Live Alone and Thrive’ workshops, talks about her new book and reveals her secrets to happiness
By Anne Palumbo
Some things just go together. Bread and butter. Song and dance. Hugs and kisses. But alone and content? Can someone really be single and happy?
Yes, says Gwenn Voelckers, founder and facilitator of Live Alone and Thrive empowerment workshops for women and author of the new book “Alone and Content,” a collection of inspiring essays to help divorced and widowed women feel whole and complete on their own.
Voelckers, whose own marriage ended in divorce, struggled to find her bearings in the years following the breakup. Feeling lonely and at loose ends, she languished in a funk until her mother took her aside one day and advised her to stop waiting for Prince Charming to give her the meaningful life she desired. “Go create a wonderful life on your own,” her mother encouraged.
Since that watershed moment, Voelckers set out to build a life of fulfillment and joy on her own, from purchasing a 19th-century home in need of renovation to getting a puppy to traveling solo abroad.
Here, she opens up about her personal journey, shares what led her to develop a workshop series designed to help women learn to live happily on their own, and talks about her new book.
Q: Let’s start at the beginning: What were those first few years like after your divorce?
A: I was pretty miserable. Like every young bride, I had dreams of a beautiful life and happy home with my husband. When the marriage crumbled, those dreams crumbled with it. My loss ran deep. I felt I had failed and my self-esteem took a real nosedive.
Truth be told, I went into hiding. I hid in my apartment, I hid in my work, and I hid from myself — not wanting to address the pain and disappointment I felt. Needless to say, my world became very, very small.
Q: Sensing your unhappiness, your mother encouraged you to start living again. What were some of the first things you did to get back on track?
A: I knew I had to come out of hiding as a first step. I slowly crawled back into life by making one simple change: I started saying “yes.” Yes to a ringing phone, yes to getting together with friends after work, yes to a walk-a-thon, well, you get the idea. And it worked.
I gradually rebuilt my social life and network of friends. Now, many years later, I have a life I cherish, full of dear friends, meaningful activities, and peaceful time alone when I want it.
Q: You hold empowerment workshops for women. What sparked the desire to hold these kinds of workshops?
A: The idea for the workshop came to me while on a solo trip to Paris to celebrate my 50th birthday. At this happy halfway point in my life, I knew I wanted to change things up and give back in some way. So, I began to think about how I could help others. But how?
Then it hit me: Perhaps I could help other women find strength and joy again after the end of a relationship. After all, I thought, what I know how to do and do well is live alone. Maybe my experience and insights could benefit others. Goodness knows I could have used help after my divorce.
And so I spent time in Paris cafes drafting the workshop curriculum, and the rest is history. I’ve been leading the “Live Alone and Thrive” workshops for over a decade now.
Q: Who attends these workshops and what can they expect?
A: Most of the women who attend the workshop are between 45 and 70, divorced or widowed, and coming out of long-term marriages. Many are on their own for the first time in their lives. My goal is to help them think differently about living alone and the opportunities that come with it.
I offer strategies to help women overcome loneliness, socialize in a couples’ world and, most importantly, rediscover who they are. We end with a “letting go” ceremony — a cathartic ritual where each woman symbolically releases a negative thought or behavior that is keeping her from embracing her new life and independence.
Q: You encourage women to take control of their finances. What is the single biggest money mistake that women make?
A: Doing nothing. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to money matters, and things can spiral out of control pretty quickly if women don’t get a handle on their finances. I was guilty of procrastination myself, but finally mustered the courage to pick up the phone and ask for help.
In my workshop, I share trusted resources and personal anecdotes to light a fire under participants. It’s something I feel strongly about.
Q: Socializing in a couples’ world can be challenging. How can single people best navigate it?
A: It’s not easy. Couples are everywhere. They’re holding hands, standing in movie lines together, dining out, gazing into each other’s eyes — it’s enough to send a single woman straight back to her TV!
Part of what kept me from going out to eat or attending an event alone was my concern about what other people would think. Didn’t I have any friends? Was I undesirable company? Was I on the prowl?
Overcoming self-conscious thinking was essential to my moving forward and out of my house. I had to remind myself that most people were thinking about themselves and not judging my singlehood. I share this experience in my book, along with many other tips for venturing out alone.
Q: Once women are divorced or widowed, some no longer feel “complete.” What are some ways women can feel complete again?
A: I think the key to feeling complete is knowing yourself and then designing a life around who you are and what you love. When that happens, contentment can follow.
Many women talk about losing themselves in their care-taking roles as wives and mothers. After years of focusing on the needs and desires of their families, they discover that, somewhere along the way, they have disappeared around the edges. They’ve lost their true north.
To feel whole and complete, it can be helpful for women to look back on their lives and reacquaint themselves with those things that brought them joy and meaning. Once women get to know themselves all over again, it’s easier for them to feel more in touch with who they are and, importantly, who they want to become.
Q: You’ve been single for most of your adult life. Do people ever assume you’re unhappy because you’re still single?
A: Oh sure, it happens, but not too often. Most of my friends — even my married friends — envy my freedom and want to know the secret to my happiness. We joke about it. I’m always quick to add, however, that just as being married doesn’t guarantee “happily ever after,” living alone doesn’t guarantee shelter from life’s ups and downs.
Q: So, what brings you happiness throughout your days?
A: For me, it’s all about feeling connected. I say it all the time: living alone doesn’t mean being alone. We are social animals, meant to be with one another.
A perfect day for me includes lots of connections: walking my dog with my sister, chatting with friends by phone or email, band rehearsal or leading my fitness class at the YMCA. It also includes time connecting with just myself — reading, writing, practicing my percussion pieces or planning my next solo adventure.
On my own, I’ve learned that perfect days are not handed to us. We need to create them through connections, which is the art of living alone!
Q: You’ve just published a book called “Alone and Content.” What is the book about and who is your audience?
A: My book opens with a “How Content Are You?” quiz, followed by a selection of handpicked essays I wrote for “In Good Health,” a popular regional health newspaper. Each essay addresses a challenge I faced after my divorce, when I was struggling to regain my confidence and zest for living. It’s my hope that women who did not intend to be on their own in mid-life will benefit from my experience, advice and messages of hope. Life can and does get better
Essay topics range from overcoming loneliness to surviving the holidays, from dining alone to traveling solo. Ideally, readers will be inspired, enjoy a few laughs, and come away with a new attitude and enthusiasm for what may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Q: Your book is clearly intended for women. Could men also benefit from reading it?
A: Absolutely. So much of what I talk about applies to both men and women.
Q: How can readers get a copy of Alone and Content?
A: My book has been available for purchase since Jan. 1 on Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle editions.
In January and February, I will also be holding book signings and sales in various locations in the area. Several of the book signings are listing in the sidebar; others can be found on my website: www.aloneandcontent.com
People can also purchase a book directly from me by emailing email@example.com or calling 585-624-7887.
Q: At the end of the day, what have you learned about yourself that you didn’t know until you were alone?
A: Oh, so many things! But, primarily, I’ve learned that I’m more resilient and resourceful than I thought, and that I could handle whatever life offered up — whether it be a leaky roof, a major purchase, or health emergency. It’s been empowering, actually, and I take great pride in my ability to manage and enjoy this wonderful life on my own.
Q: We just had to ask: What are you having for dinner tonight and where will you eat it?
A: Pan-seared salmon with a side of broccoli. Then, I’ll treat myself to a scoop of my favorite pistachio ice cream. I’ll be eating at my kitchen table with a section of the New York Times on my left and my dog Scout at my feet. It will be lovely!
Meet the Author: Gwenn Voelckers Schedules Book Signing
First-time author Gwenn Voelckers, 63, lives with her dog Scout in Mendon, where she runs her workshops and operates House Content Bed & Breakfast.
“Alone and Content” has been available for purchase since Jan. 1 on Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle editions.
“Meet the Author” book signings and sales are scheduled for the following locations:
• Lift Bridge Book Shop, 45 Main St., Brockport. From 2 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 20.
• Mendon Public Library, 22 N. Main St., Honeoye Falls. From 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 25.
• Pittsford Farms Dairy, 44 N. Main St., Pittsford. From 3 to 5 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 27.
• Books, ETC., 78 W. Main St., Macedon. From 2 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 3.
• Victor Farmington Library, 15 W. Main St., Victor. From 2 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 10.
Additional book signings and talks can be found on: www.aloneandcontent.com.
Books can also be purchased directly from Voelckers by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 585-624-7887.