Introducing “The Ick” and Looking Forward to Season 3

Stephanie kicks off Season 3 by introducing “The Ick,” her characterization of that malaise, unease or discomfort we feel around age 40 and then previewing some of the guests you’ll meet this season.

Guest Bio

Stephanie McLaughlin was born and raised in Manchester, NH. She fled the little city for a bigger one 50 miles south and spent 12 years living, schooling, working, and socializing in Boston. Stephanie was trained as a journalist but found that her career path led her to public relations and, ultimately, marketing. The schooling was not wasted, though, as her illustrious professional career has been built on the tenets of storytelling she learned in college. Her illustrious drinking career was also built on tenets she learned in college, albeit different ones, and perfected while studying under a number of esteemed mentors.

Stephanie is a study in extremes and didn’t know until part-way through The 40 Drinks Project that she was (and maybe always had been) in search of equilibrium. She spent two decades partying and drinking like a rockstar, while at the same time graduating magna cum laude from Northeastern University and building a successful career at noteworthy and important institutions including The Boston Globe, the mayoral administration of Thomas M. Menino and Tufts Medical Center.

She returned to New Hampshire after a dozen years in Boston and spent time as the Associate Publisher of Business NH Magazine, the statewide monthly business publication, and the Director of Client Development for a multi-state law firm before she opened her own marketing business in 2007. All the while, her social life was on fire: friends, parties, trips, adventures, brushes with celebrity, you name it.

As she neared 40, her body wouldn’t abide the same volume of alcohol and she wasn’t finding the same fulfillment with her varied groups of friends and framily. She began The 40 Drinks Project on a lark, thinking that it would be an appropriately outrageous way to celebrate “the big four-oh.” She didn’t know at the time that some of her most important life lessons would come wrapped in the ridiculous endeavor.

Since completing the project, Stephanie has found an absurd level of happiness with the love of her life, Patrick. They live in Manchester, New Hampshire, with a rambunctious black cat who eats wildly inappropriate things – like pajamas and curling ribbon. These days, three glasses of wine is a wild night, and she prefers a healthy dinner at home and some TV or a movie with Patrick to carousing out and about.

She’s still working on equilibrium – a little more consciously now – but she’s much closer than she’s ever been before.

Introducing “The Ick” and Looking Forward to Season 3What does a story about chasing her cat around a snowy, icy yard and spraining her ankle in the process have to do with the transition we experience sometime around age 40? You’re going to have to listen to find out!


The Forty Drinks Podcast is produced and presented by Savoir Faire Marketing/Communications

Do you have the Ick? 

Download Stephanie’s guide to the Ick to diagnose whether you or someone you love is suffering from the Ick.

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Hello and welcome to season three of the 40 Drinks podcast. Most people start feeling an ick as they approach age 40, like one or more aspects of their life doesn't quite fit anymore and they don't really know what to do about it. I'm Stephanie McLoughlin and oh boy, have I been there and made a mess of that.

But having 40 drinks with 40 people over the course of a year helped me escape the influence of that ick. On this podcast, I welcome you to tap into my stories and experience as well as those of my guests to help you emerge from the ick and maybe even avoid some of the mistakes we made along the way.

For those of you who are new around here, welcome, and you might be saying 40 drinks. What? Let me explain. When I turned 40, I did something that I called the 40 Drinks Project. Leading up to 40, I decided against some big party to celebrate. It just didn't feel right for me at that time in my life, which is odd because I'm a Leo and I love me some spotlight.

My birthday is August 1st, so I've always celebrated a birthday month. I just thought it was a great excuse to have dinner or drinks with friends and reconnect throughout the month with people I don't get to see that. But 40 man that was hitting a little different. It called for something noteworthy I thought.

But if it wasn't a party, what was it gonna be? And I came upon this idea to have 40 drinks with 40 people in 40 different places, and each drink would have some thematic connection to the person I was having a drink with or our relationship. And when that idea finally crystallized, I decided it was just ridiculous enough to be worthy of turning 40.

My project started out almost by accident when I told my best friend about the idea over dinner one night. He slid the cocktail menu over to me and pointed to something that neither of us would've ordered on any other night, but was a perfect thematic description of our relationship. You see, my best friend is a journalist originally from Miami, and we met when I interned at the Boston Globe, several lifetimes.

The drink was something called a periodista. And at first all I could think was that I really wasn't in the mood for a rum drink, but periodista is the Spanish word for journalist. And all of a sudden it turned into the perfect moment to start the project and the perfect drink for my best friend. So we were off.

Well, some of my other drinks. Let me give you some examples. I had something called a Naughty Schoolgirl with a friend from high school. Now, all things considered, we weren't actually that naughty, but it felt like the right drink for us.

And then over dinner with two friends, a couple, we couldn't really figure out what drink would commemorate our friendship best. And this was really the thing about the drinks is we spent time thinking about our friendship and what would honor our connection. And the husband and I used to go on summer vacation for a couple of years together on Block Island, which is a little island off of Rhode Island and south of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.

And one year he met a girl at one of the bars. And I remember at closing time that night, he found me and said that this girl wanted to take him to a party on the beach. And I told him something like, well, I suppose you should go then. And he ended up marrying that girl. And that night we realized that the Sea Breeze would be the perfect drink for the three of us.

My mom and I shared a glass of our favorite white wine. It's called Evolution, and it probably couldn't be a more apt drink for a mother and daughter to share.

So I think that gives you an idea of how these drinks either had a connection to the person or to our relationship or shared interests.

So to celebrate all this silliness, I put up a little website and wrote blog posts about each of my drinks and each of those relationships and, if you really want to, you could probably still find them on the 40 drinks website. When I started this project, I just thought, yeah, this is such a crazy, ridiculous way to celebrate my birthday and to drag it out for however long it's gonna take me to have 40 drinks, except that it turned into something else along the way.

So ever since my 40 drinks project, I've noticed that people have all different kinds of ways to celebrate turning 40. Sometimes it's a party, sometimes it's travel to a fun destination. Sometimes it's a feat of physical prowess like running a marathon or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or doing an Ironman. And sometimes it's a project of some sort that includes reflection on where you've been and where you're going

And for me, yes, they were drinks, but more importantly, each one was a visit and a conversation with somebody who knew me at some point during my life. And naturally these visits turned to reminiscing about when we met or when we were close, like my friends from Block Island. And these people reflected back to me what they knew about me and told me stories they remembered about me, or things that we had done together or I had done.

And some of those stories I didn't remember or maybe even know. So when I listened to the stories and reflected on the visits later, I learned things about myself that either I didn't know or I had buried or tried to leave behind. And these were the revelations that started causing ripples in my world. And I didn't realize until I was in it that the 40 drinks project was bigger than I thought or indeed intended. And thank goodness for that because if I had set out to change my life, I'm quite sure that I wouldn't have.

So after the 40 drinks project, I became fascinated about turning 40 and how other people dealt with not only the milestone birthday, but also the personal transitions that come around that age.

Very few of us expect or anticipate those transitions, despite it being near universal. Many years ago, I came across a book called Passages written by Gail Sheehy in 1977. The book's, subtitle says it all, Predictable Crises of Adult Life. Now, Gail was a journalist who turned to research to flesh out a thesis, which was this.

From conception to age 18, there are tons of books on development and life stages and what to expect, but once you reach adulthood, there's really not anything out there that tells us what to expect at different ages or phases of our lives. But Sheehy found that there are general stages of adulthood and predictable passages between them.

And the period between 35 and 45 is one of those transitions. It's, it's a weird time. It's, we're somewhere between growing up and growing old, and yet we do have a keener sense of time. By now, we know that our time is not unlimited. We no longer feel immortal. We've lost people or jobs or things along the way that have affected us deeply. And now all the things we want for our future need to be really put in context for how much longer we actually have to do those things.

So one of the concepts that I really like to illustrate this period is this. Think of yourself as a house plant and one day your pot gets knocked over and your dirt goes everywhere. It's a big old mess. Maybe your pot breaks. Um, so when you pick yourself up and start repotting yourself. At this period in your life, you're only gonna take with you those things that are important to you or feel good for you.

And maybe you never liked the pot you were potted in any way. And so now you can find a container that's really suits you. Or some of the dirt you might leave on the floor because you really don't want it in your pot anymore. It doesn't suit you anymore. It doesn't feel good. Someone else told you you were supposed to have that kind of dirt or fertilizer or additive or whatever.

And that's what happens to a lot of people sometime around age 40, whether it's a few years before or after, life throws us something that knocks us over and we have to re-pot ourselves. And now we leave behind all the things that are in our pots because somebody else told us we should have it. Now we know ourselves well enough to know what we want in our pot, nourishing us, and helping us grow and thrive.

So we gather ourselves and our dirt back together and we become happier for it because we are the ones who put it together.

Now, what knocks us over? Well, I feel like the reasons are both as common as house plants and as unique as snowflakes, but I have come to start calling it the Ick. And the Ick is dissatisfaction. It's meh. It's unease. It's something's not right, something doesn't fit. And maybe we can't even tell what specifically isn't right or doesn't fit anymore. Sometimes it might just feel like everything, or it might feel too scary to delve in deeply and figure out what doesn't work because changing it's gonna be so hard. But I promise you staying put is gonna be harder in the long run.

All right. One more metaphor. I hate clothes cut on the bias. Usually a skirt or a dress. You can put them on and they can fit you fine, and they look great, but they always seem to pull or twist and they just don't feel comfortable to me. So as I approached 40, I felt like I was wearing the wrong sized life. A dress cut on the bias, or even worse, a bad bra.

All right. Let me pause here for a moment. This is where I usually interrupt to ask you to look down at your phone and either rate or share the podcast, and I will always appreciate a rating or a review. But to kick off season three, I created a two page guide to help you diagnose whether or not you or someone you love has the Ick.

This guide outlines the symptoms and red flags of the Ick, and you can get it on my website, Spell out 40, so that's F O R T Y c k. I'll be really interested to hear what you think after you've seen it.

All right. Let me tell you another quick story that I think illustrates a piece of this. In February, I sprained my ankle chasing my cat around the frozen tundra of my yard. Um, for the first time ever, we've got bunnies in the yard and my cat Quinn is very interested in them. I'm not sure if he wants to befriend them or have them for dinner, but he's very motivated to find out.

So one night coming home, carrying in some groceries, and he got past me. We had had a string of warm weather so that everything had melted and then it got cold again. So everything refroze leaving my yard, practically a skating rink. So Quinn is a two year old black indoor cat. And it's dark out. This is not a good combination.

So I scream for my husband who's pulling in groceries from the car and take off sort of speed waddling through the yard. Um, I chase the cat sort of towards the front of the house. Patrick runs through the house to try to catch him out at the front door, but as soon as he sees Patrick, quinn changes direction and heads back around the house again.

And so I pivot, and this is where I go through the crust and take a tumble. Um, so Patrick now is coming out the front door and running after the cat and seeing me splayed all over the yard. And so I screamed at him, Forget about me, go get the cat. And he said it was kind of like I was a soldier and we were in battle and he's like, leave me. Go get him. Um, but really it was nighttime and the cat was headed for the back alley, and I was just afraid he'd get lost. But I didn't have worried because instead of making a run for it, the damn cat ran back to the porch and was reaching for the back doorknob when Patrick got to him, he realized, outside in February is not a great place to be, bunnies be damned. So there I am, uh, sprawled in the snow. My foot jammed into this crust and I grew up in a ballet studio and sprained my ankle a lot. So while I was sitting there stuck in that snowy crust, I knew something was wrong. So once the cat was safely secured in the house, Pat came back for me, like a good soldier and helped me into the house. We got some ice on it and I saw my chiropractor a couple of days later, but I knew I had done something to that ankle.

Fun story. I know, but here's the salient part. For the next couple of weeks, my gait changed as I hobbled around babying that ankle. So now not only did my ankle hurt, But the change in my gate affected other parts of my body. I actually had this major pain in my lower back on the opposite side of the hurt ankle. I was getting these massive headaches. I had neck pain, and it was all from a sprained ankle. But as that ankle healed up a little and I could start walking normally again, these other pains started to go away.

So let me make this allegory even more clear. Let's say you get a pebble in your shoe while you're out for a walk. Now your foot hurts where it's rubbing, and you change your gait to deal with the pebble. Over time, you're gonna find the same things happen to you that happened to me. Maybe some lower back pain, maybe some headaches, neck pain, maybe even blisters. But when you remove that pebble from your shoe, not only does your foot feel better, but all of the other symptoms and repercussions of that pebble start getting better too.

Many years ago, a friend of mine said the best advice I ever gave her was to change one thing. She had come to me ready to chuck her entire life and join the Peace Corps, and she was asking me to write her a recommendation. Her whole life was a mess, and I suggested that she try changing just one thing and see what happened. It was too overwhelming for her to think about changing everything, so she changed one thing and then other things started to work themselves out as well.

I think this is also great advice for making your way through the ick. Take that pebble out of your shoe. Change just one thing and see what happens. For me, the 40 Drinks Project was my one thing. It changed my gait, which changed a whole bunch of other things in my life.

And you know, the guests who join me on the podcast are like metaphorical pebble removers. Most of them are people who've made it through their own version of the Ick and come out the other side and created a life that fits them perfectly. No more bias cut anything.

I find their stories continue to give me perspective. Despite myself being on the other side of the Ick. They help me continue to adjust my gait, and I hope you'll think the same thing of yours as well.

Alright, let's talk about what's coming up in season three. I'm in an interesting position right now that I have about half of the interviews for this season recorded and the other half scheduled.

Now, that doesn't mean that I won't be scrambling to get an episode out every week, but in theory at least I could be a little bit ahead of the game. It's also a little bit of evidence that there's some momentum picking up, which is very exciting. And this topic seems to be really resonating with people.

I am looking forward to introducing you to people who have, for example, uprooted their entire family and moved because where they lived didn't fit and was making them miserable. Someone who's come out the other side of alcoholism and built a career, they love. Someone who decided they're tired of being a victim and were ready to accept change.

Someone who came out of federal prison and changed their life completely. Someone who transformed from an overweight, sedentary smoker to an endurance athlete. Someone who left a career that was sort of the family business, something their parents told them was a good job that they'd make good money at, but ultimately ended up leaving them a shell of a person. And someone who really learned what losing everything meant after they left the family home with some clothes, a guitar on their surfboards.

I cannot wait for you to meet these amazing people and hear their stories. Also this season, I'm gonna intersperse the guest episodes with solo episodes like this one where I reflect on the themes of the podcast and tell stories about things I've learned along the way. My goal is to do that weekly, but if I get to five or six or seven solo episodes this season, I'm gonna call that success. So here's number one. I'm off to a great start.

Thanks so much for listening. Today. Next week you'll meet Terre Short, who in her late thirties built a life that suited her perfectly. She and her husband decided to homeschool their kids way before it was a mainstream thing, so they could spend summers in Idaho, winters in California, and long breaks each year in New Zealand.

They weren't sure they were doing the right thing, but they followed what felt right for them, despite not really fitting into anyone's preconceived notions, including their own parents. I really think you're gonna enjoy meeting Terre.

Oh, and you will also hear the story of a certain picture taken on my honeymoon that will never see the light of day. I hope you'll join me.

The 40 Drinks Podcast is produced and presented by Savoir Faire Marketing Communications.

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