Julie Zelman: “Life (and divorce) takes a village.”
Don’t stay in an unhappy situation out of fear of being alone or that your life will be over. Getting divorced can feel isolating when you don’t have anyone in your life who has been through it. There are so many support groups both on-line and in community. Start talking to those who have been […]by Ben Ari
Don’t stay in an unhappy situation out of fear of being alone or that your life will be over. Getting divorced can feel isolating when you don’t have anyone in your life who has been through it. There are so many support groups both on-line and in community. Start talking to those who have been through it so it doesn’t feel as foreign, overwhelming and scary. It’s helpful to have a strong support system of those who have been through the difficult times and can offer advice, assure you it gets easier with time, help assuage guilt, or offer an empathetic ear. Not to mention the inspiring stories of those who thrive after divorce. Divorce is not a death sentence — in fact, for many, it’s not until after divorce that they truly begin to live.
As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need to Know to Survive and Thrive After A Divorce or Breakup” I had the pleasure of interviewing Julie Zelman.
Julie Zelman is the co-creator and one of the co-stars of the independent TV Pilot, “Divorce School”, which is going to have its world premiere at the Garden State Film Festival on March 28th. In her early days, LA acting credits include Blast from the Past, Grown-Ups, Days of Our Lives and many national and regional commercials. She also executive produced and co-starred in the short film, “Just Perfect” with Brad Kane (exec prod: Fringe, Black Sails, Warrior). After moving to NYC and taking a long break from the entertainment world, Julie got married, moved to Westport, CT and became a very involved step-mom. Encouragement from her husband and step-kids to pursue her passion again got her involved with CT based theater and film, playing the roles of Ida Horowicz in the critically acclaimed play, Farragut North, and Cheryl the wedding designer in the upcoming feature, Batsh*t Bride, which shot around Fairfield, CT. Julie also co-starred in and associate produced Dana Marisa Schoenfeld’s short film parody, “Drumpf” which lead to their partnership, co-creating the pilot, “Divorce School”.
In her spare time, Julie is still a very hands-on step-mom to her two independent, thriving step-kids Fox and Lane, an obsessive mom to her rescue dog, Comet, a Manhattan-based real estate broker and a semi-pro poker player, where she loves nothing more than interviewing (grilling) the many divorced men at the poker tables while taking their money.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Julie! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
All the stars aligned at the exact right time in order to create the show, “’ Divorce School”. It started with my returning to acting after a very long break. I knew that I wanted to produce as well but I needed to find the right project. Through acting classes and auditioning, I got re-acquainted with the dynamic force, Dana Marisa Schoenfeld. Dana and I had known each other our entire lives and were traveling similar paths, but she was always about 5 years behind me. Growing up she was a family friend’s “little sister”. Later on, we both attended The University of Michigan, moved to LA and then moved back to NYC, but never at the same time. Finally, in NYC we were running in the same circles and Dana became a huge inspiration to me, as she was creating her own work and winning awards. Even though I’m the older one, I knew this award-winning director, actor, writer, editor, and producer was going to be my mentor. How and when — I had no idea — but one day.
That “one day” came when my husband Alan told me about a program that he and his ex-wife, Tracy, had attended when they were divorcing — In the state of Connecticut if you have kids under 18 and you want to get divorced, you are legally required to take co-parenting education classes. The goal of the classes is to teach divorcing parents how to raise their kids in a healthy way. Based on his experience, Alan thought it was a great concept for a tv series. The idea of making a show about a group of newly single adults forced to be in a classroom together was hilarious to me- — the material is endless. So, humor was a given, but divorce is also heartbreaking and devastating. I knew this could be a gem of a show — comedic undertones but also poignant, inspiring, relatable, and relevant. Dana loved the idea and our partnership was formed. I was so excited to work with and learn from Dana to create our modern dramedy, “Divorce School.” The moral of the story? Never discount the little sister — she may grow up to one day be your biggest inspiration and partner.
Can you explain to our readers why you are an authority about “divorce”?
For our series, “Divorce School”, Dana and I researched and prepared for over two years before shooting it. We interviewed countless divorcé(e)s. Our Instagram account @DivorceProject has phenomenal engagement. Our audience is comprised of over 21,500 followers from all walks of life affected by divorce in various ways. It’s not only those who have gone through a divorce that benefits from support. Children of divorce, parents of those divorcing, friends supporting each other, and the second spouses stepping into marriages/step-parenting, have all reached out to us expressing gratitude that someone is acknowledging them.
In addition, I had survived many breakups (some with divorced men) and I am a stronger and better wife because of them. I have learned so much from our diverse divorce community, my divorced friends, my husband’s ex-wife, Tracy, and friends who grew up with divorced parents. This, coupled with my own experience of being a second wife and a very hands-on stepmom, has provided me with a unique perspective that hopefully, your audience appreciates.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
I had “Divorce School” baseball caps made when we started shooting our pilot. Being a fair-skinned redhead I wear a baseball cap almost every day, especially when I’m walking my dog at the beach. My 30-minute walks have extended to well over an hour because of all the people who stop me when I’m wearing the hat. They’re fascinated with the concept of our pilot and they all have divorce stories they want to share — some hysterically funny, some outlandish, and some tragic. Often the most interesting people who approach me are not the divorced ones — it’s the dad who reveals that he still loves his ex-son-in-law but isn’t allowed to have contact with him anymore or the “perfect wife” who confides in me that all of her friends and family think she’s in the ideal marriage, but secretly she’s actually contemplating divorce.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When we first started our Instagram account @DivorceProject, it was prior to anyone being aware that we were planning on creating a tv series about divorce. It was the very beginning stages and the account was intended to be a divorce support account run by a group of people affected by divorce. In addition to providing insight and support, we wanted to learn from the divorce community. And it was supposed to be ANONYMOUS. But when I created the account, unbeknownst to me, every single one of my 1500+ Facebook followers received an alert that said, “Julie Zelman is now @divorceproject on Instagram”. I had JUST gotten married and suddenly I was facing texts, emails and calls asking if I was ok and what happened to my marriage. I actually had to explain in a Facebook post that all was great with me and my new husband. The lesson I learned? Instagram OWNS Facebook! It was the beginning of my learning a huge lesson about social media. It can be extremely beneficial but do your research and use caution.
If you had a close friend come to you for advice after a divorce, what are 5 things you would advise in order to survive and thrive after the divorce? Can you please give a story or example for each?
Because of my relationship with the divorced community and our family dynamic where I am actually friends with my husband’s ex and her fiancé, many people do actually reach out to me asking for advice. Our television show is all about the opportunity to thrive and create extraordinary lives after divorce. However, thriving and surviving are two very different concepts. So, let’s start with the literal definition of survival……
1. Individuals begin to think about getting divorced for a variety of reasons and unfortunately, it is sometimes because they are in a dangerous or abusive situation. I am addressing this first because it is imperative to emphasize that if they are in this type of situation, they must leave, they must surround themselves with a very supportive community, and they must get professional help. It sounds unfathomable but what I have found is that some individuals seeking divorce do not find the support they need because of the belief that divorce is taboo. If you have friends and family who are supportive, lean on them and trust them, especially when you feel weak and may want to return to your former situation. And if you don’t have a positive support system, please find a therapist, community center, safe-house, support group, etc. NOBODY should stay in an abusive or dangerous situation.
2. Couples Therapy. Some are resistant to this but seeing a professional who helps uncover issues and guide each individual to express him/herself may be just the antidote the couple needs. Or not. But at least it encourages open communication in the presence of an objective expert. I know one couple who has stayed together for 20 years after couples’ therapy and their marriage is stronger than ever. Other friends of mine realized divorce was the path for them after only a few sessions. Whatever the end result, most have reported that they came away learning something important, often life-changing, about both themselves and their marriage.
3. Don’t stay in an unhappy situation out of fear of being alone or that your life will be over. Getting divorced can feel isolating when you don’t have anyone in your life who has been through it. There are so many support groups both on-line and in community. Start talking to those who have been through it so it doesn’t feel as foreign, overwhelming and scary. It’s helpful to have a strong support system of those who have been through the difficult times and can offer advice, assure you it gets easier with time, help assuage guilt, or offer an empathetic ear. Not to mention the inspiring stories of those who thrive after divorce. Divorce is not a death sentence — in fact, for many, it’s not until after divorce that they truly begin to live.
4. Life (and divorce) takes a village. Build a support tool kit that includes your own team of consultants. This may sound antiquated but I have one acquaintance who got married right after college and her entire identity was wife and mom. She had shared bank accounts and relied on her husband to make a lot of the overall decisions. If you’re not using a mediator, get a good attorney with experience, who will explain all of the options and possible outcomes. Learn to advocate for yourself and know what questions to ask so you hire a lawyer that will do what’s best for you and your kids — not him/herself. Many divorcées tell me that they wish they had interviewed more attorneys, gotten their own CPA, opened up their own bank accounts, etc. much earlier in the process.
5. KIDS COME FIRST. ALWAYS. Put your egos aside and decide you would rather be happy than right. You will have to draw on strength you never knew you had. You may have to bite your tongue until it bleeds, make sacrifices, refrain from defending yourself, etc. My husband and ex-wife made a point of raising their kids in the most healthy, amicable way possible and they have two very well adjusted, happy, confident teens. I realize, based on personalities and circumstances, not every separation can be as civil as theirs, but there are steps parents can take to help them raise the kids in a positive environment, including hiring a professional, integrating oneself in Thrive’s new special section, Divorce and Co-Parenting, and involving oneself in co-parenting education classes, like the one the state of Connecticut requires and many other private companies offer.
What are the most common mistakes people make after they go through a divorce? What can be done to avoid that?
I am going to defer to my “Divorce School” consultants, for this one. With the help of my husband (AS) and his ex-wife (TS) see below:
5 Mistakes are:
1. Jumping into a Rebound Relationship. Take time to adjust to your new life and relationship status. Think about what you want and who you want to be with before dating. (TS)
2. Not Doing a “Marriage Post Mortem”. Take the space to contemplate the unraveling of your marriage. Be honest with the role you placed in that. Stop the blame game and learn from what wasn’t working. (TS)
3. Neglecting to Create a Budget and Financial Plan. Know your current finances and what your income and financial road ahead looks like and make a plan. If this isn’t your bag, find a financial literacy professional you can pay by the hour. (TS)
4. Putting Your Relationship with your Ex Last. If you have children with your ex and you believe your kids come first, then you need to invest in a solid and harmonious relationship with your children’s other parent. If you or your ex don’t know how to be civil, then one or both of you still may need to see a therapist. (Both TS and AS)
5. With Kids- Not Being Honest. Don’t pretend nothing has changed. Set a “new normal” as soon as possible. It’s a time when children feel vulnerable and an appropriate understanding of what is happening, and how this will impact them, is stabilizing. It sets the foundation for a good co-parenting relationship. For the adults, this is not the end of your life. It is difficult, but a good divorce is better than a bad marriage. (AS)
I’ll just add that based on all of my research and interviews, many of the above are easier said than done when one of the partners is either deeply hurt and/or unreasonable, unwilling to give up his/her ego or suffers from some sort of narcissism. Every situation is different and many are extremely difficult. We can’t repeat enough — find a support system. Don’t always engage or react. Breathe. Take time for yourself.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources related to this topic that you would recommend to our readers?
We can’t wait to share our series, “Divorce School” with everyone. It’s a quirky, fun, feisty and inspiring series that weaves a multi-dimensional cast of characters together, delivering the message that divorce does not have to be the end of one’s life — in fact, it’s just the beginning!
The trailer can be seen at www.divorceschoolseries.com and soon we’ll be able to share the pilot (and hopefully the entire series) with you.
As we mentioned our Instagram account, @DivorceProject has over 21,500 followers with phenomenal engagement. We receive emails daily from followers who thank us for our humor, inspiration and grasp of what they are going through. There is a great amount of audience/follower engagement and support.
Resources: The Woolfer is a paid online community for women 40 and up. It’s chock-full of resources and smart women. www.thewoolfer.com
www.divorcesourceradio.com — free podcasts, recommendations for books, resources, links, etc.
Can you please give us your favorite ”Life Lesson Quote” that helped you in this work? Can you share how that was relevant in your real life?
“With everything that has happened to you, you can either feel sorry for yourself or treat what has happened as a gift. Everything is either an opportunity to grow or an obstacle to keep you from growing. You get to choose”. -Wayne Dyer
Life is all about perspective. We are all going to experience pain, failure, discomfort, disappointment, etc. For many, including those who thought they would get married, have children and live happily ever after, it’s devastating when the marriage comes to an end. But where there is devastation, there is opportunity. For me, both personally and professionally, I had an image of what my life would look like at 25, 30, 40, etc. and when reality didn’t match the fantasy, I too suffered and thought I could never be happy where I was, as opposed to what I had dreamt/expected. But during the harder times, I started to put into practice the lessons of my many teachers, including Wayne Dyer, who is the source of the above quote. I turned the pain of rejection into self-empowerment and opportunity and started to preach that we are not victims of circumstance. It’s not what happens to us, but how we react. And it’s never too late to start over! I didn’t become a real estate broker or poker player until my 30s, get married for the first time or have step-kids until my 40s, or become a producer of a tv pilot, which had been a dream of mine, until last summer. I love my life now and I believe that what I thought were failures or rejections, were actually gifts that have brought me to where I am now.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We have made so many great contacts through both the “Divorce School” pilot and the Instagram account and many have enthusiastically reached out to us to collaborate, including divorce attorneys, mediators, financial planners, podcast hosts, other film and tv producers. Stay tuned!
Dana is always working on new creative endeavors and projects. For more information, and to stay updated, check out her production company, Main Sequence Entertainment. https://mainsequenceentertainment.com/
We love answering questions and talking to people so we can both be reached through the Divorce School Series website as well.
Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I can’t tell you how many people affected by divorce contact me through social media asking for advice. A divorce-mentorship movement, which supports all types of people affected by divorce would be extremely beneficial. Thrive’s special section, “Divorce and Co-Parenting” is also certainly fulfilling a much-needed divorce community need and I can’t wait to see how it expands. On a more Universal level — not just pertaining to divorce -my movement would pertain to pursuing dreams and giving up the notion that your life is over just because it doesn’t look like you thought it would. My message to the world is “You’re never too old and it’s never too late to start over”.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Does it have to be just one private breakfast or lunch or can we make a day of it?
We’d love to have breakfast with Cindy Holland, lunch with Jennifer Salke and dinner with Meg Whitman. Or a spa-day with all of them!
These are three remarkable women whose careers we have followed and to whom we would love to introduce our show, “Divorce School.”
And we would be remiss if we didn’t mention two of the most inspiring women of all — Nora Ephron. and Arianna Huffington. Nora Ephron’s writing, directing, creativity, relatable humor and brilliance with dialogue was an inspiration to us both. Arianna is astounding for all the reasons of which your audience is already aware. A true inspiration as both a successful businesswoman/ media mogul and later, recognizing the need for rest, self-reflection, living in the moment, spirituality, self-care and focusing on well-being. The fact that these two women worked together to create HuffPost Divorce many years ago, to address the same exact issue that our tv series, “Divorce School” currently navigates, speaks to us. They were way ahead of their time. Unfortunately, Nora is no longer with us, but meeting with Arianna Huffington would be a dream come true.
— Published on September 14, 2020