Busy New NABBW Member Phyllis Coletta, JD, Blogs at “Barefoot Broads,” Recreates Herself Every Ten Years, And Lives Life Fully Because She’s Unabashedly In Love with Life

by Anne Holmes on June 8, 2019

As I sit and write this introduction to new NABBW member Phyllis Coletta’s profile, I feel an instant kinship with her, though we’ve barely met. Why? Because she blogs as “Barefoot Broads,” and I can totally identify with the pleasure of that footloose feeling.

Back when I worked in Corporate America, I temporarily forgot the pure comfort of  bare feet. In fact, I went so far the other direction, I became a hopeless “shoe-aholic,”  and confess that I often bought my shoes six pair at a time. I loved completing every one of my outfits with the perfect pair of shoes. Pink, green, red, blue, taupe, brown, black. Suede, leather, patent. Stilettos, platforms, kitten heels and sandals. I wore them all. (And of course, like Carrie Bradshaw in HBO’s iconic series, Sex and the City, I swore my feet didn’t hurt!)

But since leaving that world back in the early 90’s, I have become a fan of living the “barefootin’ ” lifestyle (with apologies to musician Robert Parker, who released that song back in 1966.)  So when Phyllis told me she blogs at Barefoot Broads, I knew we had instant kinship! (Heck, I’m barefoot as I post this story…)

The other thing I find fascinating about Phyllis is that she is not afraid to upset the status quo. As you explains in her answers below, she began her professional career as a litigation attorney, but didn’t stop there. In fact, she has capably taken on more than a handful of other careers. 

Amazingly, Phyllis has also worked as an ordained Zen Buddhist hospital chaplain and a hospice volunteer, as well as serving as a teacher, and a professional freelance writer. She also worked as an EMT for ten years, both in the field and as an ER tech in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Perhaps because of her law background, Phyllis also gained experience as a Risk Manager for a community hospital, giving her a broad understanding of how our American healthcare system works. (Or perhaps doesn’t, she’d certainly know this better than I.)

But she hasn’t done all of her work in the US: In 2011 she participated with Centura Global Health Initiatives in a medical mission to Nepal.

Phyllis also serves as a Regional Consultant for The Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare. While a chaplain, Phyllis worked in the medical ICU of a large teaching hospital, giving her a deep understanding of how miscommunication and lack of advance care planning can create much suffering at the end of life. It was this experience that compelled her to focus on helping families have important conversations early, well before anyone is admitted to an ICU.

Phyllis received her BA in Theology and English from Boston College and her JD from Rutgers University. An avid adventurer, Phyllis loves all things outdoors from running, mountain biking and cross-country skiing to swimming and rowing crew. Her three sons and families live in Steamboat, Seattle and Panama, giving her great excuses to visit beautiful places.

Welcome to the NABBW, Phyllis! And thanks for making time in your busy life to give your answers to our standard questions, which are posted below:

 

Using one paragraph, tell us a bit about yourself?

I have always been in love with life. From the time I was a scrawny kid climbing trees and wondering about God, I’ve been engaged in the whole dang show. A lover of change, I’m a restless nomad – changing careers and jobs from lawyer to teacher, writer, EMT, chaplain and cowgirl. I’m very connected to my Italian culture and heritage; big, loud love is my default and family is everything.

Tell us about your family; married, divorced, children, grands, boomerangs or parents living with you, etc.

Born of first generation immigrant parents, I was raised in a high volume, loving household in Philly along with five siblings. Thrice married (!), now wildly happy as a solo 62-year old, I raised three boys in a sweet beach town in south Jersey. I have five grandkids and I teach in an alternative high school in Seattle, where other people’s kids continue to drive me crazy.

What is your favorite childhood memory that is reminiscent of growing up in the 50s, 60s or 70s?

Roaming the neighborhood – free as a bird – with my three brothers, riding bikes (without helmets!) and looking for trouble; playing basketball in someone’s driveway and pedaling home hard when the light started to fade.

What qualities do you have that speak of our generation of women?

I am tenacious and deeply committed to social equity.

What inspires you?

People who whistle and sing while they shop or work or play with their kids.

What brings you the most pleasure in midlife?

The freedom to not give a rat’s ass what anyone thinks of me.

Do you have any interesting hobbies?

Backpacking, mountain biking, skiing – anything that reminds me of the six-year-old me who just loved to play outside.

Do you have a favorite book or movie? If so, tell us why it’s your favorite.

Tattoos on the Heart by Father Gregory Boyle – the story of a priest who has worked for decades with the toughest gang members in East LA. You will weep, as I did/do every time I read it.

Do you travel and if so, who are your favorite travel partners and where do you like to go?

I tend to wander, not “travel” so much. I’m not interested in tourism or destinations. Last summer I took a three-week solo wilderness road trip – camping and backpacking through Colorado, Idaho, Washington, Oregon. I backpacked in Glacier and rafted the Salmon River in Idaho. Kind of an outdoor gypsy.

Do you practice preventive medicine? Please elaborate.

I’m very mindful of what I eat – clean and green mostly – and I run or walk/run an average of 3-4 miles almost every day. But most importantly I mediate 20 minutes in the morning, and 20 minutes at night. Best medicine ever.

What do you stress about?

Not much in my personal life, but I am profoundly disturbed by the massive income inequality in this country, where 78% of Americans (including my youngest son) live paycheck to paycheck no matter how hard they work.

Is it important for you to retain your youthful looks, and if so, to what degree are you willing to go?

Nope. When I got breast cancer in 2014 and had a bilateral mastectomy I didn’t bother with reconstruction. In fact, I ended up with a big beautiful chest tattoo of an eagle, landing on branches (with lotus flowers) that cover my scars.

Have you re-invented yourself, and if so, how?

Lordy, every 10 years I change it up completely. When I was 48 I quit my lawyer job, sold my house and everything in it and moved to Colorado to be a cowgirl. That was so much fun.

Do you plan to retire?

Hell, yes. I envision a simple life of wandering around, hanging out with friends and family.

Are you doing anything to GO Green?

I have a pretty tiny carbon footprint and I’m vigilant about composting, recycling etc., but the biggest contribution I make to the planet is not consuming. I rarely buy anything (besides food).

Can you pinpoint major turning points in your life that led to your life’s work/play at midlife?

After 15 years of being a litigation attorney, I remember thinking that I’d rather live out of my Honda than spend one more day fighting and arguing. That put me on a path – years later – of transforming my life from a Jersey lawyer mom to a Colorado cowgirl.

Do you still have unfulfilled dreams, and are you doing anything to accomplish them?

One left: I want to work on a presidential campaign. My deepest dream now is to leave an economic legacy to my kids and grandkids so they will feel secure and be able to thrive. I volunteer every spare moment for Andrew Yang, a Democratic candidate and if they ask me to join full time I will drop everything and go.

How do you make a difference in the lives of others, your community, your world?

I work in Seattle’s only Recovery High School – an alternative public high school for kids in recovery from drug/alcohol addiction. Besides my work, I try to live with integrity and compassion every moment. It’s a pretty fun way to be in the world, once you get the hang of it.

Who has had the biggest influence on your life and why?

My three boys have been my greatest teachers. You know how you would do anything for your kids? I have, over and over, changed my thinking, approach, philosophy and way of being in order to build better bonds with them. So worth it.

If you were to have a personal mission statement, what would it be? Feel free to be as serious or fun as you choose.

My mission is to inspire people to be their best selves, by being mine, and to use my skills and talents to lift up others.

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