Welcome to THE BALANCE PROJECT: a series of relevant and refreshingly candid interviews featuring inspiring and accomplished women talking about balance. I’ve always been curious—and maybe a little obsessed—about how women I admire manage the tragically glorified “doing it all” craze. So I asked them. As I suspected, no one really does “it all.” Everyone’s making sacrifices somewhere. And that should make us all feel a little better. I hope the conversation will be steered toward that reality rather than toward the flawed and dangerous assumption that we should try—or even want to try—to perfectly do “it all.”
BY THE WAY…
- Looking for THE BALANCE PROJECT, the novel that was inspired by these interviews? It’s here.
- The Balance Project interview series recently celebrated its first birthday!
- Fortune ran a feature about The Balance Project.
- Want to be a part of The Balance Project? Complete the interview.
No. 78: Debra Olshan Cooper, Entrepreneur
Where I live: Short Hills, NJ
Job: Principal of FreshConnect, a public relations and marketing firm, and Founder/CEO of daycationtoday
Kids: a 14-year-old daughter
Have you changed jobs or adjusted anything in your career to have more balance?
Yes. I lived in cities for many years and abroad. I started my public relations and marketing firm in 1989. My company was a huge success as we brought in European designers into the US marketplace. It was wonderful; however, I was constantly around egos and trying to stay one step ahead of the drama.
Two years ago I moved to Short Hills, NJ. I was stunned living in the suburbs. Last summer, I started another company daycationtoday. I found, being an entrepreneur, that every day I sat at my desk and “dialed for dollars” to garner media placements for my clients. I would hardly go out for lunch as if someone was watching over me, and I was the BOSS!
The days turned into weeks, the weeks into months, and the two-week vacation that I worked so hard for all year long sometimes never turned out the way I had imagined. Next thing I knew, it was September, and I was back to the same old grind. I thought many women are in my same boat. I felt there had to be other women who worked, went to the market, picked up the cleaning, picked up the kids from school, made dinner, and woke up the next day doing the exact same thing.
I had to change it. I started daycationtoday out of my own need to find an experience, an adventure, a talk, a new restaurant, a new anything that would make me feel like I did something for myself that day. Even if it was once a month. Then I would have something to look forward to each month. From the start, over 75 women signed up to become daycationers. Every month I find, plan, and organize one week of activities and cool things to do in and around North Jersey. At the beginning of each month. I send out a blast informing the daycationers what is in store for them the coming month. It is a paid-for service, but all the experiences I find—from spas, to tea tastings, to bike tours, to hikes, and the list goes on—are free. All I want them to do is sign up and show up because it is their “guilt-free” ME day and I want them to enjoy themselves. We all need balance and it starts with taking care of ourselves first, at least sometimes.
Do you think having “it all” is realistic or overrated and why?
I think having it all is definitely overrated; in fact, in my mind it is a myth, like Atlantis. Okay, then maybe it is true, but I have not found it. Every time I believed I had it all, something in the universe showed me that I didn’t. I believe the media and Facebook perpetulate the myth. We are constantly bombarded by images of people’s lives. In the old days, perhaps the only people you might have known about were your neighbors. Now we see on Instagram and all kinds of social media how people are living their lives. So often times, one might feel like THEY are having it all, only to find out what looked like paradise was really a delusion.
What part of “balance” can you just not seem to figure out?
I can’t seem to rid my brain of what I believe balance should be. However the people around me, my husband and my daughter, do not see things the way I do, and when that happens my internal scale is way down.
What part of “balance” are you getting better at?
I practice the Law of Attraction to bring me what I desire without tipping the emotional energy scale and let go of what should be instead of what is and how the universe will provide if I just let it go. Letting go is what brings me balance. It’s like being on a see-saw. I strive for having both myself and the other person on the other end have both our feet on the ground at the same time.
What was the best advice you ever heard on balance?
The best advice I ever heard about balance is from my daycationtoday destination people who are experts in many different fields from Law of Attraction to parenting to health to meditation. All of these amazing women have helped not only me but my daycationers learn that in our busy worlds we can find a sense of peace and belonging.
If you had one extra hour in each day and you couldn’t work or be with your family, how would you spend that hour?
Laughing my ass off.
What do you wish you’d known when you were 20?
I wish I had known that I was going to find what I love to do and that I would do it and be successful at it.
What do you hope to know by the time you’re 60?
Well, I can’t believe that is only two years away. I hope to know that I can let go of my old self that no longer serves the new and improved me.
What one part of your home life do you wish you could outsource?
That is a great question. I wish I could outsource the driving, the food shopping, making the beds, emptying the dishwasher, doing the laundry, shoveling the snow, the emotional hormonal rage that is my daughter at times, and my husband’s marathon watching of Shark Tank.
Whose job do you wish you had?
Honestly after being in public relations for over 28 years and working with every conceivable company, I don’t wish I had anyone else’s job. I love what I do, especially now with daycationtoday.
Whose job are you glad you don’t have?
My husband’s. He’s in the plastics business. He took The Graduate a bit too far.
Too many to name, however a few are: The Conscious Parent by Dr. Shefali Tsabary, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and biographies of celebrities (when I read them I realize they may be famous, but their lives are no better than mine).
What are you reading right now?
There Was a Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me by Brooke Shields.
Activity? I am an activity junkie. I love just about everything that has to do with expending energy. Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved every sport, adventure, and travel ,and I still do today. My biggest vice—and I’ve done this—is to bike throughout third-world countries. I’ve biked in China, Vietnam, Bhutan, and the Canadian Rockies. And I did those trips by myself. I love to travel by myself whether it’s to a movie or abroad.
Food? I am going clean so it is hard to say right now. Sushi would be my biggest vice, but I am learning a lot about it right now, so it is not at the top of my food list at the moment.
Website? One Kings Road, Gilt, and the Millburn Middle School Parent Portal.
How many hours do you generally sleep at night during the week?
What do you read every morning?
I read the New York Post and proud of it! I also read the Wall Street Journal.
Complete the following sentences:
I think I: am ready for a new life.
I wish I: had not yelled at my child.
My daughter: is the most precious person to me. However, it is those teenage years, and they cannot be dismissed as a delightful time. Forget the terrible two’s—what about the terrible teenage years? I know we will get through this, but not without getting my hair colored every two weeks instead of four.
Do you have a personal motto or favorite saying?
“Do what you love and money will follow.”
Anything else you’d like to add?
I think your questions are thought-provoking, and I am so happy to see this movement toward giving women the opportunity to express themselves without judgment. I also love knowing that the other women you have posted are all going through the same thing. It’s like a big playground we are all playing on. Some days we have fun, and some days we get kicked in the eye with sand.
After having worked with Elizabeth Taylor and forming amfAR and the first Commitment To Life AIDS benefit in Los Angeles , Debra went on to work with MTV creator Bob Pittman to establish the first ever reality shows including COPS and the Morton Downey Show. In 1990, Debra founded Real Life Communications and Marketing in NYC, one of the premiere public relations companies for fashion, beauty, and luxury products. She handled the launches of Escada, Kenzo, Krizia, Bally of Switzerland, Etienne Aigner, Emilio Pucci, Contess Mara, and Donna Morgan to name a few. In 2005, Debra moved to Aventura, FL, and started FreshConnect, which catered to a variety of businesses, including start-ups and established companies. In 2012, Debra moved to Short Hills, NJ, where she continues her public relations and marketing business and also runs daycationtoday, which gives busy moms and working women the opportunity to do something great for themselves every month. In other words…to find balance.
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 1: Jessica Mindich, Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 2: Veronica Beard, Fashion Designer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 3: Emily Liebert, Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 4: Lyss Stern, Mom-trepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 5: Lauren Slayton, Nutritionist
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 6: Elizabeth Moyer, Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 7: Annabel Monaghan, Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 8: Holly Gordon, Director
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 9: Jill Salzman, Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 10: Jennifer Levinson, Jen’s List
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 11: Jenny Hutt, Media Personality
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 12: Angela Santomero, Kids’ Media Creator
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 13: Carola Donato, Yogi
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 14: Tiffany Washington, Pastry Designer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 15: Emily Giffin, Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 16: Alana Sanko, Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 17: Cara Lemieux, Journalist
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 18: Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke, Authors
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 19: Nikki Mark, Author & Foundation Director
Shonda Rhimes on Doing It All
Indra Nooyi on Balance
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 21: Jill Bryan, Comedian
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 22: Cindy Callaghan, Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 23: Stephanie Hirsch, Artist
My Times of India Interview on Work-Life Balance
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 24: Whitney Dineen, Author/Baker
AmEx’s Sobbott on Balance
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 25: J0-Laine Duke-Collins, Dessert Stylist
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 26: Whitney English, Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 27: Jennifer Gooch Hummer, Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 28: Melissa Amster, Book Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 29: Nigel Marsh, Author and Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 30: DayNa Decker, Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 31: Amy Selling, Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 32: Heather Sonnenberg, Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 33: Allison Winn Scotch, Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 34: Bibi Kasrai, Entrepreneur and Chef
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 35: Karen Sutton MD, Orthopaedic Surgeon
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 36: Samantha Ettus, Balance Expert, Author, TV/Radio Personality
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 37: Pam Yudko, Holistic Health and Transformational Coach
THE BALANCE PROJECT| No. 38: Nancy Huang, Nonprofit Outreach Director
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 39: Mary Laura Philpott, Writer, Editor and Illustrator
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 40: Towanda Long, Marketing Communications Specialist
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 41: Kristyn Kusek Lewis, Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 42: Tracy Pollan, Actor and Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 43: Christianne Phillips, Fitness Consultant and Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 44: Susannah Lewis, Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 45: Kimi Culp, Producer, Author and Creative Consultant
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 46: Traci Bild, Entrepreneur
The Balance Project Interview Series Turns 1!
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 47: Laura Vanderkam, Journalist and Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 48: Amy Tara Koch, Style Expert and Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 49: Cozy Friedman, Kids’ Hair Expert
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 50: Bobbii Hach-Jacobs, Music Promoter
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 51: Niketa Jhaveri, Game Creator and Web Designer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 52: Sheri Silver, Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 53: Lori Pollan, Cookbook Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 54: Chatón Turner, Attorney and Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 55: Joanne Wilson, Investor and Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 56: Nicola Kraus, Author and Creative Coach
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 57: Shiri Sarfati, Marketing Expert
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 58: Audrey McClelland, Entrepreneur and Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 59: Jessica Lahey, Writer and Teacher
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 60: Lindsay Bressler, Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 61: Marie Claire Lim Moore, Banker, Author and Speaker
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 62: Stacey Ballis, Novelist and Cookbook Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 63: Amy Hochhauser: Co-Founder, JoyRide Cycling Studio
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 64: Molly Sims, Actress, Author and Humanitarian
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 65: Colleen Oakley, Writer and Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 66: Nichole Montoya, CEO of Cheddar Up
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 67: Eileen Palma, Author and Instructor
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 68: Adina Grigore, Founder of S.W. Basics
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 69: Dana Pollan, Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 70: Melissa Hawks, Owner, The Well Appointed House
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 71: Emily Greenspan, Art Consultant
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 72: Michelle Hodges, Software Executive and See Girl Be Founder
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 73: Kendra Basner Mallen, Attorney
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 74: Alysa Bajenaru, Dietitian and Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 75: Anita Shepherd, Founder of Anita’s Yogurt
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 76: Dana Marlowe, President of IT Consulting Firm
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 77: Jill Royster, Marketing Consultant