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True Contentment Can’t Be Bought – Ann, 63

Ann Gentry SYSWSJ 112220

Ann Gentry is crazy accomplished. A retired restaurateur (we’re not talking just one), author of several cookbooks, working actor, mother, and more; Ann tackles everything in her life full out.

From her early days as a waitress in NYC, to owning and running her own restaurant empire, to now; she shows up full strength. Ann is a champion for healthy living and positive aging. She’s a storyteller through writing and acting. A real food pioneer, Ann is no stranger to risk taking.

I am honored to have Ann Gentry in our Share Your Story series. Hers is a wise and wonderful share.

KUELLIFE: What are you pursuing now, at this stage of your life, that surprises you or might appear to others as if it comes out of left field?

My identity was so wrapped up in my business and brand that the thought of doing nothing was paralyzing.”

ANN: It’s what I’m not pursuing that surprises me! Even before the pandemic brought our world to a halt, I had retreated into a quiet space. A longing for quiet and stillness had finally caught up to me: listening, exploring, discovering, taking time, allowing, and trusting. A few years earlier, when I sold my business, my kind husband advised me to chill out, relax, and do nothing for a while. I was ready to leave behind the company I had created and operated for 30 years, and I quickly jumped into several other endeavors. My identity was so wrapped up in my business and brand that the thought of doing nothing was paralyzing. Somehow the words of my husband kept whispering in my ear. I realized I wasn’t fulfilled by what I was doing. Unlike what I would have done at another time in my life–keep going no matter what–I stopped. That began the transition from doing to being. One of the most valuable resources you have is where you put your attention. Trusting that was a big step for me.

KUELLIFE: What’s a typical day like for you?

ANN: There are three things that are consistent in my daily life.

  1. Walking: I’m a serious walker. I take off on what I call an “urban hike” for hours. This is when I can listen to a podcast or make a phone call or simply be present in my surroundings. It’s also fun walking with a friend, where the talk is enlightening, and walking becomes effortless.
  2. Reading: I’m old-fashioned, as I still get the daily newspapers delivered. The ultimate is to be engaged with a good book that you don’t want to put down.
  3. Meditation: I was introduced to a meditation practice in my freshman year of college. I can’t remember exactly when I stopped, but it was a few decades ago. All that time, I wasn’t sitting quietly; I was always longing for it. Now, meditation is an absolute. It’s how I start each day.

KUELLIFE: With what do you struggle?

ANN: To get up every morning and look in the mirror and say, “good morning, I love you.”

KUELLIFE: How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?

ANN: When my mother passed away after a ten-year journey with Alzheimer’s disease, I became concerned about my own future health. Even though I had a very different lifestyle from her and had always taken good care of myself, I became energized to step up my game. Cutting-edge research shows lifestyle outweighs genetics. Whatever your age, it’s never too late to start. As an ex-chef and restaurateur, I have been a pioneer for healthy plant-based foods. I strongly believe in the power of plant-based foods, but I swapped a vegan diet for eating for brain health. Exercise also provides protection for the brain. I traded yoga for light aerobic movement. I took up TRX and Pilates to strengthen my body. My physique has changed, and I’ve never felt better. That in itself keeps me motivated to continue. Most importantly, I realized if I wanted a sacred life–the one I was always too busy to have–I had to cultivate one. That’s why I brought meditation back into my life.

KUELLIFE: What advice would you give fellow women about aging?

we don’t have to be a certain age to embark on the journey that is meant for us”

ANN: I know for sure that we don’t have to be a certain age to embark on the journey that is meant for us. The Japanese teachings of Wabi-Sabi embrace the freeness, simplicity, and naturalness in imperfection. Wabi-Sabi teaches us that there is beauty and serenity that comes with age. We gain an understated elegance. Accepting our flaws gives us a sense of calm confidence. That’s why I use Age Like A Goddess as my moniker. It represents moving forward to activate your physical and cognitive strength, wisdom, and sexiness. 

KUELLIFE: What does vulnerability mean to you? What has the ability to make you vulnerable?

ANN: The ability to experience forgiveness. Starting with forgiving yourself first and then other people. Without forgiveness, we are chained to the past. This is a vulnerability that forces me to look at the stories I tell myself.  When I began to meditate again, I started with the necessary training to become mindful of breath, body, and sounds. I was convinced this would allow my overactive mind to slow down. Then, I’d find relief and eventually bliss and liberation. LOL! As I saw the discipline to sit every morning and notice my thoughts, many different things happened. I was reminded of the kindness of compassion and the heart of loving. That was difficult, as I saw how I didn’t hold myself with enough kindness, much less others. That led to forgiveness. In the teachings I’m following, forgiveness is a step towards kind, loving mindfulness. It takes vulnerability and courage to embrace the act of forgiveness.   

KUELLIFE: What are three events that helped to shape your life?

ANN: My first transformative event was when I left my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, to embark on a life of my own in New York City. Ever since I read the first issue of Ms. Magazine when I was in high school, I knew I wanted to live in NYC. When I stepped into a world that had only previously existed in my fantasies, it was a time of wonderment, curiosity, and exploration. I was impressionable, as most twenty-year-olds are. I was not yet an original. I was more comfortable fashioning myself to the likes of others. The fashion designer Norma Kamali had a shop on 56th Street, and in the window was the motto she lived by, OMO: On My Own. Though I still have a bit of the southern girl in me, NYC was where I really grew up.

A decade later, as a working actress, I moved to the west coast. I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined that my life would have made the turn it did. I took my passion for cooking and a healthy lifestyle and turned it into a business. When I set out to revolutionize the world with plant-based cuisine, people told me I was crazy. After opening five restaurants, writing two cookbooks, and hosting my own cooking show, people call me a food pioneer.

Last but certainly not least, it was the decade of my 40’s when I came to fully understand what Maya Angelou meant when she wrote Love Heals. Heals and Liberates. When I finally birthed my children, I melted into motherhood. Beyond the rush of hormonal impulses running me, my heart expanded. Becoming a mother changed me.

KUELLIFE: Who influenced you the most in life and why?

ANN: Both my grandmothers who loved me unconditionally.

KUELLIFE: What is the best advice you’ve been given from another woman?

ANN: I worked as a waitress at a Greenwich Village natural food restaurant. One of my regular customers, Scarlett, gave me a bit of advice that was priceless. She said to apply yourself to everything you do. Don’t skimp, don’t call it in, don’t hold back; play full out at everything you do, even being a waitress. That way, when you get to what you really want to do, you’ll be comfortable giving it your all. Years later, I found myself telling my service staff just that. If you can’t do this job well, why do you think you’re going to go up the street to CBS and knock that audition out of the park?

KUELLIFE: What woman inspires you and why?

ANN: I recently watched several movies and documentaries about the women’s movement and Gloria Steinem. When I was barely a teenager, I bought the very first Ms. Magazine. By the time I was in high school, I had my own subscription. Gloria captivated me because she was living her life on her terms. She gave me permission to consider having a different life from the one presented to me while growing up.

KUELLIFE: Are you grown-up?

ANN: Funny, as when you are younger, you think you know everything. With aging, you gain wisdom. Things that used to annoy me, now I find amusing. I guess that means, I’m all grown up.

KUELLIFE: What do you do for self-care?

what I needed more were moments of solitude and self-reflection”

ANN: When I juggled work and kids, self-care meant pampering myself with massages, mani-pedis, facials, float tanks, and yoga classes. I’ve come to understand that what I needed more were moments of solitude and self-reflection. Once I started to take care of my inner self, through meditation, rest and the practice of loving kindness, I needed less of the over-indulgence of the external. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love others fussing to make me happy, but true contentment can’t be bought.

KUELLIFE: And last but definitely NOT least: What are the top three things on your bucket list?

ANN: Right now, I’m a grandmother to my daughter’s puppy. This has made me want the real thing–grandchildren, and lots of them! Before I start burping crying babies (again), I want to spend a summer living on the coast of Italy, so I can swim every day in the Mediterranean Sea and truly embrace my third act with verve.