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Life Upgrades After 40: Jess Graham
Apr. 27, 2022
Jess Graham is the 48-year-old CMO of Hologram Sciences and the General Manager of Phenology. She’s also one of the most mellow high achievers you will ever come across.
With a resume that includes executive roles at the likes of Visa, Instagram, Facebook, and Helix, she talks about a pivotal moment in her career in which she received some negative feedback during a 360 review that shaped her approach to leadership. Her coworkers described her as “incredibly smart” but felt she wasn't empathetic or approachable. While many would go on the defense, she took the feedback in stride, evolving into a boss and colleague that leads, and approaches her consumers, with empathy.
She credits day-to-day interactions with people and simple, everyday moments as being her source of inspiration rather than any one hero, and she stays motivated daily by walking — as it makes her feel part of something bigger.
Self-described as a “Hedonist by nature, who sometimes feels she needs to check in with the logistical and practical aspects of life,” Jess is a force of nature and a fierce advocate for women, finding time for living, and the power of celebration. We caught up with her to chat about aging, menopause, career, and the future of Phenology. Here’s what she had to say.
Does the idea of aging and menopause scare you?
I think aging can be really terrifying. But I think there's also something really, really beautiful about it. And there's no way I would go back to my 20s. I'm very happy with the person that I am, and what I've done, and I still feel like there's a ton left to do. So, I balance the terror with a lot of hope and optimism, and a sense of freedom that I didn't feel like I had in my 20s and 30s, just because I'm at a different point in my career, and I'm at a different point in my financial life. I'm just a lot less scared of things.
How would you describe your approach to aging?
I spend a lot of time celebrating the amazing people in my life that I've known for a really long time and that know me really well. For example, I threw a huge party when I turned 40. I rented a house in Italy for a month. Yeah, so, hedonist in full effect that month! And I'm already thinking about 50 and what I will do for that, which of course has to top 40 somehow. I also think more about having a good dermatologist.
How would you compare the you at 25 to the you at 48?
I think I’m a lot more confident. I'm proud of the work that's happened in the middle. I show up a lot more authentically. I think have a lot more empathy, and a lot less entitlement.
You describe yourself as a storyteller at heart. What would you want the story that someone else tells about you to be?
That I lived a good life. And a good life to me is being surrounded by people that I love and making an impact on things that are important. And, that I had a lot of fun along the way. It's not a hero's journey. It's that I made the most of the life that I was given.
What advice would you give to women in their 20s and 30s who are trying to figure this crazy life out?
Honestly, I feel like women in their 20s and 30s are working too fucking much. When I read things, I feel like everything is about work. I mean, when I was in my 20s, for one of my first jobs, I had a pager. And that was a nightmare. But you went home from work, and it was done. Maybe you sent a fax, but the boundaries were clearer. Everybody in their 20s and 30s now seems to have a day job, and they have a side hustle. I don't know whether work is that important, you know?
In fairness, I say that from a privileged position. I paid off my student loans long ago and they weren't as much as someone graduating today. If work and that side hustle are what bring you joy, then more power to you. But if it's just a cultural norm, what else could you be doing with that time? Reading? Cooking? Spending time with friends? Spending time in nature? I would have been unhappy in my 20s spending so much time working and hustling. I think we all need some rest … some cup-filling.
The theme for this year’s International Women's Day, which was in early March, was “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow.” What does that mean to you?
I think COVID has demonstrated — in case anybody needed a reminder — that women cannot bear all the responsibility at home and at work. It's not sustainable. It's not good for business. It's not good for women. It's not good for mental health. It's not good for wellness. It's not good for the world. It's not good for society. We need to dismantle some of these structures and expectations.
And last, but certainly not least, are you able to share anything about what’s in the pipeline for Phenology?
Women experience a huge loss of control when they go through menopause. We are at the top of our game professionally, and we've got a lot going on. And then menopause seems to come from nowhere and has these crazy symptoms that are unpredictable. So, one of the things that Phenology eventually will do is enable diagnostics, which will then allow women to better understand their bodies and be better able to predict, and manage, their worst symptoms.
Putting the power back into women's hands is really important. I think that's the thing I'm most excited about: Truly having impact on the science, and moving things forward, not only in terms of what products and services we can create for women, but also our general understanding of menopause and what women experience. I'm also really excited about our Daily Glow Facial Cream, and the rest of the beauty line. There’s a really interesting intersection that we're experiencing between beauty and wellness. And I think that also extends to sexual wellness. It’s this great celebration of women, bringing wellness and beauty and sexual wellness all together, which recognizes us as full humans. I love the idea that you can go into Sephora and buy cream that will help you have an orgasm and your vibrator. That’s amazing!
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