Philanthropist, entrepreneur, author, producer Bethenny Frankel became a household name after being cast as one of the original Real Housewives Of New York City in 2008. Thanks to her time on television, fans got to know the lifestyle mogul, who offscreen is best known for founding the SkinnyGirl empire and writing multiple best-selling self-help books. Now Frankel is focused on her disaster relief initiative, BStrong, and her new podcast Just B with Bethenny Frankel,which features Frankel’s interviews with fellow self-made moguls and is now available on Apple, Spotify, and wherever you listen to podcasts. Here, she looks back at her life at 26.
On July 20 of 1996, I was living in Los Angeles, I was 26 years old, and I was getting married to my first husband. It’s what I was “supposed” to be doing. I thought that I needed my life wrapped up in this little Tiffany blue box with a bow on it. I needed to know where I was working, what I was doing with my life, and if I was going to get married. I thought that 26 was “getting older.” That was literally a whole adult age ago for me, and if I could, I’d tell 26-year-old Bethenny just how wrong she was: You think you need to have a clue what the hell you’re doing. Yes, that would be nice, but you don't really need to live like you're under some invisible time crunch.
I spent the rest of 26 regretting having gotten married, even though he was a good person and I loved his family and he was very good to me. I hadn't really seen a great example of a relationship in my own personal life, so I just thought that you were supposed to get married if someone loves you as much as he loved me. I was trying to be logical about everything; thinking about how the whole picture looked. On some level I knew I was making the wrong decision: I was a little despondent before the wedding because I wasn’t sure I should get married, but I thought I'd be a failure if I didn't go through with it. As an adult, I know better, but back then I was working against institutional knowledge that made it seem like the biggest failure to call off an engagement. Instead, I sat in hopelessness, worried that this was the end of my story.
But it wasn’t. I want to tell my younger self that despite what she thinks, 26 is so young.
I wish I could tell young Bethenny to find that same assertiveness when my good friend told me I had to go through with my wedding because it had been planned and there was “no way” to get out of it. It was the worst advice I've ever been given. We didn't have kids, and it wasn't a brutal divorce, but I wish I could have saved myself the hurt and the time and told 26-year-old Bethenny that it was okay to call the whole thing off.
"I want to tell my younger self that despite what she thinks, 26 is so young."
I didn’t move to L.A. in 1992 to get married: I was there to get into the entertainment industry. Soon after arriving, I found I no longer wanted to be an actress; I didn't like not being in the power position. I remember saying, How do I do something where I can be myself? A TV host seemed too canned, and it was before the Housewives, so I’d have to wait about a decade until the franchise was born. I was discouraged. I didn't really have the same personality I do now, where I just figure it out and ask anybody for anything I can to push my way through. So I worked different jobs, took a bartending class, and eventually, I found something that felt like I was getting somewhere.
I got a job working for a company doing large scale events. I don't know how I got the job, and I don't know how I pushed my way through, but soon, I was planning the premiere for the movie The Rock on Alcatraz with over a million dollar budget. I had to create an event space and a dining room in the mess hall and the cell block area. I had never produced an event, I had never planned a party, but I said to myself, I'm extremely organized. I'm smart. And I know how to get things done. I'll figure it out. And I did — for The Rock and Con-Air premieres, and for Gucci and Chanel fashion shows. I was great at producing events. It's a completely detail-oriented business and it showed me how good I am at getting things done. That skillset — and yes, even that bartending class — have contributed to what I do now. All of these little tasks along the way to success, that some people think are beneath them, are gifts. When you put that together, you have a whole arsenal of skills that you can use later in life.
Past Bethenny knew that, and she also knew how to work smart. There were other people that worked with me at the events company, who’d be there super late. But the cream rises to the top, and I rose to the top without spending my nights at work. I remember my boss saying to me, Well, this guy is still there past nine o'clock at night. But my work was done. I wasn’t going to just sit at a desk and jerk around. I said, I work all day. I don't take lunch. I got my work done. I'm going home. I won’t sit here just to keep a seat warm and make everybody feel better.
"Live your life, enjoy your experiences. I don't want you to have to have all the answers right now."
To 26-year-old Bethenny: You don't even realize how young you are right now. Live your life, enjoy your experiences. I don't want you to have to have all the answers right now. (Okay, maybe one answer: There is a grey, geometrical Alexander McQueen jumpsuit in your closet. It’s a little ahead of its time. Jumpsuits aren’t really a thing yet. But whatever you do, do not give it away.)
Not until 10 years from now will you begin to even have a clue as to who you want to be when you grow up. And if you confine yourself into certain ideals, what other people think you should do, or what you think you're supposed to be doing, then you could be shackling yourself into one version of life and missing all the things that your life could be instead.
Your greatest lessons will come out of the times when you take chances and when you're afraid of the unknown. Get on the road; always be moving forward, improving yourself, getting wiser and smarter, and working harder. But know that you don't know where the road is going to take you and that's okay. Just be honest and look at the signs.
As told to Kelsea Stahler.