Launching a Furniture Business at 56: Lena’s Story

Moving back to the US from Greece in midlife forced Lena to rethink her career plans. She launched LAMOU, a unique online store featuring custom-printed furniture.

Tell us a little about your background…

My background is full of dynamic forces that have given form to my life and shaped who I am. I was born in Providence, R.I., to two Greek physicians who came to the United States for post-graduate studies in the mid-1950s. I am a post-war child, in the full sense of the word, especially considering that my parents witnessed World War II in Greece—the Nazi occupation and the ensuing civil war. I was schooled in New England, attending a Quaker school for girls from kindergarten through high school. It was a rigorous and empowered environment and a true prep school for life and learning.

I grew up in a bi-cultural environment—Greek and American, rather than Greek-American. My parents embraced Greek culture and exposed me and my two siblings to Greece from the time we were very young. Beginning in the early 1960s, we would travel to Greece in the summer and my memories of summers in Greece are strong, poignant, and part of who I am.

With Mom and my siblings in Greece, 1966

I received my Bachelor’s degree in Comparative Literature from Brown University in 1981, and worked at several jobs, before deciding to go back to school and get a Masters in Architecture. I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1989 with a mission: architecture and design.

As women, we have to balance our professional goals with family, and that is one of the biggest challenges we all face. I ended up living and working in Greece, and married in Athens soon after graduating from Penn. It was quite an adventure being a woman architect, educator, and designer in Athens, and a constant struggle to balance professional aspirations with marriage.

Magazine feature in Greece

I have a daughter, Artemis, who is just shy of 22 and a senior at Bard College. I divorced her father when she was quite young, but decided to stay in Athens until she finished high school so that she could have two parents influencing her life. I call myself a single parent, however, as the joys and responsibilities of parenting mainly fell on me.

Although I am sometimes nostalgic for the nuclear and close family model I experienced as a child, I nevertheless feel that parenting alone is a huge accomplishment and delivers a message of strength, especially in current times where family models are becoming more and more flexible. I did, however, have the love and support of my own family to see me through the many challenges I faced as a single mother and a professional.

In my professional life, I did many different “jobs”: I designed houses and gardens, entered plenty of competitions, taught at the graduate and undergraduate level, set up a non-profit with funding from the EU with two other women architects, started a furniture design company with production in Istanbul, and continued to pursue my love of visual arts through painting and drawing.

I must admit that I would not have been able to do all of the above without the help of several women whom I employed while in Greece to help with childcare when my daughter was young. I felt these young women were very understanding of my need to create and were excellent co-parents for my daughter’s upbringing. I could not have done everything I did without the advantage of having help with childcare.

With Artemis in Greece

When did you start to think about making a change?

This is an interesting question in my case, as sometimes historical events influence a person’s choices, versus decisions that come about as a result of deep reflection. I knew that I wanted my daughter to go to college in the United States and enrolled her in an IB (International Baccalaureate) program in a private school in Athens. I had cultivated this with her from a very young age, knowing full well that her exposure to schooling in the US would be a determining factor in her life and would broaden her horizons.

When the financial crisis hit Greece in 2010, jobs dried up and I lost my salaried position as professor of architecture in a private university in Athens that was forced to close. In addition, we lost my mother to cancer at the end of 2010, and it seemed to me like the earth was shifting. I was bereaved, far from my siblings and my father, without a steady income, and witnessing the political turmoil that was happening on a daily basis in Athens as a result of the financial crisis.

With Mom and one-week-old Artemis in Greece

 

With the help of my father, I was able to see out the last two years of Artemis’ IB program in Greece, and help her navigate the college application process. I also had lots of time on my hands, and turned to painting and the visual arts full time.

My daughter’s hard work paid off: She was offered a terrific scholarship at Bard and there was no reason for me to stay in Greece anymore. My father was still alive but heartbroken (my parents had been together since medical school in Athens). With Artemis enrolled at Bard and Greece falling apart at the seams, I moved to the US, into the house where I grew up in Providence, which my father has maintained to this day. It is odd to return to one’s childhood home at 56, but my father is alive and well at 91, and having a home to return to definitely made it easier for me to take the risk of re-invention.

Our family celebrating my father’s 90th

The first few months were excruciatingly hard. What was I to do? How could I possibly translate all those years of working in Greece into something here in the States? How could I enter the workforce in my 50s and compete with all the accomplished young? How could I give up friends, familiarity, my support group, and my routines?

Life sometimes is strange and very serendipitous. Things seem to happen for a reason and the universe conspires just when we despair. The summer before I was leaving Greece, in 2013, an old and dear classmate from Penn, Ann Clark, contacted me to say she was coming to Greece, accompanying her new life partner to a medical convention, and that she was moving to Providence. I too, was about to move, and this was a huge source of comfort for me. Maybe Ann and I could figure something out together.What is your next act?

I am the co-founder of LAMOU, which I launched with Ann Clark in 2015, at age 56. It is a new concept in furniture that offers the opportunity for customers to engage in the process of design through technology. Our initial product offering is wood tables that are custom printed. Our website hosts LAMOU’s proprietary collection of designs as well as guest artist collections. In addition, we have a toolkit builder on the site: Anyone can upload a photograph, print, painting, or design and purchase their own table, flat-packed and delivered to their door.

Classic Line end tables

The name is a combination of our initials “L” for Lena, “A” for Ann and the word “mou” which in Greek means “mine.” We thought it was a fitting name for a company that is involved with personalization!

I love the idea of slowly building a community centered around participation in design. It has been wonderful to see the personalized pieces that customers are ordering and how enthusiastic they are with the process and the product. I also love the process of building LAMOU and turning it into a robust business; every day is a challenge and there are new issues to be solved and problems to address. Building a business is like solving an ever-evolving puzzle, and as such, I see it as one more design project. 

With my partner, Ann

Why did you choose this next act?  

This next act, came about after many, many, brainstorming sessions and explorations, together with Ann and on my own.

When I first returned, I was lucky enough to be offered a stint teaching as an adjunct at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design), and that helped keep me balanced through a very challenging transition. I soon realized, however, that trying to enter the academic world at my age, with all the political intrigue and insecurity that accompanies an adjunct position, would not be possible. I reached out to builders and contractors and got a few jobs—an addition here, an interior there—but again was confronted with the reality that building a reputation from scratch in the already-established architecture scene here would be close to impossible.

I joined an artist’s collaborative, which I enjoyed, and I reached out to the community here in Providence, where I did manage to win recognition for my work in juried competitions.

Solo Show, Coastal Gallery, 2016

Ann and I started meeting more and more frequently and spoke often about the trials and tribulations of being uprooted in your 50s. Ann had a successful practice in Chicago and was going back and forth the first year, trying to keep the balance between her old life and a new beginning in Providence, so she was feeling similar frustrations.

We both shared an interest in furniture design: Ann had done several pieces for private clients, and I had a design company in Athens that had received considerable attention. We also both shared a love of art and painting. We were aware of new technologies in the design industry, and we each had myriad experiences with clients wanting to participate in the design process.

All of our talks and iterations of what to do next somehow naturally evolved into the idea for LAMOU: a platform that would introduce a new concept in furniture. By combining printing technology with furniture, we would open the door for people to engage with us in a community setting. We would start with one product and slowly build the company into a new platform for participating in design.

Epic Line Persian table

How hard was it to take the plunge?

It was hard. Becoming an entrepreneur in your 50s is not an easy task, especially as a woman, and in a start-up culture dominated by youth. It takes determination and a lot of hard work. You have to relinquish your role as an “expert” and become a novice all over again. It also involves a lot of patience and flexibility: You have to listen and learn, ride out the frustrations and the insecurity, believe in your idea, and persist.

I think you prepare as best you can, but it is really in doing that you learn. Starting a business is a risk; you can have an MBA and still fail. There really is no way to prepare when you do something for the first time: You just build stone by stone and nurture your wounds along the way!

 

How supportive were your family and friends?

My daughter, my father, my sister and my brother were extremely supportive and still are.

I really did not share much of what I was doing with many friends. I think you have to be careful when you start something new. People become risk averse as they age, and you can be talked out of ideas or aspirations if you are not careful. Sometimes it is better to discuss things once you are on the way and not before.

There is an advantage to starting something new in your 50s: You are wiser and more self-confident than in your 20s, and you do not need the approval that you sought in your youth. My few dearest friends were and are extremely supportive, but I still do not discuss with them in detail about LAMOU. I sometimes feel that talking replaces action, so I am a little guarded when it comes to sharing.

With Artemis in Brooklyn

What challenges did you encounter?

There are so many I do not know where to begin. Learning how to set up an e-commerce company, how to write a business plan, how to market in a digital age, the design of the website, designing the products, sourcing and manufacturing, accounting, presenting and networking constantly, choosing the right co-workers, raising money… The list goes on and on. The most important thing is having the right partner when you start something as challenging as LAMOU. That is where a true sense of teamwork comes into play.

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?  

Yes of course, I thought about giving up, on many occasions. There were times when I just wanted my old life back: painting from morning till night like a hermit or lecturing to students, or designing a structure. There were—and are—plenty of sleepless nights where I woke up startled and thinking about failure.

Again, I have to state here that having a strong partnership makes a huge difference when becoming an entrepreneur. Ann picks me up when I am down, and vice versa. There are times when we are both down, and those are hard, but somehow we are both equally persistent, both experienced in life’s struggles, and both stubborn. When times are rough, you have to have a fierce sense of commitment and belief to see you through.

Reviewing custom design with Ann

 What did you learn about yourself through this process?

That life is an adventure and you have to embrace it. That nothing is written in stone, and one can make changes even though change is hard. That I have stamina and have much more to learn. That the past has a way of resurfacing and influencing everything you do and who you are, and that will, perseverance, and belief can help you achieve.

 

Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?

I really do not believe in regrets or revisions, so no, there is not anything I would have done differently. Life is a process, and a learning one at that. So, as long as my conscience is clear, I feel I can take on many challenges.

 

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?

Be true to yourself and believe in yourself. Do not be scared of re-inventing yourself and do not let others sabotage you. Life is precious and we have no time to waste. Failure is just a perception: Turn your defeats into victories and let them inform you. There are many amazing women around us; trust them, seek their advice, and depend on them!

Keep an open mind and be a lifelong student. Learn to pivot, to compromise, to give things up for the sake of an idea, a goal or a dream. Rely on your own process which will constantly guide you in evolving.

Etched in Stone table

 What advice do you have for those interested in launching a new product-based business?

You need to define your market and delve into the statistics of that market. It is important to figure out the competition and decide what your advantage is—your value proposition. It’s a good idea to conduct focus groups and get “early adopters” on board who can champion your product from the get go. You also need to figure out your business model: will you sell to consumers, to businesses, or both, and what are your distribution channels? How are you solving a problem in a more competitive way than others? What is your main message and how can you capitalize on it and stick to it?

You really have to take the process step by step and learn as you go along. One thing that is important is to hire experts who can help and guide you. Professionals who care enough about clients to listen and to educate them. We have been very lucky with our team: our web developers, our design team, our attorney, and our production team. However, we did a great deal of research and vetting before deciding on whom to work with, and we cultivate these relationships.

Another piece of advice I can offer is to constantly research and find resources when you do not know how to do something. Ann and I participated in a business plan seminar, in a digital marketing seminar, and we entered the RI business plan competition. We also took—and continue to take—advantage of the budding startup community here and various networking organizations.

We had plenty of hiccups along the way and had to let certain collaborators go, either because they were not pulling their own weight or because it was not the right fit. One thing we were told by a wise businessman: “Be slow to hire and quick to fire.” I think it is important to remember this in any venture: Take the time to really interview your collaborators, and cut the relationship quickly if things are not moving forward or the relationship is creating conflict. 

My desk at LAMOU

 What resources do you recommend?

For those wishing to become entrepreneurs, I suggest reaching out to the Small Business Administration in your city or state to find out what programs they offer. We were very lucky in Rhode Island. The University of RI has a Small Business Development Center and, through their program, Ann and I were assigned an excellent business advisor who meets with us regularly with no fee. He has been very influential in helping us through thick and thin.

I would also suggest finding non-profits that specifically deal with women in business. In Rhode Island, the Center for Women in Enterprise is one resource. (SITES)

Seth Godin is an excellent resource for anyone considering starting a business, and his book The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick)is a great read and one that anyone taking on a new challenge can relate and refer to.

Present your ideas at every opportunity to talented and knowledgeable people. We attended a meet and greet that Golden Seeds held in Boston. Golden Seeds is an angel investment company that funds women entrepreneurs. We met the Managing Director, who has continued to follow our progress and act as an unofficial advisor.

Our wonderful, brilliant, web developers and advisors are located in Athens, Greece. They have generously given us their time, their insights and their expertise. The company is called Greymatter and I highly recommend them. The beauty of living in a connected world is that you can source partners from anywhere.

Our web designers are James and Nina Lavine, two very talented RISD graduates, who helped us formulate the “look” and essence of LAMOU from the first meeting. They are incredibly talented, professional, and a joy to work with.

The experience we have had with Ted Howell, our attorney, has been so rewarding. Ted’s expertise is working with start -ups, and he has all the knowledge, patience and flexibility to execute anything an entrepreneur needs. Ted agreed to be on our board of advisors in addition to being our attorney.

Another Ted, but equally as important has been Ted Peffer at IOLabs in Providence. Ted runs an amazing print shop that caters to a demanding clientele. He was with us from day one offering all of his knowledge and guiding us through the development process.

Lamou tables at West Elm Pop Up

What’s next for you and for LAMOU? Do you think you have another next act in your future?

LAMOU is still an early-stage company so the next steps are growing and scaling the company so that we can achieve our vision of a robust online community for those who share our vision in design participation. We are hoping to add new products and are considering the idea of including actual surface treatments for the home, which can be personalized through printing technology. We want to open the design process to customers and give people as many choices as possible in designing their environments.

I definitely have another next act, and I believe it will be in the visual arts and design, as well as in community service or volunteering. I have had an adventurous life, and it is time to give back and really become active in the “political” sense by engaging with underserved communities either as an architect, a teacher, or a volunteer.

 

Contact Lena Georas at lena@lamoudesign.com

Website

Lamou Blog

Facebook Page

Instagram: #lamoudesign

Personal Instagram: #lenamoumou

Linked In: Lena Georas




Let’s Hear From an Expert: Tami Forman, Executive Director of Path Forward

You are the Executive Director of the nonprofit, Path Forward. Can you tell us about your organization’s mission?

Path Forward is a nonprofit organization on a mission to empower women (and men) to return to the paid workforce after they’ve taken two years or more away from their career to focus on caregiving. We fulfill our mission by working with companies to launch and implement mid-career internships.

What programs do you have in place to support your mission?

Our program has two big components. First, we provide materials and training for HR and recruiting teams at our partner companies so they can launch the program and recruit participants. This component includes training for the managers who will be supervising returnees. In our work we’ve discovered that managers need support to successfully work with returning professionals. Our manager curriculum covers recruiting, interviewing, onboarding, giving feedback and how to handle the end of the program, whether the returnee is offered ongoing employment or not.

Second, we provide training and development for the returnees in the program to help them successfully navigate their career restart. This component includes creating a plan to expand their skills and build relationships during the internship, giving them tools to navigate their work/life logistics, and developing skills around getting feedback and using it to fuel success. We also cover career management topics like resumes, interviews, and negotiating offers. Our sessions with the returnees boost their confidence and give them concrete plans for successfully transitioning back to their careers.

Our program began in Colorado with partner companies Return Path, ReadyTalk, SendGrid, MWH Global and SpotX. We expanded to California, where we’ve worked with PayPal, GoDaddy, Instacart, Zendesk and others; and to New York where we are working with AppNexus and Verisk Analytics. In all we’ve partnered with more than 20 companies to expand opportunities for women restarting their careers.

What unique challenges and opportunities do you find for women in midlife who are seeking to return to work after caregiving?

One of the biggest challenges is confidence. We see women questioning whether or not their skills are still relevant. Another challenge is how the work environment has changed. There is a whole new world of technology, terminology, team dynamics, and office set-up, to name a few of these changes. Last, a transition back to work affects the whole family. Returning parents may need to change how their childcare is managed and how their home is run.

The good news is that opportunities for women to re-enter the workforce are expanding. Companies are increasingly recognizing the value of diversity at all levels of the organization. We also find that when companies stop focusing on the perceived disadvantages of a candidate who’s taken a career break, they begin to see real advantages in hiring someone with a prior professional track record and a wealth of life experience.  For example, returnees often have really strong communication and collaboration skills, both from their prior work experience and from what they’ve learned through parenting, volunteering, and community work. Professional maturity and the ability to manage multiple projects and priorities are some other key benefits.

What is your track record?

To date, 80% of our program’s graduates have been offered ongoing employment at the company where they participated in the program. Another 10% are employed elsewhere, resulting in a 90% employment rate.

We’ve had so many successful women come through our program, but I’ll highlight a few. Lisa Stephens was an electrical engineer who took a 20-year career hiatus to raise her two sons. She taught herself several coding languages but needed someone to give her the chance to prove herself. Return Path gave her that chance and two years later she is still working there as a software engineer and was recently promoted. Marina Groothius had a prior career as a direct marketer and was able to use the Path Forward program to transition into a career as a marketing analyst. Marina was featured in a story in Fortune. PayPal brought nine women into their program and all of them are now employed as engineers—seven at PayPal, one at a small start-up, and one at Google. One of the women who stayed at PayPal is Shashi Dokania, who has an incredible story of being inspired to teach herself to code because of her son.

 

Do you have plans to expand? How can my readers find out more?

We are meeting with companies in Colorado, California, and New York, and are planning to expand into cities like LA, Seattle, Chicago, Austin, and Washington, D.C., among others. Readers should go to our website to sign up to hear about opportunities as they become available.

 

Contact Tami Forman at hello@pathforward.org

Website

Facebook

Twitter: @PathFWD

LinkedIn

Tami M. Forman is the executive director of Path Forward, a nonprofit organization that creates midcareer internship programs to ease the transition back to work for women (and men) after taking a break for raising children or other caregiving responsibilities. Path Forward trains HR teams and hiring managers on how to support these programs successfully and provides support to participants to make the experience successful. Tami is building this organization from the ground up, working with donors, partners and participants to fulfill the organization’s mission. Tami spent a decade as a tech marketing executive with data solutions provider, Return Path. Before that she worked in book publishing at Simon & Schuster and Houghton Mifflin and held senior-level web editorial positions at iVillage and News Corporation. Tami is passionate about helping women achieve work/life integration so they can find career success and personal satisfaction. She lives in New York City with her husband and two kids, aged seven and nine.




Let’s Hear From an Expert: Wendy Sachs, Author of Fearless and Free: How Smart Women Pivot and Relaunch Their Careers

You are the author of the newly-released Fearless and Free: How Smart Women Pivot–and Relaunch Their Careers. Why did you feel it was important to write this book?
The book really came out of my personal experience. I think many writers write about what they know—and in my case I also wrote about what I needed to know. I had lost my job at an advertising agency, which was a bit random to begin with. I had never worked in advertising; this agency had actually been my client when I was working in PR. But now I was trying to pivot into one of these hot new positions at “content” studios that are emerging at agencies. Everyone is trying to figure out how to monetize this new breed of “content.” I had been reading about how this was the future—old school journalism, news, marketing and PR were changing, and I wanted in. I feared if I didn’t get a job soon, i would become a dinosaur. I felt like my professional currency was fading.

So when I lost my job at the ad agency (they ultimately couldn’t monetize the content) I started hustling for a new gig, and wherever I went it seemed like the person interviewing me had graduated college in 2009. That would have made them around 28 years old. It was shocking. More alarming was that the Millennials who interviewed me had a hard time figuring out how I would fit in; they couldn’t fit me neatly into a box. My experience is broad and deep. I’m really a multi-hyphenate and giving them my elevator pitch wasn’t working.

After one particularly depressing interview at a start-up, after I grabbed some kale chips and coconut water before walking out the door, I realized I needed to overhaul my pitch. I needed to rebrand myself. I needed to lean into my skills and probably pick up new ones. And that’s when I turned to some of the successful lessons that come out of Silicon Valley. After all, we have a cultural crush on Silicon Valley; it is our North Star guiding everything we do, from how we work to how we communicate. And there they embrace failure. They are masters of branding. They engineer serendipity. I started taking a closer look at what the start-up world is doing and decided to apply some of those strategies and lessons to women.

What challenges and opportunities do women face as they seek to make it big in their careers? 
There is no doubt that gender bias still exists. It’s often not overt, but it’s subtle—an unconscious bias. We are judged differently. As a culture, we still are grappling with what female leaders look like and sound like. We still admire a very manly, alpha male form of leadership; and that needs to change. The good news is that what I have found personally and through my own research is that female networks are exploding and women are really committed to raising women up with them. This isn’t just about mentors or sponsors, but active female networks that will share job leads and offer to introduce women to other people. I am lucky to be a part of one of these female networks and it’s been life changing. It’s emotionally supportive and has helped me professionally too, even with this book.

On a corporate level, we are also seeing a renaissance of commitment to diversity. Companies realize that they have bled female talent by losing women to motherhood and inflexible work schedules. And now many companies are actively trying to bring women back in through “returnship” programs or by simply reimagining work schedules. The other exciting development are platforms like Après and Landit that look to bring women who took time off or are simply at an inflection point in their careers and match them with companies. These platforms are like LinkedIn for women. They also offer services to help write your resume and practice interviewing—they even have confidence coaches to boost your mojo.

Have you found any concerns that are unique to women in midlife and beyond?
Yes! Many women who have taken time out of their careers and are looking to re-enter feel overwhelmed. They fear that they don’t have the relevant skillsets. They also worry that their networks aren’t as strong as they used to be. But most importantly, they suffer from a lack of confidence. Women tend to doubt themselves more than men. We want to be perfect—we are afraid of failure, and this fear can hold us back. The most effective way to grow confidence is to take risks, to take those chances. We need to get comfortable in the uncomfortable. That’s how we can move forward.

 

You talked to many women who successfully pivoted in their careers. Can you give us examples of women who did this in midlife or later?
At 60 years old, Jill Abramson, the Executive Editor of The New York Times—the most senior woman ever at the Times—was very publicly fired. Her firing made international headlines. But Jill don’t go into hiding. She decided she wanted to start teaching at Harvard and write a book. Interestingly, Jill believes that in her firing she has become more of a role model for women than when she was at the Times.

Deb Kogan, 50, keeps reinventing herself. Deb is now working as a Vice President at a global communications agency, writing books and writing for the TV show Younger. She always has a “side hustle.” Deb’s trajectory has taken her from war photographer to TV producer and novelist to writing for TV and now to her corporate job.

What are a few tips you discuss in your book?
We need to all think like entrepreneurs, even if we aren’t running our own businesses. We need to brand ourselves professionally, to let people know what we do and what we are looking to do. Visibility is extremely important;  that means you must network—often. Look to create opportunities for yourself by going to conferences and events and meeting people who maybe you would never think of meeting. Expand your circles. Also, remember that it takes work. Engineering serendipity means laying the groundwork so you are aware of when opportunities exist and then you are prepared to seize them. It’s all about taking some action. Small steps can lead to bigger steps. But you must get going. Inertia is a killer.

What resources do you recommend? 
Après, Landit, Ellevate are great platforms and websites. General Assembly offers some fantastic classes online and in person, in cities around the country.

Contact Wendy Sachs here 

Fearless and Free: How Smart Women Pivot–and Relaunch Their Careers

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Facebook

Twitter 

About the Author
Wendy Sachs
 is the author of Fearless and Free: How Smart Women Pivot–and Relaunch Their Careers(AMACOM; 2017) and a master of the career pivot. An Emmy-award winning TV news producer, Wendy has worked at Dateline NBC, Fox, and CNN. She also worked as a Capitol Hill press secretary, public relations executive, CNN contributor, content strategist and editor-in-chief of Care.com. In a more random role, Wendy appeared as the on-air spokesperson for Trip Advisor. A frequent speaker, Wendy has written about work/life and women’s issues for multiple publications, including The New York TimesCNN.com, the Huffington Post and Refinery29. She has appeared on dozens of radio and TV shows, including Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, Fox and CNN’s Headline News. Wendy lives with her husband and two children in South Orange, New Jersey. For more information, please visit wendysachs.com and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter




Becoming a Daily Money Manager in Midlife: Susan’s Story

After almost two decades in banking, a string of personal losses led Susan to re-evaluate her life. She quit her job and founded My Trusted Partner, where she helps the elderly and busy professionals organize their finances and legal documents.

 

Tell us a little about your background.

Me, the baby, with my parents and siblings in 1966

I was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, where I currently reside (I moved away as an adult and came back years later). I am the youngest of four children. Both my parents are deceased. I graduated from Culver Academies and DePauw University and was married at 22 years old—one month after the suicide of my future father-in-law. I moved to St. Louis for a year to support us while my husband was finishing graduate school. We settled in northern Indiana, where I started my banking career. We had no kids and divorced several years later. Now, I am happily married to a man who has three grown children. We have a 3-year old granddaughter and a newborn grandson.

With my husband Paul, his children, and our granddaughter

I spent almost 20 years in the banking industry with two careers—one that included many roles on the banking center management side and the last 10 years as a Private Banker working with high net worth clients for a local bank in Indianapolis. I was the 52nd employee of almost 300 employees. Additionally, during my career, I was fortunate to have supportive bosses who encouraged community involvement so I was active as a volunteer, event chair, and board member with several organizations. I believe that to whom much is given, much is expected.

During the last ten years of my career, my husband and I entertained his donors and my clients or attended bank-sponsored events approximately four nights a week, including weekends. Some would say it was a fun and glamorous life; however, I grew to resent the time taken away from our family and leisure time, and the energy drain I felt on a daily basis. I was one of the few “regulars” called upon to attend these engagements. Combining this activity while doing my job to cultivate new business, manage a large portfolio, and serve as a loan officer and culture coach affected me, my health, and my relationships with those close to me.

With colleagues when I worked in banking

 

When did you start to think about making a change in midlife?

In 2014, my husband and I experienced seven deaths between our families and friends. It just didn’t stop for us. To make matters worse, I was terminating an assistant and experiencing some health issues related to feet and legs due to wearing high heels. It was during this time that I told my husband that I was making a plan to change my job rather than stay put and become miserable to the people around me. In January 2015, I met with my boss to discuss other job opportunities. Unfortunately, by fall, I knew that I was not taken seriously; I concluded that no job would be created  and no opportunity would present itself at a bank that I had truly loved and succeeded at.

This January 2016, on the one year anniversary of the day I initially talked to my boss, I left my job. When I announced my resignation, she asked if we could discuss another position; I responded something like, “You had a year.” She asked if I could stay to train my replacement and I said, “No, my new routine begins.” I told her it wasn’t personal. We are still friends. Frankly, I think leaving a long-time career and place that I invested a lot of time and effort in requires a period of grieving. It felt like a death of part of my identity. The end of a career is similar to the death of a loved one or of a comfortable relationship that didn’t last.

This winter, as I was driving to a yoga class, Diane Rehms of NPR was interviewing Barbara Bradley Hagerty about her new book Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife. She spoke to me so I went to the bookstore and bought her book. I tabbed a section of a person whose life was like mine, Laurie Plessala Duperier. I emailed Barbara and Laurie and still correspond with both. It was Laurie who led me to you, Hélène, and Next Act for Women. One of my hobbies is to write to authors of books that resonate with me. So far, at least a dozen have written me back! If they take the time to write, they certainly deserve to have feedback especially with people who like what they wrote, right? Someday, maybe I will write a book that others will feel the same way!

 

What is your next act?

I am a daily money manager with my own business, My Trusted Partner, LLC, which I launched last year at age 50.

While I was still in my banking job, I started receiving calls from clients in need of help with daily money management. Some didn’t have relatives living in the area and felt a need for support. Others had resources but no knowledge of how to manage their life. A daily money manager is someone who manages personal banking needs when the person doesn’t want to, or know how to, do it. It’s a much-needed service for seniors, busy professionals young and old, and those in transition due to death or divorce.

I can organize financial documents, legal documents such as wills, trusts, Power of Attorney (POA), and other important documents in one area for loved ones to locate. I can pay bills reconcile bank statements, open and sort mail, and address any other projects needed such as home maintenance issues. I provide an extra set of eyes for loved ones. It’s surprising how many people don’t have wills or POAs and may need some help with budgets too. Some things I do and other things I can refer to a professional.

I love the personal relationships I form with people. I love knowing that I am making things easier by being helpful, organized, and knowledgeable. It still draws on my banking experience—in a good way.

And I love owning my business. It’s been something I have wanted to do since I did a career test in college. The test showed I rated high as a small business entrepreneur or teacher. Funny, because I have always enjoyed teaching and mentoring my staff and younger employees!

Working with a client

 

Why did you choose this next act?  What other options did you consider?

Well, I spent a lot of time during the past three years getting to know who I was, what I enjoyed, and what I valued with the help of a life coach. I narrowed my options, based on my skills and values, to a community relations position or trainer, executive director of a non-profit, or a small business owner with a focus on service. My high level of service, professionalism, and planning are some of my strongest qualities.

 

How hard was it to take the plunge? How did you prepare?

I set up the shell of the business in 2015 but waited until I left the bank to launch the business this spring around the time I was attending a conference where I knew I would be running into former coworkers.

How did I prepare? Two days after I left my job, my husband and I went on Caribbean vacation to celebrate my 50th birthday—walking the beach, doing yoga, kayaking, and enjoying the sun. It was the best way for me to make the initial change to my routine. When I returned, I did nothing for a month, which was extremely difficult. During my previous life, I took great pride in accomplishing a lot on weekends, not realizing that it was exhausting me and those around me. I wasn’t doing myself any favors.

In March, I decided to do a 30-day yoga challenge on an impulse, which turned out to be one of the best things I have done. Since then, I am a regular yogi but keep myself in check that I don’t over-do it. I am cultivating new friendships. Even though I am an introvert, the absence of social contact through a career has been a challenge, so I look for opportunities to have lunch, coffee, walks with others, and join the board of a small non-profit called Paws and Think—an organization dedicated to improving lives through the power of the human-dog connection. 

With Kathy Janes, volunteer coordinator for Paws and Think

 

How supportive were your family and friends?

Once my husband understood the business and how aging Baby Boomers could be instrumental in my business development, he was on board and has been my biggest fan! Some don’t understand why I left a great job to start a new business. They say that this is a temporary stop for something greater down the road, while others say that this is great fit for my personality and background.

 

What challenges did you encounter?

Now, I don’t have the reputation of an organization to open doors, so to speak. Now, it is me and how I show up. First impressions are lasting ones! I am challenged by time. The business isn’t going to come to me so I have to put myself out there and let people know what I do.

To promote my new business, I applied the business development skills I used in my previous jobs. I made a list of people I knew, including centers of influence, those people who may refer business to me: CPAs, financial planners, Estate Law and Elder Law attorneys, bankers, trust officers, geriatric care managers, and healthcare advocates. These are people I feel comfortable referring business to and I can also ask them specific questions when dealing with a client’s issue.

Announcing your new venture is a great way to let people know that you have started something on your own. Preferring the personal touch, I called people I knew well and left the business relationships to emails and letters. Committing to calling a few people every day was a good goal for me. As I spoke to them, I asked for referrals. Word of mouth really is the best way to reach new clients and a vote of confidence!

This year, I started personal and business Facebook pages, and my website is up and running. I hope to blog about topics that I think are most relevant to my clientele.

I spent the last 10 years safely and quietly doing my job under the bank’s image. At times, I felt I didn’t speak up or show up. Now, I am marketing myself. It is time for me to shine my light and be the person I was meant to be.

With a client

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?  

Absolutely! Fear of failure is HUGE for me. If I fail, everyone will know. If that’s the worst thing that happens, then I guess I’ll just have to see what happens! Many years ago, when my boss told me I needed to entertain clients over lunch, I wondered how I could do it so I read Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers. It’s a great book that encourages you to push through the fear.

My husband has been very encouraging when I get down. I know that my late parents are looking down at me and are there to nudge me in the right direction too! Also, I feel liberated by this experience so I know I can keep going. I have no regrets.

 

What did you learn about yourself through this process?

I am a lot stronger than I give myself credit for. I have been given a lot in my life as well as a lot of adversity—suicide, three bank robberies in 8 years, and divorce. Those close to me would say I am resilient and courageous. Anything that I have taken a risk on has been greatly rewarded. One of my mantras is: No risk. No reward. Finally, I learned to trust myself. It was a huge epiphany when I realized that I was doing things to please others, and now I can trust myself with the decisions I am making at 50!

 

Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?

Yes, I probably would have taken more time off just being, and probably travelled more during the hiatus. My husband and I love to travel and explore. And, self-care has been something I have had to learn. There were no role models for me to follow. I look for opportunities to recharge and care for myself when days don’t go well or people don’t behave the way I hoped.

 

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?

Don’t let your age or fear hold you back and keep you from doing something different. Even it you aren’t ready to change your job, make a plan to try one new thing a day, whether it’s driving to work a different way or sampling a new food. Get out of your comfort zone. That’s when we grow!

Since I have been gone, people I know ask me “How’s retirement?” to which I respond, “I’m not retired, just reinventing myself.” Don’t let other people’s comments on what they think you should do affect what you know about yourself. Find new people who will support, encourage, and believe in you. Leave the critics and jealous people behind. They are wasting your time and energy.

Hatha Yoga at The Yoga Studio

 

What advice do you have for those interested in becoming daily money managers?

I know several people, men and women, who would be excellent daily money managers. They are kind, patient, good with numbers, manage their own family member’s finances and home, and have integrity. It is a great job for people who want flexibility and variety. You can work for yourself, have a partner, or form a team, depending upon how big you want to grow. Finding the right people in other professions to refer clients back and forth helps. Determine who the people are who are like you and if you would like the type of people they have as clients. You can partner with them on presentations too.

Self-employment isn’t for everyone. It’s challenging and rewarding. It takes patience, perseverance, goal setting and a vision for how you see your life and time evolve. It takes setting healthy boundaries.

 

Favorite books

 

What resources do you recommend?

When I started researching this field, I came across AADMM, American Association of Daily Money Managers. They have a mentor resource and can answer any questions you may have regarding starting a similar business. Every month, we have a virtual call with other daily money managers to bounce ideas off each other and see what works for others in the field.

I have a life coach, Julia Mattern, who has been instrumental in my growth. She works with the entire person, not just the one who is trying to figure out a new career. I have learned a lot about myself.

I recommend the following books:

The Introvert Entrepreneur: Amplify Your Strengths and Create Success on Your Own Terms by Beth Buelow

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life Jen Sincero

50 Things to Do When You Turn 50: 50 Experts on the Subject of Turning 50 Ronnie Sellers

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes

The Richest Man in Babylon: Now Revised and Updated for the 21st Century – Common by George Samuel Clason

It’s Not About the Money by Brent Kessel

The Real-Life MBA: Your No-BS Guide to Winning the Game, Building a Team, and Growing Your Career by Jack Welch & Suzy Welch

The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom: Practical and Spiritual Steps So You Can Stop Worrying Suze Orman

With Paul, in Rome

 

What’s next for you?

I definitely have another next act in my future and would like to think that this is the beginning of a new chapter for me—that this is the stepping off point for other opportunities. I would like to consider teaching, speaking, and other entrepreneurial opportunities. Certainly, there’s a need to teach financial literacy in schools. Who says you have to do the same thing for the rest of your life unless you love it?  Life is short, and I am seeing that there is more to life!

 

Contact Susan St Angelo at susan@mytrustedpartnerllc.com

Website

LinkedIn               

Facebook Page         

 




Let’s Hear From an Expert: Beverly Jones, Author of Think Like an Entrepreneur, Act Like a CEO

Through your company, Clearways Consulting, LLC, you provide executive coaching and workshops to support professionals facing challenges and transitions. What challenges and opportunities do you see for midlife career transitions?

Change – sometimes dramatic change – is inevitable in today’s careers. In my book, I discuss how the idea of spending your entire work life doing the same kind of things now seems quaint. Today, it’s normal for careers to flow through many phases, involving varied skill sets.

The inevitability of change can feel daunting, but the new environment brings good news as well. You can take charge of your career, much like an entrepreneur. You can learn survival skills, experiment with options, and know that there is always room for fresh starts, whatever your age.

Tell us more about how your book, Think Like an Entrepreneur, Act Like a CEO, and why it might be of interest to women in midlife or older. 

The book is written as a practical guide for being more nimble at work. It’s intended to help you become more adroit and adaptable, better able to handle common predicaments and to capture opportunities, one by one. It explains how one key to resilience is mastering your own go-to system for getting started when it’s time to make a career shift.

 

What is your best advice for women in midlife who are seeking to make a career change?

Think about how you want your life to look in the future. Then create categories of action items with the potential to gradually transform your career to something that better supports your ideal vision. For each category, start methodically taking tiny steps.

 

Can you give us an example of someone whose midlife transition you helped navigate?

Generally my client conversations are confidential, and I can’t talk about them. However, I recruited a wonderful client, Nancy Augustine, who was willing to have NPR reporter Barbara Bradley Hagerty tape a series of coaching sessions over eight months. Barbara documented Nancy’s transition as she finished her term as a university visiting professor and launched her consulting activity. You can hear about Nancy’s change process in an NPR segment and read about it in Barbara’s great book, Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife.

In her book, Barb observed that Nancy’s transition occurred through a series of small shifts: “I think this is how Nancy and Bev charted Nancy’s future. No dramatic swings…she is just making tiny adjustments within the areas she excels at and loves… and bit by bit she nears her mark.”

 

What are your favorite resources you send your clients to?

I frequently recommend the work of Kerry Hannon, including my favorite of her books, Love Your Job: The New Rules for Career Happiness, and her website.

And I’ve found AARP.org to be full of excellent resources.

 

Contact Beverly Jones at beverlyejones@mindspring.com

Clearways Consulting, LLC

Think Like an Entrepreneur, Act Like a CEO: 50 Indispensable Tips to Help You Stay Afloat, Bounce Back, and Get Ahead at Work

Facebook Page

LinkedIn

Twitter: @beverlyejones

 

Beverly Jones, author of Think Like an Entrepreneur, Act Like a CEO: 50 Indispensable Tips to Help You Stay Afloat, Bounce Back, and Get Ahead at Work, is a model of career resilience and reinvention. She started out as a public radio/TV writer, next created and led university programs for women, and then trail-blazed her career as a female Washington law firm partner and Fortune 500 energy executive. Throughout her varied work life she has mentored other professionals to grow and thrive.

Since 2002, Bev has flourished as an executive coach and leadership consultant, helping professionals of all ages to advance their careers, shift directions, and become more productive. Based in the nation’s capital, she works with clients spread across the country, including senior attorneys and accomplished leaders at major federal agencies, Congress, NGOs, universities and companies of all sizes.  

Bev is a popular speaker and facilitator, she creates workshops and other events around the needs of her clients, and her blogs and podcasts are found at www.clearwaysconsulting.com and media sites such as WOUB.org.




Launching a Business to Teach People Digital Skills: Jessica’s Story

Being laid off after 28 years and some self-development classes led Jessica to discover her talent for coaching others to learn Microsoft Office programs like Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. She recently started her own company, Alt-Enter, where she trains adults in those and other digital skills. 

 

Tell us a little about your background.

I grew up overseas, in Africa to be precise. My father was initially in the Foreign Service and then in private business. We lived in Sierra Leone, Zaire (now the Congo), and then back in Sierra Leone. I came to the US for boarding school in 7th grade, enrolled at the University of Chicago for college, and have stayed in Chicago ever since. I made the typical trek north: from Hyde Park (where the University is), to Rogers Park (the northernmost neighborhood in Chicago), and finally to Evanston, the first suburb north of Chicago. I have lived in Evanston for over 20 years.

Age 4

Both my parents and my two brothers (and their families) live on the East Coast, so I don’t see them as much as I would like. Frankly, I envy families who have stayed in the same geographical area.

I worked for Unilever, a global consumer products company, for 28 years, which was a wonderful experience. I was a Facilities Manager, then transitioned to a consulting role after a layoff. I loved almost every minute of my employment in Corporate America. I was good at the office politics and the complex processes and procedures.

I have been married over 30 years (to a wonderful man I met as a sophomore at the University of Chicago), and I have a 25-year-old daughter. She lives in Evanston as well, with a wonderful young man, so we see her at least once a week, which is great. I have two terriers that keep me very busy with the required amount of dog walking! Good thing I have an enormous amount of energy.

Our family at the State Fair when our daughter was little

 

When did you start to think about making a change in midlife?

When I was laid off from Unilever, I realized that I had let some of my technical skills atrophy. I had gotten too “comfortable.” I embarked on a self-study program for Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. As I got better, I started answering questions at my local public library, where I volunteered. At some point, the Branch Manager at the Evanston Public Library and I decided to hold a “Tips and Tricks” program on MS Office. This was very successful, and we started refining the model (how long each program was, how often it was offered, the agenda for each program). Eventually, the main branch of the library became interested in the programs, and we launched a larger, more formal program there, teaching MS Word, Excel, and PowerPoint in multi-week series. All of these programs were free and I was conducting them on a pro-bono basis.

It was around this time that I started to think about starting my own company, but I was still very happy working as a contractor for Unilever. I did decide on a name, in case I ever were to start my own company.

Working in Bangalore, India while at Unilever

In April of 2015, Unilever decided to “insource” my role to the U.K. A wonderfully capable young woman was hired, and I had the task of “handing over” my knowledge, processes, and historical materials over to the team in the UK. This was a bittersweet experience, made easier by the fact that they were sorry to see me leave, and I genuinely wanted them to succeed without me. Also, I once had a boss who instilled in me the importance of being as good on the last day of the job as on the first day. This admonition has stayed with me, and informed my leave taking. And I am pleased to say that they didn’t have a question about anything until nine months into 2016!

I started looking for a new job in mid-2015, but noticed that my heart really was not in it. I wanted to decide my own priorities, and be valued because of my gray hair, not despite it. In mid March 2016, I made the decision to start my own company, using the name I had selected several years earlier.

Teaching Microsoft Word at the Evanston Public Library (photo credit: Lynn Troutmann)

 

What is your next act?

I am the founder of Alt-Enter, which I launched in July 2016 at the age of 53. As I mentioned above, I had already picked out the name several years earlier. It comes from the keystroke used to force a line break in an Excel cell. I chose it because of an experience I had when teaching a seasoned Excel user. I was showing her some very advanced things in Excel, like pivot tables, and then I used ALT-Enter. Her face lit up, and she was so excited. It turns out that this keystroke combination solved a problem she had been struggling with for a while.

My business is teaching people digital skills, focused primarily on Microsoft Office products (Excel, Word, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Outlook). I teach adults who want to improve their digital skills for various reasons:

1) Perform job-related tasks more efficiently and more effectively

2) Gain skills necessary to get a new job

3) Participate in hobbies such as photo organizing

4) Share files and communicate with friends and family

I provide individual coaching and group classes. I try to match the format with the needs of the student.

What I love about this business is seeing the look on people’s face when they realize that they “get it”—they understand something that they didn’t think they could. I strongly believe that everyone can learn to use these and similar programs (such as Google Apps). I do not believe that these skills are the province of the young. In fact, I believe just the opposite: the more you have learned in your life, the easier it is to learn something new.

Teaching “Scary Functions” on Halloween

 

Why did you choose this next act?  

I never had a burning desire to be an entrepreneur. As I mentioned, I was very happy working in a large corporation—I thrived on navigating the size, bureaucracy, complexity and politics.

However, at this time in my life, I did not want to start over. I know that there exists a cult of youth in many large organizations, who prefer to hire young graduates and train them. I didn’t want to fight the uphill battle to prove that my experience was valuable, not a handicap.

I had been turning this option over in my mind for several years, so when the time came, going in this direction felt natural.

 

How hard was it to take the plunge?

It wasn’t hard to take the plunge at all. However, I will say that at various points over this past summer I have realized that every step I take forward locks me into this path a little more. That realization stops me in my tracks (mentally) every time I have it. But then I just shake it off and keep going.

I did several things to prepare to be a successful small business owner:

I took a 12-week class on starting a small business (see Resources below). I cannot stress enough how important it is to educate yourself on the ins-and-outs of owning a small business. Just because you are good at what you do does not mean you will be good at running a small business.

I obtained certification from Microsoft in the Office programs, and joined the Microsoft Certified Trainer program. Membership in this program has given me access to a network of fellow trainers, small business owners, experts, and content. If you are planning to position yourself as an expert in something, find the other experts and join their organization. Expertise is not a zero-sum game; they can be an expert, and so can you!

I became certified in QuickBooks Online, because I knew that I would be using this software to manage my business’ finances, and could also develop this as a line of revenue.

I sent an email out to friends and family, notifying them of my intention to start my own business. Taking this step helped me state what my business goals were and why I wanted to do this. I remember hitting “send” on the email and thinking, “Well, that makes it final!” It was a way of drawing a line in the sand for myself.

 

Graduating from the Sunshine Enterprises Program

 

How supportive were your family and friends?

My friends and family were very supportive. While I always accept the possibility that I can fail, my support network has unflaggingly bolstered me. I don’t always agree with their very optimistic view of my business, but it is nice to hear it nonetheless.

While support is always welcomed, I have valued even more the constructive critiques offered by some. I have one friend who was brave enough to offer real criticism of my business card. She told me that she didn’t know what I was selling with the card that I had. (Keep in mind that I had already spent a lot of money on the card, and was proud of it.) But she was absolutely right. She and I re-designed the card, completely, and I couldn’t be more grateful to her.

My old business card

My new business card

 

 

 

What challenges did you encounter?

For me, the biggest challenge is patience. My business is essentially a word-of-mouth referral model, and it will take time to develop the referral network. During this time, I have to keep trying as many different advertising and marketing tools as possible. For example, I recently created a Facebook ad, spent $50 and got one hit. So now I have to figure out if the ad itself was ineffective, if the program was not interesting, or if I targeted the wrong audience.

This leads me to the second biggest challenge. As a small business owner, you have to be everything: worker bee, bean counter, cheerleader and janitor. There never seems to be a time when you are in a comfort zone. Because I am in Technology, I have to spend at least one hour a day on Research and Development. I love learning something new, but learning something every day can get a little tiring.

Finally, everything I do needs to be an example of my capabilities. If I send out a proposal, it needs to be a perfect document. If I post on LinkedIn, it needs to be something fresh and on-point about technology. These are high bars to clear on a regular basis.

And sometimes I don’t clear them. I still need to refine my website, based on recent constructive critiques. This is after re-designing it completely, based on another constructive critique. I am sure this will continue as I grow and my business grows. Be open to helpful critiques; they will help you far more than empty praise.

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?  

No, I haven’t thought about giving up. I know that the alternative (going back into a corporate role) would present its own challenges. I realized a couple of years ago that there is no “grass that is greener.” There are challenges and hurdles with starting a business, but there would be with anything I do. I have chosen this path, and I am focusing on being present in it.

Pepper

Jengy

What did you learn about yourself through this process?

I realized that in my midlife I have a much higher tolerance for failure and risk than I had when I was younger. In the process of passing some of the expert level exams for certification, I failed several times. Instead of hanging my head, I promptly scheduled my next test. I think that once you have reached middle age, you understand that failure is a label that has no real meaning unless you give it one.

My tolerance for risk has also grown, because I understand now that if I put in hard work, get the right training/education, and network like heck, I am likely to succeed. Maybe not immediately (almost certainly not immediately!), but eventually. Luck does play a role in all of our lives, but I firmly believe that we also play a hand in making luck.

 

Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?

I think I would have started developing my clientele before leaving Unilever. I had the opportunity to do this, but just wasn’t sure that opening my own business was what I wanted to do.

My family now

 

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?

There is a notion in the U.S. that if you are “following your dream,” you will be happy from thenceforth. That’s not true. Following your path will involve disappointments, triumphs and lots of humdrum activity. Make sure that the path you are choosing is something that you will enjoy during the valleys and the ordinary everyday.

Make sure you are comfortable selling your services. I knew I was in the right business when I realized that I could speak comfortably about how good I was at training (and not feel like I was bragging). Creating your brand is a critical part of starting a new business, and you will spend a lot of time in the first year doing just that. You have to deeply believe that you are good at what you do and that you should be paid to do it!

Be prepared to work hard and feel uncomfortable. Making your living doing something new is scary! It will be a while before you have a reliable income stream (probably), and a while before tasks become easy. In the meantime, make sure you have some restful hobbies (I knit a lot), and exercise every day.

At “Open House Chicago” with friends

 

What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing your career/reinvention path?

If you are interested in being technical trainer (of any kind), there are lots of avenues available. Most large tech companies (Microsoft, Google, Facebook, QuickBooks) offer certification options. These are great ways to show that you do indeed know the product.

Once you have obtained certification, most tech companies have great communities you can join. I am a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT), and the MCT community is warm, welcoming, and helpful.

Next, get experience teaching. I started by volunteering my services for my library, and I learned a lot teaching a variety of classes over several years. Do not expect that if you are good at the technology you will also enjoy teaching. They are two different skill sets, and to be an effective trainer, you have to like both.

Show up! Go to every networking opportunity, speak to everyone, haunt blogs and websites, comment on other people’s articles and posts. Apply for any opportunity that you are qualified for, even if it is a stretch. I recently got to serve as an Ambassador at Microsoft Ignite (the annual MS show) because, on a lark, I submitted an application. I did not think I would be picked, but I was. Attending Ignite was a great experience. I met lots of great people, found out about a lot of resources I had no idea about, and won a $3200 computer. Should I say it again? Show up!

  

My home office

 

What resources do you recommend?

First and foremost, if you are starting a small business, take a small business class. In Chicago, Sunshine Enterprises offers a 12-week class called the Community Business Academy.  Another great resource is the Women’s Business Development Center. I am sure that there are similar resources wherever you are in the country. Look around. I can’t stress enough that even if you are great at what you do, running a small business is a different skill set, and you need to train for it!

Perfect a three-minute pitch and your presentation skills. When you reinvent yourself, you have to pitch yourself and your skills all the time. One book I loved for learning about presentations is Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds. He also has a website packed with tips on how to hone your message and be clear on what your offering is.

Sign up for this blog, Next Act for Women, and read it every time it comes out. I reached out to one of the women interviewed, Sharon Danzger, and she was welcoming and helpful. She is the one who critiqued my original website. Because of her kind prompting, I re-designed the site completely, and it is much better. (It still needs more work, but the time she generously spent giving me specific on-point feedback really helped me!). Check out her website. She has great material there.

Also because of Next Act, I reconnected with another woman, Rebecca Berneck, who runs a business called Officeheads. She and I had met over five years ago, but there wasn’t any real synergy for us at that point in time. When I saw her featured in Next Act For Women, I reached out, we talked, and we are now brainstorming partnership opportunities.

Join your local Chamber of Commerce. You may get business directly from that organization but, more importantly, you will meet other people engaged in this same effort. I met a wonderful woman, Cindy Levitt, who runs an organizing business, Peace by Piece. Cindy was very encouraging, and graciously allowed me to riff on her business name to create my tagline: Building digital skills, bit by byte. Leverage the contacts you can make at the Chamber, but remember, help your contacts first before you ask for anything from them.

If you are comfortable speaking in public, do so. If you are not comfortable, get comfortable! Sign up for the SpeakNet group on Slack. This group is focused on technical presentations, but I am sure there are similar resources out there for non-technical speakers. And don’t be afraid to set a stretch goal. Sign up to be a speaker on something that you are comfortable with, then use the deadline of the engagement to make yourself an expert!

Below is a sample list of resources that I use to regularly improve my knowledge and skills in Microsoft and other tech products.

Public library

Your local public library (or one in the surrounding area) is a great source for books and classes. I teach beginner all the way to advanced classes in Excel, Powerpoint, and Word, at my local public library, all of which are free. Public libraries also have access to great sites for basic digital literacy, and of course, books! Most libraries focus their collection on beginner book series (such as the “For Dummies”) but check out your library’s entire collection.

Amazon

While I generally like to buy books from independent local bookstores, the only exception I make is computer manuals, which I buy on Amazon. I personally like the Inside Out computer book series but there are many options. If you can, check out a sample of the series you want to buy first, to make sure it has the right style for you.

They are all priced between $25-$40. All of these manuals come with sample datasets with which you can replicate their exercises.

SafariBooksOnline

I love this site. Of all the resources I listed here, this is by far my favorite. It is a subscription-based model, but if you like learning from books (and some videos), it is worth it. The breadth of its collection is amazing. Simply search on “Excel” and you will find over 150 videos and 700 books. This is well worth your investment if you are in “learning mode.”

Lynda.com

Lynda is a part of LinkedIn, which is now owned by Microsoft. You can expect that this site will start featuring more and more Microsoft material. However, there is already plenty of material on MS Office on the site. Simply enter the name of the program in the Search box, and you will see numerous videos at multiple levels. These are packaged in short videos, with an accompanying transcript.

Lynda is a paid service that costs $25/month or $240/year for the basic membership. To have access to the sample datasets used by the instructor, you have to pay more (although some instructors will provide them gratis). You can follow along using your own dataset. There is a free trial option that lasts 10 days.

Also, check with your public library. I know that my library provides access to Lynda using your library card.

PluralSight

PluralSight is a competitor site to Lynda. It costs $30/month, and I think it is more technically oriented than Lynda.com. With a free trial you could take a few of their online courses during that time.

YouTube

YouTube has a wide variety of content, from basic to advanced. Because that content is not curated, I use it on a spot basis, if there is a particular skill I want to know how to perform. There are excellent resources on it, such as the channel ExcelIsFun (for Excel).

Blogs

A Google search will yield hundreds of blogs. Because these are not focused on linear learning, I wouldn’t make the blogs your first stop. But they can be useful on occasion. Here is a list of some that I like:

https://blogs.office.com/excel/

http://chandoo.org/

http://datapigtechnologies.com/blog/

http://www.clearlyandsimply.com/

http://www.contextures.com/

http://www.mrexcel.com/

Google with search terms like “MS Office,” “MS Word,” “Presentation,” and you will find a huge variety of content.

Don’t forget to check out my Bit by Byte Blog. I cover a lot of ground, but most of it relates directly to technology such as MS Office applications.

Community Colleges

If you want to take a deep dive into Excel, you can see if your local community college offers a class. Oakton Community College offers two Excel classes, which are multi-week classes at specific times of day.

 

Contact Jessica Jolly at Jessica.Jolly@AltEnterTraining.com

Website

Connect with me on Facebook (find out more about my classes and events)

Find me on LinkedIn

Follow me on Twitter: @JBJ2110




Helping dogs with water therapy: Laurie’s Story

With Gunny

After a demanding legal career, Laurie followed her heart to open a business offering healing water therapy for elderly and ailing dogs. She’d go on to write a memoir of her adventures with her beloved dog Gunny.

 

Tell us a little about your background…

I grew up in Port Arthur, TX, which is a small town on the Gulf of Mexico near the Louisiana border. I have a brother and a sister. We raised horses when I was young, and I showed my horse competitively until I was about 13. The first time my parents let me out of the yard, I came home with a puppy from the neighbor’s house, who I named Bandit. My current immediate family consists of me and my husband, Juan Carlos Duperier, and our chocolate Labrador retriever Dino.

I went to college in San Angelo, TX at Angelo State University and received a BA in French and English. I then completed a joint degree in law and a Masters in Foreign Service (JD/MSFS) at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, in 1990.

I started practicing law when I graduated from law school, and began my career in Los Angeles, CA for a big New York law firm (Shearman & Sterling) in the litigation department. I wanted to leave DC, because, honestly, there were just too many lawyers and it seemed that everyone I met and spoke to was a lawyer and wanted to talk about their work more than anything else. (In LA, everyone wants to talk about the entertainment industry, but that was more interesting for me because it was not an industry that I was working in.)

When I lived in LA, I spent most of my free time with my cousin Brian, who is like a brother to me. We decided to go to Madrid, Spain one winter on a “two for one” special with American Airlines, and that turned out to be a life-changing trip. A couple of days after we arrived in Madrid, we went to a little tavern near the Plaza Mayor called the Meson de la Guitara, hoping to hear some Spanish guitar music. Sitting at the bar that night, clapping to the Flamenco music, was Juan Carlos, who later became my husband. We struck up a conversation with him and ended up spending a lot of our vacation time with him. This was 1995, not long after Terry McMillan published her book How Stella Got Her Groove Back about falling in love with a guy in Jamaica when she was on vacation. When I returned home, I got teased a lot about how I got my groove back in Spain! Juan Carlos and I literally mailed letters back and forth for over a year, talked on the phone, and saw each other every 3 or 4 months, at which point I decided to move back to Washington, DC because it was a much shorter trip to/from Spain. Two years later, in 1997, he moved to the United States and we married.

 

We had discussed what to do about wedding presents, and decided that his present to me would be a puppy. I had not had a dog since college because my long work hours just didn’t permit me to care for another being, so I was pretty excited about the thought of a puppy. We agreed we would get a chocolate Labrador retriever, and he went alone to the breeder to pick out our dog. Although we did not know it at the time, he found my long lost soul mate for me—Gunny—and nothing was ever the same again.

After about five years in Los Angeles, I decided to move back to Washington, DC. By then, I was working for a Washington, DC based law firm (Arnold & Porter) in their Los Angeles office, so it was relatively easy to transfer to their DC office.  Eventually, I became an in-house lawyer at The Philip Morris Companies, now known as Altria. I was posted to Hong Kong, then Lausanne, Switzerland, to the headquarters of Philip Morris International, where I became Vice President of Compliance Systems, overseeing world-wide compliance for the company.

In 1995, I came back to Washington, DC to work for Altria as Vice President and Associate General Counsel, supporting the government affairs, trademark, and corporate affairs groups. I did a variety of things in my legal career—litigation, regulation, corporate affairs support, and compliance—and it was all interesting.

In total, I practiced law for 18 years, most of it quite happily. My work was challenging and I worked with incredibly smart and talented people throughout. But, as often happens, the further up the ladder you go, the further away you get from doing what you were trained to do (and love to do)—and the more time you spend on HR issues, conflict resolution, internal politics, and managing lots of people. Those aspects of the job I found draining and much less rewarding.

Living in Switzerland

 

When did you start to think about making a change?

I had a low level of dissatisfaction for a couple of years, whereas previously I really had loved my jobs and the people that I worked with. I was losing my passion for what I did, but I didn’t know what else I wanted to do or could do—and what I was doing was quite lucrative and made for an easy life financially. So, while I thought about quitting and doing something else, I also told myself that I could keep doing what I was doing for a while longer and figure it out later. After all, I was in my mid-40s and had a lot of life left ahead of me.

And I thought that by sticking it out for several more years, I would be more financially settled and better able to transition to whatever the next something was going to be. That said, the phrase that was always humming in my head was, “How long am I going to wait to start living my life?” I worked incredibly long hours, traveled frequently, and didn’t feel that I had much of a life outside my job.

Then, a really crazy thing happened. I was laying in my hammock in the back yard reading the Sunday Washington Post when the base of the hammock suddenly broke and the giant 4×6 piece of wood from which the hammock hung catapulted into my head. It knocked me unconscious and tore a big gash in my forehead, barely missing my eye and resulting in extensive stitches. Luckily, there was no concussion or bleeding on the brain, proof of just how hard my head is!

But for a couple of inches, I could have lost my life rather than have a scar on my forehead, and that is when I decided that the answer to my question about how long I was going to wait to start living my life was “not long”. I couldn’t wait to start living my life because, as I was reminded so jarringly on a regular Sunday afternoon, none of us knows how long our life will be. So, it was time to get moving and figure out what to do.

Lucky for me, my chocolate Labrador retriever, Gunny, had been working on a plan for me, and he led me to my next act.

What is your next act?

I own Gunny’s Rainbow, LLC, a warm water swimming pool for dogs. I focus mainly on rehabilitating geriatric dogs suffering from arthritis and dogs recovering from various orthopedic surgeries. I also am a Reiki master and incorporate that healing energy into my practice with many of the dogs.

The first thing I did after I quit my job in 2008, at 44 years old, was sell my house, buy a new house about a mile away from my perfectly good house in Bethesda, MD right outside Washington, DC, and build an indoor swimming pool to open Gunny’s Rainbow. Gunny was my heart dog, my soul mate, and the guiding light of my life. He needed a lot of physical therapy, including swimming, in order to maintain his mobility and his quality of life, so from his need sprung the idea for the next chapter in my life: I was going to build and run a dog swimming pool. Gunny knew that I needed a change from my legal career, and I think he knew that I could care for other dogs with the same compassion and love that I cared for him. He knew that I would do anything to help him, and if that meant that I needed to stop practicing law and build a pool for him and other old dogs, then that was what I was going to do.

There are many things to love about working with dogs all day, especially geriatric dogs. For starters, they are always honest and most always very kind. They take their aging in stride, much more so than people do, despite often suffering greatly from arthritis and other degenerative diseases in their later years. So, they are incredibly happy and grateful to have the chance to swim and float in warm water, which enables them to move without pain. It also helps to ease their pain as the warm water soothes their joints and allows them to float, weightless for a time, in the water.

What I love most about swimming with old dogs is the relationship of trust that develops between us, and knowing that I have brought comfort to them in their last years. By helping the dogs, I am also helping their people who so often feel helpless in the face of their dog’s physical decline. As one client said to me, “swimming at Gunny’s Rainbow makes an old dog feel young again.” And often, it really does!

Gunny lived for several years after I built the pool, and he was really happy that the other dogs had a place to swim and heal, although as it turns out, he had zero interest in swimming. Too bad! After getting me to quit my job, buy a house, and build a pool, he swam twice a week whether he liked it or not! It really was an important part of maintaining his quality of life. Unfortunately, he continued to fight various diseases along with his orthopedic problems, and when he turned 14, we knew there was not a lot of time left.

Gunny at the pool

 

You have gone on to write a book. How did this come about?

As Gunny’s health declined, and our inevitable parting loomed, another evolution began to materialize. We were two souls that had become one: I no longer knew where I ended and where he began. Soul mates. And for years, people who knew of our crazy adventures around the world and all of the life-or-death moments we experienced, had said to me, “You should write a book!”

I thought that WE should write a book. So I asked a friend who was an animal communicator to interview Gunny on about 20 topics or so, and over the course of about six months, she did. I incorporated the thoughts and feelings that he expressed into our memoir, The Endless Path: A Memoir. It is a story about love, loss, courage, and what it means to walk through life with a soul mate that you have known over lifetimes.

In many ways, publishing the book was actually much more difficult for me than opening the pool. I found it terrifying to share my intimate thoughts and feelings publicly, and I was concerned that people would think that I had totally lost my mind. As if opening a dog pool wasn’t enough, now I was publishing a book sharing my innermost thoughts and feelings about my dog, our immeasurable love for each other, and worst of all, the depth of my grief when he died. It was truly unnerving. But I promised him before he died that I would tell our story, so there was never any question that I had to see it through. And I did. The Endless Path: A Memoir was published in September 2015.

Much to my delight, I have had nothing but lovely reviews and messages from people about the book. Many people have taken the time to review it on Amazon—all 5-star reviews so far. Other people have reached out to me to tell me what the book meant to them and how they completely understand loving a dog so much; they shared with me the depth of their grief when they lost their heart dog. It turns out a lot of the world feels the same way I did. Like me, they just never felt comfortable talking to people about it because it didn’t seem “normal.” Several of my clients at Gunny’s Rainbow are therapists and they recommend the book to their clients who lose a companion. I did not set out to write a self-help book. Gunny and I just wanted to tell our story. But we are certainly happy if in fact our book—and me “going public with my crazy” as I call it—gives others comfort.

 

Why did you choose this next act

I really never considered doing anything other than opening Gunny’s Rainbow when I quit my corporate legal job. I was motivated by love for Gunny and wanting to help him and other dogs, and it coincided with my need to find a new career path for myself.

Early on, I toyed with the idea of maybe looking for a position on a Board of Directors for a company to earn some money and keep one toe in the legal/corporate world, but I quickly became immersed (pun intended) in doing water therapy and the two things did not seem compatible. One reason I say that is because I went from a job where I de facto put on body armor every day to withstand the conflicts and ordeals of corporate life, to a job with dogs where I really was able to work with an open heart and total vulnerability. A dog is not going to hurt you emotionally. Pretty much ever. And there are no hidden agendas and politics to manage. So, I felt like it would be Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde to try to do both well and I preferred to just be one person—the nice, open-hearted one.

Because I was totally “done” with practicing law, I have not missed it at all. I loved it almost all the years that I did it, but I did not want to do it anymore. So in that sense, it was not hard to quit. Financially it was very scary, however. I had always drawn a paycheck every two weeks, had paid vacations, and had good health insurance. Those days were over the moment that I quit my job. Under the best of circumstances, working in the pool I would be able to make no more than 1/10th the amount I had made as a lawyer, and likely a lot less. Plus I had the added expenses of building and running the pool. So, while I had enough savings to ride it out for a while, it was a plunge into the unknown in terms of financial security.

I wish that I could say I did a lot of thoughtful preparation, but I didn’t. I looked at the numbers to see how long I could last running the pool in the best and worst cases, and then I just did it. Because I was motivated by love and a deep desire to make this change, I did not do a lot of the financial due diligence that one frankly should do. I did take classes on how to swim/rehabilitate dogs, so I made sure that I knew what I was doing in my new chosen profession, even if I did not exercise as much financial diligence as I should have. The reality is that I was going to open the pool and give it a shot even it did not work financially in the long run.

 

 

How supportive were your family and friends?

It was a mixed bag. I think most everyone understood my desire to quit my job—they knew that I had worked awfully hard for almost two decades and how little free time I had in my life to do fun things. It was a great run, but it came at a cost to my personal life.

However, quitting a high profile lucrative job to open a dog pool was a bridge too far for many of them. Had I quit to do consulting, or work in a law firm, or practice law and use my degree in some way, I think it would have been more understandable for them. For starters, swimming dogs is not really a “profession” in anyone’s mind. Second, it is not anything that I had any background or training in, so it just seemed weird to people. Third, and very importantly, they did not see how I was going to ever have a client or make a living since most of them had never heard of a dog therapy pool.

In a nutshell, I don’t think anyone was against me quitting, they were just baffled by what I was going to do in my “new life.” They saw, I think, little chance of success. And for many, they also saw little value in it. That always amused me because why would I have more value to society as a tobacco lawyer than as a dog water therapist?

My husband was supportive of me quitting my job and opening the pool, even though it meant big changes to our lifestyle because I had been the main breadwinner in our family. We did not have a safety net other than our savings. No wealthy family members and no lottery winnings! No one knew better than Juan Carlos how stressed out I was, and I was often in a really bad mood. I worked late every night and many weekends, and was exhausted a lot of the time. That said, we had a nice standard of living and took great vacations and had all that we needed. They say that once you have enough money to cover the essentials in life of food and shelter, having more money does not correlate to happiness and I think my experience proves that rule. I did not need more stuff. I needed to be happy and have time to enjoy my life. The Spanish are expert at enjoying life so that was a concept that Juan Carlos was 100% in agreement with!

 

With Juan Carlos and Gunny

 

What challenges did you encounter?

Regarding the dog pool, the first challenge was actually constructing the pool room and getting all the equipment that I needed. It was also a huge challenge to run the business out of my home because of all the regulations on home businesses where I live.

Once I tackled all of that, the next challenge was to get clients and build a business. Serendipity found me when the first person who called to bring her dog to swim happened to be a website designer and she wanted to barter swims for website design! It was perfect because a real client, who really knew what I did, designed my website. I hoped that “build it and they will come” would be enough, and in a way, it was. Clients found me on an Internet search, and I really have not had to do any paid advertising at all. That website, a good reputation, and word of mouth have kept the pool full of clients for 7½ years now.

The third challenge was a physical one. It is very difficult to lift 80 to 120 pound dogs in and out of the pool, and tough to be submerged in water for 5 hours a day. I had sat at a desk for most of my life, and this was physically demanding work even if it was not mentally demanding the way my legal job had been.

 

We had to expand our home to build the pool

Lastly, there was a huge emotional challenge that I had not really properly anticipated—dealing with loss and grief. In many ways, what I am doing is hospice work. I am absolutely improving the quality of the life of the elderly dogs and their people, and bringing them joy and relief from pain, but the personal loss that I suffer with so many of them dying has been emotionally very difficult.

Regarding writing and publishing The Endless Path: A Memoir, there were innumerable obstacles.

The first obstacle was having the time to really concentrate on writing while running the pool. I had the person who was working with me work an extra day of the week so I could have that time to write. It is very difficult to write a memoir for half a day and then go socialize and swim dogs in the other half.

Book signing

Secondly, it was very challenging to confront all of the emotions that came up writing the book. The writing itself was not difficult—I had been writing my whole life, albeit in the legal world—but I am a natural writer so it comes easy for me. Gunny and I had made a promise that we were going to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, regardless of whether it reflected poorly on one or both of us, and some of those truths were hard to tell.

Third, I had to decide between self-publishing and trying to get an agent/publisher. I made a small attempt to find representation and ultimately decided that I would rather have complete control over how our story was presented, so I went the self-publishing route.

Lastly, the skills and tasks involved in actually publishing the book and marketing it are things that I could NOT do alone, so I hired some very competent people to help me and that is how I resolved those challenges. I found the perfect website designer to design the book’s website; found a professional proofreader; started publishing at the famous local bookstore here in Washington, DC (Politics & Prose); and, with patience, found someone to help me with a marketing plan to sell my book.

 

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?  

Although it sounds trite, failure was not an option. In terms of the dog pool, I believed that the business could work and it does. Dogs get better and live longer, people are happy, and new clients come to fill in the spots of the old dogs when they pass away. So honestly, no, I never thought about giving up. The closest I came to giving up was when the expense and stress of leaks and equipment failures overwhelmed me. Once I got those resolved, I did not look back.

In terms of writing The Endless Path, I would not say that I thought of giving up, but there were times when it was really quite emotionally difficult to keep writing. I did not really have a choice, however, because I made a promise to Gunny that I would tell the world his/our story, and I always keep my promises.

I guess through it all, the truth is that Gunny kept me going on both fronts. Both the pool and the book were his legacy and I did not want to let him down. Had I done this only for myself, I don’t know if I would have a different answer. But I wasn’t doing it just for me, so I was highly motivated to see it all through and to succeed. I was also fortunate to have a husband who really wanted me to be happy, and who was willing to make changes in his own life to help me make changes in mine.

 

 

What did you learn about yourself through this process?

I learned that there is nothing more powerful than the power of love. So now, when faced with a challenge or negativity, I throw love at it. I did not know that I was capable of loving so deeply, and did not anticipate the strength that I would find in loving and being loved with such intensity.

I also learned that I can do more than one thing in life well. We always hope that we are good at more than one thing, but now I know that I can practice law and argue with the best of them; I can run a business; I can write a book; and I also can go to the most quiet and tender part of my being and just “be” with a dog who is hurting and bring him comfort. Those are wildly different things, and I am surprised to find that I am able to do all of them pretty well. I already knew a lot about what I did not do well—such as accounting or sports, it is a long list—so it was nice to have a longer list of things that I can do. And hopefully I will discover some new things in the coming years!

 

Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?

I honestly don’t think so. I think I did what I needed to do at the time I needed to do it. I could not have written the book earlier. I could not have opened the pool later. And I could not have kept working in my lawyer role for much longer or I would have become physically ill. I feel that I listened to my heart rather than my head when there was a decision-making moment, and that my heart kept me on course.

 

 

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?

Listen to your heart/your gut/the “knowing” place inside of you. If you feel you need to make a change or you feel an internal dissonance in what you are doing and what you want to do, value that and listen to it. I am not saying that your good brain has no role to play, but I think if you try to be only logical, only rational, or listen to others, you may not end up in the best place for you. I think we all know on some level what we are here to do and it is not necessarily just one thing in our life! So let yourself realize the full expression of your unique self and don’t let others who are timid or afraid hold you back or make you doubt yourself.

I think changing what you do for a living often involves getting in touch with parts of yourself that you may not have really been well-acquainted with before the change. So it is hard—on you, your family, and your friends. And I think it always brings change to your life in a variety of aspects from your friends to your finances. But it is your life, and I think it is important not to sit back when you are old and ask “I wonder what would have happened if I had . . .?” Better to know the answer to the question, and follow your heart and your inner desire, come what may.

Book club!

 

What advice do you have for those interested in working with animals?

If you think that you want to work with animals, fantastic! But don’t think that working with animals means you avoid working with people; the people are the ones who bring you the animals, love them, and are involved in their care. So you have to interact with and love people, too. And, know that there is almost nothing that you can do in terms of working with animals that pays much money, other than being a vet. It doesn’t matter how good you are. There is a ceiling on the amount of money that you can make unless you start to franchise and expand. And then guess what? You aren’t working with animals any more, just lots and lots of employees. That is fine; but just know, that’s how it goes!

For those thinking about writing a book, I would say that you need to remember that the book process has three distinct and totally unrelated parts: writing it, publishing it, and marketing it. It requires three different skill sets and it takes a really long time. So, if you have a story to tell, tell it! Hire good people in each of those three areas to help you as necessary. And persevere in the face of a rejection.

 

 

What resources do you recommend?

With regard to running the dog pool:

La Paw Spa in Sequim, WA teaches dog water therapy to adults, most of whom are looking to change careers.

Kathleen Prasad at Animal Reiki Source is a resource for people who want to learn reiki for animals.

For certain swim equipment for the dogs: Dog Leggs, Critter’s Inflatable, Ruffwear.

With regard to writing my book:

Teresa Spencer provides a variety of services to assist authors, from ghost writing to, as in my case, helping me outline the book before starting to write it.

Jo Spring for proofreading services and other author publishing assistance.

Politics & Prose was instrumental in handholding through the publishing process.

I ultimately published with Ingram Spark. They have drawbacks, but are the biggest book distributor in the world so the book is easily available on Amazon, B&N, etc.

Leigh Kramer at Helicopter Marketing, for assistance in marketing the book.

 

 

What’s next for you?

I think my next transition is to slowly move from working with dogs in the water to writing full time. As I age, it is harder and harder to do the physical work required in the water, and it is harder and harder to deal with death on a constant basis.

Having told my story in The Endless Path: A Memoir, I would like to keep writing to tell other people’s and dogs’ stories who are unable to tell them for themselves. Everyone has a story and, to me, they are all fascinating. So, I would like to help give voice to those stories, much as you do here on your blog!

 

Contact Laurie Plessala Duperier at info@gunnysrainbow.com.

Facebook

Twitter: @lduperier

Websites: theendlesspath.com and gunnysrainbow.com

 




Let’s Hear From an Expert: Romy Newman of fairygodboss

You are the Co-Founder and President of Fairygodboss, a “community of women helping women.” Tell us more about your company.

Fairygodboss is a business with a social mission: We want to help improve the workplace for women everywhere. Our goal is to engage a conversation between women about their careers and jobs, and get candid information about the challenges that women face.

Often, we find that there is a cone of silence around the daily workplace challenges that women confront. We want to open the dialogue so women can find camaraderie in their experiences and companies can get a more accurate picture of what women experience.

 

What challenges did you see for working women, that you are seeking to address with Fairygodboss?

We hear from our users that they face challenges in terms of unequal promotion, unequal compensation, and unequal evaluation. In addition, we hear often that they face “microaggressions” (a word I’d never heard before)—meaning, the struggle with lots of small cultural and institutional slights that add up over time. We hope that by allowing women to share their experiences, they can draw strength and support from our community. And we hope that by highlighting these challenges, we will help support companies to make effective change.

 

 

 

 

What is the range of information and insight your site provides to women seeking professional positions? How do you get women to contribute?

We ask women lots of different things: We ask them to evaluate their employer and we ask them to give advice to other women. We also crowdsource data about maternity leave policies and salaries. To get women to contribute, we use a lot of social media—and we ask our users to share us with their friends. We’re so excited about how viral we’ve gone!

 

How is this information relevant to women in midlife and older?

Since starting out with Fairygodboss, we’ve come to realize that there is something that we call “The Aha Moment.” Often, younger women are not aware or subjected to gender bias in the workplace. Yet when they reach midlife, become mothers, or achieve more senior positions, suddenly their experience changes. They have a harder time getting promoted, face discrimination, and have to manage work/life balance in a different way.

Fairygodboss is a site for women at all phases in their career. But we certainly find that it’s women who’ve reached “The Aha Moment” who most often seek us out.

 

How does this work? Is this a membership program? 

Anyone can access most of the data on Fairygodboss, but we do ask users to register and leave a review before they access our user review content. There is no cost to join.

 

What resources do you recommend?

We love Ellevate. They are a great organization and they publish highly useful articles every day.

One of my favorite books is Personal History by Katharine Graham. She was such a brilliant lady who achieved so much and broke a lot of barriers. I highly recommend that every woman read it at some point in her life.

And Allyson Downey recently published a great book called Here’s the Plan.: Your Practical, Tactical Guide to Advancing Your Career During Pregnancy and Parenthood.

 

Contact us at info@fairygodboss.com

Website: www.fairygodboss.com

Facebook

Twitter: @fairygodboss

Instagram: @fairygodboss

LinkedIn

Romy Newman is president & co-founder of Fairygodboss, a business with the mission to improve the workplace for women everywhere. Previously, Romy ran digital advertising sales and operations for The Wall Street Journal, and working in marketing at Google and Estee Lauder. Romy is the proud mother of 2 children, and spends her precious spare time doing yoga and crossword puzzles. She is motivated by helping other women have the same wonderful workplace experiences she’s been lucky to have.




Let’s Hear from an Expert: Diane Flynn, ReBoot Career Accelerator

dianes-headshotWhat is the need you were trying to fill when you launched ReBoot?

When I returned to work after a 15-year pause, I felt confident about many hard and soft skills that don’t diminish over time. I had a background in management consulting and technology marketing, but I felt ill-equipped with current workplace technology skills that “passed me by” during my pause—LinkedIn, Social Media, Collaborative Tools (Google Suite), Presentation Graphics, Video Technologies (Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, WebEx) and commonly used communication software like Slack. This recognition, along with the overwhelming interest from peers in returning to work, made me think there’s an opportunity to help women interested in reentering the workforce.

 

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Tell us more about how ReBoot helps women.

ReBoot helps women become currentconnected and confident to re-start careers, start new businesses, or pursue new goals.  Accelerators offer an intensive experience to get you ready for reinvention through hands-on learning of current tech, workplace, and career skills. Club ReBoot, a monthly membership club available in cities throughout the US, offers twice monthly speakers, workshops, and networking with like-minded women.

ReBoot taps into a huge and growing pool of talent that has been largely overlooked. According to a study published by the Center for Talent Innovation in 2010, 43% of women pause their career and 90% want to opt back in. That’s 3.3mm women per year in the US alone, and all indications suggest this is an international trend. ReBoot is unique in providing 30 hours of curriculum that gets women current with today’s workplace technologies and helps them develop a growth mindset. We also provide a safe, supportive community for women.

ReBoot Career Accelerator for Women is now offered in Silicon Valley, Chicago, Seattle, and NY, with Club ReBoot programs opening in 7 cities this fall. Five hundred women have participated in our program. ReBoot was recently featured on The Today Show, WSJ, Forbes, ABC Business News, and PRI’s The TakeAway, all indications of the growing interest in tapping into this new and exciting talent pool. Key sponsors include IBM, Expedia, and Frontier Communications; training partners include Google, Apple, LinkedIn, and Enjoy.

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What unique challenges and opportunities do you see for women in midlife seeking to return to work?

The main challenge is that these women, who have so much to offer, have very low self-confidence. What they don’t realize is that their experience (whether paid or unpaid), connections, and soft skills are immensely valuable to employers. They are able to work autonomously, are energized, and know how to “get things done.” Women are often victims of the Imposter Syndrome, in which they undermine their capabilities and resist applying for jobs unless they feel 100% qualified. We encourage women to take a risk, apply for the job, and sell themselves with the valuable skills they offer.

 

Can you give us an example of a woman who ReBoot helped return to work in midlife?  

82% of our ReBoot alumnae seeking work find meaningful engagement. Whether they start their own businesses, work in part-time project work, or assume full-time positions, we help catalyze their careers. One of my favorite ReBoot success stories is a woman Engineer/MBA who took a 16-year pause to raise her children, and then went through Reboot. She was one of nine finalists for an Office Manager position with Jet Blue Technology Ventures, and secured the job because of her maturity, judgment, and exceptional workplace skill set. She has been in her role over one year, and is a valued, thriving team member. We hear more and more of these success stories. Each week, we receive calls from companies specifically seeking this demographic to fill both part-time and full-time roles.

The Reboot team

The Reboot team

 

What resources do you recommend?

I would start by subscribing to our weekly ReBoot newsletter, offering many tips, articles, and jobs for returners.

We have 5-day Accelerators running March 6-10 in Silicon Valley and Seattle, and March 13-16 in LA. We have an 8-week Accelerator in Seattle running March 29-May 24. We also recommend our partners who have great job boards, including Après, Maybrooks, Manera Solutions, Business Talent Group, Talent ReConnect, MomCorps, Werk and Encore.org.

For books, I’d suggest:

Work Pause Thrive: How to Pause for Parenthood Without Killing Your Career by Lisen Stromberg

Nail the Interview, Land the Job: A Step-by-Step Guide for What to Do Before, During and After the Interview by Michelle Tillis Lederman

Twist: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands by Julie Cottineau

 

Contact Diane Flynn at reboot@gsvlabs.com

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Diane Flynn is Chief Marketing Officer of GSVlabs, a leading Silicon Valley accelerator for individuals, startups and corporations seeking growth and innovation. She is also Co-founder of ReBoot Career Accelerator for women returning to the workforce after taking a work pause.  ReBoot gets women current, connected, and confident to return by teaching essential workplace tech skills and providing a community of like-minded returners.  

Diane is passionate about helping women reinvent themselves and find their purpose. She also chairs the marketing committees for several non-profit boards. She holds a BA in Economics from Stanford and an MBA from Harvard.  




Launching a College Financial Aid Advising Business: Jodi’s Story

pic-2When her youngest child was in high school, Jodi began to plan her life after the empty nest. She tapped into her passions and skills around education, business, and finance to found her successful business, College Financial Aid Advisors, and has released a new book as well.

 

Tell us a little about your background…

I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. I have been married for 32 years and we have two children: Our son is 30 and our daughter is 25. I live in Seal Beach, California and graduated from the University of Redlands with a bachelor’s in business.

As my “first act,” in the ‘80s, I opened all of the Guess stores—they used to be called MGA. I was the District Manager and ran the stores in California and Arizona. I was in charge of staffing, merchandising, budgeting, and tracking sales.

 

When did you start to think about making a change?

I stayed home with my children while they were in elementary school through high school. I volunteered for every philanthropy, with roles ranging from President to Treasurer and Auditor. I even sat on many by-law committees.

When my daughter was a junior in high school, I began planning my next journey. Knowing she would soon be leaving the nest, I decided to focus on things I loved: education, business, and finance. While on a walk with my friend Ellen, I began the conversation about what was next for me. We created a running list of things I liked to do, things I had done in the past, and things that were most interesting to me. Right away, opening a company to help families with financial aid was our first thought and I went for it.

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What is your next act?

I created my company, College Financial Aid Advisors, in August of 2008, when I was in my 40s. I help students and families apply for financial aid. As an advocate of post-secondary education, I believe in making the process of financial aid transparent and manageable for families. I want to be the person they can turn to and ask questions that worry them.

Many of my clients are referred to by a friend, found my name on my website, or saw a quote from me in the media.

I work with hundreds of families; I want all students to have the ability to attend college. We usually start working together the summer before students enter their senior year in high school, all the way through to their college move-in day.

These families range from very low income to very high income and come from all over the country; I work with them remotely or meet them in my office if they live close by. As you know there are so many different kinds of families, traditional, divorced, remarried, widowed, orphans, homeless… I have worked with them all.

I speak at many high schools in my area and local conferences. I have a certification program but it’s closed for now because my true joy is helping a student go to college.

 

Why did you choose this next act?  

I chose this next act because I was the President, Treasurer, and Auditor of every organization I could be a part of while I stayed home with my kids. When considering what my second act would look like, education, numbers, and entrepreneurship were three things I focused on. I am not the kind of person who considers a lot of options. I tend to set my mind and hyper-focus on one thing and make sure it happens.

I was determined to follow my passion for helping others and, when pivoting through the process, I stuck to my gut. If it felt comfortable, that’s how I knew it was right. If it didn’t feel organic or morally comfortable, I didn’t venture down that road. As a businesswoman, you need to evaluate what works in your company and be ready to pivot. I am always checking and rechecking processes and systems to make sure they are moving the brand forward.

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Speaking at Western Association for College Admission

 

How did you prepare to start your own business?

I worked at Pitzer College as a financial aid consultant and I took a class at UCLA. The teacher of that class was the Director at Occidental College, Maureen McRae Goldberg—she has since retired—and I asked her to be my mentor as I opened the doors of my company.

Taking the plunge for me meant I had good mentors, like Maureen, who were experts in specific areas of my business. I was able to have a sounding board in each of those areas as my company grew. In order to make sure I understood the financial aid process 100%, I stayed in the college system with my mentors before venturing out on my own.

 

What challenges did you encounter?

Starting your own business, there is always the financial component of how to monetize your company and how to create processes and systems to make the workday flow. Learning new skills, like social media, ended up reaping the most rewards. Also sticking with what works as a brand grows and keeping the brand fresh and current.

Social Media has been a huge part of my brand (I have 154k followers on Twitter and growing every day!). Early on I read, learned, and began to grow my brand on social media. I created the hashtag #Collegecash and continue to keep networking and connecting with other small business owners. I make contacts through my monthly newsletter, website, and word of mouth. I always say, “Everyone has a sister, brother, aunt, friend—someone they know who is going to college.” Referrals are always the best.

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?  

There was never any time I felt or thought about giving up. But I did worry and wonder if the next year I would have new clients sign up.

What kept me going? Having great mentors and the most supportive family and friends, who have been with me the whole time. In fact, today, we all joke, “Who would have thought?”

With Maureen, my mentor

With Maureen, my mentor

 

What did you learn about yourself through this process?

If you would have asked me in my first act what I thought about self-employment, that was never something I could relate to in any way. I learned that I had entrepreneurial skills and could create a business in my second act; I had no idea I had it in me.

 

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?

Do what you love, try new things, and most importantly, believe in yourself. Always ask questions and tap into your network for mentors, who can be equally valuable on the personal and business side. They come into your life at different times for different reasons. Be open and willing to learn and continue learning your whole life.

Networking, reaching out, showing up at event and shakings hands, picking up calls, stepping outside your comfort zone, and talking to people you don’t know can be the hardest in your second act but also the most rewarding because you will soon find out everyone is on a journey.

The funny thing about this is that I didn’t know I was reinventing myself in my midlife until a few people mentioned that to me. I thought it was more that I had decided to do something and I was making it happen. Talking to other women, who are in business, has become a mainstream resource for me; the more women I speak to, the more I find out we are all on that journey—and that brings us closer together.

As I created my company and grew it to a substantial size, I tried many different kinds of ways to grow. I hired virtual assistants and I invested in coaching. I took free training and webinars. I basically signed up for everything and I missed the one thing that makes my company the most successful: I have now hired my Associate Director. Having someone in my office every day has helped my brand grow.

With Alexandra, my Associate Director

With Alexandra, my Associate Director

 

What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing your path?

If college financial aid is your passion, find a way to learn as much as you can about the financial aid industry. For me, having the experience in two college financial aid offices and being lucky enough to build a foundation for my business helped me on my path. Anyone can be a financial aid consultant. Owning your own company, having a passion, having the skills to learn all about your industry—that’s key.

 

What resources do you recommend?

Start reaching out—in all ways—you’ll be surprised what you find. Try searching “college financial aid training” online and it will pop up. My tip is to go straight to the source: studentaid.gov is my favorite. If someone needs a financial aid consultant, consider helping them yourself. Find a way that works for you. And check out my new book, Secrets of a Financial Aid Pro: Master the College Funding Process and Give Your Child Lifelong Financial Skills Without Losing Your Cool; it’s the perfect start to the financial aid conversation.

 

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What’s next for you?

While finishing up my recently released book, I realized that I have three or four other books in me—about small business, entrepreneurship, and women. Stay tuned!

 

Contact Jodi Okun at Jodi@collegefinancialaidadvisors.com

Twitter: @JodiOkun

Website

Instagram: @JodiOkun